Change comes to the Supremes, Motown

What a shock it must have been to radio listeners in 1967 to hear a song start with a series of electronic beeps, only to then have it lead into the familiar voice of Diana Ross.  Then, when buyers flocked to the stores to buy the new single, they saw a newly revised credit on the Motown label. Today’s entry from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s tells about that Motown single.

# 454
Reflections / Diana Ross & the Supremes /
Motown M-1111
(Total points: 1,238 / Chart debut: 8/12/1967 / Chart peak: 2 / Weeks on chart: 11)

From the time the Supremes first made it big in 1964, the focal point of the group had been Diana Ross, the lead singer on all their hits. This 1967 hit made it even more official: For the first time, the group name featured Ross, and it would continue to do so until she went solo in 1970.

It marked another change in the group: For the last time, Florence Ballard appeared on a Supremes single. The vocals were recorded on May 9, 1967; by the time the record was released, Ballard had left the trio and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, a former member of Patti LaBelle & the Blue-Belles who was sometimes mistaken for Ballard in daily life.

The most distinctive part of the actual recording, though, is the series of electronic beeps and blips that start the song and also appear elsewhere. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, two-thirds of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team that wrote “Reflections,” happened upon Motown engineer Russ Terrana using a tone generator to test the studio’s acoustics. They liked the otherworldly sound the device made and, influenced by such records as “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys and “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles, thought it would be just the right thing to add to their new Supremes song. It was their first nod to the growing psychedelic music scene. Interestingly, the instrumental track was recorded in February 1967, several months before the so-called Summer of Love, though the single was released right in the midst of it.

“Reflections” raced into the Top 10 on its third week on the chart, which by 1967 was pretty typical for a Supremes single. But it got stuck at #2 for two weeks behind one of the biggest hits of the year, “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, thus ending a streak of four consecutive pop #1s.

Collector’s notes: Copies of “Reflections” came from five different pressing plants. The “M-1111” catalog number is the most common, with or without a dash. The number appears as “MOT 1111” on records that were made by RCA in Indianapolis and as “MOTOWN 1111” from a different RCA plant in Rockaway, N.J. One label with the “M 1111” number still has the Grand Avenue address and phone number on it. All five of these are from the time the record was a hit, and any can be considered original. Most importantly, all 1967 45s of “Reflections” contain the same mix.

Fast fact: Of the 14 songs by the Supremes (or Diana Ross & the Supremes) in the Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, 12 of them were composed by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

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