Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reflections - Diana Ross and the Supremes

Diana Ross and the Supremes
Motown 665

I was a big Motown fan as young teen.  The first record I ever bought was a Jackson 5 single and one of the first non-Beatles albums I bought was Diana Ross and the Supremes' "Greatest Hits" which I played all the time.  As I got older, I lost my appetite for Motown preferring the grittier sound of the Atlantic and Stax soul artists.  By the time "The Big Chill" came out and made Motown popular again I was thoroughly fed up with most of their music, aside from Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.  That hasn't changed all that much, I still don't play my Motown albums very often.  I do have a soft spot for the Supremes though.  Like most of the Motown artists, the group is best served by comps, none of their albums are essential, all of the ones I own have too much filler.  This is one of the better ones though.  It was a transitional album, the beginning of the end in some respects.  Original Supreme Florence Ballard was being forced out of the group.  Her replacement, Cindy Birdsong is on the cover of the record.  The record marks the end of the group's collaboration with Holland-Dozier-Holland who had been largely responsible for their sound and their hits.  They deliver several excellent songs on their swansong with the group including "In and Out of Love" and "I Can't Make It Alone" which recall the classic Supremes sound and a couple of more modern sounding numbers in "Forever Came Today" and "Reflections" which foreshadow the future sound of the group.  Side one of this record is first rate, one of my favorite Motown sides.  There is not a bad song on it, 3 memorable hit singles in "Reflections," "Forever Came Today" and "In and Out of Love" plus "I'm Going To Make It," "I Can't Make It Alone" and the passionate Brenda Holloway composition "Bah-Bah-Bah."  Unfortunately side two is the usual filler crap.  I like Diana Ross, but I think she is very limited as a singer.  What she does, she does really well, but she is not very versatile.  Side two is full of lackluster covers where she gets soundly trounced.  Jackie DeShannon's version of "What The World Needs Now is Love" is infinitely superior to the cover offered here.  Ross just sounds bored on it.  Dionne Warwick did it much better as well.  The Supremes lose to both the Fifth Dimension and the Sunshine Company when they tackle "Up, Up and Away."  Somehow they manage to suck all the life out of that normally exuberant song.  Labelmate Martha Reeves (who really can sing) gets bragging rights on "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)."  The cover of "Ode To Billie Joe" is practically embarrassing.  Fortunately Smokey Robinson salvages the side with two terrific songs, "Then" and "Misery Makes It's Home In My Heart."  The man was unquestionably the greatest songwriter to come out of Motown, and yes that includes Michael Jackson.  Eight good songs out of twelve is a pretty decent ratio, especially for a Motown album.  Unless you have a thing for the Supremes you probably don't need this record but I think most 60s pop music fans will find something worthwhile on it.  Recommended for people who are tired of hearing the same old Motown hits over and over again.

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