You Keep Me Hanging On was a classic song written by the Motown production/writing team of (Brian) Holland, (Lamont) Dozier, and (Eddie) Holland. The trio had written and produced numerous hits for Motown’s biggest acts such as The Four Tops, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Martha & The Vandellas, and most notably The Supemes – who first recorded “You Keep Me Hanging On” in the summer of 1966, with the single released in October of that year.
It would be included on their album The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, released in January of ’67. The song was one of two #1 hits from that album. The other #1 single was “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” which wouldn’t have the lasting impact as “You Keep Me Hanging On” did. The single, besides being a #1 hit for The Supremes, and soon became a heavily covered song, with acts of different genres of pop music re-doing it in hopes of having a hit themselves.
And there are numerous versions of this song, so I’ve narrowed it down to 10 of the best known versions, as well a few of my favorites and more interesting ones – in chronological order. I have also only included properly released recordings (as I will try to do in this series), as opposed to any ole’ live version found on youtube. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments if you think I’ve overlooked any other covers of this tune that are well worth checking out.
Vanilla Fudge (1967)
New York’s Vanilla Fudge debuted with this single. The band featured Mark Stein (lead vox, keyboards), Carmine Appice (drums), Vince Martell (guitar), and Tim Bogert (Bass, RIP). The band’s album version (from their 1967 debut) was nearly 7 and a half minutes, with a heavily edited single version in June of ’67 that was a Top 10 hit in Canada, the US, and Australia, and a hit in the UK. It set the tone for what Fudge was about – which was to take pop hits and slow them down, and make them heavy, full of guitar, Hammond organ, and big vocal harmonies. This would be the band’s biggest hit, and the song they are best known for, and probably the best known version of this song after The Supremes. Fudge’s version of this song would inspire a number of other acts of the day to record or perform this song (live). The band had a major influence on some of the great British heavy bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and mainly Uriah Heep. Pre-Heep band The Gods performed this song, and a live version of it can be found on The Gods : Live ’67 CD. Carmine Appice would also be part of Rod Stewart’s band when Rod record his version for his 1977 album Foot Loose And Fancy Free.
This garage-rock band from Michigan released 2 albums in 1967 and 1968 with their trippy psych version of the song on their debut album. Originally consisting of John B. Ford, Gary Francis and Jim Valice. The band has no keyboard player, so the intro [the band’s version perhaps influenced by Vanilla Fudge] is played on guitar, minimal production, sounding very cool, very different. Their debut also included a cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”. The band split after their 2nd album with Valice and Ford continuing as Just Us, and releasing one album in 1969, which included a number of covers, notably a couple of Neil Young tunes.
The Tea Company (1968)
A pretty wild psychedelic version from this New York band that only released one album – Come And Have Some Tea With The Tea Company. ‘Tea’ being another word for marijuana. Clocking in at nearly 9 minutes, this one includes lots of different instrumentation, heavy psych solos….. Members later released an album in ’77 as the Spare Change Band.
The Guess Who
Recorded sometime in 1967-68 when The Guess Who was transitioning from a covers band to an all originals band they appeared regularly on the CBC show Let’s Go! Their version follows the Vanilla Fudge take with the organ, and slower pace, etc…very psychedelic. Released in 2005 on the CD compilation Let’s Go!
Tomorrow’s Children (1970)
These guys were a band from Jamaica, and there was not much released outside of that country. Described as pop, R n B, funk, reggae… This is a great version! The backing vocals give it a ‘gospel’ feel, and the lead vocals are excellent, the organ is there, and the guitar has a bit of funk feel. This was originally issued as a single in 1970, with a cover of The Ides Of March hit “Vehicle” on the B-side, as well it was included on the band’s 2nd of 3 album’s titled The Going’s Great With… Some of the band went on to form Third World. Would be nice if a repackaging label (Cherry Red??) would pick up and reissue the band’s recordings in 1 collection.
The Box Tops (1968)
Memphis band The Box Tops recorded “You Keep Me Hanging On” for their 1968 album Cry Like A Baby. Influenced by the Vanilla Fudge version they closely followed the organ intro idea and tempo . A good version, but not as heavy or all-round solid as the Fudge version, but excellent lead vocals from Alex Chilton. The Box Tops were best known for their 1967 hit “The Letter”. Chilton went on to success with 70s act Big Star (where he co-wrote the song that was later used as the theme song to That 70s Show), as well as a number of solo albums, with his last studio album being strangely titled Loose Shoes And Tight Pussy.
Wilson Pickett (1969)
Legendary American RnB singer Wilson Pickett had 40 hit singles on the RnB charts over 10 years (63-73), largely covers, though he was best known for “In The Midnight Hour” – which he co-wrote and “Mustang Sally”. He had a top 20 hit with “You Keep Me Hanging On” in 1969, The song appeared on his 1970 album Right On, which featured players from the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, as well as horns, organ, female backing vox, and Pickett’s own distinctive soulful voice.
A late add here. Nightwing were a British hard-rock / prog band along the lines of Magnum. This heavy-progressive version of the song is very unique, and well worth checking out. From their debut LP Something In The Air, which features cool fantasy artwork by Peter Andrew Jones (looking like something by Rodney Matthews). Nightwing was formed by keyboardist/producer Gordon Rowley (ex Strife) and this debut would feature ex Nutz members Kenny Newton and John Mylett, among others. Longtime members also included drummer Steve Bartley and guitarist Alex Johnson. The debut album also featured a cover of Graham Nash’s “Barrel Of Pain”.
Kim Wilde (1986)
A totally different take on the song. Wilde was an ’80s pop star, and she had a huge hit with this synth-pop / dance version of the song in 1986, from her 5th album Another Step. Features original Gillan (band) guitarist Steve Byrd. Wilde’s version likely inspired a later electronic/dance version of the song by Romanian born artist/model Anca in 2006.
Recorded for Verity’s 1989 album Rock Solid (lead by former Argent frontman John Verity). Verity has an awesome voice and this take is a bit more upbeat and brighter. A great version for the period, too bad it wasn’t a single. The album would include such guests as Rod Argent, Terry Uttley & Alan Silson (both of Smokie), Bob Henrit….
Mystic Prophecy (2018)
And finally, a metal version! This one comes from this German power-metal band, featured on their 2018 album Monuments Uncovered. Cool take, video as well…