Motown’s prime girl group in the ’60s had no problem reaching first place on the Billboard Hot 100. The Supremes did it 12 times, beginning with their breakthrough single, “Where Did Our Love Go,” in 1964. But achieving the top position on the album chart proved a little more difficult. Their first eight albums to appear on the Billboard 200 missed the peak. And then, on the tally dated Oct. 22, 1966, the trio made chart history. When The Supremes A’ Go-Go went to No. 1, it was the first album in the rock era by a girl group to go all the way. “I was thrilled that we were able to accomplish something that had never been accomplished by a girl group before,” writer/producer Lamont Dozier tells Billboard. “It was an incredible feeling for us personally as well as for the label and the Supremes.”
The Supremes remained the only female group to reach No. 1 until March 1982, when (in a synchronistic turn) the Go-Go’s’ Beauty and the Beat topped the list.
Now, just over 50 years later, Motown has issued an expanded version of The Supremes A’ Go-Go, with unreleased versions and mixes and a number of tracks originally intended for the 1966 LP that didn’t make the final cut.
Motown has been issuing expanded versions of classic albums for years, under the aegis of Harry Weinger, VP, A&R/Product Development, UMe. “With Motown artists and producers in the studio so often, we have the unique opportunity to look at what’s behind the album, what else was recorded at the sessions and what else we can release that will better inform the story of the album and the artist at the time,” Weinger explains to Billboard. “For some albums, we can also issue the mono and stereo editions. These expanded editions become a boon for fans.”
Fans of the Supremes have already given a great reception to expanded versions of albums like Meet the Supremes, Where Did Our Love Go and More Hits By the Supremes. “Supremes fans are passionate, devoted and well-informed,” says Weinger, “and the guys on the team that assembled this set are also fans, so the desire right up front was to satisfy our own sense of, ‘What would I like to hear, and then play over and over?’ And, we also decided, ‘How, because this group deserves it, do we make it sound better than any Motown album ever sounded?’”
Weinger’s team for The Supremes A’ Go-Go included compilation producers Andy Skurow and George Solomon. “We do lots of research,” the A&R VP explains. “Andy and George have the benefit of access to Motown’s original session recording logs and the timeline revealed through the study of these logs is helpful.”
In the ’60s, Motown was mainly focused on hit singles. “The company wasn’t necessarily focused on selling albums,” Weinger acknowledges, “so [the Supremes] were constantly recording, anytime they were in Detroit or New York or Los Angeles, where about half of this album was cut. For this release, we had a decent inventory of songs recorded during what we could plausibly call the Go-Go timeline. Some had been released on other rarities collections and rather than repeat what fans may already own, Andy and George diligently found alternative vocals or created alternate mixes.
Many of those mixes were created just for the expanded edition. “Some of the existing mixes found on the alternate versions of the album muted certain instruments,” Weinger elaborates. “Andy and George and engineer Kevin Reeves brought them out. Also, there was the opportunity to extend fades and hear studio chatter. How many Motown songs have you heard where you pressed your ear against the speaker to get a few extra seconds of joy? We wanted that without the frustration. And it is incredibly rare to hear any kind of studio banter. So we added where we could.”
The team also used some studio magic to create a first. In the 1960s, the Diana Ross-led Supremes teamed with label-mates the Temptations for two albums. After Ross departed, the ’70s edition of the Supremes, with Jean Terrell on lead vocals, were paired with the Four Tops for three albums. Solomon was aware that the ’60s Supremes and the Four Tops had both recorded the song “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” and in the same key. “George noted also that the Four Tops’ track was cut in Detroit with the Funk Brothers, while the Supremes’ version was recorded in Los Angeles with a different producer,” says Weinger. “Since these were the two groups having hits with Holland-Dozier-Holland, George said why not have them duet, and back them both with the Funk Brothers?” The result: a new version featuring lead vocals by both Diana Ross and the Tops’ Levi Stubbs, together for the first time.
A majority of the songs on The Supremes A’ Go-Go were written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland and recorded by other artists, like Martha & the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye. “When we were doing covers of songs that had been done originally by other artists, it was our practice to try and create the feeling like these were originals for the Supremes, to make the songs their own,” Dozier says. “We would select the songs by their popularity with the public in many cases, but also we liked taking a song of ours that hadn’t gone all the way and recording it again to see if we could reach that point we were going after. It was exciting for us to have a chance to redo song productions with a new feeling, having a female group versus a male group rendition. We loved it.”
While many Motown albums were made up of songs not recorded specifically for one album, Dozier explains that The Supremes A’ Go-Go was different. “We had recording sessions that we earmarked specifically for this album. It was going to be a great opportunity for a major album release for the Supremes and we wanted it to be a fabulous album. Many times Motown would assemble albums from songs that were in the can, but in this case H-D-H designed this album for the Supremes.”
One of the tracks that did make the original album was the Supremes’ version of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Come and Get These Memories.” But in a rare turn, the lead vocals are not by Diana Ross. “I felt that Mary Wilson’s voice was best suited for ‘Come and Get These Memories,’ so I made the decision to have Mary sing the lead vocal,” says Dozier. “The recording session was wonderful because it gave Mary a chance to shine in a lead vocal capacity and give new meaning to the song.”
With the No. 1 triumph of The Supremes A’ Go-Go, Motown wanted to repeat the success with the trio’s next album, which led to the similar The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. “Because the first album had been so successful, it was a mutual agreement by all of us at the company to have a follow-up album that would hopefully have the same results worldwide,” Dozier recalls.
Before the Supremes had their breakthrough with “Where Did Our Love Go,” they released six Hot 100-charting singles, but none went higher than No. 23. “All the other Motown artists were looking at us like we’d never have a hit record,” Mary Wilson tells Billboard. “I knew what was going on in their minds, so I coined the name, ‘No-hit Supremes.’” Then everything changed. “Berry Gordy told us he was going to put us with his top writing team – Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. We were astonished to be working with those guys. They had a different approach and as far as we were concerned, we were working with the best. They gave us five No. 1s in a row. Each of them brought something to their team that made them unique. Lamont and Eddie had been singers before they became a writing team. Eddie would teach us how to sing a song. Brian was a musical genius. Lamont brought a churchy, gospel element. It was fun working with them and it was exciting because they knew what they were doing. They had different opinions and we would watch them work things out and come to an agreement about what the final product would be.”
Weinger says Ross and Wilson “are both enthusiastic” about the latest reissue. “Mary Wilson has been promoting the album. Diana Ross invited Andy and I to see her show at City Center in New York and she graciously posed for a photo with a then-advance copy and remarked how lovely it was.”
Although The Supremes A’ Go-Go expanded edition is being released more than 50 years after the original album was issued, people clearly aren’t tired of listening to music from Motown. “People are still enthralled with the label and all of the groups,” says Wilson. “‘The Sound of Young America’ is timeless. The music still stands on its own.”