The Four Tops are an R&B
quartet famous for such hits as "I Can't Help Myself
" and "Reach Out, I'll Be There
." Formed in 1954, they performed with all four of their original members until one of them passed away in 1997. Their musical talents and long career have gained them a strong reputation in American musical history and have earned them a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The original Four Tops were all born in Detroit, Michigan and were childhood friends. Levi Stubbs was the lead vocalist. The other members were Abdul "Duke" Fakir at first tenor, Lawrence Payton at second tenor and baritone Renaldo "Obie" Benson. The original idea for the four to make a professional career from singing came from their performance at a friend's birthday party. After they all graduated from high school in 1954, they began their career as the Four Aims. They later changed their name to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers.
After two years of independently performing, the Four Tops were signed to Chess Records in 1956. They did not achieve much success with Chess. They gained some popularity, but did not break through into stardom. They performed in many clubs and were well received by every audience they performed for. Their first ten years as artists would be spent in relative obscurity signed to record labels such as Chess, Red Top, Riverside, and Columbia.
The Four Tops hit it big in 1964 after signing with Motown Records. That year, they released singles and gained widespread national attention. One year later, "I Can't Help Myself" hit #1 on the charts. They continued performing in clubs and releasing records and singles. They became famous internationally as well, and hit #1 on the charts in England. Throughout the sixties, they released hit after hit with Motown and continued their live performances tirelessly.
In the seventies, their popularity waned. They were still adored by their legions of fans, but they were past their prime. They left Motown for ABC/Dunhill Records. Their singles achieved a lot of success and they gained a lot of new listeners. They switched record companies again and released two records in the 1980's. For the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors, Levi Stubbs was the voice of the plant. In 1990, Stevie Wonder inducted the Four Tops into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It is amazing that the four childhood friends from Detroit stayed so cohesive throughout their career. Not one member of the Four Tops left the group until Lawrence Payton died of liver cancer in 1997. The group continued to perform as a trio, calling themselves the Tops. Theo Peoples, once a member of The Temptations, was eventually brought in to replace Payton and the Four Tops were a quartet again. The timeless Four Tops continue to tour around the United States to this day.