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The Story Behind The Song: The Supremes’ Motown classic ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’

The name of The Supremes will always go down the history of music as the first group to reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 not twice, not thrice but for five times consecutively. The secret of their back-to-back achievements, was their managing label, the Motown Records. Founded in the 1960s, The Supremes were an all-girl band, whose members were shuffled for quite a few times, making the trio of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard the most popular grouping of all time.

The trio, also known as Diana Ross and the Supremes, was in fact so popular during the mid-1960s, that they rivalled The Beatles for albums sales and general fan feverishness. The chief of Motown, Berry Gordy, and Maxine Powell planned to represent the group as a glamorous trio, embracing their femininity instead of imitating male groups’ qualities. Powell even went on to suggest the group to be ready “to perform before kings and queens.” With proper representation and marketing, the group raced to the top in no time, paving the way to mainstream success for the future R&B and Soul musicians.

With three number one hits ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ ‘Baby Love’ and ‘Come See About Me,’ the trio was indeed, reigning supreme. The fourth and most defining song to follow was ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’ and it came as a declaration of their omnipotent status. Released in February 1965, it conquered the charts within five weeks. Though it lost the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Group Vocal Performance to ‘Flowers on the Wall’ by the Statler Brothers, its legacy remains unparalleled.

Penned by the Motown songwriting team Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland and Brian Holland, popularly known as Holland/Dozier/Holland, the title of the song is a unique twist on the common phrase ‘Stop in the name of law’. The lyrical trio was indeed lucky for the label and The Supremes, as they delivered successive commercial hits. The label naturally decided to stick to the formula in order to score another hit while producing ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’.

As the story goes, the song’s hook line was uttered by Dozier during an argument with his girlfriend, when she caught him cheating. In the heated verbal war, Dozier said, “Baby, please stop. In the name of love – before you break my heart.” However, his cheesy dialogue didn’t quite do the trick. Sensing an inevitable break-up, he then asked his girlfriend to “think it over.” When the fight ceased for the day, unfortunately for his girlfriend and fortunately for The Supremes, the only thing that Dozier pondered about was the phrase “Stop in the name of love.” His artistic instinct rose above his personal troubles as he started to consider using the phrase in a song.

Dozier later detailed the backstory of the song saying that he was having a tryst at a “no-tell motel” when his girlfriend discovered his infidelity and reached the venue, banging the door furiously around 2 a.m. Dozier slipped his companion through the bathroom window before answering the door. He tried to spin a story as his girlfriend went “screaming and carrying on,” that he was tired because of the late hours spent in the studio working, and crashed into the motel for rest. Any person with common intelligence would have detected the lie, and so did his girlfriend. Unable to argue reasonably anymore, Dozier mouthed his final plea “Stop in the name of love,” hoping that it would melt his beloved’s heart. Instead, he got a stone-cold look from his girlfriend. Apparently, this girl came back to him after the song’s immense success.

Dozier twisted the perspective of the line for the song. The lead vocalist Diana Ross confronts her man in the song, telling him that she knows about his fling. But interestingly, instead of threatening him or adopting any violent measures, she appeals to him saying “(Think it over)/ After I’ve been good to you/ (Think it over)/ After I’ve been sweet to you.” Continuing her plea, she says “Stop in the name of love/Before you break my heart.” This might look like a weak measure to a modern-day woman, as it allows the man in question to get away with a major breach of trust, disregarding a woman’s self-respect and value. Keeping the times, during which the song was released, in mind, we might consider the probability of the songwriters trying to portray the common scenario of that era — a time when women were not that outspoken in their personal relationships. An otherwise problematic stance, this should not be the anthem of love.

The melodic and rhythmic track features Earl Van Dyke in a Hammond organ that opens the song, followed by Wilson and Ballard breaking out in a sudden chorus, bleating “Stop!” Ross joins in much later in the verse. An interesting observation, though the situation is tense, demanding an emotional rendition, Ross’s delivery is calm, collected and almost clinical. This can be interpreted in many ways including the fact that though it is a plea on paper, Ross conveys it as a demand or order to be followed.

Whether you’ve fallen in love with The Supremes and their song or can now see it as a slightly sordid tune, it is still almost impossible to avoid tapping one’s foot along to.