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Profile: The Four Tops


The Four Tops

The Four Tops

source: soulwalking.co.uk


1956 (Detroit, MI)


Motown, Pop, Soul, Pop-Soul, R&B, Pop-Jazz, Pop Vocal, Broadway

Original Members:

Levi Stubbs (b. Levi Stubbles, January 6, 1936, Detroit, MI; d. October 17, 2008, Detroit, MI): Lead vocal (baritone)
Abdul "Duke" Fakir (b. December 26, 1935, Detroit, MI): Vocals (first tenor)
Lawrence Payton (b. Lawrence Albert Payton, June 2, 1938, Detroit, MI; d. June 20, 1997, Detroit, MI): vocals (second tenor)
Renaldo "Obie" Benson (b. June 14, 1936, Detroit, MI; d. July 1, 2005, Detroit, MI): vocals (baritone)

Contributions to music:

  • Longest-lived group withour personnel changes in rock history (41 years from 1956-1997)
  • Brought a sense of high, almost operatic drama to soul
  • Lead singer Levi Stubbs an inestimable infulence on soul/R&B vocalists
  • Helped establish a beachhead for American music at the height of the British Invasion
  • Maintained a near-constant presence on the R&B charts for over two decades

Early years:

Detroit natives all, Levi and Duke met and began singing together at the city's Pershing High School, while Obie and Lawrence did the same at Northern High. The four met while singing at a friend's birthday party in 1954, realized they had a great sound, and joined forces to become The Four Aims. A demo tape sent to Chicago's Chess Records eventually got them signed, and the group changed its name to The Four Tops to avoid confusion with popular vocal group The Ames Brothers. The single flopped.


Several other attempts at straight pop vocal followed on other labels, also with no success; even when the group signed to the fledgling Motown label in 1962, head Berry Gordy pushed them into a pop-jazz vein. Eventually retooled as a pop-soul act, the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland team, already on a roll, penned "Baby I Need Your Loving" speficially for the group. Rocketing to #11 in 1964, it set the stage for over thirty hit singles as the Motown hit machine rolled into high gear.

Later years:

In 1966, H/D/H changed their tack, writing stunning R&B operettas such as "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Bernadette," tailor-made for Levi's booming, dramatic voice. When the songwriting team left Motown in 1967, however, the group's fortunes suffered, but they were able to maintain a presence on the pop/R&B charts all the way to 1988. Even after the hits dried up, the group has remained a popular touring act, despite the fact that Fakir is the only surviving original member.

Other facts:

  • Other members have included: Theo Peoples, Ronnie McNeir, Roquel Payton
  • Theo is a former Temptation; Roquel is the son of Lawrence Payton
  • Renaldo "Obie" Benson also served as a staff songwriter for Motown and co-wrote Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On"
  • Originally started at Motown as backup for the Supremes
  • Unlike most vocal groups, the Tops were fronted by a baritone, not a tenor
  • Levi Stubbs is the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey II, in the film "Little Shop of Horrors"


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1998)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
  • "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" (1965)
  • "Reach Out I'll Be There" (1966)
  • "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" (1965)
  • "Reach Out I'll Be There" (1966)
  • "When She Was My Girl" (1981)
Top 10 hits:
  • "It's The Same Old Song" (1965)
  • "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (1966)
  • "Bernadette" (1966)
  • "Keeper Of The Castle" (1973)
  • "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)" (1973)
  • "Ask The Lonely" (1965)
  • "It's The Same Old Song" (1965)
  • "Something About You" (1965)
  • "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)" (1966)
  • "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" (1966)
  • "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (1966)
  • "Bernadette" (1966)
  • "7 Rooms of Gloom" (1967)
  • "You Keep Running Away" (1967)
  • "It's All In The Game" (1970)
  • "Still Water (Love)" (1970)
  • "River Deep - Mountain High" (1971)
  • "Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)" (1971)
  • "(It's The Way) Nature Planned It"(1972)
  • "Keeper Of The Castle" (1972)
  • "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)" (1973)
  • "Are You Man Enough" (1973)
  • "Sweet Understanding Love" (1973)
  • "Midnight Flower" (1974)
  • "One Chain Don't Make No Prison" (1974)
  • "Catfish" (1976)
#1 Albums:
  • Four Tops (1965)
  • Four Tops Live! (1967)
Top 10 Albums:
  • Four Tops Second Album (1965)
  • 4 Tops On Top (1966)
  • Four Tops Reach Out (1967)
  • Yesterday's Dreams (1968)
  • Still Waters Run Deep (1970)
  • Nature Planned It (1972)
  • Keeper Of The Castle (1973)
  • Main Street People (1973)
  • Tonight! (1981)
Other important recordings: "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Without The One You Love (Life's Not Worth While)," "If I Were A Carpenter," "Walk Away Renee," "I'm In a Different World," "Yesterday's Dreams," "Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me," "What Is A Man," "In These Changing Times," "You Gotta Have Love In Your Heart," "A Simple Game," "Seven Lonely Nights," "We All Gotta Stick Together," "I Just Can't Walk Away," "Sexy Ways," "If Ever A Love There Was"
Covered by: Barbara Lewis, The Ventures, The Band, The Doobie Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, Pat Benatar, Hall and Oates, Whitney Houston
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