I haven’t written one of these in about two years, which is actually a good thing. Many times, I’ve written a “If You’re Going to Buy” post after a famous rock or pop star has died. Between January 2016 and January 2018, 11 of the 23 entries I made were right after someone had passed. But the last one I wrote was after Peter Tork of The Monkees died in 2019, so it’s been a while.
There are other reasons I haven’t been writing these as frequently. I’m running out of heritage artists (I’ve written about 38 artists total), and I don’t want to go down to lesser-known acts (“If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set by… Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods” will not get many clicks). Further, Spotify lessens the need to run out and buy a greatest hits set somewhat (“Okay Google, play The Rolling Stones on Spotify” takes care of it). But I’m an ownership person; I like the idea that I actually own the songs on CD (or vinyl, or MP3… which reminds me that downloading doesn’t necessarily mean you own it, but that’s an argument for another time, and it’s possible that’s outdated anyway).
Anyway. Mary Wilson died February 8 at the age of 77. Wilson was an original Supreme along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard (and Barbara Martin, who left a few years before the major hits started happening); Ross is now the only surviving member of the original group. Wilson was the only Supreme who was with the group at every stage from the very beginning to the post-Ross very end (although she didn’t sing on all the records; some of the latter-day “Diana Ross & The Supremes” releases were actually Diana Ross & The Andantes, a Motown in-house backing vocal group used by other acts as well); I also feel a kinship with her if only because I worked on a bunch of reprints of her bestselling books Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme (never met her, though). The Supremes had a huge run of hits (twelve #1 pop hits between 1964 and 1969), and then both Diana Ross and The Supremes had degrees of success after she went solo (the Supremes had five top 20 hits between 1970 and 1972; Ross had twenty top 20 hits between 1970 and 1985).
So what I’m going to do is pick three options: one for The Supremes with Diana Ross as part of the group, one with The Supremes after Ross left, and one for Ross solo. And I’ll identify which sets combine two or all three options (although I prefer to avoid those). Links go to the Wikipedia pages.
For The Supremes:
25 songs on one disc, and every single Top 40 hit the group had (two are collaborations with The Temptations) is included. No bonus tracks you’ve never heard of, no remixes, no alternate versions (do note, though, that once in a while Motown would have an AM radio single mix for their hit songs and use a different one for albums for sound quality purposes; most of the hits sets stick with the single mixes), no postbreakup stuff. You might get more bang for the buck with other sets (this is $11.49 on Amazon and $11.99 on iTunes, which is a little expensive for one disc), but for me, this is exactly what I want. And it came out in 1997, so there’s a decent chance you can find a copy at a used CD store. (Side note: this is the image used for the Dreamgirl book cover; it also hung on our living room wall for years.)
For Diana Ross:
Yeah, you’re not getting the RCA years hits here (Ross had six top 20 hits after she left Motown in 1981 with RCA Records, now part of Sony), but for the most part Sony and UMG haven’t figured out how to play nice. The only set that appears to contain music from both conglomerates is the 1993 box set Forever Diana: Musical Memoirs, which isn’t available for download, is pretty expensive, and apparently had to be recalled because of sound quality issues—so I would be hesitant to even pick up a used copy. Anyway, this has all the important Motown hits (with the exception of some duets with Marvin Gaye, which might be worth downloading separately) in the full-length versions, and is a ridiculously cheap $5.99 to download on Amazon ($6.99 on iTunes for what started as a two-LP set), which is less than UMG’s skimpy budget-line 20th Century Masters series. Warning: the vinyl version originally released in 1981 has a different track configuration, including a Supremes mini-medley (this was the “Stars on 45” era); Motown issued it in a hurry since Ross was leaving for RCA Records. Be wary.
The post-Ross Supremes would probably work as a 20th Century Masters set, since they only had five top 20 hits, and in the early 1990s Motown released The Supremes: Greatest Hits and Rare Classics, a 23-song, one-disc set including most of the important hits and album tracks, plus a few solo tracks from Jean Terrell (Diana’s replacement) and Scherrie Payne (one of their last lead singers and Freda Payne’s sister). Unfortunately, it’s not available for download. The ‘70s Anthology is a great value at $12.49 on Amazon and $12.99 on iTunes for two discs’ worth of music, but that’s a lot more than all but the most fanatical Supremes fan will want. The physical version, with liner notes by Mary Wilson, is out of print. This is available on Spotify; give it a test drive there if you can.
Greatest Hits (1967)—The Supremes had so many hits in such a short time they’d
earned a double album for the greatest hits set (only The Miracles had been
awarded that honor by Motown, and Smokey Robinson was Berry Gordy’s best bud).
There are a few B-sides (“Ask Any Girl”) and minor hits (“When the Lovelight
Starts Shining Through His Eyes”) to pad the album to reasonable length,
although 55 minutes is still pretty short for two vinyl albums. Out of print on
vinyl and CD, unavailable for download. Side note: “The Happening” was never
released on a studio album—it was on the soundtrack for an odd 1967 movie release
of the same name where four hippies kidnap a retired mobster (you had to be
there, I guess); its first appearance on LP was here (the soundtrack didn’t
include the single).
And here are the other options (all are by The Supremes or Diana Ross & The Supremes unless indicated otherwise); the ones I mentioned and linked to above are not listed below.
1986, 1995, 2001)—Motown never tired of releasing new configurations under the “Anthology”
banner for all their main acts, but The Supremes may lead the pack, with four
different versions. The first is only on vinyl, excludes any post-Ross songs
(which is odd, since all of the other Anthology releases went right through
the early 1970s), which allowed Motown to stuff in an entire album side’s worth
of standards and pop remakes the group recorded throughout the 1960s. (Berry
Gordy probably got it in his head The Supremes could be the Black version of
Barbra Streisand; it didn’t happen.) The 1986 and 1995 versions skip the
standards and add lesser tracks and the post-Ross hits; they would actually be
excellent options in lieu of getting both The Ultimate Collection and The
‘70s Anthology listed above—if you can find used copies in decent
condition. The 2001 version tosses out the post-Ross hits and adds more
alternate versions and the dreaded standards; unfortunately, that’s the one I
have (I will say the only chart hit from this era missing is the 1969 Supremes/Temptations
version of The Band’s “The Weight,” which is no great loss). I should probably
take another look at our local Half-Price Books to see what my options are,
although having already spent the money on the 2001 Anthology I might as
well go whole hog and download The ‘70s Anthology instead of getting duplicates
of 75 percent of the tracks.
Greatest Hits Volume Three (1969)—How much do you want to bet fans scrambled around to find Volume Two, which was never released as a standalone album in the States? (As far as Motown was concerned, the two albums in Greatest Hits were Volume One and Volume Two, I guess—it appears they were released that way in some territories, and Motown mocked up a “Vol. 2” cover for an alleged two-for early in the CD era.) Anyway, this represented their hits from the first set to Ross leaving the group—although “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” and “The Happening” are repeated from Greatest Hits, and the group efforts with The Temptations (“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”) are inexplicably left off.
Golden Greats (1974)—Twenty songs on one vinyl album,
available only in the UK (expanded to 40 Golden Greats with post-Ross
hits in the CD era). Included here only to show some cover designs haven’t aged
Greatest Hits (1976, Diana Ross)—Ross’ first solo anthology, issued in a hurry (I think “Love Hangover” was still on the charts when it came out). Out of print and unavailable for download.
Ross (1978, Diana Ross)—Half new songs, half remixes of old songs. I sense Motown released this in preparation for anticipated demand based on Ross starring in the movie version of The Wiz, and that obviously didn’t happen. Out of print and unavailable for download.
Again (1981, Diana Ross)—This is strange. Diana, her 1980 studio
album produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, was still selling
like hotcakes late in the year, but Motown pushed out the ballad “It’s My Turn”
from the movie of the same name rather than a third Diana single, and
then conjured up another half-new half-old album to go around it, produced by
Michael Masser (who had produced several ballad-heavy albums for Ross earlier
in the 1970s). I’ve read in a couple of places Motown originally had no faith
in Diana—it was actually remixed by a Motown staffer before release without
Rodgers’ and Edwards’ input—and so this might have been their safety net. Anyway,
it’s out of print, including a 2003 reissue on CD only that doubled the track
At Their Best (1978)—All the post-Ross hits. Now out of print and unavailable for download, although in 2006 UMG shoehorned Greatest Hits, Greatest Hits Volume Three, and this into a Supremes entry in their Gold two-CD heritage artist series ($18.99 for the download on Amazon, $19.99 on iTunes), so that’s another option if you want to save a little money.
Great Songs and Performances That Inspired the Motown 25th Anniversary TV Special (1983)—Motown released a batch of these after the 1983 special garnered huge ratings; in this case it’s a little ironic since the most talked-about moment (edited out of the broadcast show) was Ross shoving Wilson during an attempted Supremes reunion. Anyway, ten songs in random order. Out of print and unavailable for download.
Anthology (1983, 1986, Ross)—Two more vinyl albums a couple of years after All the Great Hits, and a two-CD set a few years later. That’s the one I have, and it’s perfectly good (although oddly sequenced, it seems like on Disc 2 they discovered they had about 10 minutes of space after chronologically ordering her hits, and went back to the early 1970s to drop in a few more). Not to be confused with The Motown Anthology; out of print and unavailable for download.
20 Greatest Hits: Compact Command Performances (1984)—The first Amazon review says, “Sound quality stinks,” which isn’t surprising; I don’t think record labels had gotten the hang of digital remastering for CD in 1984. Not available for download (despite a link on Amazon that goes to Ross’ first solo album instead), and out of print, probably should be avoided used.
Diana Ross & The Supremes: 25th Anniversary Collection (1986)—Motown released one of these for both The Supremes and The Temptations; I have the latter. It was a little cheaper than Anthology but not as complete; split up into two volumes (I think) for CD (the vinyl version was three LPs, and half of the set was dedicated to standards and rarities). These now go for a small fortune on Amazon (unfortunately for me The Tempts’ version does not), but they’re out of print and unavailable for download.
Diana Extended: The Remixes (1997)—There was a period in the 1990s when remixed versions of hits were all the rage; thank God that’s over. Anyway, this came out around that time, and if you really want to listen to dance-floor-only versions of “Someday We’ll Be Together” and “Chain Reaction,” here you go. Out of print and unavailable for download.
Greatest Hits: The RCA Years (1997, Ross)—I think all but the most diehard Diana Ross fan would agree her years on RCA Records didn’t live up to her Motown standard. (Long story short: Ross was offered a huge amount of money to jump to RCA Records in 1981 and gave Berry Gordy the opportunity to match it; despite their past personal history, Gordy passed—which probably turned out to be a sound business decision.) Anyway, this doesn’t even have one of the top 20 hits she made for the label (“All of You,” a duet with Julio Iglesias), and there’s a lot of filler. But since these aren’t available on any UMG-generated best-ofs aside from the out-of-print box set, you may want to pick this up anyway if you see it cheap. $10.99 for the download on Amazon and iTunes (but $6.99 for the physical disc on Amazon). Note the version of “Endless Love” here does not include Lionel Richie; it’s her solo version.
20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best of Diana Ross and The Supremes (1999 for Vol. 1 and 2000 for Vol. 2) and 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best of Diana Ross (2000, Ross)—I hate these things so much I can barely bring myself to discuss it; they’re corporate greed at its finest. The 1999 version was issued as a low-budget option for collectors (and included the single mixes); even though Florence Ballard is pictured on the front cover it’s billed as “Diana Ross & The Supremes” (the group’s name was changed at the same time Motown fired Ballard), and three songs are from the Cindy Birdsong era. Vol. 2, from a year later, shows Birdsong on the cover, but five of the eleven songs have Ballard in the group, and four other songs are from after Ross left. Both are $6.99 for the download, and are still in print, so people are buying them. Ross’ solo version might be worth picking up if Motown had bothered to use the full-length versions of the songs (it wasn’t because of space limitations, that’s for sure: there are only 11 songs on teach disc, so the Supremes packages are about a half hour long), and every song is also on All the Great Hits in its full version, making this almost completely useless. Also $6.99 for the download.
The Supremes (2000)—Four-CD box set that contains three discs from the Ross years and one disc post-Ross. Looks pretty fancy from the photos (I think the box is made of the same flecked cloth material that The Bee Gees used on their concept album Odessa), but that probably means they only made one print run. Unavailable for download and $200 on Amazon for the CD (don’t think you’re getting a bargain by clicking on the $8.99 vinyl version: that’s a copy of the post-Ross group’s studio album of the same name).
The Motown Anthology (2001, Ross)—Perfectly acceptable two-disc set of Ross’ biggest hits—and a lot of nonhits, since her RCA material is excluded. Probably too much for all but the most devoted Ross fans, who probably buy her studio albums anyway. $18.99 for the download on Amazon and $19.99 on iTunes; $20.96 for the discs on Amazon.
The #1’s (2003, both Supremes and Ross)—24 songs on one disc, which is good, with all three configurations represented (although the only post-Ross Supremes song is “Stoned Love”). All the Supremes songs are labeled on Amazon as having “2003 Remix”es, and there’s a second version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” with “The Almighty” remix (I’ll withhold comment on that). Strangely, this is $6.99 on iTunes (which is usually more expensive than Amazon, it’s $10.49 there), so it might be worth a download, although I’d recommend test driving the samples on iTunes first (it’s not available on Spotify); I checked the track listing there and the “2003 Remix” labels aren’t there, and “Where Did Our Love Go” sounds fine. It appears the international version has a different cover; don’t blame me for the misplaced apostrophe.
Joined Together: The Complete Studio Duets (2004)—This set utilizes their two studio albums with The Temptations, along with outtakes and other filler (a live album from a TV special is not included) to fill up two discs. Nothing special—the two groups were going in such different directions at the point they didn’t mesh very well—but interesting for collectors, since Wilson and Birdsong are present for all the recordings here; they were replaced by The Andantes for most of the “Diana Ross & The Supremes” music at that time. $19.99 for the download on Amazon, $24.99 on iTunes. I bought a copy from BMG Music Service (RIP) for $2.99 or thereabouts many years ago; I’m gratified to see the one physical copy on Amazon is priced at $902.81; maybe that can buy my son another few days at college next year.
This Is the Story: The '70s Albums, Vol. 1 – 1970–1973: The Jean Terrell Years and Let Yourself Go: The '70s Albums, Vol 2 – 1974–1977: The Final Sessions (2006)—UMG utilized their imprint Hip-O records as a counterpoint to Warner Music’s Rhino (get it?) by released short runs of box sets and long out-of-print albums in the early 2000s; some of them have been made available for download. (I’m not complaining; I picked up Rupert Holmes’ all-encompassing Cast of Characters in 2005 that way; that sucker’s impossible to find nowadays). Anyway, Motown put every note the group recorded after Ross left on these two sets, which are available on Amazon for $32.99 and $28.49, respectively, for roughly three CDs worth of music apiece ($34.99 and $29.99 on iTunes). Also available is Magnificent: The Complete Studio Duets, a two-CD set of three vinyl albums recorded with The Four Tops in the early 1970s, for $21.99 on Amazon, $24.99 on iTunes. Two of the three are on Spotify (This Is the Story is not, although the five studio albums included in the set are there individually), so you might want to give them a listen first before making that big an investment.
The Definitive Collection (2006, Ross)—Hey, I found another set that mixes Ross’ Motown and RCA hits! Too bad it’s unavailable for download—and at $19.95 for a single disc, you’re better off getting All the Great Hits and The RCA Years anyway. And this doesn’t have “All of You” either. Maybe if you see it cheap at a used CD store.
The Definitive Collection (2008)—This one is available for download, but has seven less songs than The Ultimate Collection. At $9.49 on Amazon and $9.99 on iTunes, it’s also cheaper, but you’re getting a lot less bang for the buck.
Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown Lost & Found) (2008)—Geez, what a title. This isn’t actually a greatest hits set (although a few hits are on it); it’s two CDs worth of alternate takes, rarities, and such. I have this, but only because I found it cheap at 2nd and Charles, a used CD store that’s since closed its local location. $24.99 for the download on Amazon and iTunes.
Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz (2015, Ross)—I dunno; The Wiz was a pretty famous bomb as a movie (casting 34-year-old Ross as Dorothy Gale may not have been a great move), so I don’t know why anyone would want a whole album of the songs that made it to the soundtrack and those that didn’t. But if that’s your thing, here it is. $9.49 for the download on Amazon, unavailable on iTunes.
Other “If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From…” Blog Posts You Might Enjoy:
The Allman Brothers Band
The Beach Boys
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Earth, Wind & Fire
Electric Light Orchestra
Daryl Hall & John Oates
Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship
The Moody Blues
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Rolling Stones
Crossposted from Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.