Song: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by the Supremes
Reached #1: November 19, 1966 (their eighth, 2 weeks)
Previously: Day 305
By 1966, things were starting to unravel a bit for the original “girl group” (as noted yesterday, one that Destiny’s Child wound up following, right down to the abrupt personnel changes and the goal of making one singer the breakout solo star).
The Supremes were at the far end of their unprecedented chart success – from here, the #1 hits would be fewer and far between.
While this became the anchor single of The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, a mix of H-D-H originals and covers of other H-D-H Motown hits, by the time the album came out, H-D-H would be on their way out.
The pioneers of the Motown sound, the team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier were arguing with Motown czar Berry Gordy about royalties… H-D-H ended the argument by leaving the label in 1968… and nobody else could write for the Supremes quite the way they did.
The Supremes began their slow fadeout a few months after “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as well. Flo Ballard was more than a little jealous with Motown’s promotion of the Supremes as Diana Ross and her backup singers… and with Berry Gordy’s off-stage interest in Ross. Her reaction? Drinking, and lots of it. By the spring of 1967, she had started to get her act back together after several incidents of performing inebriated. However, Motown wasn’t convinced, so they had Cindy Birdsong shadowing the group in case a switch had to be made.
Of course, in true sitcom fashion, that move wound up causing the change. Ballard found Birdsong’s gear before the first of a two-show night in Las Vegas in July 1968, got drunk, and performed badly inebriated. She was fired between shows, allowing Birdsong to take her place with the group for the nightcap.
The group would be rebranded “Diana Ross & The Supremes” by 1969 (Gordy claimed it was to allow Motown to charge extra for billings – nobody really bought it, even after the Miracles and Vandellas were also rebranded). It was the next step in remaking Ross as a solo star, and she’d finally leave the Supremes in 1970, with Jean Terrell stepping in. The group was never the same again, and formally disbanded in 1977, with Mary Wilson the only constant from the Primettes in 1959 to the disco-era Supremes of the ‘70s.
A true reunion is impossible, with Ballard dying far too young – but the post-Ballard trio have reunited once (for Motown 25 in 1983). A proposed 2000 fell apart when Ross was to receive 75% of the group’s pay – so Ross went on tour with two of the disco-era Supremes to resounding apathy, leading to a mid-tour cancellation.
Tomorrow, a man who’s remembered as much for the very odd end of his career, and life, as for his incredible talent…
Other songs that reached #1 on November 19:
1988 – “Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi (their third, 2 weeks)