February 2nd, 2007
Title: Reflections: the Definitive Performances, 1964-1969
Artist: The Supremes
Catalog No.: B0007961-09 (DVD)
Released in November 2006, Reflections is the first DVD compilation of Supremes performances and a “must have” for any Motown fan. The disc appropriately kicks off with a 1964 clip from The Steve Allen Show featuring a performance of “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Supremes first chart-topping single. Thanks in large part to the extraordinary talents of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (Motown’s hitmaking songwriters from 1963-1967), the Supremes career quickly went into orbit when the next five singles hit No. 1 on the pop charts in rapid succession, and by 1965 they had become a household name, both in the U.S. and abroad. With the Motown PR machine running in high gear, the group made numerous TV appearances that year and a representative selection (one for each hit single) has been included: “Baby Love” (from Shivaree), “Come See About Me” (from Teen Town), “Stop! In the Name of Love” (from It’s What’s Happening Baby), “Back in My Arms Again” and “I Hear a Symphony” (from the Mike Douglas Show), and “Nothing But Heartaches (from Hullabaloo).
With the transformation from Detroit girl group to international superstars now complete, the performances on the second half of the DVD chronicle the increasingly glamorous costumes and over-the-top coiffures as well as the emergence of Diana Ross as the indisputable group leader. Other interesting performances of note include “Love Is Here and Now Your Gone” from 1967, marking the debut of Cindy Birdsong (who replaced Florence Ballard); a hilarious 1966 promo film of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” where the group is dueling over ping-pong rather than harmonies; and “My World Is Empty Without You” from the 1966 BBC program Anatomy of Pop, which was recorded in the studio and offers glimpses of other Motown personnel (and lots of cool vintage gear).
The quality of the television clips varies a great deal. Most of the programs are in color though a couple are in black & white, and while the majority are in remarkably good condition, a few are barely viewable. However, it is amazing that all have survived, given the deteriorating condition of most 2” video tapes (the standard format for TV programs in the mid-1960s). The production team has done a remarkable job in restoring these programs, and since the compilation would certainly not have been complete without a performance of each hit song, I applaud the decision to include as much archival footage as possible. What might be a bit more disconcerting to viewers is the sound. As one might expect, many of the performances are lip-synched, but the bigger issue is the alternate arrangements used for some of the songs. For example, The Mike Douglas Show’s house band provides the accompaniment for “Back in My Arms Again,” and as you might imagine they don’t quite offer the same groove as Motown’s Funk Brothers. In order to compensate for this travesty, the DVD includes two unusual bonus features—the a cappella lead and background vocals plus restored stereo audio from the original Motown master tapes—making it possible to “replace” the television soundtrack with the recorded version. Other features include an optional “trivia track” which can be added as subtitles; several bonus tracks that include alternate performances of “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and three additional selections; and a 20 page booklet with historical notes by Brian Chin as well as extensive producer’s notes.
Its probably no accident that this video compilation was released just before the film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls (loosely based on the Supremes). Those who didn’t grow up in the Motown era and received their first “introduction” to the Supremes via Dreamgirls might be especially interested in comparing these videos to the movie. Motown’s pop-oriented R&B, tailored for cross-over appeal, did not incorporate the gospel stylings prevalent in Dreamgirls (and in contemporary R&B), and Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson could probably overshadow any member of the Supremes in terms of pure vocal power. So, looking back on these videos four decades later, one might wonder what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the historical value is best summarized on Motown’s website: “The visuals of Diana Ross and the Supremes were imprinted on America’s consciousness at the same time that their run of hits was mounting. . . [Their] dominance in the pop arena reminded the entire world how much of popular culture was rooted in America’s black community. Their music was helping to redefine America as a multi-cultural society, in the eyes of the world, and in the nation’s own eyes. . . The real ripple effects were to be seen in the world itself—in the cultural significance of putting three beautiful black women on The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Review Genre(s): Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk