Admittedly, I’m a big Florence Ballard fan when it comes to the legacy of The Supremes. To me the recordings done after her departure (or the songs that she recorded with the group where she’s buried in the mixdown, which includes their first #1 “Where Did Our Love Go”) Don’t sound as rich, multi-dimensional, complex (kinda like the deficiencies that Martha & The Vandellas suffered when Annette Beard left after “In My Lonely Room”).
Part of the magic of the original Supremes line up was the vocal interplay and versatility, it wasn’t necessarily all about Diana Ross’s lead, but different emotions came through in the call & response and emphasis on group harmony between all 3 members, notably Florence’s piercing soprano interjections and Mary’s foggy alto adding shades and dimension to Diana’s aloof and girlish nasally (yet infinitely flexible) Soprano.
But, like there is a noticeable lack of Sparkle to a lot of recordings branded as Supremes songs after Florence’s departure, there’s also a little (to a lot) bit of magic missing to Florence’s Solo efforts for ABC records.
The main fault I can think of is that ABC records (kinda like the assumptions The Beatles made about The Supremes “sound”) thought, by signing Ballard, they were getting a one woman Supreme. Put her in a recording booth and voila! something like “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” was gonna come out of her ass…
They didn’t think to put solid songs in her hand (although her first single “It Doesn’t Matter How I Say It” is delightfully fluffy and spirited with imgainatively sexy,suggstive …as if *you* didn’t read candy dish=vagina too… yet campy lyrics and one thinks, had there been decent studio musicians really making it pop it coulda been something great), and hadn’t saddled her with uninspired covers of hit songs from the mid 1960s (altho she fares well on “Going Out Of My Head” and…oddly “It’s Not Unusual”).
Also, Florence herself, pregnant, nerves and self confidence shot over the last years events didn’t bring the Florence that was present in her few outings as a lead vocalist at Motown. There isn’t the gutbucket sass that she brought to early efforts like “Buttered Popcorn” & “Hey Baby” (and sass she taught to an unsure Gladys Horton while recording “Please Mr. Postman”) Nor did she bring the piercing clarity that she brought to standards like “People” or her duet w/Diana on “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.”
The gutbucket came back, sounding like Etta James’s lil’ sister with more range for the next single, the proto disco Van “The Hustle” McCoy composed “Love Ain’t Love” b/w The “Oh Hi, Were gonna combine elements of Martha & The Vandellas “Honey Chile” with Gladys Knight & The Pips “End Of Our Road” “Forever Faithful” which, with a more sympathetic producer, Robert Bateman (who, in fact wrote The Supremes first single “I Want a Guy”) and a more authentic Motown rip off sound, seems like the direction she should have went in the first place. Then there’s the delightfully philly soul orientated “My Heart” that went unreleased at the time…sounding so 1972… in 1968….
Unfortunately, by the time of the release she was 5 months pregnant with twins, and ABC was pretty much over trying to get a one woman Supreme out of someone that… really needed to be their own artist.
Which is where fate is so unkind to Florence. Other fallen heroines in 1960s soul got more shots than she ever did, despite her track record of success as a Supreme. Doris Troy and Ketty Lester immediately come to mind… even Margie Hendrix of The Raelettes had a more identifiable artistic stamp on her recordings before her demise from an overdose in 1966.
In a 40 year hindsight, altho it was a fallow time in female soul music success-wise (remember, this is the time the critically lauded Dusty In Memphis went unnoticed by biased music critics until the fall of 1970, by the time of which Dusty was working on her 3rd, and aborted LP for Atlantic Records), Maybe if more thought was put into her Solo efforts, maybe there’d be another story instead of the “Rock Opera Tragedy” that is the reality of The Supremes legacy.
Not saying some spit polished and ironed to the creases perfect productions would have solved *all* of Florence’s problems… but a little bit of care and consideration would have made things better…
The greatest tragedy is that we lost a unique voice that was apart of an American Institution…. when it really didn’t need to happen.