The Supremes – I Hear a Symphony

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Released: February 18, 1966

In the 1960’s, Motown was in the business of making money and they accomplished that by producing a great product. The Supremes’ I Hear a Symphony is one of the crowning achievements of that plan.

It is an album that existed somehow in the past and present simultaneously. Originally conceived as a Motown take on old pop standards, those songs find themselves mixed with modern covers and Holland-Dozier-Holland originals. I Hear a Symphony builds a bridge between pop hits of the decades past (“Without a Song” being particularly beautiful) and present. “Yesterday” is a minor misstep, but “Unchained Melody” is worthy to stand beside the Righteous Brothers’ better know version. Covers past and present are tied together by bright, glossy arrangements that worked decades before as well as they did in 1966 and they still hold up today.

The Holland-Dozier-Holland originals have that same glossiness that Motown inherited from their predecessors, but add depth that comes with more soulful playing and that opens the Supremes up to what was already making them great. All of the originals are what had come to be expected of a Motown record, but none touches the title track. One of the Motown team’s best compositions is arranged so perfectly and the Supremes’ voices sing it so beautifully that it is just mystifying. How can a song be that beautiful? I can’t even attempt to answer that question and I love it all the more for that very reason.

Phil Spector and Brian Wilson both thought of pop songs like “little symphonies.” I have to believe Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier saw their work in a similar light. If you love music, you’ve already heard this record. If you haven’t heard it, listen so that you can love music.

Rest in peace, Mary Wilson.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

1 thought on “The Supremes – I Hear a Symphony

  1. Chuck

    Back in the mid-90s, my friend Kelly was so appalled when I told him I’d never heard the song “I Hear a Symphony” that he dragged me to Tower Records on the corner of 4th and Broadway and bought a copy. The title track and “My World Is Empty Without You” were life changing. I bought my own copy at a Borders during a road trip from NJ to NC a few months later, and I ceaselessly cycled between those two songs.

    I still can’t get through the whole album, and I’m confident I’m done trying. Those two songs still send chills down my spine, though, and they can stand up against any song from the past 100 years.

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