Supremely sad: Mary Wilson, RIP

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Mary WilsonThe story goes that elementary school girls Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard entered a talent contest. By 1959, they became part of a group called the Primettes, along with a couple of other girls from the Detroit projects, Diane Ross and Betty McGlown. McGlown was replaced by Barbara Martin.

The group changed its name from the Primettes to the Supremes. Martin left, and they went forward as a trio. They were immediately…not very successful. A half dozen songs, none of which cracked the pop Top 40. They were the “no-hit Supremes.”

The group was offered a song the Marvelettes didn’t want, Where Did Our Love Go, written by Holland-Dozier-Holland. They were resistant to recording someone else’s rejects. It went to #1, as did several more tracks. They were the second most successful group on the singles charts in the 1960s.

And the Supremes were the epitome of style with appearances on the Ed Sullivan a dozen times, plus several other music shows. They were not just singers but role models, with their hair, makeup and outfits fastidiously tended to.

But Diana, who had changed her name at the beginning of their successful run, was now getting virtually all of the leads. Mary and Flo were doing a lot of background vocals, which got a bit boring.

By 1967, the billing changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes, to Flo’s dismay. Very long story short, Florence was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. But it was clear that Diana was considered the singular star.

Mary and Cindy didn’t even appear on seven later singles including I’m Livin’ in Shame, The Composer, and Someday We’ll Be Together, though, of course, they appeared on the live version of the latter.


Jean Terrell took Diana’s slot, but Mary got more chances to sing lead. And she kept the “new” Supremes together, with a rotating cast of members, until 1977.

After a series of legal wranglings, Mary Wilson became the keeper of the Supremes’ flame, writing four books with the word “Supreme” in the title. The one in 2019 was Supreme Glamour.

In 2003, she was “named a US cultural ambassador by the State Department, touring the world and talking to young people about the dangers of HIV and AIDS…

“The family asked that friends and fans support the United Negro College Fund or the Humpty Dumpty Institute. The latter group helps in landmine clearance projects around the world. Wilson… was a spokesperson for the group.”

Some songs

Mary Wilson sang or shared the lead on these, and a few others:

1962: Baby Don’t Go (from Meet The Supremes)
1965: It Makes No Difference Now (From The Supremes Sing Country, Western, and Pop)
1966: Come and Get These Memories  (from The Supremes A’ Go-Go)
1967 Falling in Love with Love (from The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart)
1969: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (from Together -Diana Ross and the Supremes, and The Temptations)
1972: A Heart Like Mine  (from Floy Joy)
1972: I Keep It Hid  (from The Supremes, Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb)
1975: Early Morning Love (from The Supremes)
1975: You Turn Me Around (from The Supremes)
1976: Til The Boat Sails Away (from High Energy)

She was a March Pisces like I am, so I had a certain particular affection for her. Here’s my post from Mary’s 70th birthday in 2014, with links to more familiar Supremes fare.

Music throwback: When I turned 4 plus 10

Freddie Scott’s best showing on the POP charts was Hey Girl, a song written and composed by him, Gerry Goffin and Carole King

One of the those social media memes claims that the song that was #1 on birthday number 4 plus 10 defines your life. Well, that’s ominous.

If I go to the Billboard Hot 100, it gives me Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone by THE SUPREMES, #1 for just a week. Oh, thanks a lot.

But that’s for the week of March 11, because of the way they calculate these things. What about if I cheat and pick the week before, which actually runs through my natal day? That would be Ruby Tuesday by THE ROLLING STONES. At work, my on-the-phone day has been Tuesday for many years, so maybe that’s significant.

Hey, maybe I should look at the soul charts. (Sigh). Same sad SUPREMES song. But for the FOUR weeks before, there’s Are You Lonely For Me by Freddie Scott. I had heard it, but I don’t KNOW it like I recognize the others. Probably it’s because it only got to #39 on the pop charts.

His best showing on the POP charts was Hey Girl, a song written and composed by him, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, which went to #10 on both the pop and soul charts in 1963.

Not incidentally, the Billboard R&B charts were not published between November 30, 1963 and January 23, 1965, ostensibly because there was so much crossover, though the breakout of both the Beatles and Motown in 1964 would suggest otherwise.

Freddie Scott’s next two top 100 pop hits were I Got A Woman, #48 pop in 1963 and Where Does Love Go, #82 pop in 1964. They did get to #27 and #30 on the comparable Cash Box R&B charts.

The “correct” song on the country charts for me is The Fugitive by Merle Haggard. But the song that was #1 for two weeks before March 11 AND the two weeks afterwards is Where Does The Good Times Go by Buck Owens, not only a sad lyric, but ungrammatical to boot.

Listen to:

The Supremes – Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone
The Rolling Stones – Ruby Tuesday

Merle Haggard – The Fugitive
Buck Owens – Where Does The Good Times Go

Songs by Freddie Scott:
Hey Girl
Are You Lonely For Me Baby
I Got a Woman
Where Does Love Go

Chuck turned 14 in 1977. Poor Chuck.

Conversely, Dustbury was born correctly.

Music Throwback Saturday: Am I Asking Too Much

R Dean Taylor had an unlikely Motown hit of his own, Indiana Wants Me

Supremes.neverOne of the earlier compact discs I bought was The Never-Before-Released Masters by Diana Ross and the Supremes. It was definitely a mixed bag of songs from 1961 through 1969 that represented both major iterations of the group: Mary Wilson and Diana Ross with the late Florence Ballard, and after the group name change, with Cindy Birdsong.

Among other things, the album contains recordings for the unreleased album Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing Disney Classics, not my favorite section of the collection. And the cover of the Classics IV hit Stormy is unnecessary. I do enjoy some of the covers of other Motown artists.

My favorite song on the album is Am I Asking Too Much. It was written by R. Dean Taylor and Deke Richards, R Dean Taylor had an unlikely Motown hit of his own, Indiana Wants Me, #5 pop on the Billboard pop charts in 1970. Deke Richards died of esophageal cancer on March 24, 2013, at age 68.

The songwriting credits immediately suggested the Diana/Mary/Cindy period, since most of their earlier hits were by Holland/Dozier/Holland. Indeed, Taylor and Richards were co-writers on the #1 hit Love Child. Am I Asking Too Much was recorded on March 26, 1968, according to the Don’t Forget The Motor City website.

Listen to:

Am I Asking Too Much – Diana Ross and the Supremes HERE

Sweet Thing (William Robinson-Terry Johnson-Al Cleveland) – Diana Ross and the Supremes HERE or HERE

Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor HERE or HERE

Mary Wilson of the Supremes is 70

Maybe the choreography, with the STOP hand gestures, was corny, but I loved it.

Also used for Round 15 of ABC Wednesday, S is for Supremes.

Flo, Mary, Diana
Flo, Mary, Diana

They were the Primettes, a sister group of the pre-Temptations Primes. Shortly after they became the Supremes in 1961, Barbara Martin left the quartet, and they became a trio: Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross. The nickname around Motown, unfortunately, was the “No-Hit Supremes” in 1962 and 1963 with A Breath Taking Guy their biggest hit (#75 in 1963). Their fate seemed to be backup singers. (LISTEN to Can I Get A Witness by Marvin Gaye from 1963.)

Suddenly, starting in mid-1964, a string of #1 hits, including five in a row, and eventually an even dozen.

I loved the Supremes, and I bought even their oddball albums that Berry Gordy had them do to show their range, such as A Bit of Liverpool; The Supremes Sing Country, Western, and Pop; We Remember Sam Cooke; and The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart. Among other things, it allowed Mary and Flo to take an occasional lead vocal.

Around the time the powerhouse songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown c. 1967, the Supremes became Diana Ross and the Supremes, with Cindy Birdsong replacing Florence, who would die less than a decade later of cardiac arrest. The hits slowed, though they did some interesting work with the Temps, and Diana became a solo act by 1970.

The group persevered with Mary, Cindy, and Jean Terrell, then a series of other singers, as noted on Mary Wilson’s webpage. Here’s a 2011 interview with Mary.

Favorite Supremes songs – LINKS to all:

25. You Can’t Hurry Love (from Supremes A’ Go-Go, 1966.) One of those “Lesson” songs. Listen to your mama! #1 for 2 weeks in 1966

24. Come See About Me (from Where Did Our Love Go, 1964.) One of those breakthrough early hits, #1 for 2 weeks in 1964.

23. When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes (from WDOLG). The group’s first Top 40 hit, #23 in 1964.

22. Baby Love, from WDOLG. Loved “been missin’ ya, miss kissin’ ya.” Another #1 in 1964.

21. Am I Asking Too Much (from The Never-Before-Released Masters, 1987). This is one of those compilation CDs I got that has a bunch of songs from 1961 to 1969, including a bunch of Disney songs from an abortive album. This song was written by R. Dean Taylor and the late Deke Richards; the latter co-wrote Love Child and the early Jackson 5 hits, so this probably was recorded c. 1968.

20. Nathan Jones (from Touch, 1971) – this post-Ross song I didn’t really get into until it appeared on the soundtrack for the 1988 film Rain Man. Went to #16 in ’71.

19. I’ll Try Something New (from Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, 1968). This song only went to #25 in 1969 (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me was the big hit), but I love how the voices trade-off here.

18. It Makes No Difference Now (from The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop, 1965). I like how the lead vocals are traded.

17. My World Is Empty Without You (from I Hear A Symphony, 1966). This song is so flexible, it was re-recorded as a tribute to Berry Gordy. The hit was #5 in ’66.

16. Going Down For The Third Time (from The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, 1967). My favorite album, almost certainly, and this album cut has that wonderful “Praise be!” from Mary and Flo.

15. Up the Ladder to the Roof (from Right On, 1970). At some level, I REALLY wanted the post-Ross Supremes to succeed, and this first single, #10 in 1970, seemed like a good start.

14. Try It Baby (from DR&SJT). This cover of a Marvin Gaye song starts with the wonderful bass voice of Melvin Franklin, reason enough to like it.

13. Some Day We’ll Be Together (from Cream of the Crop, 1969). The group was already readying for the next transition. The song is Diana with anonymous backup singers, though Diana, Mary and Cyndi do eventually sing it live on the Farewell album months later.

12. Honey Bee (from Love Child, 1968). I’m a sucker for songs featuring the pollinators. Tom Petty has a similarly named song.

11. Love Child (LC). A #1 song from 1968, I appreciated the fact that Mary and Cindi got to sing “scorned by”, instead of merely echoing everything Diana sang.

10. I Want A Guy (Meet the Supremes, 1962). Their first single as The Supremes in 1961, it went nowhere, but I loved the organ especially.

9. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (from SSH-D-H). A #1 single in late 1966, weird stereo of the time threw the sound from one speaker to the other. It was such a compelling storyline, Vanilla Fudge covered it on its eponymous first album.

8. Reflections (from Reflections, 1968). Their first single after Cindi replaced Flo, the single came out in 1967, going to #2, months before the album was released. On some Motown album, Mary described it as a “weird, weird song,” referring to the intro. I fell in love with it again when it was used as the theme for the TV show China Beach.

7. Where Did Our Love Go (from Where Did Our Love Go, 1964). The first hit single (#1 for two weeks in 1964) from the first hit album (#2, probably blocked by some Beatles LP). There is a wonderful purity of sound that’s so attractive.

6. Keep An Eye (from LC). “There used to be three of us seen all over town…” Great song of warranted paranoia.

5. Remove This Doubt (from SSH-D-H). Elvis Costello covered this, but I prefer the original. Breaks my heart.

4. Stop! In the Name of Love (from More Hits by the Supremes, 1965). Maybe the choreography, with the STOP hand gestures, was corny, but I loved it. Also that ascending organ line before the vocals. #1 for two weeks in 1965.

3. I Hear A Symphony (from I Hear A Symphony, 1966). While I love the songs that depend on the bass line, and the Supremes have a bunch of those, I also love this change-of-pace tune, which hit #1 for two weeks in 1965.

2. Buttered Popcorn (from MTS). Another non-hit single from 1961, with Florence Ballard on the wonderful lead vocals.

1. Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart (from SAGG). A massively successful album (#1 for two weeks), though the single only went to #9 in 1966. But I’m a sucker for its bottom sound.

Melancholy Quintet of Songs

All you people who complain about all those sappy, romantic songs, these are for you

On Valentine’s Day, people are always playing these lovey-dovey songs. It being roughly six months from that holiday, I thought I would link to some of those songs I used to play when I broke up with someone. Haven’t done that in well over a decade, fortunately, yet the songs themselves still make me melancholy. It’s strange how music still holds its sway.

The Supremes – Remove This Doubt. You may know this from the Elvis Costello cover, but the original is from one of my favorite Motown albums of the 1960s, The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. Funny thing that most of the time in their hit period, they WERE singing H-D-H.

Aretha Franklin – Sweet Bitter Love. From Aretha’s Columbia Records period. I also have the Roberta Flack version, but QoS’ version is better.

Jane Olivor–My first night alone without you. Also, have the Bonnie Raitt version. Got the Olivor version by accident, with someone giving me the “wrong” birthday present. But I never corrected it.

Roberta Flack – Gone Away. On my top 10 song list.

Lorraine Ellison – Stay with me. Among others, Bette Midler recorded this. The Ellison version I found on a Warner Brothers lost leader album, though memory suggests it was first recorded on Mercury Records.
Description; lyrics; recording.

So all you people who complain about all those sappy, romantic songs: these are for you. And here’s some advice on how not to get your heart broken.

Picture courtesy of The Bad Chemicals.

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