One of Motown’s most notable acts, Detroit’s the Four Tops were also one of its most consistent. The band’s mid-‘60s singles helped define the sound of popular American soul, with its 1965 Holland–Dozier–Holland-composed chart topper “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” becoming one of the genre’s most recognizable songs.
Led by the impassioned baritone of Levi Stubbs, the singer gave the act a distinctive, gospel-influenced wailer, and the Four Tops’ string of hits were given a luxurious orchestral sweep. The simple, bass-heavy melody of “I Can’t Help Myself” is met with a rush of cascading keyboards and vocals, and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” has a shout-from-the-rafters sense of grandeur.
The Four Tops actually began its career as the Fair Aims, when Stubbs and his bandmates, Abdul Fakir, Renaldo Benson and Lawrence Payton, met in their teens. Though the Four Tops became a nationally recognized act in the mid-’60s, the group had signed a short-lived deal in the ’50s with Chess Records and didn’t land at Motown until 1963. The group’s first major hit for the label came the next year with slow-groove, finger-snapping “Baby I Need Your Loving.”
The band lost a bit of its magic touch, at least when it came to churning out hits, when Holland–Dozier–Holland split from Motown in the late ’60s. Yet the Four Tops stayed together, recording albums for multiple labels throughout the ’70s. If the Four Tops’ heyday was over, late-night ballads such as “Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)” proved the band could still find an audience.
The Four Tops returned to Motown in the early ’80s, but has found its latter-day success as a touring act rather than a recording one. The Four Tops went without a lineup change until 1997, when Payton succumbed to cancer. In the years that followed, the Four Tops toured with former Temptations member Theo Peoples. Benson died in 2005, and Stubbs passed away in 2008.