85. The Supremes (with Diana Ross)

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 Supremes

Diana Ross (b. 1944), singer
Florence Ballard (1943-1976), singer
Mary Wilson (b. 1944), singer

Betty McGlown (1941-2008), singer
Cindy Birdsong (b. 1939), singer

The Supremes on Wikipedia

Important Collaborators:

The Funk Brothers (1959-1972), Motown Records house band

Brian Holland (b. 1941), songwriter, producer
Lamont Dozier (b. 1941), songwriter, producer
Eddie Holland (b. 1939), songwriter, producer, singer

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

“Diana Ross: O.G. Diva Sings The Blues”, by Ernest Hardy, 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

Related Songs:

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell ✭✭✭✭

3 thoughts on “85. The Supremes (with Diana Ross)

  1. Richard Supan November 2, 2009 / 3:52 PM

    I’m not the biggest Diana Ross fan, her “diva persona” was a bit too much, but some songs that were OK IMO:

    Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)
    I’m Missing You (After Marvin Gaye’s death)
    I’m Coming Out (A Good exercise song)
    Nothing But Heartaches (My early 13-15 experiences with girls)

    Two not so quick comments

    Bernadette and I saw Diana Ross on our honeymoon in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. A nice show and she went to all the tables in the room singing.

    A ground breaking music special at the time called TCB (Taking Care of Business) featured the Supremes and Temptations together. A bit too much vanilla, but it was Motown’s attempt to be on National TV. The biggest problem for me was a conflict with Game 7 of the NBA championship. This was one of the best of all time between Bill Russell and the Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor Lakers. This was before VCR’s so I ran back and forth between two TV’s to watch both events. Wilt (who never fouled out of a NBA game) picked up five fouls and took himself out of the game saying he hurt his leg. When he was ready to go back in, the Lakers coach (I think it was Bill Van Breda Kolff) refused to put him in! The Celtics won the game.

    I think this game, the UTEP-Kentucky NCAA championship, and the UCLA (Alcindor)- Houston (Elvin Hayes) game, were my three of my top basketball memories of the 60’s. The 4th was at Palo Alto High watching Charlie Johnson score 47 points for Sequoia in a losing effort against a great Paly team. Easily the best high school game and probably the best game I ever attended.

    Back to TCB. I still have the album and have looked for years for a quality DVD of the show.

    Sorry for the lengthy memories.

    • theperfectipodcollection November 6, 2009 / 12:56 AM

      Hi Rich,

      I sort of like “I’m Coming Out”, but I don’t really think it adds much to the collection by adding it. In the end I was sort of surprised that I gave some of the songs such high rankings, but it’s largely about the quality of the songs and the fantastic band. I also left out “The Happening”and “Nathan Jones” from their peak era.

      Today I listened to “You Can’t Hurry Love” a couple of times. The “break” in the middle:

      You know love, love, don’t come easy,
      But I keep on waitin, anticipatin’,
      For that soft voice to talk to me to night,
      For those tender arms to hold me tight…I keep waitin’!

      That part of the song just knocks me out.

      • Richard Supan November 7, 2009 / 5:41 AM

        Agree with your comments.

        “Dreamgirls” is loosely based on the Supremes. I like some of those songs more than anything the Supremes did!

        Speaking of the backup band, the Funk Brothers, I really enjoyed the VH1 special and their CD.

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