Formed in 1954, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., the Four Tops comprised of:
Levi Stubbs (b. Levi Stubbles, 6th June 1936, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 17th October 2008, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)
Renaldo 'Obie' Benson (b. Renaldo Benson, 14th June 1936, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 1st July 2005, Harper Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)
Lawrence Payton (b. Lawrence Albert Payton, 2nd March 1938, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 20th June 1997, Southfield, Michigan, U.S.A.)
Abdul 'Duke' Fakir (b. 26th December 1934, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)
The Four Tops were formed, under that name, in 1956 in Detroit, Michigan, although two years prior to that they had sang at a party together in the town.
All of the group members attended Detroit-area high schools.
Levi Stubbs and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir attended Pershing, and met Northern students Renaldo 'Obie' Benson and Lawrence Payton at a friend's birthday party.
It was at this party where the quartet first sang together.
Levi Stubbs had sung with the 4 Falcons (a group including Jackie Wilson), whilst Lawrence Payton was part of a group called The Thrillers.
In those preceding years they called themselves the Four Aims, as early as 1953, changing their name in 1956 to the Four Tops.
As the Four Aims, they sang Jazz Standards, converting to an R & B sound with the name change.
They changed their name to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the group the Ames Brothers.
kiss me baby b/w could it be you - 1956/45 / ain't that love b/w lonely summer - 1960/45
Lawrence Payton's cousin Roquel Davis helped them get an audition with Chess Records in 1956, where they recorded one single entitled 'Kiss Me Baby' b/w 'Could It Be You?'.
The Four Tops also recorded for the Red Top, Columbia (where they recorded 'Ain't That Love' b/w 'Lonely Summer' in 1960) and Riverside ('Pennies From Heaven' b/w 'Where Are You?' in 1962) imprints between 1958 and 1962.
In 1963, the group were then signed to the Motown jazz subsidiary Workshop.
breaking through - workshop imprint 1964
In 1964, they recorded an album entitled 'Breaking Through', which wasn't released and Berry Gordy decided to put the group in the songwriting hands of the Holland / Dozier / Holland writing and production team.
the four tops - 1964 / four tops second album - 1965 / on top - 1966 / four tops live! - 1966
Instant success followed with the initial release, with the new collaboration, in the form of 'Baby I Need Your Loving'.
The song reached the Top 20 in the States.
In 1965, they released 'I Can't Help Myself', which went straight to the top of the charts, and the success continued for the group.
For two more years, the Tops and the writing team had continued success, with 'Reach Out I'll Be There' making the top spot in the charts both sides of the Atlantic in 1966.
The Four Tops also charted with the songs 'Bernadette' and 'It's The Same Old Song'.
4 tops on broadway - 1967 / reach out - 1967 / yesterday's dreams - 1968 / now! - 1969
By 1967, the groups sound diversified, however, they still charted with Left Banke's 'Walk Away Renee' and Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter'.
When the Holland / Dozier / Holland writing team left the Motown stable to form the Invictus imprint, the Four Tops success was placed on the backburner, however, they teamed up with the various producers / writers such as Frank Wilson and Smokey Robinson.
soul spin - 1969 / still waters run deep - 1970 / changing times - 1970 / return of the magnificent seven - 1970
In 1970, they charted again with the Tommy Edwards song 'It's All In The Game', and the ballad 'Still Waters (Run Deep)'.
Also in 1970, they teamed up with The Supremes for the first of three albums together.
They also had a hit in 1971 with the Jim Webb song 'MacArthur Park'.
Renaldo 'Obie' Benson co-wrote Marvin Gaye's classic song 'What's Going On' that same year.
nature planned it - 1972 / keeper of the castle - 1972 / main street people - 1973 / shaft in africa - 1973
One final album was released for the Motown label entitled 'Nature Planned it' in 1972.
Later that year, the Four Tops left Motown, following the release of the single 'A Simple Game'.
This was prompted by Motown's relocation to California from Detroit in 1972.
They group signed to the ABC / Dunhill Records imprint, where they charted with the song 'Are You Man Enough', taken from the movie soundtrack 'Shaft In Africa'.
'Keeper Of The Castle' provided the group with their first chart hit for a while in 1972, with the subsequent album containing the excellent 'When Tonight Meets Tomorrow'.
The group were teamed up with the songwriting partnership Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter at this time.
live and in concert - 1974 / meeting of the minds - 1974 / night lights harmony - 1975 / catfish - 1976
Several excellent albums followed including 'Main Street People' in 1973 and 'Meeting Of The Minds' in 1974.
'Night Lights Harmony' was released in 1975, followed by 'Catfish' in 1976 (containing the excellent 'Strung Out On Your Love').
the show must go on - 1977 / at the top - 1978 / tonight! - 1981 / one more mountain - 1982
'The Show Must Go On' turned out to be the groups final album for ABC / Dunhill before the Four Tops relocated to the MCA imprint.
In 1981, they joined Casablanca Records, and had a number 1 hit with 'When She Was My Girl'.
In 1983, the group performed with The Temptations during the Motown 25th Anniversary television special.
back where I belong - 1983 / magic - 1985 / indestructible - 1988 / from the heart - 2006
They re-signed to the label for 'Back Where I Belong', one side of which was produced by Holland / Dozier / Holland.
In 1986, Levi Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey the man-eating plant in the film version of 'Little Shop of Horrors'.
They then relocated to the Arista imprint, where they recorded the singles 'Indestructible' and 'Loco In Acapulco', the latter taken from the soundtrack to the film 'Buster'.
The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and continued to tour the oldies circuit.
The groups line-up remained the same throughout their recording career until Lawrence Payton died from liver cancer in Southfield, Michigan, and was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in June 1997.
In 2002, it was reported that Levi Stubbs was suffering from prostate cancer, however, he had actually suffered a stroke and a mild heart attack.
This led to Levi not being able to tour.
His place, in the line up, was taken by another ex Motown vocalist, Ronnie McNeir.
In 2004, a special event was held in his honour, entitled 'Its All The Way Live With Levi - 50 Years And Still Going'.
Levi attended, along with The Temptations, The Contours, Mary Wilson, Dennis Edwards, The Miracles, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, The Dells, (the late) Ollie Woodson, The Satin Tones, The Supremes including members Cindy Birdsong, Jean Terrell, Sherrie Payne amongst others.
Renaldo Obie Benson sadly died on the 1st July 2005, Harper Hospital, Detroit, from several medical conditions.
The current group line up comprises:
Roquel Payton (Lawrence's son), Ronnie McNeir, Abdul 'Duke' Fakir and Theo Peoples
Levi Stubbs passed away at his home in Detroit on the 17th October 2008. He was 72.
Levi had suffered a series of strokes and other illnesses had been sick for a number of years prior to his passing.
liner notes from the group's 1964 debut motown release
with Duke, November 2007 in London
as the Four Tops:
The Four Tops (Motown Records 1964)
Second Album (Motown Records 1965)
On Top (Motown Records 1966)
Live! (Motown Records 1966)
On Broadway (Motown Records 1967)
Reach Out (Motown Records 1967)
Yesterday's Dreams (Motown Records 1968)
Now! (Motown Records 1969)
Soul Spin (Motown Records 1969)
Still Waters Run Deep (Motown Records 1970)
Changing Times (Motown Records 1970)
with the Supremes:
The Magnificent Seven (Motown Records 1970)
The Return Of The Magnificent Seven (Motown Records 1971)
Dynamite (Motown Records 1972)
as the Four Tops:
Nature Planned It (Motown Records 1972)
Keeper Of The Castle (ABC Dunhill Records 1972)
Shaft In Africa (Johnny Pate film soundtrack) (ABC Dunhill Records 1973)
Main Street People (ABC Dunhill Records 1973)
Meeting Of The Minds (ABC Dunhill Records 1974)
Live And In Concert (ABC Dunhill Records 1974)
Night Lights Harmony (ABC Records 1975)
Catfish (ABC Records 1976)
The Show Must Go On (ABC Records 1977)
At The Top (MCA Records 1978)
The Four Tops Tonight! (Casablanca Records 1981)
One More Mountain (Casblanca Records 1982)
Back Where I Belong (Motown Records 1983)
Magic (Motown Records 1985)
Indestructible (Arista Records 1988)
Christmas Here With You (Universal Special Products Records 1995)
From The Heart (DPTV Media Records 2006)