Motown At 60

From time-to-time I update my series on The Great London Sleeves here on The London Music Tours website. I'm in a quandary today with this one…


Not sure if it qualifies as a great London sleeve – the pic could have been taken anywhere.

As a great album, however, it is, for this listener, unimpeachable. And fascinating, too. It dates from one of rock and pop's twilight periods: it's 1968 and pop groups are getting bigger in sound and scope. Rock Opera is in the air and "prog" is just around the corner.

So what becomes of the pop group who can't, or simply doesn't want to evolve in such a fashion? What happens when critical opinion is leaving them behind, when fashion has turned its back? They go back, that's what, regress to a reassuring, tried and tested earlier model. In this case, it's back to the late 50s when pop was viewed as merely the youth branch of showbiz, with no potential to evolve, where acts would have their half dozen chart topping hits and then "graduate" into adult showbiz, cabaret, musicals and movies.

1968 was an uncertain time for singles bands, when the album was becoming king. And The Supremes were one of the ultimate singles bands.

The Talk of the Town was London's famous cabaret venue, established by Bernard Delfont in 1958 at the Hippodrome Theatre in the West End (a Frank Matcham designed theatre opened in 1900). Judy GarlandFrank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald played seasons there. Ethel Merman made her only British appearances at The Talk of the Town.

In February '68 Diana Ross and The Supremes were in residence. Founder member Flo Ballard had been ousted and Motown boss Berry Gordy had changed the band's name from The Supremes to Diana Ross & The Supremes. New member Cindy Birdsong made her British live debut with the group on this album.

Both Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger attended the shows and the album finds the group poised half-way between show tunes and pop. The album opens with the Rodgers and Hart number With A Song In My Heart (The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart had been the band's most recent LP, and the last with Flo Ballard). 

But the Live At London's Talk Of The Town album still has enough Holland-Dozier-Holland classics to keep the purists happy – Stop In the Name Of Love and Reflections, to name but two. There's even a nod to the locals with a medley of McCartney's Yesterday and Michelle.

The London Music Tour meets at Tottenham Court Road tube every Friday 2pm


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