Song written by the songwriting team of Holland, Dozier, Holland. Songwriter Lamont Dozier got most of his inspiration for the song's Morse code-like guitar line from listening to the 'news flash' signal over the radio, and he and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland integrated the idea into a song.
The song was originally recorded by The Supremes in 1966. Many elements of the recording, including the guitars, the drums, and Diana Ross's lead vocal, were multitracked (the parts were recorded multiple times and the takes layered over one another). This was done to create a fuller sound than the previous Supremes records. The song was recorded nine different times with the Supremes and session band The Funk Brothers before the producers got the version they were finally satisfied with.
'You keep me hangin' on' was the first single from the Supremes' 1967 album 'The Supremes sing Holland-Dozier-Holland'. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two weeksin November 1966.
Vanilla Fudge version
Vanilla Fudge recorded a successful cover version of the song in 1968.
Fudge drummer Carmine Appice explains: 'In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them and putting emotion into them. (...) It all started from The Rascals, I think. We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them. 'You keep me hangin' on' lyrically was a hurtin' kind of song, and when The Supremes did it, it was like a happy song. We tried to slow down the song and put the emotion the song should have into it with the hurtin' kind of feeling the song should have.'
While the version released as a single was under three minutes long, the album version was extended to six minutes and 45 seconds. The recording, done in one take, was Vanilla Fudge's first single and reached number 6 in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Rod Stewart version
Rod Stewart recorded this in 1977 on his album 'Foot loose and fancy free'. Carmine Appice was the drummer in Stewart's band at the time. He comments: 'When I was with Rod, he always said to me, 'I wish I had done that song, it's such a great song the way you guys did it.' I said to Rod, 'Why don't you do it? I'm in the band, it will give you an excuse to do it.' So we put together an arrangement a little different than Vanilla Fudge's. It was similar in that it was slowed-down, but the whole middle section was a piano and orchestra thing.'
Kim Wilde version
In 1986, Kim Wilde recorded her version of 'You keep me hangin' on'. It was the first track of the album Another step. Her version was a total re-working of the original, completely transforming the Supremes' Motown sound into an Eighties power pop song. She and her brother had not heard "You Keep Me Hangin' On" for several years when they decided to record it. The song was not a track they knew well, so they treated it as a new song, even slightly changing the original lyrics.
It became the biggest hit of Wilde's career, reaching number 2 in the UK as hitting the top spot in Australia, Canada and Norway. It also became Wilde's only major hit in the US, spending a week at number one in the summer of 1987.
In 1997, the track was included on the soundtrack album for the movie Romy and Michele's High school reunion.
In 1986, there were three versions of 'You keep me hangin' on': the album version, the WCH mix, remixed by Ian Levine and the WCH Club mix, remixed by Ricky Wilde.
A remix by Kurt Katzan was released by Hot Tracks.
In 2006, Kim included a new version called You keep me hangin' on (2006) on her album Never say never.
In 2019, a live version recorded in Vienna was released on the album Aliens live.
Kim's track was released as a 7" single and 12" single.
See also this page in the discography.
A music video was filmed to promote the single. It was released in two versions: the regular version (based on the 7" version) and an extended version (based on the WCH mix). Both versions were directed by Greg Masuak.
Go to this page for more information.
'You keep me hangin' on' was performed live on the Another Step tour and every live concert after that.
Other cover versions
The song was subsequently also covered by Colourbox, Madness, Reba McEntire, Wilson Pickett, Melanie Safka, Lynn Sweet and Tata Vega.
Kim about 'You keep me hangin' on'
A lot of times when people do covers, there's a lot of reverence attached. They love the original so much that they just basically do a pretty faithful cover. I made it a point of not listening to the old version. With Ricki's backing track making it sound like a new song anyway, I was in the position of being completely fresh to it, and that's why it's worked so well. (1)
After all the successes in Europe it's no surprise that I'm thinking about America. Not fanatically, but still... I already had a number one hit there with an old Supremes song, 'You keep me hangin' on'. A nice success, but a bit of a fluke. Just a song that resounds and sells. I went to America a couple of times then. Not really for fanatic promotion work. I did have a photo session. It was a horrible flop. When I looked at the pictures, I had this 'deja vu' experience. I looked like Belinda Carlisle's twin sister. She was 'hot' in America at the time. They even gave me identical clothing. You don't score in America if you don't live and work there. Sheena Easton did it, yes. I don't feel like doing that. I want to be with my family and friends. I want to cuddle my two year old brother and six year old sister from time to time. And walk on the streets without being bothered. Then it's better to not have success in America... (2)
My brother was writing for the album and he was playing around with a chord progression and he recognized it and he realized it was "You keep me hangin' on". At that point he was either going to write a song using the same chords or he was gonna finish making a backing track of "You keep me hangin' on". He played me the backing track and asked me what I thought. I thought it sounded great. I remembered the song from a long time back on the radio. It wasn't a song I had in my collection, it wasn't a song I would play a lot.
So when I went into the studio to record it I was really fresh, it wasn't like paying hommage to Diana Ross or Vanilla Fudge or whoever else covered it. It was really fresh in my mind, that's why I think it's such a fresh version of that song. Our energy combined of not knowing the song terribly well... If you look at the original Holland/Dozier lyrics, we even changed them, which isn't a very reverend thing to do if you're paying hommage. Basically we just went into the studio with a lot of energy and not a lot of reverence. We changed quite a lot of the song and I think that's why it was so successful. It was a very spontaneous idea. (3)
Rick was playing with some chord changes, and realised that they weren't his. They were from 'You Keep Me Hanging On'. He wasn't sure whether to continue writing an original song with the chords or to do the cover, but he ended up doing the cover. We'd forgotten that Rick put the backing track down in the studio until someone at our office reminded us about it. So I went in and did this throwaway vocal. I liked the way we'd done it, and the fact that it was a totally original approach to the song. Eventually, Lamont Dozier sent us this telegram saying how much he liked it. I'm really proud of that cover. (4)
(About reaching no. 1 in the USA with the single:) It was incredible. I was pretty young. In my twenties. I'd just come from the dentist when I got the news. That's what I remember - my mouth hurting. And I didn't celebrate with champagne and clubbing. I think I had a cup of tea. (5)
Guitars: Steve Byrd
Fairlight III keyboards, synths: Ricky Wilde
Produced by Ricky Wilde
Engineered by Peter Wade Schwier
Highest chart positions
Germany: 8 (14 weeks)
Ireland: 2 (7 weeks)
Netherlands: 17 (7 weeks)
Switzerland: 2 (10 weeks)
United Kingdom: 2 (14 weeks)
United States: 1 (21 weeks)
(1) Kim Wilde: Hangin’ on to conquer America, Rock Scene (USA), December 1, 1986
(2) Kim Wilde: the hangover after the party, Veronica (Netherlands), March 25, 1989
(3) Frequenstar (M6 (France), October 5, 1992)
(4) Kim Wilde, Record Collector (UK), September 1993
(5) Leona Lewis becomes the first British woman to top US charts for more than 20 years, Daily Mail (UK), March 27, 2008