“I’m gonna use every trick in the book, I’ll try my best to get you hooked…”
In the same way that Diana Ross and The Supremes would dominate the Billboard pop charts between 1964 and 1970, fellow Motown group The Temptations produced a powerful stranglehold on the top of the R&B listings. Consider this; The Supremes scored a perfect dozen #1 Billboard pop hits, beginning with “Where Did Our Love Go” in 1964 and ending with “Someday We’ll Be Together” in 1969. Similarly, The Temptations scored a massive #1 R&B hit with “My Girl in 1965, and racked up an additional thirteen chart-toppers during the next ten years, ending with “Shakey Ground” in 1975. The success of both groups was vital to the overall success of Motown, and never was that more evident than in December of 1968, when the record label achieved an incredible feat; as recounted by Berry Gordy, Jr. in his book To Be Loved, five records out of the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 came from the Hitsville fold…and three of those bore the names Diana Ross and The Supremes and/or The Temptations.
The dual success of The Supremes and The Temptations is fascinating because of the groups’ shared history. Long before they were stars, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard were recruited by future Temptations Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams (then known as The Primes) to become The Primettes, a sister group. Both groups were managed by Milton Jenkins, and Ross would later remember, “Milton Jenkins thought that our group and Cal (sic), Eddie, and Paul, who called themselves the Primes and were trying to make an act for themselves, might be a good match to sing together. Although we never performed with them until much later on when we were the Supremes and they were the Temptations, we used to rehearse with them after school” (Secrets Of A Sparrow, 93). In her own memoir, Mary Wilson remembers the guys teaching them how to sing harmonies and helping to choreograph their stage routines. There was an obvious fondness between the groups, and after both had achieved stardom, it must have seemed a no-brainer to team them up.
Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations would be the first of four joint albums by Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations; released in late 1968, it served as something of a promotional tool for the upcoming broadcast of the groups’ first primetime television special, TCB (which aired on December 9, 1968 on NBC-TV). The lead single was slated to be “The Impossible Dream,” a song which served as the special’s dramatic finale; however, Motown opted for “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” instead, a cover of a Dee Dee Warwick song from 1966. It proved to be a good move; that song quickly climbed the charts, cresting at #2 on both the Billboard pop and R&B listings (and hitting #1 on the Cash Box singles chart). The massive success of the television special, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” and the incredible popularity of both groups (each was concurrently enjoying its own major hit, “Love Child” for The Supremes and “Cloud Nine” for The Temptations) led Join to the #2 spot of the Billboard 200, a significant improvement over the previous three Supremes releases and the best showing for a Temptations LP thus far.
Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations isn’t a very exciting album in terms of material; there’s not a single original song included, and most of the tracks are covers of oft-recorded Motown hits. If there is excitement, it lies in the way the voices of these seasoned performers work together in such surprising and satisfying ways. Producer Frank Wilson had already worked with both groups, producing “All I Need” on The Temptations and “Bah-Bah-Bah” (from Reflections) for Diana Ross and The Supremes; Wilson clearly understood what made each of the group’s vocalists unique, and worked out clever combinations to showcase them to the fullest. The highlights are the album’s two U.S. singles; although “I’ll Try Something New” didn’t match the first single’s success, it’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful Motown singles of the era, and deserved to be a much bigger hit. Much of the rest of the album feels like filler, but at least it’s not bad filler; Join doesn’t break any new ground for the former Primes and Primettes, but boy does the familiar sound sweet.
1. Try It Baby: In his autobiography To Be Loved, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. remember writing this song: “I imagined a girl like her with a guy like me who was building and guiding her career. I envisioned this guy investing all of this time and effort in this girl, while at the same time falling in love with her. What if she got so big, so popular, so caught up in fame and fortune that she no longer had time for him?” (206). The “her” he’s writing about is Diana Ross; Gordy admits to falling deeply in love with the singer, and using her as inspiration for “Try It Baby.” Gordy originally cut the song on Marvin Gaye (incidentally, with backgrounds by The Temptations), and it was a top 20 pop and R&B hit in 1964; Gaye’s recording was a dusky blues number punctuated by a sparkling piano line and prominent guitar and horns. Helmed here by Frank Wilson, “Try It Baby” gets a Vegas makeover for Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations, becoming a splashy and brassy production number that sounds tailor-made for a glitzy television special (it was, in fact, performed by The Temptations with Kaye Stevens on 1969’s The Temptations Show). The soul-stirring bass of Melvin Franklin leads off the song; his voice playfully drops deeper and deeper to almost superhuman levels before Diana coos, “Hey, Melvin” and takes over the second verse. Miss Ross sounds fantastic here, sexy and confident, and her vocal interplay with Franklin beginning at the 2:05 mark is the highlight of this recording (the juxtaposition of his deep, throaty tone with her high, crisp voice is sublime). The great Paul Williams, his voice thick and soulful, also gets a verse toward the end, and both vocal groups provide strong, soulful support. “Try It Baby” is a bit of a stylistic mess, but it’s a fun way to open the album; it’s not a classic recording, and it doesn’t sound like it could have been a hit, but it sure sounds like the groups were having a ball in the studio.
2. I Second That Emotion: This version of the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles hit was released as a single in the UK; it was a decent success for Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations there, peaking in the top 20. Of the many Motown songs that could have been chosen for this album, “I Second That Emotion” is a wise one; both Ross and Temptation Eddie Kendricks easily match Robinson’s high vocal range, which means the song really doesn’t have to be altered from its original arrangement. That said, there’s a real magic to the Miracles recording, a beautiful simplicity in both the vocal performances and the instrumental track, that’s missing in this version. Diana Ross delivers a nice, straightforward performance; she follows the melody line closely and keeps the focus squarely on Robinson’s clever lyrics. On the other hand, Eddie Kendricks is all over the place, tossing in soulful runs and changing up the phrasing; his honeyed falsetto sounds fabulous, but straying so far from the melody does rob the song of some of its charm. The same can be said for the prominent string flourishes and additional background vocals; none of it is bad, but it just doesn’t feel necessary.
3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: The most notable aspect about this recording is that is serves as something of a “dry run” for Diana Ross, who would record this song again in 1970 and take it straight to the top of the charts; the singer’s dramatic reinterpretation of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” remains perhaps her defining moment as a vocalist, and is one of the great pop recordings of all time. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was originally a hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, the version here retains the same basic arrangement featured on that recording, substituting in the gravely voice of Dennis Edwards and the urgent clarity of Miss Ross. Edwards and Ross are perfectly matched; the contrast between their sandpaper-and-silk voices generates real excitement, but both also wisely stay close to the melody and match each other’s phrasing, thus remaining on the same page musically (unlike what we heard in “I Second That Emotion”). The Supremes and Temptations offer up soulful work in the background; listen to the way they reach their voices up on “high enough,” and drop them down on “low enough” — it’s a smart way of literally interpreting the lyrics. Ross and Edwards also ad-lib a bit during the song’s final fade; it’s particularly fun to listen to Diana toss out a “Hey, baby!” considering it sounds like a little “practice run” for the incredible riffing she’d do on her solo version. This lesser-known version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” doesn’t necessarily add much to the song’s incredible legacy, but it’s a solid recording and worthwhile inclusion.
4. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: Although this song will forever be identified with Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations, theirs is not the original recording; the song, in fact, had been done several times before it finally became a major pop hit for the Motown groups. Earlier versions by Dee Dee Warwick and Madeline Bell had already achieved varying degrees of success, and set the basic blueprint that would be followed by producers Frank Wilson and Nickolas Ashford for this particular version, which was released as a single on November 21, 1968 and raced to the #2 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B chart. According to Wilson, “[Motown executive] Suzanne de Passe mentioned ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ to me, and it just sounded perfect. I could hear Eddie Kendricks and I could hear Diana, because they were in the same range. It was just a wonderful fit. It was a powerful presentation” (The Supremes box set booklet). Although the arrangement here is nearly identical to those featured on Warwick’s and Bell’s recordings, there’s a crispness to the instrumental track (recording at the Hitsville Golden World studios in Detroit) that immediately sets it apart; as with just about every Detroit-recorded Motown song, the players here are absolutely superb, creating a toe-tapping track that’s dreamily soulful. Another important aspect of this version’s success is the background work by The Supremes and The Temptations; the ethereal choir of voices lifts the recording to a higher plane, and floats along the instrumental track like clouds. Lead duties here are handled by Eddie Kendricks and Diana Ross, and both deliver flawless readings; listen to the way the Kendricks falsetto bounces around his female counterpart’s brassy voice in a playful interpretation of the song’s “I’m gonna get you” lyrics, and you’ll hear what makes these vocalists among the very best of all-time. Ross and Otis Williams also share a great spoken interlude, which is unique to this version of the song; it might have been nice to hear one of the other Supremes take the spoken line (imagine Mary Wilson’s sexy voice cooing, “Every breath I take…”), but Diana nails it, of course. It’s interesting that this wasn’t originally planned as the album’s lead single; it’s a clear highlight of the album, and one of the few songs that really screams “HIT!” here. Simply put, it’s magic.
5. This Guy’s In Love With You: Unfortunately, Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations follows one of its most exciting tracks with one of the least; this cover of the Herb Alpert classic isn’t bad, but it’s about as low-key and “tired” as either The Tempts or The Supremes would ever sound. Then again, I suppose that’s the point of the song; “This Guy’s In Love With You” pretty much defines easy listening. There’s no denying the Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition is an achingly pretty one, and it’s been recorded by just about every pop vocalist imaginable; here, Otis Williams takes the male lead and trades off verses with Diana Ross. It’s nice to hear Williams step out front, since it didn’t seem to happen often; he and the Tempts sound good, but it’s Diana who emerges as the real MVP here. This is the kind of song at which Ross always excels; the melody line is rather limited, but she resists any temptation (no pun intended) to oversing it, and allows the silken texture of her voice to do all the work. The lyrics here are simple and elegant, and Miss Ross keeps the focus directly on the words; it’s a classy performance. The highlight of this recording comes during the “I want your love…” refrain, during which both groups sing in glorious harmony behind Diana; there’s a palpable chemistry during these sections that brings the otherwise sluggish arrangement alive.
6. Funky Broadway: As the title implies, this is the funkiest selection on the album, a fiery rendition of the 1967 #1 R&B hit by Wilson Pickett. As expected, it’s a glorious showcase for The Temptations; Dennis Edwards takes the lead, and he tears the song to shreds with his powerful voice. Edwards was new to The Temptations when he recorded the songs for Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations; the group had recently chosen him to replace singer David Ruffin, and Edwards first appeared on the group’s hit single “Cloud Nine” (released only about a month prior to “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”). Here, the singer’s gritty voice muscularly punctuates a deliriously soulful track, and his groupmates provide strong support; they dominate the first minute of the song, until Diana Ross and The Supremes finally join in to provide a brief but sizzling “breakdown” section. The ladies sound fantastically sultry here, especially as Diana purrs, “Gotta get up outta my seat and groove awhile…” I’m not entirely convinced it’s only Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong backing Miss Ross up; there seem to be some additional female voices there, although it’s tough to tell. In any case, this isn’t a Supremes record; this one wholly belongs to The Temptations, and the scorching energy of Dennis Edwards takes center stage.
7. I’ll Try Something New: Although “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is the signature song of the supergroup known as Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations, it’s this album’s second single that’s their collective masterpiece. “I’ll Try Something New” had a long life at Motown, beginning with its original recording by The Miracles; the Smokey Robinson-penned tune was a moderate hit for the group in 1962. Producer Frank Wilson clearly liked the song; according to website Don’t Forget The Motor City, he produced versions for singers Barbara McNair and Kiki Dee, along with cutting it for this album. The original version by Robinson and The Miracles boasted a Latin-influenced beat and doo-wop inspired vocals; it’s similar in sound to many of the writer’s productions for Mary Wells. Here, producer Wilson (DFTMC also credits Deke Richards as co-producer) totally changes the vibe, giving the song a quiet, dreamy interpretation; the musicians create a sparkling instrumental, one that’s so light and airy it feels like it’s floating up into heaven. Eddie Kendricks opens the tune, his creamy falsetto beautifully controlled; he effortlessly bursts into a few soulful riffs without ever detracting from Robinson’s sweet lyrics. His groupmates prove why they’re considered some of the best harmonizers in history when they break out from behind him; listen at :28 as the men create a chord so perfect it’s breathtaking. Meanwhile, Diana Ross delivers one of the greatest vocal performances of her late-Supremes career here; she has rarely sounded so relaxed and soulful, her voice oozing over the track like honey. Her verse contains some quintessential “Smokey” songwriting, with clever lyrics like, “Every day/We can play/On the Milky Way/And if that don’t do/I’ll have to try something new” — and Ross is the perfect vocalist to give those words life. Behind her, The Supremes create some of their sweetest harmonies, echoing the work featured on Meet The Supremes and other early albums. The entire production builds to a powerful climax, with both groups repeatedly belting the song’s title and the lead singers ad-libbing until the fade. There is something eminently listenable about this recording; it’s so tightly pitched and performed that multiple listens reveal little riffs and harmonies just beneath the surface that are easy to miss the first time. When it was released in February of 1969, the song was only a moderate success; it reached the Top 10 of the R&B chart, but stopped short of the Top 20 on the pop side, peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. There were probably several reasons why the song didn’t chart better; the LP had already been available to the public for a few months, and each group was simultaneously charting with other songs (“I’m Livin’ In Shame” by Diana Ross and The Supremes and “Run Away Child, Running Wild” by The Temptations had both been released in January). Quality was definitely not one the reasons; this is one of the best Motown singles of the period, and a stellar showing for both groups.
8. A Place In The Sun: This song was made famous by Stevie Wonder, who took it to the charts in 1966; it’s co-written by Ron Miller, and man who would figure prominently into the solo career of Diana Ross (he’d co-write her #1 hit “Touch Me In The Morning”). This version of “A Place In The Sun” also gained a wider audience when it was lifted as the b-side to the “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” single. There’s a nice, folksy groove to the arrangement here; it’s not a loud nor a showy song, but The Funk Brothers provide their patented percussion-and-bass-heavy sound, which is always hard to resist. Likewise, both groups sounds great; Paul Williams and Diana Ross deliver restrained and heartfelt vocals (although Diana comes off a tad too theatrical during the brief spoken section), and there are some soaring harmonies in the background. This isn’t the most memorable inclusion on Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations, but it’s well-done.
9. Sweet Inspiration: As with the previous track, this is a solid if not particularly distinguished cover; the original “Sweet Inspiration” was a hit for The Sweet Inspirations earlier in 1968. The original was mainly a showcase for that group’s powerful harmonies; the melody is pretty limited, and it’s a repetitive one. Although The Temptations and The Supremes were both capable of fantastic harmonizing (as heard on previous selections from this LP), both groups also thrived on songs with memorable, hook-filled melodies, and the lack of that here results in an uninspiring listen.
10. Then: This is the second recording of “Then” by Diana Ross and The Supremes in less than a year; the group had already included the song on its Reflections album, which hit store shelves in March of ’68. It was an absolute standout of that album, and a song which should have been released as a single; listened to today, it sounds like a surefire hit. The fact that it shows up here implies that perhaps Motown also realized how strong the song was; the Smokey Robinson-penned tune had previously only surfaced as a Four Tops album track. The version of “Then” featured here bears the exact same arrangement as the previous Supremes recording, except for a slightly-lowered pitch during the first verse (likely to suit the voice of Paul Williams better); Diana did re-record her vocals, but she doesn’t stray much from her work the first time around. The result is another strong record, but interestingly, one that doesn’t work quite well as the Supremes-only version. Make no mistake; the singers sound fantastic here. But the addition of extra voices muddies up the simplicity that made the prior recording so charming; this is a joyful, upbeat love song, and the razor-sharp voice of Diana Ross backed by the sweetness of Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong was perfect for the delivery of the message. This is still one of the better tracks on Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations — it’s really, really good — but it doesn’t eclipse the album’s singles.
11. The Impossible Dream: It’s no coincidence that this song closes the first joint album by Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations; “The Impossible Dream” would also serve as the emotional finale for the group’s first television special, TCB. Although today the song is considered a classic, it was still relatively new in 1968; the tune is the standout from the musical Man Of La Mancha, which had opened on Broadway just a few years earlier. The song is a soaring, powerful declaration of courage and purpose, and it’s given the album’s most sumptuous treatment; at nearly five minutes long, it’s the longest song here, and the arrangement is bold and dramatic. Rather than surround Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations with an overblown instrumental, Frank Wilson allows their voices to carry the weight of the recording; there are staccato drums, pulses of brass, and a triumphant piano line, but it’s the vocalists who provide the fireworks. Diana Ross leads a good portion of the song, and she’s at her best; she begins the song with a quiet strength, and allows her voice to build organically through the recording. It’s nice to finally hear another Supreme get some time in the spotlight, too, as Mary Wilson croons the lines, “This is my quest/To follow that star/No matter how hopeless…” Paul Williams begins his solo at about two minutes in, and his voice is also a perfect vehicle for the song’s message; in his memoir To Be Loved, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. called Williams “the heart of the group with his emotional baritone voice, soul, rhythm, and style” (254). That baritone is beautifully showcased here, matching the heartfelt tone already set by Miss Ross, and when all of the voices combine to begin belting the climax, it’s magical. Interestingly, the song is given its own reprise; after the climax, drums and horns continue and the group then deliver a more syncopated rendition of the song’s final few lines. It’s not really a necessary touch, but it does present a sense of finality; just as “Try It Baby” provided the album a splashy opening, this coda leaves the listener with a satisfying sense of completion.
Commercially speaking, the decision to team up Diana Ross and The Supremes with The Temptations was a brilliant one. As mentioned earlier, Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations was a tremendous success for both groups, reaching the #2 spot on the Billboard 200 in the wake of its November release. Better yet, when the TCB soundtrack hit shelves a month later, it shot to the #1 spot, becoming the third chart-topping LP for The Supremes and the first (and only) for The Temptations. But beyond the commercial aspects, it was a creatively winning combination, too; Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong lent some of their dazzling sheen to the project, and the guys countered with a gutsy funk. Had there been better material included — and some originals, too — this might have been one of the all-time great Motown albums. As it stands, it’s a testament to the unbelievable talent that grew out of Detroit and was cultivated at Motown. The eight vocalists here all dreamt an impossible dream — and as the song says, the world is better for this.
Final Analysis: 4/5 (Nothing “New” — But Plenty Of “Sweet” Sounds)
Choice Cuts: “I’ll Try Something New,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “The Impossible Dream”