In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The people at Motown were absolute scientists. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” was the fourth consecutive Supremes single to hit #1, a run that set a record. (They’d make it five soon enough.) All the Supremes singles in that run follow a basic formula. They all have hard-driving rhythm tracks sweetened up with layers of melodic flourishes. They all have Diana Ross singing about heartbreak in calm, forthright ways, making sure the songs don’t sound as sad as they are. They all have the other two Supremes murmuring the words “baby, baby” a lot.
If anyone else had repeated a formula like that five times in a row, they’d be written off as total hacks, especially if they were successful at it. But all those Supremes songs are glorious, immaculate pieces of pop music, and they all continue to sound great decades later. Formulas, it turns out, don’t have to be such a bad thing.
On “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” Diana Ross is singing to a man who’s been cheating. She knows about it, and she’s not dumping him. She just doesn’t want the relationship to end because of it. That’s a heavy emotional situation, and yet Ross sings it almost clinically, arguing that the guy should “think it over.” She appeals to his sense of empathy: “I’ve tried so hard, hard to be patient / Hoping you’ll stop this infatuation / But each time you are together / I’m so afraid of losing you forever.”
Lamont Dozier was one third of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and producing team, the crew who worked with the Supremes on all of those hits. He was the one who came up with the central hook of “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” and he did it on the fly. Dozier used it in an argument with a girlfriend. There was a twist, of course; he was the one who’d been cheating. He knew the line wouldn’t work, and it didn’t. But he still had the presence of mind to use it during a songwriting session shortly afterward.
Ultimately, though, what sells “Stop! In The Name Of Love” — what makes it work — isn’t the story of the song. It’s the explosiveness of it. The first thing we hear on the song is the disorienting swirl of a Wurlitzer organ. When the singers come in, they do it suddenly, bleating the word “Stop!” while the horns stab in behind them. It’s big and jarring, and it hits nearly as hard every time they bring it back. On paper, the song might be a plea. But in practice, it’s a demand. It reaches out and grabs you.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the soul singer Margie Joseph’s cover of “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” a minor hit in 1971:
And here’s a peak-era Lil Wayne ripping a sample of Joseph’s “Stop!” cover to shreds on “Gossip,” a single from his 2007 EP The Leak: