Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Immortals #97 - Diana Ross and the Supremes


The significance of Diana Ross and the Supremes is not about Diana Ross. Everybody, from Rolling Stone to the Kennedy Center would have you believe that she is a special talent, and honestly, yeah, she could sing a little. But that's not why she matters (if she matters.) Neither is her relevance to anybody about Florence Ballard, or Cindy Birdsong, or Mary Wilson, or Holland, Dozier and Holland or the Funk Brothers or fucking anybody else save for one man. The significance of Diana Ross and the Supremes is that they were the crowing achievement of mister Berry Gordy Jr.

Pop music in the 1960s wasn't really driven by The Beatles and Dylan and Brian Wilson all pushing one another, though that's a nice way to romanticize everything. In fact, those artists influenced one another and many more artists to make music that was on the fringe of the furthest acceptable boundaries at the time for rock music. Smile is nice and all, but even had it been released when originally planned, it wasn't going to rival the sales of "She Loves You" 45s, nor would it be accepted as idealized gospel of the psychedelic brilliance of what is, in hindsight, a great and important time in our cultural history. Fuck that shit. The popular consciousness is represented first and foremost by what sold enough to qualify as truly "pop" music, and the man who made the most profitable, popular music on the planet for the better part of a decade was Berry Gordy with his Motown sound. Keep your pitiful sales of Revolver, to this day more people know twice as many Gordy Motown hits by heart as can even name a track other than "Yellow Submarine." Truth. Hendrix is the soundtrack to our revisionism. Gordy, Motown, and Diana Ross and the Supremes were the soundtrack to the entire country's trip to the grocery store.

Included in Gordy's genius was his coordination of talented people with interesting people. That's what differentiated him from the other most important producer of that era, Phil Spector. Spector made hits without personalities- name me the drummer who pounded the first kick, kick-kick, snare on "Be My Baby." Nobody can. Practically everybody who wrote/co-produced/played/sang on a Spector hit in that era was sublimated to one man's singular vision... and that vision was more or less of himself.

Gordy, on the other hand, made personalities into hits, taking a just-alright singer who was kind of an insufferable bitch and made her the name in front for an already successful group. He recognized what sold their records and gave her top-billing, growing both the person and the brand in the process. Maybe the greatest music marketer of all time, and he had an ear too. He made more hits than he could count. Any of them could represent the man. But on this list, he's represented by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The Best of Diana Ross and the Supremes by Diana Ross and the Supremes

1 comment:

Hava said...

I'm so happy there is a real post, finally.

I agree, the pop music 60s were so much more about a singular, one-man vision and the particular sound that man created. Also the 60s were more singles driven than people would like to remember. Yeah, Beatles albums were popular, but it was so much more about singles than an entire album.

Good post, B. Looking forward to more!