The Supremes Got Deep on "Love Child"

The Supremes in 1968
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NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

By the end of the '60s, it was clear that things at Motown Records were about to change. Founder Berry Gordy already had dreams of moving to label from Detroit to Los Angeles to try to break into film and television. Hitmaking teams like Holland-Dozier-Holland parted ways with the label over pay disputes. Acts were growing and maturing their sound in an attempt to keep up with the turbulent times in pop music.

The Supremes - considered a "no-hit" group in the early part of the decade but ultimately one of the label's most dependable acts - started going through changes of their own in 1967. Founding member Florence Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, and de facto frontwoman Diana Ross now received billing ahead of the group itself. The results were mixed: "Reflections," the first single credited to Diana Ross & The Supremes, peaked at No. 2 and follow-up "In and Out of Love" reached the Top 10, but subsequent singles failed to do so.

READ MORE: August 1964: The Supremes Charm America with "Where Did Our Love Go"

So Gordy put a new songwriting team together to make up for the loss of Holland-Dozier-Holland. "The Clan" featured a quartet of powerful writers: R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer and Deke Richards. Gordy tasked them with writing a smash for The Supremes. The result: a most unlikely tune sung from the perspective of the hard-luck child of a single mother, worried that she'd continue an out-of-wedlock cycle with her partner. Heavy subject material for the charts, but the dramatic string arrangement, precise underscore from The Funk Brothers and soaring melody did a terrific job of concealing the controversial subject matter.

READ MORE: November 1965: "I Hear a Symphony" Sits Supreme on Pop Charts

Indeed, no moral majority could stop "Love Child." Within only three weeks of its release, it would reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100; on Nov. 30, 1968, the single knocked The Beatles' "Hey Jude" from the top spot, staying there for two weeks until it was replaced by another Motown smash: Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." The trio would perform the track on The Ed Sullivan Show, where they were longtime favorites of the host; their appearance showcased dramatic new looks for the girls, eschewing their usual ornate dresses for casual wear - and for Miss Ross, an iconic sweater with the song's title emblazoned on the front.

READ MORE: DIANA ROSS: Classic Soul 1973 Interview

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