The Four Tops: Best Songs, FAQs, Fun Facts
The famed Motown group with hits like "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), "Ain't No Woman Like The One I Got," and "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" continues to make fans.
The Four Tops was a Motown singing group that was one of America’s most successful acts in the 1960s. Their legacy of success and popularity led to an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The Four Tops have 24 Top 40 hits to their name.
The vocal group formed in 1953 and didn’t get a Motown contract until nine years later. But, once aligned with the hit machine at Motown, the group’s record of success was second only to the Temptations in the 1960s.
The group is perhaps best known for lead singer Levi Stubb’s baritone voice. Most groups of that era were led by a tenor. And, as such, because most songs were written for tenors, Levi was forced to push his voice higher and higher. This gave his singing a sense of pleading, imploring, and urgency.
“Stubbs’s bold, dramatic readings of some of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s choicest material set a high standard for the contemporary soul in the mid-’60s,” noted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon The Four Tops introduction.
The Four Tops Members
The Four Tops featured lead singer baritone Levi Stubbs, tenor Lawrence Payton, bass/baritone Renaldo “Obie Benson” and tenor Abdul “Duke” Fakir. They grew up in Detroit, Michigan. They joined forces to sing at a friend’s birthday party, and something clicked.
The four members of the group all began performing in high school in Detroit. In 1963, the group signed with Berry Gordy and Motown. Gordy partnered the group with the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. Their first hit was “Baby I Need Your Loving. This Motown record was a Top 20 hit and topped out at #11 on the pop charts.
The Four Tops ultimately left Motown and recorded music for the ABC/Dunhill label.
For more than 40 years, the group turned out best-selling songs without a change to the four performers.
(You might like The 7 Best Songs of The Chi-Lites.)
Ten Best Four Tops Songs
These are the ten songs that make The Four Tops stand out from the crowd.
1.) Ain’t No Woman Like The One I Got
This 1973 hit single was first recorded in 1972 by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds. The Four Tops’ version features Levi Stubb in the lead vocal with support from Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton.
It was their most popular song post-Motown reaching #4 on the U.S. Pop Singles chart. The song was written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who also wrote Coven’s “One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)” and “Don’t Pull Your Love” for Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds.
Take the 1960s Music Lyrics Trivia Test.
Sample Lyrics to “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I Got”
“Every day the sun comes up around her.
She can make the birds sing harmony.
Every drop of rain is glad it found her.
Heaven must have made her just for me.
When she smiles so warm and tender,
A sight for sore eyes to see.”
“Ain’t No Woman Like The One I Got” Video
2.) Baby, I Need Your Loving
This 1964 Motown hit was written and produced by the famed production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Rolling Stone magazine ranked this song it #390 best in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Lead singer Levi Stubbs said, “Brian Holland and most of the people from the company were there. Brian said, ʻI think we’ve got a No.1 record for you,’ and I said, ʻWell, yeah, we’d like to hear it!’ This was about one-thirty at night. We said, ʻWell, why don’t we wait until the show is over and go over there [to Motown’s Hitsville HQ] and have a listen,’ because the club closed at 2 am. So we went down and stayed there until eight in the morning and cut it – and it was a smash.”
A cover by Johnny Rivers took this song to #3 in the country. But the Four Tops version led by Stubbs’ pleading baritone is still the choice of soul music lovers.
Did you know? Did you know The Four Tops started out as a backup band at Motown for the Supremes?
Baby, I Need Your Loving Video
3.) When She Was My Girl
With lead vocals by Levi Stubbs, “When She Was My Girl” earned the #1 spot on the U.S. R&B charts and #11 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Released in August 1981, it was written by Larry Gottlieb and Marc Blatte. Gottlieb also wrote “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” performed by Trisha Yearwood.
You might like “That’s All I Ask of You” by the Shaws
“When She Was My Girl” Video
4.) I Can’t Help Myself — Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch
“I Can’t Help Myself” was the Four Tops first #1 hit topping the charts for two weeks. Lead singer Levi Stubbs thought the lyrics were too cheesy and took an immediate dislike to the song.
The famed production team of Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, and Brian Holland wrote this classic. This trio was the same team responsible for the lion’s share of the Supreme’s hits.
Lamont Dozier tells the story, “I stayed with my grandmother when I was a kid. She owned her home beauty shop, and when the women would come up the walkway to get their hair done, my grandfather would be pedaling around in the garden. He was a bit of a flirt, and would say, ‘How you doing, sugar pie? Good morning, honeybunch.’ He was one of those types of guys. My grandmother had a big bay window to the front of the house. She’d say, ‘Look at that old codger – he thinks I don’t see. I know what he’s doing.’ He was just flirting with his big smile.”
Dozier goes on, “Years later, at Motown, I’m sitting at the piano. I’d take these mind trips back to my childhood, and I’m trying to see what this piano part is telling me. Sure enough, there my grandfather is, pedaling in the garden. That memory comes to my mind’s eye, and I know where the song is supposed to go. I hear him saying, ‘Good morning, sugar pie. How you doin’, honeybunch?’ That’s what started it.”
“I Can’t Help Myself” was featured in several movies, including Forrest Gump, Into the Night, and My Blue Heaven.
“I Can’t Help Myself” — (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) Video
5.) It’s the Same Old Song
Back in the day, it was fashionable for groups to extend the success of one song by delivering another song quickly that sounded similar. Not only does this sound similar to “I Can’t Help Myself,” but the title gives it away — “It’s the Same Old Song.”
“It’s the Same Old Song” Video
Did you know? Did you know that the lead in most groups is a tenor? This made The Four Tops somewhat distinct because of Stubbs being a baritone.
6.) Walk Away Renee
Written by Michael Brown, Bob Calilli, and Tony Sansone for the group The Left Banke, it was initially released in July 1966. The Four Tops did a cover version in 1967.
There are different versions of how the song was originally written. One release notes that Sansone chose the name Renee at random because the Beatles had success with a song titled after a girl’s name, “Michelle.”
The Left Banke’s version of the song never made it to the top charts in the UK, while the Four Tops version was a #3 hit.
“Walk Away Renee” Video
7.) Reach Out (I’ll Be There)
Yet another Holland, Dozier, and Holland written song that became a hit. This trio generally was required to write two to three songs a day.
Dozier explains the inspiration for the song, ” Brian, Eddie and I often had discussions about what women want most of all from a man, and after talking about some of our experiences with women, we all three agreed that they wanted someone to be there for them, through thick or thin, and be there at their beck and call! Thus this song was born.”
Here’s a fun fact about this song: The lyric, “Happiness is just an illusion,” was also used in Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” In the UK, it was just the second Motown song to hit the top spot at #1.
“Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” Video
8.) Standing in The Shadows of Love
This was the follow-up song to the Four Tops’ hit “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” There’s a similar musical arrangement, but the lyrics are entirely different.
Barry White and The Jackson 5 both created cover versions of this hit song.
Standing in the shadows of love,
I’m getting ready for the heartaches to come.
Can’t you see me standing in the shadows of love
I’m getting ready for the heartaches to come
“Standing in The Shadows of Love” Video
Did you know? Did you know that Levi Stubbs’ cousin was Jackie Wilson and his brother Joe was a member of The Contours?
This 1967 hit by The Four Tops was written and composed by Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland trio.
The song’s false ending with the instruments fading until Levi Stubbs shouts dramatically, “Bernadette!’ is memorable.
10.) Still Water (Love)
Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson wrote this 1970s hit featured on the album Still Waters Run Deep. Other hits of The Four Tops include “River Deep Mountain High” and “Wake Me, Shake Me” with the famous “Shake me awake” line.
“Still Water (Love)” Video
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions for The Four Tops. When you have to know more about this group, start here.
What was The Four Tops first hit song?
“Baby I Need Your Loving.”
Name The Four Tops biggest hit song?
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”
What was the Four Tops top album?
Four Tops Reach Out.
Can you recall the original name of the Four Tops?
The group started as the Four Aims in 1956 before switching to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers act.
Fun Facts About The Group
1.) In 1983, the Four Tops joined forces with the Temptations for “Battle of the Bands” contest on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special. The combination was a winner and spawned a series of co-headlining concert tours, including a series of sell-outs on Broadway.
2.) Levi Stubbs lent his baritone voice to a carnivorous plant named Audrey II, in the movie Little Shop of Horrors. The song “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” was nominated for an Oscar.
3.) What else is Obie Benson noted for? He was the co-writer of “What’s Going on,” the popular song performed by Marvin Gaye.
4.) Gladys Knight said of Stubbs, “His voice was so emotional, crisp with energy and an edge. So many artists don’t like to share, but he was very unassuming and so very humble.”
Quotes About The Four Tops
- The Four Tops are a one in a million singing group… The Four Tops will always be one of the best groups ever. Their music is forever.
- In 1990, we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. The one that meant the most, though, was the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. I was in tears.
Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir
- Reach Out can be seen as the high-water mark of the first decade of Motown. The soon-to-leave the label production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland gave the album a coherence.
Daryl Easlea, BBC review of Reach Out album
- They could sing like a gospel group but then do R&B like no one else. I love singers whom you can identify the first second they open their mouth, and Levi Stubbs is one of those; he’s one of the greatest of all time. He has that distinctive voice, and his range is staggering. The combination of Levi, Obie Benson, Duke Fakir, and Lawrence Payton was truly awesome.
- Motown hastily put together the Four Tops Greatest Hits, which was to become the biggest selling record of their career in the UK. Put that and Reach Out together and you have some of the most passionate, soulful music, exquisite playing, and well-written melodies of all time.
Daryl Easlea, BBC review of Reach Out album
The Music Continues
Three of the original members of The Four Tops quartet have passed away. Abdul “Duke” Fakir is the last original member still living. Replacement members were found, and the band continues to perform. And, of course, the music of the original quartet continues to be a favorite of music lovers around the world.
Mike is a Motown fan and co-editor of ListCaboodle.com.
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