The Supremes: When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes
mean, it's pop. There's little room for the slow creep. Singles slot and re-slot themselves in the mind, with a few weeks' spacing—because, really, that's all it takes if it's a Hit. But I was a late-blooming listener. In radio terms, glacial. My brother and I spent an entire childhood in the backseat with South Florida's Oldies103, and the Supremes didn't do me jack. Grated on me, in fact.
The hyper-dramatic buildup in "Stop! In the Name of Love." The cooing in "Baby Love." Not for me. I liked "Where Did Our Love Go" because of Soft Cell, but that was all. But give me some time away. I'll come back. Let me borrow a soul-primer box set from my brother's U.S. Government teacher. Give me a decade—babies pick this stuff up quicker—to grasp the curative power of the human voice. Now I'm ready. There are two stores for used music in College Station. I was in Half Price Books, on a soul bend during my senior year. Twenty minutes scouring the wooden racks revealed scarce more than a Geto Boys comp (I was looking for an album proper) and the Supremes' Anthology. Checking groceries at H-E-B to satellite radio had given me an appreciation for "I Hear a Symphony" and "You Can't Hurry Love" (the latter giving Ten-Year-Old Brad fits of annoyance). Six bucks for two discs.
Five minutes later I was on track one: "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes." "Rrrrrraaaaahhh!" I'd never even gotten the opportunity to ignore "Lovelight...", let alone hear it. Now I'm in the front seat, taking a filthy car to work and the Four Tops (on backup vox) are hollering at me before the instrumental break. I'm on a straightaway so I can focus a bit on what's playing. The song was doing fine as is—a hell of a way to start the set off, with that opening fanfare and the Funk Brothers etching that do-the-monkey beat into the dancefloor. Decent story, too: guy susses out girl, she rejects him, then gets suckered by his sweet & blank expression. Pretty stirring stuff. Then Ms. Ross breaks from the group, effortlessly pealing out the chorus: "But when the lovelight starts shining through his eyes / Made me realize I should apologize / And when he placed a kiss upon my face / Then I knew / Oh, then I knew / That he won my heart." A joyous moment, no doubt—but immediately followed by the Four Tops' primal roar, a reaction to the beau's win, and something equally as joyous. And that was the moment that I got it.
As a kid, melodies were something handed from on high; you noted and remembered them indiscriminately. I'd never thought about singers' interpretation; songs and singers were the same thing. I whistled "Oh How Happy" by Shades of Blue for years. Ditto the Dave Clark Five's "Catch Us If You Can." Had to; I didn't know any words beyond the refrains. It was years before any genuine interest led me to learn even the artists' names; the songs were just utility, travel-time-reducers. For something to really stick me to the window tinting, it had to be bombastic. "Good Vibrations." "More Than A Feeling." Ray Boltz' Contemporary Christian weepers.
But "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" upended me. In the days to come, driving to my graveyard shift at the town grocery store, I played nothing but that song, swallowing whole the Supremes' remarkable transformation of the text into portable rapture.
Like I said before, it's pop. It was custom-crafted for maximum initial impact, handed down for the public's immediate vote from the Holland-Dozier-Holland trinity. Teens were supposed to do the monkey to it. Also, by the time I'd inserted disc one of Anthology, I'd long been turned on to—or at least aware of—all the standard (credible) music: your Televisions and Beat Happenings, your GBVs and your BDPs. Hell, I'd already bought two Jandek albums. And yet, when I really sat there and let Diana Ross into my head, I couldn't shake the sense that this was something new, a chunk of terrain that heretofore I'd been foolish not to chart. "Lovelight" wasn't just a buoyant melody, or a girl-group swinger. It was a 180-second distillation of the joy of second chances, of giving the sweet-talkin' guy an honest hearing and getting the world in return. At some point that year I became the singer; classic pop had been shooting game at me all these years, and I was finally ready to apologize to Ms. Ross and co., MAJIC 102.7, and the power of the human voice. Not as quick an apology as Diana's, admittedly, but with a close-enough reward. Ten years with a bullet, but I got there.
By: Brad Shoup
Published on: 2005-06-29