“Our day will come…if we just wait awhile…”
1965 was undoubtedly “the year of The Supremes” — the group began the year at #1, with “Come See About Me” topping the Billboard Hot 100 for a week in January, and ended it with the release of the classic “My World Is Empty Without You,” which would peak in the top 5 in early 1966. In between, three other singles topped the charts (“Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Back In My Arms Again,” and “I Hear A Symphony”), and the album More Hits By The Supremes was a smash success. Better yet, the group took major steps toward transcending the label of “rock ‘n roll group” with the incorporation of pop standards and show tunes into its live act and television appearances, and completed a historic run at New York’s Copacabana nightclub in the summer (which resulted in the live album At The Copa, released in November).
Amazingly, along with five full-length albums released in 1965, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard recorded tracks for even more projects which ultimately went unreleased. One of these was a planned album of pop standards and showtunes recorded mainly in March and April (along with a few Motown originals that sounded like standards). Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. put several producers on the project; Harvey Fuqua, Hal Davis, and Marc Gordon cut tracks in Los Angeles, and Henry Cosby, Ron Miller, Ivy Jo Hunter, and Mickey Stevenson worked up tracks in Detroit. An eventual tracklist of twelve songs was chosen, and the album named There’s A Place For Us; it was designated as Motown 628, scheduled to follow More Hits (which was released in July as Motown 627). However, There’s A Place For Us ended up being cancelled; all twelve songs were shelved, and Motown waited until November to issue the next Supremes albums (At The Copa and Merry Christmas).
Then, in 2004, the fantastic team at Hip-O Select finally unearthed this “lost” album, releasing it in a deluxe package that also featured a whopping fourteen other unreleased tracks, most of which were intended for a pair of unfinished albums (A Tribute To The Girls and The Supremes And The Motown Sound: From Broadway To Hollywood). The original dozen recordings meant for There’s A Place For Us didn’t really offer any major surprises; half of them were performed at the Copa engagement and feature on the live album recorded there, and several others had been released on various collections over the years, including The Never-Before-Released Masters (1987) and 25th Anniversary (1986). Still, to finally hear these songs together, in sequence as originally intended, does shed added light not only on Berry Gordy, Jr.’s plan to widen the appeal of The Supremes, but also on the continued growth of Wilson, Ballard, and especially Ross as vocalists and interpreters.
1. Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody: The album opens with a song familiar to Supremes fans, thanks to its inclusion on At The Copa and a performance on “The Red Skelton Show” in 1965. Diana, Mary, and Florence had energy to spare on the live recording of this song; the swinging arrangement afforded Ross a perfect opportunity to deliver a brassy lead vocal, and Wilson and Ballard buoyant backup. Although this studio version does suffer a bit from the lack of live audience reaction, it’s an accomplished opener and features a superb track laid down by the Detroit musicians. Of particular note is Diana’s elastic vocal performance; she naturally sounds quite young, and there’s a rawness to her voice that would disappear by the time she tackled the Rodgers and Hart songbook just a few years later, but she really dives into the melody here, and engages in some thrilling ad-libs. Listen to her jump to an unexpected high note at 2:12, and then do it again at 2:33, ending the song on what is surely one of the highest and most satisfying notes she’d recorded while with The Supremes. Though “Rock-A-Bye” features a rather standard background arrangement and, again, works better with the electricity of a live setting, it’s a highlight of this collection thanks to Diana’s vivacity and sparkling vocals.
2. Fancy Passes: Although it certainly sounds like a club standard and comes from the very proper-sounding publishing company Stein & Van Stock, this song is actually a Motown original, co-written by Ron Miller, the man who’d later help pen Diana’s 1972 #1 hit “Touch Me In The Morning” (Stein & Van Stock, by the way, was reportedly created by Berry Gordy to trick people into thinking certain songs were tried-and-true classics rather than Motown compositions). This cutesy little ditty gives Miss Ross a chance to channel one of her admitted idols, Eartha Kitt; indeed, “Fancy Passes” is basically a non-holiday version of Kitt’s 1950s Christmas classic “Santa Baby.” Thus, Ross purrs her way through lyrics celebrating the joys of dating a rich man, which the background singers behind her punctuate with sassy retorts and sound effects (i.e. the “meow” of cats). I say “background singers” because I’m not totally convinced it’s Mary Wilson and/or Florence Ballard on this recording; something about the vocals sound more like Motown’s session singers (Mary and Florence do figure prominently on the reworked version of this song, which closes out the bonus tracks included on Motown Select’s There’s A Place For Us). This version of “Fancy Passes” is pretty slight, and never really feels like anything other than a novelty song, but it is a fun listen; Miss Ross injects plenty of personality without every being too cloying. (NOTE: Years later, Motown would recycle “Fancy Passes” by including it in Diana’s debut film, Lady Sings The Blues; listen for it in the scene when Billie Holiday is passed over for a chance to song on the radio.)
3. The Boy From Ipanema: This is classy rendition of one of the most recorded songs in history, and a tune that was a big hit and Grammy-winner in 1964-1965. Part of the song’s universal appeal (it was originally written and recorded as “The Girl From Ipanema”) lies in its soft, hypnotic structure; the melody is limited and very repetitive, and the lyrics quite simplistic. Because The Supremes were such masters at emotionally-charged material — from the “yearning” and “burning” of “Where Did Our Love Go” to the scorching intensity of “Love Child” — such a cool, detached song feels rather unexciting, although the ladies do a fine job vocally. The group also performed this song during its run at The Copa, and it’s included on the live album recorded there; while that version was rather murky in terms of sound, it did boast a little more energy than this one. “The Boy From Ipanema” isn’t a standout here, but it’s not a total dud, either.
4. Put On A Happy Face: This bouncy showtune, taken from the Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie, is another one that became part of the stage act for The Supremes; it’s the opening number on the At The Copa recording, and the group continued to perform it for quite some time. This studio recording is outstanding; the arrangement gives Diana, Mary, and Florence numerous opportunities to break into three-part harmony, and all three young ladies sing with confidence and verve (although The Andantes could very well have been added here, as Motown was wont to do, it certainly sounds to me like Ross, Wilson, and Ballard are most prominently featured). This recording is unique in that Miss Ross never sings a line solo; this is a shared lead, something that was becoming less common by 1965. Of particular note is the section beginning at 1:38, as the group sings “Pick up a pleasant outlook/Stick out that nobel chin” in a complex harmony that remains thrilling to listen to; this is the kind of vocalizing that really set The Supremes apart from other female groups at Motown. Even members of those other groups acknowledged the talent possessed by The Supremes for harmonizing and tackling pop standards; in Marc Taylor’s 2004 book The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group, Betty Kelly of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas is quoted as saying, “The Supremes were easier to work with because they kind of had something, the three of them. I think Berry picked the right group to go into the direction he wanted to go in” (90). Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes is later quoted in the same book: “We had to work at our harmony. The Supremes could walk in and hit a song right away…What we did on each record was great, but on something like the Andrews Sisters’ material and songs like ‘Canadian Sunset’ that the Supremes could sing, we couldn’t do that” (127). Indeed, the combination of Ross, Wilson, and Ballard was unique and potent.
5. Our Day Will Come: This is a lovely inclusion on There’s A Place For Us, unique for two reasons; first, it’s not a song that features on any of the group’s live recordings, and second, Mary Wilson is given the chance to sing lead. Like many of the songs included here, “Our Day Will Come” was actually a fairly new composition in 1965; it had been a #1 hit for Ruby & The Romantics only two years earlier. Still, with its unique Bossa Nova arrangement and romantic lyrics, the tune certainly fit the bill as easy listening pop/soul, and it’s a welcome addition to this lineup. Wilson’s soft, misty voice slips into “Our Day Will Come” like a satin glove; her warm vocal here is beautifully rendered. In just a few short years, Wilson’s voice had transformed from that of a brassy, Darlene Love-esque girl-group singer to one more suited to a sultry chanteuse; compare her throaty vocals on”Baby Don’t Go” from Meet The Supremes to this performance, and her evolution in style is both startling and incredibly satisfying. In the way that Diana Ross possessed a voice perfect for the Holland-Dozier-Holland tunes that rocketed the group to stardom, Wilson’s was (and remains) an ideal vehicle for dreamy, jazz-tinged numbers like this one.
6. You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You: Berry Gordy, Jr. once wrote of The Supremes, “When we started working together and I was trying to impress people with them, I knew that they could take any song, a Broadway song, a standard, and sing in perfect harmony without music. We took advantage of that. My personal favorite was ‘You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You’ which was the first song they did on national television, on Hullabaloo” (The Supremes box set booklet). Indeed, this song was something of a breakthrough for The Supremes; although the group had already performed hits on television, this was the first pop standard it sang for a major national audience, and it opened the door for similar performances on programs like “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The group’s initial displeasure with this song — especially from Diana Ross — has been well-documented by Mr. Gordy, and is even dramatized in the Broadway hit Motown The Musical; Ross did not want to sing something she felt her fans wouldn’t like. However, you’d never know it by listening to any of her performances of the tune, including this studio recording; she turns in a full-bodied, sophisticated reading here. The background vocal arrangement is quite different from that which features on live recordings of this song (it’s featured on both At The Copa and Live At London’s Talk Of The Town), and the voices don’t really sound like Mary Wilson and/or Florence Ballard; my hunch is that session singers are backing up Diana. But this recording really belongs to Ross, anyway, and she delivers in a way that must have thrilled Gordy; this isn’t a showy performance for the singer (she shows far more range in the album’s opener, “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody”), but it’s a strong one, and Diana’s voice is rock-solid in terms of pitch and phrasing. At just 21 years old, the singer’s mature approach to singing is impressive.
7. Somewhere: The title There’s A Place For Us comes from the opening line of this song, something that’s fitting given the importance of “Somewhere” to The Supremes. This song would become a staple of the act’s live appearances, and was probably performed by the ladies more than most of their actual hit songs. The fact that this became a showstopper for Diana Ross is likely a reason it gained a place of such importance for The Supremes; Berry Gordy, Jr. would later recall, “I look at something like a ‘Somewhere,’ where Diana would cry every night…When Diana did that last part and built it up so great, she had to wring herself out. That’s how much she put into it. Every time she did ‘Somewhere,’ she left everything out there on the stage” (The Supremes box set booklet). The song also gave Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard a chance to display some nice harmonizing behind Ross, something that’s on full display during this studio recording. Although “Somewhere” sounds pretty schmaltzy today — especially with the syrupy arrangement presented here — the full-throated backgrounds of Wilson and Ballard really help anchor this recording. Diana Ross turns in a nice performance, although she veers dangerously close to cloying at times; her tone is also bit piercing on certain sections, reminiscent of her very early work with The Supremes. Diana’s interpretation of the song improved over time, and the song’s meaning evolved for the group; by the late 1960s, a monologue referencing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been added, and it was being used as a plea for racial harmony. This gave the song added weight, helping to balance out its saccharine qualities and providing Ross a better platform on which to demonstrate her vocal abilities; listen to her performance of “Somewhere” on the 1968 TCB soundtrack and you’ll hear how much she and the song had grown. This “Somewhere” is an interesting listen and a great showcase for the sublime singing of Wilson and Ballard, but it’s merely a teaser of what would come in the next few years.
8. Something For My Heart: This is such an achingly pretty song that you’d be forgiven for thinking it comes from a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical; certainly “Something For My Heart” could have fit into The Sound Of Music somewhere. However, like the earlier “Fancy Passes,” this is a Motown original, co-written again by Ron Miller with Richard Jacques and Avery Vandenberg; according to website Don’t Forget The Motor City, it had also been recorded by singer Liz Lands, and was done by Marvin Gaye as “Something For Her Heart.” Diana Ross turns in a very sweet lead vocal here; her delivery of the opening lyrics “On my very next birthday/I hope I’ll receive/Pleasant little presents/Things that I believe in…” is stunningly pure and girlish. The background singers are almost certainly not Supremes; the ringing harmonies sound suspiciously similar to those of The Andantes on the 1965 Merry Christmas album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as they’re tasteful and sophisticated. Though “Something For My Heart” lacks a really strong hook, and thus isn’t particularly memorable, it is a pleasant listen and nice addition to the album.
9. Make Someone Happy: During their run at New York’s Copacabana nightclub, The Supremes performed this song in a medley with “Time After Time” — in the August 7, 1965 Billboard review of the Copa act, this song was singled out as “the showcase act for Diana’s solo potential. Her distinctive phrasing and amazing vocal range in every song confirms that she truly is one of the best in the business.” Indeed, on the resulting live album, the medley is one of the unqualified highlights, and Diana’s vocal performance is chill-inducing. Unfortunately, the studio recording of “Make Someone Happy” isn’t nearly as effective; the production feels hollow, and there are some strange instrumental flourishes which steal away attention from the vocal performance. Ross delivers a sterling performance here; her velvety voice languidly glides along the melody, and the singer offers up some delicious vocal runs (listen to her croon the word “everything” at 1:06, and the way she skillfully stretches it down the scale). That said, the producers drown the singer in echo, and she sounds like she’s being forced to sing through a tin can. Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard harmonize nicely behind Ross, and the three voices meld together beautifully at the climax of the song, but it’s not enough to save the recording. Had “Make Someone Happy” been given a classier, crystal-clear production, it could have been the best song on There’s A Place For Us. Instead, it’s the live version that truly reigns Supreme.
10. Little Miss Loser: This is an astounding recording that first surfaced on 1987’s The Never-Before-Released Masters. The song is another Motown original, published under the Stein & Van Stock monicker and co-written by — you guessed it! — Ron Miller, along with Richard Jacques and Avery Vandenberg. According to website Don’t Forget The Motor City, the tune had already been recorded by Brenda Holloway, Liz Lands, and Marvin Gaye by the time The Supremes tackled it in 1965; the Holloway and Gaye versions went unreleased for decades, but can be heard on various collections today, and both are soft and somber jazz-tinged ballads. This version is brash and startling, with an instrumental that sounds like it could have been lifted from a hard-edged film noir from the 1950s. The blaring introduction is fabulous; there’s a foreboding quality similar to that of the intro to Dinah Washington’s brittle take on “Cry Me A River” from 1959. Miss Ross is a heartbreaker on the opening lines; her perfect delivery of “Set the table, supper’s done/Candlelight and wine for one” is sultry and mature far beyond the singer’s then 21 years. The howling voices behind Ross are haunting and a perfect complement to her sensitive singing. If there’s any issue with the song, it’s that the lyrics aren’t quite up to the standard of rest of the production; “Christmas Eve, you waited for/But all your dreams stayed in the store” is a clunky couplet, among other passages that probably could have been smoothed out. Still, this is a superlative recording, and one that easily could have been placed on an album like I Hear A Symphony in place of a weaker inclusion instead of left in the vaults for so long.
11. Sleepwalk: An interesting, if not wholly successful cover of the 1959 hit by Santo & Johnny. The original recording was an instrumental, driven by an unforgettable steel guitar sound; an early cover featuring lyrics was released by Betsy Brye, also in 1959. The Supremes sing the bulk of those lyrics in three-part harmony here, which is always exciting, and all three voices are strong and clear on this recording. That said, Florence Ballard’s soprano cuts a little too sharp for my ears here; her thick vocals draw attention away from the song’s pretty melody, and causing parts of the song to sound discordant. While Ballard possessed undeniably powerful pipes, she sometimes lacked the vocal control of her groupmates; Miss Ross almost always sang in the dead-center of a note, and Wilson’s misty voice settled nicely into whatever she was singing, but Ballard was capable of tugging a song off-center a bit with her vocals, which I think is the case here. Aside from the vocal performances, this “Sleepwalk” faces a major disadvantage due to the lack of the steel guitar; the original is so haunting and iconic that any cover deviating from the tried-and-true instrumental arrangement would feel hollow. This one does, even though there are some nice elements and it’s a mainly pleasant listen. I have a feeling this is a favorite of many fans, especially those particularly fond of Florence Ballard’s voice, but to me it’s a recording that lacks the spark of the best of The Supremes.
12. Big City Babies Don’t Cry: The final song of the original There’s A Place For Us lineup is another Ron Miller composition (written with William O’Malley), and while it’s another good song, it’s probably the least memorable of the quartet of originals here. The song begins with a horn-filled, “Dragnet”-style opening, as blaring and bold as that featured on “Little Miss Loser.” The rest of the recording, however, doesn’t quite live up to that introduction; there’s a pretty melody, but it doesn’t grab the listener in the way “Loser” or “Fancy Passes” does. Diana’s vocal performance is sterling; her voice oozes like honey, and she reaches up for some lovely high notes, which she easily nails. The bridge, beginning at 1:17, is an especially strong section for Miss Ross; there’s a lovely tenderness in her voice that manages to convey a wistfulness without ever sounding thin or weak. Although “Big City Babies Don’t Cry” isn’t a highlight here, it is a professionally produced track that merits its long-awaited release.
Had There’s A Place For Us been released back in 1965, it’s not likely it would have been a huge success for The Supremes; none of the “theme” albums released by the group had been huge sellers (The Supremes Sing County, Western & Pop and We Remember Sam Cooke, both from earlier that year, had stalled outside the top 50 of the Billboard 200) and fans were really hungry only for more Holland-Dozier-Holland hits. The Copa album would feature most of these songs, anyway, and was probably the more effective strategy for getting them into people’s homes, considering the live album also featured several of the group’s popular hits. Still, hearing these dozen tracks together is enlightening; there was definite care taken in shaping these songs, which demonstrates how important they were to Berry Gordy, Jr. and his vision for The Supremes and Motown. And more than that, they’re a glimpse into the deepening talent of Diana Ross, who never for a second shows any discomfort with the material. Ross would get better and better on this type of music, soaring forward on 1967’s masterful The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart and her triumphant 1968 album of Funny Girl songs, but these early recordings were part of the progression from girl-group singer to sophisticated stylist.
Final Analysis: 3.5/5 (An Early Glimpse Of What “Will Come”)
Choice Cuts: “Little Miss Loser,” “Put On A Happy Face,” “Our Day Will Come”
COMING SOON: A full analysis of the fourteen “bonus tracks” featured on the Hip-O Select release of There’s A Place For Us.