Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Diana Ross & The Supremes/+ with The Temptations

"With The Supremes I made so much money so fast all I wanted to do was buy clothes and pretty things" - Diana Ross 

Meet The Supremes (1962)

In 1962, the “Motown Sound”, as we came to know it, had not been developed, as such. What we had here was a mix of rock n roll ballads and fifties “doo-wop”, with a bit of early Atlantic soul thrown in there. This is an interesting bunch of recordings, historically, although anyone looking for the trademark Diana Ross & The Supremes sound will not really get it here. The original album, plus the many extras, feature the original four members, including Barbara Martin. What is clear is that of Martin, Florence Ballard and Cindy Birdsong, Diana Ross was by no means the outstanding singer. All the girls feature taking lead vocal duties in these recordings.

You get the original album in both MONO and STEREO. The stereo recordings are very good. More than that, they are truly fantastic. A revelation. I much prefer them, but then I am a confirmed stereo fan.
Highlights of the original album are the poppy Time Changes Things, the upbeat Latin groove of Let Me Go The Right WayYour Heart Belongs To MeWho's Lovin' You, the innocence of He's Seventeen, and the amusing, funky rock n roll of Buttered Popcorn. Beware, though, it is not a Motown-sounding album in the well-known sense of the word. It is more a rock n roll-style ballads album. A track like Baby Don't Go is an example of this - fifties-style vocals and lyrics. Slow percussion and a saxophone in the background. Absolutely crystal clear sound in this one though. Check out those cymbals! Never Again is a similar example. It is a rock n roll ballad, as opposed to Motown.

** The "EXTRAS" feature many tracks that do not feature on the original album, and some good ones too - Hey BabyThe Boy That Got Away and Too Hot stand out, plus a run of four stereo versions of previously unreleased tracks. All of which in are excellent sound quality, for 1962. You Can Depend On Me has a bit of a scratchy sound, however, but it is raised up by what appears to be an electric violin solo.

The LIVE cuts from the “Battle Of The Bands” is a most interesting inclusion, and this is where we see (and hear) Diana Ross staking her claim for the number one spot with an all out vocal attack on Run Run Run, where she displays a real soul growl to her voice not often heard. Diana was going for it. After the song you can hear her gasping for breath. 

Standing At The Crossroads Of Love is a fifties-style tube, but check out that bass line and a bit of a hint of Motown drums and percussion. Great stuff. Then they do an excellent Anyone Who Had A Heart. These live cuts are most enjoyable. Amazed at the sound quality. I cannot stress it enough. Full, warm and bassy. Again, just listen to Diana giving it some on Let Me Go The Right Way. She owned that stage. No diva stuff, just a young girl with fire and soul in her belly. When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes is when we hear THAT Motown sound for the first time. Wonderful.

Where Did Our Love Go (1964)
This review is for the download of the Hip-O-Select remaster with additional bonus and live tracks. Firstly, the sound on all of these releases (Meet The Supremes; I Hear A Symphony; this one and Supremes A Go-Go) is absolutely superb. With all of them you get both the MONO and STEREO versions of the original album plus a further CD's worth of "extras" - unreleased material and live cuts. As a confirmed stereo man, I much prefer the stereo versions. They are simply wonderfully remastered. As good as I have ever heard this material.

The original album contains Supremes gems in Where Did Our Love Go, the massive hit of Baby Love and the upbeat, insistent Come See About Me. Also the underrated and singalong When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, the jaunty Run Run Run and Ask Any Girl.

** The "EXTRAS" material is largely of a good sound quality, although there are a few "scratchy" recordings. Highlights are a previously undiscovered gem in the brooding, bluesy My Imagination, with its Animals-style organ which certainly does not fit the Motown three minute song blueprint; the soulful ballad Let Me Hear You Say I Love You; the Motown pop of Penny Pincher and Send Me No Flowers and the Drifters-esque You're Gonna Come To Me. If some of these tracks had been released as an album, it certainly would not have been what was expected of the "chart act" that The Supremes were becoming. It would have been a somewhat serious soul album.

The LIVE cuts at the end see the sort of live act that The Supremes were destined to become - a "cabaret" act, unfortunately.

I Hear A Symphony (1966)

This review is for the download of the Hip-O-Select remaster with additional bonus and live tracks.Firstly, the sound on all of these releases (Meet The Supremes; Where Did Our Love Go; this one and Supremes A Go-Go) is absolutely superb. With all of them you get both the MONO and STEREO versions of the original album plus a further CD's worth of "extras" - unreleased material and live cuts. As a confirmed stereo man, I much prefer the stereo versions. They are simply wonderfully remastered. As good as I have ever heard this material.
With regard to the original album, musically. It is certainly not their best. The two great singles, I Hear A Symphony and My World Is Empty Without You are surrounded by covers of songs like YesterdayUnchained Melody and "songs from the shows" like Stranger In Paradise. All massively orchestrated, especially Rodgers and Hart's With A Song In My Heart - nothing of the "Motown Sound" in many of them. People expecting the Funk Brothers' pounding backing will be disappointed by the saccharine nature of some of the tracks on this album. It seemed the thing to do in the mid 1960s for groups to record great singles and spend the rest of their time recording tributes to The Beatles and covering easy-listening standards. This changed a little with Love Child in 1968, but that was still three years away. 

The cover of The Toys' gorgeous A Lover's Concerto is excellent though. Diana's voice on this almost has me in tears. Lovely. Any Girl In Love (Knows What I'm Going Through) is a return to the Motown Sound to a certain extent and stands up well, as does Everything Is Good About You with its classic Supremes sound. He's All I Got ends the album on a real Motown-Northern Soul high note, thankfully. The second half of the album is far more enjoyable.

This album is too much of an "easy listening" one for my liking though. One could imagine the older generation in the mid-sixties liking this. Maybe that was the intention.

The "EXTRAS" are mainly LIVE cuts from a gig at "The Roostertail" in Detroit from 1966. The sound, for a live recording from 1966, is excellent. That's as far as it goes for me though. The venue seems to have been an "entertainment" style place - eating, sitting at your table and drinking while the group entertain you. It is positively awful. The worst example of a fifties-sixties "cabaret" performance. A "house band" or should I say an orchestra who back every song in a big band-showband style. All the Motown oomph of a song like Come See About Me is backing saxophoned and stringed out of it. Ditto Baby Love with its truly appalling improvised intro, You Can't Hurry Love and Stop! In The Name Of Love. In between we get covers of contemporary easy listening standards like Jody Miller's Queen Of The House and The Beatles' Yesterday and Michelle and Diana's woeful attempts to joke with the audience. The Band Introductions and You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You is truly cringeworthy. Unlistenable. You had to be there, I guess! The sound is great and it has a historical interest but there are better ones. Supremes A Go-Go, for example.

Supremes A Go-Go (1966)

This is an absolute treasure of a release.
Firstly, you get the original 1966 release in MONO and then, beautifully, in STEREO. It is a great mid-sixties Motown album, albeit largely full of covers of other Motown songs.  

However, the real appeal here lies in the many EXTRAS included. Diana and the girls continue to run through their versions of several other Motown classics, in great style too, matching those on the actual album - Heat Wave; What Becomes Of The BrokenheartedGet ReadyIt's The Same Old SongCan I Get A WitnessPut Yourself In My Place; This Old Heart Of Mine; UptightMoneyShake Me Wake Me (When It's Over); Mickey's Monkey and The Contours' Northern Soul floor filler Just A Little Misunderstanding. Their versions are excellent too. A real refreshing delight to listen to. Some of these tracks are also on the actual original album but the alternate versions are, if anything even better, often slightly extended with more vocal improvisation.

Also present are belting covers of The Rolling StonesSatisfactionTom JonesIt's Not UnusualDylan's Blowin' In The Wind and Burt Bacharach's What The World Needs Now Is Love. All of them stand up well, despite the classic status of the songs.

There are also two killer extended cuts of Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart and alternate mixes of In My Lonely Room and He's All I Got (which appeared on the previous album I Hear A Symphony). The STEREO remastering is just gorgeous, the bass pounding out of of one's speakers like a punch in the stomach. Just listen to the intro to This Old Heart Of Mine. Diana's vocal over that Motown sax. Beautiful. The Funk Brothers at their powerful, driving but melodic best. A long overdue release and a thoroughly rewarding listen

Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations (1968)
This was a fun, upbeat, joyful album collaboration between two of Motown's most successful singles groups - Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations. The album was notable in that it marked the first appearance of Dennis Edwards on vocals for The Temptations, in place of David Ruffin.

Try It Baby is a jazzy, lively piece of enjoyable fluff. It sounds much better in the album's stereo than on the single version, which was in mono. The voices are spread out by the stereo and the effect, and indeed the whole sound, is far superior, in my opinion. Indeed, for 1968, it is truly superb stereo. 

The massive hit single, Smokey Robinson's I Second That Emotion is wonderful, outdoing Robinson's original for verve and vitality. The vocals are simply superb on this. Diana Ross was never my favourite Motown female vocalist, (I always preferred Martha Reeves and Gladys Knight), but she is towering on this one. Their version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough is excellent, too. Again, I prefer it to Diana Ross's melodramatic famous recording of the song.

The even bigger hit, the timeless I'm Gonna Make You Love Me keeps the quality coming. It is possibly the best of all the Motown collaborations. 
This Guy's In Love With You was an example of Motown's tendency to go a bit "cabaret" on albums, with a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "easy listening" classic. They do it pleasantly enough though. The track fades in to the fuzz guitar of Funky Broadway and The Temptations cook up a funky recipe that is probably the most credible on the album. Even Diana Ross manages to strut her funky stuff. Smokey Robinson's I'll Try Something New is both punchy and delicious. Stevie Wonder's A Place In The Sun has a big, bassy backing and Diana Ross's lead vocal handles the song beautifully. 

Sweet Inspiration is a rhythmic, gospelly number. The quality on this album has been surprisingly good. One may have expected it to be just the two big hits and some schmaltzy cover versions, but it has not been the case. Then is a forgotten corker of a song. Recorded in the mid-sixties by The Four Tops, the lads and lassies breathe new life into it. Apparently, it had been originally intended as a single. It would have been a good one. Diana Ross suits the diva-esque show song glamour of The Impossible Dream down to the ground. This sort of song was often put on to albums like this to lure "adult" record buyers as well as pop-loving teenagers. It is delivered perfectly, but it does seem a bit incongruous amongst all the Motown majesty of earlier.

Together (1969)
After their excellent debut album from the previous year, this marriage of two huge Motown groups had one more outing. Again, it was a pleasant, enjoyable mixture of mainly cover versions of other Motown songs and assorted classics. Any combination of this voices will be a success, it has to be said. The album has excellent stereo sound too, which always brings Motown material to life.

Diana Ross takes the lead on an impressive Stubborn Kind Of Fellow with Eddie Kendricks backing her up, while a great cover of Smokey Robinson's I'll Be Doggone sees Paul Williams aided by Ross. Two good ones to kick off with. 

Covering The Band's iconic country rock of  The Weight was probably not a good idea, however. However great their voices are, it doesn't work, I'm afraid. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing is tailor-made, however, and works a treat. Stevie Wonder's Uptight is slowed-down somewhat to turn into soulful Temptations-style groove. Again, though, it works and is quite infectious. Sly & The Family Stone's funky Sing A Simple Song is given a "psychedelic soul" makeover to great effect, sounding all Ball Of Confusion before it had even been conceived. The merging of My Guy/My Girl has a great sound to it, although the two songs don't quite mesh. The join sounds a bit clumsy. The backing on it is superb though.

For Better Or Worse is a bit schmaltzy, however. Frankie Valli-Andy WilliamsCan't Take My Eyes Off You doesn't hold a candle to either previous recording, it has to be said. 
Why Must We Fall In Love is a joyous singalong that would have made a great single, with Diana Ross on fine vocal form. This is a pleasant, enjoyable half hour's listen, excellently-played and sung. Nothing spectacular, but worth digging out every now and again.

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