Where Did Our Love Go? (1964)
The clip-clopping of feet on hardwood, the sound of a lover walking out on something once sublime. The “Baby, baby, baby don’t leave me” of Diana Ross’s creamy, dreamy voice. The rolling piano, part New Orleans, part Memphis, all Detroit.
You’re ushered into the control room of Motown as its rocket lifts from the launching pad. The hip-swinging sensuality that recalls the singer’s bedroom passion rocks in a most feminine way. The question is asked, and never answered, “What the hell went wrong?”
“Where Did Our Love Go” sent Motown into the stratosphere
“Where Did Our Love Go?” is as much a part of the soundtrack from the 1960s as The Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys, The Byrds or Dead. It began an almost unbelievable string of five consecutive #1 songs for The Supremes and would – with the anointing of Ross as the team’s leader – create the idea of the diva in the modern, non-opera sense. (This in spite of the fact that Ross had a very good voice though not on a par with fellow Supreme, Mary Wilson.) But Diana had “it,” whatever that might be.
The album of the same name stayed on the charts for 89 weeks in 1964 and ’65. At #2 it held the highest ranking (at that time) of any female’s work. The vinyl platter boasts two other #1 songs, “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.”
The song is stripped down to bare essentials. The stomping and clapping rhythms are its musical hook. The simple piano chords punched out in counter rhythm, a laid back bass and barely audible lead guitar, plus a killer sax throughout and in an economical break, make up the tune’s backbone. All two minutes and thirty-five seconds of it. Its poignant lyrics sung in a haunting voice by Ross cut to the bone.
Against the diva’s museum-quality-porcelain lead vocals, Wilson and the troubled Florence Ballard repeat the spare back up line, “Baby, baby, where did our love go?” They sneak in at the second verse like ghosts entering a darkened, crumbling house.
The poignant main lyric is tossed off in an effortlessly haunting yet simpering voice by Ross.
You came into my heart
With a burning love
That stings like a bee
Now that I surrendered
You now wanna leave
Ooh, you wanna leave me
Like most smash hits, “Where Did Our Love Go?” holds an inner tale.
The composers, Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote the song for singers who made up what was Motown’s biggest “girl group” at the time, The Marvelettes, who turned it down cold. Icy cold.
In the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song, Lamont Dozier describes the experience this way:
I originally cut this track 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’s. 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.
As if that hadn’t been bad enough, in her autobiography, Dreamgirl, and elsewhere, Mary Wilson discusses the ensuing negativity of The Supremes toward “Where Did Our Love Go?” The songwriting team brought them The Marvelettes’ sloppy seconds and this transpired:
“‘We have a great song for you, and it was called ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’” said the Hollands, Wilson explained in one interview. “So they played it for us and we said, ‘We don’t like that. Listen, we need to have a hit record, OK?’ They said, ‘Trust us this is a hit record.’”
In retrospect, how could it not have been a monstrous smash, given its
Before you won my heart
You were a perfect guy
But now that you got me
You wanna leave me behind
Baby, baby don’t leave me
Ooh, please don’t leave me
All by myself
They were at the bottom of the girl group roster and the songwriters, after much resistance from them, persuaded the foundering group to record it. The rest is history by fairytale.
At one point the song was played more than 2,000 times per hour on radio stations across America. It hit #1 in late August of ’64, bracketed in the top position by, among other songs, The Fours Seasons’ “Rag Doll,” The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” “The House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals, and Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” Heady circles to be running in after they rose from nobodies to the top of the heap. (See photo above: Yes there were four of them once upon a time.)
Estimates vary, but the two not-so-Supremes have earned about $5,000 in royalties on the song. Diana Ross’s personal relationship with Berry Gordy reportedly gave her hundreds of thousands in an era when that was enormous money.
The Beatles burned up Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, on August 15, 1965. The next day meant time off from performing. The lads spent much of the day in the Warwick Hotel, on 6th Avenue and 54th Street in New York. There they received callers, including Bob Dylan, The Ronettes, Del Shannon, The Exciters… and The Supremes.
Something special was in the air, even though people will always ask, and most likely never will answer, The Supremes’ burning, burning question, “Where Did Our Love Go?”
The J. Geils Band burns up “Where Did Our Love Go” live in Detroit
- Because record-keeping was so shabbily done up through the early and mid-1960s, there are estimates for sales of “Where Did Our Love Go?” – the single and as an album cut – of as many as 15 million. The album Where Did Our Love Go? remains Motown’s top-seller of all time.
- The crazy, howlin’ J. Geils Band did a superb version of “Where Did Our Love Go?” They returned it to a bluesier, more rockin’ roots-sounding style, drawing out Holland-Dozier-Holland’s underlying predeliction for older African American musical genres. (See video at right, above.) Click here for more J. Geils Band.