Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: ‘The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland’ Expanded Edition

The covers-laden Supremes A-Go Go was significant because it was the first LP by an all female group to top the Billboard charts, but a much greater musical achievement was The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. With Where Did Our Love Go and More Hits, Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland completed the trio constituting the hit-single makers’ finest albums. The hits—brooding “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”; ethereal “Love Is Here and Now Your Gone”—are among The Supremes’ finest, and might be Motown’s first official acknowledgment of the psychedelic era. Many of the non-hits are nearly as wonderful. Di, Flo, and Mary are at their most ecstatic on the shoulda-been-a-hit “There’s No Stopping Us Now”, their most haltingly dramatic on “Remove This Doubt”, their most grindingly raw on “Going Down for the Third Time”. The other songs that weren’t made famous by other Motown artists are groovy too (only the slightly cornball “Love Is In Our Hearts” is a bit flimsy) and the redundant covers are kept to a relatively minimal three. So don’t be fooled by its generic title and cover. The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland is essentially The Supremes’ Revolver: eclectic, a bit dark, a bit trippy, but always colorfully inviting.

Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland is the latest Supremes album to get the expanded, double-disc treatment from Universal Music. Along with very good-sounding presentations of its mono and stereo mixes (no debate here: the mono mix buries the imbalanced stereo one, though the way the morse-code guitar line of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” flits from channel to channel in the stereo mix is pretty neat), there are numerous bonus tracks, the centerpiece of which is a live set at the Copa from May1967. Like the unlistenable second side of The Four Tops’ On Top, this set is one of Motown’s weird attempts to force a teen-oriented act to appeal to boring old people. The big band arrangements are very cabaret, as is the emphasis on show tunes and standards. The group’s biggest early hits are compressed into a medley and “You Can’t Hurry Love” is played at blinding speed, both suggesting that the Powers That Be wanted The Supremes to get the teeny bopper stuff over with as quickly as possible. It’s all so stodgy and stagy that a relatively stripped down “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” stirs visions of a horde of young punks crashing mom and dad’s cocktail party. Diana Ross was also suffering from a cold that shot her voice. Yet the recording is nicely polished and there is significant historic importance since this was the last concert the group recorded before the sad departure of Florence Ballard.

More musically valuable is the inclusion of the peachy single “The Happening” and its fine flip-side “All I Know About You” (though in odd mixes that allow the songs to peter out instead of fade), a powerfully orchestrated revision of “You’re Gone But Always in My Heart”, and a cool extended remix of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” along the lines of the remix of “Love Is Like an Itchin’ in My Heart” that stood out on last year’s deluxe A-Go Go. There are also two booklets worth of vintage press material, a new interview with Lamont Dozier, track notes, essays, an annotated timeline, and lots of period photos. A splashy package, indeed, but the original album in its mono mix remains the uncontested star attraction of The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland: Expanded Edition.

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