Motown 50th anniversary: The 1970s Supremes
Reader Steve Weaver pointed out last week that the 1970’s era Supremes – after Diana Ross’ departure – are often unfairly ignored. And he’s right: although the Supremes had an evolving lineup between 1970 and 1977, the group still managed to put out quality music and even get to the upper reaches of the pop charts.
Even as the Supremes’ final No. 1 single, “Someday We’ll Be Together,” echoed on the nation’s radios, Diana Ross stepped aside and was replaced most ably by Jean Terrell. Where Ross had a good “pop” voice, Terrell was more appropriately a soul belter – listen to her vocal on the “River Deep, Mountain High” team-up with the Four Tops (1970) and you can see where Terrell’s rougher approach may have been more fitting for the direction that soul music, and popular music in general, was moving in those days.
The Supremes with Terrell scored a bit of chart success, including the singles “Stoned Love” (1970), “Nathan Jones” (1971) and the Smokey Robinson-penned “Floy Joy” (1972). “Automatically Sunshine,” from the same year, featured Wilson and Terrell sharing lead vocals. Birdsong then left to have a baby and was replaced by Lynda Laurence, a former backup singer for Stevie Wonder. Wonder himself wrote and produced the single “Bad Weather” (1973) and it wasn’t a hit – Laurence and Terrell then left.
Mary Wilson and Motown legally owned the Supremes name by this time, and there were a few more personnel changes until the group finally broke up in 1977. The Supremes had enough gas to get into the disco era, most notably with “He’s My Man” (No. 1 on the Billboard disco charts in 1975) and “Where Do I Go From Here,” written by Brian and Eddie Holland. There were a number of reunion attempts, including a horrid lineup of Diana Ross/Lynda Laurence/Sherrie Payne (all former Supremes, although none were ever together in the group) in 2000 that fell apart mid-tour.
So the story of the Supremes isn’t all Diana Ross – well into the 1970s they were as “supreme” as ever.