Saturday, January 26, 2008

Disco Delivery #51:
The Supremes - High Energy (1976, Motown)

The Supremes - High Energy
The Supremes - I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking
The Supremes - I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking (Extended Version)
The Supremes - Only You (Can Love Me Like You Love Me)
The Supremes - You Keep Me Moving On
The Supremes - You're What's Missing In My Life

A couple of years ago (yikes), I had done my first post on here on The Supremes excellent final album, "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye" (1976, Motown). I had promised another Supremes post a while back, so I figured I might as well do it now..

Produced by Brian Holland and executive produced by Edward J. Holland, both of the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland production team, arranged by Dale Warren and featuring star session players like Wah-Wah Watson (credited here as Melvin Ragin, as on most of his Motown sessions), Joe Sample and even Ray Parker, Jr., this LP seemed to mark a reunion of sorts, being the first full album the Holland brothers (this time minus Lamont Dozier) had produced for the group since the 1960s. However, unlike it's predecessor or it's follow-up record (which the Holland brothers also produced), I don't really consider this particular album to be among their better records. In fact, I've always found this to be a rather average album at best. What salvages this album though, are the two disco classics that open the record, "High Energy," and "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking," the latter being their last top 40 hit in the US and their biggest in a while by this point. Although the pop success that once defined them had long since faded, these two tracks are definitely among some of The Supremes' strongest records of the 70's, both having performed quite well in the discos - "I'm Gonna Let My Heart.." peaking at #3 and "High Energy," (which wasn't even a single) peaking at #9 on the Billboard disco charts.

By this point The Supremes were on their fourth and final lineup (Mary Wilson, Scherrie Payne & Susaye Greene) since Diana Ross' departure, with longtime member Cindy Birdsong having departed (or rather having been fired by Wilson's then husband/group manager) just after the album was completed. Enter Susaye Greene; widely known these days as "The Last Supreme," the pint-sized multi-octave vocalist already had quite an accomplished resume upon joining the group, having worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, New Birth and having written for Deniece Williams (and later on, Michael Jackson post-Supremes). Having joined just after the album was finished, Birdsong's background vocals were evidently kept in the mix, with Susaye's vocals overdubbed on a few songs (although Susaye herself disputes this, saying she was in fact on all of them).. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, "High Energy," the album opener and title track is, quite appropriately, the defining statement of this album. Reportedly intended for departed member Birdsong, Greene, in her recording debut with the group (and one of her few full lead vocals for The Supremes) puts her indelible stamp on it; her soaring vocals perfectly complimenting the lush, high flying arrangements. Harold Beatty, the Holland Brothers' main collaborator on the album and co-writer of this song explained to writer Brian Chin years later (for his essay on the Supremes Box Set): "I always liked the lushness of a symphony, that's where the concept behind the 'High Energy' album came about." An elegant disco-funk opus, nothing else on the album would summarize Beatty's concept better. Combining the rich sounds of orchestral disco, the assertiveness of Norman Whitfield and Isaac Hayes' funk symphonies with the well-established grace and class of The Supremes, "High Energy" seemed like a bold step forward..

Despite not sounding anything like the synthesized disco subgenre of the 80s that would take it's name, one would be hard-pressed to deny the uplifting feeling of this track. With an entrancing looped guitar (?), warm keys, orchestral tympanis and a burning wah-wah laying the foundation in the intro - which runs nearly two minutes before Mary Wilson's sensual spoken intro kicks in: "share what you got to keep what you need, right?.... Wrong!," the song has an incredible, understated buildup. With Susaye's vocals right in the stratusphere by the second half of the song, complimented by those string washes and serene background vocals (anyone else hear shades of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" here?), the track peaks in truly epic, exciting fashion towards the end..

"I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking," the second track into the album, is for me another one of those disco songs which radiate nothing but pure, unadulterated joy. It's likely the best remembered track on the album, and perhaps the most enduring out of all The Supremes' disco hits. Opening with those unforgettable strutting drums and percussion, propelled along by Wah-Wah Watson's scorching guitar work; with it's rousing, uplifting arrangement and it's empowering theme, "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" proved to be a surefire winner.. Between Scherrie Payne's confident, brassy vocals being a perfect fit for the track's theme, understated string sweetening, wah-wah going wild towards the end, it's a pity this never got a true extended remix. With all the amazing elements in play here, the possibilities for not only extending it's length, but for heightening the song's feeling seem endless. At a perfunctory three and a half minutes in length, it certainly speaks to it's excellence that it did as well as it did in the discos, and continues to be a mainstay today.

So far, the only official 'extended' version of this song seems to be a four minute version, that if I'm not mistaken, was unreleased until it's inclusion on the Motown compilation "Funkology, Volume 3" (1996, Motown). Less of a special extended disco mix and more like a slightly longer alternate mix, the main difference with the extended mix seems to be a new bridge placed earlier in the song, which, at least to me, seems to throw a bit of a wrench into the upward, uplifting dynamic of the song.

The rest of Side A is filled out with the two remaining uptempo tracks on the album: "Only You (Can Love Me Like You Love Me) and "You Keep Me Moving On." While they don't exactly live up to the excellence of the first two tracks, they're probably among some of the more enjoyable tracks on the album with Scherrie Payne's vocals making all the difference, injecting them with enough energy to carry them across, even in some of their more laboured sections (some of the verses in "You Keep Me Moving On," for example).. For me, the most exciting of these two tracks would have to be "Only You..," with it's bold intro, memorable refrain, and the background vocals' perfect, balanced interplay with the lead, which add a great deal to the track..

As far as the rest of the record goes, Side B was pretty much turned over to the ballads, largely featuring Mary Wilson on vocals. Although tracks like "Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You," a cover of an earlier Dionne Warwick (in her Dionne Warwicke days) song and a medley pairing an original "Til The Boat Sails Away" with the Thom Bell/Linda Creed standard "I Don't Want To Lose You," (originally for The Spinners) spotlighted Mary's vocals quite well; the latter, in particular, with it's sparse arrangement and 8 minute length, felt much too plodding than it needed to be. The bright spot on Side B however was the final track, "You're What's Missing In My Life" (later covered by Motown labelmate/former Spinners singer G.C. Cameron) featuring Wilson and Scherrie Payne on vocals. A beautifully arranged ballad that seemed to bring things full circle, bringing back the lush, dynamic orchestration of the title track (especially in that killer intro), making it a perfect album closer.

Overall, while their self-titled album from the previous year marked The Supremes' emergence in the discos, the two leading tracks off this album seemed to solidify their presence. With the Holland Brothers' storied history and them having produced a couple of the best tracks off their 1975 self-titled LP, perhaps there was an idea that this reunion might be able to re-create some of the old magic from The Supremes and Holland-Dozier-Holland's hitmaking glory days. While it didn't quite happen that way commercially speaking, even with their follow-up record "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye" which would prove to be a much more solid, consistent and better album overall; at the very least this LP, with it's standouts: "High Energy" and "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" showed that there were definitely still life left in the group. Unfortunately, strong material aside, with the rise of other female groups like First Choice, The Three Degrees, The Pointer Sisters, The Emotions and former rivals Labelle, it seemed the Supremes' bid for mainstream relevance had become something of a losing battle by this point. Still though, the fan in me can't help but wonder with their success in the discos, their glamorous image and their strong gay following if they still stood a chance. Perhaps as a disco act, they would have been able to recapture some of their former glory with disco's explosion into the mainstream, which was just around the corner by this time. The 'what-if's' are endless, I suppose.. However, while the group would last for barely another year and for only one more album, the disco classics that The Supremes left us with would prove to be the final triumph for one of Motown's most successful, legendary groups..

Just a note about CD availablility: While this album has yet to be released on CD in it's entirety, "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" and "You're What's Missing In My Life" along with an inferior alternate version of "High Energy" were all included on the excellent Supremes 70's Anthology (2002, Motown/Universal) double-CD set, which it appears has just recently gone out of print (though a digital download is still available). Despite the Motown Funkology CD being out-of-print as well, the extended version of "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" is still available on CD, included on the Supremes box set from 2000 along with the full LP version of "High Energy." For another option, the full version of "High Energy" is also available on the more recent (and much more accessible) double cd compilation "Motown Disco" (2005, Motown/Universal), compiled by the good people at Six Million Steps to whom I'm forever grateful for including this..

Also, I couldn't possibly do this post without including some Supremes videos from this time.. Although it has to be said, as much as I love seeing these ladies on video, sometimes the videos showed the weakness in this particular lineup. Between Mary towering over the other two ladies, and often being made the visual centre (even when she wasn't the lead vocalist), Susaye's sometimes exaggerated expressions etc.. visually the lineup seemed rather awkward at times, even as their recordings were some of their most exciting...

This first video is of the ladies doing a stellar live performance (for what appears to be a stone-faced audience) on The Mike Douglas Show, which they pull off marvelously.. Also included is a brief interview with the ladies, where Mary Wilson speaks about the then recently deceased original Supreme, Florence Ballard, with some emotional difficulty. On a visual note, Supremes fans will probably notice those dresses as holdovers from the Diana Ross & The Supremes days..

The Supremes - I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking (Mike Douglas Show)
Uploaded by gmcclo1974

Part two of their Mike Douglas appearance, taking things down a bit with a performance of one of the album's ballads "Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You" with Mary taking the lead.

The Supremes - Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You (Mike Douglas Show)
Uploaded by gmcclo1974

The next two are from their early music video project, which was given an extremely rare home video release as "The High Energy Video Collection." That collection included selections from both this LP and "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye." Looking at these videos, I gotta give props to Mary here for holding her own, even while visibly pregnant (notice the bump in the first video and the big red dress in the second). Got to mention also how much I love the graceful, coordinated choreography at the beginning of "You're What's Missing In My Life" - the disco Supremes at their most glamorous! I should also mention that they also did a video for "High Energy," which was unfortunately deleted from YouTube some months back. Here's hoping someone reposts it one of these days.. Anyway, If you're still curious to see more Supremes videos from the same collection, click over to the Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (reprise) post from earlier last year, where you can see the awesome videos for a couple of their later disco stormers "You're My Driving Wheel" and "Let Yourself Go"..

The Supremes - I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking
Uploaded by ivyfield

The Supremes - You're What's Missing In My Life
Uploaded by ivyfield







Anonymous said...

Love the Supremes' disco outings.
Isn't it amazing how I'M GONNA LET MY HEART... sounds like FIRST CHOICE's best disco hits ?
I've been playing the MOTOWN DISCO compilation a lot lately.
A suggestion : SYREETA's 1981 album called SET MY LOVE IN MOTION had so many great disco classics on it.Wish I'd kept my copy !! LOL


Anonymous said...

who is the other song lp ?

Anonymous said...

yes the other title ???
01. High Energy
02. I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking
03. Only You (Can Love Me Like You Love Me)
04. You Keep Me Moving On
05. Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You
06. Till The Boat Sails Away
07. I Don't Want To Lose You
08. You're What's Missing In My Life

M.E. Grant said...

While this sound is a progression from the Supremes' beginnings, it doesn't seem to retain or expand on their legacy in the way "Diana" did for Diana Ross. They were determined to SELL it, though.

Tommy said...

Hey Kristofer!

I've never really thought about it, but yeah, I can see what you mean. There are certain parts like the horn driven arrangement that remind me of First Choice. Now that you mention it, I've read some reviewers mention how some of The Supremes' stuff from this time had a bit of a Philly influence. I'd probably say it's perhaps like a slicker, more glittered, polished version of First Choice, if you will :)

Speaking of Motown Disco, I'd love to see a Volume 2 someday..

BTW Thanks for mentioning Syreeta's album! I've been on the lookout for a good copy of that for a little while now, ever since I heard it's follow up LP, "The Spell".. I love what I've heard from it so far ("Quick Slick," "Move It, Do It" and of course "Can't Shake Your Love" - all awesome!)

Anyway, thanks for the comment and *hugs* to you too! :)

Anonymous, yes those are the other tracks on the LP. Unfortunately I'm not going to post all of the tracks from this album. I added a couple more to round out Side A, but that will be it on this album for now.

Hey M.E. Grant. Yeah, I'd agree.. All things considered, the Supremes probably didn't go far enough in breaking away from their old identity. I recall reading some fans say that seeing them perform on TV and such, it looked like they were trapped between two different eras at time. Although I have to say again that their follow up album, "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye" did a much better job of establishing a new musical sound for them, it evidently wasn't enough. Although still, the fan in me wonders had they been able to work with the Chic Org. before Diana, or Moroder before the Three Degrees etc.. whether they would have been able to make that break and give themselves new relevance..

Anyway, despite the what-ifs and should-haves, it is what it is, I suppose... Thanks as always for the comment! :)

BoogieMan said...

Interesting album. It sounds vaguely familiar yet, I'm not certain that I've ever listened to it before. Though, certainly identifiable as a Disco era outing, it seems to be lacking something that all the songs, around that time, had. That is, with the exception of "You're What's Missing In My Life". It has that classic tempo that just screams for it's listeners to, get up and do the hustle. At least, that's my fave of these selections. Thanks Tommy, another sweet surprise for me.

Tommy said...

Hey, no problem DungeonDJ! Glad you enjoyed "You're What's Missing In My Life." Love the exquisite arrangements on that one... Thanks for the comment! :)

M.E. Grant said...

Tommy, for a strange almost-but-not-quite hint of what you're referring to as this lineup's potential with different disco producers, I recommend the group's medley of hits sequenced into a disco track from 1977. Of course it's just the original records with overdubs of bass and four on the floor drums, but the union of these distinctly different sounds is food for thought.

Tommy said...

Hey M.E. Grant - Yes, I believe I know the one you're talking about. The one they included on the 'Diana' Deluxe edition (originally done for Disconet). Truth be told, I don't normally go for that sort of thing, but I actually enjoy that one..

Mr.Devlin said...

dope... trying to download now.divishare is acting lame. Your posts are crazy footnoted. Great work,


BoogieMan said...

Woah, Tommy, Looks like you're going to need a new image hosting server. "Bandwidth Exceeded"? Ahh, what price fame?;)

Tommy said...

Thanks, Mr. Devlin! Hope you're able to get it to work. I'll most likely be switching back to zShare for the next posts. I'm not crazy about divshare's limits. Anyway, thanks again for leaving a comment! :)

Hey DungeonDJ, according to Photobucket it's $25.00 ;) Anyway, I apologise for that little blip there... I was checking my email at the one of the computer terminals at the uni. when I saw those damn Photobucket notices. Anyway, it should be working fine now..

Anonymous said...

Hey there

Glad to see another soul who appreciates "Let My Heart...". A fabulous tune that combines the best of emotive songwriting and propulsive disco.

There is indeed a very nice extended version of this tune, unfortunately it is not an official Motown release.

Danny Krivit did the edit, uncredited, and it was issued on a few different NYC-based bootleg records over the years.

I believe the last one I saw (a couple years ago, it is probably still out there somewhere) was entitled "Disco Classics" (yeah, real descriptive, I know) and if I remember right also had Labelle "What Can I Do For You" and a couple Staples Singers tunes on it.

Anyway, Danny's edit is just right: takes the big build up towards the end and milks it.

Thanks for your informative posts.

Nasty G said...

Thanks so much for this! The timing is perfect, as I'm reading Mary Wilson's "Supreme Faith" and she just discussed making this album! What a coincidence!! And I was wanting to hear what this sounded like. Thanks again!!

Nasty G said...

Oh, and if you ever get the chance to re-up the Mary, Scherrie & Susaye tracks, I'd love you forever. ;)

Tommy said...

Hey anonymous, thanks for the tip on the uncredited Krivit re-edit.. I'm gonna have to track that down! I'd love to hear that one.. Thanks for the comment! :)

Hey Nasty G, thanks for the comment! :) I really enjoyed Mary's "Supreme Faith," dare I say, even more than "Dreamgirl." It's really that book which got me into the 70's Supremes in the first place.. Anyway, due to popular demand, I've re-upped the " Mary, Scherrie & Susaye" files, I've had some people ask me privately already, so I figure I might as well. Hope you enjoy them! :) Thanks again!

Nasty G said...

Thanks!! I agree with you, Supreme Faith IS better, and it's totally what made me want to hear the Supremes' '70's stuff too. Thanks again for the re-up!!!

Nasty G said...

Oh, and I'm also curious to hear Mary Wilson's solo debut. If you ever get it, please post! :)

Tommy said...

I went to see Mary here in Calgary last year and got one of my copies signed.. Her album is definitely on my 'to post' list! :)

Anonymous said...

Tommy, you done did it again!
This album is also one of my faves!!! I've just visited Susaye's Myspace page, and saw the portriat of Mary J. Blige... let me tell you- this last Supreme CAN paint!!

And speaking of the self-titled 1975 album, Could you please post it? (Yes, I'm the same one who post the comment on "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye" album.)

Thanx sooooo much!!!

Anonymous said...

Hot Tracks did extended versions of "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walkin'". Using the original LP version on Hot Classics Issue 8 (5:35), then the unreleased CD version for the Hot Classics Box Set, Disc 5 (5:16). Both versions were done by Stephen L. Freeman.

Anonymous said...

I am a staunch admirer of the 70's+ Supremes. From the first play of 'Right On' to 'Mary, Scherrie & Susaye' there were potentially more hit singles on every album released by The Supremes in that decade. Just annoys me that While the Supremes' career was on the up after Ms. Ross' departure, Berry saw to it that their success was nipped in the bud because there was only ever really one Supreme as far as he was concerned. For me, Jean, Lynda, Scherrie & Susaye are exceptional and unique vocalists who are done a real dis-service by the lable that they made millions of dollars for and I suppose they will get little (if any) mention in the upcoming Motown 50 celebrations. Thank God we have those great CD's and on that subject - when is 'The Supremes - The Scherrie Payne years' coming out?

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to find the song "Till The Boat Sails Away" so I can listen to it again and hopefully download it, but I can't find it anywhere! Can someone help me? Does anyone know where I get get this song? I would be very grateful... Thanks!

Anonymous said...


Samtrak said...


Mary Wilson's sexy voice shines on ballads produced by the Holland Brothers, formerly of Holland-Dozier-Holland who produced most of The Supremes' early hits. Soaring sopranos from Scherrie Payne and Susaye Green, tight harmonies and intricate vocal interplay, good songs and the Motown Sound make this one The Supremes' tightest (and best!) albums ever. Sweeping hypnotic rhythms and jazzy charts on the dynamic "High Energy" title track launch The Supremes into stratospheric new territory and "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" became a Billboard Top 40 hit in 1976 despite little or no promotion from Motown.

nurs said...

thanks you

Samtrak said...

When will the last 3 albums by The Supremes - and the final Motown solo lps by Mary, Scherrie, and Susaye - be relesaed?

Samtrak said...

Thanks for all the work you've done to preserve The Supremes legacy.

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