The Supremes: Best of the Rest

Writing a post on Phil Collins’ chart-topping cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ made me realise how little we have heard from The Supremes on this blog. In fact, most of the comments on that post turned to the joys of the Supremes, rather than the merits of Collins’ cover. Which inspired this post!

There was a huge disparity between the girl-group’s US and UK chart fortunes. One #1 in Britain (‘Baby Love’), to twelve Billboard #1s between 1964-69! Here, then, are the ten Supremes singles that came closest to matching their only number one… ranked by chart position, rather than by preference.

‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ – reached #8 in 1966

Perhaps a little surprising that this doesn’t come in higher up. The ‘morse code’ guitar lick that comes in and out is great – this is possibly one of their ‘rockier’ hits – and I just noticed the galloping, hand-played drums. It’s not in the very highest echelon of Supremes songs, though. Not for me. It was later covered in a sprawling, psychedelic version by Vanilla Fudge, which manages to outdo the original, and then taken back to #1 in the US – and all the way to #2 in the UK – by Kim Wilde.

‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ – reached #7 in 1965

An even bigger surprise, that this one would be so low down the list. ‘Stop!’ is another classic, one of their best-loved tunes, and a song that practically begs you to do a certain dance move. More songs need exclamation marks in their titles, no? The video above is from a TV performance, but the trio seem to be singing live, showing off just how good their voices were.

‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ – reached #6 in 1970

While The Supremes couldn’t match their home success in the sixties, by the 1970s they were scoring hits in the UK that struggled on the Billboard charts. ‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ was their first release without Diana Ross. Jean Terrell is the new lead singer, and she has a throatier voice which she uses to full effect in the final chorus. I hadn’t heard this one before, however, and I’m not sure it will linger very long in the memory.

‘The Happening’ – reached #6 in 1967

From a movie, apparently, of the same name that’s been completely forgotten. This was the final single they released as ‘The Supremes’, before Ross got top billing. And it’s one of my favourites: playful, light, catchy as anything, frantic, slightly demented… Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for it, but that’s just fine.

‘Reflections’ – reached #5 in 1967

And here’s the first of their songs released as ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes’. It feels like a bit of a fresh start, the trio’s classic sound updated with some space-age, psychedelic sound effects. (Which I’m not sure the song really needs, but OK…)

‘Nathan Jones’ – reached #5 in 1971

Their best post-Diana moment? (Ok, there’s one more song to come that could claim that title…) But ‘Nathan Jones’ is my personal favourite. It takes the group’s sound in a very trippy, early-seventies directions, especially in the extended mix above, and is one of the few Supremes records where lead vocals are shared. I’m always amused by the normal-ness of the title. There must be tens of thousands of Nathan Joneses in the world, haunted by this song…

‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (with The Temptations) – reached #3 in 1969

The last four songs in this countdown all peaked at #3, starting with this A-List Motown collab. It’s every bit as smooth and classy as you’d expect a record by two of the 1960s great vocal groups to be. Diana Ross’ verse is excellent here, with a real playfulness in her voice…

‘Stoned Love’ – reached #3 in 1970

How about this, their joint second-highest UK chart hit is a Jean Terrell number…! The Supremes call for world peace… by getting stoned. Goodness. Either that, or by rhinestoning another fabulous dress… Both might work. Motown tried to distance themselves from the suggestion that it was about drugs, though the lines about lighting up the world suggest otherwise to me…

‘Where Did Our Love Go’ – reached #3 in 1964

Their breakthrough hit… The Supremes first US #1, and their first UK Top 10 hit. My favourite of their big hits? Probably. The boot stomping intro is iconic, especially in stereo as it travels across the room. The rest of the song is quite understated, compared to some of the bells and whistles tunes we’ve seen above. In fact, the girls thought the same, and were unsure about recording it to begin with, thinking it lacked a hook (further proof that most pop stars can’t spot a hit song if it bites them on the arse…)

‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – reached #3 in 1966

And we end with the song that inspired this ‘Best of the Rest’, the one that made #1 in 1983 thanks to Phil Collins. It’s a bouncy, upbeat classic, though not one of my very favourite Supremes songs. It is, though, probably their most famous hit – it’s by some distance their most listened to song on Spotify – even more famous than the one Supremes single that charted higher.

I hope you enjoyed this short journey back to the sixties/early-seventies. Back on the regular countdown, things are getting even more ’80s… Coming soon!