The Supremes were the world’s most successful girl group of the 1960s. They enjoyed 12 number ones in the US and provided a springboard to a solo career for Diana Ross. The group hit big in Europe too. After appearing as part of a Motown tour of Britain and on a Ready, steady, go! TV special, hosted by Dusty Springfield, they became one of the label’s biggest-selling acts in Britain.
Here, we present a European tribute to the trio, featuring their recordings in German and Italian and a selection of cover versions by British, French, German and Italian female singers from the 1960s.
Soundalike follow ups were very common back in the 1960s – and nowhere more so than at Motown. Baby love followed hot on the heels of The Supremes’ debut hit, Where did our love go, in 1964 and reused the baby-baby refrain to great effect. It also proved the bigger hit. In Europe, the song gave the group their only UK number one and was also a top 20 hit in Germany.
It was common practice at the time for homegrown singers to record national versions of international hits. In Germany, little-known singer Maria Martin did the honours, while in France and Italy, Annie Philippe and Carmen Villani, respectively, stepped in.
Back in my arms again
In the US, the pressure was really on Diana, Florence and Mary to keep up their run of chart toppers when this track was released in 1965. The song – another Holland-Dozier-Holland composition – didn’t let them down.
In Europe, however, it proved less popular, reaching number 40 in Britain and number 34 in Germany. In France, singer Katty Line covered it, and her N’hésite pas quand l’amour t’appelle remains a favourite among fans of femme pop.
Come see about me
Proficiency in English wasn’t as common in mainland Europe back in the 1960s as it is now, and many big artists of the day re-recorded their songs in other languages to increase their chances of chart success.
For the German market, The Supremes found themselves covering their third American number one as Jonny and Joe. Surprisingly, the result was consigned to the B-side of their final German-language release, Thank you darling (see below).
In France, girl group Les OP’4 had a crack at the song, transforming it into Ils sont si gentils.
I hear a symphony
In the States, I hear a symphony followed the release of Nothing but heartaches, which had peaked at number 11 – hardly a flop but certainly disappointing after a straight run of five number ones. I hear a symphony proved just the ticket, adding a further chart topper to the trio’s tally.
It was less successful in Europe, where only the Brits bought it in sufficient quantities to make it a hit (and even then, it reached only number 39). Swedish singer Siw Malmkvist covered it for the German market as Wie eine Symphonie – but not as single. Instead it was a track on her 1969 LP Today. (She also recorded it in Swedish as Jag hoer en symfoni.)
I’m gonna make you love me
The Supremes – or, more accurately, Diana Ross and The Supremes, as they were called by then – teamed up with The Temptations in 1968 to record a couple of albums and a TV special, TCB. They also issued this song as a single. It had been a US top 30 hit earlier that year for UK-based US singer Madeline Bell and had originally been recorded two years earlier by Dee Dee Warwick.
Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations scored a big hit with their version, reaching number two in the States and number three in the UK.
Love is here and now you’re gone
Eddie Holland had the idea of adding spoken passages for Diana Ross and it became a technique she would employ to great effect, both with The Supremes and, later, as a soloist. This song, which, in March 1967, gave the group their ninth US number one, made use of this ‘talk singing’, as Holland called it.
In Europe, the disc proved less popular, though it spawned a terrific cover by little-known Italian singer Elisabetta, titled Mi mandi via.
Moonlight and kisses
Here’s an idea. Take a US number one – Where did our love go – and issue it as the B-side to one of the most mediocre German compositions in the history of pop… Even though the A-side, Moonlight and kisses, had been penned by two of Germany’s top songwriters, Werner Scharfenberger and Fini Busch, the thinking behind the move remains highly questionable.
Stop! In the name of love
This song had ‘hit’ written all over it – and so it proved. It spent two weeks at the top of the charts in the US in the spring of 1965.
It was also one of the group’s most successful releases in Europe. In Britain, it became the first release on the Tamla Motown label (earlier Motown records had been issued through the London American, Fontana and Oriole labels). The song reached number seven in the UK and it was their only 45 to make the top 30 in France. In Germany, the original was the girls’ biggest seller, making number three and spending four months on the charts.
Such was its popularity that before the end of its chart run, German girl group the Jacob Sisters also charted with their version, Was hab’ ich dir getan. In Italy, Rome’s Renata Pacini performed the Italian take on the song, In nome dell’amore, at the 1966 Cantagiro song contest, while in France, girl group Les Fizz cut a version, Stop, tu n’as plus le droit.
Thank you darling
Again, a US chart topper was overlooked in favour of a decidedly average German original for The Supremes’ second German-language outing. The same songwriters behind Moonlight and kisses (see above) came up with Thank you darling, while Jonny and Joe (the translation of Come see about me) was relegated to the B-side. The move gave the girls a top 20 hit in spring 1965, so maybe bosses at CBS knew what they were doing after all.
The happening marked a first – and a last – for The Supremes. It was the first since the group had hit big in 1964 to credit another writer: in this case, Frank de Vol. But it was the last to be issued before Florence was sacked unceremoniously and the group’s name changed to give Diana top billing.
The song reached number six in the UK. In Germany, Joy and the Hit Kids recorded it as Zweisamkeit. Joy later found fame in her own right as the larger-than-life (in more ways than one) Joy Fleming. Meanwhile, in Sweden, Siw Malmkvist issued her version of the song, En hipp häpp happening, as a single.
When the lovelight starts shining thru his eyes
Prior to the release of this track in the US, Diana, Florence and Mary had earned themselves the unenviable moniker ‘The No Hit Supremes’ in the Motown stable. This song put an end to those jibes. Nevertheless, few could have foreseen quite how popular the group would become.
However, the song almost went under the radar in Europe. Britain’s Dusty Springfield became something of an ambassador for the Motown stable, encouraging bosses at Rediffusion to transmit a special edition of their flagship music programme, Ready steady go!, which she hosted. So it is no surprise that she was among the first to record a Motown cover. Her version of When the lovelight starts shining through his eyes was included on her debut solo LP, A girl called Dusty.
Where did our love go
The Marvelettes famously turned this track down, and The Supremes weren’t falling over themselves to record it either. However, it gave them their first US number one and provided the model for subsequent releases.
In the UK, the song also provided a breakthrough hit, reaching number three in the charts in the autumn of 1964. In Germany, the original made the top 20 and the group also recorded it in German. However, Baby, Baby, wo ist unsere Liebe was issued as the B-side to the German original composition Moonlight and kisses (see above).
Quite why French girl group Les Gam’s chose the song for their sole foray across the border into Germany is anyone’s guess, and their somewhat vanilla version failed to sell. Meanwhile, back in France, Marianne Mille recut the song as Pourquoi est-il parti, and in Italy, Anna Maria Izzo used her translated version – retitled Piano – to launch her solo career.
You can’t hurry love
Motown had tried and tried to break The Supremes in Italy but to no avail. Desperate measures were called for, and so the girls found themselves singing an Italian translation of their seventh US chart topper. They were by no means the only Motown act to do so – the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations, amongst others, all recorded in Italian too. However, L’amore verrà still didn’t give the girls the hit they’d hoped for and they didn’t bother again.
In Britain, The Supremes’ original reached number three in the charts. In Germany, Mary Roos’s Die Liebe kommt leis’ was issued as the B-side of her 1972 Eurovision song contest entry, Nur die Liebe lässt uns leben. In France, Madagascan brother-and-sister sixsome Les Surfs released a version retitled C’est grâce à toi.
You keep me hangin’ on
Motown deliberately tried a rockier sound on the girls with this single. The ploy worked and the song topped the US charts in the early summer of 1966. Over in Britain, it reached number eight.
Diana and the girls also recorded the song in Italian. As its title – Se il filo spezzera – suggests, it bore different lyrics to a Vanilla Fudge-inspired hit version by I Ribelli, Chi mi aiuterà. The girls’ take was a fusion of Italian and English, which, sadly, didn’t quite work. Perhaps that explains why it was issued merely as the B-side to L’amore verrà (above) in 1967.
In France, Bulgarian-born star Sylvie Vartan included a version on her highly regarded 2’35” de bonheur LP, retitled Je n’ai pas pu résister.
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