Except for the Beatles, no one sold more records through the decade than Holland-Dozier-Holland, or HDH, and the Supremes: Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. They had scored three No. 1’s in 1964, and would score three more this year. “Come See about Me” was No. 1 in December, and then interrupted by the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” but it returned to the top spot on January 16. Ross’s sexy come-hither groove was so catchy in “Come See about Me” that even garage rockers Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels covered the song.
In March, Gordy shepherded a number of his biggest acts across the Atlantic for a European tour. On March 18, Britain’s blue-eyed soul diva Dusty Springfield taped The Sounds of Motown TV special, hosting the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, and the Earl Van Dyke Sextet. (Van Dyke was the bandleader of the Funk Brothers.) The Supremes didn’t have any choreography for their new single “Stop! In the Name of Love,” so Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams of the Temptations led them into the men’s room and brainstormed the famous traffic officer hand signal move. The song hit No. 1 that month.
In the track, Ross begs her man not to have an affair with another woman. But in real life, Ross became the “other woman,” to the married Gordy. During the British tour, Ballard and Wilson believed Gordy was imposing a curfew on the Supremes because he was obsessed with Ross. Gordy later recalled that it was in Paris that he realized he loved her, the night they fought over Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.”6
Martin’s song was currently No. 1 on the easy listening chart, and that was the audience Gordy wanted the Supremes to cross over to. The big money was in the supper clubs, nightclubs where dinner was served while people watched performers, places such as New York’s Copacabana and Howard Hughes’s Sands nightclub in Vegas, where Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack held its summits. Nat King Cole had integrated the Sands just a decade earlier. Gordy wanted Motown to become the soundtrack not only to blacks but also to whites, and not just white kids but also white adults. It was about the numbers— the black population made up about 11 percent of the United States; the white population, about 80 percent.
So Gordy wanted Ross to do Martin’s hit, but Ross felt she couldn’t sing it properly. A bad argument erupted, and he stormed out, assuming she was going to defy him. But when he returned to watch the Supremes’ performance later that evening, he was surprised to hear Ross sing Martin’s song onstage. In her dressing room, he asked her why, and she said she’d done it for him.
They spent the night together for the first time in Paris—or rather, tried to. To his chagrin, Gordy was impotent. “I was so engrossed in her. It was something I’d wanted, and I was in love with her long before she was in love with me, so when she fell in love with me in Paris, I couldn’t believe it. Of course, nothing happened on my part, and it was so embarrassing. I wanted to smother myself. Then Diana said, ‘It’s not that bad. Look at it this way, at least you have power over everything else.’”7
The problem was rectified soon enough. But he never told her he loved her. Gordy said later that they both vowed not to let their personal life interfere with her quest for stardom.
6 “Berry Gordy On Diana Ross: Motown Founder Describes Fateful Moment With Supremes Singer,” huffingtonpost.com, June 15, 2013.
7. Hillary Crosley, “Berry Gordy Talks 1st Time with Diana Ross,” The Root, Feb. 13, 2013, http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/02/berry_gordy_and_diana_ross_he_talks_f irst_time.html.