Levi Stubbs (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Renaldo 'Obie' Benson (b. 1937, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Lawrence Peyton (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 10 June 1997) and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA), first sang together at a party in Detroit in 1954. Calling themselves the Four Aims, they began performing at supper clubs in the city, with a repertoire of jazz songs and standards.
In 1956, they changed their name to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the popular singing group the Ames Brothers, and recorded a one-off single for the R&B label Chess. Further unsuccessful recordings appeared on Red Top, Columbia and Riverside between 1958 and 1962, before the Four Tops were signed to the Motown jazz subsidiary Workshop, in 1963. Motown boss Berry Gordy elected not to release their initial album, Breaking Through, in 1964, and suggested that they record with the label's Holland/Dozier/Holland writing and production team. The initial release from this liaison was 'Baby I Need Your Loving', which showcased the group's strong harmonies and the gruff, soulful lead vocals of Levi Stubbs; it reached the US Top 20. The following year, another Holland/Dozier/Holland song, 'I Can't Help Myself', topped the charts, and established the Four Tops as one of Motown's most successful groups.
Holland/Dozier/Holland continued to write and produce for the Four Tops until 1967. The pinnacle of this collaboration was 'Reach Out I'll Be There', a transatlantic hit in 1966. This represented the pinnacle of the traditional Motown style, bringing an almost symphonic arrangement to an R&B love song; producer Phil Spector described the record as 'black [ Bob ] Dylan'. Other major hits such as 'It's The Same Old Song' and 'Bernadette' were not as ambitious, although they are still regarded as Motown classics today.
In 1967, the Four Tops began to widen their appeal with soul-tinged versions of pop hits, such as the Left Banke 's 'Walk Away Renee' and Tim Hardin 's 'If I Were A Carpenter'. The departure of Holland, Dozier and Holland from Motown later that year brought a temporary halt to the group's progress, and it was only in 1970, under the aegis of producer/writers like Frank Wilson and Smokey Robinson, that the Four Tops regained their hit status with a revival of the Tommy Edwards hit 'It's All In The Game', and the socially aware ballad 'Still Waters'. That same year, they teamed up with the Supremes for the first of three albums of collaborations. Another revival, Richard Harris 's hit 'MacArthur Park', brought them success in 1971, while Renaldo Benson also co-wrote Marvin Gaye 's hit single 'What's Going On'.