DeepSoul Salutes Ashford and Simpson: "It Seems to Hang On"

The pair proved their worth as skilled composers and charismatic performers with this 1978 track.
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While the songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson experienced great success at Motown as the creators of some of the label's biggest hits ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," and "You're All I Need to Get By"), by the late 1970s they were ready to reignite their performing careers.  Although not their first album on their own, 1977's Send It proved to be their chart breakthrough.  They grasped onto the flourishing disco trend, but the pair retained their unique chemistry and superb harmonies. The followup, Is It Still Good to Ya, produced their best-performing single to that point: "It Seems to Hang On," a song that echoes the still-popular disco movement while nodding to Philadelphia Soul.  

"It Seems to Hang On" exudes sophistication due to its various movements.  It begins as a smooth keyboard and bass-driven beat, but Simpson's seductive voice suggests that the song addresses more than love.  "Is it daylight, I can't tell no more / Never had this condition before," she sighs.  As strings tremble underneath the arrangement, uncertainty reigns.  "Was I mistaken about you?" she asks as background singers underscore her reticence about the relationship by repeating the title phrase.  Ashford expresses his own doubts, as this all-consuming love renders him seemingly helpless.  "I can't be the same / I don't know my name," he complains.  

Suddenly the volume intensifies as Ashford and Simpson's voices unite in frustration: "I can't go nowhere / I can't be the same / I don't know my name!"  they cry.  The next movement returns to the beginning lush, romantic arrangement, but the duo employ curiously dark language to describe this intense affair.  "Tell me what's happenin' / What's bothering me?" Simpson asks.  Ashford responds that "like a shadow, it follows," hardly a beautiful vision of love.  Then the music drops out to just percussion and the duo moan the words "loose me."  While this section seemingly oozes sexuality, it actually represents the couple begging for release from this rocky relationship.  "I can't shake it," Ashford cries as Simpson questions "was it love?"  These three sections depict the rollercoaster experience of a relationship, transitioning from early passion to a mature, committed partnership.  Can this couple overcome this obstacle?  With the title phase simply chanted toward the end, the question is left open.  Interestingly, this drama is couched within a danceable, sexy beat that initially masks the serious subject matter.  They would employ this technique numerous times throughout their catalog, such as in the 1982 single "Street Corner."  

While disco clearly influenced "It Seems to Hang On," another genre can also be heard: Philly Soul.  The string arrangement adds an orchestral element to the R&B song, a hallmark of tracks by the O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Spinners, Billy Paul, and other acts of the period.  One can easily imagine Teddy Pendergrass covering the tune, with the danceable groove and sophisticated chord changes resembling his classics such as "You Can't Hide from Yourself," "I Don't Love You Anymore," and "The More I Get, the More I Want." 

True to Ashford and Simpson's ingenuity, they combined both disco and Philly Soul then added their distinctive vocal intensity and chemistry to create an irresistible hit.  Indeed, it reached number two on the Hot Soul Singles chart, and its success would only be surpassed by their massive 1984 smash "Solid."  But 1970s tracks such as "It Seems to Hang On" demonstrate Ashford and Simpson's burgeoning talents as not only skilled songwriters, but charismatic performers who could adapt any genre to their own style.