The Four Tops for a Monday night. One of the cornerstones of Soul throughout the 1960s and 70s, and continuing uninterrupted all the way to 1997, when founding member Lawrence Payton passed away from Liver Cancer at 59, the lineup never changed and the hits extended well into the 1980s.
The Four Tops helped define Detroit’s Motown sound of the 1960s. Their repertoire has included soul music, R&B, disco, adult contemporary, doo-wop, jazz, and show tunes.
Founded as the Four Aims, lead singer Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton remained together for over four decades, performing from 1953 until 1997 without a change in personnel.
The Four Tops were among a number of groups, including the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Temptations, and the Supremes, who established the Motown Sound heard around the world during the 1960s. They were notable for having Stubbs, a baritone, as their lead singer, whereas most male and mixed vocal groups of the time were fronted by a tenor.
The group was the main male vocal group for the highly successful songwriting and production team of Holland–Dozier–Holland, who crafted a stream of hit singles for Motown. These included two Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits for the Tops: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” in 1965 and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” in 1966. After Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967, the Four Tops were assigned to a number of producers, primarily Frank Wilson, but generally with less success.
When Motown left Detroit in 1972 to move to Los Angeles, California, the Tops stayed in Detroit but signed a new recording deal with ABC Records’ Dunhill imprint. Recording mainly in Los Angeles, they continued to have chart singles into the late 1970s, including the million-seller “Ain’t No Woman”, their second release on Dunhill, produced by Steve Barri and the composers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.
In the 1980s, the Four Tops recorded for Casablanca Records, Arista Records and Motown, returning to that label on two occasions for brief stays. Apart from their album Indestructible (owned by Sony Music Entertainment), Universal Music Group controls the rights to their entire post-1963 catalog (through various mergers and acquisitions) and also their 1956 single, “Could It Be You”.
A change of lineup was forced on the group when Lawrence Payton died on June 20, 1997. The group initially continued as a three-piece under the name the Tops, before Theo Peoples (formerly of the Temptations) was recruited as the new fourth member. Peoples eventually took over the role of lead singer when Stubbs suffered a stroke in 2000, with Ronnie McNeir then joining the group. On July 1, 2005, Benson died of lung cancer. Payton’s son Roquel Payton replaced him. Levi Stubbs died on October 17, 2008.
Fakir, McNeir, Roquel Payton, and Harold “Spike” Bonhart, who replaced Peoples in 2011, are still performing together as the Four Tops. Fakir is the only surviving founding member of the group.
This concert, part of their European tour of 1989, features the group in concert at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon in London and preserved for posterity by BBC Radio 1 for their In Concert radio series.
Crank it up.