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Magnificent - The Complete Studio Duets

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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.

Customer Reviews

Great album

Two of the greatest groups on one album every song is a winner a must for any oldies like myself

Biography

Formed: 1961 in Detroit, MI

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s

The most successful American performers of the 1960s, the Supremes for a time rivaled even the Beatles in terms of red-hot commercial appeal, reeling off five number one singles in a row at one point. Critical revisionism has tended to undervalue the Supremes' accomplishments, categorizing their work as more lightweight than the best soul stars (or even the best Motown stars), and viewing them as a tool for Berry Gordy's crossover aspirations. There's no question that there was about as much pop...
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Magnificent - The Complete Studio Duets, The Supremes
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