– Fanny Brice, Funny Girl
Back in 2012, while reviewing Hip-o Select’s splendidly expanded edition of The Supremes at the Copa, I wrote of the “altogether enjoyable [and] still inexplicably not on CD” album The Supremes Sing and Perform Funny Girl. Indeed, that 1968 LP, featuring Motown’s greatest stars tackling the showstoppers from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s score, has long been one of the rarest and most-requested titles in the Supremes discography. Yet Funny Girl has remained unavailable throughout the entirety of the compact disc era…until now. The good news is that the long-awaited reissue will arrive in lavishly expanded form, with twelve bonus tracks, on April 29. But with every parade must come some rain: this deluxe edition of Diana Ross and the Supremes Sing and Perform Funny Girl is currently only scheduled for release as a digital download. It will appear the same day that the 50th anniversary of the Broadway production of the musical is celebrated with a new CD/LP box set of its original cast recording from Capitol Records, sister imprint of Motown Select within Universal Music Enterprises (UMe).
The eight-time Tony-nominated musical by librettist Isobel Lennart, composer Styne and lyricist Merrill opened in March 1964 at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre, sealing the deal on superstardom for its leading lady, Barbra Streisand. Streisand’s tour de force as Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice became the stuff of legend, and Styne and Merrill’s score yielded the near-instant standards “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and, of course, “People.” Funny Girl didn’t go unnoticed by Motown chief Berry Gordy. In concert, Diana Ross rendered the sweetly upbeat “I Am Woman (You Are Man)” to coquettish perfection while Florence Ballard belted the dramatic “People” from the heart.
It wasn’t unusual for The Supremes to switch gears back and forth between Holland-Dozier-Holland’s explosive Top 40 R&B and classic Broadway and standard repertoire. It was all part of Berry Gordy’s plan to make his artists true stars, appealing to the affluent supper club set as well as the teenagers buying the latest 45s. In early 1965, The Supremes began work on There’s a Place for Us, so named for Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story lyric to “Somewhere,” for which they recorded both “People” and “I Am Woman.” That summer, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard made their debut at the Copacabana, singing live many of the songs they had recorded for There’s a Place for Us. With the release of The Supremes at the Copa, the studio album was shelved, eventually arriving on CD in 2004. Other Broadway-themed Supremes recordings were made, however, some even with Holland-Dozier-Holland at the helm. 1967’s The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart, produced by Berry Gordy and arranger Gil Askey, reached back to the Broadway of decades before Funny Girl.
In 1968, however, Gordy and Askey had good reason to turn their attention back to the Styne and Merrill musical. Its big-screen adaptation was arriving from Columbia Pictures; Streisand would win an Oscar for reprising her role as Fanny. Hitting record stores on August 26, 1968 (other sources say May) in advance of the movie’s September 19 release, Diana Ross and the Supremes Sing and Perform Funny Girl – performed by the new line-up of Diana, Mary and Cindy Birdsong – included nine Styne and Merrill songs (eight from the stage score and the movie’s title song) plus “My Man,” a signature song of Brice’s that was replaced in the stage score by the ravishing “The Music That Makes Me Dance.” (The movie featured “My Man” instead of “Music,” but Diana and the girls did both!) The Supremes promoted the album with a medley on The Ed Sullivan Show, and even Jule Styne gave his stamp of approval to the project by writing an adoring, appreciative note for the sleeve. The great composer (Gypsy, Bells Are Ringing) observed, “Although the girls are young and new and part of the now world, they have always showed great respect towards composers Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin (and now Jule Styne). Thank God. They are always aware of what’s new by their appreciation of the sounds of Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, etc. What Diana Ross does…is something else again. If I sound excited, I am…My life is now complete. From Frank Sinatra, to Barbra Streisand, to Diana Ross and the Supremes. What a parlay!”
Despite the enormous success of the motion picture, the Supremes’ Funny Girl album only reached No. 150 on the Billboard 200 and No. 45 on the R&B chart. The motion picture soundtrack featuring Streisand fared rather better with a No. 12 peak, but Diana, Mary and Cindy didn’t have to wait long to return to chart supremacy. The very next month after the Funny Girl LP’s arrival, the group released the single “Love Child.” By November, it had reached No. 1. And that wasn’t all. Their collaborative album Diana Ross and the Supremes Join the Temptations, released the same month of November, reached No. 2 and its single “I’m Gonna Make You Loved Me” became a Billboard No. 2 Pop smash on 45. Miss Ross kept some of the Funny Girl music in her live repertoire well into her post-Supremes solo years.
What will you find on this new Funny Girl? Hit the jump for that and more!
The digital-only expanded reissue of The Supremes’ Funny Girl features twelve bonus tracks. The entire album is included in newly-remixed form; whereas the original album tracks were heavily sweetened with a chorus, these remixes will feature only the voices of only Diana, Mary and Cindy. Two further bonus tracks have been taken from live performances – “My Man” from Las Vegas, and “I’m the Greatest Star” from the 1968 television special TCB starring The Supremes and The Temps. A digital booklet is also included.
In short, this looks like a very special release that would have made a fine and important addition to the Hip-o Select Supremes/Diana Ross library of deluxe expanded CD reissues. Is this MP3 release a sign that the label’s superlative physical program is over? Might a CD release, with its superior sound quality, still be a possibility? Would Hip-o consider licensing this project to one of the numerous labels that have licensed official titles from Motown in recent months, i.e. Ace, Big Break Records, SoulMusic Records or Real Gone Music? We have no further information at this time, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on, and hopes for, the future of the classic Motown catalogue! Please sound off below!
And don’t miss Sing and Perform Funny Girl on Tuesday. You can pre-order at the link below!
Diana Ross and the Supremes, Sing and Perform Funny Girl (Motown LP MS 672, 1968 – reissued Motown Select digital-only, no cat. no., 2014) (Amazon U.S. )
- Funny Girl
- If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
- I Am Woman (You Are Man)
- The Music That Makes Me Dance
- Don’t Rain on My Parade
- Cornet Man
- His Love Makes Me Beautiful
- Sadie, Sadie
- I’m the Greatest Star
- Funny Girl (Remix)
- If A Girl Isn’t Pretty (Remix)
- I Am Woman (You Are Man) (Remix)
- The Music That Makes Me Dance (Remix)
- Don’t Rain on My Parade (Remix)
- People (Remix)
- Cornet Man (Remix)
- His Love Makes Me Beautiful (Remix)
- Sadie, Sadie (Remix)
- I’m the Greatest Star (Remix)
- I’m the Greatest Star (Live from TCB)
- My Man (Live from Las Vegas)
Tracks 11-22 previously unreleased