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The Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal Hardcover – June 30, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Biographer of Phil Spector (He's a Rebel), among others, Ribowsky takes a dishy, insider look at Berry Gordy's making of the Supremes, with some nasty swipes at Diana Ross while elevating Flo Ballard as the trio's martyr. In his detailed look at how Berry engineered his Motown empire, thanks to his smart sisters and a lot of luck and fortuitous pairing of talent, Ribowsky nicely intersperses some hindsight reflections by the main players, such as the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland of the legendary songwriting team with Lamont Dozier, with comparative accounts by Mary Wilson, Ross and others in order to sift the truth from the legend. While the author constantly snipes at Ross for her popping eyes and naked ambition, it was largely her single-minded drive that garnered attention to the trio's early incarnation as the Primettes, and her high girl-woman singing voice that established the Supremes' distinctive sound. Moreover, Ross's influence on Gordy (and his faith in her future solo stardom) motivated him to keep pushing the group into the limelight, in spite of other girl groups that had a bigger top hit following, such as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In this engaging, vivacious account, Ribowsky energetically and thoroughly underscores the Supremes' significance as one of the first crossover successes. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Best Musical Titles of 2009, London Sunday Times, 12/6/09
“The story of Motown’s most successful group has been told many times before by individual contributors with particular agendas. This well-sourced biography is the first attempt to synthesise the conflicting views of the various Supremes and their Svengali patron, Tamla boss Berry Gordy.”
Midwest Book Review
“A powerful biography…Any general lending library will find this a popular lend.”
Elmore, January/February 2010
“440 pages of the mythical-sounding, yet completely factual tale of the trio’s ascension up the Billboard charts…Ribowsky tells a surprisingly objective story, with a narrative so vivid that you would believe he was there to witness it firsthand…Ribowsky succeeds in constructing a definitive account of the group from its humble and seedy origins to its anticlimactic demise.”
The TMR Zoo, 1/3/10
“Ribowsky has done a phenomenal job putting together the definitive biography on the biggest girl group (so far) of all time…Ribowsky knows how to dig deep…[and] does some good investigative work piecing the story together from the perspective of an objective party who wasn’t involved in the business.”
Publishers Weekly, 5/18/09
“A dishy, insider look at Berry Gordy’s making of the Supremes…Ribowsky nicely intersperses some hindsight reflections by the main players…In this engaging, vivacious account, Ribowsky energetically and thoroughly underscores the Supremes’ significance as one of the first crossover successes.”
The Milwaukee Shepherd Express, 9/17
“Capture[s] some of the sights and sounds of Detroit and its flourishing ’60s music scene in what, incredibly, seems to be the first full biography of the Supremes not written by an ex-member or intimate.”
Smooth Jazz News, October 2009
“Read this book for a point of view supplied from someone not directly involved with the Supremes or Motown…Enjoy sifting through the rumors.”
Detroit Metro Times MI, 11/25/09
“A worthy read…A real-life drama that’s actually way better then the fictionalized Dreamgirls…A fun and fascinating book…and it offers some terrific trivia gems.”
Howard County Times MD, 11/26/09
“[A] solid new biography of the group…Though Ribowsky doesn't shy away from drama, The Supremes is not a work of scandal-mongering. Instead, it is a nuanced portrait of the Detroit music scene of the period. Ribowsky’s use of primary sources, including his own interviews with major players, ensures something new for Supremes aficionados, while his balanced tone makes this a good starting place for newcomers as well.”
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Reading a lot of other books on the Supremes including Mary Wilson's memoirs "Dream Girl: My Life As A Supreme," Ross's memoirs "Secrets Of A Sparrow," the Benjaminson bio of Ballard "The Lost Supreme: The Life Of Dream Girl Florence Ballard," as well as the other unauthorized books by other authors like "All That Glitters" and "Call Her Miss Ross," I couldn't wait to read Ribowsky's book.
When I first started reading it, I felt like it was yet another hit job on Diana Ross because Ribowsky really piles it on making her out to be somewhat of a loner with a one directional mind hell bent on success. But as I finished the book, he lays blame all around and also adds in other stuff that indicates that Ross wasn't the only culprit in the matter of the real life "Dream Girls" saga.
He follows the groups career from the early formation and concentrates on the decade from the early 60s until Ross leaves the group to go solo, and there's follow up information of what happens after, not only to Ross, but also to Ballard, Wilson, the new incarnation of the group including Birdsong et al, and Berry Gordy and Motown, not to mention the Funk Brothers and HDH (Holland, Dozier, Holland). It's really a fascinating look at what was happening behind-the-scenes.
Ribowsky does this by comparing different books on the subject including Ross's, Wilson's, Benjaminson's, and others, interviews found in old music magazines, current day interviews, and what was happening during that time. You really have to take everything with a grain of salt because many things are coming from second hand information, yet there are things that are verifiable like what attorney Ballard used after being dismissed (or "quitting" the group as the party line goes) and how he squandered her money etc., likewise lawsuits that were filed by HDH and other artists against Motown.
It's interesting that Ribowsky didn't comment, just in passing, about "The Brockert Initiative," which was a lawsuit filed by artist Teena Marie in the early 80s who was under contract with Motown Records. In it, Marie claimed that the record company held her under contract, paid her a small yearly fee, recorded her, but didn't release any of the material she was recording and refused to allow her to write or record for any other record label, basically keeping her career in limbo. Marie won that suit which brought about "The Brockert Initiative," which made it illegal for a record company to hold an artist under contract and not release new material or allow them to go to other companies if they themselves refuse to release new material, and I mention this only because it does support Ribowsky's claim that The Supremes and other artists on the Motown roster were made to record many, many songs which never seen the light of day (until the past few years by limited release on CD), all the while being charged for making the recordings against future earnings! It really becomes bad, according to the book, once Gordy starts focusing on the Supremes toward the middle of the sixties, and other girl groups become shifted to the background like the Marvelettes and Martha & The Vandellas with all of their stuff staying in the vaults but they weren't allowed to leave the company and record elsewhere.
Another interesting thing I've recognized from reading this book is that the Supremes were definitely an altogether different monster than other rock groups of that era. I always thought that the Ronettes could've been as big as the Supremes if Phil Spector pushed them the same way Gordy did with Ross, Wilson, and Ballard (not to mention the similarities of the head of each recording company being obsessively in love with each lead singer) but someone pointed out that the Ronettes were strictly rock music, while the Supremes were multiple genres (and successful in each) giving them broader appeal.
Ribowsky highlights this in the book and how the group really hated performing middle-of-the-road (MOR) standards songs like "Make Someone Happy" and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Love You" even before they had broken through with their first number one "Where Did Our Love Go." We as fans can hear this because of all the unreleased recordings like on the expanded edition of "Meet The Supremes." On CD 2 the last 7 tracks were recorded live (probably at the 20 Grand) and the MC introduces them by saying they've got hits like "Buttered Popcorn and so forth..." hahaha, and they hit the stage; they perform some of their own songs and then throw in Dionne Warwick's "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and then "Make Someone Happy" and you can almost hear the audience going to sleep. In the book, the author describes places like the 20 Grand were black clubs with wild partying audiences who didn't know what to make of the Supremes especially when they would start in on a MOR standard. What's interesting is that these weren't rock covers of standards or show tunes like the Beatles' cover of "A Taste Of Honey" or "'Till There Was You," these were straight cover versions including the symphony and original big band sound. This is really evident in the 2002 limited edition CD release of "The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart." Clearly, even then Berry Gordy had a vision that this particular group wasn't going to be limited to just rock and roll or funk and soul.
The only issue I have with the book is that I wish there was more pictures in it.
If you're a fan of the Supremes I would suggest getting this book. You might not learn anything new but it's such an interesting read that you'll enjoy it.
The story of the rise and fall of the Supremes is so old, and has been told in such minute detail in the past that it should, and in an indirect way as Dreamgirls on Broadway and on screen, have been set to music a long time ago. Ribowsky offers detailed new revelations on the fledging Primettes and their manager Milton Jenkins, who would eventually become Florence Ballard's brother in law. In short order, Jenkins is left behnd, the young quartet loses a member, and Berry Gordy's vision of a crossover act sets the stage for the morphing of the popular local group into what would become the world famous Supremes. All that remained to happen was getting that one evasive hit record. Gordy's maintained his faith in the appeal of Diana Ross through several lean years and when The Supremes finally hit the motherlode, everyone's wildest dreams were far exceeded.
Unfortunately, as the saga of the Supremes unfolds, factual errors, misspellings, and inconsistencies creep into Ribowsky's research, taking away from his masterful story telling. In an attempt to seduce the reader into thinking his investigative reporting is without peer, Ribowsky trots out every sexual indiscretion, groping and coupling that every occurred during the early days of the Motown Review and the endless sexual conquests grows tiresome quite quickly, with way too much intimate information smacking the reader in the face. In light of all the alleged hooking up that transpired among the Hitsville alumni, it's a wonder that "Love Child" wasn't conceived years earlier.
That Diana Ross is not a candidate to replace Mother Theresa for her charitable acts towards those in her firing range is no surprise, however Ribowsky's non stop accounts of Ross' misdeeds will make reader's head spin. Two thirds of the way through this biography a very dark and oppressive mood overcame this reviewer and though I knew the story could have no real happy ending for all involved, much like the lyrics of "My World Is Empty Without You" the walls came closing in and finishing the book proved to be challenging. According to Ribowsky many of the lyrics of the Supremes' biggest hits offered vague hints of the mistrust and reflected the growing angst that was seething behind the scenes.
In the sixties, Berry Gordy proudly proclaimed to reporters that the Motown Sound grew out of "Rats, Roaches and Love." A sense of humor, and pulling yourself up by your bootlaces was also an important aspect of this remarkable musical landscape. Unfortunately that aspect of collective pride and encouragement is sorely missing in Ribowsky's tome and his stellar research suffers for it.
Much of what is presented here has been rehashed several times before, and there may not be any further need of biographers to further document the rise and fall of the most popular female recording group of all time. The image of three beautiful young women capturing our collective imagination at a time we needed to believe in magic and love and unity may not have been entirely real, and no amount of begging on the part of fans will ever persuade the surviving members to regroup one more time for old times sake. As the Supremes once sang "Someday We'll Be Together" but in the reality of "Reflections," "Time Changes Things" and the memory, however tarnished, and based on fantasy, should be left alone. A solid three and a half stars, however with close attention to correcting numerous factual errors in a revised edition, this rating would be higher.
Most recent customer reviews
It was told more from Motown and I read so much on this subject.
I pretty much read on this subject.