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  1. #1
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    Would the 70's Supremes Have Had Bigger Success If.....?

    In another thread, reese makes a very interesting point and comment:

    They weren't like the Shirelles, who basically joined the oldies circuit in the early 70s and have stayed there ever since making a good living. By comparison, the Supremes still had a contemporary presence and wanted to be seen as such. But to do that, they needed hits and had to bring in others besides the die-hards.

    Do you think that if the Supremes had tried to be less contemporary, and more "oldies", that they would have had a greater success in the late 70's? Just go ahead an embrace the 60's tunes, come out in the 60's dresses, and have fun with it? The could have hopped on the circuit, and maybe even made an appearance on the MIDNIGHT SPECIAL much like the Shirelles did.

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    Success meaning what? Would they have made more money? Questionable. Would they be household names? Probably not. The ladies probably all felt like they were in their prime. Remember the Shirelles were popular for a couple years, their last hit in early 1963. The Supremes were the most successful female group from 1964 through the early 70s. It was probably way too early for them to embrace the oldies circuit. Had the group stayed together into the early 80s, it might have made sense. But even when Scherrie, and then Susaye joined the group, the ingredients were there for continued success, the ladies just never happened upon a "Lady Marmalade" or "Best of My Love". After "Stoned Love" the group never released another song that wowed the general public. That was their problem. But they had every reason to believe that it could happen up until the end.

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    The very name "Shirelles" rang like an oldies act by the time the 70s rolled around. Same with the Marvelettes, maybe even the Vandellas. The name Supremes was timeless, my bias having no affect on that opinion.

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    I think an artist or group shouldn't be considered an oldies act until at least five years after their last hit.

    So, in the Supremes case, this wouldn't have been til at least 1978 [[or perhaps 1981) long after the group had disbanded.

    They needed more pop hits. The Jimmy Webb album & Stevie Wonder single must have seemed like great ideas at the time, but their failures really cost the girls. It was all downhill after this.

    I would also have preferred them to cut back on the supper-club bookings and nightclub act and do more concerts featuring full versions of their own 70s hits as well as other up-tempo songs [[some covers of other Motown hits would have been fine).

    They could certainly have generated more sales with more tours & TV appearances in Europe during the early 70s too. Perhaps some English songwriters or producers may have been persuaded to work with the group and provide some hits.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi Stubbs Tears View Post

    They could certainly have generated more sales with more tours & TV appearances in Europe during the early 70s too. Perhaps some English songwriters or producers may have been persuaded to work with the group and provide some hits.
    Excellent point!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi Stubbs Tears View Post
    I think an artist or group shouldn't be considered an oldies act until at least five years after their last hit.

    So, in the Supremes case, this wouldn't have been til at least 1978 [[or perhaps 1981) long after the group had disbanded.

    They needed more pop hits. The Jimmy Webb album & Stevie Wonder single must have seemed like great ideas at the time, but their failures really cost the girls. It was all downhill after this.

    I would also have preferred them to cut back on the supper-club bookings and nightclub act and do more concerts featuring full versions of their own 70s hits as well as other up-tempo songs [[some covers of other Motown hits would have been fine).

    They could certainly have generated more sales with more tours & TV appearances in Europe during the early 70s too. Perhaps some English songwriters or producers may have been persuaded to work with the group and provide some hits.
    Perhaps you have a point. Their
    popularity as a live act in the UK remained undiminished until 1977.
    I always thought it was the sub standard material that greatly contributed to their downfall. Right On, New Ways and Touch were all for the most part excellent cohesive albums but i thought the duet albums were poor and deservedly sank without trace. I know the Floy Joy album has it's admirers on here but i found it to be a crushing bore. It was so bland and lightweight, and it did not contain a killer single such as Ladder, Stoned Love and Nathan Jones. I was amazed the title track did as well as it did. I disliked it at the time and still do so almost 50 years down the line. Frank Wilson knew how to get the best out of the girls on the initial trio of albums. Motown got behind those albums and we were treated to gatefold sleeves which was more than Diana was given, yet the sales figures disappointed.
    Elton John told me many years ago that he was interested in writing and producing the girls. That could have been something special. Instead Motown took the easy option and went with Smokey. The girls were treated like superstars in the UK. I do think your idea had great potential. There was definitely a market waiting to be untapped.
    David Bowie did some great work with Lulu. Maybe he could have turned their fortunes around. The Moody Blues were another potential option. They did Simple Game for the Four Tops which went top 3 in the UK but flopped in the States. Could they have worked with the girls? By the time Jimmy Webb came around it was all over but the shouting, but there were certainly possibilities prior to that. They just needed another killer hit single from somewhere.

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    Another suggestion. Instead of going Disco, their music had gone a more R and B route and aim for hits on that chart? That's what the Temptations did and allowed them to maintain a contemporary presence while easing onto the oldies concert scene.

    If Mary had decided in 1973 to make the Supremes strictly an oldies act, I doubt she would have been able to get Scherrie or Susaye to be in the group as they likely had ambitions greater than being part of a touring performing group on the oldies but goodies circuit at this juncture in time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    Perhaps you have a point. Their
    popularity as a live act in the UK remained undiminished until 1977.
    I always thought it was the sub standard material that greatly contributed to their downfall. Right On, New Ways and Touch were all for the most part excellent cohesive albums but i thought the duet albums were poor and deservedly sank without trace. I know the Floy Joy album has it's admirers on here but i found it to be a crushing bore. It was so bland and lightweight, and it did not contain a killer single such as Ladder, Stoned Love and Nathan Jones. I was amazed the title track did as well as it did. I disliked it at the time and still do so almost 50 years down the line. Frank Wilson knew how to get the best out of the girls on the initial trio of albums. Motown got behind those albums and we were treated to gatefold sleeves which was more than Diana was given, yet the sales figures disappointed.
    Elton John told me many years ago that he was interested in writing and producing the girls. That could have been something special. Instead Motown took the easy option and went with Smokey. The girls were treated like superstars in the UK. I do think your idea had great potential. There was definitely a market waiting to be untapped.
    David Bowie did some great work with Lulu. Maybe he could have turned their fortunes around. The Moody Blues were another potential option. They did Simple Game for the Four Tops which went top 3 in the UK but flopped in the States. Could they have worked with the girls? By the time Jimmy Webb came around it was all over but the shouting, but there were certainly possibilities prior to that. They just needed another killer hit single from somewhere.
    love your post. btw Mag 7 was a top ten album in the UK!!! oddly enough - although i agree it's probably the strongest of the 3 lps. not that every song on M7 is stellar. you could make 1 relatively solid album out of all of the sessions. but even that would not match the level of Still Water or RO or Touch. the individual groups were putting out much more compelling content on their own that it makes the glare problems with teh duets more apparent

    fascinating about Elton. I would love to dig into memos and notes from management during 71 and 72. i get the theory about Jimmy but **ouch** the execution. motown was always gonna prefer their internal producers like Smokey and Stevie. and i'll go out on a limb here - i don't know that announcing "smokey robinson is going to produce the supremes!!" is the mega headline that Marvin would hve been. or someone like Elton or Carole King or something. that just might be my own opinion. but it just doesn't strike me as exciting as other options. even though i like the FJ set

    Blue - what are your thoughts on Auto Sun? like it, love it, hate it, neutral? it's my fav cut from the sessions and i think much stronger than the title track. imo it should have charted much higher in the states but the problem of another personnel shift interupted things

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spreadinglove21 View Post
    Another suggestion. Instead of going Disco, their music had gone a more R and B route and aim for hits on that chart? That's what the Temptations did and allowed them to maintain a contemporary presence while easing onto the oldies concert scene.

    If Mary had decided in 1973 to make the Supremes strictly an oldies act, I doubt she would have been able to get Scherrie or Susaye to be in the group as they likely had ambitions greater than being part of a touring performing group on the oldies but goodies circuit at this juncture in time.
    see i think the disco sound and image fit the girls well. Sup 75 is a bit generic but MS&S is stellar. had their live act been as solid, i think they could have rebounded very successfully. Disco was SO glam and sexy. the MSC lineup sounded great but they wore these bigass chiffon ballgowns. a new and more current look, a better stage show and a more prominent role for Scherrie could have helped. plus no pedro lol

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    I always thought it was the sub standard material that greatly contributed to their downfall. Right On, New Ways and Touch were all for the most part excellent cohesive albums but i thought the duet albums were poor and deservedly sank without trace. I know the Floy Joy album has it's admirers on here but i found it to be a crushing bore. It was so bland and lightweight, and it did not contain a killer single such as Ladder, Stoned Love and Nathan Jones. I was amazed the title track did as well as it did.
    I don't count Floy Joy as a flop considering it contained two UK top ten hits, but the second & third albums with the Tops added nothing to the legacies of either group.

    Given that Barry Gibb and his brothers had such a love of Motown and the Bee Gees were off the boil at the time, there's another potential hit writing team that might have helped the girls out.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by sup_fan View Post
    love your post. btw Mag 7 was a top ten album in the UK!!! oddly enough - although i agree it's probably the strongest of the 3 lps. not that every song on M7 is stellar. you could make 1 relatively solid album out of all of the sessions. but even that would not match the level of Still Water or RO or Touch. the individual groups were putting out much more compelling content on their own that it makes the glare problems with teh duets more apparent

    fascinating about Elton. I would love to dig into memos and notes from management during 71 and 72. i get the theory about Jimmy but **ouch** the execution. motown was always gonna prefer their internal producers like Smokey and Stevie. and i'll go out on a limb here - i don't know that announcing "smokey robinson is going to produce the supremes!!" is the mega headline that Marvin would hve been. or someone like Elton or Carole King or something. that just might be my own opinion. but it just doesn't strike me as exciting as other options. even though i like the FJ set

    Blue - what are your thoughts on Auto Sun? like it, love it, hate it, neutral? it's my fav cut from the sessions and i think much stronger than the title track. imo it should have charted much higher in the states but the problem of another personnel shift interupted things
    You are of course correct when you say M7 briefly went top 10 in the UK, but it very quickly fizzled out, and the other two did sink without trace.
    As regards Elton John i had the great pleasure of sharing his company for a couple of hours when i was looking after a fine vocalist by the name of Paul Young. To cut a long story short i was on the point of being thrown out of Elton's VIP area until the great man intervened with some very choice language directed at the security staff. We discussed his great love of Soul music and Motown, and he said he offered to write and produce an album for the girls, but for some inexplicable reason Motown did not follow up his interest. He also had ideas for them to tour with him but once again no interest was shown. I had heard nothing whatsoever about this previously and i was quite shocked that the idea was never taken further. Did Mary ever mention it in her books? I did of course write everything in my journal, but i haven't read that particular section in perhaps 20-25 years. I need to go back and see if i have forgotten a crucial part of the story. Leave that with me.
    As regards Automatically Sunshine, i actually quite like that song. It is way way better than Floy Joy in my opinion. It is a million miles away from the standard of Ladder, Stoned Love and Nathan Jones, but it is one of the very few listenable tracks on the album in my opinion.

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    I don’t think going oldies would have netted them any gains.

    I agree dumping the supper club routine and the old gowns would have given them a fresh presentation. I think the glitz could have been re-thought to be au courant with current rock star fashion. Most of their 70s gowns were just plain sad.

    Great material was hard to get at Motown in the 70s. I’m stunned Elton John wanted to work with them - it sounds ideal to me. Oddly, Mary never mentioned that to me during our talks about what went wrong. A duet with Elton would have been awesome and he dug the sound and image of the group. Good material would have been a huge plus, but if they still dressed and behaved on stage as before, it may not have been enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheMotownManiac View Post
    I don’t think going oldies would have netted them any gains.

    I agree dumping the supper club routine and the old gowns would have given them a fresh presentation. I think the glitz could have been re-thought to be au courant with current rock star fashion. Most of their 70s gowns were just plain sad.

    Great material was hard to get at Motown in the 70s. I’m stunned Elton John wanted to work with them - it sounds ideal to me. Oddly, Mary never mentioned that to me during our talks about what went wrong. A duet with Elton would have been awesome and he dug the sound and image of the group. Good material would have been a huge plus, but if they still dressed and behaved on stage as before, it may not have been enough.
    I find it incredibly strange that Mary never mentioned the Elton connection. Perhaps any negotiations took place between Elton/Bernie and Motown. Who was the Supremes manager in the early 70's? Elton said his suggestion was submitted near the beginning of his career so i am guessing at 71/72?Maybe Elton was not thought to be a big enough name at the time? It is hard to imagine him having time to write and produce for the girls once he became a superstar? He mentioned Jean's qualities as a vocalist so it had to be 71 or 72.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    I find it incredibly strange that Mary never mentioned the Elton connection. Perhaps any negotiations took place between Elton/Bernie and Motown. Who was the Supremes manager in the early 70's? Elton said his suggestion was submitted near the beginning of his career so i am guessing at 71/72?Maybe Elton was not thought to be a big enough name at the time? It is hard to imagine him having time to write and produce for the girls once he became a superstar? He mentioned Jean's qualities as a vocalist so it had to be 71 or 72.
    Elton did write the liner notes for their 1971 album TOUCH so it probably happened around that time. I think he had been big in the US for a year or so at that point. So Motown must have realized the wisdom of him writing notes but might not have felt comfortable giving control to an outsider. They had already done that with Diana and Bones Howe and nothing was released so maybe they didn't want a repeat of that.

    Elton had become friends with Cindy when she and the Bluebelles toured England and Elton was in their backup band Bluesology. But no, Mary didn't mention it at all in her book and that collaboration could have been big news. Maybe she had no idea?
    Last edited by reese; 07-09-2021 at 08:43 AM.

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    No mention of Elton John producing the Supremes in Mary's books. Either she forgot, was cut by the editors, or most likely, she never knew. Often happened at Motown.

    Certainly in the 60s for the girl groups Berry and the execs dealt with the lead singer [[Diana, Martha, Gladys, and Cal) about group matters. Decisions were made, and the other members may or may not have been informed of the discussions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    You are of course correct when you say M7 briefly went top 10 in the UK, but it very quickly fizzled out, and the other two did sink without trace.
    I was looking at the UK charts for the early 70s the other day and noticed that one of the 'Motown Chartbusters' compilations went to #1 in the charts and was one of the top five selling albums in the UK for 1971.

    It wasn't the only Chartbusters album to hit #1 in the UK and, in fact, the first 8 {all featuring the Supremes on at least one track} reached the UK top ten.

    Once again showing that the UK label often had better ideas than the US crew.
    Last edited by Levi Stubbs Tears; 07-09-2021 at 11:35 AM.

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    Hmmm did Elton John produce anybody? He benefited greatly by being in the hands of producer Gus Dudgeon who provided him his golden age.

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    When it got to be where anybody could be a Supreme for a month or two , or not , and back again, I don't think any strategy would support that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boogiedown View Post
    Hmmm did Elton John produce anybody?
    He produced another {ex} Motown act, Kiki Dee in 1973 and later in the 80's produced Olivia Newton-John.

    In the early 70s though, I think he might have been better off writing songs and letting someone else produce them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boogiedown View Post
    When it got to be where anybody could be a Supreme for a month or two
    That's certainly a hallmark of many 'oldies' acts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi Stubbs Tears View Post
    That's certainly a hallmark of many 'oldies' acts.
    Ha Ha good point !
    For the 'who cares ' crowd!!

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    Bluerock--that's interesting that Elton told you that. Elton was so talented and prolific in those days I have no doubt he could have come up with a hit for the Supremes. I also agree about the Floy Joy album, I found it incredibly bland with the exception of A Heart Like Mine. Female artists in the 70's were doing higher energy music, funkier stuff and people loved it. Meanwhile the Supremes and the 5th Dimension decided to go down the granny music and people did not like it.

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    By the way, guys, I have been posting tons of Supremes' related pictures and stories from Billboard Magazine [[60's and 70's)in the Facebook group The Supremes Ultimate Fans. Check it out--there is some really rare stuff on there.https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheSupremesUltimateFans

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    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    By the way, guys, I have been posting tons of Supremes' related pictures and stories from Billboard Magazine [[60's and 70's)in the Facebook group The Supremes Ultimate Fans. Check it out--there is some really rare stuff on there.https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheSupremesUltimateFans
    Great posts, BobbyC - you be well. Great info you find.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    By the way, guys, I have been posting tons of Supremes' related pictures and stories from Billboard Magazine [[60's and 70's)in the Facebook group The Supremes Ultimate Fans. Check it out--there is some really rare stuff on there.https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheSupremesUltimateFans
    I will check it out Bobby. Sounds fascinating.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Bluerock--that's interesting that Elton told you that. Elton was so talented and prolific in those days I have no doubt he could have come up with a hit for the Supremes. I also agree about the Floy Joy album, I found it incredibly bland with the exception of A Heart Like Mine. Female artists in the 70's were doing higher energy music, funkier stuff and people loved it. Meanwhile the Supremes and the 5th Dimension decided to go down the granny music and people did not like it.
    It may well have revived the girls flagging fortunes, but Motown probably did not want outsiders providing quality songs that they themselves were seemingly unable or unwilling to do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    It may well have revived the girls flagging fortunes, but Motown probably did not want outsiders providing quality songs that they themselves were seemingly unable or unwilling to do.
    I would say that had to be true. I remember reading that the group wanted an outside producer and when they got Wayne Weisbart[[sp), it brought the ill-fated Jimmy Webb album and huge indifference from Motown along with some low charting singles and the Jimmy Webb LP. Even by 1980, when as a soloist Mary Wilson had Gus Dudgeon produce 4 terrific songs and Motown gave her the masters back and told her they were only releasing dance music,released her from her contract after the disco of her first LP did not chart well. Strangely, others released ballads at this time, mainly from in-house Motown. So, this must have been something long standing. I remember reading that an anonymous Motown staffer said that the group brought in someone into their "family" from the outside and that was part of the reason Motown was not so supportive, bringing someone in, when they usually only deal with the Motown family and apparently did not like outsiders.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Levi Stubbs Tears View Post
    I was looking at the UK charts for the early 70s the other day and noticed that one of the 'Motown Chartbusters' compilations went to #1 in the charts and was one of the top five selling albums in the UK for 1971.

    It wasn't the only Chartbusters album to hit #1 in the UK and, in fact, the first 8 {all featuring the Supremes on at least one track} reached the UK top ten.

    Once again showing that the UK label often had better ideas than the US crew.
    The Motown Chartbusters albums were huge in the UK. I eagerly collected each volume. My favourite was vol 3, but each and every one was excellent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluebrock View Post
    The Motown Chartbusters albums were huge in the UK. I eagerly collected each volume. My favourite was vol 3, but each and every one was excellent.
    When I really got into Motown [after diana 1980] they were great finds at second-hand stores etc for me to compile a collection of 60s hits - inc rarities that were very hard to find on a single or even album - and at a very cheap price.

    Where else would I have found 'Bless You' or 'Forget Me Not' by Martha & the Vandellas or the original 'Heaven Must Have Sent You' at that time?
    Last edited by Levi Stubbs Tears; 07-12-2021 at 08:44 AM.

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