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I quit buying 45s when I was 13 years old. After that, I considered myself an album consumer, but that sometimes created an economic conundrum: when a cool new song came on the radio, I had to decide whether to risk buying the album it was on. My liquidity was limited to my allowance and whatever I could scrape up by other means, so putting down $6.98 (or whatever it was back then) was a serious step. If the rest of the album sucked, I would be stuck with it, and yes, I got stuck a few times.
There were other options. There was continuing to dig the song on the radio for free, which I frequently did. The other option was to wait until the artist’s greatest hits album came out. One’s patience would often be rewarded—you could snag a lot of great songs for that same $6.98.
In 1967, no act this side of the Beatles was more ripe for the greatest hits treatment than the Supremes. In September, Motown released a two-disc compilation titled Diana Ross and the Supremes’ Greatest Hits. It contained 10 singles that had reached #1 in the last three years, several of them among the finest records made by anybody, anywhere, anytime: “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again” among them.
The album represented a major milestone in the group’s career—and also spoke of major changes already begun. None of the songs on the album had been billed to Diana Ross and the Supremes when they first appeared—that billing was new with this album. Similarly, Florence Ballard had sung on all of them and appears on the album cover, but she was out of the group by the time the album came out.
Even the previously unreleased single from the album, “The Happening,” featured Flo. According to Wikipedia, the new single was supposed to be “Reflections,” but it was held back at the last minute and left off the album—a good move in retrospect. “Reflections,” with its electronics effects and its ominous, simmering vibe, also points the way to the Supremes, and to Motown’s future. Without it, Diana Ross and the Supremes’ Greatest Hits is a remarkable document of where that group and the label had been.
The album has long since been replaced by other Supremes compilations, but upon its release it joined Supremes A-Go-Go as the group’s (and Motown’s) second #1 album in almost exactly a year. It hit #1 in Billboard on November 28, 1967, and stayed there for five weeks.