20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: The Supremes.
What: The tenth album by the most popular girl group of the past 60 years, who scored a total of 12 – count ’em, 12 – Number One singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Its dozen tracks included the seventh of those chart-toppers, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and its Top 10 predecessor, “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart.” The Supremes A’Go-Go was the first album by Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard to reach Number One on the pop charts; it was their third to do so on the R&B listings.
When: Motown released the album August 25, 1966 – as “You Can’t Hurry Love” soared into the Top 10 – and it debuted on the charts September 24 as the highest new entry. On October 22, The Supremes A’Go-Go dislodged the Beatles’ Revolver from Number One. The album spent a total of 60 weeks on the Billboard pop best-sellers, the group’s third-longest run (Where Did Our Love Go and Greatest Hits both spent 89 weeks there). (For more on the Supremes’ career, read here).
Where: Recording sessions for five of the tracks on The Supremes A’Go-Go took place in Detroit during mid-1966 with producers Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. Another six were cut in Los Angeles with Motown’s A team on the west coast, Hal Davis and Frank Wilson. The earliest session was for “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” with Holland and Dozier in July 1965, the last for “Put Yourself In My Place,” to which Diana Ross added her lead vocal on July 12, 1966.
Why: When The Supremes A’Go-Go made it to market, Motown was in the middle of its most successful year to date on the Billboard Hot 100. The company was determined to translate that popularity into album sales, and opted to feature the Supremes’ performances of songs which had already been proven hits for other Motown artists, including the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar, Pie Honey Bunch),” the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” Also on The Supremes A’Go-Go were two covers of non-Motown numbers, “Hang On Sloopy” and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” which had recently reached Number One for the McCoys and Nancy Sinatra, respectively.
What else: For much of ’66, the Supremes criss-crossed North America, appearing on various TV shows and performing shows in all sorts of venues, including Blinstrub’s nightclub in Boston and the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, a city where they also visited hospitalized U.S. soldiers, back from Vietnam. While “You Can’t Hurry Love” was top of the charts, the trio travelled to Japan, then made a hugely-popular homecoming to Detroit to perform September 26 at the Roostertail club for one of its “Motown Mondays” series of shows.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?