The Supremes: “Your Heart Belongs To Me” (Motown 1027, 1962)
A couple weekends ago, my wife and I visited the Motown Museum at 2648 West Grand Bouleavard in Detroit. It’s not a very imposing structure, two bungalows with mismatched exteriors attached together, with a big Hitsville USA over the picture window of one of them. It’s surrounded by a funeral home parking lot and a few other former homes that have been turned into businesses, including a beauty shop, a florist and pharmacy. There is a massive hospital down the street, the flagship of the Henry Ford Health System.
The tour is pretty good—it ends in the Snake Pit, the garage-turned-studio that Motown conquered the world out of. There’s a vending machine outside the studio with candy from the 70s in it. They always put the Baby Ruths in the same slot so Stevie Wonder could get them without asking for help.
One of the coolest things about visiting the house comes early in the tour. You’re wandering around a room with memorabilia plastered all over the walls (including a business card from Berry Gordy’s failed record store, a shot of his family’s grocery store, and a bunch of 45s), and then you walk through a certain part of the room and it… sounds different. That’s because you’ve walked right under the old echo chamber, which was built into the attic. You can stand there snapping your fingers under the opening and hear the slapback effect that characterizes just about every major Motown recording.
Before there was a settled Motown sound, though, there was a lot of work done to figure out what that sound might be, and this early Supremes single, just their fourth if you count the one they made as the Primettes, makes much more judicious use of the echo chamber than any of the chart toppers they’d release over the next several years. There’s a bit of echo on the bongos, the snare and… that’s it. It’s sort of strange to hear Diana Ross without all that reverb, actually.
This song did not chart. At least not in this version. Shortly after it was released to virtually no response, a second pressing, this one loaded with reverb, was released. This one gave the Supremes their first chart showing, way down at #95 pop. But I prefer the original, dry recording. Something about the dryness makes it feel more intimate, which is appropriate, given the kind of song it is.
"Your Heart Belongs To Me" was written and produced by Smokey Robinson, and it’s one of a handful of Motown songs from the early 60s that eerily looks ahead to American escalation in Vietnam. The song’s forthright devotion and faith that the lover the song is sung to may be tempted to stray so far away from home but won’t are almost heartbreakingly innocent considering what was coming.
Even before Vietnam spiraled into the war that changed everything, the members of the Motown family would have been plenty familiar with having family and friends shipped overseas for periods of military service. It was a simple reality of being black in America—members of your race formed a disproportionately large percentage of the active duty military. This is one of the primary reasons that Robinson’s treatment of the story in this song is so humane and real.
Ross really sounds the part of a smitten young woman—her voice was never a booming instrument, and truth be told, this is the first Supremes single on which she sounds especially good. On earlier singles, you can hear intonation problems—she had trouble staying in key. The other Surpremes in 1962 were Flo Ballard and Mary Wilson, and they do a fine job here with the dry production.
The b-side of this single, “He’s Seventeen,” is pretty awful, but more than “Your Heart” it does point toward the sound the Supremes would become famous by in 1964 when they were paired with Lamont Dozier and the Holland brothers. The drums fills in particular are classic Motown sound. Meanwhile, The Supremes had another year and a half of obscure toil ahead of them before they broke through.