Grammatical Mistake In Classic Motown Song


With Motown The Musical in previews on Broadway, I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorite Supremes songs, “Reflections.”

Actually, it was the first song released under the new billing Diana Ross & the Supremes in 1967, and though troubled Supreme Florence Ballard was on the record, she was way gone by time they performed it on TV. (See below.)

The record came out when the trio was exploring not only their new identity, but darker territory and different sounds. The song’s tale of haunting sorrow is accompanied by a sad sounding tambourine at the outset and later some psychedelic synthesizer beeps that make the tune completely novel in an almost sci-fi way. And Diana’s vocals shimmer throughout with a gorgeous sense of regret.

But much as I adore songwriters Holland/Dozier/Holland, I’ve always had a problem with one of the lyrics:

“Just a handful of promises are all that’s left of loving you.”

Huh? I majored in English and have a nagging feel that since the object of the sentence is “handful,” not “promises,” it should end with “is all that’s left of loving you.”

But who cares? I don’t want to turn into one of those annoying grammar trolls, picking apart great work from the golden days. Besides, I love the quirks of Motown songs. One of my favorite lyrics is from the Supremes’ “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone”:

“But instead of tenderness, I found heartache instead.”

The repetition is so nutty I couldn’t imagine anything instead.