Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Songs #380 & 381 - It's TWOsday!

Song #380 of 9999                                                            Song #381 of 9999

Title: You Keep Me Hangin' On                                        Title: You Keep Me Hangin' On
Artist: The Supremes                                                         Artist: Vanilla Fudge
Year: 1967                                                                         Year: 1967
Album: The Supremes Sing Holland–Dozier–Holland     Album: Vanilla Fudge


Here's the story of one act's career slowly grinding to a halt while another's is just getting started. And how a song can transcend and overcome trends in pop music.

By 1967, the stellar songwriting/production team known as Holland-Dozier-Holland (H-D-H) was engaged in a dispute with Motown founder Gordy Berry over royalties. H-D-H was responsible for writing and producing almost every record The Supremes released while at Motown, including "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again," "I Hear a Symphony," "You Can't Hurry Love," and "You Keep Me Hangin' On"—eight #1 singles in just over two years! The dispute with Motown resulted in a deliberate work slowdown and, by 1968, they were gone. And while The Supremes continued to have moderate success, they found it harder and harder to crack the Top 20 without their writing team. Soon after, Diana Ross left the group and they never had another number one again.

In the meantime, psychedelic rock was gaining a foothold beyond California and bands with names like Moby Grape, the Electric Prunes, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Vanilla Fudge starting popping up. (Did it just get hungry in here?) And while most were composing their own lengthy compositions, the Long Island band Vanilla Fudge decided to tap into their influences and record heavy, organ-tinged arrangements of the pop songs they enjoyed. And so just a year after The Supremes hit the charts with "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (in 1966, technically), Vanilla Fudge scored with their pumped-up version form their eponymous debut. (I'm featuring the album-length cut here, but a single version was released for radio airplay.)

While slower and driven by Carmine Appice's forceful drumming, it's actually kind of startling how true to the original Vanilla Fudge's version is. They don't just maintain the Morse-code like ostinato but build upon it later in the song for maximum musical impact. The spoken word break, delivered with cute exasperation by Diana Ross, isn't nearly as awkward as I expected it to be, with Mark Stein sounding both hopeless and helpless. In the end, Vanilla Fudge's version sounds very much like the male counterpoint to The Supremes' version—kudos for keeping the backing vox, which helps a lot in making the connection—and I have more than a little fun imagining that they are singing about one another.

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