Though their songs are more well-known than their names, Motown's Four Tops kept their original lineup together from the mid-'50s until the late '90s.
One-fourth of that harmonizing lineup, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, was born Dec. 26, 1935, in Detroit. When he was 19, Fakir met Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo "Obie" Benson at a party in Detroit.
The four men became friends and decided to form a vocal group, which they first called the Four Aims. In 1956 they signed with Chess Records and began calling themselves the Four Tops to distinguish them from the Ames Brothers, a popular recording act of the time.
The Four Tops' first single, "Kiss Me Baby," backed with "Could It Be You," was a flop, as were their next few releases for various labels. It wasn't until the Tops joined Berry Gordy's Motown Records in 1964 that their name portended what their chart position would be.
Berry changed the band's style from supper-club pomp to contemporary soul and hooked them up with the songwriting/production team of Holland/Dozier/Holland.
The hits began with "Baby I Need Your Loving" (1964) and continued with such classics as 1965's "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Same Old Song," as well as 1967's "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Seven Rooms of Gloom." The Four Tops became world famous for Stubbs' gruff lead vocals and their sharp-as-a-tack choreography.
But after 1967, Holland/Dozier/Holland formed their own record label and were unavailable to the Tops. The group carried on by covering others' hits, such as Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," but their popularity was on the wane. In the '70s the Tops switched from Motown to ABC/Dunhill Records, hitting it big on the pop charts with the #4 "Ain't No Woman Like the One I Got" and the #10 "Keeper of the Castle." But their other records, such as "Just Seven Numbers" and "Sweet Understanding Love," made big splashes only with R&B fans.
The Tops were back on top briefly in 1981 with the #11 pop hit "When She Was My Girl." And even though the group returned to Motown for a while and teamed with other record companies such as Arista, they never enjoyed another smash.
But the Four Tops remained a big "oldies" concert draw, especially since their original lineup remained intact (a rarity among the successful groups of Motown's heyday) until 1997, when Payton died of liver cancer. The group has carried on since with replacement Theo Peoples.
The Four Tops, beloved for their mix of gritty soul and smooth pop, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the NAACP's Image Hall of Fame in1992.
This year brought a Four Tops retrospective, Their Greatest Love Songs, as well as the release of their previously unissued 1964 LP Breaking Through.
Other birthdays Sunday: Bob Carpenter (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), 53; Gordon Edwards (Pretty Things), 53; Paul Anthony Quinn (Saxon), 48; Jay Farrar (Son Volt), 33; J. Yuenger (White Zombie), 32; and Peter Klett (Candlebox), 30.