Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Founded as Tamla Records by Berry Gordy in 1958, then incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in 1960, Motown Records and its headquarters/studios Hitsville, USA churned out some of the best-known songs of the 1960s and 70’s. The label curated acts like Smoky Robinson & the Miracles and the Marvelettes, but was also the initial home of Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson when he was still a kid performing with the Jackson 5. One group stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of their importance to the label: the Supremes were the girl group that revolutionized not only the music industry in the 60’s, but were also representative of the social and political change that was to occur in the decade – even if their music was not at all political. With their soulful blend of R&B and classic 60’s sunshine pop, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard forever assured there would be a place for Black women in popular music. Here are five of their best songs:
- “Where Did Our Love Go” from Where Did Our Love Go (1964)
It’s a bit ironic that the title track of the Supremes’ second album was not its first single released to the public, but rather the fourth. Perhaps it’s because Motown writers Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland originally wrote the track for another Motown group, the Marvelettes. When the writers brought the song to the Supremes, they initially rejected it but were eventually persuaded by the writers to record it. Thank the heavens they did, because it would become their first number one single in the US, and would also break the top five in the UK. The immense success of this track and its namesake album would blow the doors open for countless other Black artists, and it would make the Supremes a household name in the United States.
- “Baby Love” from Where Did Our Love Go (1964)
The success of “Where Did Our Love Go” was surely a surprise for the group, so much so that they probably didn’t think they could beat it; but they did. When “Baby Love” was released as the fifth single off their second record, they became the first Motown group to have more than one hit reach number one on the Billboard chart. If you buy a Motown compilation CD and there’s only one Supremes track on it, it’s probably this one. The song is a classic interpretation of the undying unrequited love we all experience in our lifetimes.
- “Come See About Me” from Where Did Our Love Go (1964)
As if that success wasn’t enough, the sixth and final single released off of Where Did Our Love Go would hit the top of the Billboard chart two separate times, first replaced by the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” in December of ’64 before knocking back into number one in January of ’65. “Come See About Me” is one of the group’s most upbeat numbers, given that it is very much about the pain of heartbreak. With its build-up of drums in its first two measure, it is one of the Supremes’ most instantly recognizable hits.
- “Stop! In The Name Of Love” from More Hits By The Supremes (1965)
With three number ones off of a single album now out in the open, the Supremes’ were more confident and motivated than ever. The lead single of their third studio album comes bursting out of the gates with its famous organ glissando of an intro. Then, the three girls waste no time getting to the point of the song – its urgent and upbeat chorus sets a mission statement for their entire career. Ross, Ballard, and Wilson encourage you to “Think it over” before skipping to the next song. This song would knock another Beatles tune, “Eight Days A Week”, out of the top spot on the Billboard chart.
- “You Can’t Hurry Love” from The Supremes A’ Go-Go (1966)
By the time the Supremes released their fifth album, they had started to experiment with other types of songs and sounds, like many other groups of the era. “You Can’t Hurry Love” would cater towards this newfound indulgence. The song balances both the optimism and the pessimism of being in love. With a chorus that suggests that “You can’t hurry love”, the song quickly challenges that notion with its bridge: “But how many heartaches must I stand before I find a love/To let me live again/Right now the only thing that keeps me hangin’ on/When I feel my strength, yeah, it’s almost gone”. By now, Diana Ross was quickly eclipsing her group in popularity and fame. The group would be known afterwards as Diana Ross and the Supremes before Ross left the group altogether to embark on her legendary solo career.