“I then felt born again…and it feels so grand…”
Never had an album been more appropriately titled than 1965’s More Hits By The Supremes, the sixth studio LP by The Supremes and one built around the group’s recent singles. The Supremes had scarcely left the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart that year; “Come See About Me” spent the week of January 10th, 1965 at #1, followed by “Stop! In The Name Of Love” in late March and “Back In My Arms Again” in June. The latter song brought the group’s tally of chart-toppers to an astounding five; as the authors of The Billboard Book Of Number One R&B Hits would later write, “The music industry knew that Berry Gordy’s company [Motown] already had some pop chart credentials…But what really blew the industry off its feet…was the sheer audacity of that achievement: five consecutive Number One hits” (6).
More Hits By The Supremes is particularly notable because it’s the group’s first album written entirely by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland (and produced by the first two men). The H-D-H team was responsible for three-quarters of the material featured on Where Did Our Love Go, released the previous year; having established a successful formula for The Supremes, H-D-H would work almost exclusively with the group for the next several years. Diana Ross was now firmly ensconced as lead singer, and H-D-H crafted songs to fit her lean, melody-perfect voice. Together, the two trios of artists apparently worked fast; Dozier would later comment, “You usually got what you needed within two takes. Those people were so talented and intuitive, they had a lot of raw instinct about how to sell a song” (Billboard 22).
After three “theme” albums released to varying degrees of success, More Hits By The Supremes predictably gave Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard another top seller; released in July (the same month “Nothing But Heartaches” began climbing the charts), the LP peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200 and landed in the runner-up position on the R&B albums chart. Along with its pair of #1 hits, the album features some sterling tracks that probably could have been hits, too; songs like “Mother Dear” and “Whisper You Love Me Boy” are so good it’s hard to believe they weren’t pushed out as singles. In fact, the quality of this album overall is remarkable; if there’s any fault with the LP, it’s that it’s so front-loaded with classic recordings that the second half of the album can’t quite sustain that level of excellence. But this is nearly a perfect collection, certainly one of the very best by The Supremes; more than that, it’s a seminal recording of the 1960s, as good as popular music got during that decade.
(NOTE: The following summaries are based on mixes from the UK 2-on-1 CD reissue More Hits By The Supremes/The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, released in 2000.)
1. Ask Any Girl: In an odd move by Motown, this album opens with a song that had previously been included on 1964’s Where Did Our Love Go. According to writer J. Randy Taraborrelli in Diana Ross: A Biography, “Motown thought the track was strong enough to possibly issue as a single, even though it had already been the B-side of ‘Baby Love'” (480). In hindsight, Motown was right; the song is superb, and certainly sounds like it could have been a big hit. It also works as a kind of bridge between Where Did Our Love Go and this album, as it closes that former and opens the latter. “Ask Any Girl” is more epic in scope than the group’s earlier hits; it begins as a majestic pop symphony, complete with swirling strings and an almost operatic vocal by Diana Ross, before a chugging, locomotive beat takes over and transforms the song into sophisticated Motown soul. The instrumental work is excellent, as are the vocals; Diana Ross is relaxed and engaging, and the backgrounds are elegantly arranged and delivered. What makes Diana’s work so notable here is how effortlessly she rides the melody; the song is a more challenging one than “Baby Love” or “Come See About Me,” but Miss Ross easily navigates through the wordier verses and complex rhyme structure (“…who’s often left alone all by herself…Neglectfully pushed aside…Set aside…like a doll on a shelf…”). It’s really something of a tour-de-force for the singer, and an indication of just how strong the group’s material was that it never got released as a single.
2. Nothing But Heartaches: “We did wonder why it didn’t go. Motown had one of the strongest promotion teams, so we knew it wasn’t their fault. It had to be in the music, or the times, and we had to change with the times. We just went back to the drawing board.” That quote by Lamont Dozier (printed in the booklet to the 2000 box set The Supremes) pretty much sums up the overall attitude toward “Nothing By Heartaches,” which had been released as a single the same month as this album. Following five straight #1 hits, expectations were impossibly high for the song, and when it peaked at #11 in August, it was considered a total bomb by the Motown establishment (and apparently spurred the now-infamous company memo from Berry Gordy, Jr. dictating that going forward, every song released by The Supremes would be a chart-topper!). Nevermind the fact that before “Where Did Our Love Go,” a top 20 record by The Supremes would have been considered an astounding achievement, or that most Motown groups would have been thrilled to hit #11 with a single; for The Supremes and H-D-H, “Nothing But Heartaches” would be a failure to forget. This is a shame, because “Nothing But Heartaches” is a solid song; although many critics have written that it was too “familiar” in sound, it was easily the most urgent Supremes single yet, cut at an almost frantic pace and loaded with memorable hooks. If there’s any fault with the recording — anything that separates it from the group’s previous five singles — it’s that there’s zero “breathing room” here; “Nothing But Heartaches” pretty much starts in the middle of the song, and races forward from there. There’s no real intro, no way to ease listeners in; there’s also no instrumental break, which means The Supremes are singing non-stop for three minutes. Because of this, it’s tough to distinguish those hooks; the refrain, Diana’s “keeps me cryin’ myself to sleep” and Mary and Florence wailing “I can’t break away!” are all fabulous enough to carry a song individually, but smashed together with no space in-between can be a little much. Diana Ross hits all the right notes here; there’s a slight “edge” to her delivery here, foreshadowing the more urgent work of later Supremes singles. And it’s Mary and Florence who really add the spark to “Nothing But Heartaches,” their full-bodied work behind Diana is essential to the song’s success. If there’s an upside the this song’s relative lack of success, it’s that it inspired H-D-H to whip up “I Hear A Symphony,” which would soon return to the ladies to the top; still, this song doesn’t deserve the negative rap if often receives.
3. Mother Dear: This is one of the great Supremes non-singles, an absolutely sparkling record that could have easily added to the group’s string of successful singles. It was, in fact, considered for release; The Supremes performed “Mother Dear” on television a few times, proving how seriously Motown execs were looking at the song, and it was even assigned the same catalog number as “Nothing But Heartaches” (Motown 1080), but eventually cancelled in favor of that song. Whatever the reason “Mother Dear” was held back, it’s a fantastic recording, and one ripe for discovery by those only aware of the group’s big hits. Opening with a machine-gun percussion and set to a swinging beat, the song features many sonic similarities to “Back In My Arms Again” (i.e. the tenor sax and ringing vibes), but boasts a sweeter melody and more concise lyric. “Mother Dear” is tailor-made for Diana Ross; her performance is smooth as silk, a mix of yearning young love and the classy crooning of a Bing Crosby. There’s also a real brightness to her work here, the ever-present feeling of a smile, even as she sings of being “treated bad.” The backgrounds (I’ve read some fans say it might be Motown session group The Andantes, but it sure sounds like Mary and Florence to me) carry a great deal of weight, too; the boisterous “Help! Help me, Mother Dear” is so contagious that it really becomes the focus of the song (just try not to sing along with it…I dare you). Perhaps “Mother Dear” doesn’t break any new ground; maybe it wasn’t different enough to end up pressed as a single. But when a song is this good, it doesn’t need to be different. Holland-Dozier-Holland were operating on all cylinders by this point, and this is a top-notch addition to their catalog, as well as that of The Supremes. (NOTE: “Mother Dear” was so strong that it was re-recorded a couple of times; a 1966 version with a totally different, angular beat was released on the 2000 box set.)
4. Stop! In The Name Of Love: After three number-one hits, Holland-Dozier-Holland and The Supremes made their boldest, most powerful statement yet with the release of “Stop! In The Name Of Love.” Recorded in January of 1965 and released the following month, the song caught fire and hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in late March, knocking a no less formidable challenger than The Beatles and “Eight Days A Week” from #1. The immediacy of the song, opening with an inimitable organ gliss leading straight into the abrupt shout of “Stop!” over the dramatic blaring of horns, was unlike anything released by The Supremes up until that point; it would become he group’s most iconic song, and remains so today. Lamont Dozier takes credit for the song’s unforgettable lyric, remembering in the 2000 box set booklet, “That came from an argument with a girlfriend of mine who’d caught me in a lie. We were wrassling and arguing, she swung at me, and I said ‘Stop, just stop…in the name of love,’ and then it was a joke. I said, ‘Didn’t you hear that cash register?’ She started laughing. Brian came up with hook and it went from there.” Arranged as a kind of three-act musical, the song features a trio of verses separated by the gutsy “Stop!” refrain; this gives the recording a kind of perfect balance (three verses…three singers…three songwriters/producers). Diana Ross spins her voice into gold here; try to imagine anyone delivering the line “Baby, baby, I’m aware of where you go…each time you leave my door” with the same verve. There was simply no other singer at Motown capable of the kind of piercing precision to take a lyric and twist it like a knife to the heart; without trying too hard or forcing her voice beyond its range, Miss Ross perfectly captures every emotion needed to sell the song. Listen, for example, to the way she punches the word “sweet” at 1:27 (on the line, “Is her sweet expression…”); there’s jealousy, frustration, and even envy there, slyly obvious but never overdone. Behind her, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard are dynamic, even explosive; “Stop! was cut with me, Diane [Diana Ross] and Florence [Ballard] in Studio A, on two microphones with a divider,” remembers Wilson in the British music magazine Mojo, in a 2009 issue ranking the recording as the 10th Greatest Motown Song ever. Behind the vocalists, The Funk Brothers pack the instrumental with layers of sound, playing in such accord that it takes many listens to pick out the various instruments adding to the drama of the recording. Although the song’s narrators beg the subject to “think it over,” there’s an undeniable strength in the image of three young African-American women in the 1960s standing with arms outstretched, ordering throngs of people to “Stop!” — in its way it was revolutionary, and is as much of an artistic statement as anything else Motown was producing at the time. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” earned the group its second (and amazingly, final) Grammy nomination, an award it should have won; simply put, this is a masterpiece.
5. Honey Boy: More Hits By The Supremes rolls right along with this great album track, another H-D-H song that probably could have been a decent hit if released by The Supremes or on another group. In fact, it was actually recorded by Mary Wells before The Supremes, with the very same arrangement (although according to website Don’t Forget The Motor City, Mary’s version went unreleased for a few years). This is a joyful, upbeat tune with a swinging beat reminiscent of that featured on “Mother Dear” — the melody isn’t quite as crisp here, although the “He’s my Honey Boy” refrain is a memorable one. The lyrics are a bit lackluster, too; “He’s sugar…he’s spice…he’s everything that’s nice…” certainly isn’t up to the standards of the best H-D-H compositions, although it’s hard to fault writers who were cranking out so many songs in such little time. The vocal work by Diana, Mary, and Florence is solid; I love the playful way Diana coos “Honey Boy is his name” at :38. Again, because the melody and instrumental are just a little rustier than those featured on the previous songs (it wasn’t written for The Supremes, after all), it’s not a standout on par with “Stop!” — then again, how many songs are? “Honey Boy” is very good filler, and certainly merits a place here.
6. Back In My Arms Again: This is, of course, the fifth in the historic string of consecutive #1 singles by The Supremes; “Back In My Arms Again” topped the Billboard R&B chart in May of 1965, and peaked at the top of the pop listing the following month. The group’s first three hits (“Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me”) were sophisticated and spare, and the fourth (“Stop! In The Name Of Love”) startlingly theatrical; this one gives the group it’s most angular and soulful track to work with. Much of the song’s success is due to the work of The Funk Brothers, who aggressively attack the arrangement without ever taking it out of “pop/soul” territory; according to Dozier in the box set booklet, “We just tried the four-four thing on the studio floor. Because Benny Benjamin knew how to execute his kick drum with the rest of his drumset, to make the four-four sound very exciting. Then you had James Jamerson, who would be in concert with him, that your nucleus.” The Billboard Book Of Number One R&B Hits further notes the contributions of “Mike Terry’s guttural saxophone, and James Gittens’s ringing vibes” (6). Also in that book, Dozier says it was he who came up with the famous lines calling out Mary and Florence, then giving credit to Eddie Holland for fleshing out the rest of the lyrics. That one little section, during which Diana calls our her groupmates for their unwanted advice, is a brilliant touch; it gives the song a fun, “confessional” feel and — at the time — certainly helped establish the identities of all three women to the record-buying public. Diana’s vocal is suitably muscular here; she’s more staccato in her delivery than she’s been on other hits, giving her a strident edge that feels appropriate given the story she’s telling. Mary and Florence don’t get as much room to play with their background vocals here; there’s no “Think it over…” or “I can’t break away!” standout lyrics for them, but they vibrantly echo Diana during the refrain. There remains something bewitching about “Back In My Arms Again” — it’s a song still firmly in the hands of The Supremes all these years later, even though Michael Bolton covered the song back in 1983. (NOTE: And talk about being at the peak of one’s powers; Holland-Dozier-Holland scored back-to-back #1 R&B hits when this song was displaced by the classic “I Can’t Help Myself” — written by H-D-H and recorded by The Four Tops.)
7. Whisper You Love Me Boy: This song gained a large audience when it was featured on the b-side to “Back In My Arms Again,” and deservedly so; this is one of the best album cuts by The Supremes during this era. As with “Honey Boy,” Mary Wells had recorded “Whisper You Love Me Boy” first, and her version was issued on the 1964 LP Mary Wells Sings My Guy (an album that also includes “He Holds His Own” — which you’ll read more about in just a few minutes). The exact same arrangement is used here, with The Supremes dropped in over Mary Wells; this makes listening to both versions quite interesting, as one can really focus on the vocals. No disrespect to the talented Ms. Wells, but The Supremes really knock this one out of the park and come out with the far stronger version; although it wasn’t written for her, “Whisper You Love Me Boy” is absolutely perfect for the gentle cooing of Diana Ross. Her voice caresses the lyrics, as though she’s the one whispering them into the ear of a lover; she effortlessly combines sweet-and-sexy and delivers an irresistible lead vocal. Listen to her patented “oooh” at the :35 mark; it’s chill-inducing. There’s a little more space for the background vocals here (even though the song wasn’t necessarily written for a group), and the impassioned repetition of “Come on and whisper!” during the instrumental break is a fine addition. “Whisper You Love Me Boy” sure sounds like it could have been a solid hit for The Supremes; later in the decade, it would be re-recorded with a radically different arrangement by Motown artist Chris Clark.
8. The Only Time I’m Happy: In June of 1965, two months after the release of “Back In My Arms Again” and one month before “Nothing But Heartaches,” this song appeared on a promotional 45 issued by the George Alexander Inc. label (although, for whatever reason, the booklet to the group’s 2000 box-set gives lists this single as Motown 1079). It was backed with the famous “From Hitsville, U.S.A.” interview, later featured on the 1986 Diana Ross and The Supremes 25th Anniversary set. Whether this release was strictly meant to promote the upcoming More Hits By The Supremes, or just to bide some time while Motown figured out which song to release next (remember, there was indecision between “Mother Dear” and “Nothing But Heartaches”), it’s a weird little addition to the group’s singles catalog. The song itself is another great one; it’s pretty amazing that we’re now eight tracks into the album and there’s not a dud among the bunch. Opening with a dramatic spoken passage by Diana, the song becomes another bouncy midtempo number with strong group vocals. The ladies deliver the skipping, sing-song refrain in unison and all three are mixed at the same level, so each distinct voice is audible; Mary Wilson especially shines, her misty voice nicely mirroring Diana’s, and there’s a brief little ad-lib at the end which seems to be Florence singing solo. Diana’s work is excellent; by this point, it’s clear Holland-Dozier-Holland knew exactly how craft a melody to fit her maturing voice, and conversely Miss Ross was a good enough singer to nail it every time. If there’s any reason this doesn’t sound as “surefire smash” as some of the other songs on the LP, it’s that the recording is pretty dense; similar to “Nothing But Heartaches,” the song is crammed with lyrics, the instruments are so tightly arranged that the track feels very thick. Those elements — along with the fact that the ladies are singing so much in unison — give “The Only Time I’m Happy” a heaviness that might not have sounded as clean on radio as something like “Mother Dear” would have. Still, this is a sterling album track that’s unfairly been left off of compilations over the years.
9. He Holds His Own: A soul ballad first recorded by Mary Wells and placed on her 1964 LP Mary Wells Sings My Guy, “He Holds His Own” was also chosen for the b-side of the “Nothing But Heartaches” single. This is the first song on the LP that really sounds like maybe it wasn’t crafted specifically for The Supremes (although a few earlier recordings weren’t either); it’s a good album track, but doesn’t have the immediacy of the album’s previous entries. This is partly due to the melodramatic “La-la-la-la-la” opening; against the bristling edge of “Back In My Arms Again” or the swirling extravagance of “Ask Any Girl,” this repeated flourish sounds a little dated. Speaking of “Ask Any Girl” — the two songs share some chord structures and progressions (there’s even a better “La-la-la” line in that one); I’d venture to guess H-D-H borrowed a little bit from themselves and re-worked “He Holds His Own” into the other, more exciting song. Still, this is solid recording; Diana gives a nice, restrained reading, and Mary and Florence deliver everywhere except that first high “La,” which they never seem to quite nail. Oh, and how can a listener not revel in that piano line? Diana Ross wouldn’t be accompanied by such gorgeous work on the keys until her recordings with Valerie Simpson on Surrender years later.
10. Who Could Ever Doubt My Love: This song was recorded a few times by members of the Motown family; The Isley Brothers would mint a version which was issued on the group’s This Old Heart Of Mine LP in 1966 (as was a rendition of “Stop! In The Name Of Love”), and singer Brenda Holloway also recorded the song. All three use exactly the same arrangement; to my ears, producers just dropped the various voices over the same recorded instrumental. This particular version is about as perfect as the song could be; it’s easily the most “mature” recording on the album, with Diana’s lower, brassy vocal more akin to the work she’d be turning out in the late ’60s than the rest of this collection (think about it — this sounds like it could have been the flip side to “Reflections” or even “Love Child”). It’s certainly the singer’s most soulful reading on More Hits; listen to her play with the phrase “good to him” at roughly the 2:05 mark, and try to imagine any other singer wringing the same weight from it. The song itself is darker and more muted than the surrounding material, which makes it a refreshing — and necessary — counterpoint to the cream-puff perfection of something like “Mother Dear.” In that way, this could be considered something of a stepping-stone to the group’s turbulent masterpiece of the following year, “My World Is Empty Without You.” This is another song that’s been unfairly overlooked in the years since; considering it was later plucked from this album and placed on the flip side of the “I Hear A Symphony” single, it would have been a good inclusion on 1967’s Greatest Hits.
11. (I’m So Glad) Heartaches Don’t Last Always: Another bouncy little gem featuring strong group vocals and a smooth, restrained vocal by Miss Ross. This is perfect Supremes album filler; it doesn’t necessarily jump out and scream “Hit!” the way earlier recordings have, but it’s solid and crafted with care. This one’s particularly nice because of the prominent group vocals; Mary Wilson is especially audible singing the “Tossin’ and turnin’…” refrain, and there’s lovely harmonizing on the repetition of “I’m So Glad…” This one also boasts a great Funk Brothers track, with classy and accomplished playing; the polished instrumental work reminds me of the later “Everything’s Good About You” (from the I Hear A Symphony LP). Because this wasn’t a single nor a b-side, it’s surprising this song wasn’t resurrected for another Motown group (at least, not as far as I can tell); it sounds like something The Elgins could have done well with.
12. I’m In Love Again: More Hits By The Supremes closes with its most unusual entry, a dramatic love song that foreshadows the 1966 classic “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin. Both songs feature similarly arranged verses, and build to impassioned choruses that are way ahead of their time. Imagine “I’m In Love Again” with a more contemporary production; it’s the kind of love song Diana Ross would be recording in the following decade with Michael Masser. For starters, the lyrics are more abstract and bigger in scope than many H-D-H songs of the period; “All the emptiness I had inside you lovingly fulfilled…I then felt born again…” feels miles away from “He’s my Honey Boy.” The Supremes really dig into their gifts, delivering on the more challenging composition; Mary and Florence sound suitably ethereal on backgrounds, and Diana lets her voice beautifully settle into the space between the notes. As good as the singer is on danceable, uptempo pop/soul songs, something like this really exploits her gift as an interpreter of song, something she’d further develop on ballads over the course of her career. “I’m In Love Again” was interestingly placed on the flip side of the “Stop! In The Name Of Love” single, thus exposing it to a huge audience. Here, it’s a perfect way to close the album, serving as a sign of continued evolution from the group.
When writing about early Motown albums, it’s important to remember that these songs weren’t recorded in any kind of context; The Supremes recorded dozens and dozens of tracks, any one of which could be chosen for inclusion on one of the group’s LPs. Because of this, early Motown albums are rarely consistent or cohesive (except in the case of something like We Remember Sam Cooke, which was a concept album from the start). It’s certainly doubtful that much thought was given to sequencing, aside from placing the hits early enough on the album that record-buyers would see those titles first when skimming over the back cover.
That’s why a release like More Hits By The Supremes is so stunning; it’s an incredibly cohesive album. As noted earlier, the recognizable hits are so front-loaded that the LP feels just a little lopsided today, but that’s a minor issue. The through-line here — the element that ties the songs together and makes them feel like part of a larger work of art — is that they’re all really damn good. It’s unfair that More Hits By The Supremes never shows up on lists of great Motown albums (or even just great soul albums). Had this exact same LP been issued on an artist or group that wasn’t so dismissed by critics, it would be considered a masterpiece. And that’s pretty much what it is.
Final Analysis: 4.5/5 (“Holds Its Own” Among The Greats)
Choice Cuts: “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Back In My Arms Again,” “Mother Dear”
The Grammy nominees for Best Contemporary (R&R) Performance By A Group (Vocal Or Instrumental) that year were:
The Statler Brothers, “Flowers On The Wall” (Winner)
The Beates, “Help!”
Herman’s Hermits, “You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter
Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully”
The Supremes, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”