Motown Turns 50: The Supremes

 supremes-where-did-our-love-go            the-supremes-a-go-go-1966-front

We have neglected this feature of late, but Motown is celebrating its 50th year as a record label throughout 2009.  Today we take a look at two albums from a group that wasn’t really known for its long-players:  The Supremes.

The Supremes, of course, were Motown’s most commercially successful act, charting an incredible twelve No. 1 singles in the Billboard pop charts between 1964-69.  The classic trio of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard hit the radio consciousness with their second album, Where Did Our Love Go (1964).  This album was the linchpin of the Supremes’ success, as it featured four songs that would storm the Top 40 (all written by Holland-Dozier-Holland) and temporarily hold back the British Invasion.


The Supremes, from left: Ballard, Wilson and Ross

“Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me” made it all the way to the top, while “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” (No. 23), “Run, Run, Run” (No. 93) and “A Breath Taking Guy” (No. 75) were able to get enough airplay and sales to make it into the Top 100.  William “Smokey” Robinson supplied the catchy doo-wopper “Long Gone Lover,” and “Breath Taking Guy.”  Norman Whitfield penned the ballad “He Means The World to Me,” and former Moonglow Harvey Fuqua co-wrote “Your Kiss of Fire.”

By the time of Supremes A Go-Go (1966), the trio were international stars.  Despite that, Gordy had a ploy with this album: the Supremes would cover some of the top hits of the day by other acts (mostly their Motown labelmates), which meant every song would be familiar to listeners. 

Only two songs  off Go-Go –  “You Can’t Hurry Love” (No. 1) and “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” (No. 9) –  were big hits.   The album’s cover versions weren’t slow ballads, but rockin’ R&B dance tunes like “Shake Me, Wake Me,” the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin’ ” and the Berry Gordy-penned “Money.”   Diana and Co. also covered Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” and “Hang On Sloopy,” first done by the McCoys.

Supremes A Go-Go was an instant hit, it was the Supremes’ first No. 1 album and the first album by an all-female group to top the Billboard Top 200 album charts.   Ironically, it’s probably the Supremes’ best album.   

MP3: “Baby Love” (1964)

MP3: “Long Gone Lover” (1964)

MP3: “Standing At The Crossroads Of Love” (1964)

MP3: “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964)

MP3: “Baby I Need Your Lovin’ ” (1966)

MP3: “Hang On Sloopy” (1966)

MP3: “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1966)

MP3: “You Can’t Hurry Love” (1966)

Motown 50 anniversary official website

3 Responses to “Motown Turns 50: The Supremes”

  1. “A’Go-Go?” is a fun album, certainly. For hardcore fans it is important for the simple fact that Mary, so loved by some and loathed by others, sings lead on “Come and Get These Memories.” I would argue that it is not their best album. “Reflections,” in my estimation, wins that prize, and I SAY that with no irony. (I have taught AP English Literature far too long to let your misuse of the term “ironically” pass unremarked. “Irony” properly signifies one of several modes of telling; it does not properly signify the person, place, thing, event, etc. that is the subject of the telling. It signifies manner, not matter. To SAY that this album is their best is [could be under certain linguistic circumstances] ironic; that it is or may be their best album is surprising, perhaps, but not ironic.) It is on “Reflections” that we consistently hear the Diana who is to come, the Diana for whom “breathiness” and restraint are made hallmarks of stylistic accomplishment. As far as I am concerned, very few singers can match her delivery of the lead vocals for “Forever Came Today” and “Reflections,” and the backing vocals for those tracks are Florence and Mary’s greatest (and I believe last) moment as “the Supremes” (I believe “Forever” was Flo’s last recording). H-D-H compositions for “Reflections” match the cover songs in terms of (here I humbly ask for the right word– mood? atmosphere?) ambiance, so it seems more unified than most contempory Motown albums.

    Beyond all of this, Diana and the Supremes (Cindy on this one, I think) sing a respectable (for girls who hail from the Brewster projects, rather than from the Delta) version of “Ode to Billie Joe,” the song that kept “Reflections,” the greatest number two record of all time, out of the number one spot. Meow? Maybe a little.

  2. “contemporary” — again, I’m an English teacher.

  3. Vocally, the best Supremes’ album is “Merry Christmas.” Musically, “The Complete Rogers And Hart Collection.”

    Overall, “The Supremes A GoGo.” The most commerically successful Supremes’ album, “The Supremes Greatest Hits.”

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