September 29, 2009
Rhythm & Blues, Motown, Soul, Early R&B, Girl Groups, Pop-Soul, Doo Wop, Early Pop/Rock, Uptown Soul, AM Pop, Pop

Album Review

Hip-O Select's The Complete Studio Duets rounds up the recordings the Supremes made with the Four Tops after Jean Terrell took over for the departed Diana Ross: 1970's The Magnificent 7, its 1971 sequel The Return of the Magnificent 7, 1971's Dynamite, and 13 bonus tracks, 11 of which are previously unreleased. Neither the Supremes nor the Four Tops were at a commercial peak when producer Frank Wilson brought them together for the duets, so the pairing was something of a way to goose the groups toward hits. Wilson didn't produce The Magnificent 7 -- its title a clever reference to the group's combined numbers -- having Ashford & Simpson, Duke Browner, and Clay McMurray producing four songs a piece for the LP. Apart from the opening song and lead single "Knock on My Door," the bulk of the album is devoted to glitzy covers of contemporary hits, whether it's from the Motown stable ("Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"), the Fifth Dimension ("Stoned Soul Picnic"), Phil Spector ("River Deep, Mountain High"), or Sly Stone ("Everyday People"). The three sets of producers mesh well, offering subtle hints of trademark flair -- particularly the lushness of the Ashford & Simpson productions -- but the focus is entirely on Jean Terrell and Levi Stubbs, who tear into these familiar tunes and make them feel like more than a Motown hits revue.
Despite its title, The Return of the Magnificent 7 didn't simply offer more of the same: in fact, it took a considerably different tactic than the debut, emphasizing new songs instead of covers. This is a sharp move, since the Supremes and the Four Tops don't quite seem like an oldies act in hiding when they're singing new songs with modern productions courtesy of Clay McMurray, Henry Cosby, Johnny Bristol, Bobby Taylor, and Ashford & Simpson. That's a lot of producers for an 11-track album, but this isn't a case of two many cooks spoiling a soup: all the producers are complementary, with the glitzy, fuzz-toned '70s cuts from McMurray sitting nicely along the lightly funky "One More Bridge to Cross" and proto-quiet storm "I'm Glad About It," from Ashford & Simpson, and Taylor's deeply soulful "What Do You Have to Do (To Stay on the Right Side of Love)." Although there are no real knockouts here, the songs are all solid, adding up to a thoroughly underrated record, and the best duets that the Supremes and the Four Tops recorded.
The Supremes and the Four Tops concluded their early-'70s duets with Dynamite, an album that abandons the progress of The Return of the Magnificent 7 and returns to the covers-heavy formula of their first album, balancing oldies like Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger" with then-current hits like Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With" and Bread's "If." Because this doesn't rely so heavily on older Motown tunes and familiar hits like The Magnificent 7 does, this escapes the oldies revue feel that sometimes plagued that record, and this is also down to the savvy, modern production, mostly by Frank Wilson and Bobby Taylor, but also Johnny Bristol and Joe Hinton on a couple of tracks. They, as much as the harmonies of the two groups, help push this record into a moderately enjoyable piece of early-'70s Motown product.
The unreleased tracks here derive from the sessions for The Return and Dynamite, with a slight emphasis on new songs over covers. The covers that are here are strong enough that it's something of a wonder that they didn't make it onto Dynamite: there's a nicely funky version of "It's Your Thing," a nicely rolling "Function at the Junction," and really good take on "Gimme Some Lovin'." The rest of the bonus tracks maintain the standard of The Return of the Magnificent 7: contemporary soul that isn't flashy but is solid.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Knock on My Door
  2. For Your Love
  3. Without the One You Love
  4. Reach out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)
  5. Stoned Soul Picnic
  6. Baby (You've Got What It Takes)
  7. River Deep, Mountain High
  8. Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
  9. Everyday People
  10. It's Got to Be a Miracle (This Thing Called Love)
  11. A Taste of Money
  12. Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music
  13. You Gotta Have Love in Your Heart
  14. I Wonder Where We're Going
  15. Call Me
  16. One More Bridge to Cross
  17. If You Could See Me Now
  18. I'll Try Not to Cry
  19. I'm Glad About It
  20. Let's Make Love Now
  21. I Can't Believe You Love Me
  22. Where Would I Be Without You Baby
  23. What Do You Have to Do (To Stay on the Right Side of Love)
  24. It's Impossible
  25. The Bigger You Love, The Harder You Fall
  26. Hello Stranger
  27. Love the One You're With
  28. Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By
  29. Melodie
  30. If
  31. If I Could Build My Whole World Around You
  32. Don't Let Me Lose This Dream
  33. Do You Love Me Just a Little, Honey
  34. Function at the Junction [*]
  35. Hold on to Me [#][*]
  36. When I'm with You [#][*]
  37. Chain Reaction [#][*]
  38. You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin' [#][*]
  39. Bring Back Your Love [#][*]
  40. I Had a Dream [#][*]
  41. Poinciana [#][*]
  42. It's Your Thing [#][*]
  43. Joy to the World [#][*]
  44. Gimme Some Lovin' [#][*]
  45. You Gotta Have Love in Your Heart [Remix][#][*]
  46. River Deep, Mountain High [Remix][#][*]
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