News of the death of Mary Wilson brought memories of the many happy hours spent listening to The Supremes, to Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross.
To be a working class teenage boy in late-1970s Somerset and to like The Supremes meant being in a small minority. There were certainly Northern Soul fans around, I remember people with “Wigan Casino” written on their pencil cases, but their music was much more niche. Groups that enjoyed commercial success did not tend to find favour with the Northern Soul fraternity, and there were few soul groups that enjoyed greater commercial success than The Supremes. Friends at sixth form college liked heavy rock, they liked Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, or they were fans of music from the punk and New Wave groups. To have admitted a liking for the sound of Wilson, Ballard and Ross would have invited derision from those with a taste for the sort of music one would expect at a college within walking distance of Glastonbury.
What is baffling at a remove of more than forty years is how I came by records from the early years of The Supremes. I would have been too young to have bought the records when they were first released in the earl-1960s, yet by late teenage years I had acquired a pile of seven inch singles by The Supremes. It escapes me where a teenage boy in rural Somerset might have bought records from more than a decade previously. Were there record shops that sold second-hand records? Perhaps they had been bought from a market stall. In times when online purchases were twenty years away, there were not many options available.
In those distant days, I used to think that the records I had were collectors’ pieces. I had records by The Supremes on the Stateside label, in the years before they were a Tamla Motown group. I used to imagine that one day my liking for their songs would make me lots of money as I sold off the singles. Of course, the arrival of the Internet, and particularly of eBay would reveal the naivete of those teenage imaginings. When adjusting for inflation over a period of almost sixty years, the records have probably shown no appreciation whatsoever in value, there were so many of them pressed.
However, the monetary value never really mattered, the delight of listening to those songs was greater than anything I could have spent. The sound of The Supremes was the sound of optimism and happiness and bad dancing around the living room. It was a place of escape for a teenage boy who struggled with the world in which he lived.
Thank you, Mary Wilson, for all of the smiling moments.