50 Years Ago: The Supremes Release ‘Come See About Me’
After years of watching the Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas score blockbuster hits on the pop charts, the Supremes had finally stepped out of the shadows of Motown’s other girl groups. By October 1964, the trio had scored their first No. 1 (the summer hit ‘Where Did Our Love Go’) and were poised to repeat that feat (‘Baby Love,’ released in September, was rocketing to the top of the Billboard singles chart). So with a second consecutive single about to land at No. 1, whose idea was it to put out yet another Supremes 45 on October 27, 1964?
The answer is Motown head honcho Berry Gordy, although he wasn’t happy about rush releasing a single that could potentially compete with the one already riding high on the charts. But, as far as he saw it, that was his only option.
Back in August, Motown had released the second Supremes LP, titled ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ collecting singles and B-sides dating back to ’63, but also including tracks intended for release as future singles. One such song was ‘Come See About Me,’ an instantly catchy tune with a fade-in, martial drumbeat, cooing backing vocals and enticing lead performance from Diana Ross.
Meanwhile, in New York City a 14-year-old would-be soul singer named Nella Dodds sang along with the brand-new Supremes album to audition for Wand Records. When she passed, the R&B label decided to have her record a version of ‘Come See About Me’ – i.e. the catchiest song on the LP that had not yet been issued as a single by Motown. Dodds’s sound-alike cover version (close, but lacking the crisp energy of the original) was put out in mid-October.
Gordy wasn’t going to sit back and allow another artist to have a hit with a song that had been written at Motown (by the legendary team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland), recorded at Motown (by the famous Funk Brothers) and originally sung by Motown’s hottest act. So on October 27, ‘Come See About Me’ – backed with ‘(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart’ – was issued as Motown 1068, with Gordy banking that the Supremes’ newfound star power would stomp all over a track by the unknown Nellie Dodds.
The gambit worked. ‘Come See About Me’ became the Supremes third No. 1 hit in a row (amidst a streak of five chart-toppers that stretched into 1965) when it landed the top spot in December. It was displaced by ‘I Feel Fine’ by the Beatles (another group that had a big year in 1964), but overtook No. 1 again in January.
Around the same time that the song first zoomed to the No. 1 position, Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson made their debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ singing their current hit. It would be the group’s first of 16 appearances on the variety program – the foremost showcase for music stars at the time. America’s love affair with the Supremes had only just begun.