The Four Tops Band History

The Four Tops Band History

Do you remember riding in the car with your parents or even your grandparents and listening to some Motown hits? It’s a great “genre” that gets you on your feet and dancing the night away. Pretty much everyone has listened to a hit or two from The Four Tops, specifically “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” but there is so much more to this band than just a couple singles.

The Four Tops have over 44 years of history with their original lineup— without any member changes until the members died. That is pretty unbelievable coming from an era where personalities were big (think Diana Ross big). Believe it or not, there are no accounts of The Four Tops having many disputes at all; they actually remained friends until the end. That in itself is pretty unbelievable.

After decades of creating hits, the band has gained many honors and notoriety, making them a name that multiple generations know today. The Four Tops are a classic and hard-working band that deserves every bit of fame they achieved.

If you want to learn all about The Four Tops, this is definitely the article you want to check out. Read on to learn more about the Four Tops band history and get all the facts about The Four Tops.

A Little About Me

Before diving into The Four Tops, you might wonder why I have the credentials to talk about this groundbreaking band. For starters, I have been a music writer for over seven years and have listened to just about every genre in music history.

Thanks to my dad, I have also been listening to “oldies” since I was a little kid. I basically grew up with bands like The Four Tops and had been writing about genres like R&B/soul for quite a long time.

Original and Later Lineups

The Four Tops Band

Original Lineup:

  • Levi Stubbs (1953-2000, 2004)
  • Abdul “Duke” Fakir (1953-present)
  • Renaldo “Obie” Benson (1953-2005)
  • Lawrence Payton (1953-1997)
  • Additional Members:
  • Theo Peoples (1998-2010)
  • Harold Bonhart (2010-2018)

Current Members:

  • Abdul “Duke” Fakir (1953-present)
  • Ronnie McNeir (1999-present)
  • Lawrence Payton Jr. (2005-present)
  • Alexander Morris (2019-present)

The Four Tops’ Band History

Early Days


The Four Tops began their careers as high school students in Detroit. To really pinpoint the start of the band was when Levi Stubbs and Abdul Fakir performed with Renaldo Benson and Lawrence Payton at a birthday party.

The quartet decided that they put on such a good show together that they would pursue a career as a band, naming themselves The Four Aims. Payton’s cousin, Roquel Davis, was a songwriter and helped the group get signed to Chess Records in 1956.

However, there was some confusion with the band’s name as the group, The Ames Brothers, were pretty famous at the time. After a quick deliberation, the group decided to change their name to The Four Tops to avoid confusion with The Ames Brothers.

The next seven years were not very prosperous for The Four Tops. They switched record labels a few times, moonlighting at Chess Records, Red Top, Riverside Records, and Columbia Records. The band did not have any hits to their name at the time, but they still toured pretty frequently and focused on developing a strong stage presence.

In 1963, Berry Gordy Jr. convinced the band to sign with his label, Motown Record Company. The band was initially reluctant, but they decided to try the up-and-coming label.

Joining the Motown Records

When The Four Tops originally signed on with Motown Records, they weren’t playing the genre we all know and love of them. Instead, they were recording jazz songs under Motown Record’s sister company, Workshop Jazz Records. They also got to do backing vocals for The Supremes, including the song “Run, Run, Run.” Another track they did backing vocals on was for Martha and the Vandellas on the song “My Baby Loves Me.”

In 1964, the band finally got their opportunity to shine. Motown Records’ main songwriting and the production team created a completely instrumental track and did not know how to move forward with it. The team decided to give it more of a mainstream pop feel, and The Four Tops were given the opportunity to record lyrics over the track. The song then became the hit “Baby I Need Your Loving.” The song rose to number 11 on the charts, which finally created a following for the band.

Reaching Fame

The Four Tops Band I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)

1965 was the magical year for the band as they released hit after hit throughout the year, including the number one hit “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” From there, they released the hits “It’s the Same Old Song,” Something About You,” “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” and “Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever.”

In 1966, the band saw their biggest success with the release of the song, “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” which catapulted the band into the limelight and also gave them their second number one hit on the charts. This song has become the hit the band was most known for from then until this day.

Soon after, The Four Tops released the song “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” which was critically knocked for sounding similar to “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” However, this song was lyrically much darker than the number one hit and became another top 10 hit for the band.

From there, another top 10 hit was produced, “Bernadette,” which was a song about a man’s obsession with his lover. Despite its dark lyrics, the song continued the band’s success and landed them as a household name— if it were possible that anyone hadn’t heard of them at this point. Personally, this is my favorite track and is worth a listen if you haven’t heard it already.

The Four Tops Band If I Were a Carpenter

At this time, The Four Tops were the most successful Motown Records band in the United Kingdom and the second most popular in the United States, falling second to The Temptations. From there, the band decided to dabble in mainstream pop and remade Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” and Left Banke’s “Just Walk Away Renee.” These were the last singles that became hits from Motown Record’s songwriting team (Holland-Dozier-Holland) that left the record label due to disputes with Berry Gordy Jr.

Without Holland-Dozier-Holland, the band saw much less success. The Four Tops worked with a number of other songwriters but had very little success on the charts.

In 1970, they had the hit “It’s All in the Game,” and this song inspired Marvin Gaye’s mega-hit album What’s Going On. Gaye’s album’s title track was co-written by The Four Tops’ founder, Renaldo Benson.

From there, The Four Tops reunited with The Supremes, but this was after Diana Ross left the band and was replaced by Jean Terrell. Their collaborative work did not do much on the charts. However, they did have a collaboration with The Moody Blues called “A Simple Game” that did not do well on the U.S. charts but rose to number three on the U.K. charts.

Breaking Ties Then Returning to Motown

Motown Records was taking a new direction in the 1970s as they focused on acts like Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 and Diana Ross’ solo act. The label also moved from Detroit, the band’s hometown, to Los Angeles because Berry Gordy Jr. planned to break into the film and television industries. Many of the already neglected older acts, such as The Four Tops, decided not to take on the new venture with the label and left to pursue other labels.

Keeper of the Castle

The Four Tops left Motown Records and were signed on ABC-Dunhill, and Payton served as a producer, writer, and lead vocalist for the band. In 1972, the band’s hit “Keeper of the Castle” was the first hit they saw since they released “Bernadette” in 1967.

A few other hits they released during this time that saw moderate success was “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got),” “Are You Man Enough,” “Sweet Understanding Love,” “Midnight Flower,” and “One Chain Don’t Make No Prison.”

Soon after, the hits were no longer coming for the band, and they decided to leave ABC-Dunhill in 1978. From there, the band disappeared from the music scene until the early 1980s, after they signed a deal with Casablanca Records. The Four Tops only had two hits, “When She Was My Girl” and “Don’t Walk Away,” as well as appearing in the movie Grease 2 along with its self-titled soundtrack.

The band went quite a while without seeing any success, and it was during this time that they came back to Motown Records. The Four Tops and The Temptations then went on tour and got a little bit of the success they were pining for. However, The Four Tops did not produce any more hits on the charts from that point on. Their greatest hit being, “Indestructible,” which reached number 35 on the charts.

However, the band dodged tragedy as in 1988, they were scheduled to be on Pan Am Flight 103, which was known as the Lockerbie bombing. Luckily, a prolonged recording session caused the band to miss the flight that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, due to a terrorist attack.

Later Years

The Four Tops Christmas Here With You

In the late 1980s, The Four Tops decided to only focus on touring and live performances as the hits had completely dried up. They only recorded one more album in 1995 called Christmas Here With You.

In 1997, Payton died due to liver cancer after being part of the band for 44 years. Before this, The Four Tops never had a change in their lineup, so this was not easy for them to bounce back. They even toured as a trio for a while until they felt the time was right to replace Payton.

In fact, they went to their biggest competitor, The Temptations, and recruited Ronnie McNeir in Payton’s place. At the turn of the century, Stubbs also got diagnosed with cancer and passed away, and Theo Peoples was recruited as his replacement.

The Four Tops did not record any more albums. Still, they did see some resurging success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s as they were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and Rolling Stone ranked them at number 79 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004.

The Four Tops Discography

Motown releases

  • 1965: Four Tops
  • 1965: Four Tops’ Second Album
  • 1966: Four Tops Live!
  • 1966: On Top
  • 1967: Four Tops’ Greatest Hits
  • 1967: Reach Out
  • 1967: Four Tops on Broadway
  • 1968: Yesterday’s Dreams
  • 1969: Four Tops Now!
  • 1969: Soul Spin
  • 1970: Still Waters Run Deep
  • 1970: Changing Times
  • 1970: The Magnificent 7 (with The Supremes)
  • 1971: The Return of the Magnificent Seven (with The Supremes)
  • 1971: Dynamite (with The Supremes)
  • 1971: Mac Arthur Park
  • 1972: Nature Planned It
  • 1973: The Best of the 4 Tops

ABC releases

  • 1972: Keeper of the Castle
  • 1973: Main Street People
  • 1974: Meeting of the Minds
  • 1974: Live & in Concert
  • 1975: Night Lights Harmony
  • 1976: Catfish
  • 1977: The Show Must Go On
  • 1978: At the Top

Casablanca releases

  • 1981: Tonight!
  • 1982: One More Mountain

Motown releases

  • 1983: Back Where I Belong
  • 1985: Magic
  • 1986: Hot Nights

Arista releases

  • 1988: Indestructible

Motown releases

  • 1995: Christmas Here with You

Prism Leisure releases

  • 2000: The Four Tops Collection

Notable Studio Albums

the four tops band studio albums

Four Tops (1965)

Four Tops was the self-titled debut album from the band, and it was written and produced by Motown’s all-star writing and producing team Holland-Dozier-Holland. This album came after a long time spent trying to get into the public eye and pinpoints when the bad truly found its identity.

Before this album, The Four Tops went by The Four Aims, which was incredibly confusing as The Ames Brothers were an extremely popular band at the time. This self-titled album made The Four Tops stand out and create their own identity.

The Four Tops album made The Four Tops a household name and was one of the albums that put Motown Records on the map. With hits like “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Without the One, You Love (Life’s Not Worth While),” and “Ask the Lonely,” the band achieved what seemed like an overnight success.

I think this was a great album and showcased the band’s vocal talents, but my personal favorite songs are not on this album. This album is amazing, but I don’t think it really pinpoints the highest point of their success.

Hits on this Album:

“Baby I Need You Loving”

“Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While)”

“Ask the Lonely”

Four Tops Second Album (1965)

After the success of the self-titled Four Tops album, Four Tops Second Album also received a ton of success. It reached number three on Billboard’s Black Albums chart and number 20 on the Billboard 200 chart. The band really came into their own on this album. They now had a following and discovered the recipe for success as they finally achieved a number one hit on this album.

Four Tops Second Album contains three hit singles, including “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” and “Something About You.” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” went to number one on the charts and became the band’s flagship song that everyone to this day knows them for.

In 1990, Motown Records recognized the success of The Four Tops first two albums (Four Tops and Four Tops Second Album) and bundled them to be sold together, creating a resurgence for the band.

To me, this album put the exclamation point the band deserved after all their hard work. They only achieved two number one hits throughout their entire career, and this album houses the first one. If The Four Tops weren’t a household name after their first album, they were for sure after this album was released.

Hits on this Album:

“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”

“It’s the Same Old Song”

“Something About You”

On Top (1966)

It’s amazing that The Four Tops achieved so much success so quickly as their premiere self-titled album was only released a year ago, and their second successful album came out immediately after that.

On Top also achieved commercial success by reaching number 32 on the Billboard 200 chart and reaching number nine on the U.K. charts. The band was still working with Motown’s winning writing and producing team Holland-Dozier-Holland. On Top produced two hit singles, including “Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever” and “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over).”

However, what makes this album different for the band was that the second half of this album consisted of cover songs, including “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “In the Still of the Night.”

Although this album still gained commercial success, it isn’t my personal favorite. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great album, but my favorite hits aren’t on this album, and I think there are too many covers on it.

Hits on this Album:

“Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever”

“Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”

Reach Out (1967)

If any other album showcases the pinnacle of The Four Tops’ success, this is it. Reach Out is widely known as the band’s most successful album as it hit number 11 on Billboard Top L.P.s and peaked at number four in the U.K.

Reach Out also had a whooping six singles, including “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Bernadette,” and “7-Rooms of Gloom” from their original hits and “If I were a Carpenter” and “Walk Away Renee” that were remakes.

Not to mention Reach Out made it to number 429 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list” years later. This album is the album that many people know them from, as their second number one hit, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is also featured on this album.

This is my personal favorite album from The Four Tops. It really has something for everyone, and I don’t even mind that a couple of the hits on this album are covers. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is a song the band is known for, but my favorite hit from the band “Bernadette” is on this album.

Hits on this album:

“Reach Out I’ll Be There”

“Standing in the Shadows of Love”


“7-Rooms of Gloom”

“If I were a Carpenter” (cover)

“Walk Away Renee” (cover)

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What genre do The Four Tops play?

Answer: Many know The Four Tops to be part of the Motown era, but Motown was a record label at the time, not necessarily a genre. The Four Tops paved the way in Soul R&B Pop. They were one of the most popular acts at the time as they had a whooping seven top 10 hits (two of which rose to number one on the charts), which made the genre extremely popular. The band has also dabbled in disco, adult contemporary, doo-wop, jazz, and show tunes.

Question: Where did the name The Four Tops come from?

Answer: Originally, the band was named “Four Aims,” and they were signed as such to Chess Records in 1956. However, there was confusion with the band’s name as another popular group at the time was the Ames Brothers. The band decided to changed their name to The Four Tops, so they would stand alone with their music and not be confused or mistaken with any other acts at the time.

Question: Who were the original members of The Four Tops?

Answer: The Four Tops have had a few shifts in their lineup over time, mostly due to deaths within the band. However, they actually went 44 years without a single change to their original lineup. Their original lineup for the band when they started in 1953 extended into the late 1990s/early 2000s. It included Levi Stubbs (1953-2000, 2004), Abdul “Duke” Fakir (1953-present), Renaldo “Obie” Benson (1953-2005), and Lawrence Payton (1953-1997).

Question: What is The Four Tops’ greatest hits?

Answer: The Four Tops had seven hits that were considered top 10 hits, and two of those climbed to number one on the charts. The two hits that rose all the way up to number one on the charts were “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” Fans believe these are the most memorable and best hits from The Four Tops overall:

“Baby I Need Your Loving”

“It’s the Same Old Song”

“Reach Out I’ll Be There”

“Ask the Lonely”

“Standing in the Shadows of Love”

“Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever”

“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”

“Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While)”

“7-Rooms of Gloom”

“Something About You”


“Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”

Question: What is The Four Tops’ best-selling album?

Answer: Far and away, the most influential and best-selling album from The Four Tops is Reach Out. The hits on this album include “Reach Out I’ll be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Bernadette,” and “7-Rooms of Gloom.” They also had a couple popular covers on this album, including Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter.” Reach Out reached number 11 on the charts and climbed all the way up to number four on the U.K. charts.

In 2020, Reach Out was ranked by Rolling Stone at number 429 on “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. It is also seen as one of the most (if not the most) influential albums from a Motown artist.

Final Word About The Four Tops

There’s no mistaking that The Four Tops really paved the way for many soul and R&B artists. Their dedication to the music and to each other is really that of inspiration in itself. It is so uncommon that a band goes 44 years without a single lineup change, and the only reason they even changed their lineup is because of deaths in the band. There really aren’t many accounts of the band having much internal turmoil, which is also extremely uncommon for such a huge act.

Pretty much everyone can name at least one hit from The Four Tops, and this band is one that is timeless as people from many different generations listen to and appreciate their songs. This band might even be one that your grandparents were fans of.

If you haven’t already jammed out to some of the hits from The Four Tops, I highly recommend that you do. Their most famous song might be “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” but I really think the unsung hero from this band is “Bernadette.” I could listen to that song on repeat for hours on end. Definitely check out this incredible band—you won’t regret it.



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