Synopsis of Pop Music
“Whenever you're near,
I hear a symphony...”
In the early 1960’s, girl groups were a big deal in the pop music world, and the undeniable queens of this trend were the Supremes. This trio scored twelve #1 hits during the 1960’s with their polished but soulful girl-group stylings. They set the standard for modern girl-group style with their elegant dresses and slickly-choreographed dance moves and also produced a major star in lead singer Diana Ross. It should also be remembered that they played a crucial part in helping African-Americans become part of the pop music mainstream.
Success didn’t happen overnight for the Supremes. They started as a backup group for the Primes, a male harmony group who later became the Temptations. They began hanging around Hitsville Studios, the home of Motown Records, and soon were employed as Motown backup vocalists. They also released the occasional single, starting in 1960 with “I Want A Guy.” Over the next few years, they developed their act as part of Motown’s package tours. The hard work paid off when they scored a Top-20 hit in 1963 with the bouncy, horn-driven “When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes.”
“Lovelight” allowed the trio to develop a relationship with the songwriting/producing team of Holland, Dozier and Holland, who would help the Supremes climb even higher on the pop charts. 1964's “Where Did Our Love Go?” paired a jazzy pop melody with a lovely lead vocal from Ross and insistent, hypnotic harmonies from the rest of the group. It shot to the top of the charts, giving the group what would be the first of many #1 hits. Meanwhile, the Supremes began touring the U.K. with great success.
The Supremes finished out 1964 with two more back-to-back #1 hits in “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” Both songs featured Diana Ross seductively cooing love lyrics over a driving, rhythmic track while Wilson and Ballard provided a cushion of airy, sweet harmonies to support it all. The Supremes also began appearing on television a lot during this time, especially on The Ed Sullivan Show. They captured the attention and hearts of audiences everywhere with glamorous look and classy footwork, bringing them further into the mainstream and paving the way for even more hits.
In 1965, the Supremes maintained their #1 hit streak with “Stop! In The Name Of Love” and “Back In My Arms Again.” By this point, they had blurred the line between pop and soul by making songs that flawlessly married r&b rhythms to pop hooks. They also made headlines by playing the world-famous Copacabana club. Their #1-hit streak ended when “Nothing But Heartaches” peaked at #11. However, by the year’s end they were topping the charts once more with “I Hear A Symphony.” This majestic pop-soul classic lived up to its title with its lush, orchestrated sound and truly felt like a ‘three-minute symphony.’
The Supremes followed “Symphony” with two equally-ambitious singles, the darkly dramatic “My World Is Empty Without You” and the surprisingly funky “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart,” both Top-10 hits. But the group did even better with their next two singles. “You Can’t Hurry Love” balanced a driving bass rhythm with a sweet melody to become a #1 hit. It was followed by the intense “You Keep Me Hanging On,” a tale of heartbreak driven by an insistent guitar riff. This surprisingly rock-oriented tune gave the Supremes yet another #1 single.
1967 began with a pair of #1 hits for the Supremes in the dramatic “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” and “The Happening,” which was the swinging theme song from an Anthony Quinn film. These hits were followed by “Reflections,” a lost-love ballad that opened with psychedelic sound effects and became a #2 single. The group ended the year with one more Top-10 hit, “In And Out Of Love.” In early 1968, “Forever Came Today” gave the Supremes their last Top-40 success with Holland, Dozier and Holland, who left Motown to form their own record label, Invictus.
At this point, some people wondered if the Supremes could make hits without their songwriting collaborators. However, these questions were ended by with the elegant but driving “Love Child.” Featuring an unusually hard-hitting lyric about the pain of being an illegitimate child, the song was debuted by the group on The Ed Sullivan Show, and by the end of the year it was yet another #1 hit. The next year, the group stayed in the pop charts with “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a two-group duet with The Temptations, and “I’m Livin’ In Shame,” a soap opera-styled song inspired by the film Imitation Of Life.
In 1969, Diana Ross decided to leave the Supremes to pursue a solo career. She made her exit at the end of the year with one last #1 smash, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” In 1970, Mary Wilson took over the reins of The Supremes and added new member Jean Terrell. The reformed trio scored two Top-10 hits that year with “Up The Ladder To The Roof” and “Stoned Love,” both songs working as elegant updates of the classic girl-group sound. The group continued to score periodic hits with songs like “Floy Joy” and “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking” before disbanding in 1976.
Today, the Supremes continue to be an important part of pop culture. Their music is played frequently on classic-rock stations, and artists like Barry White have cited the sound of the Supremes as an influence on their own work. The story of the Supremes has even inspired a successful Broadway musical, Dreamgirls. More importantly, their success helped make music made by African-Americans an accepted and vital part of pop. For these many reasons, the Supremes will always be remembered by many pop music fans as the greatest girl group of all time.
Artist Release History1963 - Meet the Supremes
1964 - Where Did Our Love Go?
1964 - A Little Bit of Liverpool
1964 - Live at the Apollo
1965 - The Supremes Sing Country Western & Pop
1965 - We Remember Sam Cooke
1965 - At the Copa
1965 - Merry Christmas
1965 - With Love
1966 - I Hear a Symphony
1966 - Supremes A-Go-Go
1967 - The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland
1967 - The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart
1967 - Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits
1968 - Reflections
1968 - Funny Girl
1968 - Live at London's Talk of the Town
1968 - Love Child
1968 - Join the Temptations
1968 - T.C.B.
1968 - Sing Motown
1969 - Let the Sun Shine In
1969 - It's Happening
1969 - Together
1969 - Cream of the Crop
1969 - On Broadway
1970 - Captured Live on Stage!
1970 - Farewell
1970 - Right On
1970 - The Magnificent 7
1970 - New Ways But Love Stays
1971 - The Return of the Magnificent Seven
1971 - Touch
1971 - Dynamite
1972 - Floy Joy
1972 - The Supremes Arranged and Produced by Jimmy...
1974 - Anthology
1975 - The Supremes
1976 - High Energy
1976 - Mary, Scherrie and Susaye
1977 - Supremes & Temptations
1997 - The Ultimate Collection
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsThe Ultimate Collection (Motown)
Band MembersDiana Ross vocals
Mary Wilson vocals
Florence Ballard (1960-67) vocals
Cindy Birdsong (1967-72) vocals
Jean Terrell (1969-73) vocals
Linda Laurence (1972-74) vocals
Scherrie Payne (1973-76) vocals