The Four Tops was founded in 1953 in Detroit, Michigan with its original members Levi Stubbs as lead singer, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton. The quartet was originally called “The Four Aims” and their kind of music included jazz, doo-wop, R&B, soul music, disco, adult contemporary and showtunes. Maybe one of the groups whose original members remained intact for more than forty years, The Four Tops made hits together from 1953 until 1997.
The group has contributed a great deal to the rise and reputation of Motown Sound. Unlike many other groups whose lead singer is a tenor, Levi Stubbs is a baritone. This made the group’s unusual music artistry. Stubbs is a brother of Joe Stubbs of The Falcons and a cousin of Jackie Wilson. The group brought the success of two Billboard Hot 100 number one hits “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. These were done with the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland for Motown.
The Four Tops had a chance to work with Frank Wilson when Holland-Dozier-Holland moved out of Motown in 1967; then in 1972 the group moved further over to ABC Records due to Motown’s decision to leave Detroit and transferred to California. With ABC Records, the group was able to chart singles until the late 70s. From then on, they worked with different music groups which included among others Motown, Casablanca, and Arista. During this time there were ups and downs in the group’s singing career.
With the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, The Four Tops were able to create hits like “Baby I Need Your Loving” which was originally an instrumental track without lyrics. From a meaningless arrangement of notes, “Baby I Need Your Loving” was transformed into a no. 1 hit on the United States Billboard pop charts in 1964. This song was such a big hit in many trend-setting audio stations in the United States. This success signaled the group’s decision to venture into another genre of music, moving away from jazz to music that is more in line with “Baby I Need Your Loving”.
The group’s popularity was complemented with its members’ cohesiveness. Working hard until the 80s still with its original members, The Four Tops focused more on touring and live performances, with fewer recordings. It should be noted that they have recorded only one album since the late 80s entitled “Christmas Here with You” which was released in 1995.
The year 1997 proved to be disastrous when 59 year old Lawrence Payton died of liver cancer. Lawrence has spent 44 years with the quartet group when he succumbed to the disease. After Payton’s demise, the trio now named The Tops was formed by the surviving three original members Levi Stubbs, Obie Benson and Duke Fakir. A year after, Theo Peoples, former Temptations member became the new fourth member, restoring The Four Tops.
To give credit to the group’s achievements in the music world, it was inducted in 1990 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1999 into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, rank no. 79 by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2004.
In early 2000, Levi Stubbs suffered a stroke and became ill of cancer. With this sad event, Theo Peoples took over Stubb’s position and Ronnie McNair was recruited to fill in the position of Payton. Consequently, Peoples became the group’s lead singer. Two other original members soon died: Obie Benson in July 2005 while the long-suffering Stubbs died in October 2008 while asleep at his home in Detroit, leaving Fakir as the only surviving original member of the group.
There were several television specials that featured the group, most of which focused on the contributions of the original members like Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton and Obie Benson. The group is now composed of Theo Peoples, Ronnie McNair, Lawrence Payton, Jr. who is also known as Roquel, and the original Abdul Fakir.
Even with its new members, the group still performs during their concerts the original hits like “Baby I Need Your Loving”, “When She Was My Girl”, “Ask The Lonely”, “Walk Away Renee”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “Bernadette”, “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”.
The group’s latest Definitive DVD under Motown titled “Reach Out” was released in November 2008. “The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award” was awarded to The Four Tops during the 51st Grammy Awards.