The R&B-inspired Rock band Alabama Shakes originated when lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard approached bassist Zac Cockrell during a high school psychology class in Athens, Alabama and the pair began meeting after school to write songs. Howard and Cockrell then approached Punk-Rock drummer Steve Johnson, who was working at a local music store, to join the band. The trio recorded some of their songs in a studio in Decatur, Alabama and subsequently recruited guitarist Heath Fogg on his return to Athens from college in Tuscaloosa. Originally christened "The Shakes," the band later renamed themselves The Alabama Shakes in order to differentiate themselves from other bands with their original name.
The Alabama foursome gained widespread media attention after releasing a self-titled four-song EP in September 2011 and Rough Trade Records in the United Kingdom and ATO Records in the United States signed them two months later. This is their first single from their debut album, Boys & Girls.
Howard sings on this song, "Never thought I'd make it to twenty-two years old," then calls out her own name. When asked by American Songwriter magazine if she's using poetic license in that fatalistic line, she replied by describing the night that the song first came together. Fogg and Cockrell had already come up with its riff, but Howard had yet to pen its melody or any lyrics. One night before playing a set at The Brick in Decatur, Howard instructed the musicians to start playing this song's groove at some point in the evening. "We talked about playing it that night, and I told them, 'Just start playing it and I'll make up words on the spot,'" she said. "That's where the song came from. It was a good night for dancing. They started playing it, and I just came up with some words – whatever was on my mind – and that came out."
Alabama Shakes played this during their US national television debut on February 7, 2012, on Conan.
Howard explained the meaning of the, "never thought I'd make it to twenty-two years old," line to NME: "It's not necessarily that I didn't think I was going to make it to 22," she explained. "It's just like, you know when you're younger and you can't imagine yourself ever being grown? I didn't like my job and I didn't like where I was living and I didn't like the way my world was. You're holding on but at the same time you're tired of waiting for things to get better. Why have you always got to want something better."
This came top of Rolling Stone's list of the top songs of 2012. The magazine said: "In a year when most divas couldn't get beyond post-Gaga spectacle, along came Brittany Howard, a twentysomething from Athens, Alabama, who reincarnated the ghost of Sixties rock and soul without resorting to oversinging histrionics or bald imitation."
Alabama Shakes played this during their first appearance on Saturday Night Live along with "Always Alright," which was written for the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack. Host Christoph Waltz managed to mess up their name when he introduced the band as the singular "Alabama Shake."
This became the sixteenth different song titled "Hold On" to reach the Hot 100 when it entered the chart dated March 2, 2013, following Alabama Shakes' appearance on Saturday Night Live. In doing so, it increased its lead as the most frequently used song title in the chart's history with "Runaway" running close behind with 14 different versions.