Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 24: The Supremes, "Come See About Me"

Artist: The Supremes
Song: "Come See About Me"
Album: Where Did Our Love Go
Year: 1964

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Though most people see 1964 as the year that the "British Invasion" occurred in the U.S., there was far more happening in the country at the time, and in many cases, it was these "homegrown" artists that were finding greater success than those who were stealing headlines.  While there are many factors that play into this reality, perhaps the most obvious is that the sounds of "pop rock" had not yet fully taken hold of the nation, and the charts were still lately dominated by R&B and soul groups.  Taking this into account, one can easily see 1964 as one of the most successful for Motown Records, and though many groups had big songs that year, there was one act that seemed incapable of releasing anything short of number one singles.  Truth be told, beginning in 1964, this group would have six of their next seven singles top the charts, and it is this string of hits that made legends out of the vocal trio known as The Supremes.  With half of these songs coming off of their truly perfect Where Did Our Love Go? record, it was this run of hits that make The Supremes worthy of being called the defining act of Motown Records, yet it also makes it difficult to pick a single song that defines the groups' sound.  Though it in many ways bears a striking resemblance to the albums' title track, and though the trio had many unforgettable hits, there is truly something magical about The Supremes' 1964 hit single, "Come See About Me."

Along with being one of The Supremes' most recognizable songs, "Come See About Me" also features one of the greatest musical performances in the long, storied history of The Funk Brothers.  From the moment the song begins with the drum lead-in that quickly builds, immediately grabbing the listener, it is clear that the entire band is "locked in" for this performance.  Again proving that simplicity is often the better way to go on a song, the iconic guitar riff is in reality only three chords played in a unique cadence, and the combination of these two instruments gives "Come See About Me" its distinctive swing.  The only other heavy musical presence is the hand-claps, a sound which few have so perfectly integrated into music as well as The Funk Brothers.  Though there are small touches from a few other instruments, overall "Come See About Me" is a rather stripped-down musical affair when compared to the rest of The Funk Brothers' work, yet it is one of their most memorable recordings, and proves that whether it was a simple orchestration such as this, or an extremely complex musical arrangement, the group knew few peers when it came to pure musical talent.  The brief horn sting on the songs' bridge is also significant, as it was this aspect that led to Junior Walker making his own version of the song a few years later, yet there has never been another take on the song that even comes remotely close to the musical performance found on the original.

While The Funk Brothers deliver their almost expected musical perfection, there is little question that the focus of "Come See About Me" is firmly on the vocal performance, and the lead singing from Diana Ross on this song remains one of her greatest performances.  As is almost always the case with Ross, her voice flows so naturally that it is truly stunning to consider the amount of power she has in her voice without "pushing" her sound.  From her smooth, sultry sound on the verses to the more emotionally somber, yet equally powerful sound on the choruses, Ross and her singing partners turn this song into one of the most irresistible ever recorded.  The backing vocals from Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard give the song a fantastic depth, as they present an excellent contrast to the sound of Ross' lead work.  With the fantastic vocals working over the superb musical performance, the mood of the song is wonderfully upbeat; yet if one inspects the lyrics of the song, they stand in quite a strong contrast to these elements.  Penned by the sensational Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team, "Come See About Me" can be seen as the final lyrical part of the trio that began with "Where Did Our Love Go."  By this point, the relationship in question had been broken, and the protagonist was looking for some sort of reconciliation with her lost love.  While the songs' words are quite universal, there is a strange implication that this was not the most emotionally healthy relationship, yet one cannot deny the long lasting impact of the songs' fantastic chorus.

Truth be told, "Come See About Me" was actually a bit of a rushed effort, as Motown Records President, Berry Gordy, had heard that singer Nella Dodds was going to release the same song.  Obviously, Gordy succeeded in beating Dodds' version to market, and The Supremes' version is so good that every other take on the song falls far beyond the wayside.  The fact that the song ranks among the greatest in the history of Motown, yet sports one of the most stripped-down arrangements in the labels' history serves as a testament to the exceptional talent of The Funk Brothers, and their ability to make "Come See About Me" swing in such a mesmerizing way makes the song like nothing else ever recorded.  From the trademark "walking" bassline to the perfect use of hand-claps, The Funk Brothers proved that while rock music may have been gaining steam, there was simply nothing that could make a groove quite like the sounds of Motown.  In many ways appearing as the "final" chapter of the story found on Where Did Our Love Go?, it is amazing to hear how Diana Ross is able to turn this sad, somber tale into a song with such spirit that the true sentiment behind the song is almost lost.  Her voice soars with an unmatched beauty, and it is almost impossible to argue any other performance anywhere in her career as superior to her work on this song.  Standing high atop the list of greatest vocal groups in history, there are few songs that are more closely associated with The Supremes than their iconic 1964 single, "Come See About Me."

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