"You Keep Me Hangin' On"

The Supremes

album cover

Supreme Radio Nectar

If someone forced you to pick one song that epitomizes Motown's hit-making machine at its peak, an obvious choice might be "Stop in the Name of Love," the 1965 number 1 hit by the Supremes that's become a karaoke standby. Or maybe the bouncy "Baby Love," which reached the top the year before, or the philosophical "You Can't Hurry Love." Written and produced by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, these are all essential texts, consummate marriages of craft and inspiration that remain without peer in pop music.

Go a bit farther into the discography, and you soon encounter another of the twelve (!) chart-topping singles the Supremes generated between 1964 and 1969: "You Keep Me Hangin' On." It's the highest of the high, the most action-packed three minutes of radio nectar ever recorded by Diana Ross and her crew, a song that never gets old even though it's been covered endlessly. An ode to a dead-end relationship, this was the first single from the 1966 album The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. Later it became a hit for Vanilla Fudge in 1968, and again in the '80s when sung by Kim Wilde. (It's also been interpreted by Wilson Pickett, Rod Stewart, and Madness.)

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" started as an experiment. After generating a string of chart-topping hits that followed a bouncy, upbeat formula, Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland felt comfortable challenging the singers a bit—with a more aggressive rock-style beat, and a meatier subject. The single-note guitar phrase that's the song's foundation was inspired, Dozier said later, by the Morse code sound of a radio news flash. Around it, the Motown rhythm section builds a groove that exists in some magical netherworld between "rock" and "soul," unifying those styles in a way few had done before.

The result is the last great Holland-Dozier-Holland effort for the Supremes. The song-writing and production team parted ways with Motown the following year, leaving behind this dizzying and highly habit-forming single, the rare oldies-radio staple that sounds like it was made yesterday.

Genre: Pop, R&B
Released: 1966, Motown
Appears On: The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland
Catalog Choice: The Ultimate Collection
Next Stop: The Four Tops: Anthology
After That: The Pointer Sisters: Best of the Pointer Sisters
Book Page: 756

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#1 from Robert Baker, Jacksonville, FL - 07/31/2009 10:18

How do the Supremes and Temptations, the greates male and greatest femal group on Motown, only get a single song a piece on this list? Meanwhile, Minnie Riperton gets an entire album of material on it. Please explain your thought process as to the Supremes and Temptations.

#2 from tom moon - 08/01/2009 4:19

Thanks for that question. I knew we would need to represent each of the legendary Motown groups. I also knew that I didn’t want to simply rely on “Hits” anthologies for each, and since these are singles artists really, the challenge was to develop creative ways to cover each.

I had a quote from Al Green about the nature of soul music, in which he talks about Temptations singer David Ruffin’s performance of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” while there are other Temps songs I love—“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” for one—I felt that Green’s comments were so spot-on they would lead curious listeners to other music by the Temps. in a sense, that one song could say quite a lot about this group.

Likewise with the Supremes. You could make a case for any and all of those singles as essential works. I didn’t rely on my own personal taste in selecting every entry, but this is my favorite Supremes single and the one I feel contains all the group’s signature traits.

as for other Motown titans, the Four Tops could have been handled with a single track, but I didn’t want to do the same thing for each of the label’s hitmakers. and I felt I needed an anthology for Smokey Robinson because his songwriting contribution is much, much broader than most people realize; listen to an hour of his work and you may find your jaw on the floor.

Thanks and happy exploring….


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