The Supremes — a cornerstone of Motown's success in the world of popular
music in the 1960s — were not doing quite so well in 1968. Their primary
songwriters had departed the label, leaving the trio with declining record sales
and radio airtime. One of the Supremes found herself replaced. And lead singer
Diana Ross was clearly contemplating setting out on a solo career.
A crash project put in motion by Motown owner Berry Gordy resulted in a most unusual song, released 55 years ago Saturday. It would become the Supremes' 11th No. 1 single.
The Supremes' Singles Chart History
'This Love We're Contemplating Is Worth The Pain Of Waiting'
Throughout 1967, Florence Ballard — originally considered the lead singer of the Supremes, but who had been edged aside in favor of Diana Ross — found herself growing deeply depressed and began missing recording sessions and concerts. Her disappointment grew when “The Supremes” became known as “Diana Ross and the Supremes” that June.
In 1968, Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy fired her, replacing her with Cindy Birdsong, who had been a member of Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles.
That same year, the songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland — which, among other accomplishments, had written 10 No. 1 songs for the Supremes — departed Motown in a dispute over royalty payments. Gordy brought in new songwriters to replace the Holland-Dozier-Holland team but found the results less than successful.
Clearly, it would take a supreme effort to put the Supremes back on top again. Gordy brought in four staff songwriters, put them up in a Detroit hotel room for the weekend and gave them the task of writing a No. 1 single.
The topic they came up with was very unusual for 1968: a woman fearful of having a baby out of wedlock, asks her man to wait just a bit longer before consummating their love.
“Love Child” was recorded over three days. It was then rush-released 10 days later, on Sept. 30, 1968.
The night before the single was available in stores, Diana Ross and the Supremes lip-synched their new song on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” In order to appear like poor tenement dwellers — mentioned in the song's lyrics — Ross wore ragged shorts and a sweatshirt. Birdsong and Mary Wilson appeared barefoot. Wilson would write later that she found that performance difficult, given that neither she nor Birdsong had sung during the actual recording session.
“Love Child” would sell 500,000 copies in the first week it was released and would sell 2 million before the end of 1968. It would spend 16 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and two weeks at No. 1.
The Supremes would score a final No. 1 hit a year later. In November 1969, Ross would depart the Supremes. Motown would bring in Jean Terrell as a replacement and dub the result “The New Supremes.” The group would be disbanded for good in 1977.
This edition of Further Review was adapted for the web by Zak Curley.