“Then I knew…oh, then I knew…”
Where Did Our Love Go, simply put, is one of the most important pop albums of all time. It’s a work that features a whopping six singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, including an astounding three #1 hits. It sent the careers of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard — which had barely limped along since the beginning of the decade — into the stratosphere, and forced the music world to acknowledge Motown Records as the preeminent force behind American pop/soul music, which it would remain (unchallenged) for the next several years. Never before in the rock era had a female vocal group dominated music this way, let alone an African-American female vocal group.
The LP was only the second released on The Supremes, following 1962’s unsuccessful Meet The Supremes. There had been some important changes for the group following that earlier record’s recording and release; fourth member Barbara Martin (featured on the bulk of the first album) had exited the group, leaving Ross, Wilson, and Ballard a trio. Perhaps more significantly, the writing and producing team of Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, and Brian Holland had begun churning out hits for the label including “Mickey’s Monkey” for The Miracles and “Heat Wave” for Martha and the Vandellas. The Holland-Dozier-Holland sound was noted for its strong, catchy melodies and memorable lyrics — something sorely lacking in early releases by The Supremes. Since nobody else had managed to get a hit with The Supremes, it must have seemed a no-brainer to let H-D-H have a go.
“When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” would be a breakthrough for The Supremes; it was the group’s first single written and produced by H-D-H, and climbed to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and #2 on the Cash Box R&B chart), a huge improvement over the group’s previous releases. The success of “Lovelight” meant more sessions with H-D-H, which eventually led to a little ditty about which Lamont Dozier would later comment, “I was fumbling around, and it just felt right…a bluesy kind of pop song. We though it could be a hit on somebody” (The Supremes box set booklet). That song was “Where Did Our Love Go,” and it (along with the subsequent smash album) would change the course of history for The Supremes, for Motown Records…and for popular music.
(NOTE: As with the post concerning Meet The Supremes, the following summaries are based on the stereo mix of the LP when possible.)
1. Where Did Our Love Go: “To my ears, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ was a teenybopper song. It had childish, repetitive lyrics…a limited melody, and no drive. It was too smooth, and I couldn’t imagine anyone liking it” (Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith, 143). Mary Wilson has commented many times over the years that The Supremes wanted no part of “Where Did Our Love Go” — according to her, the group longed for the kind of fiery, soulful hits being recorded by labelmates Martha and The Vandellas. If this is true, it at least speaks to the professionalism of the group that it produced such a superb performance in the studio; the end result is one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. Released in June of 1964, while the group was touring with Dick Clark’s Caravan Of Stars, the song climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in August, remaining there for two weeks. In her book Secrets Of A Sparrow, Diana Ross recalls, “…we were so busy riding the bus and performing we were unaware of what was happening with our record. But the audiences knew. They began to recognize us. They would scream and shout when we appeared onstage, and when we got to the wings we’d scream to each other, ‘They know our song!'” (118). It’s hard to believe today that anybody doubted the hit potential of “Where Did Our Love,” a tune that is loaded with hooks; from the iconic opening footstomps (apparently provided by Mike Valvano, using blocks of wood) to the hypnotic repetition of “Baby, baby…” in the background, this is the kind of tune that digs itself in the brain and remains there for days. The lead vocal performance by Diana Ross is astonishing, displaying the major evolution her voice had undergone since recording songs like “Who’s Lovin’ You” early in her Motown career. The high straining of those early recordings is gone, replaced by a relaxed, soulful sound that is far more confident than even the best work on Meet The Supremes. It’s often said that her performance is strikingly different because she’s singing in a much lower key; there may be some truth to that, but she’s also just a better, more seasoned vocalist here, offering up an intelligent and unique mix of yearning and resignation in her delivery. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the complexity, as though she’s well aware that pleading “Don’t you love me no more?” won’t do any good, anyway. The contributions of Wilson and Florence Ballard are also key; their trance-like repetitions echo the smooth, emotionally-reserved tone set by Diana and the producers, who wisely keep the instrumental track spare and focused. Whether all of this was planned or just a happy accident, “Where Did Our Love Go” is a masterpiece, and a song that probably could have only been a monster hit for the Diana Ross-led Supremes; it’s hard to imagine another group turning the same song into such a layered listening experience. Had The Supremes never scored another hit, this would have been a recording to be proud of; amazingly, their work would only get better.
2. Run, Run, Run: This is the single that immediately preceded “Where Did Our Love Go,” and it certainly did nothing to raise expectations for The Supremes. Although it’s also an H-D-H production, it bombed on the charts, scraping the lowest reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. “Run, Run, Run” isn’t a bad song, but it’s extraordinarily dense; this is a track loaded with lyrics, instruments, and voices; in essence, it’s the polar opposite of the stripped-down “Where Did Our Love Go.” Diana’s vocal is much more aggressive than on the previous track; she’s audibly working harder here, resulting in a less controlled performance. She’s also back to singing in the upper reaches of her range; she doesn’t sound as tinny as she had on much of Meet The Supremes, although with the bottom-heavy instruments her voice does sometimes cut a little too sharp. She’s backed by a loud and raucous choir of voices, which are unfortunately a little overpowering and messy; it also seems odd given the context of the song (Diana calling “Girls, gather ’round me!”) that male voices would be so prominent. The Funk Brothers are operating on all cylinders here; again this is a packed instrumental, with almost no breathing room between the piano, organ, handclaps, and prominent saxophone. The result of all this is a swinging, pulse-pounding song — but one that probably would’ve been done just as well in the hands of The Marvelettes or another group.
3. Baby Love: If “Where Did Our Love Go” was the song that created the “Supremes sound” — the follow-up single was the one that confirmed its success. “Baby Love” was recorded in August of 1964 (right around the time “Where…” hit #1), released a month later, and hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 a month after that. The song would go on to remain at #1 for four weeks, becoming the group’s longest-running chart-topper; perhaps more importantly, it also topped the charts in the UK, proving the appeal of the group beyond the borders of its home country. It would also gain The Supremes its first of two Grammy nominations. But forget all of these statistics — the most astonishing achievement of all is that as ideal a pop song as “Where…” is, “Baby Love” is actually better. It’s extremely similar in sound to the previous hit, and that’s by design; in fact, according to Lamont Dozier, “It was originally cut slower than ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ and Mr. Gordy felt it should be at least as fast because it had been so successful” (The Supremes box set booklet). But every element that contributed to the previous single’s success is turned up a notch here; the melody is more engaging, the lyrics more compact, and the instrumental more sophisticated. Wilson and Ballard get more play in the background, too, offering up the catchy “Don’t throw our love away” refrain and displaying a real power while never distracting from the lead vocal. And that lead vocal from Diana Ross is another slice of pop perfection, beginning with the brilliant “oooh-ooh-oooooh” cooed by the singer just six seconds into the song’s brief running time. That intro isn’t present in the original, slower version of “Baby Love,” and it’s addition is genius; it’s the kind of flourish that is totally unique in delivery to Diana Ross (try to imagine any other singer matching it — it’s impossible). Likely bolstered by her first major hit, Ross is more confident in this performance; anyone who discounts the vocal as “simple” is missing the skill it takes to inject the clipped, mainly monosyllabic lyrics with emotion and personality. What could end up sounding like a nursery rhyme in the hands of another singer contains all the angst and yearning identifiable to the millions of teenagers who kept the song at #1 for so long. When British music magazine Mojo published its list of the 100 Greatest Motown Songs in 2009, “Baby Love” came in at #52, with a testimonial by no less than soul legend Mavis Staples. She wrote, “I used to sing it all the time around the house. I love Diana Ross…She had this high voice, and it was unusual to hear a soprano voice since lead, sopranos are usually background singers…Holland-Dozier-Holland went hand-in-hand with The Supremes. They took pop music and turned it into a symphony of sound. It was infectious. ‘Baby Love’ is too.”
4. When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes: The breakthrough song, and the first released collaboration between H-D-H and The Supremes. Recorded in early October of 1963, the song was released less than a month later and climbed to a relatively impressive #23; remember, the group’s highest pop charting previous to this was a dull #75. Listening to the song today, it’s not a surprise that “Lovelight” broke the losing streak; in fact, it’s surprising it didn’t do a little better. This is an upbeat, exciting track, easily one of the most energetic singles every released by The Supremes; it was actually recorded after “Run, Run, Run” and features a similar sound with extra backing voices and layers of echoed instruments. That said, “Lovelight” is a much better song, and a natural bridge between the chunky grit of “Run, Run, Run” and the spare sophistication of “Where Did Our Love Go.” Although H-D-H hadn’t hit upon that perfect Supremes formula yet, they were getting warmer; there’s a strong melody here, perfect for the crisp lead vocal by Diana Ross, and the background vocals by Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard aren’t cluttered up, allowing the women (especially Ballard) to contribute a definable sound to the recording. There are also plenty of memorable touches, from the prominent handclaps to the growling male voices; H-D-H were clearly experimenting with the idea of “hooks,” finding ways to create music that would immediately grab the attention of radio listeners. And the experiments were working — and it’s the mark of great artistry that everyone involved took the very best elements of this record and refined them into something even better.
5. Come See About Me: Christmas 1964 must have seemed like a dream for The Supremes; after two smash hit records, the group scored an amazing third #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, as “Come See About Me” hit the top spot for the week of December 13th. Better yet, after being knocked off the summit by The Beatles (“I Feel Fine”), the song reclaimed the throne for another week in early 1965. Considering America was caught up in the throes of Beatlemania, the fact that Diana, Mary, and Florence could wrestle with the British supergroup for chart supremacy (pardon the pun…) demonstrates just how popular the group had become in such a short period of time. “Come See About Me” was the most challenging Supremes record yet; Holland-Dozier-Holland incorporated a gospel “call and response” structure for the song, expertly pacing it to mask the musical origins and place it firmly in the realm of pop music. This back-and-forth means all three ladies are able to equally add to the song’s success; if Diana is the “preacher” here, then Mary and Florence are the full-bodied choir without which the song wouldn’t work. Although it’s hard to top the smooth and exquisite “Baby Love,” Diana matches her own performance here, offering up a warm, crystal-clear delivery with touches of a brassiness that would become more pronounced over the next few years. After their cool, repetitive vocals on the previous two hits, Ballard and Wilson really get a chance to shine here; listen as they break certain phrases (“…for you…”) into two-part harmony, and wail out the “Come See About Me!” refrain. Attention must be paid, as always, to the brilliant work of The Funk Brothers; the driving beat here is highlighted by those fabulous footstomps, and the rest of the players create a clean, muscular bed for the vocals. For an interesting comparison, listen to the competing version of this song released by singer Nella Dodds on the Wand label (her recording, which topped out at #74 on the charts, apparently forced Motown to rush-release theirs). The Wand version is arranged identically to Motown’s; the two songs even share the same running time, and Dodds doesn’t diverge one bit from Diana’s vocal blueprint. Still…it’s not the same. Without that crisp, percussive Motown track — and certainly without the sophisticated, deliberate vocals of The Supremes — the song just doesn’t sing. There’s a magic to this record, and that’s why “Come See About Me” has become a deserved classic. (NOTE: It also doesn’t hurt that the group performed this song on The Ed Sullivan Show, their first of many acclaimed appearances on the program.)
6. Long Gone Lover: The first non-single inclusion on Where Did Our Love Go, and the first song that’s not the work of Holland-Dozier-Holland. “Long Gone Lover” is a Smokey Robinson production; Robinson, of course, had written several songs for The Supremes and made some valiant efforts to gain them a hit. Overall, the tune is pretty standard girl-group fare, featuring a swinging, 50s-style beat and allowing Diana, Mary, and Florence the chance to demonstrate their skill at three-part harmony. That vocal work is probably the most notable aspect of the song; similar to “You Bring Back Memories” from Meet The Supremes, the song doesn’t feature a particular memorable hook — certainly not when compared to the big hits included on this album. Still, the ladies sound good and it’s nice to hear Miss Ballard cut loose at the end of the song; Robinson allows her to take the lead on the ad-libs during the outro, and her round soprano rings clear and powerful.
7. I’m Giving You Your Freedom: Another H-D-H composition, this song was placed on the b-side of “Run, Run, Run,” although it couldn’t be more different from that song. This is a relaxed, low-key breakup song, one that sounds like it could have been written for Mary Wells; the songwriters had produced a hit for Wells with 1963’s “You Lost The Sweetest Boy” (featuring The Supremes on background vocals), and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the guys had meant this song for her, too. That said, there’s an elegance to the song that makes it perfect for Diana Ross; she offers up a high, sweet vocal, similar to her work on the earlier “Your Heart Belongs To Me.” The background vocals are also quite sophisticated, although for my money the voices don’t sound a bit like Mary or Florence, and I’d guess someone else is backing up Miss Ross. It’s not the strongest track on the LP, but this qualifies as very good filler.
8. A Breathtaking Guy: An excellent pre-stardom single for The Supremes, written and produced by Smokey Robinson. This would be the group’s last non-H-D-H single for several years; it managed to climb to #75 on the pop chart, which at the time was the group’s best showing. Robinson’s lyrical genius is on full display here, with a whimsical chorus composed of the refrain, “Are you just a breathtaking…first sight soul-shaking…one night lovemaking…next day heartbreaking guy?” Wordy? Yes…but Robinson wisely breaks up this chorus, allowing each Supreme to take a line. This is, then, one of the few Supremes singles on which each member’s voice is featured separately, and all three ladies sound superb; Diana offers up another accomplished lead, which is perfectly complimented by Florence’s thick, honeyed delivery and Mary’s mature and husky sound. No matter how talented Motown’s other female groups — and there was great talent there — no other group featured three such distinct, polished voices. And, of course, nobody else sounded like Diana Ross. Later in her career, Ross would often talk about the importance of “living” the lyrics she sings; she certainly sounds like she’s doing that here, offering up a high, piercing bittersweet reading. For whatever reason, many over the years have doubted her skills as a true vocalist, condescendingly referring to her as an “entertainer” in order to downplay her gifts as a singer. But listen to her first line on the choruses here; the way she jumps several notes from the word “are” to “you,” landing squarely on pitch in her head voice, is masterful. Years later, Wanda Young (Rogers) would record the song and release it as The Marvelettes; although also an undeniably gifted singer, she alters the melody in this part, revealing just how impressive the range displayed by Diana Ross really is.
9. He Means The World To Me: This one was penned by the prolific Norman Whitfield, a man whose name shows up on some of the greatest Motown songs ever released. In particular, Whitfield co-wrote and produced many of the biggest hits for The Temptations, including “Ain’t Too Proud To Bed” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” along with the group’s later, fascinating foray into psychedelic soul. Although he contributed to some gems for other female groups, including The Marvelettes (the joyful “Too Many Fish In The Sea”) and The Velvelettes, his work with The Supremes unfortunately falls flat, giving Where Did Our Love Go its weakest entry. This isn’t solely Whitfield’s fault; everyone seems to be operating on half-speed here. The song itself is a shuffling ballad, hampered by an opening verse that starts high and descends down the scale; although she’s been up to the challenges thus far, Diana doesn’t nail the notes this time around, aiming just a little too high and coming off as shrill. This is especially true as she ad-libs the word “world” at about 1:30 in; the sound she produces is not pretty. Meanwhile, the most notable performance on the instrumental track is that of the xylophone player, which should pretty much tell you how subdued the brilliant Motown studio musicians were during this session. Interestingly, this was the song placed on the b-side of “Where Did Our Love Go.” Thus, even though it’s not one of the group’s better efforts, it was probably heard by a much wider audience than some of the better tracks on this album!
10. Standing At The Crossroads Of Love: A great album track (and the b-side to “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”), this song serves as an interesting counterpoint to Where Did Our Love Go‘s previous offering. This H-D-H composition features a similar “downward scale” structure, and requires Diana to do some of the highest singing of her early career; but with a far stronger production and much more accomplished vocals, it’s miles better than “He Means The World To Me.” Considering this was obviously cut in 1963 (The “Lovelight” 45 was released in October of that year) and the background voices don’t seem to be those of Florence or Mary, it’s questionable if this song was originally intended for The Supremes; nonetheless, it’s impossible to imagine another singer nailing the octave jumps as effectively as Diana Ross. I’m sure many fans (and many more non-fans) will argue that the key is cut too high, and maybe it is; still, I’d argue back that even at its most piercing, Diana’s delivery generally matches the unorthodox feel of the entire piece. There’s something about the song, with its weird “Twilight Zone”-meets-Motor City intro and the aggressive, meaty backing vocals (is it just me, or do the “ooh-ooh-oohs” sound more like judgemental “eww-eww-ewws”?) that just works. Maybe it’s the sputtering beat; at times, it seems to mirror the sound of a car stalling out at an intersection, which probably wasn’t intentional, but matches the lyrics beautifully! H-D-H would turn out some exciting, experimental music for The Supremes over the next several years; consider this a very early exploration of the fringes of pop. (NOTE: If you’ve heard the 1964 recording of The Supremes performing this song live, you’ll know the key was dropped significantly. While it allows Miss Ross to give an earthier, more guttural reading, it also robs the song of a lot of its odd charm.)
11. Your Kiss Of Fire: This one’s a holdover from the days when Berry Gordy was personally trying to pen The Supremes a hit; the Motown founder had written several of the group’s early singles, and is credited as co-writer on this tune, along with legendary writer and producer Harvey Fuqua. Gordy’s personal output on the Supremes ranges from sublime (the unreleased “Come On Boy”) to the depressing (“Play A Sad Song” — despite a nice lead vocal), and thankfully “Your Kiss Of Fire” ranks a little closer to the former. Though the song is undoubtedly filler, it’s solid; the production is clean, with a neat touch of Spanish influence in its chord structure and the tango-like bassline (one can imagine the song showing up in an old movie about matadors). Diana offers up a warm, relaxed vocal; the song makes nice use of her low-to-mid range, and when she does reach for the higher notes on the bridge, she sweetens them with an audible yearning. Her “Please don’t forsake me, after showing me the way to love!” is the pre-jaded version of the young woman who croons on “Where Did Our Love Go.”
12: Ask Any Girl: Where Did Our Love Go ends on a high note, with a stellar H-D-H album track that’s become a well-known favorite and is featured on many anthologies. “Ask Any Girl” was original placed on the b-side of “Baby Love,” and apparently regarded highly enough around Motown that it would be recycled for the 1965 LP More Hits By The Supremes and again on 1967’s Greatest Hits (writer J. Randy Taraborrelli mentions in his Diana Ross: A Biography that Motown was interested in it as a potential candidate for single release). The swirling pop symphony features perhaps the best instrumental track on the entire album; laden with strings and muted horns, it’s more complex than the big hits, but the musical flourishes never bury the hook. The ladies offer up a terrific interpretation; the majestic intro alone features some of Diana’s best work thus far in her career. She had never sounded so assured, and so comfortable in her voice, and she easily glides along the song’s bouncy melody without ever displaying any discernible effort. Interestingly, the booklet to the 4-CD box set The Supremes notes that “Ask Any Girl” was recorded on April 10, 1964 — just two days after “Where Did Our Love Go” and several months prior to “Baby Love.” The song feels like a more mature extension of those other two songs — but the recording dates suggest otherwise. (NOTE: “Ask Any Girl” did end up near the top of the charts, in a way; Motown apparently sued the writers of the 1965 Len Barry hit “1, 2, 3” — claiming it was a reworking of “Ask Any Girl.” According to Lamont Dozier in the box set booklet, because of the lawsuit, “that particular song is my catalog” — which explains why in 2003, “1, 2, 3” was performed on American Idol’s Motown night.)
Where Did Our Love Go is an astonishingly solid album, considering Motown wasn’t in the business of creating great albums in 1964. The label would keep its focus firmly on racking up hit singles through the end of the decade, but it hit the jackpot with this collection of memorable tunes and classic performances. The LP was a smash success; bolstered by the hits, it climbed to #2 on the Billboard 200, and would ride the chart for sometime thereafter. And yet, somehow, the impact of Where Did Our Love Go has been lost over the years; the LP rarely shows up on lists of great popular music recordings (it doesn’t even garner a place on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time). For whatever reason, critics seem endlessly reluctant to give the group its due; when they do, the credit goes to the men behind-the-scenes. Certainly Berry Gordy had the vision, and H-D-H provided the incredible hits — but on this album, The Supremes (and especially Diana Ross) really deliver, maturing into exciting, skillful vocalists.
Final Analysis: 4/5 (A “Breathtaking” Breakthrough)
Choice Cuts: “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Where Did Our Love Go”
The Grammy nominees for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording that year were:
Nancy Wilson, “How Glad I Am” (Winner)
The Supremes, “Baby Love”
Sam Cooke, “Good Times”
Joe Tex, “Hold What You’ve Got”
The Impressions, “Keep On Pushing”
Dionne Warwick, “Walk On By”