The Marvelettes were sassy, and Martha and the Vandellas tough, but The Supremes, under Berry Gordy’s watch, were the ladies. The group’s best strategy for crossover stardom was to construct a persona embodying the ideals of postwar middle class femininity. Each of The Supremes’ prior number-ones found the girls on the losing end of a bad romance, but did they complain? Retaliate? Threaten to break it off? Of course not — they were resigned to moon about, pleading feebly while their boyfriends went out on the town, consequence-free. The idea that The Supremes could record a kiss-off like “Too Many Fish in the Sea” or “Come and Get These Memories” was unthinkable. But by 1965, the definition of what was proper for a lady was due for revision. Thematically, “Stop! In the Name of Love” is a continuation of The Supremes’ eternal suffering narrative. The difference is in the title. The boyfriend’s still unfaithful, but the girls now refuse to suffer in silence. The command may be hollow, and Diana Ross’s smiling, preening live performances might deflect from the force of the message, but for a group as demure as The Supremes, it’s strikingly forceful, particularly when paired with the iconic choreography — right hand shoved forward, firm and unflappable — and the unrelenting repetition of the notes in the chorus.
Every Supremes single so far improves on the last, but “Stop! In the Name of Love” is a drastic step forward in terms of production, thanks largely to Motown’s newfound stylistic cohesion. There’s still a snare on every beat so that you know it’s a Supremes record, but the chord progression is the most complex yet, and the vibraphone adds a kick that’s both classy and slightly exotic. Likewise, the organ and sax parts find the group courting a more R&B sound for the first time since the days before superstardom. “Stop! In the Name of Love” isn’t deep soul, nor is it a feminist anthem. What makes the single exciting — other than the monster chorus, of course — is the suggestion that The Supremes can expand their sound and subject matter without betraying their inherent grace. 8
Hit #1 on March 27, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
131 of 1008 #1′s reviewed; 13.0% through the Hot 100