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.
19 thoughts on “181. ‘Baby Love’, by The Supremes”
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I always leaned more to Stax than I did to Motown…but saying that they were a hit factory no doubt. You are right about the Supremes being Diana and her back up singers. I can’t believe this was their only number 1 in the UK…
Sorry, I’m behind…
Stax was a bit cooler, no? Motown more mainstream?
I know – that’s a crazy difference between their UK and US number ones…
Yes Stax was rawer so to speak…you said it perfectly…cooler.
That is what surprised me so much…Motown and The Beatles owned the charts during that time.
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Of their big hits – which are many – I think “Baby Love” is supremely overrated. The fact that this was their only No. 1 in the UK is kinda nuts when they have so many other better singles: “You Can’t Hurry Love” (which Mr. Phil Collins took to No. 1 in the 80s), “Love Child”, “Stop! In The Name of Love”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “I Hear A Symphony”, “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Someday We’ll Be Together”, “My World Is Empty Without You”, “Reflections”, just to name a few.
“Baby Love” is okay – it’s better than “Back In My Arms Again” at least.
They were a damn hit-factory in the US. 12 #1s on the Hot 100. Between 1964-1969, only The Beatles had more success.
If you look at the pop charts overall, Motown was very popular in the UK. That’s further proven by the compilation albums of Motown hits being huge No. 1 sellers. It just that the singles themselves didn’t make it to No. 1 that often. Then again, the UK had their own vibrant pop scene so you can’t complain too much.
You are right that both Motown and the Supremes were big chart forces in the 60s, though I have to argue in favour of ‘Baby Love’ being one of their best singles, beaten only maybe by ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ , or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’.
I think as unlucky as they were with scoring #1s in the UK, their 12 US #1s makes them seem slightly stronger than they were, as especially towards the end of the decade they were getting there by default, it seemed.
A year or so ago I published a post on their big UK hits that didn’t make number one:
While I think this is a good song, I think the group has much better in their catalogue, especially between ’65-67. I don’t really understand how people can think this song comes close to masterpieces like “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “Stop! In The Name of Love” or “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, all 5/5 pop perfection. It’s a shame that this was their only No. 1 in the UK, though I’m sure they didn’t mind given the monstrous success they were having in the much bigger US market (they have equal No. 1s in the US to the Rolling Stones (8) and The Beach Boys (surprisingly low number of 4) combined). And a No. 1 is still a No. 1 – not many groups get that coveted cross-Atlantic No. 1 as well.
The Supremes, while they were basically Diana Ross and two backup singers (no disrespect to Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, Motown really screwed them over in making Diana the focus when they were really good singers as well; the Temptations differed from The Supremes in that no single member was the main focus despite David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks singing lead on most of their big hits), Diana has such a lovely voice. She was born to be a star. One of my favourite female singers. An icon. A legend. An honorary dame.
See, I think ‘Baby Love’ takes its place in the Supremes’ top 5 singles, along with ‘Stop’, and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘You Keep Me Hangin On’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go’. But maybe that’s just me…