In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
There is no magical ingredient in the Detroit drinking water. Motown’s original Hitsville USA headquarters is not the site of some occult only-good-songs-are-recorded-here ritual. When Motown moved to Los Angeles in 1972, the label changed, but plenty of amazing things still came out of it. Motown didn’t stop being Motown when its artists stopped recording in Detroit. But in its Detroit days, the label did run on a sui generis system.
Every day in those early years, the in-house genius team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland clocked into their jobs at Hitsville. (They literally used a timeclock.) Every day, they sat down and wrote songs together. As soon as they finished one of those songs, they ran it over to the studio, and they recorded it with the Funk Brothers, the backing band composed of even more in-house geniuses. Those songs would come out in a matter of days. Often, those songs became hits. Often, those hits became classics.
Throughout pop music history, plenty of companies have tried to replicate what Motown did in those early days. (The big K-pop entertainment firms are still doing some version of that right now.) But Motown didn’t keep doing it forever. And that brings us to “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone,” the first song that the Supremes recorded outside of Detroit. You can hear the difference.
When the Supremes made “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone,” Holland-Dozier-Holland were out in Los Angeles, scouting out possible studios. “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” still sounds very much like a Holland-Dozier-Holland song. It’s built from the tension of the music, rich and sweet and welcoming, and the drowning-in-sadness sentiments of the lyrics. As ever, Diana Ross walks the line, hinting at the deep emptiness of those lyrics while still fighting to maintain her poise.
If anything, Ross’ vocal performance on the song is even more nuanced and expressive than it had been on the Supremes’ early records. She lets tiny little touches of exposed-nerve pain into her delivery, but they’re only there for a syllable or two: “Into your arms, I fell, so unaware / Of the loneliness that was waiting there.” The spoken passages are silly and melodramatic, but they’re also effective, and they hint at the acting career that Ross would eventually embrace.
But there’s something missing on the song. The Supremes recorded this one without the Funk Brothers. Instead, they had Los Angeles session people backing them up. On the face of it, that’s not a bad thing. The Wrecking Crew were total experts — not on the Funk Brothers’ level, maybe, but not that far off. They did a lot of incredible playing on a lot of incredible songs. But they couldn’t do what the Funk Brothers did. And so the “Love Is Here” arrangement sits oddly inert. The beat doesn’t pound. The bass doesn’t do that intricate rubber-band James Jamerson thing. The whole thing is almost painfully thin.
Holland-Dozier-Holland were probably trying to write “Love Is Here” for the Los Angeles musicians. They were always trying to hone and update the Motown formula, and the song takes little bits and pieces — the harpsichord, the busy strings — from the sunny psychedelic pop that was then taking over. But that style never quite fits. It’s the first Supremes #1 that even hints at awkwardness.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the superior version of “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” that a 13-year-old Michael Jackson released in 1972: