#377: Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart by the Supremes

Peak Month: May 1966
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #9
YouTube.com: “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart
Lyrics: “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart

Born Diane Ross in 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, Diana Ross was the lead singer in The Supremes. According to Ross, her mother actually named her “Diane”. However, there was a clerical error. This  resulted in her name being entered as “Diana” on her birth certificate. On the first recordings by The Supremes, she was listed as “Diane” Ross, and introduced herself as “Diane” as they began to hit the pop charts. Her friends and family still call her “Diane”. One of her neighbors growing up was future Motown recording artist Smokey Robinson. In 1958, at the age of 14, Diane Ross began taking classes including clothing design, millinery, pattern making, and tailoring, as she had aspired to become a fashion designer. She also took modeling and cosmetology classes at the school and participated in three or four other extracurricular activities while being there. In addition, she also worked at Hudson’s Department Store where she alleges she was the first black employee “allowed outside the kitchen.” At the time Ross was living in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects.

In December 1958 there was a junior high student at Northeastern High, living in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects named Florence Ballard. Florence was born in Detroit in 1943, the eighth of thirteen children. At an elementary school talent show, Florence Ballard met fellow classmate Mary Wilson. When Ballard was invited by the manager of the Primes [the genesis of The Temptations] to form a sister group called the Primettes. Ballard recruited Mary Wilson, who in turn recruited Diana Ross.

Mary Wilson was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1944. She moved with her parents to St. Louis, and then Chicago. But, by the age of 9 she was a resident of Detroit. Ballard, Wilson and Ross – together with a fourth singer named Betty McGlown – became the Primettes in 1959. McGlown left the group and was replaced by Barbara Martin. In 1960 the Primettes released a single titled “Tears Of Sorrow” on the Lupine label with little commercial response. In early 1961 they were signed with Motown Records and released “I Want A Guy”, which charted in San Francisco and New York City that spring. Subsequent releases included “Your Heart Belongs To Me”, which peaked at number-one in July 1962 on the WJLB R&B chart in Detroit. The song was written by Smokey Robinson, credited to Wm. Robinson. During the year Barbara Martin left the group. In December 1962, the Motown Revue was filmed for a week of performances at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The Supremes sang “My Heart Can’t Take It No More”, a minor hit for them in the spring of ’63.

From January 25 to 31, 1963, The Supremes were in concert at the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C., headlined by Jackie Wilson and The Dells. From 1963 to 1967 the Supremes remained a trio with Ross, Ballard and Wilson. Diana Ross was given the role as lead singer.

In October 1963 the Supremes recorded the first of many songs written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. It was titled “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, and in January-February 1964 made the Top 20 on the Cashbox pop singles chart and #2 on the Cashbox R&B chart. Stalling at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100, the single peaked at #7 in Vancouver (BC).

The songwriting trio helped The Supremes top the pop charts in the USA starting with “Where Did Our Love Go”. The song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks starting on August 22, 1964. Just prior to topping the charts The Supremes toured from June 26 to August 2nd as part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars 1964. They toured with the Shirelles, Gene Pitney, the Dixie Cups, Dean & Jean, the Rip Chords, the Coasters, Brenda Holloway, Crystals, Brian Hyland, Major Lance, the Reflections, Dean & Jean, the Crystals and others. The Supremes second studio album, Where Did Our Love Go, peaked at #2 on the Billboard album chart.

On stage the Supremes appeared in detailed make-up and high-fashion gowns and wigs. Their choreography was elegant and refined. Motown wanted the Supremes to be able to appeal to both black and white audiences. One measure of their crossover appeal to white audiences was the number of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. They first appeared on December 27, 1964, along with Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin and The Serendipity Singers. They were back on October 10, 1965, co-starring with Petula Clark, Woody Allen, Kate Smith and others. On February 20, 1966, the Supremes were back on The Ed Sullivan Show with comedian Allan “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” Sherman; May 1, 1966, with songwriter Harold Arlen and R&B star James Brown; September 25th ’66, with Ethel Merman; December 4th with Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Wayne & Schuster and the Harlem Globetrotters; May 7, 1967, with Charro, bandleader Xavier Cugat, and Frank Ifield; November 19th, 1967, with the Temptations and Flip Wilson; March 24th, 1968, along with Spanky & Our Gang, George Carlin, Jimmy Dean, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood; May 5, 1968, alongside Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Irving Berlin and Robert Goulet; September 29, 1968, alongside the Jefferson Airplane and Red Skelton; January 5, 1969, co-starring with Johnny Mathis, Rodney Dangerfield, and Henry Mancini; and May 11, 1969, together with The Muppets and Ed Ames.

The Supremes also were featured on four episodes of Hullabalo in 1965. Their appearances between 1964 and 1969 included Shindig!, The Steve Allen Playhouse, The Lloyd Thaxton Show, Shivaree, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Where The Action Is, The Red Skelton Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Bob Hope Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show and more.

The Supremes number-one success was followed up with more Holland-Dozier-Holland tunes, including the chart-topping “Baby Love” for four weeks in November ’64; “Come See About Me” for one week in December ’64 and one non-consecutive week later in January ’65; “Stop! In The Name Of Love” for two weeks in March-April ’65; “Back In My Arms Again” for a week in June ’65; and “I Hear A Symphony” for two weeks in November ’65. “Back In My Arms Again” was nominated for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording, losing out to Nancy Wilson’s “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am”.

In 1965 the Supremes appeared in the teen film Beach Ball, along with the Righteous Brothers, the Hondells, Edd “Kookie Kookie” Byrnes, the Four Seasons and the Walker Brothers. And in the summer of ’65 More Hits by The Supremes peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 album chart. In 1966 the Supremes were nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Rock ‘n Roll Performance – Group (Vocal or Instrumental) for “Stop! In The Name Of Love”. They lost out to The Statler Brothers “Flowers On The Wall”.

Between 1964 and 1970 the Supremes charted 20 songs into the Top Ten in Vancouver (BC) and 23 into the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100. Often there was little variance between the peak positions, with the Supremes charting in the same zone both here and nationally in the USA. They had 8 chart-topping singles in Vancouver and 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 8 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart. In February 1966, the Supremes eighth studio album, I Hear A Symphony, peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

In an effort to sustain their chart-topping ways, in April 1966 the Supremes released “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart”. The result was an exception where Vancouver record buyers helped the song chart to number-one, while in the USA the song struggled to make the Top Ten.

Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart by the Supremes

“Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” was written by the songwriting trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Other hits Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for the Supremes include “My World Is Empty Without You”, and string of number-one hits: “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “The Happening” and “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone”. In 1963, they had blossomed into a hit making team. That year they co-wrote “Heat Wave” and “Quicksand” for Martha & The Vandellas and “Mickey’s Monkey” for The Miracles.

Holland-Dozier-Holland also co-wrote hits for the Four Tops that included “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'”, “It’s The Same Old Song”, “I can’t Help Myself”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “Bernadette”, “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”, “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”, “7 Rooms Of Gloom” and “Something About You“. They wrote “Its Your Thing” for The Isley Brothers, “Love’s Gone Bad” for Chris Clark, “Nowhere To Run” and “Jimmy Mack” for Martha & The Vandellas; “(Come Round Here) I’m The One You Need” for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. In 1970 the trio also co-wrote the Top Ten hits “Band Of Gold” for Freda Payne, and “Give Me Just A Little More Time” for Chairmen Of The Board.

Brian Holland (born in Detroit in 1941) had his first hit as a songwriter with “Please, Mr. Postman” for The Marvelettes in 1961. He tried to launch a career as a solo act, but had little success. His brother, Eddie Holland (born in Detroit in 1939), had a #6 hit on the Billboard R&B chart in the fall of 1961 called “Jamie.” Due to stage fright, Eddie Holland decided to focus on songwriting and producing. Lamont Dozier (born in Detroit in 1941) was the songwriting teams producer and musical arranger. He later had his own Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 titled “Trying To Hold On To My Woman”. In the 1980’s, Dozier co-wrote “Two Hearts” with Phil Collins, and he wrote “Invisible” for Alison Moyet.

“Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” is a song about someone who is consumed by feelings of love and desire. The singer needs help with this situation since they don’t know what to do since they’ve been “bit by the love bug.” When you get sick you can take a subscription, and when you’re thirsty you can drink water. But the itching in their hearts causes a “nagging irritation,… complications” and a “growing infection.” And neither one of her parents can help her out.

“Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” climbed to #1 in Vancouver (BC), Augusta (GA), Jackson (MI) and Syracuse (NY), #2 in New Haven (CT) and Regina (SK), #3 in Lansing (MI), Nanaimo (BC), Omaha (NE), Denver, Roanoke (VA) and Billings (MT), #4 in Cleveland and Kalamazoo (MI), #5 in Boston and Wilmington (DL), #6 in Philadelphia, Phoenix (AZ), Tampa (FL) and Bakersfield (CA), #7 in Pittsburgh, #8 in Troy (NY), Milwaukee (WI), Edmonton (AB), Atlantic City (NJ) and Los Angeles, #9 in York (PA), San Bernardino (CA), Burlington (VT) and Buffalo, and #10 in New York City, Detroit, Hamilton (ON) and San Diego. Nationally the USA, the song peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, getting hardly any airplay in 14 states.

“Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” was the debut single from the Supremes summer album release The Supremes A’ Go-Go. The album became their first to top the Billboard album chart. It was the first album by an all-female group to reach number-one on the chart. And in early 1967 the Supremes returned to the Top Ten on the Billboard 200 album chart with The Supremes Sing Holland–Dozier–Holland. While in the summer of 1967 the Supremes returned to the top of the Billboard 200 album chart for five weeks in October-November with Diana Ross & the Supremes: Greatest Hits. It was the same year the Monkees dominated the Billboard 200 chart, topping it with four albums for a total of 29 weeks, and the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on top for 15 weeks.

In 1967 Motown’s Barry Gordy Jr. decided the Supremes should be renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes. This became a breaking point for Florence Ballard, who already sensed that she was being edged out of the group. Ballard had been gaining weight and drinking excessively. On July 1, 1967, at a concert at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Florence Ballard discovered there was an extra set of gowns. The extra was meant for Cindy Birdsong, Gordy Jr.’s choice to have her replaced. Irritated, Ballard performed the concert that night inebriated. It led to an incident during their performance in which her stomach was revealed when she purposely thrust it forward during a dance routine. Enraged, Gordy ordered her back to Detroit and permanently dismissed her from the group.

Holland-Dozier-Holland penned a #2 hit for Diana Ross & the Supremes titled “Reflections”. It was kept out of the number-one spot in September 1967 by Bobbie Gentry‘s “Ode To Billie Joe”.

Florence Ballard release from Motown was made final on February 22, 1968, when she received a one-time payment of US$139,804.94 in royalties and earnings. She tried to start a solo career on ABC Records, but it was a failure.

In late 1968 the Supremes teamed up with the Temptations to release Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations. The lead single from the album, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. In January 1969, it was held back by Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, though it peaked at number-one for a single week on the Cashbox Top 100 Singles chart.

However, as Diana Ross & the Supremes, the girl group was less successful. From 1968 to early 1970 they released 12 singles. Of these, “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together” topped the Billboard Hot 100. “I’m Livin’ In Shame” stalled at #10, four barely cracked the Top 30 and three failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100.

On January 14, 1970, Diana Ross had her final concert with the Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Afterwards, she left the group to start a solo career. Ross was replaced with Jean Terrell and the Supremes managed three international Top Ten hits: “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Stoned Love” and “Nathan Jones”. In the spring of 1972 Cindy Birdsong became pregnant and left the group. The Supremes went through three more lineup changes until they disbanded in 1977.

Florence Ballard tried to restart her singing career in 1975, but died from a blood clot inside a blood vessel of the heart at the age of 32 in 1976. Mary Wilson released over a dozen singles and three albums in the following decades. However, she didn’t achieve the success she had known with the Supremes. In 1986 Wilson published her first memoir Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme. In 1990 she wrote a memoir sequel titled Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together, which focused on her life after Diana Ross left the Supremes in early 1970.

Meanwhile, Diana Ross had her first number-one solo hit with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in 1970. This was followed over the next eleven years with number-one hits “Touch Me In The Morning”, “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”, “Love Hangover”, “Upside Down” and “Endless Love” – the latter a duet with Lionel Ritchie. Between 1970 and 1983 Ross was nominated five times for a Grammy Award in the category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Among the songs that earned her the nomination were the chart-topping “Love Hangover” and “Upside Down”. Her final nomination in this category – “Muscles” in 1983 – lost out to Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going”, from Dreamgirls. 

In 1981 Dreamgirls appeared on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre at 249 West 45th Street. Based on the story of the Supremes, but masked to avoid any lawsuit from Motown, the musical earned 13 Tony Award nominations. Dreamgirls is a story about Deena Jones, Effie White and Lorrell Robinson. There are many resemblances between actual events in the story of the Supremes and the plot of Dreamgirls.

These include: 1) Both the Supremes and the Dreams started off with “ettes” in their group’s name. The Supremes were originally the Primettes; the Dreams start off as the Dreamettes. 2) Both the Supremes and the Dreams did background vocals for established recording artists before becoming famous. 3) Diana Ross was chosen as the lead singer of the Supremes because of her distinctive, softer, commercial voice, just as Deena Jones is chosen as the lead singer of the Dreams. 4) The storyline of the love affair between Deena Jones and Curtis Taylor Jr. mirrors Diana Ross and Berry Gordy Jr.’s love affair and the emphasis of Diana’s success over the group’s. 5) As Diana Ross was pushed forward as the star of the Supremes, Florence Ballard became angry and hostile when she was forced into the background. Effie White reacts in the same manner when Deena Jones is pushed forward as the star of the Dreams. 6) Florence Ballard missed performances, recording sessions, allegedly “faked” illnesses, and gained weight, all of which resulted in her being fired from the group in Las Vegas in 1967. The character of Effie White goes through the same experience. 7) Cindy Birdsong went on to perform with the Supremes the same night Florence Ballard was fired, just as Michelle Morris goes on to perform with the Dreams the same night Effie White is fired. 8) The Supremes became “Diana Ross & the Supremes” in 1967 while in Las Vegas. The Dreams became “Deena Jones & the Dreams” in 1967 while in Las Vegas.

Actress Jennifer Holliday, who played Effie White, won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. While Ben Harney won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his role as the Berry Gordy Jr.-esque character Curtis Taylor Jr. Dreamgirls ended up winning 6 of 13 Tony Awards. The musical was made into the 2006 film Dreamgirls, which won two of eight Academy Awards at the 79th ceremony in February 2007.

On March 25, 1983, Diana Ross briefly reunited with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong to perform a taped recording of “Someday We’ll Be Together” for the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today , Forever broadcast on NBC on May 16, 1983.

Diana Ross’ last Top Ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Missing You” in 1984. However, in 1985 she topped the singles charts in Australia, Ireland and the UK with “Chain Reaction”, and peaking at #3 in New Zealand. And in 1991 her single “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” made it to #4 in Ireland and the Netherlands, and #2 on the UK singles chart. The single returned to #2 on the singles charts in Ireland and the UK in 2005.

In 2002 Diana Ross was arrested in Tucson, Arizona, for Driving Under the Influence and sent to a rehab facility.

In 1999 “Where Did Our Love Go” and “You Keep Me Hanging On” were added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. And in 2001 “Stop! In The Name Of Love” was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Supremes have been an influence in the recordings of the Three Degrees, the Pointer Sisters, the Emotions, En Vogue, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Madonna and others.

In April 2013 Motown: The Musical premiered on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre at 205 West 46th Street. It is based on Berry Gordy Jr.s 1994 autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown. It features the story of how Gordy Jr. discovered the Supremes and over a dozen hit songs by the group and Ross as a solo artist. The musical received four Tony Award nominations in 2013.

In 2019 Mary Wilson published her memoir Supreme Glamour, with a history of the Supremes and attention to their fashions on stage. On September 23, 2019, Mary appeared in an episode of Dancing With The Stars where she danced the foxtrot with Brandon Armstrong to “Baby Love”.

References:
Lamont Dozier biography, Lamont Dozier.com.
Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier-Eddie Holland,” Michigan Rock and Roll Legends.com.
The Supremes, “My Heart Can’t Take It No More“, Apollo Theatre, Harlem, NY, December 1962.
Lennie Weinrib, Beach BallParamount, 1965.
The Supremes,” Imdb.com.
Dreamgirls Continues to Spark Questions About its Motown Inspiration,” Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, OH, March 6, 2015.
Mary Wilson, Dreamgirl: My Life as a SupremeSt. Martin’s Press, 1986.
J. Randy Taraborrelli, Diana Ross: A BiographyCitadel Press, 2014.
Charles Isherwood, “Hey, Diana, Smokey, Stevie: You’re on Broadway!,” New York Times, April 14, 2013.
Silver Dollar Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, May 15, 1966.
“Baby Love” at #1: “Silver Dollar Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 14, 1964.
“Come See About Me” at #1: “Silver Dollar Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, January 16, 1965.
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” at #1: “Silver Dollar Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, March 27, 1965.
“I Hear A Symphony” at #1: “C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 27, 1965.
“You Can’t Hurry Love” at #1: “C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 17, 1966.
“Love Child” at #1: “Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 13, 1968.

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