The 1960s were filled with tons of incredible (and forgettable) music. Two of my most-loved musical institutions are products of that decade – The Beatles and Motown. So I was taken aback to find this little gem at Missing Link Records in Austin, Texas last summer.
Although I was unaware of the album’s existence, it makes a great deal of sense. The Beatles were heavily influenced by American pop and soul, including Motown. Indeed, the Fabs’ early discography includes memorable covers of tunes made famous by The Marvelettes, The Miracles and Barrett Strong. By issuing an album of Mersey Beat covers, The Supremes were seemingly returning the favor.
That was the narrative in my head when I bought the album, anyway. Listening to the disc reveals that this was pretty much a calculated opportunity for Berry Gordy to cash in on the popularity of the British Invasion. It’s not that A Bit of Liverpool is a *bad* album, it’s just that it could have been so much better, with not much more effort on the part of the Supremes or the Motown machine.
The album serves up 11 cuts, two of which (puzzlingly enough) generated out of Motown – Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and the Berry Gordy-penned “Do You Love Me,” which saw its greatest success in a 1962 recording by The Contours. Granted, both songs were revitalized by British groups. The Beatles’ included “You Really Got a Hold on Me” on their second UK LP, while The Dave Clark Five recorded a rousing rendition of “Do You Love Me” on their Glad All Over album. Yet to reclaim these tunes via covers by The Supremes on an album conceived and marketed as the ladies tackling the British Invasion songbook seems unnecessary filler.
Even in their workings of the proper Liverpudlian material, The Supremes most often sound as if they’re going through the motions dispassionately while Gordy counts his money. The album opens with a rendition of the Gerry and the Pacemakers hit “How Do You Do It,” in which the group’s vocals (presumably mocking a cockney accent) sound as if the studio engineer required Diana, Mary, and Florence to wear clothespins on their noses. More frequently, the tracks are marred by all three ladies handling vocal duties simultaneously, rendering the ability to distinguish their individual talents impossible. Thus, none of the vocalists are given the opportunity to shine, instead resulting in a kind of uncompelling vocal mush.
There are bright spots, however. The ladies’ take on Dave Clark’s “Because” suits the sort of sweetness that were The Supremes stock and trade (although it does suffer from the aforementioned vocal malady):
Their take on “Do You Love Me” is excellent, shifting the balls-out rock of The Contours original (and even more manic covers by the Dave Clark Five and The Sonics) to a burst of energetic, sly sexiness (despite being a Motown cover of a British Invasion cover of a Motown song):
By far the best cut on the album is a cover of The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That,” a nugget from the A Hard Day’s Night LP that was also issued as a b-side (to “Can’t Buy Me Love”).
In the final analysis, the melding of Detroit and Liverpool on this LP doesn’t quite work. The best cuts on the album could easily have been included on other LPs rather than standing out as the few moments that really “work” on a thematic collection of British Invasion tunes. That, or in producing the album, Berry Gordy should have focused more on showcasing the solo vocal talents of each member rather than shoving them all together. And for the love of god, the mock accents have to go.
Originally issued as Motown 623 on October 16, 1964, Bit of Liverpool was issued on CD in 1992, but has since fallen out of print. You can find it online for upwards of $125 if you’re interested in spending that much on a mediocre CD with 1992 production values. Or, you could just dig in the crates a bit – I paid a whopping $5.99 for my copy.