Pros: most of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songs and some pleasing covers
Cons: some mangy songs on WDOLG (Your Kiss of Fire!)
Sometimes, I have to admit, the market is right. There are five songs that I like on the 1964 Supremes album that bears the title of their first hit, “Where Did Our Love Go?”: that one, “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Standing in the Crossroads of Love” (all reached the top of the pop charts) and “Ask Any Girl” (the B-side of “Baby Love”). “Standing in the Crossroads of Love” demonstrates everything I don’t like about Diana Ross’s voice, but “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “Baby Love” are among the top high-energy Motown hits IMHO.
“Where Did Our Love Go?” had been rejected by singers higher then in the Motown pecking order, Mary Wells and Gladys Horton (lead signer of the Marvelettes), and dismayed Supreme Mary Wilson. The songwriting trinity of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland Jr. dovetailed with the somewhat smarmy vocalizing of Diana Ross here and elsewhere (there is a “Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland” album) and the line-echoing of the other two. (The billing was not yet “Diana Ross and the Supremes,” but very rarely did either Florence Ballard or Mary Wilson do anything out front, though the opening of “Long Gone Lover” holds back Miss Ross for a bit.)
The Funk Brothers provided a very strong beat—in the hits and in the misses. However mournful (bluesy) the lyrics, the instrumentalists were relentlessly upbeat (the opening of “Ask Any Girl” is an exception, but soon enough evaporates; the failed Smokey Robinson song “A Breath Taking Guy” is midbeat in tempo, though the beat still overwhelms Ross’s singing).
“Run, Run, Run” has something of the 1950s Motown sound (I don’t mean what sounds like farting in it but the saxophone riff and the keyboard swirl at the start), and the soulless “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” sounds like a lot of Motown songs I don’t like (fast and clap-happy with singing in unison).
I can understand the division between hits and non-hits, but cannot explain what it is about the sounds that distinguish between them. The vocals, lead and backup, are the same, the beat is the same, the instrumental embellishments similar. Even the writers were mostly the same: all five that I like were penned by Holland-Dozier-Holland, but so were three of the others, plus two failures written by Smokey Robinson (Long Gone Lover and Breathtaking Guy) and one by Norman Whitfield (He Means the World To Me), authors of some the greatest Motown hits,
On “I Hear a Symphony” (the first Motown album I ever heard, two years after its Feb. 1966 release), the title track and two of the other more Motown-sounding tracks that I like, “My World Is Empty Without You (,Babe)” and “Any Girl in Love (Knows What I’m Going Through,” are Holland-Dozier-Holland, though so is the disappointing final track “He’s All I Got.” And the latter Holland (Edward Jr.) cowrote the charming “Everything Is Good About You” (with lyrics that seem very Smokey-like).
The first side of the LP, with the exception of “I Hear a Symphony” was covers. Like the Miracles, I don’t think the Supremes brought anything special to the Lennon-McCartney “Yesterday,” and I prefer covers of “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers (before them) and Al Green (after), but like Miss Ross’s relatively bland cover, too. I think it’s a great song and it is not particularly challenging in terms of range.
The Supremes did a Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart album, and included a lushly orchestrated cover of the R&H “With a Song in My Heart,” (from a 1929 musical “Spring Is Here”, and was prominently sung by Doris Day in “Young Man with a Horn” in 1950, by Jane Froman in the 1952 biopic of her that took the song title as its title, and had been a hit for Perry Como) along with “Stranger in Paradise” from the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet” (which borrowed its melody from Alexander Borodin’s” Polovtsian Dances”) that had been an early hit for Tony Bennett.
"Without a Song" had also been a Perry Como hit (also recorded by Nelson Eddy, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra… and Stevie Wonder). Thus, other that the title track, the first side was comprised entirely of standards, including the then-newish standard “Yesterday.” I have to grant that there is some vocal body in "Without a Song,” not soul-singing, but richer than most Ross vocals.
The second side reached all the way back to Bach, his "Minuet in G major" (BWV 114) from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which I and most beginning piano students played and which Richard Dreyfuss analyzes in “Mr. Holland’s Opus." The lyrics—
How gentle is the rain
That falls softly on the meadow,
Birds high up in the trees
Serenade the flowers with their melodies…
were new (1965). I can’t remember ever hearing the original by the Toys; for me the song belongs to Sarah Vaughan. Ross sounds superficial. The other two just hum a bit.
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" had been a hit for Johnny Mathis and has the most sugary pop sound of any track on the album (though not without a beat). I sometimes can listen to it, but my favorite tracks on the album are the Holland-Dozier-Holland ones “I Hear a Symphony” and “My World Is Empty Without You.” I consider the latter among the best Motown songs. Even in comparison with other tracks on this album, it is heavily orchestrated, with a harpsichord part! Perhaps I like it because it may be the most somber Supremes song? But I also like the celebratory Dean/Holland “Everything Is Good About You,” which I think should have been the last track, rather than the bland "He's All I Got.”
I don’t much like Diana Ross’s voice and consider the Supremes Motown bubble-gum sound, but there are 10-11 tracks I find listenable on “I Hear a Symphony” along with five on “Where Did Our Love Go?” so with programming to skip 7 tracks on the first and 1-3 on the second, the pairing of LP albums on CD pleases me.
©2012, Stephen O. Murray
Tracks and Timings
Where Did Our Love Go 2:33
Run, Run, Run 2:16
Baby Love 2:38
When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes 3:05
Come See About Me 2:44
Long Gone Lover 2:26
I'm Giving You Your Freedom 2:40
A Breathtaking Guy 2:24
He Means The World To Me 2:00
Standing At The Crossroads Of Love 2:28
Your Kiss Of Fire 2:48
Ask Any Girl 3:02
I Hear A Symphony
Stranger In Paradise 3:06
I Hear A Symphony 2:43
Unchained Melody 3:49
With A Song In My Heart 2:04
Without A Song 3:01
My World Is Empty Without You 2:36
A Lover's Concerto 2:37
Any Girl In Love (Knows What I'm Going Through) 3:01
Wonderful, Wonderful 2:53
Everything Is Good About You 3:01
He's All I Got 2:46
Total: 65 minutes