This was written by the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who deliberately set out to write a rock song for the Supremes. Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland were a big part of the Motown Sound. They not only wrote most of the hits for The Supremes, The Four Tops, and many other acts on the label, but they also produced and arranged the sessions, giving them nearly complete control of the product.
The song is about a woman who knows her fellow doesn't love her, but isn't man enough to break up with her. All she can do is plead with him to set her free.
Lamont Dozier explained in a 1976 interview with Blues & Soul magazine how he came up with these tales of woe: "I've often broken up with a girlfriend for a week just to be able to get that real feeling of hurt so that I can write what I write from experience! I should add that I always make sure we patch up again after the week's over. But I'm constantly working at the piano – that's my source of release, like a tranquilizer for me."
Lamont Dozier created the stuttering guitar line, which was inspired by the radio's signal for news flashes. It was played by Robert White, who was one of the guitarists for Motown's studio band, The Funk Brothers. He is perhaps best known for performing the lead lines on the Temptations classic chart topper "My Girl."
This was the Supremes' eighth US #1 hit. It was part of a second row of #1 hits they had; their first row of #1 hits were five, their second row had four. It came right after "You Can't Hurry Love" (US #1; this was later covered by Phil Collins).
That little aside when the girls say, "a there ain't nothing I can do about it" sounds like an ad-lib, but it was very much planned. In a Songfacts interview with Lamont Dozier, he said: "We wanted to make it believable, add some everyday talk, like the girl was really going through this predicament. When you get to a certain point with a situation, you realize, 'Hey, there ain't nothing I can do about it,' because you're so wrapped up with this individual that you can't run, you can't hide, and there's nothing you can do about it. So, you just deal with it the best you can."
Although it never won a Grammy, this song (along with "Where Did Our Love Go," which never won a Grammy either) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Suggestion credit: Jerro - New Alexandria, PA, for all above
Vanilla Fudge recorded a successful cover version that hit #6 US in 1968. Fudge drummer Carmine Appice explained in a Songfacts interview: "In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them and putting emotion into them. The Vagrants were doing it, they had Leslie West in the band. The Rich Kids were doing it, they had this writer named Richard Supa. The Hassles were doing it, they had Billy Joel. It all started from The Rascals, I think. We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them. 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' lyrically was a hurtin' kind of song, and when The Supremes did it, it was like a happy song. We tried to slow down the song and put the emotion the song should have into it with the hurtin' kind of feeling the song should have."
Carmine Appice: "Our manager had a connection with Shadow Morton, and he connected it with us. The object was to get us in the studio. When he saw us, he loved us, and we cut 'You Keep In Hangin' On' in one-take mono. One take, straight to tape."
Vanilla Fudge has done a lot of cover songs in a similar style, including "People Get Ready," "Eleanor Rigby," "I Want It That Way" and "Tearin' Up My Heart."
Rod Stewart recorded this in 1977 on his album Foot Loose And Fancy Free. Appice was the drummer in Stewart's band at the time. Says Carmine: "When I was with Rod, he always said to me, 'I wish I had done that song, it's such a great song the way you guys did it.' I said to Rod, 'Why don't you do it? I'm in the band, it will give you an excuse to do it.' So we put together an arrangement a little different than The Fudge. It was similar in that it was slowed-down, but the whole middle section was a piano and orchestra thing. When we did it live, it came out tremendous. When I was on stage in 1977, playing You Keep Me Hangin' On with Rod, I was thinking how 10 years before I was on arena stages playing it with The Fudge."
In 1986 the British singer Kim Wilde had her only American #1 with her cover, making this one of the few songs to top the American charts twice.
Wilde's only other American Top 40 hit was "Kids In America," which reached #25, but in her native Britain she was more successful, with eight Top 10s hits, including "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Kids In America," which both peaked at #2.
Kim started her music career singing backup for her father, Marty Wilde, known in the UK for hit covers of songs like "A Teenager In Love" and "Rubber Ball." Kim later gained renown as a gardening expert.
Kim Wilde said of her cover on the BBC website, "We had feedback from the writers, who were absolutely delighted with it. But I never actually had any contact with HER (Diana Ross). I did hear thirdhand that they were not too impressed, but the writers were, and that means more to me than anything."
The working title for this song was "Pay Back."
Suggestion credit: Jerro - New Alexandria, PA
Aretha Franklin covered this for her 2014 album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics. In addition to singing throughout, the Queen of Soul also plays piano on her version.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 14th 1968, Vanilla Fudge performed "You Keep Me Hangin' On" on CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'... Six months earlier on July 2nd, 1967 their covered version entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a five week stay then fell of the chart... And on July 7th, 1968 it re-entered the Top 100 and on August 25th, 1968 it peaked at #6 (for 1 week) and spent a grand total of 17 weeks on the Top 100... Three other covered versions have charted on the Top 100; Wilson Pickett (#92 in 1969), Jackie DeShannon (#96 in 1970, in a medley with "Hurt So Bad"), and on May 31st, 1987 Kim Wilde took it to #1 (for 1 week)... In 1996 Reba McEntire's covered version peaked at #2 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart.
Herb from Brooklyn, NyCarmine Appice/"The Vanilla Fudge" did not re-compose "You Keep Me Hangin' On!" What they did was talk a bunch of short-sighted egotists /aka/ "The Rising Suns," into letting them walk out the door of Trude Heller's, (Greenwich Village, NYC) with the rights to record their version. A glance at the single shows..."Arranged by the Guys." "The Guys," are "The Suns!" At the time of the heist..."V.F." was "The Pigeons," who were appearing uptown at Ungano's. They went on to become "Vanilla-(to fake or falsify)-Fudge.) And "The Suns" went on to become "The-(one,(or more) who is easily swindled; a dupe!) Pigeons."
Emma from Adelaide, Australiaheard this in glee the cover was AH- MAZING
John from Nashville, TnThis song was out of character for the Supremes because they were always whining about wanting their wayward man to stay with them. On "You Keep Me Hanging On" the girls are actually giving the man a kick in the pants out the door.
John from Nashville, TnOne of the few songs in which the original version and the remake both hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (The Supremes and Kim Wilde).
Kristin from Bessemer, AlThe line where Diana speaks instead of singing "and there ain't nothing I can do about it" - she sounds as if she is very defeated from the influence this guy has on her - no wonder she wants him out of her life!
Izzmo from Buffalo, NyThis is the only song that ever hit the American top 40 by four different artists (The Supremes, Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, and Kim Wilde)
Mike from Knoxville, TnI thought it was odd that in late 1969, Wilson Pickett had an interpretation of this song having nearly the same arrangement as Vanilla Fudge's rock version. Then again, earlier in 1969, Pickett interpreted another rock record- HEY JUDE by the Beatles. Maybe he was listening to a lot of rock music in the late 1960s.
Tony from Charleston, ScOn most recordings of this song you can hear Florence Ballard singing lead with Diana Ross. Motown producers thought her voice was not strong enough to carry the lead.
Tony from Charleston, ScApparently in the studio version, Diana Ross voice is paired with Florence Ballard because the producers felt that Diana's voice alone was not enough to carry the song.
Fyodor from Denver, CoThis song reflected a shift towards heavier subject matter for the group, following the trends of the times. I'm always amazed at how quickly change spread throughout the entire culture in the sixties. Our culture now seems more segregated into barely changing subcultures, many of which are modeled on various trends from the sixties and early seventies. For better or worse.
Dan from Lee, NhVannila Fudge really sucks to listen to, but Carmine Appice inspired Bonham and Bonham changed drumming so it's all part of the circle of life. And Tim Bogert really has his work cut out for himself. But all in all Fudge couldn't right a song for a penny and they were very tedious to listen to.