The Supremes were a vocal group from Detroit, Michigan. The group started their career as The Primettes, a female counterpart to The Primes, a male group that became The Temptations. Together with Betty McGlown, founding member Florence Ballard recruited her best friend Mary Wilson, who in turn asked classmate Diane Ross to join the group. In 1960, Ross asked her old neighbor Smokey Robinson for an audition with Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. The ambitious young group visited the studio every day after school, and were eventually signed to the label as The Supremes.
It took three years to find the winning formula for the group’s success. The first six singles failed to reach the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 popularity chart. After producing Robinson and Gordy compositions, the company tried the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, and reached #23 with “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through Your Eyes”. In early 1964, Gordy moved Diana Ross front and center as the lead singer, and the song “Where Did Our Love Go?” became their first of five consecutive #1 singles, no small achievement, given the popularity and influence of The Beatles during that time.
The promotion of Ross to lead singer caused dissension among band members, and though the group continued to produce hit songs for several years, group relations deteriorated until Ross’s departure in 1970. Ross maintained a high profile as a singer and actress for years afterwards, while the Supremes faded into history.
The Funk Brothers (1959-1972), Motown Records house band
Berry Gordy’s Favorite
“Ross was always deemed the slight one, both in the Supremes and in the context of other female pop and soul singers. The great lie perpetuated by Ross detractors is that Diana’s voice was the weakest in the Supremes, that Florence Ballard was somehow cheated out of her rightful position as group lead. Had the inarguably talented Ballard been the lead singer, however, it’s likely that the group would now be one of those cult entities rhapsodized over by soul-music obscurists (purists). Ballard’s voice lacked that indefinable spark that makes less “powerful” or “traditional” voices vibrate in your ear and bounce around your head. (See: Madonna, Janet.) Ross’ voice was light, singular and capable of both breathy sexiness and deep wells of emotion. It cut through, anchoring those sublime Holland-Dozier-Holland compositions, quickly maturing from reedy and nasal to pliable, crystalline. Love it or hate it, it’s one of the most instantly recognizable voices in all of pop music.”
— Ernest Hardy, “Diana Ross: O.G. Diva Sings The Blues”, L.A. Weekly, July 5, 2006
The Supremes were elegant and feminine, with years of training by Motown’s in-house finishing school. They dressed in formal attire, and wiggled seductively while performing their hit songs. In particular, Diana Ross was delicate and unusual, with puppy dog eyes and a big smile. As Mr. Hardy says, she was a very distinctive singer, a bit raspy and abundantly sweet. They are the most successful Motown girl group; however, I like the top songs by Gladys Knight & The Pips and especially Martha Reeves & The Vandellas about as well.
Much of the credit belongs to the band, songwriting and production. The Funk Brothers are great at creating driving rhythms while remaining in the background for the singers to shine. There are a few short saxophone solos, and compared to other Motown productions, Supremes songs feature the vibraphone extensively. There are three standouts among the most popular Supremes songs. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” drips with sadness and jealousy, perhaps Diana Ross’s finest singing performance. “Where Did Our Love Go” swings like crazy, with the piano lagging just behind the beat. But my favorite is “You Can’t Hurry Love”, with its great breakdown sequence, where Ross testifies about love:
“Now, love, love don’t come easy,
But I keep on waiting,
Anticipating, for that soft voice,
To talk to me at night.
For some tender arms,
To hold me tight.
I keep waiting,
I keep on waiting,
But it ain’t easy,
It ain’t easy.
But mama said:
You can’t hurry love,
No, you just have to wait,
She said to trust, give it time,
No matter how long it takes.
You can’t hurry love,
No, you just have to wait,
She said love don’t come easy,
It’s a game of give and take.”
— Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland
Truer, simpler words of life were never spoken. One of the greatest minutes in American music history.
The Supremes Song Notes:
1. All songs are easy to find on iTunes. However, there are a few alternate mixes available. Your favorite will be largely a matter of taste.
2. “”Stop! In The Name Of Love (Alt)” can be found on 2000 Box Set.
3. I like the monaural (length: 2:52) version of “You Can’t Hurry Love”. That can be found on the old Hitsville U.S.A. box set, which is not currently available on iTunes.
The Supremes Songs:
You Can’t Hurry Love, The Supremes ✭✭✭✭✭
Where Did Our Love Go, The Supremes ✭✭✭✭
Stop! In The Name Of Love, The Supremes ✭✭✭✭
Stop! In The Name Of Love (alt), The Supremes ✭✭✭✭
Come See About Me, The Supremes ✭✭✭
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Diana Ross ✭✭✭
Someday We’ll Be Together, Diana Ross & the Supremes ✭✭✭
You Keep Me Hangin’ On, The Supremes ✭✭✭
Reflections, Diana Ross & The Supremes ✭✭
Love Child, The Supremes ✭✭
Back In My Arms Again, The Supremes ✭✭
My World Is Empty Without You, The Supremes ✭✭
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, The Supremes & The Temptations ✭✭
I Hear A Symphony, The Supremes ✭
Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone, The Supremes ✭
Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart, The Supremes ✭
Baby Love, The Supremes ✭
Stoned Love, The Supremes ✭
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell ✭✭✭✭