Listen to this track by mighty Motown hit machine Diana Ross & The Supremes. It’s “Someday We’ll Be Together”, a smash hit single from 1969 and found on their LP Cream Of The Crop.
The song has the distinction of being the last number one single on the R&B charts of the 1960s, while also being the first number one single of the next decade, too. It was also the group’s swan song, with Diana Ross leaving for a solo career by 1970. This gave the song’s refrain a kind of weightiness that seemed to go beyond the story depicted in it.
The song had actually been recorded previously in 1961 by doo-wop group Johnny (Bristol) & Jacky (Beavers), the team who also wrote it. Bristol oversaw the Supremes recording too. You can hear him singing backup, although that session was meant to be a demo with Bristol’s interjections as vocal encouragement in order to get the right take. When Motown honcho Berry Gordy heard it, he liked Bristol’s backing that offset Ross’ lead voice. Ironically for a swan song of a massive pop group like the Supremes, or “Diana Ross & The Supremes” as they became known, Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson aren’t featured on the track. This was indicative of the state of the union of the group at the time. Besides that though, this song always struck me as a swan song of another kind; that of childhood itself.
When it comes to the signature Motown sound, all of the classic elements that made it famous are still in place here. Taking Ross’ voice as a given, we also hear The Funk Brothers loud and clear on this track, including the signature pulse of James Jamerson’s bass line that adorn so many of the best songs of the decade. Another is the sweet string arrangements, an element that would grow in importance on so many pop-soul records to come. Sneaking in there is a bit more of a gospel feel than is normally found on a Supremes record, helped along by the aforementioned Johnny Bristol’s call-and-response style backing vocal. To me, this element helps to give the song an earthier feel than most of the their earlier hits, which makes it my favourite. But there is something else about this song. There’s some combination of elements that make it more than it is, pointing to something beneath the veneer of the lyrics.
Pop music of the 1960s had done a lot of growing up by the end of the decade and I think that’s because “Young America” for whom Motown fashioned their sound were growing up too. By 1969, they were graduating from high school, making new friends in new jobs, and seeing other friends fade out of their lives. They were moving into a world away from the one they’d known soundtracked by The Supremes, and into a new one full of new experiences and new music in the dawn of a new decade, too. To me, “Someday We’ll Be Together” speaks to that experience of finding that one is no longer a child, and letting go of childish ideas and attachments. And maybe that’s the reason the song seemed so anthemic and so much more meaningful beyond the song’s lyrics.
Many felt like the subtext to this song was that The Supremes themselves would reunite with the then-departing Ross someday. But for me, this song is subtextually powerful not because it promised the certainty of a future when the world we once knew will be just the same as we experienced it when we were younger, surrounded by the same friends, times, and even the music we so enjoyed. It’s more like the sweet sadness of a parting of a group of friends who are all full of good intentions to see each other again, but with each party knowing in their hearts that no one can replicate a time and a set of unique circumstances by which eras are defines, and as they was originally felt to us. When something’s gone, it’s really gone, but that new things are to come.
Young America felt this same way perhaps by 1969; that moments and eras spent with the friends they knew when “Baby Love” was on the radio were slipping by them, fading into something new. That world of innocence is subsumed by new ways of thinking, and new ways of living inside of one’s skin. Nothing is the same again, and that’s OK. In this, “Someday We’ll Be Together” sounds like a tribute to that time that will never come again, but will be cherished. It is full of romanticism and innocence, like the last traces of a child’s perspective before the experience of burgeoning adulthood changes it forever.
Diana Ross is an active singer and performer today. You can even follow her on Twitter!