Mary Wilson of the Supremes is 70

Also used for Round 15 of ABC Wednesday, S is for Supremes.

Flo, Mary, Diana
Flo, Mary, Diana
They were the Primettes, a sister group the pre-Temptations Primes. Shortly after they became the Supremes in 1961, Barbara Martin left the quartet, and they became a trio: Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. The nickname around Motown, unfortunately, was the “No-Hit Supremes” in 1962 and 1963 with A Breath Taking Guy their biggest hit (#75 in 1963). Their fate seemed to be backup singers. (LISTEN to Can I Get A Witness by Marvin Gaye from 1963.)

Suddenly, starting in mid-1964, a string of #1 hits, including five in a row, and eventually an even dozen.

I loved the Supremes, and I bought even their oddball albums that Berry Gordy had them do to show their range, such as A Bit of Liverpool; The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop; We Remember Sam Cooke; and The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart. Among other things, it allowed Mary and Flo to take an occasional lead vocal.

Around the time the powerhouse songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown c. 1967 the Supremes became Diana Ross and the Supremes, with Cindy Birdsong replacing Florence, who would die less than a decade later of cardiac arrest. The hits slowed, though they did some interesting work with the Temps, and Diana became a solo act by 1970.

The group persevered with Mary, Cindy, and Jean Terrell, then a series of other singers, as noted on Mary Wilson’s webpage. Here’s a 2011 interview with Mary.

Favorite Supremes songs – LINKS to all:

25. You Can’t Hurry Love (from Supremes A’ Go-Go, 1966.) One of those “Lesson” songs. Listen to your mama! #1 for 2 weeks in 1966

24. Come See About Me (from Where Did Our Love Go, 1964.) One of those breakthrough early hits, #1 for 2 weeks in 1964.

23. When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes (from WDOLG). The group’s first Top 40 hit, #23 in 1964.

22. Baby Love, from WDOLG. Loved “been missin’ ya, miss kissin’ ya.” Another #1 in 1964.

21. Am I Asking Too Much (from The Never-Before-Released Masters, 1987). This is one of those compilation CDs I got that has a bunch of songs from 1961 to 1969, including a bunch of Disney songs from an abortive album. This song was written by R. Dean Taylor and the late Deke Richards; the latter co-wrote Love Child and the early Jackson 5 hits, so this probably was recorded c. 1968.

20. Nathan Jones (from Touch, 1971) – this post-Ross song I didn’t really get into until it appeared on the soundtrack for the 1988 film Rain Man. Went to #16 in ’71.

19. I’ll Try Something New (from Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, 1968). This song only went to #25 in 1969 (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me was the big hit), but I love how the voices trade off here.

18. It Makes No Difference Now (from The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop, 1965). I like how the lead vocals are traded.

17. My World Is Empty Without You (from I Hear A Symphony, 1966). This song is so flexible, it was rerecorded as a tribute to Berry Gordy. The hit was #5 in ’66.

16. Going Down For The Third Time (from The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, 1967). My favorite album, almost certainly, and this album cut has that wonderful “Praise be!” from Mary and Flo.

15. Up the Ladder to the Roof (from Right On, 1970). At some level, I REALLY wanted the post-Ross Supremes to succeed, and this first single, #10 in 1970, seemed like a good start.

14. Try It Baby (from DR&SJT). This cover of a Marvin Gaye song starts with the wonderful bass voice of Melvin Franklin, reason enough to like it.
supremes-mag

13. Some Day We’ll Be Together (from Cream of the Crop, 1969). The group was already readying for the next transition. The song is Diana with anonymous backup singers, though Diana, Mary and Cyndi do eventually sing it live on the Farewell album months later.

12. Honey Bee (from Love Child, 1968). I’m a sucker for songs featuring the pollinators. Tom Petty has a similarly named song.

11. Love Child (LC). A #1 song from 1968, I appreciated the fact that Mary and Cindi got to sing “scorned by”, instead of merely echoing everything Diana sang.

10. I Want A Guy (Meet the Supremes, 1962). Their first single as The Supremes in 1961, it went nowhere, but I loved the organ especially.

9. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (from SSH-D-H). A #1 single in late 1966, weird stereo of the time threw the sound from one speaker to the other. It was such a compelling storyline, Vanilla Fudge covered it on its eponymous first album.

8. Reflections (from Reflections, 1968). Their first single after Cindi replaced Flo, the single came out in 1967, going to #2, months before the album was released. On some Motown album, Mary described it as a “weird, weird song,” referring to the intro. I fell in love with it again when it was used as the theme for the TV show China Beach.

7. Where Did Our Love Go (from Where Did Our Love Go, 1964). The first hit single (#1 for two weeks in 1964) from the first hit album (#2, probably blocked by some Beatles LP). There is a wonderful purity of sound that’s so attractive.

6. Keep An Eye (from LC). “There used to be three of us seen all over town…” Great song of warranted paranoia.

5. Remove This Doubt (from SSH-D-H). Elvis Costello covered this, but I prefer the original. Breaks my heart.

4. Stop! In the Name of Love (from More Hits by the Supremes, 1965). Maybe the choreography, with the STOP hand gestures, was corny, but I loved it. Also that ascending organ line before the vocals. #1 for two weeks in 1965.

3. I Hear A Symphony (from I Hear A Symphony, 1966). While I love the songs that depend on the bass line, and the Supremes have a bunch of those, I also love this change-of-pace tune, which hit #1 for two weeks in 1965.

2. Buttered Popcorn (from MTS). Another non-hit single from 1961, with Florence Ballard on the wonderful lead vocals.

1. Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart (from SAGG). A massively successful album (#1 for two weeks), though the single only went to #9 in 1966. But I’m a sucker for its bottom sound.

17 thoughts on “Mary Wilson of the Supremes is 70”

  1. The Supremes were part of the soundtrack of my childhood, so I have a soft spot for their music. However, whenever I hear “I Hear a Symphony” I think of a TV commercial for deodorant. Pop music becomes part of life, but so, too, does advertising, apparently.

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  2. I decided early on that “Up the Ladder to the Roof” was the finest post-Ross Supremes single, though I have to admit that “Stoned Love” is growing on me.

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  3. I just loved The Supremes, particularly ‘Stop in the name of love’, I can remember their dance routine they did with it. So much talent came out Tamla Motown then.

    Golden days again Roger, thank you for sharing,
    your knowledge is unfathomable!

    love Di xx

    BTW. As per your instructions I’ve sorted Mr Linky…. Huzza !. thanks x

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  4. As much as we made fun of Diana Ross for hogging the spotlight, we didn’t realize the marketing, the machinations behind that positioning. Dreamgirls put that in an interesting light…

    My daughter and I used to do the moves to “Stop! In the Name of Love” and made up our own moves for Dusty Springfield’s songs, too. I think I raised her well – she has a deep appreciation for Motown music. Diana Ross was clearly an icon, and Flo and Mary got the dusty end of the broom. Reminds me of “20 Feet From Stardom,” an amazing documentary which I hope you have seen. They were pretty much her backup singers… Mary Wilson, fab!! Amy

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