THE FOUR TOPS
Pictured backstage at London’s Royal Albert Hall in January 1967 are (from left) the group’s Renaldo Benson, Lawrence Payton and Duke Fakir, with impresario Brian Epstein, second left, and American singer Del Shannon, second right.
- It was May 1965 when the Four Tops paid their first promotional visit to the U.K., meeting journalists and disc jockeys, and plugging their latest single, “I Can’t Help Myself,” on radio and TV. The activity helped the single to reach the Top 30, and to spend nine weeks on the charts. But the Tops’ real impact came the following year, when Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, promoted a series of Sunday-night concerts at the Saville Theatre in central London. It was part of his plan to make it a hip music venue, and the Tops were among his first bookings.
- The Saville show in November ’66 was a smashing success, with the night’s two performances sold out. The theatre was packed with diehard British Four Tops fans as well as trendsetters of the day, including John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Georgie Fame and the Animals’ Eric Burdon. The excitement was fueled by the fact that “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was No. 1 on the U.K. charts that very week. The group satisfied every audience expectation on the night, while their new album, On Top, was beginning its climb towards the Top 10.
- The Four Tops’ growing popularity in Britain, coupled with the success of the Saville shows, led impresario Epstein to book the group for a nationwide U.K. tour early in 1967, opening at the Royal Albert Hall. A few days before the Motown quartet left Detroit for London that January, “Standing In The Shadows Of Love,” their follow-up to “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” exploded onto the British charts, beginning its ascent to the Top 10.
- The Motown act’s cross-country trek began January 28, 1967 with two performances at the Albert Hall, a much larger venue than the Saville. During rehearsals, Brian Epstein went to personally greet group members Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Abdul “Duke” Fakir. Another American singer popular in Britain, Del Shannon, joined them backstage, as pictured here (Stubbs is not seen in this shot). Opening acts on the tour were two local bands, the Merseys and the Remo Four; also, New Jersey-born Madeline Bell, who had previously relocated to the U.K. and was an in-demand session singer. After the London shows, the Tops played in-demand dates in Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham, wrapping up the run February 5 in Leicester.
- “Great Britain’s love affair with the Four Tops was unstoppable after their London performances,” noted writer Stu Hackel in liner notes for their Fourever set. True: the quartet went on to score Top 10 U.K. hits with such singles as “Simple Game,” “Walk Away Renee,” “It’s All In The Game” and “If I Were A Carpenter,” all of which out-charted their U.S. equivalents. In later years, a Tamla Motown U.K. reissue of “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” was a Top10 success, and even a remix of “Reach Out I’ll Be There” climbed to No. 11 in 1988 – a remarkable 19 years after it first topped the U.K. charts.