The Supremes – The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland

supremes-sing-hdh

Part I: The Background

The Motown songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for the majority of the Supremes’ biggest hits (“Baby Love”, “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Come See About Me”, and “Stop! In The Name of Love”, just to name a few). Following the success of their previous album, The Supremes A-Go-Go, the group recorded an album with all of the songs composed by HDH, some of those being originals and some of those being covers of songs originally recorded by other artists. The resulting album marked the end of an era: following this album, Florence Ballard would depart from the group and the relationships between the members would grow strained as Diana Ross moved further and further into the spotlight (with the group changing its name to Diana Ross and the Supremes). The album is composed both of new compositions and of older recordings, with the oldest dating back as far as three years prior. So this is one last hoorah for the classic Supremes, though of course their sound had already begun to evolve by this point, and the influences of mid-sixties musical experimentation are evident on a select number of the album’s tracks.

 

Part II: The Music

You Keep Me Hangin’ On: A single-note guitar lick pans back and forth, evoking the sound of Morse code (an effect which would be revisited by the group with the song “Reflections”). The organ is decidedly psychedelic, and though the punchy drums have that typical Motown feel (it is still the Funk Brothers—Motown’s arsenal of session musicians—performing, after all), the beat is a little more laid back than usual, welcoming the listener into a new era of inhibition. The two sections of the song contrast more than is usual for a Supremes song, and the verses are much more adventurous as far as the chord progression is concerned (while there aren’t any unexpected turns, the song travels from chord to chord quite a bit before returning to the chorus, adding a level of complexity to the song writing). Diana’s vocals definitely sound double-tracked, adding a bit of punch to the floatier moments of the song. My favourite moment comes one minute and sixteen seconds into the song, where Florence’s vocals come to the forefront (I’m predictable like that). Overall, a very worthy addition to the parade of HDH-penned Supremes hits. RATING: 9/10

You’re Gone (But Always In My Heart): As far as slower, melancholy Supremes songs go, this is run of the mill. You can feel the sense of longing both in Diana’s delicate sentimentality and in the sulking brass section (the playing really has this deflated, disheartened quality to it). The musical style here verges on traditional pop. It’s not a memorable song though; you’ll probably forget all about it as soon as it ends. RATING: 5.5/10

Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone: Speaking of predictability—harpsichord! You know this one’s getting a high score. The arrangement also a vibrant string section, with the overall sound falling halfway between baroque pop and bubblegum pop. The backing vocals are vaguely psychedelic. Another nice touch is the emphatic spoken word sections—it’s nice to see a bit of attitude to contrast Diana’s usual honeyed vocal tone. And while it’s the arrangement that does the trick for me, that’s not to say this isn’t an impressive composition. Not that we didn’t already know Dozier and the Holland brothers had an incredible sense of melody. RATING: 9.5/10

Mother You, Smother You: This feels like a retread—it attempts to recall the magic of “Baby Love,” albeit this song’s a bit more sappy. But this song sees the Supremes doing what they do best; it’s a fun, catchy pop song with a swinging rhythm and an instantly memorable melody. This is one of the older tracks, isn’t it? RATING: 6.5/10

I Guess I’ll Always Love You: One of the more recent recordings, this song was originally recorded by the Isley Brothers. The song occupies a middle ground between more orchestral-influenced instrumentation and the trademark Motown sound. It’s probably one of the most upbeat songs on the album. And since it was written by the usual trio anyway, it’s not like it’s any more of a cover than the other songs are. Or at least I didn’t think so until I heard the original. This is literally just Diana, Florence, and Mary singing over the same backing track that the Isley Brothers used. So on the one hand, it’s a lazy effort with an unengaging lead vocal. One the other hand, it’s a catchy tune, so who cares? RATING: 6/10

I’ll Turn To Stone: This could’ve easily been a single if it had been released a couple years earlier; it demonstrates HDH’s top-notch pop sensibilities. There’s nothing arrangement-wise to distinguish this track from the previous two. But with a killer melody and some decent vocals, you don’t really miss the experimentation that the album opening track deceived us into thinking we’d be getting. RATING: 7/10

It’s The Same Old Song: A Four Tops cover. Well… we get a different backing track this time. But it seriously lacks the punch and vibrancy of the original: the instrumental has been whittled down to a bopping bubblegum style. The tempo has been increased considerably from the original version in an effort to give the cover some distinctiveness. Unfortunately, the sax solo winds up being laughable as a result. But yeah, attuning the instrumental to suit the voices of the Supremes was a commendable effort. RATING: 5/10

Going Down For The Third Time: Diana seems to have woken up: she delivers a fiercer vocal lead this time around. The lyrics equate love with drowning, perhaps unoriginally, but there are a few standout images scattered here and there: “I’m like a ship all alone on a raging sea.” The horns during the pre-chorus section feel much more insistent as the singer makes her plea: “Bring back that love we knew / Darling let me live again.” “Going Down For The Third Time” isn’t as exciting as the singles, but it’s a quality album track composed in a similar vein. RATING: 8/10

Love Is In Our Hearts: And then this disappointment. I’m willing to bet this is another one of the older cuts—the melody feels very early-sixties. This bright-eyed, optimistic lovebirds song doesn’t hold a candle lyrically or musically to the stronger offerings on this album. Easily identifiable filler. RATING: 2.5/10

Remove This Doubt: With its sweeping string section, trickling piano arpeggios, and gloomy atmosphere, this song is completely and utterly out of place here. Don’t get me wrong—this is an amazing song. But it would’ve been more at home on I Hear A Symphony. I thought we’d established that the bulk of this album was going to hearken back to that classic Supremes sound? The backing vocals, which echo Diana’s emotive lead, are downright eerie—this is clearly the hidden gem of the album. RATING: 9/10

There’s No Stopping Us Now: Yeah, so here’s the thing. After that last song, I’m really not in the mood to go back to the standard Supremes fanfare. At least until the second time we get to the chorus, when I get sucked into that magic all over again. This song definitely suffers as a result of the album sequencing—I’d have made this the second track, or at least put it somewhere on Side A. Hell, literally anywhere other than where it actually got placed. The singer declares to her lover that together they can take on the world (that’s not literally in the lyrics, but that’s the gist of them), and the instrumental is appropriately confident and optimistic. The melody isn’t as memorable the melodies of the hits the song attempts to emulate, but if you can’t get enough of classic-era Supremes, you’ll like this one. RATING: 7/10

Love Is Like A Heat Wave: One of my biggest musical pet peeves is when an album ends with a cover song. The album closer is the last thing the listener hears; it should leave them mesmerized by what they just heard and eager to go back and listen again. When you throw someone else’s song at the end of your album, unless you’ve done a hell of a lot to make it your own, you’re squandering that opportunity. Consider this opportunity squandered. RATING: 3/10

 

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The monotone album cover completely fails to capture the essence of this album (I think they were going for a goldish hue—the Supremes themselves look like statuettes). It might’ve worked for a greatest hits collection, but for a full-fledged (er… one-third-fledged) studio album, it just doesn’t cut it. I’m conflicted about the title. Sure, the album is exactly what it says on the tin. But two other albums in the Supremes’ discography use the same title format: The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop and The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart. When you see an album title like that, you infer that the group is going to be interpreting songs from, well, somebody else’s songbook. And while that’s technically what this is, the Holland-Dozier-Holland song writing team were just as much a part of the Supremes as the girls themselves. So you end up with what sounds like a cover album but is really the most self-contained album the group ever put out. SCORE: 2/5

Artistic Merit: The newer tracks on the album do have a bit of an experimental edge to them, pushing the boundaries ever so slightly for this particular flavour of pop music. But the compilers of the album had to go and undo all of that by tossing a bunch of old throwaway tracks into the mix. Ultimately, this comes across as more of a compilation than an album. SCORE: 1/5

Flow: I say this album’s a compilation because it sounds like one. While there is a consistency to the core Supremes sound, the album’s really all over the place in terms of the arrangements and song writing techniques. And whose awful idea was it to hide one of the more impressive pop-oriented tracks after the most emotionally moving song on the album? And whose awful idea was it to end with a cover? SCORE: 2/10

CLOSING REMARKS:

You could make an argument for this being the last real Supremes album. The Holland-Dozier-Holland song writing team stuck around for one more album (Reflections) before packing it up and departing from Motown records, sure. But subsequent albums abandoned that classic Supremes sound in favour of a more current sound. And of course, this was the last album of original material to feature Florence Ballard as a member. And she was arguably the heart of the group. So enjoy this album for what it is: the end of an era.

FINAL SCORE: 58

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s