A lifetime love affair
Do you remember the first 45rpm/single record you ever bought? Mine was “Bang, Bang” by Cher in 1966. I wouldn’t say I liked it that much, but I was being rushed at the TG&Y to pick something out. It was the number two song that week. Number one was “The Ballad of the Green Berets, " which was just too “straight” for me, even at the age of nine.
How she escaped my formative years, I’ll never know, for there were many opportunities for Diana Ross (and/or The Supremes, and/or Diana Ross and The Supremes) to be at the top of MY chart, just like their 12 number one songs that hit the top of the Billboard “Hot 100”.
Before they were known as The Supremes, they were first The Primes, and then The Primettes. Because they couldn’t come up with a song that charted, they were known around the Motown studio as the “no-hit Supremes”.
Before college football bowl games were named after sponsoring corporations, many of these games held parades the day or night before. The Orange Bowl in 1965 was no exception, and that’s where I first heard that voice and the melodic arrangements they performed.
When filming a parade, especially with a fixed camera, you can only hear the parts as they pass in front of you, which may last only a matter of seconds. But when The Supremes’ float arrived, it stopped so both the live audience and those watching on television could hear most of their hit, “I Hear a Symphony.” That was the first time I’d seen her. But I was color blind, thanks to my Mom.
In 1962, on a tour in the South, all of the Motown artists had to use the back door for restaurant service. Gas stations would prohibit them from using the restrooms. In Birmingham, their bus was shot at. The theatres where they performed were segregated. This is all within many of our lifetimes.
I began to listen to more and more pop music in the mid to late 60s, especially late at night on my transistor radio. (Would you believe we had ear bugs back then?!) For some reason, I rarely heard The Supremes. Did it have to do with race? I wonder because, in Abilene, Texas, it was still an issue at the time.
In the fall of 1966, standing in line to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Taylor County Fair in Abilene, I heard that voice again. The music was blaring out of speakers that rivaled my mom and step-father’s Magnavox, which was a piece of furniture in and of itself; it was that big.
I asked my big sister who was singing the song that was currently playing (“You Can’t Hurry Love”), and she answered it was The Supremes. (By this time, they became known as Diana Ross and The Supremes.) The bass on that song was mesmerizing — it hooked me for life.
We didn’t really share much love for the same music, and since she always had more money, she would buy “Long-Playing” 33rpm albums while I was stuck buying the singles.
But I didn’t hang out in my room much and listen to music as she did. (She even had a Princess telephone with her own line!) I was usually outside playing, maybe on the patio making “Creepy Crawlers.” That toy would NEVER pass the parent test today — it was downright dangerous!
Back on point. Oddly, neither of us purchased a Supremes song until my sister brought “Love Child” home in 1968. She said the album was not that good, but she liked the single. While so many other musical acts of that time were turning out songs of protest, Motown kept that really low key. “Love Child,” which dealt with what the name suggests and poverty, was about as close as it got to controversy. That is until Edwin Starr’s “War“ and The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” were released, both in 1970.
The first record I bought with Ms. Ross as a solo act was “Remember Me,” a relatively minor hit. With the 70s came a change in my musical preferences, and I began to buy those LPs by Led Zeppelin and other such big arena bands.
By the latter half of my college career, it became cool to listen to the “oldies,” and that’s about the time that oldies stations began to proliferate on the radio. Diana Ross and The Supremes’ double album finally took its rightful place in my record collection. (Double albums also played an important role in cleaning your pot!)
FUN FACT: The only two songs Diana Ross had (as a solo artist) that topped the UK charts were “I’m Still Waiting” and “Chain Reaction”, both of which did practically nothing in the US. As a solo act in the US, she has had six number one hits.
Hard to believe this skinny little kid from Detroit is now 75. Living in a large city, I have been able to see her in live performances seven times. It’s somewhat predictable — she always starts with “I’m Coming Out” and often ends with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but I don’t care. For a generation of us, her songs are timeless. I could listen to all of them every day.
Finally, one of my Diana life highlights occurred at “Motown The Musical,” a revue with featured singers portraying the performing acts from Motown’s early years.
At one point late in the show, the lights went down as the actress who portrayed Diana sat down on the edge of the stage and asked if someone could come up and help her sing “Reach Out and Touch.”
While we had good seats, the Chicago Theatre is large. No matter. I rushed the stage like a quarterback sneak, blocking several people along the way! As a spotlight zeroed in on the two of us, I could see how performers get over their stage fright: the audience is totally black. So I introduced myself as “Arthur” to 2,500 strangers, and we sang:
“Make this world a better place, if you can.”
I can’t see Diana Ross ever coming to Albuquerque, but I think I got my fill from seeing her shows in the Chicago area. She has an abundant life filled with talented children and will go down in history as an American diva. As she once said:
“It takes a long time to get to be a diva. I mean, you gotta work at it!”