This song is about how lovers can sometimes manipulate each other, and the honest approach just doesn’t seem to work. It was written by Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawes, and Charles Simmons. (The original title for the song was simply “Games People Play,” and the first pressings have that title. However, Joe South already had a song with that title, and The Spinners changed theirs.) The concept and phrase about the games people play came from psychologist Eric Bern’s best-selling book Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis.
The Spinners recorded the song and released it in 1975 on their album Pick of the Litter and as a single, backed with “I Don’t Want to Lose You.” It went to #1 on the U.S. Hot Soul Singles chart (their fifth #1 hit). It was also #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #2 on U.S. Billboard Easy Listening and Cash Box charts. It went to #21 in Canada.
On the track, all five Spinners take a turn on the lead vocals, which included Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith, Philippé Wynne, Henry Fambrough, and even bass Pervis Jackson. Producer Thom Bell said, “Basses are not usually designed to do anything but hold the root. He’s the bottom, and they’re not really know for being soloists. So I said I’m going to come up with something for that guy.” Most of the instrumentation was provided by MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother), who were session musicians based in Philadelphia. Background vocals are also provided by Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton, and Carla Benson. Barbara Ingram was a popular backup singer, who worked with Lou Rawls, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, and Stevie Wonder, among others.
The Spinners formed in Detroit in 1954. Over time, they have been known as The Detroit Spinners and the Motown Spinners. They have used other names not be confused with the U.K. folk group called The Spinners. The lineup has changed over the years, and they still continue to tour and perform.