Behind The Song: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go”

Including a rare German language version by The Supremes, and performances by Ringo, Manhattan Transfer, The J. Geils Band, Adam Ant, Stooshe & more.

As an adjunct to our ongoing Songwriter U series, “Lessons with Lamont,” featuring the wisdom of Lamont Dozier of the Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown songwriting team, we’re bringing you this, an example of his songwriting brilliance, one of many beloved hits and standards he wrote with his partners Eddie and Brian Holland as Motown’s acclaimed hitmaking team Holland-Dozier-Holland.

It brings home why his wisdom on the artistic and practical aspects of songwriting matters, and is worth taking in. Holland-Dozier-Holland, after all, stand forever at the very summit of the songwriting mountain, having created countless songs which are not only hits, but modern standards.

What’s the difference? A hit is a hit for a moment in time (some which last longer than others). A standard is a song for the ages, one which has already proven to stand the test of time, famous, beloved and persisting to be recorded and performed through the decades.

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Lamont has written many standards. “Where Did Our Love Go” is one; it was a number one hit as recorded by Diana Ross and The Supremes in 1964. It’s the kind of song, as history affirms, that could be a compelling hit for many other artists and groups in many genres, from R&B to rock to soul to a capella vocal group to ’80s synth-rock to country and beyond.

Evidence of the power of song baked into “Where Did Your Love Go” abounds in the myriad versions, which cross-over all bins and borders. We’re happy to share with you today a great gumbo of performances of it, from artists ranging from Ringo Starr to The Manhattan Transfer to The J. Geils Band to Adam Ant to Soft Cell and beyond. It doesn’t stop.

And yet, as Lamont explains herein, it was a song written for one group that passed on it, and then recorded by another that didn’t want to record it, and felt it was in the wrong key.

It might have gone unrecorded and unsung, had not Lamont persevered. But let’s let him tell that story.

That story is also told in these recordings, which starts with the official studio version by The Supremes, as well as the surprisingly soulful sounding German language version they recorded. (Can Diana Ross still sound soulful even in German? Yes!)

One of the most moving versions is by Stooshe, a great British girl group, who sing it a cappella in perfect three-part harmony, with great soul, capturing the Motown girl group vibe but with a modern, beautifully soulful sheen.

And the synth-pop medley of the song with “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, which was second only to The Clash’s “Rock The Casbah” as everyone’s favorite song for dancing in clubs in the early ’80s, still sounds great, and eminently danceable still.

The Supremes’s single was written and produced at Motown by Lamont and the Hollands in 1964. It was the first single by the Supremes to go to #1 on the Billboard U.S. Pop Singles chart, where it stayed for two weeks, from August 16 to August 29, 1964. It was also the first in a string of five Supremes songs to reach #1 (preceding “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again”). 

Lamont. Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter.

Here’s the story behind this song and this record, as told by Lamont in his own words.

LAMONT DOZIER: I originally cut [“Where Did Our Love Go”] with the Marvelettes in mind. In fact, I cut it in Gladys Horton’s key, the lead singer, which was much lower than Diana Ross’. At that time, at Motown, the policy was that the songwriters had to pay for the tracks we cut if it didn’t get recorded by one of their artists. It never entered my mind that the Marvelettes wouldn’t like the song.

I had the chorus and went to the office to talk with Gladys and played it for her.

She said, “Oh, honey, we don’t do stuff like that. And it’s the worst thing I ever heard.” She was adamant about it. I was shocked.

I knew I was in deep trouble if I didn’t hurry and get someone to do the song because I wasn’t about to pay for the track. I went through the Motown artist roster and went all the way to the bottom of the list and there were the Supremes, better known in those days as the “No Hit Supremes.”

I told them it was tailor-made for them, knowing that they had nothing going on at the time and needed a song. Much to my surprise, they said no. Gladys told them I was looking for someone to record it. I wasn’t giving up. Brian (Holland), Eddie (Holland) and I finally persuaded them to do it, convincing them that it was their saving grace and they couldn’t refuse it. We had already had Top 40 hits with Martha and the Vandellas but they hadn’t had recordings of any significance yet.

They were so annoyed that they agreed to do it that, in the studio, they had a really bad attitude. Diana (Ross) said it was in the wrong key, that it was too low. (Of course it was – I wrote it in Gladys’ key.) Since the track was already cut, she had to sing it in that key and she’d never sung that low before. It turned out that her bad attitude and the low key were exactly what the song needed! I’d worked out intricate background vocals but the girls refused to learn them. Finally I said, “Just sing `Baby, baby, baby’.” It worked to their advantage and worked perfectly.

They didn’t necessarily agree. Diana and I were throwing obscenities back and forth and she went running to Berry (Gordy, Jr.) and told him I said something off color about him. He came down to the studio to see what was wrong and while he was there, he asked to hear the song. He thought it was really good, but said that he didn’t know if it was a hit, but that he thought it would be Top 10.”

The song was released and flew up the charts to #1. From then on, one hit followed another. It was the first of 13 consecutive #1s we did on the Supremes. The next time the Hollands and I saw the girls was at the airport. They were getting off a plane with their Yorkshire terriers, in mink stoles. We started laughing. It was so funny to see them turn into stars overnight.”

“Where Did Your Love Go” by The Supremes
The Credits:

Written and produced by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland
Lead vocals by Diana Ross
Background vocals by Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson
All instruments by The Funk Brothers:
Bass by James Jamerson
Drums by Richard “Pistol” Allen
Guitar by Eddie Willis, Robert White
Piano by Earl Van Dyke
Vibraphone by Jack Ashford
Percussion (foot stomping) by Eddie Holland, Mike Valvano
The baritone saxophone solo is by Andrew “Mike” Terry

The original version of the song was transmitted to astronauts orbiting earth in August 1965 during the Gemini 5 mission.

A few months later in April of 1965, The Supremes released their German language version of the song, “Baby, Baby, Wo ist Unsere Liebe” for the German market; it was the b-side to their German recording of “Moonlight and Kisses.”

Let’s start first with the official 1964 record, followed by the Supremes in German, and then a brisk funhouse journey through the song in its many guises through the years.

“There are no bad days. There are good days and there are learning days… To live up to your full potential, you have to approach life with humble awe. There’s no such thing as a bad day, If you woke up and you’re breathing, you’re having a great day.”
– Lamont Dozier

“All songwriting is personal. You’ve got to be willing to put
your own heart on the line if you want to touch the hearts of your listeners.” 
– Lamont Dozier

“You have to trust yourself, and trust that you know better than anyone what’s best for your song. But always remember: it’s about the song. It’s not about you.”
-Lamont Dozier

“Listen to the birds singing! You’d be surprised at some of the ideas that I’ve borrowed from some whistling in the trees, what the birds have given me.
So be aware. Keep your eyes and ears open for what people are saying, and what birds are singing. If you work hard and you listen, the Muse will be there for you.
-Lamont Dozier

“Let the song reveal itself to you. Marinate in the idea so that it can properly emerge. There’s no set amount of time that will take. Some songs come in a rush like a freight train, but others want to be chased for a while.”

–Lamont Dozier

Are you a songwriter? Enter the American Songwriter Lyric Contest.  

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