(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
Several important sources – not least the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4 – are decidedly sniffy about this record, and history has seemingly felt the same way. Following the false dawn of their supposed breakthrough into the big time with When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, the Supremes’ follow-up single was this, recorded before Lovelight… but held back for a later release: a first stab at aping the Philles sound by the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. (Specifically, it’s the sound of the Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron, ripped off quite effortlessly here). The result was a resounding chart flop, a creative dead end, the last agonising stop before the girls’ eventual cathartic real breakthrough with Where Did Our Love Go.
Overlooked in all of this factual analysis is that it’s a totally, completely brilliant pop record, the best thing the Supremes had released since their long-forgotten début I Want A Guy almost three years previously. Dropping the rollercoaster ride of celebratory teenage joy that permeates Da Doo Ron Ron by transposing the whole thing to a minor key (I think D# minor, but I’m happy to be corrected!) and filling the initially happy lyrics with ominous doubt in the face of open conflict from the backing vocals, this instead becomes a rollercoaster ride of paranoid teenage hormones, all rattling along at 80 miles per hour. At the end of it, HDH and the Supremes have created their first flash of real magic, and a totally different kind of magic to the Crystals’ exploding bubblegum heartburst.
Oh, wow, this is such a brilliant, brilliant record. It’s like the very last gasp of what the Supremes had been building up to all these years; if Where Did Our Love Go serves a neat narrative purpose by reinventing the girls as ambassadors of a whole new sound all their own, bringing them to the notice of mainstream American culture almost the very minute they changed the kind of group they were… well, if this one had turned out to be their big splash instead, this would have made just as much sense. (Indeed, a number of sources – Mary Wilson chief among them – state that this was held back not because it was considered to be inferior to When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, but because it was seen within Motown as a potential big hit once some groundwork had been laid. If true, then its total failure (number ninety-four with a bullet) must have come as a real shock to the system.) Whatever the story, it’s undeniably excellent.
How is this achieved?
LESSON #1: Trust in Diana Ross to do the heavy lifting.
This seems counterintuitive at first; even Diana’s greatest admirers would hesitate to say she has a powerful voice. Yet Run, Run, Run is more about Diana and her voice than any Supremes track since I Want A Guy. The muddled, muddied group mumblings of When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes are replaced here by Diana’s clear-voiced, piercing proclamations, first of joy (Girls, gather round me / And hear the news! He finally kissed me – oh happy day!) and then of defiance (From him I’ll never never part!), all counterpointed by the naysaying backing vocals. Diana is on sparkling, superstar form here, carrying off her part by hitting all the right notes in every sense (including acting the part of a naive, lovelorn teenage girl), sounding like a hit-making veteran full of confidence rather than a cruelly-disparaged “no-hit Supreme”, tired after years of fruitless toil, full of fear and desperation. Or maybe she does sound scared and desperate, but turns it into a method performance, since that’s exactly the kind of emotion her character is meant to be going through. Either way, there’s no doubting that however this record works, it works because of Diana Ross.
LESSON #2: The Funk Brothers are better than Phil Spector’s session musicians. Use them.
Piano, shimmering over the top of everything even as it simultaneously pounds the song along, backed up with great waves of notes from an electric organ, delicate and poised while also tough and uncompromising. Horns, handclaps, drums, bass, all irresistibly compelling you to move your feet, or bob your head at the very least, whilst driving the narrative thrust of the lyrics. A Wall of Soundalike it may have begun (so much so that it features on one of the volumes of the Phil’s Spectre anthology series of miscellaneous mid-Sixties Philles knock-offs), but this ends up sounding superb; Spector wished his crew could turn in a performance like this.
(Oh, and make sure you listen to it in mono, this is important.)
LESSON #3: Play to Flo and Mary’s strengths.
Quite noticeably, most of the backing vocals on this record aren’t just by the other Supremes, thus neatly avoiding the rushed, almost-gasping vocal gymnastics the girls had to employ to get through When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes on time and in one piece. Even though this song is almost a duet, calling for a kind of Greek chorus to play against Diana Ross’ wide-eyed optimism – and therefore on paper a perfect recipe for Flo and Mary to anticipate their roles playing off Diana on the Supremes’ upcoming run of mega-hits – instead, HDH recognise the difficult stresses of the parts they’ve written and rope in a mixed-gender choir of backing singers to take up the countermelody, thus leaving Flo and Mary free to provide a fresh element with their oooohs and bop! bop! shoop! shoop!s. It’s something we’ve not heard before; combined with Diana’s long notes which always give the impression of barely-concealed anguish under the surface without ever actually getting close to breaking face, this is a masterpiece of vocal chart wizardry. Compare and contrast with the rushed pseudo-Spector all-in-a-heap arrangement of When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes. Less is sometimes more, onward isn’t necessarily forward, a more faithful homage isn’t always a better record, and When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes is definitely not better than this.
An almost impossibly enjoyable rush of adrenaline and pop craft, a fitting last stop on the journey to the top before the Supremes move out of reach forever, and cracking good fun to boot. Outstanding.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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