Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Supremes - "Up The Ladder To The Roof" (1970)

When Diana Ross started her Berry Gordy-engineered solo career, it was not the end of the Supremes. Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong were joined by Jean Terrell, sister of singer Tammi, and they were off to the top of the charts with hit singles of their own.

While all those old Diana Ross and The Supremes songs were classics, from "Baby Love" to "Someday We'll Be Together," I'd venture to say that "Up The Ladder To The Roof" was easily their equal.

You have to give Motown credit for not only keeping the Supremes going (maybe they figured the public would still think Ross was still in the group?), but giving them an excellent writing and production team to create a new path. Frank Wilson, who would go on to mastermind Eddie Kendricks' "Keep On Truckin'" arranged, produced and co-wrote "Up The Ladder To The Roof." I don't know why Wilson does not get any of the acclaim that Holland-Dozier-Holland or Norman Whitfield did, because he certainly kept Motown rolling in successful product.

Is it not ingenious to start the song "cold" on the line "Come with me?" Terrell did sound somewhat like Ross but with a slightly thicker tone. To me, it seemed Wilson took the guitar lick and orchestra sound of "Someday We'll Be Together" and took it to the next step. You have the patented Motown hi hat clasp and downbeat, much like the Gladys Knight & The Pips version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," quarter note ride cymbals, and the twangy guitar that cries out like a cat during the chorus.

The song genuinely propels itself, with the Supremes' and Terrell's vocals becoming more intertwined and complex as it goes on, in almost a beck and call towards the end. While there are countless come-on's in popular music, this one has sort of a sincerity to "come up the ladder to the roof/where we can see heaven much better." Isn't that what Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote about in "Up On The Roof" for the Drifters?

Come with me, come with me
And we shall run across the sky.
We illuminate the night.
Ohhhh, i, I will try and guide you
To better times and brighter days.
Just don't be afraid.

The arrangement's clincher is when Terrell's voice gradually rises in the final verse ("I will never ever ever leave you leave you alone to wonder/As we go on our love it will grow much stronger and stronger"), the music suddenly stops as we hear the brief reverb of the word "stronger," and in a gospel flourish she beckons "Don't you wanna go?" Then it all comes back in louder than ever with tambourine and handclaps: "Up the ladder to the roof!" Mary and Cindy go back and forth with Terrell, as she calls to them: "Come on and walk. (ooo) Come on and talk. (ooo). Come on and sing about love and understanding!"

This is really perfect classic pop/soul music in a mere three minutes.

I don't know what TV show this video is from, but here they are from 1970, in those gloriously flashy glittering red gowns, impeccably choreographed. Just beautiful.

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