45 Years Ago: The Supremes and the Temptations Release ‘Together’
You can never say that Motown’s Berry Gordy didn’t get the most out of his cadre of recording artists.
In 1968, the label chief decided to pair up two of his most successful artists (and two of the most celebrated groups in pop music as a whole): Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations. Not only did Gordy plan a collaborative LP (‘Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations’), he organized a huge prime-time special titled ‘TCB,’ to air during the 1968 holiday season. In addition, the TV program coincided with the release of a live soundtrack album.
It’s no shock that when those albums hit No. 1 (‘TCB’) and No. 2 (‘Join’) on the album charts, Gordy planned to do it all over again the next year. And so, on Sept. 23, 1969, the ladies and the fellas teamed up once again to release ‘Together’ -- which was followed by another TV special (‘G.I.T. on Broadway’) with another accompanying soundtrack LP.
What might be shocking, however, is that four albums in less than a year only scratches the surface of the musical output for the Supremes and the Temptations between the fall of 1968 and the fall of 1969. In addition to the aforementioned collaborative releases, each group continued to put out their own records during that time. The Temps were responsible for four albums in that stretch (two studio, two live) and Ross & the Supremes released three LPs (all studio records). That’s a grand total of 11 full-length albums between the two groups in less than a year’s time. And, more often than not, the music on those records was good.
That period of time found both groups in transition. In mid-1968, Temptations lead vocalist David Ruffin, who sang the band’s biggest hits at that time, was fired from the group for his erratic behavior and replaced by Dennis Edwards. (Gordy’s uncertainty about the future of the new lineup might have been a factor in the Temps/Supremes pairing, too.) After Edwards joined, the quintet began to embrace psychedelia on the albums ‘Cloud Nine’ (with its hit title track) and ‘Puzzle People (with ‘I Can’t Get Next to You’).
Meanwhile, the Supremes had their own growing pains. In 1967, Diana Ross had demanded frontwoman billing above other members Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong -- and got it from Gordy. For the rest of Ross’ tenure, the group’s recordings were credited to “Diana Ross & the Supremes.” Musically, the group began to move on from straight-forward love songs into tracks laced with social commentary (‘Love Child’ and its follow-up ‘I’m Livin’ in Shame’). Then, by the end of ’69, Ross would leave the Supremes behind with the smash swan song ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ -- which, in wonderful Motown fashion, was credited to the Supremes, but only featured Ross.
To summarize the story so far: in the year that saw four Temptations/Supremes crossovers, both groups were making some of the best, most innovative music of their careers amidst a hectic work schedule and behind-the-scenes turmoil. This made the limp collection of songs on ‘Together’ all the more dull. Half the album is composed of prior Motown hits that were occasionally done justice (‘Stubborn Kind of Fellow’ and ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing’ come out all right) but never bettered by their more famous versions. The obvious blemish was a poorly conceived medley of Mary Wells’ ‘My Guy’ and the Temps’ own ‘My Girl,’ which stripped the magic of each song by combining them.
The supergroup fared better when covering non-Motown hits, from Sly Stone’s ‘Sing a Simple Song’ (which approached the psychedelic soul of the era’s Temptations recordings) to the Band’s ‘The Weight’ (which dug a pop middle ground between the original and the Staple Singers’ cover – although achieved the transcendence of neither). On the other hand, the Motown version of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ somehow gets out-grooved by Frankie Valli’s original rendition. The Funk Brothers must have forgotten to eat their Wheaties.
If ‘Together’ diminished creative returns, it lacked the commercial impact of just about everything else the band did (together or separately) in the late ’60s. And while the previous year’s ‘Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations’ produced a No. 2 hit with ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,’ the singles released from ‘Together’ -- ‘The Weight’ in the U.S., ‘Why (Must We Fall in Love)’ in the U.K. -- stalled in the 40s and 30s, before quickly dropping out.
Clearly, joining these two legendary groups was a good idea. Perhaps ‘Together’ was just one album too much of a good thing.
Listen to ‘Together’ by Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations