137) The Supremes – “Back in My Arms Again”

After a taking few tentative steps toward independence with “Stop! In the Name of Love,” The Supremes retreat back into the arms of a man who may not be worth the trouble. But the narrator of “Back in My Arms Again” isn’t begging for her man not to leave her. She’s broken it off with him once before, but her pleas for him to come back have paid off. It’s not enough for her to take comfort in their reunion, though; no, she has to get all smug about it. “I listened once to my friends’ advice, but it’s not gonna happen twice,” she smirks, willfully ignoring that if everyone’s saying the same thing, they might have a point. But give her the benefit of the doubt: it is easy for them to say when they’re not the ones in love. The canon of popular music would be far slimmer without all the lovers who made it against the protestations of friends/parents/the world at large. But then our narrator needles her fellow Supremes by name, and all sympathy dissipates. Oh Diana, didn’t you “lose your love so true,” just like Mary? And isn’t calling Flo’s boy “a Romeo” engaging in the same judgmental gossip you’ve just spent two minutes dismissing? Suddenly, “Back in My Arms Again” starts sounding less like a love song than an anti-friendship screed, maybe even a precursor to the ’00s fascination with telling off haters.

Musically, it’s a step back from the more sophisticated “Stop!” as well, essentially reprising “Come See About Me” without the call-and-response vocals and crisp bounce. “Back in My Arms Again” would become even more redundant when the pre-chorus, one of the song’s best hooks, would be recycled for The Isley Brothers’ superior “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” the following year. The Supremes’ first three number-ones are still terrific singles, but (as with the boyfriend in the song) we know they can do better now, so it’s disappointing to watch them backpedal. Maybe that’s why “Back in My Arms Again” would end The Supremes’ streak of five number-ones in a row, after soundalike follow-up “Nothing But Heartaches” stalled at #11. If the girls were to regain their place at the top, they’d have to stop spinning their wheels and keep moving forward. 6

Hit #1 on June 12, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
137 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.58% through the Hot 100

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5 Comments

Filed under 06, 1965

5 responses to “137) The Supremes – “Back in My Arms Again”

  1. Stein

    I wonder why she calls Flo’s boy a Romeo. If that’s meant as a put-down, it would seem Casanova or Don Juan would be the better choices. Romeo was a pretty devoted guy…

    But I prefer this song to “Stop!” This is the point when the Supremes got away from the marching beat into a slinkier groove.

  2. I think pop music skipped its summer reading the year it was supposed to be studying Shakespeare (see also: Taylor Swift).

    Don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I still think “Back in My Arms Again” is a regression. There’s also a limpness to the performance that makes it sound anemic, especially when sandwiched between “Stop!” and next Motown number-one. It’s a good Supremes record, but not a great one.

  3. Stein

    A snatch of that catchy pre-chorus pops up in another #1 record, 22 years later.. “Head to Toe” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

  4. Too bad “Reflections” only made it to #2, it would have made an interesting contrast.

  5. And yet it turns up on The No. 1’s comp! (As does “Stoned Love,” but at least that topped the R&B chart.) “Reflections” isn’t until 1967 anyway. By that point, they’ll have a new name (Diana Ross & The Supremes) and a different sound. In due time!

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