Ignored Obscured Restored
Sometimes my favorite song by a particular artist isn’t one of their most popular hits. That could be because the big hits get overplayed, so the deeper cuts are a pleasure to hear as a change.
Take, for instance, “I’m Livin’ In Shame” by Diana Ross & The Supremes. “I’m Livin’ In Shame” made it into the Top 10, so it was hardly a failure. But by the standard set by The Supremes, it was a modest hit.
The Supremes got off to a slow start at Motown. None of their first six singles, released between 1961 and 1963, reached the Top 40. That earned them the Motown studios nickname “The no-hit Supremes.” But in 1963 “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” made it to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” began a hitting streak of five consecutive #1s – ending with “Back In My Arms Again.” Another four release streak of #1s began with “You Can’t Hurry Love” and ended with “The Happening.” Several other #1s and Top 10s were sprinkled all around.
“I’m Livin’ In Shame” was a sequel to “Love Child” (#1 in 1968). Its story goes like this:
The Love Child is grown up and embarrassed by her mother’s poverty.
Mama was cookin’ bread
She wore a dirty raggedy scarf around her head
Always had her stockings low
Rolled to her feet just didn’t know
She wore a sloppy dress
Oh no matter how she tried she always looked a mess
Out of the pot she ate
Never used a fork or a dinner plate
She needs to hide her background from her wealthier friends so she lies to them about her upbringing.
I was always so afraid that
The uptown friends would see her
Afraid one day when I was grown
That I would be her
In college town away from home
A new identity I found
That I was born elite
With maids and servants at my feet
She goes so far as to make up a story that her mama died.
I must have been insane
I lied and said mama died on a weekend trip to Spain
She never got out of the house
Never even boarded a train
Then she has a baby and never tells her mom.
Married a guy, was living high
I didn’t want him to know her
She had a grandson two years old
That I never even showed her
When she learns her mom really died, she has regrets and shame.
Came the telegram
Mama passed away while making homemade jam
Before she died she cried to see me by her side
She always did her best
Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress
Working hard, down on her knees
Always trying to please
Won’t you forgive me mama
For all the wrong I’ve done
I know you’ve done your best
Oh I know you’ve done the very best you could
Mama I thought you understood
Working hard, down on your knees…
The music is cooks along just as you would expect from The Funk Brothers. It’s also unusual (for Motown, at least) in that it doesn’t have a distinctive chorus.
By the time of the release of “I’m Livin’ In Shame” in 1969, the Supremes had become Diana Ross & The Supremes. But even that is a distortion. The background vocals were not sung by Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. They were provided by a group of session singers called The Andantes.
Shame. That word resonates today. After the horrible siege on the Capitol this week, we’re all living in a different kind of shame. At least we ALL should be.
Enjoy… until next week.