The Supremes’ story is now part of pop music’s DNA. The promotion of Diana Ross at the expense of her friends. The reaction of Florence to this marginalisation leading to her being dumped from the world’s leading female act & to a sad demise. It has become one of the folk tales of the 60s. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, developing a self-belief & a sound that would affect the world or the separation of Brian Jones from the group that he thought he led, it has been told & re-told from many different perspectives. We think we know the “truth” of these stories. We don’t need Carl Jung to come over & explain to us how a culture develops it’s own myths & legends.
Well…”Forever Came Today”. What a great pop single this is. The third single released as Diana Ross & the Supremes burns with a slow fuse before building to a fine dramatic climax. The “Reflections” LP introduced a touch of psychedelic soul to the hit sound but this track eschews the gimmicks and excess of the title track. The restraint of the arrangement, in the verse the electric piano is joined by a tambourine as a lead instrument, adds to the power of the song.
These were turbulent times at Hitsville & not just for the Supremes. Holland-Dozier-Holland, the writers responsible for the group’s amazing run of winners (10 #1 hits) were unhappy. They slowed their song production & were planning a future away from Motown. “Forever” was the last 45 they wrote for the girls. Recorded in 1967, released early in 1968, it was the first record of their’s to miss the top 20 since their success had begun & the first record to use session singers in place of the harmonies of “and the Supremes”. By the end of 1968 the Supremes were back in the top 10. Lamont Dozier & the Holland brothers had left Motown in a blizzard of suit & counter-suit.
There are clips of the Supremes promoting their world-wide smash of the 1967 summer of love, “The Happening”, with Florence. In others Cindy Birdsong (wonderfully, her real name) had tip-toed into her place. Two singles later Ed Sullivan was introducing Cindy as part of a group who promoted all their releases on Sullivan’s prime time TV show. The group always had their best new frocks on for these performances. Anyone who wants a view of the range of 60s fashions only has to check on the Supremes’ photos. Whether dressed like Vogue models or in more “street” clothes they were never less than immaculate.
The performance shows how Diana was now the focus. Her ambition can be criticized but she could sure sell a song. However, the Sullivan house band are not the Funk Brothers. This absence of groove makes for a pretty insipid result & perhaps influenced the song’s eventual sales. I have included this clip because it shows Mary Wilson at her best despite the exclusion from recording & the absence of her chidhood friend.
The Supremes first came to the UK on the back of a 2nd hit with “Baby Love”. They appeared on Top of the Pops in quite low cut dresses & made an immediate impression on my young self. I had never seen beautiful, young Afro-American women on British TV before. It was Mary who made the biggest impression. Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti, Julie Christie, for myself Mary Wilson joins that list of great 60s beauties. Diana can smile & over-emote , she can take the majority of the camera shots. Show me a clip of the Supremes in the 60s & I only have eyes for Ms Wilson…and there ain’t nothing I can do about it !
I have been looking around for a clip to show just how good the Supremes could be. The early appearances are in black and white. They often sang live with a white bread band making little effort to emulate the sound of the record because that would be impossible. I have settled on the breathless rush of “You Can’t Hurry Love”,often copied but never bettered. This is another great pop record from Tamla Motown.