In retrospect, “The Happening” seemed like the moment when Motown first lost its way: the beginning of the end. A theme for a painfully unhip cinematic attempt at hipness, written by Holland-Dozier-Holland with a Hollywood hand best known for TV themes (Family Affair, Gidget, My Three Sons).* It was a formal foot in the door in LA and the movie business and thus a first step in the move from Detroit (though the label reportedly was doing clandestine sessions in LA from the mid-1960s on). As the last hit for the Supremes before the ousting of Florence Ballard and their redubbing as Diana Ross and the Supremes, it represented a karmic turn as well. (The clip below from the Ed Sullivan Show was apparently Flo’s last appearance with the group).
At the time, of course, it was plenty hip: a number 1 the month before Sgt. Pepper was released and the 10th in a row for the Supremes. For a along time it was maybe my favorite Supremes song: It activates the sugar pop pleasure centers of my brain while the Funk Brothers keep things somewhat honest. Though, now, considering what followed, it seems a little too frenetic, trying a bit too hard.
*One might be tempted to say “Hollywood hack” to stress the point, but Frank DeVol was a classy talent: He did the arrangement on Nat Cole’s number 1 hit “Nature Boy” as well as some quality Tony Bennett albums; he was married for 54 years to the same woman; and, closest to my heart, was indelible as bandleader Happy Kyne on Fernwood 2Night and America 2Night: