It was 55 years ago today (September 22nd, 1965) that the Supremes recorded their Number One hit, “I Hear A Symphony.” The song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland — the team responsible for the group's previous Number Ones, including “Back In My Arms Again,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me.”
Prior to releasing “I Hear A Symphony,” the Supremes' string of five straight Number Ones was broken when their single “Nothing But Heartaches” stalled at a disappointing Number 11. Co-writer Lamont Dozier recalled that the failure of that single to dent the Top Ten forced Motown founder Berry Gordy to look outside the songwriting team to find the Supremes next hit. That spurred the team into producing a future classic.
Dozier recalls that, “It was humiliating. . . it taught us humility (and) we started frantically looking for new ideas. . . Brian (Holland) was playing this melody. . . it was sounding sort of classical to me. . . Eddie (Holland) took it and ran with the lyrics.” “I Hear A Symphony” hit Number One on November 20th, 1965, knocking the Rolling Stones' “Get Off My Cloud” out from the top spot and going on to hold the position for two weeks.
Although Holland-Dozier-Holland were never too self-congratulatory with their many Motown successes, years after its release Brian Holland says that the lyrics to “I Heard A Symphony” actually reduced him to tears: “Only one song ever really got me. I talked to my brother about it years ago, it was 'I Hear A Symphony.' Somehow, I was coming out of a health club, and it was on the radio. And then I just start taking in the lyrics, (I) pulled over and my eyes started tearing up, y'know what I mean. There were some hell of a lyrics on that, man. 'Cause it kept going on and building. What he did, he built upon top of emotion on top of emotion — which really got me. 'I hear a symphony. . . as you talk to me. . . (laughs) as you touch me. . . as you. . .' Y'know what I mean? You just build upon emotion and it really got to me.”
Eddie Holland was mainly responsible for writing the lyrics to the team's classic songs, and explained the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting progress: “The basic thing is that, sometimes the track, they'd cut it, they'd give me a demo with the melody line. Sometimes it would have an idea, sometimes it wouldn't. But whatever the situation was, I would have to come up with an idea, write the song, teach the artist the song, take the artist in the studio to dub them in. ”
Former Supremes member Mary Wilson says that although she still enjoys performing many of the Supremes hits in concert, “I Hear A Symphony” is one she admits is too tough to sing: “I sing all of our songs, but some of them I can't sing. Some of them were so much Diane (Diana Ross) songs — y'know, so much her — that it's hard, 'cause I can't sing 'I Hear A Symphony.' I mean, I try, but I just can't sing it, and I just think that they were just such a match with Diane and Holland-Dozier-Holland.”
Lamont Dozier told us he's especially proud of the fact that Holland-Dozier-Holland was able to take people minds off the atrocities of the 1960's: “The '60s were a very terrible time. I think we brought some balance; I like to think we brought some balance to the emotions that people were feelin'. We constantly wrote about love, and being happy, dance music, things like 'Mickey's Monkey' — that had nothin' to do with the times, but sort of an escape for the people with all of these changes that were taking place. We tried to keep people focused on 'Hey there's a better life, there's good things in life to look forward to' and I like to think we were optimistic in our music.”
In addition to “I Hear A Symphony,” Holland-Dozier-Holland are responsible for writing and producing such Motown classics as Marvin Gaye's “How Sweet It Is,” the Four Tops' “Standing In The Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette,” “It's The Same Old Song,” “I Can't Help Myself,” and “Reach Out (I'll Be There)”; Martha & the Vandellas' “Nowhere To Run,” “Heatwave” and “Jimmy Mack”; and the Supremes' Number One hits “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Back In My Arms Again,” “You Can't Hurry Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin' On,” “Love Is Here And Now You're Gone,” and “The Happening.”
Mary Wilson I Hear A Symphony :
Lamont Dozier on songwriting in the 60s :
Eddie Holland On How Holland-Dozier-Holland Worked :
Brian Holland On The Emotion Of ‘I Hear A Symphony’ :