Sunday, January 11, 2009

Motown Records 50th Anniversary: Diana Ross & the Supremes "Where Did Our Love Go"

If I had to pick one favorite Motown group, it would be Diana Ross & Supremes. That was hard enough, picking one song from the Supremes to feature was even harder, so once again I'll go with the song that changed the group's destiny.

"Where Did Our Love Go" was written in 1964 by the legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Marvelettes, who turned it down. At the time, the Supremes had eight failed singles, and only one of their songs had cracked the top forty...

Upon learning the Supremes had chosen to record "Where Did Our Love Go", the Marvelettes warned the girls to stand up for themselves and not just take anything H-D-H would give them. As a result, when the song was recorded on April 8, 1964, there was a bit of animosity on the part of the Supremes towards singing the song. Lamont Dozier was forced at one point to redo the arrangement of the background vocals, replacing the original, more complex backing with simple repetitions of the word "baby".

One of the most famous aspects of "Where Did Our Love Go" was its rhythm section, comprised primarily of footstomps. The sound effect was performed by an Italian-American teenager named Mike Valvano, who stomped down upon two wooden boards suspended by strings, to create the aural illusion of a group of foot-stompers. Handclaps were overdubbed for the 45 RPM single mix of the song.

Since the lead vocal was originally written to be sung by the Marvelettes' lead singer Gladys Horton, it was arranged in a register lower than the Supremes' lead singer Diana Ross' natural register. The resulting vocal track had a sensual appeal not present in Ross' earlier songs, and she elatedly rushed to Motown chief Berry Gordy's office, and dragged him to the basement studio at Hitsville U.S.A. to hear it. Upon hearing the finished song, Gordy remarked that the song had potential, possibly enough to make it to the top ten.

The song went to number one six weeks after it was released on June 17th, 1964. On tour with Dick Clark's "American Bandstand Caravan of Stars" at the time, the group went from being on the bottom of the bill, right to the top. "Where Did Our Love Go" was the first of five Supreme songs in a row to reach number one, launching the group to the status as perhaps the premiere act in Motown history. (let the arguments begin)

Read the history of the Supremes here, and Diana Ross' own amazing story here.

The Freep has a video interview with Holland-Dozier-Holland today, and an exclusive look inside a vault at Universal where the Motown masters are stored. Also, check here for a list of events taking place this week and throughout the rest of the year to celebrate Motown's 50th.