‘The Happening’: And Then It Happened To The Supremes

‘The Happening’ became the Motown trio’s tenth US pop No.1 single in May 1967.

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The Happening Supremes
Supremes 'The Happening' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

What’s the connection between the Supremes, the Lee Marvin/Ernest Borgnine movie The Dirty Dozen, and the hit TV series The Brady Bunch? The answer is film and television composer Frank DeVol. He was behind those theme tunes among many others, and joined Holland, Dozier and Holland as the co-writer of the Motown trio’s tenth US pop No.1, “The Happening.” The song rose to the Billboard Hot 100 peak on May 13, 1967.

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This was a classic case of a song being far better remembered than the film for which it was the theme. The Happening was a period piece about hippies and the mafia that starred Anthony Quinn. Both the single and its B-side, “All I Know About You,” were featured in the film, which provided the big screen debut of Faye Dunaway.

‘It can happen to you’

The song, meanwhile, sounds jaunty and carefree from a distance, and rather more poppy than the Supremes’ usual soul crossover style of the time. On closer inspection, the lyric is about lost love, and someone who thinks all is well “until love took a detour, yeah!” and they find that romance has taken its leave. “It happened to me and it can happen to you,” ran the cautionary tale.

“The Happening” was notable for other reasons. It was the last Supremes No.1 featuring Florence Ballard, and the last written by the HDH team. They were growing unhappy with what they saw as an inappropriate level of financial remuneration from Motown. After writing three more fine Supremes singles, “Reflections,” “In And Out Of Love,” and “Forever Came Today,” moved onto pastures new with their Invictus and Hot Wax labels.

Listen to uDiscover Music’s Best Motown Songs Ever playlist.

After debuting on the Hot 100 in early April, “The Happening” hit the top in just its fifth chart week, replacing Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” at No.1. Years later, the Supremes number was chosen as a favorite record on the long-running BBC radio series Desert Island Discs by both actor Jane Lapotaire and former British Prime Minister John Major.

Buy or stream “The Happening” on the Supremes’ Gold compilation.

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