Touch Me In The Morning (1973): EXTENDED POST

Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and many others owe a major debt to Diana’s 1973 album Touch Me In The Morning, which recast Miss Ross as an interpreter of sophisticated pop ballads and led her to a new level of solo success.  Check out my all new (and highly revised) opinions on Diana’s landmark LP here!

Billboard: July 7, 1973

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The Boss Returns To The Charts

Fans have been waiting a long time for new music from Diana Ross — and although we’re still waiting, it’s nice to see Miss Ross riding high again on the Billboard and iTunes music charts.

From her collection Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection, a new remix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sits at #38 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart for the week ending December 2.

Billboard Top Dance Club Songs for the week ending December 2, 2017

And in the wake of Diana’s triumphant performance at the American Music Awards, at which she was honored with a lifetime achievement award, not one…not two…but three Diana Ross collections charted in the iTunes R&B Top 20, led by The Number Ones and followed closely by Diamond Diana.

iTunes R&B Albums Chart: November 20, 2017

Congratulations to Miss Diana Ross — and here’s to continued success in 2018!


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Surrender (1971): EXTENDED POST

Diana teams up with Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson for a second full-length album and the results are spectacular.  Surrender remains one of the very best studio albums ever released by Miss Ross, and arguably by Motown, too — find out why in my extended discussion here!

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Diana! Original TV Soundtrack (1971): EXTENDED POST

“Hey, ya’ll, here I am!”

Diana Ross takes a major step into solo stardom with her first television special, and the soundtrack becomes her third solo album.  Check out the ALL-NEW, extended discussion here!

Billboard: April 17, 1971

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Everything Is Everything (1970): EXTENDED POST

It’s here!  Check out my extended discussion of Diana’s often-overlooked second solo album, Everything Is Everything, by clicking here!  Found some interesting info about the album I’d never heard before…for example, did you know Billboard predicted “My Place” would be Diana’s follow-up single to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in 1970?

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Diana Ross (1970): EXTENDED POST

Check out my extended discussion of Diana’s 1970 debut LP, Diana Ross, by clicking here. New research, new pictures, new thoughts on every track!

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RECORD STORE FIND: “Everything Is Everything” Unique Front/Back Cover

Happy Monday, all…

I’ve been busy working to expand my reviews of the Diana Ross solo discography, which I’ll begin posting within the next few weeks — in most cases, I’ve doubled the length of the posts, adding extra research information concerning each album and track.  I’m really excited to unveil the new album discussions, as having gone through the Supremes era has helped inform my understanding of Diana’s solo work.

Until then…wanted to share this record store find from earlier today.  I was at a shop just outside Atlanta and came across this interesting pressing of Everything Is Everything with a negative image and white background on the rear cover.  I’ve never seen one like this before — anyone know the story?  Every copy I’ve ever owned has a regular photo over a black background.  The lettering on the front cover is also made up of three colors, instead of just solid blue, and there are no song titles listed:

Let me know if you’ve seen this before — curious to know why it’s a little different!

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At Their Best (1978)

“If you give love a chance, I’ll do the best I can…”

Although the 70s Supremes were never afforded a lavish, Farewell-style final recording marking the end of the group’s tenure on Motown Records, the trio did get a “greatest hits” collection, released in the United States in June of 1978.  At Their Best features a brief collection of ten tracks, covering the group’s output from 1970’s Right On through 1976’s Mary, Scherrie & Susayeit would be issued abroad with an expanded lineup of fourteen songs.  The set was most notable for including a never-bef0re-released track, “The Sha-La Bandit,” with Scherrie Payne on lead vocals; also making the cut were “Love Train,” led by Jean Terrell and previously only available on an English Motown compilation, and the non-LP single “Bad Weather,” written and produced by Stevie Wonder back in 1973.

The tracklist from AT THEIR BEST, as released in the United States

Interestingly, The Supremes weren’t “officially” disbanded when At Their Best hit shelves — at least, not openly.  Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene planned to continue on as Supremes after the departure of Mary Wilson in June of 1977; Wilson urged fans to continue supporting the group during her farewell performance as a Supreme.  However, just a few months later, Wilson embarked in a legal fight with Motown over the use of the name “Supremes,” effectively putting her solo plans and likely any plans for Scherrie and Susaye on hold.  Finally, in mid-1979, Wilson moved forward with her solo project and told Billboard, “There’ll probably never be another Supremes, unless Motown and I agree that there should be one” (September 22, 1979).  Around the same time, Scherrie and Susaye released a joint album on Motown called Partners, ending any speculation that the two would carry on as Supremes.

At Their Best, then, basically became the group’s “Greatest Hits Volume 4,” following the 1967 double-LP Greatest Hits and the 1969 single disc Greatest Hits Volume 3.  Unfortunately, limiting the setlist to ten tracks means some notable singles were left off, not to mention several much-loved album cuts; “River Deep, Mountain High” doesn’t show up, for example, even though it was a Top 20 hit in 1970, and the United States pressing doesn’t include the Top 40 single “Automatically Sunshine.”  Still, the addition of the three then-rare tracks certainly made the set worthwhile to fans, and the it remains a decent (if visually unappealing — there’s not a single photo of any of the group members on the packaging!) sampler of an unappreciated decade for the world’s top female recording group.


(NOTE: Below are discussions of the three tracks previously unavailable on a Supremes LP; the other inclusions can be found on previous album releases covered on this site.)

Billboard: July 8, 1978

The Sha-La Bandit:  In the years since the release of At Their Best, fans have been treated to various versions of “The Sha-La Bandit,” a superb outtake from the sessions for 1975’s The Supremes; this version is led by Scherrie Payne, but there is a mix that includes a shared lead vocal from Scherrie, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong.  In any rendition, this is a standout song, and it’s strange that it didn’t make the group’s 1975 LP; the cut was produced by Clayton Ivey and Terry Woodford, who turned in every one of that album’s highlights, and should have handled the entire album.  “The Sha-La Bandit” was penned by Jerry Lang Ferguson and Wade Davis, Sr., and it’s been recorded by several artists, including Aretha Franklin and The Thymes (Franklin’s version was issued on her 1975 album You, released just a few months after the Supremes LP came out).  The song is a playful mid-tempo number with elements of pop, soul, doo-wop, and even a nod to country & western music in its lyric of a “bandit from Westchester County.”  On this particular mix, Payne offers up a dynamite vocal, smooth and sexy from beginning to end; she keeps the focus squarely on the descriptive lyrics, while also taking a few opportunities to flex her considerable vocal muscle.  Behind her, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong lay down a batch of backgrounds that come out like homemade whipped cream; there is something inherently polished and sophisticated about the combination of Payne-Wilson-Birdsong, and it’s on full display here.  As good as the song is, the At Their Best mix is perhaps the weakest of those released; the instrumental is toned down, and the final key change isn’t handled very well.  Still, it’s a terrific recording, and a welcome addition to this compilation.

Billboard: April 13, 1973

Bad Weather:  “Michael Leslie and the students at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., want to know what’s happening here in the U.S.  Is someone sleeping on the job?  Their plea is: ‘Please don’t lose this hit.'”  So wrote Julian Coleman in his “Soul Sauce” column in the May 12, 1973 issue of Billboard, referring to “Bad Weather” by The Supremes.  Released as a single on March 22, 1973, expectations were high for the song; it was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, who was then riding high with his groundbreaking album Talking Book.  It’s no coincidence that Wonder ended up in the studio with The Supremes; then-member Lynda Laurence had sung backup for Wonder, and her brother, Ira Tucker, Jr., co-wrote the song.  Reviews were immediately positive; New Musical Express proclaimed, “In a week filled with revolting dross of all possible description, the arrival of something like this gives me new faith in humanity, and new optimism for the future.”  The single managed to make the UK Top 40, but it bombed in the states, peaking at #87 on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s worst showing on that chart since “My Heart Can’t Take It No More” stalled at #129 in 1963.  One issue is that “Bad Weather” likely came a little ahead of its time; it’s a pre-disco dancefloor workout, arranged as a bold, blaring statement for lead singer Jean Terrell.  Wonder’s track is a rollercoaster of horns, funky guitars, and ear-piercing whistles; Terrell rides the ups and downs of the instrumental bed with skillful perfection, her vocal a plaintive masterpiece.  The recording is also an opportunity for fans to hear Lynda Laurence, whose voice had been swamped by additional singers on The Supremes — Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb; Laurence possesses a soulful, brassy voice which is used for some nice flourishes here.  Although the song divides some fans today, it’s hard to believe it didn’t do better in the United States; it’s easily the best single released by the group since “Nathan Jones,” and it deserved far more success than it ultimately found.

Billboard: April 7, 1973

Love Train:  This classic song was originally a huge hit for The O’Jays in early 1973; written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it topped both the pop and R&B charts and foreshadowed the coming wave of disco much in the same way that “Bad Weather” did.  This version features Jean Terrell, Mary Wilson, and Lynda Laurence; Wilson remembers it being cut around the same time as “Bad Weather,” which means it was likely recorded at the same time the song was peaking for The O’Jays.  Interestingly, this version was produced by Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston; Wilson had been the architect of the 70s Supremes sound, helping songs for the group’s 1970 LP Right On and then entirely producing follow-ups New Ways But Love Stays and Touch before moving on to work with Motown singer Eddie Kendricks.  Wilson and Caston keep their arrangement basically the same as that of The O’Jays recording; both are set to a driving, appropriately locomotive beats, and feature ringing three-part harmony on the refrains.  In this case, Jean Terrell leads the song with a soulful, light-as-air performance that feels completely effortless, and her harmony with Mary and Lynda is a joy to listen to.  The issue is that this version is too slick and polished, something that translates to a lack of excitement; it would have been nice to hear all three ladies dig into the material a little further, adding some funky flourishes to give their version its own identity.  As it is, this “Love Train” is a thoroughly competent recording, but it’s nothing that wasn’t already done better.


At Their Best ended up not even charting on the Billboard 200, something unsurprising given the tumult surrounding the name “Supremes” within Motown at the time.  Later, these ten tracks would be added to the 2-CD compilation Gold, a Supremes retrospective made up of every one of the group’s previously-released Greatest Hits packages.  Although At Their Best includes all the biggest hits, it does do the group a disservice by condensing nearly a decade’s worth of material into a ten-track set; alas, the 70s Supremes really wouldn’t get their due until the 2002 release of The 70s Anthology, a double-disc set which featured hits, new mixes, and previously unreleased tracks.  Only with such an expansive set could the 70s Supremes truly be shown at their best.

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Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (1976)

“Together we stand, hand in hand…”

“‘You’re My Driving Wheel’ is the new single by the Supremes from their forthcoming album titled, ‘Mary, Scherrie & Susaye.’  The record on the Motown label sounds like a hit. This is probably the funkiest thing the girls have ever done,” raved Tom Moulton in his “Disco Mix” column in Billboard (November 6, 1976), giving fans plenty of reason to be optimistic about the trio’s latest release.  The new album came just six months after the release of High Energy, the most successful Supremes project in years; that album had been produced by Brian Holland and executive produced by his brother, Eddie, and it brought the trio a Top 40 hit and dance smash with “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking.”  Rather than follow that song with another single from High Energy, the producers quickly assembled this new album and released “You’re My Driving Wheel” as the lead single.

Billboard: December 11, 1976
A good week for Susaye Greene, with “You’re My Driving Wheel” and “Free” making the Billboard Hot 100

“For the title of what was to be our final album we chose Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, to give ourselves some individual name recognition,” says Mary Wilson in the liner notes to The 70s Anthology, a move that makes sense given that Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene were the eighth and ninth women to become official Supremes.  Greene was the newest, replacing Cindy Birdsong in early 1976; her voice had been dubbed onto two of High Energy‘s tracks, but this would be her first full LP with the group.  In Susaye Greene, the Hollands were given a different kind of Supreme to work with; her multi-octave range and unique tone provided some interesting opportunities for new sounds and vocal blends.  Both Payne and Greene were also accomplished songwriters, although neither got the chance to write for the group; interestingly, a week after “You’re My Driving Wheel” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, the Susaye Greene-penned “Free” (by Deniece Williams) followed it there, charting one position higher.

What nobody knew when Mary, Scherrie & Susaye hit store shelves in October was that it would be the final studio album from The Supremes, ending a storied career at Motown that began in January of 1961.  Like the group’s very first album, 1962’s Meet The Supremes, this one didn’t even make the album charts, and its singles only scraped the lowest reaches of the Billboard Hot 100.  “I was frustrated and disappointed,” wrote Mary Wilson in The 70s Anthology. “It was time to do something.”  That something, of course, was to go solo; Wilson left the group less than a year after the release of this album, and eventually Payne and Greene abandoned the “Supremes” name, too, releasing a joint album on Motown of their own compositions.  It would be a quiet end to the group which had undeniably changed the course of popular music history, breaking down barriers for artists of color and women and inspiring generations to come.

The real shame is that Mary, Scherrie & Susaye is one of the most interesting and experimental albums to ever come from the group; it’s perhaps not as sonically seamless as High Energy, but it takes far more risks, giving the trio of singers challenging material and using their voices in clever, unusual ways.  Ironically, the three songs which got the most attention (“You’re My Driving Wheel,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Love I Never Knew You Could Feel So Good”) are the most formulaic on the album, all three the kind of frenzied disco recordings one would expect of the era.  But the deep cuts are the ones that really stand out, proving that this latest (and final) incarnation of The Supremes was capable of delivering exciting performances which could have evolved the group further, had it been given the chance.


Billboard: November 13, 1976

1.  You’re My Driving Wheel:  The album’s first single and most recognizable song, this was released on September 30, 1976; listed together with “Let Yourself Go” and “Love I Never Knew,” the song ended up peaking at #5 on the National Disco chart in Billboard in January of 1977 (incidentally, labelmate Thelma Houston held the top spot at the time with “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/”Anyway You Like It” and Stevie Wonder was at #3 with “Another Star”/”I Wish”/”Sir Duke”/”Isn’t She Lovely”).  Written by Brian Holland, Reginald Brown, Stafford Floyd, and Harold Beatty, “You’re My Driving Wheel” is a banging, breathless song that starts out zooming at 100 miles per hour and never lets up; the track is the musical equivalent of a car careening out of control on a winding mountain road.  The arrangement is marked by thunderous work on the keyboards and the punctuations of a terrific funk brass section; all of it, of course, set atop a racing beat tailor-made for disco clubs.  Scherrie Payne takes the lead and unleashes the full power of her pipes, blasting her way through the track like a stick of dynamite.  Miss Payne has a skillful, crisp way of delivering lyrics, enunciating each word while never losing momentum, which makes her a perfect fit for this kind of rapid-paced production; although her tone is thick and gutsy, there’s enough lightness to her voice to keep her from getting swamped by the very busy instrumental track.  Of course, she’s well-supported by Mary and Susaye, who absolutely belt behind her, practically screaming out the words, “You’re my driving wheel!”  Greene, in particular, adds in a lot of nice little flourishes, using her voice like an instrument and contributing to the tapestry of sounds.  It’s not hard to understand why this song did so well in clubs at the time; it spent several months on both the national and regional disco charts.  That said, it’s also not that hard to understand why it didn’t do so well at radio; “You’re My Driving Wheel” peaked at a dismal #85 on the Billboard Hot 100, and only managed #50 on the R&B side.  The issue, I think, it how cluttered and frantic the whole thing is; there’s absolutely no breathing room here, and it’s exhausting to listen to without any real valleys to balance out the peaks.  Something like this works for the dancefloor, of course, but not necessarily elsewhere.

2.  Sweet Dream Machine:  A sultry, low-key number with elements of funk and jazz laced into the danceable track, this is one of the album’s clear highlights; although it never seems to have shown up on any of Billboard‘s regional disco charts, I imagine it got some play, as it’s hard to imagine clubs ignoring this sterling cut.  Led off by quivering vibes and slowly intensifying beat, the musicians here offer up some sweet, jazzy flourishes before Scherrie Payne begins singing, her voice hushed to a sexy whisper.  Payne is beautifully controlled in her delivery, once again displaying a real gift for interpreting lyrics in a crisp, concise way.  Mary Wilson takes over on the second verse, singing with the kind of gutsy soul she’d displayed on “You’re What’s Missing In My Life” from High Energy; Wilson has commented that the addition of Susaye Greene to the group helped her feel more “free” in her singing, and this is the first indication of increased risk-taking from the singer on Mary, Scherrie & Susaye.  Although Greene doesn’t have any solo parts on “Sweet Dream Machine,” her presence is more than felt with her superb background work and some nice stand-out vocal moments, like her sustained high note at 3:38.  All three Supremes strongly contribute to the success of the song, but in the end, it’s the gorgeous production that sets it apart; this is a classy, elegant recording that transcends the boundaries of disco with its fabulous instrumental track and smart arrangement.  Written by the Hollands and Harold Beatty, there’s a great bridge starting at 2:07 which sounds like an updated version of the kind of musical break one would expect from a 1960s Motown hit, and the final minute-and-a-half of the song’s running time is taken up by the hypnotic repetition of “You’re into me/I’m into you/Wooo!/Sweet Dream Machine” (also notice the muted male voice that surfaces during this final section, a great touch).  “Sweet Dream Machine” is a terrific addition to the album, and still sounds fresh today.

Billboard: January 8, 1977

3.  Let Yourself Go:  Though this isn’t one of the more familiar Supremes songs, it is one for the history books; when “Let Yourself Go” was issued on January 25, 1977, it became the final single ever released by the group in the United States, capping off a singles discography that stretched back to March 9, 1961 and the release of “I Want A Guy.”  Sadly, like that first single, “Let Yourself Go” missed the Billboard Hot 100 completely, although it managed to just squeak onto the R&B chart at #83 and topped out at #5 on the National Disco Action Top 40 chart, listed alongside “You’re My Driving Wheel” and “Love I Never Knew You Could Feel So Good.”  As with this album’s first single (“You’re My Driving Wheel”), this is a densely-produced, frenzied disco cut that speeds out of the gate and never looks back.  Scherrie Payne again takes the lead, and she sounds terrific; “Let Yourself Go” features a feel-good lyric and boasts a strong melody (written by the Hollands and Beatty, again), and Payne sells both with ease.  The problem is that the melody and lyric get lost a bit in the frantic production; there is absolutely no wiggle room here, and the track is so thick with sound that it’s hard to step back and appreciate the musicality of the song.  Compare it, for a moment, with “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” a huge hit at the same time for labelmate Thelma Houston; Houston’s recording is equally hard-hitting, but there’s space left in the track, and enough musical variation that it allows listeners to appreciate more than just a thumping beat.  It’s ironic that a song which urges listeners to “relax” and “hang loose” doesn’t follow its own edict; “Let Yourself Go” is a strong production, but had it been loosened up just a little bit, it could have been even better.

Billboard: January 15, 1977

4.  Come Into My Life:  The Hollands, along with co-writer Richard Davis, seem to anticipate the Motown arrival of Rick James with this starkly modern cut, filled with eerie electronic sounds atop a bongo-driven beat.  The producers wisely give the song to Susaye Greene, who leads with a sexy confidence and shows off her range with some wild high notes; the way the Hollands blend those high notes into whistling synthesizer work is pure genius.  Greene’s voice is wholly unique within the Supremes realm; there’s a sulky, kittenish quality to her delivery (she sounds like she’s pouting during her first “Darling, Come Into My Life” at 1:46) which sharply contrasts with the maturity inherent in her tone.  This makes her a natural fit for this offbeat tune; lyrics that would have sounded generic or phony in another singer’s hands sizzle with energy here.  Greene is perfectly backed by Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne, who seem to be singing from another dimension; the producers wash the backgrounds in heavy echo, so that they seem to be alien voices beamed in from an icy planet.  Every element here defies the odds by working together perfectly; what probably should have been a weird mess ends up becoming the most dazzling cut on the entire album, and a song which should have injected The Supremes with renewed energy.  It did apparently gain some decent club play; the song showed up on the regional disco chart for Philadelphia in Billboard‘s January 15, 1977 issue, and the trio performed it on the popular television show Soul Train.  It’s too bad Motown chose to focus what little attention it gave to Mary, Scherrie & Susaye on the album’s more predictable dance recordings; this song is the one that deserves to be remembered and rediscovered.

5.  We Should Be Closer Together:  How do you top the weird, wild groove of “Come Into My Life”?  You don’t.  You follow it with a smooth, creamy ballad featuring an arrangement so gorgeous it’s almost heartbreaking to listen to, and you let Mary Wilson finally deliver the ballad performance fans always knew she was capable of giving.  “We Should Be Closer Together” is credited to a slate of names that will be familiar to fans of both The Supremes and/or Motown; the song was written by Brian Holland, Janie Bradford, Freddie Gorman, and Barbara Gaines.  Bradford, of course, is the woman who apparently came up with the name “Supremes,” having given founding member Florence Ballard a list of several possible names from which to choose back in 1961; Gorman, meanwhile, was a member of vocal group The Originals and co-wrote “I Want A Guy,” which became the first-ever Supremes single, released in 1961.  With that kind of artistic muscle, you’d hope that “We Should Be Closer Together” would be a song fit for Motown’s top female vocal group, and it is; it’s surely one of the label’s best ballads of the decade.  Arranged by the great James Carmichael, the song consists of a gauzy, easy-going instrumental that seems to be shrouded in fog; various sounds swell and fade into the track, creating a rich tapestry of sound upon which Mary Wilson places an accomplished lead vocal.  Although Wilson must be ranked as one of the best harmony singers in the business, her record as a lead vocalist had been a little spotty up until this point; she excelled at the right material, but her misty voice was also vulnerable to sounding “competent yet colorless,” as John Lowe wrote in his AllMusic review of this album.  That’s not the case here; Wilson mints a nicely restrained performance, and she’s helped out by Susaye Greene, who adds her emotional soprano to several key moments in the song.  The real star here, though, is the beautiful production; it virtually lays the blueprint for the airy ballads later made famous by Janet Jackson and her frequent collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, particularly in the achingly lovely final minute-and-a-half.  “We Should Be Closer Together” is easily among the very ballads recorded by the 70s Supremes, and is a high water mark for Mary Wilson during her years as a Supreme; had the song come just a few years later, it probably could have gained plenty of spins at Quiet Storm radio.

Billboard: November 13, 1976

6.  I Don’t Want To Be Tied Down:  This is the third knockout cut in a row; in terms of pure, hard-driving disco tracks on Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, this is the best.  It did gain some club play; it made the regional disco charts for Miami, New York, and Atlanta in Billboard, generally listed along with “Let Yourself Go” and “You’re My Driving Wheel,” and it was named a standout track in the magazine’s so-so review of the album in November of 1976.  It’s a shame Motown didn’t jump on this cut as the first single and really push it to radio; the crisp, funky production probably would have appealed to a broad audience of disco fans, soul lovers, and pop music buyers.  There are similarities here to first single “You’re My Driving Wheel,” but this is a more evenly-paced track; it’s got a hard-edge and angular rhythm, but never loses itself in a breathless beat.  Scherrie Payne gives a S-T-A-R performance, deserving of every single capital letter; she swaggers through the song with what is perhaps her toughest vocal as a Supreme, tearing into each verse and chorus as if she wrote the words herself.  Listen to the singer at 1:21, as she sings, “A domesticated life, hey/I ain’t ready for it, yet” and then follows the words with a gut-wrenching, “No!” — it’s one of the most thrilling moments on the entire album, and she does it again just as effectively a minute later.  Payne’s groupmates ably back her up, but this is really Scherrie’s recording from start to finish; it’s impossible to listen to this cut now and not wonder why the singer didn’t enjoy a bevy of solo hits following her time with The Supremes.  Beyond that, there’s a refreshing message of assertiveness in the song, which comes as a nice balance to the many years of “Please don’t leave me” and “Come see about me” begging by The Supremes; these ladies aren’t yearning or burning for anything except independence.

7.  You Are The Heart Of Me:  This is probably one of the best known latter-day Supremes cuts, thanks to the fact that it closed out the group’s fabulous 2000 four-disc box set and was performed by the trio a few times on television in promotion of this album (with what Don Cornelius of Soul Train called “some of the most unusual choreography that you’ll ever see.”).  Interestingly, the song wasn’t written for The Supremes; it had already been recorded by Dionne Warwick back in 1973 for the singer’s Holland-Dozier-Holland-produced LP Just Being Myself, which also featured her version of “Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You” (covered by The Supremes on High Energy).  As with the previous “We Should Be Closer Together,” this is a lushly-crafted ballad tailored to Mary Wilson’s straightforward alto; it’s a tighter song than the album’s other soul ballad, which is probably why the group chose to perform this one on television, but it doesn’t quite capture the same dreamy feeling.  The subtle differences begin right at the beginning, with a stark opening that lends the recording an unexpected coolness; although sweet strings take over, the orchestration never reaches the level of rapture one would expect for a song which declares, “You’re everything to me” over and over again.  Despite some orgasmic moans in the middle of the song, Mary Wilson never quite seems to hit that level of rapture, either; she delivers a fine, professional performance, but it comes off as too calculated to be completely engaging.  The flatness of this central performance also leads the song to feel repetitive; and the singer loosened up just a little bit (think about her tremendous live performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on In Japan!), it would have really helped sell the unabashed romanticism of the song’s message.  This isn’t to say “You Are The Heart Of Me” is a bad recording; I imagine it remains a favorite for many longtime Supremes fans.  In the end, though, its unusual orchestration and restrained vocals probably would have worked better on the trio’s previous LP, High Energy.

8.  Love I Never Knew You Could Feel So Good:  “[This] is the strongest cut, with the group at its vocal best.  There is a drive to this cut that is not only overwhelming, but also reveals a whole new dimension to the Supremes,” raved Tom Moulton in his Billboard “Disco Mix” column (November 20, 1976), and he’s certainly justified in calling this song’s drive “overwhelming.”  Mary, Scherrie & Susaye closes out exactly as it opened, with a recording that gallops forward with a fiery intensity; it forms a kind of trilogy with “You’re My Driving Wheel” and “Let Yourself Go” as densely packed tracks aimed squarely at the dancefloor.  It’s no surprise that this song hit #5 on the National Disco Action Top 40 chart (with the pair of aforementioned songs); it’s an easy one with which to work up a sweat.  That said, it falls into the same trap as the other two songs, packing so much into its running time that it’s hard to focus on anything aside from the pounding beat.  Thank God for Scherrie Payne, who once again plows through the lead vocal with awe-inspiring power and precision; she’s joined by Mary Wilson and Susaye Green for some great harmonies, too, something this album could have used more of.  But Payne really has to work not to be swallowed up by the dense musical track; it’s a thick, noisy recording, and the melody (with a refrain reminiscent of that featured on the far-superior “You’re What’s Missing In My Life,” from High Energy) just isn’t memorable enough to compete.  Certainly this song did what it was meant to do, which was to get people dancing in the clubs; unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up particularly well next to some of the more experimental material on the album.


The Supremes didn’t last long following the release of Mary, Scherrie & Susaye; when the album failed to chart following its October, 1976 release, Mary Wilson and her husband, Supremes managed Pedro Ferrer, made the decision that Wilson would go solo.  During a group appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” in 1977, Wilson commented that Marvin Gaye would produce an album for her, and that she was “doing a solo album for now and we’ll see what God and everyone has in store for us.”  The group’s final performance together came on June 12, 1977 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, during which Wilson told the crowd, “I do hope that you will give all your support, all the wonderful love you’ve given The Supremes all these years, to both Scherrie and Susaye in their endeavor, because they will be going on as The Supremes.”

Jet: January 19, 1978

Payne and Greene, of course, did not end up continuing on with the group; after a period of uncertainty, the duo released an album called Partners on Motown in 1979, the same year Wilson released her own solo album on the label (produced by Hal Davis, not Marvin Gaye).  It was a fairly quiet, unceremonious end to one of the most influential groups in music history, a far cry from the protracted extravaganza afforded the trio when Diana Ross left for a solo career in 1970.  Still, the music lives on; Mary, Scherrie & Susaye would finally get a CD and digital release in 2011, with the issue of Let Yourself Go: The 70s Albums, Vol. 2: 1974-1977 — The Final Sessions.  In reviewing the package for the BBC online, Daryl Easlea called this album a “minor masterpiece,” affording it a measure of respect it had often been denied.  Does this album equal the brilliance of More Hits By The Supremes or The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart or Love Child?  Of course not.  But very few albums do.  It is, however, an accomplished, unique addition to a catalog that deserves far more attention than it’s ever been given.

Final Analysis: 4/5 (A “Sweet” Studio Farewell)

Paul’s Picks:  “Come Into My Life,” “We Should Be Closer Together,” “I Don’t Want To Be Tied Down:

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High Energy (1976)

“In just a few hours, you showed me new dimensions…”

Although the 1975 album The Supremes was not a significant hit for Motown’s top female trio, the release proved there was still life in the group, particularly when it came to the burgeoning disco movement.  Songs like “He’s My Man,” “Color My World Blue,” “Early Morning Love,” and “Where Do I Go From Here” all caught the attention of club-goers; the latter two were particularly notable for being the work of brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, two-thirds of the team responsible for writing ten #1 hits for The Supremes during the previous decade.  Although Holland-Dozier-Holland had spent years in litigation with Motown, the Holland brothers (sans Dozier) were now working independently for the label; they were put in charge of the next new Supremes release, the bulk of which they wrote with Harold Beatty.  Beatty would later recall in the liner notes to the Supremes box set (released in 2002),  “I always liked the lushness of a symphony.  That’s where the concept for the High Energy album came about.”

Jet: November 24, 1966

Meanwhile, The Supremes underwent another lineup change just as it wrapped up recording High Energy.  Cindy Birdsong, who’d returned to the group after a brief break in 1972-1973, left again; in her 1990 memoir Supreme Faith, Mary Wilson details turmoil between Birdsong and the group’s then-manager Pedro Ferrer (who also happened to be Wilson’s husband).  To replace Birdsong, Ferrer and Wilson brought in singer-songwriter Susaye Greene, notable for singing backup for both Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and co-writing the huge hit “Free” by Deniece Williams.  Greene boasted a multi-octave range quite different from any Supreme voice before her; according to Harold Beatty, “Susaye was more like a Minnie Riperton — she could do the same things” (The Supremes booklet).  Although High Energy had already been recorded by the time Greene joined the group, her voice was added to the opening pair of tracks.

High Energy was released in April of 1976, just a few weeks after its first single, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking.”  The album and single quickly became the most successful releases by The Supremes in years; the LP peaked at #42 on the Billboard 200, the group’s second best showing since Diana Ross had left the group (only 1970’s Right On charter higher), and the single climbed to the Top 40, becoming the 33rd (and final) Top 40 pop hit for the group.  For Supremes fans, seeing the group back on the charts must have been thrilling, especially when joined by the names Brian and Eddie Holland.  That said, the album is really more a showcase for the lush production than for the featured singers; you’ll hear some absolutely stunning instrumental work on every cut, but some of the vocal work gets lost in the busy, sometimes bombastic arrangements.


New Music Express (NME): May 8, 1976

1.  High Energy:  Harold Beatty’s comment that the “lushness of a symphony” inspired High Energy certainly makes sense given this opening track, which isn’t so much a song as it is a “mood-setter” in its execution.  It’s ironic that this song is one of the lowest-energy tracks on the entire album; those expecting a dancefloor banger are instead greeted by a slow-groove, Middle Eastern-flavored number that sounds about one-step removed from the “Charlie’s Angels” theme song.  The production here is high-gloss all the way; sweeping strings and funk-lite keyboard work are layered in over a sizzling, clicking beat, the instrumental opening lasting a full two minutes before there’s a single note sung by The Supremes.  This is the kind of thing the Hollands never could have gotten away with during Motown’s heyday in the 1960s; the hook-conscious Berry Gordy, Jr. would have had a fit over such an extended intro.  But times had changed; it speaks volumes that we don’t hear any vocals for so long, making clear that the intended stars here are the production and the beat.  When The Supremes do finally come in, it’s Mary Wilson we hear first, offering a spoken passage in which she proclaims, “I will never share my man!”  It’s a silly little section, but at least Wilson seems to be having fun with it, exaggerating her already famously sexy voice for maximum effect.  She’s followed by Susaye Greene, in her formal introduction as a Supreme; again, although “High Energy” had already been recorded with Mary, Cindy, and Scherrie, Greene’s lead vocal was dubbed in before the release of the album.  It’s immediately clear that Susaye Greene will bring a new, exciting sound to the group; her high, lilting voice bears a much closer resemblance to that of Deniece Williams than Birdsong, Lynda Laurence, or any other Supreme.  Greene’s voice flutters up and down the scale here, notably hitting some glass-shattering high notes; although Greene had already been performing for most of her life, it’s still hard to believe this is her debut given the technical proficiency she displays.  According to Mary Wilson’s 1990 memoir Supreme Faith, Greene garnered a five-minute standing ovation during a stop on the group’s European tour promoting this album; Wilson would also write that Greene was a “catalyst” in making the other Supremes more free in their own vocal performances.  She certainly sounds amazing here, and her performance is ultimately better than the material; “High Energy” is a beautifully-produced piece of music, but its glossy sheen hides a lack of substance and throwaway lyric.   Still, disco fans loved it; according to the liner notes in The 70s Anthology, the song hit #1 on Billboard‘s Dance Chart/Club Play, listed alongside “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking.

Billboard: 1976

2.  I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking:  Released as the album’s first single on March 16, 1976 (backed with “Early Morning Love” from The Supremes), this song leapt up the Billboard Hot 100 to #40, then stalled there; it climbed to #25 on the R&B side and topped the Club Play chart, but it remains a mystery why it didn’t do any better on the pop charts.  Supremes fans could at least take solace that it added to the group’s run of Top 40 hits, becoming the first since 1972’s “Automatically Sunshine” to peak so high.  Led by thumping congas courtesy Eddie “Bongo” Brown and a stratospheric vocal by Scherrie Payne, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking” is a terrific dance cut, easily one of the best recorded by The Supremes and probably one of the best ever released by Motown.   Much of the credit for the song’s success must go to the bright, snappy production and the crisp, singable melody; unlike some other disco cuts recorded by The Supremes (and many other artists, to be fair), this song doesn’t rely on a beat to cover a lack of musicality.  The lyrics here can be seen as a forerunner to the 1978 monster hit “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor; both songs share an assertive message of independence and moving on from a failed relationship, although in this case the narrator is the one doing the leaving (incidentally, Dino Fekaris, one of the writers of “I Will Survive,” had previously worked at Motown and provided The Supremes and Four Tops with several songs the their 1971 joint LP The Return of the Magnificent Seven).  Scherrie Payne is absolutely the right singer to deliver the message here; her vocal is confident, powerful, and masterfully efficient.  Better yet, the Hollands again dubbed Susaye Greene into the mix here, her fluttering soprano adding colorful vocal flourishes; her sustained high notes during the climax at 2:30 are spine-tingling.  Again, although the song should have climbed even higher than #40 on the pop chart, it was a huge hit in the clubs; in its year-end issue, Billboard listed this song at #24 on a chart of disco tunes with the biggest audience response in 1976.  “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking” remains irresistible to this day.

3.  Only You (Can Love Me Like You Love Me):  Blaring horns announce the entrance of the next song, a sexy cut that’s sparked by a superb lead vocal from Scherrie Payne.  Aside from boasting powerful pipes and an impressive range, Payne is also clearly capable of producing some really interesting tones, as demonstrated by her opening lines here; her breathy delivery is unlike anything we’ve heard from her before on a Supremes recording.  The beat charges forward with an urban edge, as if the electricity of New York is pulsing through the track; in a way, it foreshadows the 1979 Crusaders hit “Street Life” in the way it seems to musically interpret the swagger of a city (by the way, musician Joe Sample, who plays keyboards on High Energy, was a founding member of The Crusaders and co-wrote “Street Life”).  Payne’s elastic vocal gets better and better as the number unfolds and she pleads, “Come on, love me now!” — there are times when the singer sounds a bit like Stephanie Mills in the way her voice bursts forth and skyrockets over the track.  Meanwhile, the singer is supported by perfectly delivered background vocals, with every Supreme offering up an engaging, energetic performance.  This cut also features really nice guitar solo at 2:00; it doesn’t last long, but it’s a great addition to the song, adding a little complexity to the repetitive disco arrangement.  I’m not sure who the featured guitarist is, but Ray Parker, Jr. (of future “Ghostbusters” fame) is one of the credited players on the LP; given his superb work on so many albums of the era, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that’s him on the solo.  While “Only You (Can Love Me Like You Love Me)” may not be a particularly original disco tune, it’s a really good one; it’s certainly only of the best inclusions on High Energy, and would have made a solid follow-up single to “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking” had one been issued.

4.  You Keep Me Moving On:  Not to be confused with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” a #1 hit for The Supremes back in 1966, this track was written by the Holland brothers along with Richard Davis and Hugh Wyche.  Think of this a “trial run” for the later Supremes single “You’re My Driving Wheel” (which would lead off the group’s next album, Mary, Scherrie & Susaye); both are frenzied, unruly disco cuts which depend on the sheer force of the group’s vocal performances to hold them together.  “You Keep Me Moving On” makes strange use of brief, racing musical vamps leading into each verse, which seem to be the musical equivalent of an accelerating car (listen at :21 to hear the first one); unfortunately, these little snippets sound quite cartoonish when listened to today.  The rest of the production is standard disco, with the typical chunky beat and slicing strings; the melody is also fairly limited, although it’s elevated by the dependable Miss Payne, who attacks the lyrics in one of her gutsiest readings yet.  The song’s greatest strength is in its refrain, which prominently features all three Supremes repeating “Moving, moving, moving, moving/Moving on!”  It’s not the most poetic thing the Hollands ever wrote, but it is catchy; it’s also nice to hear Mary, Scherrie, and Cindy really belt out the words, each unique vocal tone clearly audible.  Aside from the vocal performances, however, this just isn’t a particularly interesting cut to listen to; it probably got people dancing back in the day (which was it’s purpose, after all), but it doesn’t stand up against the preceding two  tracks, which both boast a clearer musical identity.

Billboard: December 25, 1976
The Supremes come in at #17 on Billboard’s list of the year’s top disco artists (and former lead singer Diana Ross charts at #4)

5.  Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You:  The album’s seconds side shifts focus away from disco and the raging vocals of Scherrie Payne; “Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You” is the first of three Mary Wilson-fronted ballads in a row, a trio of songs which drains energy from High Energy but at least provides a nice (and literal) change of pace.  This song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and notable musician Richard Wylie (a Motown recording artist, himself) and had been recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1973 album Just Being Myself, which was also produced by H-D-H.  Warwick’s version of the somber ballad was already arguably overproduced (AllMusic notes the “piping trumpets and cascading strings” of the album), and the Hollands ratchet it up a notch here, surrounding Mary Wilson a swirling storm of phased keyboards, church bells, sweeping violins, and a rather clunky wind instrument section.  It’s a lot to take in at first, but once the track quiets down a bit, it becomes clear just how good this song is; it’s a really satisfying soul ballad, with memorable lyrics and a pretty melody, and it finds a good match in Miss Wilson as vocalist.  Mary’s vocal is extremely controlled here, relaxed during the verses and passionate on the refrain, and she manages to just stay out front enough to not get swallowed up in the overblown arrangement.  Wilson’s leads as a Supreme have been a bit inconsistent up to this point, but this is easily one of the strongest; she displays a lot of soul in this performance, but never seems to be pushing too hard or singing beyond her range.  There’s also some lovely texture to her voice; I love the way her voice sounds slightly frayed at 1:31, as she sings the word “find,” giving the lyric another layer of resignation and melancholy.  It should be noted that an alternate mix first surfaced on The 70s Anthology, released in 2002, and it’s light years better; the instrumental is toned down considerably, placing even more attention on Wilson’s lead and the crisp, effective background vocals.  It’s too bad that wasn’t the mix included on the original album release; as it is, this is one of the best songs on the album, but the alternate mix is one of the standouts of the entire Supremes discography.

6.  Till The Boat Sails Away/I Don’t Want To Lose You:  Although compact disc and digital download reissues of High Energy split these into two selections, the original album release listed this pair of songs as a single track on the album label, and the two are musically connected by the producers so that one seamlessly flows into the next.  “Till The Boat Sails Away” was penned by the Hollands, Harold Beatty, and Barry Payne; it’s a slow, meandering ballad that lacks the focus of the previous cut, not to mention a particularly strong melody or lyric.  The producers start the track with the sound of rolling ocean waves; it’s a nice touch, and gives way to another Middle Eastern-inspired flourish which harkens back to the album’s opening track.  The problems begin when Mary Wilson starts singing; the arrangement is so incredibly slow and bland that she sounds like she’s drowning in those ocean waves.  The song desperately needs a singer with a more buoyant voice, one to lightly bob around the melody instead of dragging it down; unfortunately, Wilson’s dusky alto just can’t get the job done, even when she’s singing with more power toward the song’s climax.  Again she’s not helped much by the material; with all due respect to the talented writers and producers, this one sounds more like a syrupy Carpenters b-side than a production meant for The Supremes.  Eventually the tracks fades into nothing but the sound of a tolling bell, which immediately bleeds into the lush “I Don’t Want To Lose You,” a song penned by Philadelphia soul legends Thom Bell and Linda Creed and recorded by The Spinners for the 1975 LP Pick Of The Litter; it was featured as the b-side of that group’s fabulous #1 R&B hit “Games People Play.”  Produced by Bell for The Spinners, “I Don’t Want To Lose You” was a stripped-down, keyboard-heavy ballad; The Hollands wrap the entire thing up in a warm, fuzzy sweater of symphonic strings.  It’s a beautiful production, but again, once Mary Wilson starts singing, things go downhill; in this case, the singer gives a performance so unadorned and low-key that it barely registers.  Aside from her spoken whispers throughout the song, there doesn’t seem to be even a glimmer of passion in Wilson’s delivery; for someone who practically defines the word “smolder,” it’s a disappointment.  It’s also a shame that with a Philly soul song like this, tailor-made for gorgeous group work, the vocal arrangement skimps on three-part harmony; the backgrounds are mainly quick, staccato echoes that don’t make use of the trio’s talent and only really come alive at the very end.  A year later, singer Phyllis Hyman would cover this song on her debut album; it’s a spectacular version and demonstrates just how good the song is.  The best thing about this version is the beautiful instrumental track and the way the producers delicately tie it together with the preceding song, but those elements aren’t enough to keep it from being a low point on High Energy.

Billboard: February 5, 1977

7.  You’re What’s Missing In My Life:  Here’s the good news — after Mary Wilson practically sleepwalks through the previous medley of ballads, she wakes up and brings tremendous grit and energy to this great disco cut, arranged as a duet with the fiery Scherrie Payne.  Written by the Hollands and Harold Beatty again, the song begins with a series of fluttering musical flourishes that work in the context of the “symphony” concept of the album, but otherwise sound unnecessary.  But once the track opens up, it becomes an upbeat, jazzy soul number irresistible both on and off the dancefloor.  The musicians are really popping here; from the funky bassline to the sparkling keyboards, there’s a real joy and sophistication in the playing that immediately elevates the track.  When Miss Wilson begins singing, she absolutely tears into the material; her “I thought the I was fulfilled” at 1:06 is so powerful it would be easy to confuse her for Scherrie.  In fact, as the ladies trade lines back and forth, it’s a bit difficult to tell them apart, which is a huge complement to both.  The melody is strong here, and paired with snappy, eloquent lyrics impossible not to sing along with; lines such as, “I had a hunger I never knew/Until we loved and you fed it” could have come straight from one of the classic H-D-H songs of the 1960s.  In the end, “You’re What’s Missing In My Life” emerges as the strongest cut on High Energy after the album’s first (and only) single; it’s incredible that Motown wouldn’t think to release this song in the wake of the Top 40 success of “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking.”  Instead, Motown singer G.C. Cameron (former lead singer of The Spinners, and the man who led that group’s 1970 hit “It’s A Shame”) got it as a single; a cover of the song would become the title track of his 1977 album produced by Brian Holland.  Cameron’s version is great; his throaty vocals recall Marvin Gaye a bit, and he really sinks his teeth into the melody.  Both versions demonstrate the overall strength of the song; it’s too bad The Supremes didn’t get the chance to take it to the charts, too.


The AllMusic review of High Energy calls it “perhaps the most vigorous (and best) album of [The Supremes’] latter-day career,” and many fans will likely agree with that assessment.  It’s a cohesive, opulent set with top-notch production and instrumental work; the way little orchestral riffs tie many of the songs together is really sophisticated.  But there are a few clunkers here, and the vocal work is uneven; it’s a solid album, but it doesn’t quite transcend the disco genre, largely because of that unevenness.  Interestingly, another song recorded during these sessions, “There’s Room At The Top,” was left in the vaults and wouldn’t find release until 2002’s The 70s Anthology; it’s a great song, and could have replaced one of the weaker cuts here.  Still, High Energy delivered a measure of success that The Supremes hadn’t experienced in quite some time, and led to an immediate return date to the studio with the Holland brothers — a move that would result in an even better album.

Final Analysis: 3.5/5 (The Hollands Deliver Much-Needed “Energy”)

Paul’s Picks: “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking,” “You’re What’s Missing In My Life,” “Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You”

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