Sunday, February 03, 2013

Squeaky Diane ... haunts London

... with best wishes to Miss P. in London

On the day 45 years ago, The Supremes Live at the Talk of the Town was aired tonight on British TV. The post-Flo Supremes had opened in London's Talk of the Town on January 22, 1968. It was part of a tour through Europe (not their first) which took them to Cannes, Paris, Milan, Hamburg, Amster- dam, Stockholm and, well, London. After their 22 January concert, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (not in the photo) were immortalized by a press photographer when Paul McCartney showed up and said hi (... and fittingly the #1 pop song in January 1968 was the Beatles's »Hello Goodbye«!); you can find a larger version of this pic in the February 10 issue of Billboard.

Now, let's pause for a moment and think what was going on in the heads of the persons on the photo. The Supremes had, just before they departed for Europe, stayed in sunny Mexico to deliver their pathetic contribution to an episode of Ron Ely's Tarzan. The episode in question was called The Convert and was aired in the US on January 12, 1968; you can watch it on YouTube. In that episode, the Supremes appear as three nuns and merrily chant a few churchy tunes, e.g. »Michael Row The Boat Ashore«; their boat capsizes because their singing irritates a touchy hippo (can't blame it) and all three are getting a jungle bath before being valiantly rescued by Tarzan. They then act their lordly way through the dire episode to conclude it with shouts of Hallelujah and a lot of hand-clapping.
     Motown's admittedly clever publicity idea to insert the Supremes, whose record sales were slacking in late 1967, in a noted TV series was deemed interesting enough to warrant a  fully-fledged coverage of their »Swinging Dramatic TV Acting Debut« in JET (issue of January 18, 1968, p. 60 ff.). The JET piece came with a centerfold pic of the Supremes »cooling off ... after a hot day's work in the jungle« (see it here), and there were also a number of pics showing the nuns from Detroit at work ...

(From JET, January 18, 1968, issue, p. 60)
The unlikely nuns then exchanged their modest attire for sequined dresses, flashy elbow gloves and tippy heels, boarded a plane and eventually run into Paul McCartney, or vice versa. What mood was he in? Well, right on 22 January, the new Apple office had opened in London, ushering in the last phase of the Beatles epic. Spiritually, he may have been preparing for his imminent trip to India where he was to study Transcendental Meditation (from mid-February onwards); eventually, he became bored and returned home, although he later claimed that TM »has helped him personally« (see quote here). Before he boarded his plane, he had taken part in shooting a small part for the Yellow Submarine movie and also recorded »Lady Madonna«.

Motown LP # MS 676 (08/1968)
The Supremes meeting Paul McCartney were thus a truly bizarre match. Let's hope that Paul, who reportedly attended the Talk of the Town concert of the Supremes before meeting them afterwards, was too distracted by the Apple launch and the India follies of his buddies to listen closely to what the Detroit ladies were offering on stage. However, Berry Gordy saw to it that the public was, in August 1968, endowed with a live LP which brought the musical enrichment of the British Isles as enacted by the Supremes into the home of unfortunate record buyers. In any case, the LP is one of the best live recordings to come out of Motown, although the measuring standards are poor. Diana and the Supremes did what they could best: trying to make forget the public by their lively appearance that vocal art was an alien concept to their lead singer. Unfortunately this strategy doesn't work on vinyl.

But London survived the Supremes, I guess. And there is still much talk of the town going on there, after all.

The Supremes, first medley from the Motown LP # MS 676 (1968):

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