For the intro to this next post, I was going to go all overboard on how this was the first time in ages that two female acts had replaced one another at the top of the UK charts. Sandie Shaw making way for The Supremes’ girl-group stylings. The first time that this had happened since September 1956!!!! Except… For a week in between, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, by most-definitely-a-man Roy Orbison, sneaked back to the top of the charts. Ah.
So I need a new intro… How about: And so, with this next number one, Motown arrives at the top of the singles chart! And what a record with which to arrive. A piano intro that slides down the scales – in stereo it sounds as if it’s travelling right to left through your brain – and then the voice of one of the most renowned female singers in pop history:
Baby Love, by The Supremes (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 19th November – 3rd December 1964
Oooh-hooo-oo… Baby love, My baby love, I need ya, Oh how I need ya…. A girl loves a boy, but he doesn’t seem to be returning the sentiment. All he does is treat her bad, breaks her heart and leaves her sad… Baby love, My baby love, Been missin’ ya, Miss kissin’ ya…
It’s a gorgeous song, the production all warm and glossy, the drums keep swinging time, a mournful sax comes in mid-way through… And Diana Ross’s honeyed voice. A voice that sounds effortlessly perfect. It’s a world away from some of the other female voices we’ve heard so far – she doesn’t belt like Shirley Bassey or sparkle like Helen Shapiro – but it has a special quality to it. In the closing lines – Need to hold you, Once again my love, Feel your warm embrace my love… you can really feel her pleading.
The lyrics, as a whole, though, are pretty meh. Standard ‘Oh baby come back to me I’ll do what you want and give you all my love’ kind of stuff. The default setting for sixties girl-groups. And I don’t want to go all ‘woke’ here but, I’d like a little more sass and swagger from my girl groups. Look back a few years, and Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis were serving up plenty of attitude in ‘Mambo Italiano’, say, or ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. ‘Baby Love’ comes across as soppy next to those discs.
The other two Supremes – Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson – have equal billing here but aren’t much more than backing singers. 70% of the time they’re chanting Don’t throw our love away… Which they do beautifully, but you can see why the group soon became Diana Ross & The Supremes. Ms. Ross was definitely front and centre from the start. In the UK this would be their only #1 (though we will be hearing from Ms. Ross again), while in the US they enjoyed a staggering twelve (12!) chart-toppers between 1964 and 1969. Of course, classics like ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ and ‘The Happening’ were big British hits; but another chart-topper always eluded them.
A few weeks ago, I did a series of posts on songs that should have topped the charts, in which I included Best Pop Song Ever ™ ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes. ‘Baby Love’ isn’t in the same league as that, but in hitting the top spot I feel it kind of represents for all the sixties girl groups (all of them American) that missed out. For The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, The Marvelettes, The Vandellas… Plus, this is also basically ground-zero for all the girl groups that are yet to come. When I was a teen they were ten-a-penny – The Spice Girls, Eternal, En Vogue, All Saints, B*Witched… They can all be traced back through these three girls and this sweetly sung chart-topper.
A final thought: ‘Baby Love’ really stands out when you hear it in context. On a ‘Motown’s Greatest Hits Compilation’ it might have passed you by; but hearing it now, after months, years even, of boys with guitars and their beat-pop ditties, this record hits you like a crisp, clean breath of Detroit air. Inhale it, and enjoy.