When the Lovelight starts Shining through his Eyes - the Supremes
Before December 1963, the Supremes had released a string of unsuccessful singles on Motown and had alternated lead vocals between the three group members: Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson. Then Berry Gordy decreed that Ross be henceforth the lead singer, and paired them off with the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team. Early doors, the Supremes had also sung many of the backing vocals for other Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells but here they are in turn backed by the also hitherto unsuccessful Four Tops. It is often said that Gordy chose Ross's vocal because it sounded less "black" than Ballard or Wilsons', and others say she was the least talented singer of the three, but whether this is true or not, Gordy's instinct, as ever, was sound: right from the start, there is something earnest and proper about her tone and accent, and her voice have a kind of vanilla ice cream feel to it that is innocent and alluring at the same time. This doesn't survive into her solo career of the seventies, but this is perhaps because no-one appreciated and wrote for her voice in the way that the Holland Brothers and Lamont Dozier were able to. It always seems to me quite miraculous that the trio were able to produce one set of songs that totally complemented the voice and style of Levi Stubbs while simultaneously achieving the same success with the quite different delivery and timbre of Ross and the Supremes. Over the next five years (1964-68) the Holland Dozier Holland / Supremes combination produced a further 16 US top twenty hits, including 10 number ones. If you include the Supremes' post HDH output, their's is a record of chart success unsurpassed by any other female performing group. But this is the starting point, with "Lovelight" entering the charts just under a year before the Four Tops first hit, fresh as a first high school prom, with the unmistakable lustful half-grunt half-shout from Levi lending grit to the whole affair. Next year came "Where did our Love Go?" and "Baby Love" and the rest is history.