Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Four Tops, The

Originally named the Four Aims, the Motown group the Four Tops started in Detroit, Michigan at a high school graduation party in 1954. Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton, and Renaldo “Obie" Benson signed with Chicago’s Chess Records in 1956. Stubbs was the baritone lead singer, Fakir first tenor, Payton was a tenor and harmony arranger, and Benson was a baritone. They changed their name to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers before their first and only single with Chess Records was released. Before returning to Detroit and joining Motown Records, they also recorded for Columbia and Red Top Labels, and had numerous nightclub engagements around the country.

The Four Tops came to Hitsville, U.S.A. in 1963 and were first signed as a jazz group. After attempting to have the Four Tops sing pop standards, the idea was scrapped and they moved into R&B. Like other major Motown groups, the Four Tops were joined by the writing team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland. This trio wrote songs that worked perfectly with the Four Tops, such as “Baby I Need Your Loving” which was their first big hit in 1964. Other hits written by the three include “It’s the Same Old Song,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Something About You,” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” their biggest hit for Motown.

After Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1968, the Four Tops continued with producer Frank Wilson in 1970. When their contract ran out in 1971 they left Motown, returning in 1983. Meanwhile, the Four Tops continued to sing and perform into the 1970s and 1980s with songs like “When She Was My Girl” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and were awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. They were number 79 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. 

When Lawrence Payton died in 1997, the group continued performing under the name “The Tops,” then later added Theo Peoples, who had performed with the Temptations. Subsequently, Renaldo Benson died on July 1, 2005 and Levi Stubbs on October 17, 2008. Fakir, the last original member, performs with Alexander Morris, a Detroit pastor, Ronnie McNeir and Roquel Payton, son of Lawrence, once again as the Four Tops.



Portrait of The Four Tops, c.1964 – 2006.005.021

The Motown Sound, A Collection of 16 Original Big Hits, Volume 9, 1968 – 2012.035.014

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