In the sixties, the hits that Hitsville USA churned out were intended to be spun at 45 RPMs. Motown brass was a lot less interested in making high-quality long players, though that didn’t stop quite a few from slipping out anyway. The label’s biggest stars, The Supremes, had some of the best with rock-solid LPs such as Where Did Our Love Go, More Hits by The Supremes, The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Reflections. 1966’s The Supremes A’ Go-Go was not one of these, as it leaned way too hard on remakes of past hits. Not only are The Supremes’ versions of “This Old Heart of Mine”, “Shake Me, Wake Me”, “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, and “Get Ready” redundant by their very nature, but Diana Ross’s reserved vocals also pale in comparison to The Isley Brothers, Four Tops, and Temptations’ blood-letting performances. Mary Wilson does a more convincing job of holding her own against performances past with her lead on “Come and Get These Memories”, but it still doesn’t quite measure up to Martha Reeves.
Nevertheless, The Supremes A’ Go-Go was a milestone album because it has the distinction of being the first album by an all-female group to top the Billboard chart, and it did so on the strength of two of The Supremes’ very best hits: the joyful “You Can’t Hurry Love” and the grinding “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart”. There are also a couple of interesting covers that don’t invite unflattering comparisons with past Motown hits. Ross still sounds like she’s checking her watch on a version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking”, but the arrangement is very cool with a sort of Twilight Zone guitar riff running underneath the whole thing, and she rouses herself sufficiently for a set-closing take on “Hang on Sloopy”. A chunky version of Barrett Strong’s “Money”is the one Motown remake that gets sufficiently imaginative with the arrangement and on which Ross gets herself sufficiently worked up.
According to UMe’s new double-disc expanded edition, Motown was not holding back a ton of choice originals when compiling The Supremes A’ Go-Go (which is presented on this set in mono and stereo). There’s “Misery Makes Its Home in My Heart”, which would find a home on Reflections in 1968, and “Don’t Let True Love Die”, which definitely would have been a welcome addition to A’ Go-Go. For the most part there were a lot of other covers that both tossed the Motown closet (“Mickey’s Monkey”, “It’s the Same Old Song”, “Uptight”, “In My Lonely Room”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, “Can I Get a Witness”, and even a radically different remake of The Supremes’ own “Mother Dear”) and looked elsewhere through the current charts for material. For those who find Tom Jones’s crotch-powered crooning a bit too smarmy, The Supremes’ rendition of “It’s Not Unusual” might prove the preferred version. Needless to say, they do not best Jagger with their take on “Satisfaction”, but at least it is very much its own thing, combining Keef’s fuzzed out riffing with the brass the Stones really wanted on their signature hit. There are also fine versions of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which sports some choice contrapuntal vocal lines. Most of these tracks would eventually see release, but the new expanded set presents them with alternate vocals or mixes, many of which emphasize spine-tingling a cappella lines or reveal neat spoken asides caught on tape during the sessions. A couple of all-new mixes are unexpectedly killer bonuses. For those who miss Levi Stubbs on “Shake Me, Wake Me”, the set offers a groovy new Supremes/Four Tops mash up of the track built on the original Tops backing track. A six-minute remix of “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart” will stop your heart with its dramatic backing-track drop out and drop in. Its also nice to have all of these tracks finally collected in a chronologically honest fashion, and the fact that UMe has resumed its expanded editions of The Supremes’ catalogue is a promising sign that we might be able to expect expanded editions of knock outs Where Did Our Love Go, The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Reflections before too long.