Holland-Dozier-Holland were definitely on a roll as they penned two number ones in a row. The last song by the Supremes and now this one, “I Can’t Help Myself” for the Four Tops. This was the first time a number one Motown song was succeeded by another number one Motown song.
Made up of four friends from high school, members Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton started when they just accidentally sang a song at a friend’s birthday party. They sounded so good together that they decided to go to one of their homes and practice. Levi was the lead singer and the other three sang backup. They decided to call themselves the Four Aims. It was 1953 in Detroit, Michigan.
Payton had a cousin who was a songwriter and he suggested they try recording a record. They signed with Chess Records and someone at Chess asked them where they got their name. They said they were “aiming for the top.” The person told them it sounded too much like the Ames Brothers, who were popular at the time and suggested they change their name to the Four Tops, so they did.
They recorded with various labels and performed for the next ten years, but with little success. Barry Gordy heard them when he was just starting Motown in the late Fifties, but the guys had their eyes set on New York and turned him down. They went to New York, but couldn’t make it there, either. In 1963, they came back to Detroit and asked Gordy if he was still interested in them. He was and they signed with Motown. They broke into the Top 40 when Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote the song “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’” for the group and it hit number eleven on the charts. They were on their way.
The Four Tops are something of an anomaly in the music business. So many groups I talk about change personnel as time goes by and their popularity vanes. The Four Tops are unique in that the group never changed. The same four guys sang together until 1997, when Lawrence Payton died. After that they were just The Tops as the remaining three carried on. Renaldo Benson died in 2005 and Levi Stubbs died in 2008 so Duke Fakir is the only surviving member of the original Four Tops.
“I Can’t Help Myself” debuted on the pop charts on May 22, 1965 and stayed at number one for two weeks. It spent one week at number one (June 19, 1965,) then was replaced by “Mr Tambourine Man” by the Byrds (see next song) and then returned to number one for another week (July 3.) The song also spent nine weeks at number one on the R&B charts.