On 28 August 1979, Mary Wilson made her debut as a solo performer after close to two decades as the glue holding together the Supremes, the most successful US girl group ever. Midway through her set at New York New York, she announced: “Before we go any further, I would like to sing a medley of my greatest hits.” Wilson recalled the moment in her second volume of autobiography, Supreme Faith:
As the band played the opening chords to ‘Come See About Me’ I sang only my background parts: “Boo hoo . . . for you . . . to tears . . . the fears . . . hey, hey, hey, hey . . . hey, hey, hey, hey . . . come see about me.”. Everyone cracked up, then I did the same for “The Happening” and “Reflections”.
Though played for comedy, the moment was a tacit acknowledgement that it wasn’t Mary’s voice that first sprang to mind when people thought of the Supremes. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t often step up, especially during the group’s post-Diana-Ross 1970s career. As the world pays tribute to Mary following her untimely death, here are six tracks from her Supremes tenure that highlight her vocals (and also some fantastic era fashions).
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (1969)
This Four Seasons hit was highlighted as Mary’s solo number throughout the latter part of the Supremes’ 1960s career, when the group was billed as “Diana Ross & The Supremes”.
This sleek and sensual track saw vocal duties shared by Mary Wilson and Jean Terrell, and was the first-ever Supremes single to feature Wilson as a lead. Wilson signed off her mail with the salutation “Touch” for years afterwards.
He’s My Man (1975)
Disco frenzy ahoy on this number, with co-lead vocals by Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne. Great contrast between Mary’s passionate verses and Scherrie’s soaring chorus lines.
Floy Joy (1971)
Smokey Robinson wrote and produced this 1971 single, again featuring Mary Wilson and Jean Terrell on lead.
Automatically Sunshine (1971)
Another Smokey Robinson production, like ‘Floy Joy’ this was a UK Top 10 hit. The 1970s Supremes were a much bigger deal in Europe and Japan than in the US.
You Are The Heart Of Me (1976)
A gorgeous, understated ballad performance from the final Supremes LP, Mary, Scherrie & Susaye.
The one that got away. Infamously, in the early 1980s, Mary turned down the chance to record ‘Holiday’. It went on to become the track that launched Madonna’s career. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine this working as well as a Mary Wilson number, but it would be amazing to hear a demo.