Joel Goldenberg: The Supremes and others

The Supremes

We are now quickly approaching the end of the S list, beginning with Motown's most commercially successful 1960s group.


The Supremes: When Diana Ross was their lead singer, The Supremes were up there with The Beatles in terms of chart successes, and their big hits are indeed great. Only problem is, that makes many of them kind of stale to me. Also, label head Berry Gordy polished the group up too much and made them record an album at the Copa nightcub to attract adult audiences, along with too many tribute LPs (country and western, Sam Cooke, Liverpool, etc.). Their one 1960s hit which will never get stale for me is 1969's Someday We'll Be Together, a great production and the last Diana Ross and the Supremes single before both became separate entities. Ironically, that song could also have been identified as Ross's first solo single, as, apparently, neither Mary Wilson nor Cindy Birdsong perform on the studio recording. One thing I'll never figure out is how, on the magnificent all-mono Hitsville 4-CD Motown retrospective, this song was left out.

I also actually continue to enjoy a few post-Diana Ross Supremes songs. Tracks with the quality of the triumphal Stoned Love and Up the Ladder to the Roof could have put them in serious contention chart-wise with Ross. But this wasn't gonna happen, as Ross had a very close relationship with Gordy.

Survivor: I hated Eye of the Tiger in the 1980s, but I appreciate its tough sound today.

Sutherland Brothers and Quiver: I probably would not have heard anything from this British group, but they happened to be on a Spotify playlist I downloaded. Turns out they did Arms of Mary before Canada's Chilliwack, and it's terrific, more mellow than the Chilliwack version.

The Sweet Inspirations: Today, they are best known as one of several backing vocalists for Elvis Presley from 1969 to 1977, but they had an utterly terrific song, Sweet Inspiration in 1968. The singing during a climactic part in the middle of the song is spine-chilling, it's that good.

The Sylvers: Quite a good approximation of the Jackson 5 sound on mid-1970 hits like Boogie Fever and Hot Line, but the Osmonds did the Jackson 5 better, and first.

And now we finally (finally!) proceed to the T list.

The Tams: I should like this 1960s group's Beach Music soul sound, but the lead singer's vocal style really irritates me. Sorry. And their re-recordings were even more irritating.

James Taylor: Probably the king of the sensitive singer-songwriters. Fire and Rain will forever remain his most compelling song because of what inspired it, the suicide of a friend and Taylor's own drug addictions. I like this song for the same reason I love Yusuf/Cat Stevens' Father and Son. They both have heft.

In terms of great hooks, Taylor's Your Smiling Face is excellently constructed. I could never get tired of listening to that one.

Johnnie Taylor: One of the more consistent hitmakers on the Stax label after its links with Atlantic Records were cut and after the death of the label's greatest artist, Otis Redding. Taylor was no Otis, but he had a kind of appealingly mischievous style, and his hits were quite funky. One of his best was his version of the early Parliaments (later Parliament led by the great George Clinton) song (I Wanna) Testify. Very atmospheric. Of course, Taylor's most famous song is Who's Makin' Love, but I've heard it too many times. And his biggest hit was Disco Lady, but that was too much of a departure from his trademark sound

And it wasn't even disco.

Tears For Fears: If this 1980s group produced something as compelling as Mad World on more of their albums, I would have liked their catalog better. This was at a time (1983) when 1980s British music was at its most creative. I loved this song the first time I heard it.

Next time: The Tee Set and others.


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