Monday, 19 November 2018

The Supremes/+ with The Four Tops

Four fine, underrated seventies Motown albums here, plus two in collaboration with The Four Tops....

Right On (1970)

With the release, and chart success, of this album The Supremes did something quite rare - they survived the loss of their iconic lead voice, Diana Ross, and carried on as a threesome, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong joined by Jean Terrell. This album was produced by Frank ("Do I Love You") Wilson and of the four early seventies albums the group released, it is the most "Motown".
Up The Ladder To The Roof is an absolutely barnstorming hit single of an opener - catchy, melodic and the girls' voices in perfect harmony. Then We Can Try Again is an impressive, infectious typically Motown song too. The quality is continued on Everybody's Got The Right To Love, with its trademark Motown backing once again, it was also a chart hit. The pulsating Wait A Minute Before You Leave Me keeps the standard high. This material is as good as most of the stuff put out under the Diana Ross & The Supremes name in their final year. 

You Move Me, as on several of their songs, sounds as if Diana Ross is back on lead vocals, similarly with the honey-sweet But I Love You More. Jean Terrell sounds almost exactly like her at times. I Got Hurt (Trying To Be The Only Girl In Your Life) is a very soulful, vibrant number, another underrated "forgotten" great Motown song. Baby Baby is a punchy horns and bluesy drums number that once again adds to the impression that this is a very good album. Of the four albums, it is probably the best. Take A Closer Look At Me has a big, rumbling backing and a solid, powerful  vocal from Terrell, as indeed she does on the Ross-like Then I Met YouBill, Are You Coming Back was one of those moving anti-Vietnam war songs, like Martha Reeves & The VandellasForget Me Not and Freda Payne's Bring the Boys Home. It is a real Motown stomper, almost Northern Soul in its danceable beat. Another of those long lost classics. Great vocals and an uplifting beat. Energising stuff. 

The Loving Country is a lovely, soully song with yet another solid muscular Motown pounding beat. I find this a really invigorating, enjoyable album, by far the best of The Supremes' post Diana offerings. Highly recommended. Early seventies Motown at its best.

New Ways But Love Stays (1970)

The Supremes released two albums in 1970, both produced by Frank Wilson. This is the second. It is quite a varied, adventurous album in places, as Wilson looks to break out from the grip of Holland-Dozier-Holland and change musical directions, slightly.
The opener, Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music, is an underrated Motown classic, with a killer hook and singalong refrain. Now, talking of Motown classics, what about the next track, Stoned Love, here on the album with its little played slow tempo vocal intro. It kicks into a glorious thumping Motown beat. Possibly the best track The Supremes, in this incarnation, ever recorded. The vocals, the backing, everything about it is superb. Rightfully, it was a huge hit. The album version also contains extended saxophone in the middle too. It's Time To Break Down is a slightly jazzy, but still pulsatingly Motown number, with some excellent buzzy guitar and infectious percussion. It has echoes of The Temptations' "psychedelic soul" in its backing. Similarly backed is the girls' cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water, which actually comes off. It has the gospelly voices that you feel the song always suited best anyway. Those buzzy guitar parts are simply sublime. Check out the bit just before the "when you're down and out" bit. This cover is as it should be - a new, inventive reinterpretation and it works really well. It is one of the best versions of the song.

I Wish I Were Your Mirror is a funky, typically upbeat early seventies Motown number, with a great lead vocal and that pounding tambourine and drum backing. Similar to Bridge Over Troubled WaterThe BeatlesCome Together is done convincingly, the shuffling groove suiting the vocals, together with some buzzy guitar again and clavinet. 
Is There A Place (In His Heart For Me) is a syrupy, string-backed slow late-night ballad, one or two of which populated most of these early seventies Motown albums. Steam's hit Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye doesn't quite come off as well as the other covers. It doesn't quite suite the group, in my opinion, although it is catchy and rhythmic enough. Shine On Me is an infectious, typically Motown song, with a psychedelic-influenced ending while Thank Him For Today closes the album in a punchy, lively, bassy style. The sound quality on the album is excellent too. Full, warm Motown stereo sound. This was not a bad album at all. Worthy of a quick half an hour every now and again.

Touch (1971)

The Supremes were considerably under-shadowed by their ex-main voice, Diana Ross, who was releasing some credible Motown-soul albums in these early seventies years. The Supremes, though, put out some good material themselves, although their singles outshone the albums.

This is a pleasant enough album that is pretty par for the course for Motown in 1971 - immaculate production, appealing melodies, big horn-driven production, lush string arrangements. 

The opening track, This Is The Story, serves to exemplify that type of track. The next one, the wonderful Nathan Jones stands as evidence of those great singles. What a great track it is. Rumbling bass, thumping drums, clunking piano, wah-wah guitar, intoxicating percussion and the girls on perfect vocal form. It should be in any "best of Motown" compilation. 

Here Comes The Sunrise has airs of the verses of Ain't No Mountain High Enough about it, while Love It Came To Me This Time has lead voice Jean Terrell sounding almost exactly like Diana Ross. Johnny Raven would maybe have made a good single, but somehow it doesn't quite get there, despite its Stoned Love-style percussion backing and Nathan Jones echoes at times. Touch was a slow-paced ballad and was bizarrely chosen as a single. Let's be honest, none of the rest of the songs pull up any trees, so to speak, they just wash over you pleasantly enough but without particularly sticking in the mind. This is simple an enjoyable, inoffensive early seventies Motown album. Time And Love ventures dangerously close to schmaltz, however.

Floy Joy (1972)

This was the fourth of The Supremes' early seventies Motown albums. 

All of the songs contain songwriting input from the great Smokey Robinson, and you can tell. Just listen to the memorable opener - Your Wonderful Sweet Sweet Love which is, in my opinion, a true "forgotten" Motown classic. It is catchy, melodic, bassy and singalong at the dame time. Jean Terrell's vocals are superb on this. Wonderful stuff. The same applies to the hit single Floy Joy, which features a smoky vocal and irresistible guitar and vocal refrains from Mary Wilson and Jean Terrell. It is such a nostalgic memory of the early seventies for me.

A Heart Like Mine is a late-night, soulful romantic number with a lovely lead vocal from Mary Wilson. Over And Over has Terrell sounding just like Diana Ross and it has a real late sixties feel to it. Precious Little Things is a shuffling, rhythmic groove of a love song. The old "side two" started with a lengthy, funky groove in Now The Bitter, Now The Sweet, with new member Cindy Birdsong on lead vocals, an adventurous, brooding number with sight hints, for me, of Smokey Robinson's Just My Soul Responding. It is the most "adult", least commercial, most credible track on the album. 

Automatically Sunshine has Terrell and Wilson sharing vocals once more on the well-known and irresistibly appealing hit single. 

The Wisdom Of Love is a laid-back, sleepy soulful groove. All very tuneful and relaxing. Oh Be My Love has a killer buzzy guitar intro and a funky rhythm to it with some delicious drum work. This was a typical, very short early seventies album, as was so often the case, but in my view it is a better collection than the previous year's Touch, indisputably due to Smokey Robinson's expert input.

The Supremes & The Four Tops - The Magnificent Seven (1970)
This was a fine collaboration album from 1970 that followed on from the success of Diana Ross & The Supremes getting together with The Temptations. This time the remaining Supremes (now a group in their own right with the superb Jean Terrell taking over from Ross) joined forces with the ever-reliable Four Tops. The result is an enjoyable forty minutes of original material mixed with covers of contemporary soul songs. The vocals of Terrell and the mighty Levi Stubbs stand out, of course, but so also do the sumptuous harmonies of all seven of the participants. The album has a breezy, catchy vibe that is just so typical of Motown at the end of the sixties/early seventies. It takes me right back to those carefree days. Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and Frank Wilson were involved in the production so that pretty much guarantees quality. To be honest, it is not an album that begs detailed analysis. It is just a pleasure to listen to. You can over-study these things. Sometimes good pop music is just that.

Highlights are the punchy Motown sound of Knock On My Door; the Stubbs-dominated glory of Lamont Dozier-Brian Holland's Without The One You Love; complete with some typically Motown fuzzy guitar, the cover of The Fifth Dimension's hippy pop-ish Stoned Soul Picnic; a harmoniouReach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand); a vibrant cover of Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High that matches the original; a rumblingly bassy Ain't Nothing Like The Real ThingSly Stone's ebullient Everyday People (check out that bass line and Stubbs' vocal) and the hit single Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music. The great hidden gem is, for me, the wonderful It's Got To Be A Miracle (This Thing Called Love). The vocal interplay is magnificent.

For Your Love is a bit of a throwaway ballad, Baby (You Got What It Takes) has Stubbs and Terrell singing to each other fetchingly, while A Taste Of Honey has another stonking bass line. This was a fine, underrated Motown album, packed full of irresistible full of joie de vivre. You get the impression they really enjoyed doing it.

The Supremes & The Four Tops - The Return Of The Magnificent Seven (1971)

This was the second collaboration between these two fine Motown vocal groups. It is another immaculately-produced effort, full of quality material, but I prefer their first album, finding this one a bit too ballad-weighted in the middle part.

You Got To Have Love In Your Heart was the collaboration's greatest hit and it was an irresistible, joyous celebration of an early seventies Motown song - a bit of a forgotten classic. I Wonder Where We're Going tapped in to the beginning of the decade vibe with a Temptations-Undisputed Truth-style socially-conscious number, enhanced by some genre-typical fuzzy guitar. Petula Clark's Tony Hatch-composed Call Me is a slightly disposable number, to be honest. Ashford & Simpson's One More Bridge To Cross is a solid, muscular and brassy number. Proper punchy soul.

Now the slower stuff starts. The ballad duet If You Could See Me Now is very Diana Ross-esque and a departure from the more gritty, soulful material that had preceded it. It contains some Stevie Wonder-style metallic harmonica. Indeed, it may have been Stevie, but I am unable to find out. I'll Try Not To Cry is a pleasant slice of easy listening. Ashford & Simpson's I'm Glad About It is a more powerful ballad while Let's Make Love Now is as syrupy as the title suggests. Some Levi Stubbs-powered gritty soul is found on I Can't Believe You Love Me but Where Would I Be Without You, Baby sees a return to balladry, albeit sublime. 

What Do You Have To Do (To Stay On The Right Side Of Love) is slightly more funky and bassy, only just, though. As I said, I find the debut album to be a more appealing one, overall. There's nothing wrong with this one, but it just feels a bit more lightweight.

Related posts :-
Smokey Robinson
D Ross/Supremes
Edwin Starr

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