Songs I Love will be a Series I’ll return to without much notice nor with any regular schedule, mainly I’ll seek a spur of the moment rehashing of singular songs that have marked the music landscape with which I define my tastes.
Amid growing tensions within the group and the Motown label at large, their 26th release, ‘Reflections’ became the Supremes first single adorned with the name Diana Ross & the Supremes. Much like the Miracles had done 2 years prior and became Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Diana Ross was seeking to assert herself as a creative force outside a mere template, not just for recognition and additional economic stature, but as something of a trailblazer within the label and industry at large. Much has been said of Barry Gordy’s mafioso like control of his artists, and Diana Ross seeing her name busted out on the marquee must be looked at as a monumental break from the ordered power of the industry at the time. It wasn’t that she was a remarkably talented performer, but that she was no longer a pay check player to Gordy (or larger, the entire music industry) and that see deserved the autonomy and respect that went along with it. That she didn’t hurt the other artists in her wake makes her move all that more remarkable; men had done it (previously I’d mentioned Smokey Robinson for example among many others), but women really hadn’t. You can’t imagine Ronnie Spector getting more power than actually dating (and later marrying) Phil Spector and yet it never became Ronnie Spector & the Ronettes. No, Diana Ross was the first to breakdown the barrier, and with her group almost single-handling representing the States against the British Invasion in the charts for several years, you can’t begin to imagine the legacy this entailed.
It’d then be obvious to understand that the first release under the new title would need to be a scorcher, no small feat as of the 25 singles in the previous 7 years, 10 were number one hits, including each of the previous four. What was needed wasn’t another good one, or even a great one that the kids bought by the bushel, but rather, a tremendous one. One that changed the landscape, however briefly, and pushed the form into unchartered waters as Pop itself grew more and more grandiose within the psychedelic summer of 1967. What Holland-Dozier-Holland offered was the bittersweet ‘Reflections’, a lyric looking back as much as its arrangement looked forward.
Diana Ross, not to be outdone, is transcendently emotive too; listen how she sings “Reflects a hurt I can’t control (as ‘control-ol-ol)/‘cause although you’re gone/I keep holding’ on” as the bridge opens to exuberant boil. It’s a forlorn celebration of the fact that with freedom also comes loneliness, a testament to a singular artist dreaming of previous togetherness as she celebrates—through tears it’d seem—of the triumph of being alone at the top. The song almost seems about her name being pulled out from the Supremes, with the synthesizer track (itself a trendsetting piece of the songs construction; its deployment is one of Pop’s first) bubbling away along a pulsing bassline, she’s left to cry, “Oh, I’m all alone now/No love to shield me/trapped in a world/That’s a distorted reality”. As the group, and all of Motown receded around her, and as the Pop world took drugs to distort and search previously unknown horizons, Ross found all the uncharted worlds right there in her reading stone cold sober memories of lost love. You need not drop out to tune in the record would argue in late July of 1967, but just go deeper within the self and the world “will turn to dust”. Cosmic!