March 27, 1965, The Supremes made history when their single, “Stop In the Name of Love,” became their fourth No. 1 hit. The success of the single prompts a retrospective into what made the group successful, especially in their early years.
About The Supremes
The Supremes began in 1959 when three teenagers got together and sang harmony unlike anyone else. Together, and with the help of their record company, Tamla Motown, they began to set standards for what so-called girl groups could accomplish.
The original members of The Supremes were Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. The group was active between 1959 and 1977. In that time, The Supremes performed songs that spanned genres from doo-wop to disco, but mostly, r&b and pop. Their well-coiffed, well-dressed (in identical outfits) appearance and most importantly, big voices that perform vibrantly against loud instrumentation, and in harmony with each other, poised the group for stardom.
The Supremes’ hits before “Stop In the Name of Love,” were “Where Did Our Love Go?” (August 1964), “Baby Love” (October 1964) and “Come See About Me” (December 1964).
And, with “Stop In the Name of Love” reaching No. 1 in March 1965, the group was deemed a success.
It wasn’t just the individual songs that earned the group chart-toppers. By October 1966, The Supremes had become the first girl group to have an album reach No. 1. That album was “The Supremes A’ Go-Go.”
The group’s long history unfortunately didn’t come without personnel changes. In 1967, Ballard was replaced with Cindy Birdsong. By 1970, Ross would be out and pursuing a soon-to-be legendary solo career. Of the three that became arguably the most famous, only Wilson remained active in the group throughout its history.
The Supremes as the role model for girl groups
While The Supremes were not the only successful girl group, they were one of the best known. Their contemporaries, The Shangri-Las, also had a number one hit with “Leader of the Pack” in September 1964.
While the idea of “the girl group” probably peaked in the 1960s, it evolved into the girl band in the 1980s, as evidenced by The Go-Gos, The Bangles, Vixen, and others. By the late 1990s, girl groups became a force in pop music again.
En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, MoKenStef, Blaque, 702, Xscape and others made their marks on r&b and pop charts. Since the 1960s, almost every all-female group in subsequent decades has been compared to The Supremes.
The Supremes and 1960s romance
The Supremes’ early hits had one thing in common: romance. The first hit found a narrator questioning the dissipation of a couple’s bond. Similarly, the title of the second hit, “Baby Love,” is the term of affection the narrator uses in the process of trying to prevent a breakup. “Come See About Me” is another plea from a singer to the object of her affection to keep their love alive, and “Stop In the Name of Love,” is an effort to get a significant other to halt a course of behavior before the narrator’s heart is broken.
Each hit portrays women as invested in romance. Love relationships are seen as something young women should fight for. That willingness to be accommodating love interests, coupled with the singers’ girl next door looks, made The Supremes the epitome of mid-century romance.
The Supremes’ early success carved their place in American musical history. Their unique sound and unabashed pleas for love’s survival made them role models for listeners and performers to come.