In the early 1960s, The Supremes emerged as Motown’s brightest stars. Their infectious blend of pop and soul, wrapped in glamorous gowns and radiant smiles, was nothing short of irresistible. They were the epitome of chic, bringing a new level of sophistication to the world of pop music.
These were women who wore elegance as easily as they wore their glittering sequined gowns, and sang hits as effortlessly as they walked in their sky-high heels. From “Where Did Our Love Go” to “Baby Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love,” their powerful performances, punctuated by precise choreography and tight harmonies, became a blueprint for future girl groups.
But let’s not forget about the real magic behind the glitz: their phenomenal talent. When The Supremes sang, the world stopped and listened.
Their voices intertwined in a silky sound that was, quite simply, supreme. They were the queens of the charts, with an astonishing 12 number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100, a testament to their unmatched musical prowess.
Yet, behind the glamour and the smiles, there were challenges and trials. The road to becoming The Supremes wasn’t always lined with sequins and applause. There were lineup changes, personal struggles, and the weight of fame to contend with. But through it all, The Supremes persevered, forever imprinted in our hearts and on the music industry as pioneering queens of Motown.
The Supremes songs: Their list of hits begins with “Where Did Our Love Go”
Initially, the group had reservations about recording the song due to its perceived simplicity (it was originally written for fellow Motown group The Marvelettes, who had rejected the song for being too childish), but after a string of failed songs, were eventually persuaded to record the tune.
The Supremes recorded the track in Studio A of Detroit’s Hitsville USA on April 8, 1964. Diana Ross was reportedly so excited about how her vocals came out that she went and grabbed Barry Gordy so he could hear. The song’s undeniable appeal — the infectious rhythm, the catchy chorus, and Diana Ross’s distinct lead vocals — ultimately connected with a wide audience.
Its success was more than just a chart-topping hit; it was a crucial milestone in their career trajectory. “Where Did Our Love Go” not only established their emerging musical style — marked by harmonious vocals, a pop-soul blend, and an overall glamorous vibe — but also initiated a series of successful hits. This significant shift in their career ushered The Supremes into a new level of fame and respect within the music industry.
“Where Did Our Love Go” was released on June 17, 1964, and entered the Hot 100 singles at number 77. Within a month and a half, they were at number 1 on the charts, and held on to that spot for two weeks (August 22 and August 29).
And with that, their string of bad luck was broken. The trio went on to have hit singles with “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again.”
Below is a video of The Supremes performing “Where Did Our Love Go” — we believe this is from The Steve Allen Show on September 24, 1964.
The Supremes video: Where Did Our Love Go? (1964)
The Supremes: 3 Detroiters who have captured the world with “Where Did Our Love Go?” (1965)
By Mort Persky – Detroit Free Press (Michigan) January 24, 1965
It begins, not strangely, with a clapping of hands, after which a sinuous but sturdy feminine voice begins curling around the lyric, lapping at it —
“Baby, baby, please don’t leave me,
Ooooohhh, please don’t leave me, all by myself ;
I’ve got this burnin’, burnin’ yearnin’ feel- in’ inside me,
Ooooohhh, deep inside me, and it hurts so bad;
You came into my heart .. .”
At this point two other feminine voices join in, a circumstance which makes it very nearly impossible to make out what the first voice is saying. And, further, making it somehow very difficult to care. The two new voices are singing:
“Baby, baby — Where did our love go? — Baby, baby — Baby, baby…”
And so forth. As if it matters. What makes it so difficult to care about the words you miss is that the two new voices have filled out a musical printed circuit, and the juices are flowing. The words, make them out or not, have become part of a river of sound which has been knowingly, painstakingly shaped on Detroit’s Grand Blvd (by three relatively anonymous song wizards, none of them girls, who are known in the record credits as Holland/Dozier/Holland). It is a river of sound which has engulfed one continent, made a good start on another, washed heavily across an influential little island, and is still on the move.
Most relevantly, it is the sound of the Supremes, who do the singing and make the whole equation balance as cleverly as you please. The gong is on a record, it is called “Where Did Our Love Go,” and so far it has sold a million copies in the U.S. and half a million copies in England.
The figures do not include the sales of their long-playing album of the same name, which is doing ever brisker over-the-counter traffic and contains two more tunes that the Supremes have more recently piloted into top-ten status: “Baby Love” and ‘Come See About Me.” (This combination gave them two added distinctions: They became the first Americans with three No. 1 singles since Elvis Presley, and the first female group of any nationality ever to pull off that trick.)
The Supremes are three Detroit girls who are probably better known in England than they are in Detroit. They grew up in housing projects — where the families of two of them still live — but last year each of them grossed about $100,000, mainly from record sales, with some added gravy from a movie and some potent personal appearance tours. One of these tours took them to England, where they apparently — if unbelievably to Americans drenched in Beatle lore — turned out to be more popular than the Beatles.
“Where Did Our Love Go” had the magic spark that made the motor catch. Diana Ross, a sensuous-faced 22-year-old who owns the sinuous, sturdy voice that makes her leader of the group, was talking about it the other day at Hitsville’s Detroit studios, where she and her two partners found their fortune. Nobody really had that much confidence in the song, really,” she said. “And then #1 hit. This, right now, is the most fabulous part of our careers.” Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard smiled, a little mischievously, and nodded in agreement with their colleague.
The girls don’t remember the day they recorded “Where Did Our Love Go” as anything special. But they remember this: They sang the song, with Diana doing the lead. There followed a huddle involving the girls and members of the songwriting-producing team of Holland/Dozier/Holland (producer Bryan Holland, melody-maker Lamont Dozier and lyricist Eddie Holland). Eddie Holland was dissatisfied with Diana’s singing, felt the tune should be done with Mary’s softer voice. Dozier said, “No, wait a minute, listen to this girl again. I think she’s right. Let’s give it to her.” They listened again. And what may have been the crucial decision went to Diana.
About three weeks after the record was released, the group was on a tour of Pennsylvania towns. One night they sang “Where Did Our Love Go,” and the response was so good they asked the audience to join in. To the girls’ surprise, the audience knew the words. After that, asking the audience to join in became a ritual. And everybody everywhere knew the words. Four weeks after its release, the song was No. 1.
Back home, Florence’s mother (the most enthusiastic fan among the parents) heard Dick Clark broadcast news of the recording’s achievement. She called the other two mothers and gave them the news. There was, of course, general rejoicing. These days, Diana’s mother is more likely to know about the girls’ successes first; she has been traveling with them as chaperone.
That it has been fabulous there seems little doubt. The Supremes were just back from a jaunt that included their European tour (England, the Netherlands and Belgium) and a trip to Hollywood, where they had made their first movie. The film, rushed out to the hustings almost as soon as it was made, played Detroit’s Michigan Theater during the holiday season. Called the TAMI (Teen-Age Music International) show, it was a fascinating effort for several reasons.
Two of the reasons: 1 — It was a television-style film, made with available lighting in Santa Monica, Calif., Auditorium, where all teen America seemed to be stomping and whooping for its rock-and-roll idols from America and Britain; the film may not have been for adults, but it catered not only to adult curiosity but to the universal excitement which is generated by fast-paced movement. It was a movie with movement and then some.
Reason 2 — It demonstrated to Detroit that its Supremes have not only a brisk appeal that transcends age boundaries, but a charm and professionalism which bode well for their future. On screen, Diana Ross, the leading Supreme, unlimbered a voice which seems likely to outlast rock-and-roll.
The Supremes sat in a room at Hitsville and talked. They had just come back from England, where they were lionized, and they would be going back to Hollywood again soon to make another movie — some of those “beach party”‘ films which have struck such a responsive chord in teen pocketbooks.
They had had two No. 1 singles on the U.S. charts, and they had just rung the bell on two separate occasions (another extraordinary feat) with the third single. All three of those singles are on their hit album, also called “Where Did Our Love Go,” and that album was floating in the heady air of the top five LPs.
Another album, a sampler of British tunes entitled “A Little Bit of Liverpool,” was also in there and climbing. If decor could make a million-seller it would make the grade on an even bigger scale. The cover shows the trio, bowler-hatted, white-gloved, olive-necktied and in green tailored suits — the suits in which they captured Britain.
On the day we talked, a package had just arrived from London –from Toye, Kenning and Spencer, Ltd., “ceremonial regalia manufacturers by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen; gold and silver lacemen and upholstery trim manufacturers.” Inside –surprise! — no ceremonial regalia, lace or upholstery trim, but another trophy for selling records, awarded to the Supremes because their “Baby Love” was at the top of Britain’s charts.
Britishers waited for the Supremes at London Airport in throngs that astounded their fellow airline passengers, who had no more idea who they were than the average Detroiter had two months ago, when they made the trip. Later, it turned out that the country’s broadcasters were also standing in line; there were 14 television and radio shows to do in London alone before they took off for Manchester and Birmingham, then Amsterdam and Brussels on the continent.
Besides the 12 photographers who had met them at the London Airport, there were — of course — the fans. “Mostly fellas,”‘ says Diana, “from 16 on up. Mostly members of the Motown Appreciation Society.”
The scope of British appreciation for Detroit’s Negro recording artists has hardly been cataloged here, but it is indicated strongly from time to time in the weekly British fan newspapers that follow every Beatle, Rolling Stone, Animal, Kink and (Gerry and the) Pacemakers of the current burgeoning crop of English rock-and-rollers.
The Hitsville company is a favorite of British fans, and occasionally their weeklies will take a look at one or all of Hitsville’s stars. Recently one paper ran a center-spread story that shouted, “This was the year of Tamla-Motown” (the names are of two Hitsville labels).
At last look, ”Baby Love” was climbing the ladder of phonographic success in such remote points as Singapore and Australia. And while that was happening, Florence Ballard (in a piled-high hairdo, the most mischievous looking Supreme) was telling her two colleagues and a newspaper reporter how much she enjoyed doing British TV. “They rehearse everything, they take plenty of time, they don’t just do things spur-of-the-moment they way they do over here.”
And Mary Wilson, hair tumbling onto her cheeks from both directions (as prearranged), talked with Diana Ross about their disappointment in Belgium. “It was ugly, dreary, dull.”
“They were so thrilled over the one expressway they were building,” Diana said. ‘I wanted to tell them how many expressways we have over here.”
“I liked Britain best,” she added. “It was ‘coffee here, Luv’ and ‘There, there, Luv’ and all that. I started talking like them, calling everybody ‘Luv.’ ”
And she told about the television emcee who had worked out a rousing finale. “Kiss me,” he said as they were going off the air, “all three of you run your fingers through my hair; no, no, Luvs, come closer; you can do better than that.”
Two other Supremes missed out on the biggest days of Supremacy by dropping out of the group to be married. A four-year-old photo shows a quartet composed of the trio plus the present Mrs. Barbara Martin Richardson. Before Mrs. Richardson, there was another ”fourth.” She also quit, got married, and now is the mother of two children.
No wonder Diana, Mary and Florence are wary of talking about boyfriends, and answer cryptically: ‘”Where did our love go?” Husbands may have kept a fortune from Barbara Richardson and the other marital casualty, Betty Travis.
But it is hard to envision anybody else belonging to THE Supremes. The name definitely fits these three snugly. They brought a new authenticity to Hitsville’s name, hitting the big time with greater force than the company’s earlier stars — Mary Wells, Mervin Gaye and Little Stevie Wonder. January brought them a flurry of honors that included designation as last year’s top female singing group by the magazine Music Business, and that third record in the top spot.
And the doors continue to open for them.
San Francisco’s Cow Palace, where Barry Goldwater played to a host of enthusiastic fans, is on their future book. And so is a New York theater engagement with Sarah Vaughan, Brook Benton and Della Reese. There is talk that they may play Detroit’s Roostertail or the Elmwood Casino in Windsor.
Because of the way Motown makes records (The Holland-Dozier-Holland team makes a tape of all the instrumental backing before the singers appear), the girls seldom work with their musicians. But they urged that a heaping share of credit be given to the likes of drummer Benny Benjamin, saxophonist Hank Cosby and bass James Jamerson.
The girls are at the peak of their success and their eyes dance when they talk about it. Being 21 (in Diana’s case, 22) and famous sounds like fun the way they tell it. There is not much sign that they are walking over poverty’s freshly dead body. All have resolved to get their families better homes than the one they occupied in Brewster Project. (Diana, one of six children, wants to send her brother to school; Florence, one of 12, is making three sisters her dependents; Mary, an only child, is buying a home for her mother.)
But you see the Supremes best when they are singing. With a minimum of coaxing, they sang Jule Styne’s “People” without accompaniment, effortlessly changing their usual frantic beat. Then, in the boss’ office, they pantomimed a few of their records, which blared comfortingly from a full-wall-sized speaker enclosure behind them.
Then this bearded fellow they were talking to handed them their award from the ceremonial regalia people, the flashbulbs popped, and the Supremes smiled happily. In their element they were, Luv, and, as we used to say, feeling quite up to snuff. Quite.
The Supremes’ #1 hits, starting with “Where Did Our Love Go”
The Supremes, one of the most successful groups in music history, had a total of 12 number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s the list:
- “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964)
- “Baby Love” (1964)
- “Come See About Me” (1964)
- “Stop! In the Name of Love” (1965)
- “Back in My Arms Again” (1965)
- “I Hear a Symphony” (1965)
- “You Can’t Hurry Love” (1966)
- “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (1966)
- “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone” (1967)
- “The Happening” (1967)
- “Love Child” (1968)
- “Someday We’ll Be Together” (1969)
These hits played a big part in establishing The Supremes as a dominant force in the music industry — and an iconic symbol of the Motown sound.