Well, I’ve been listening to The Supremes for most of my life – there’s always a memory of them playing at some point, and never more so now that summer is almost here in the UK (you can smell it’s in the air, give or take the torrential rain).
The Spice Girls came and went after a measly four albums. Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, and The Dixie Chicks have all come and gone after three or four albums. Yet The Supremes still endure. They’re a constant fixture on the iTunes Top 50. The coming together of Diana, Flo and Mary provided a golden four-year period producing ten number 1 singles, and three number 1 albums; along with top viewed television specials, and the first female group induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are just a few of their honours.
But it is the music that remains enchanting. Diana’s voice along with Flo and what’s her name (Mary, but let’s face it, we all struggle occasionally with names) introduced the masses to the Motown Sound around the world. They struck gold with concept albums like “Sing Rodgers & Hart”, “We Remember Sam Cooke” and “A Little Bit of Liverpool”, all underscoring their versatility. Arguably the number one female group of all time, sister to The Beatles.
Stop! In the Name of Hits!
That’s why I love this compilation Diana Ross and The Supremes 20 Golden Hits so much.
All three Supremes each had potential as lead singer of the group. The group’s founder, Florence Ballard had a raw, earthy sound in her voice, whilst Mary Wilson’s breathy, seamless voice complimented any ballad she sang on. But whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Diana Ross had the most unusual, distinct sound which had strong commercial appeal to both blacks and whites alike. What Diana Ross bought to the group was an almost regal presence, and set them instantly apart from other Motown acts. Diana’s soft, sensual voice oozed heavy emotion and neatly surf-boarded along Motown’s complex musical arrangements, had soulful qualities that displayed raw vulnerability.
Their first major chart breakthrough, When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes is also deservedly featured and is an absolutely fantastic affair, containing a conga beat and generally having all the emphasis of that classic Motown sound. Of course all the famous hits are here with their most soulful outputs being (in my eyes at least), Back In My Arms Again, I Hear A Symphony, My World Is Empty WithOut You, Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart, You Can’t Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hanging On, Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone, The Happening, the adventurous and experimental Reflections containing elements of the swirling psychedelic sound, Forever Came Today, their social commentary on possibly their finest ever recording – Love Child.
Beyond that are some more rarities including a sassy take on The Nitty Gritty, Sweet Thing which is perhaps no more than typical Motown fare whilst lesser known hits like the electric No Matter What Sign You are and I’ll Try Something New (With The Temptations) also get an airing. Other than that the album falls a little on the bland side but are still curiously worth hearing – they woo and coo their way through The Beatles A Hard Days Night (one of Berry Gordys plans to establish the group as all-round entertainers for both blacks and whites), and Mary Wilson takes lead vocal duties on a bland version of Can’t Take My Eyes For You. If anything I hold my hands up and admit that this is most probably me being biased when I say this but as a die-hard Soul/R&B/Motown fan, it’s these elements of styles that truly captures their own magical sound.v
There is about as much pop as there is soul in a lot of their earlier hits such as the sassy Come See About Me, and the cutesy girly tone of Baby Love, but their work remains a milestone in musical history. Each of The Supremes deserve credit and have their own individual appealing qualities in their vocal delivery. However Diana Ross was ultimately the star. She may not have the volume or power of Martha Reeves, or even the group’s founder – Florence Ballard, but she certainly knew how to use her voice and express genuine feeling and emotion.
Which is why this work remains so timeless.
The Knitty Gritty
So this album is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer…
Other albums to listen to:
40 Golden Motown Greats – Various
The Supremes Sing Holland–Dozier–Holland – The Supremes