Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Supremes -- "Where Did Our Love Go?" (1964)

You came into my heart (baby, baby) 
So tenderly
With a burning love (baby, baby) 
That stings like a bee (baby, baby)

Detroit is the fifth of the seven cities 2 or 3 lines is honoring in this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days" for its contributions to American pop music.

In the early sixties, New York City had the Brill Building songwriters, Los Angeles had surf music, and Detroit had Motown -- a record company that seemed to manufacture hit records like GM, Ford, and Chrysler manufactured gas-guzzling, V8-engined cars.

"Hitsville U.S.A." was the
home of Motown Records
Motown was a hit-record-producing machine.  Its recording studios were open 22 hours a day, and the company maintained a deep bench of songwriters, producers, and studio musicians (who were known as "The Funk Brothers") to support their stable of artists.  Many of those artists started out as poor teenagers raised in Detroit housing projects, but were transformed by Motown's artist development department into polished professionals who appealed to both black and white Americans.

Motown's founder, Berry Gordy, was a businessman par excellence -- the company would have made a great Harvard Business School case study.  Gordy presided over a weekly "quality control" meetings, vetoing the release of any records that didn't meet his standards.  (Gordy was tough.  He even rejected the original Marvin Gaye recording of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine.")

The most successful of Motown's many successful acts was the Supremes, who had 12 number one singles.  Their first chart-topping hit was "Where Did Our Love Go?" (written by Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team), which was the first of five consecutive Supremes' releases to reach #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  

I once heard a comedian attribute Barack Obama's appeal to some people this way: "He's black, but not too black."

The Supremes were black, but not too black.  The were the polar opposites of female performers like the frenetic Tina Turner and the Ikettes who backed her up.

Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard
The Supremes were immaculately made up and coiffed, and appeared onstage in long, elegant gowns.  Their dance routines were smooth and graceful, and they never seemed to break a sweat when they performed.  (I don't recall them shaking their moneymakers even one time.)  They appealed to teenagers, but they didn't scare parents.  

One critic had this to say about them:

An adult can understand nine out of every 10 words they sing.  And, most astounding, melody can be detected in every song they sing.

"Where Did Our Love Go?" was originally written for the Marvelettes, but they rejected the song.  Holland-Dozier-Holland next offered it to the Supremes, who had previously released nine singles, only one of which cracked the top 40.  The Supremes weren't that enthusiastic about the song either.

Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland
Because the song had been written for a singer with a lower vocal range, Diana Ross's voice sounded more sultry than usual.  Despite Motown's assembly-line-like reputation, there was considerable improvisation in the recording studio.  "Where Did Our Love Go?" begins with an unusual rhythmic effect -- the sound of feet stomping on a hardwood floor.

Here's "Where Did Our Love Go?":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite Supremes songs is "Stop in the Name of Love"--in live performances the singers hold up their hands like traffic officers (Motown choreography to the max!) In 1969-70, when I worked by myself on the night shift at the Santa Fe Ry. radio shop in San Bernardino, I'd have the local rock station on; "Someday We'll Be Together (Again)" was in heavy rotation. I later learned that Diana Ross was the only original Supreme on that record; Florence had already been removed, and was headed downhill fast, and I'm not sure where Mary was. Many years later, probably 1986, I met Mary when she was autographing her autobiography "Dreamgirl/My Life as a Supreme". I think Diana has a reputation as a "diva", but I found Mary to be a most gracious lady. Another fan was there; he had forgotten his camera, so I took a photo of him with his "Dreamgirl" and he sent me a book of railroad maps as a "thank you" gift.