Not my usual listening matter, and consequently I’ve not picked this CD out of my collection for a good few years. You can’t deny their hit-making prowess, the biggest ‘girl’ group ever, rivalling the Beatles in popularity in the 1960s and at one point having five #1 singles in a row. Much of that is down to the Motown hit factory regime and the songwriting genius of Holland, Dozier & Holland. Not having listened to this for a while, I was surprised that the backing vocals were so low down in the mix. I’m perhaps more used to seeing clips of them performing – Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard – and always thought of them as a threesome, but its clear enough from the production (let alone the personal politics) that Ross was always the one in front.
There are some classic singles here: Baby Love, Where Did Our Love Go, Stop! In the Name of Love, Come See About Me, You Can’t Hurry Love and You Keep Me Hangin’ On. The last two I’m more familiar with from their covers by Phil Collins and Kim Wilde respectively.
But classic hits aside, what I found most interesting listening to this are the lesser known songs (at least to me) such as the light psychedelia of Reflections, the hippie-ish The Happening, and Love Child – which has got to be the best (and funkiest) song about being a bastard I’ve ever heard. Given the title, this compilation features only their number one hits, both as The Supremes and Diana Ross’s solo hits. So we also get dance club classics such as Chain Reaction, Upside Down and a personal favourite of mine, I’m Coming Out. Apparently Ross didn’t know that it was a phrase used by the LGBT community and the song immediately became one of their anthems. She had interpreted the Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards song as being about her escape from the clutches of Motown boss Berry Gordy. Bless.
I was introduced quite early to The Supremes since a cassette copy of Stoned Love was (other than a home-recorded copy of Abba Super Trouper) the only pop music my parents owned, not that I ever heard them playing either of them. Stoned Love was a 1979 UK-only compilation of The Supremes’ later albums, after Diana Ross had left, and features classics such as River Deep, Mountain High (with the Four Tops) as well as covers of Stevie Wonder’s Bad Weather, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Come Together. I realise now it would have been the first time I heard The Beatles. I no longer have the cassette and haven’t heard the album since, but the fact that song Stoned Love is included on this CD comp made me glow with the nostalgic rush of being 11 again.
Best Bits: Ross is every drama/drag queen’s dream, I particularly love the spoken bits from You Keep Me Hangin’ On: “And there ain’t nothing I can do about it!”
Genre: Motown Pop
Like This, Try This: Grab that hairbrush, in front of the mirror, hands aloft, all together now: Stop! In the Name of Love!