The Meaning Behind “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes and How It Started a Run of Chart-Toppers for the Group

In an era where girl groups flexed their musical muscles on the pop charts with regularity, none could quite keep up with The Supremes. Their list of smash hits runs long, with “You Can’t Hurry Love” ranking with their very best.

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What is “You Can’t Hurry Love” about? What did the songwriters have in mind? And how did it launch The Supremes again on one of their impressive ’60s hitmaking streaks? Here is a close look at one of the most beloved hits to ever emerge from Motown.

A Supreme Collaboration

The artist usually gets the credit because their name is on the marquee. But Motown Records thrived because of the collaboration of many people who all knew their roles well and pitched in for the greater good of the entire label. “You Can’t Hurry Love” is a prime example of this.

Of course, the song wouldn’t have been quite what it became without the performance of The Supremes. Diana Ross was only 22 years old when she sang the song, and yet she sounds infinitely wise in passing along the advice of her elders.

But “You Can’t Hurry Love” first needed to be written, and that’s where the legendary trio of Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, and Brian Holland came into play. Responsible for the vast majority of Motown’s hits, these guys not only had to come up with hits for a variety of artists on the label, but they also had to make sure they weren’t copying themselves.

In the case of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Lamont Dozier explained to Performing Songwriter how the word love was, in its way, a stand-in for life in general when the trio composed the song:

“It was a gospel thing that Brian came up with. He wrote the melody, and Eddie got the title. It’s a term our grandparents used. In other words, don’t rush things, you’re so young. It’s really a double meaning, though. We used love, but we were really saying to take your time, feel your direction, find out where you’re going, study the terrain more before you dash off into an unknown place. You can’t hurry anything.”

“You Can’t Hurry Love” also benefited from the stellar studio musicians, known as The Funk Brothers, who created the foundation for all Motown songs. In particular, bassist James Jamerson shines on this track, devising a head-bob of a bass line that has since been imitated by countless other songs (and was faithfully recreated by John Giblin on Phil Collins’ hit remake of the song in 1982.)

The Supremes went through a stretch of five No. 1’s in a row in 1964 and 1965. It didn’t seem like another such streak was in the cards for them when just one of their next four songs topped the pop charts. But “You Can’t Hurry Love” soared to the top in ’66 and began a streak of four more consecutive No. 1 singles.

What is the Meaning Behind “You Can’t Hurry Love”?

“You Can’t Hurry Love” sets up the dichotomy between the impetuousness of youth and the patience of the golden years. The narrator starts off by insisting and demanding: I need love, love / To ease my mind. In the middle eights, she explains why her frustration has risen: But how many heartaches must I stand / Before I find the love to let me live again?

Later, she even uses the word impatient to describe her state of mind. But every time she heads to the brink, she’s pulled back by the sage words of her mother: You can’t hurry love / No you just have to wait. Her mother doesn’t make any empty promises about this problem being solved immediately, instead asking her daughter to have faith: She said trust, give it time / No matter how long it takes.

“You Can’t Hurry Love” somehow makes even more sense these days, now that the pace of life seems to pick up with each passing year. Throw this record on and get lost in the combined brilliance of all those involved, and maybe take a second to heed the advice it yields.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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