If the Supremes were confronted with the unfamiliar experience of not topping the Billboard Hot 100 when ‘Reflections’ stopped in runner-up spot, there was an even greater shock in store. That single, the first to give Diana Ross “above the title” billing, had followed four singles in a row by the group that topped both the pop and R&B lists.
On 11 November 1967, Diana and the Supremes hit the Hot 100 at a confident No. 65 with their latest Holland-Dozier-Holland creation, ‘In And Out Of Love.’ Written with the working title ‘Summer Good, Summer Bad’, its vocal session in June was a poignant farewell for Florence Ballard, at what became her last track date. Soon afterwards, she was summarily removed from the group and replaced by Cindy Birdsong. To add further insult, her vocals on the recording, and Mary Wilson’s, were then overdubbed for those of the Andantes.
Backed by another HDH song, their version of the Isley Brothers‘ ‘I Guess I’ll Always Love You,’ the Motown single had a huge promotional leg-up when the Supremes were booked to perform it on the 19 November edition of The Ed Sullivan Show. Now featuring Birdsong, they also sang ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Thou Swell’ and were joined on the broadcast by labelmates the Temptations, who did ‘Hello Young Lovers’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’ and joined the Supremes for a medley of each other’s hits. The show additionally featured a clip from the brand new movie Dr. Dolittle, with Rex Harrison singing ‘Talk To The Animals.’
Billboard described ‘In And Out Of Love’ as “a highly rhythmic side, much in the vein of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ that has all the ingredients for high chart honours. As usual, the group’s inimitable bounce and drive are hard to match and just as hard to resist.” Rival trade magazine Record World declared confidently that the 45 would be “No. 1 in three and a half weeks.” But those high chart honours were not to be quite as high as expected.
“I knew we were still writing great songs, but…”
In the Supremes’ customary style, the single made fast progress up the pop chart, taking only five weeks to reach No. 9. But there it peaked — and there was worse news on the R&B countdown, where it topped out at No. 16, hampered, undoubtedly, by its less overtly soulful groove. In Brian and Eddie Holland’s 2019 autobiography Come And Get These Memories, Eddie wrote of his increasing awareness of an unconscious decline in HDH’s achievements, and those at Motown as a whole. Their other commitments, and specifically his A&R duties at the company, weren’t helping.
“It was a nice song, and we liked it a lot,” he said. “I knew we were still writing great songs…but the product we were doing on the Supremes — and you have to understand, the Supremes were key — was fading. We were always looking to go to No. 1, and we loved the records, but the public didn’t.” The relatively restrained reaction to the group’s new work was in marked contrast to affection for their achievements to date: a Greatest Hits set of their best-loved songs spent the whole of November 1967 at No. 1 in America.
‘In And Out Of Love’ is on the Reflections album, which can be bought here.