One More Time! “Mountain” Returns To Top 10

Congratulations to Ms. Diana Ross for notching another Top 10 on the Billboard charts.  The new dance mix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is the Greatest Gainer on the Dance Club Songs chart for the week ending December 23, 2017, climbing up to #10.  Here’s hoping this classic song hits the very top…one more time!

Billboard: December 23, 2017

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Diana & Marvin (1973): EXTENDED POST

A musical match made in heaven?  Not exactly.  The turmoil behind 1973’s Diana & Marvin can be heard in several of its tracks, which makes for interesting (if not exactly pleasant) listening.  Read my thoughts on this unusual and debate-worthy entry into the Diana Ross discography here.

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Touch Me In The Morning (1973): EXTENDED POST

Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and many others owe a major debt to Diana’s 1973 album Touch Me In The Morning, which recast Miss Ross as an interpreter of sophisticated pop ballads and led her to a new level of solo success.  Check out my all new (and highly revised) opinions on Diana’s landmark LP here!

Billboard: July 7, 1973

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The Boss Returns To The Charts

Fans have been waiting a long time for new music from Diana Ross — and although we’re still waiting, it’s nice to see Miss Ross riding high again on the Billboard and iTunes music charts.

From her collection Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection, a new remix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sits at #38 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart for the week ending December 2.

Billboard Top Dance Club Songs for the week ending December 2, 2017

And in the wake of Diana’s triumphant performance at the American Music Awards, at which she was honored with a lifetime achievement award, not one…not two…but three Diana Ross collections charted in the iTunes R&B Top 20, led by The Number Ones and followed closely by Diamond Diana.

iTunes R&B Albums Chart: November 20, 2017

Congratulations to Miss Diana Ross — and here’s to continued success in 2018!

 

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Surrender (1971): EXTENDED POST

Diana teams up with Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson for a second full-length album and the results are spectacular.  Surrender remains one of the very best studio albums ever released by Miss Ross, and arguably by Motown, too — find out why in my extended discussion here!

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Diana! Original TV Soundtrack (1971): EXTENDED POST

“Hey, ya’ll, here I am!”

Diana Ross takes a major step into solo stardom with her first television special, and the soundtrack becomes her third solo album.  Check out the ALL-NEW, extended discussion here!

Billboard: April 17, 1971

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Everything Is Everything (1970): EXTENDED POST

It’s here!  Check out my extended discussion of Diana’s often-overlooked second solo album, Everything Is Everything, by clicking here!  Found some interesting info about the album I’d never heard before…for example, did you know Billboard predicted “My Place” would be Diana’s follow-up single to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in 1970?

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Diana Ross (1970): EXTENDED POST

Check out my extended discussion of Diana’s 1970 debut LP, Diana Ross, by clicking here. New research, new pictures, new thoughts on every track!

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RECORD STORE FIND: “Everything Is Everything” Unique Front/Back Cover

Happy Monday, all…

I’ve been busy working to expand my reviews of the Diana Ross solo discography, which I’ll begin posting within the next few weeks — in most cases, I’ve doubled the length of the posts, adding extra research information concerning each album and track.  I’m really excited to unveil the new album discussions, as having gone through the Supremes era has helped inform my understanding of Diana’s solo work.

Until then…wanted to share this record store find from earlier today.  I was at a shop just outside Atlanta and came across this interesting pressing of Everything Is Everything with a negative image and white background on the rear cover.  I’ve never seen one like this before — anyone know the story?  Every copy I’ve ever owned has a regular photo over a black background.  The lettering on the front cover is also made up of three colors, instead of just solid blue, and there are no song titles listed:

Let me know if you’ve seen this before — curious to know why it’s a little different!

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At Their Best (1978)

“If you give love a chance, I’ll do the best I can…”

Although the 70s Supremes were never afforded a lavish, Farewell-style final recording marking the end of the group’s tenure on Motown Records, the trio did get a “greatest hits” collection, released in the United States in June of 1978.  At Their Best features a brief collection of ten tracks, covering the group’s output from 1970’s Right On through 1976’s Mary, Scherrie & Susayeit would be issued abroad with an expanded lineup of fourteen songs.  The set was most notable for including a never-bef0re-released track, “The Sha-La Bandit,” with Scherrie Payne on lead vocals; also making the cut were “Love Train,” led by Jean Terrell and previously only available on an English Motown compilation, and the non-LP single “Bad Weather,” written and produced by Stevie Wonder back in 1973.

The tracklist from AT THEIR BEST, as released in the United States

Interestingly, The Supremes weren’t “officially” disbanded when At Their Best hit shelves — at least, not openly.  Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene planned to continue on as Supremes after the departure of Mary Wilson in June of 1977; Wilson urged fans to continue supporting the group during her farewell performance as a Supreme.  However, just a few months later, Wilson embarked in a legal fight with Motown over the use of the name “Supremes,” effectively putting her solo plans and likely any plans for Scherrie and Susaye on hold.  Finally, in mid-1979, Wilson moved forward with her solo project and told Billboard, “There’ll probably never be another Supremes, unless Motown and I agree that there should be one” (September 22, 1979).  Around the same time, Scherrie and Susaye released a joint album on Motown called Partners, ending any speculation that the two would carry on as Supremes.

At Their Best, then, basically became the group’s “Greatest Hits Volume 4,” following the 1967 double-LP Greatest Hits and the 1969 single disc Greatest Hits Volume 3.  Unfortunately, limiting the setlist to ten tracks means some notable singles were left off, not to mention several much-loved album cuts; “River Deep, Mountain High” doesn’t show up, for example, even though it was a Top 20 hit in 1970, and the United States pressing doesn’t include the Top 40 single “Automatically Sunshine.”  Still, the addition of the three then-rare tracks certainly made the set worthwhile to fans, and the it remains a decent (if visually unappealing — there’s not a single photo of any of the group members on the packaging!) sampler of an unappreciated decade for the world’s top female recording group.

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(NOTE: Below are discussions of the three tracks previously unavailable on a Supremes LP; the other inclusions can be found on previous album releases covered on this site.)

Billboard: July 8, 1978

The Sha-La Bandit:  In the years since the release of At Their Best, fans have been treated to various versions of “The Sha-La Bandit,” a superb outtake from the sessions for 1975’s The Supremes; this version is led by Scherrie Payne, but there is a mix that includes a shared lead vocal from Scherrie, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong.  In any rendition, this is a standout song, and it’s strange that it didn’t make the group’s 1975 LP; the cut was produced by Clayton Ivey and Terry Woodford, who turned in every one of that album’s highlights, and should have handled the entire album.  “The Sha-La Bandit” was penned by Jerry Lang Ferguson and Wade Davis, Sr., and it’s been recorded by several artists, including Aretha Franklin and The Thymes (Franklin’s version was issued on her 1975 album You, released just a few months after the Supremes LP came out).  The song is a playful mid-tempo number with elements of pop, soul, doo-wop, and even a nod to country & western music in its lyric of a “bandit from Westchester County.”  On this particular mix, Payne offers up a dynamite vocal, smooth and sexy from beginning to end; she keeps the focus squarely on the descriptive lyrics, while also taking a few opportunities to flex her considerable vocal muscle.  Behind her, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong lay down a batch of backgrounds that come out like homemade whipped cream; there is something inherently polished and sophisticated about the combination of Payne-Wilson-Birdsong, and it’s on full display here.  As good as the song is, the At Their Best mix is perhaps the weakest of those released; the instrumental is toned down, and the final key change isn’t handled very well.  Still, it’s a terrific recording, and a welcome addition to this compilation.

Billboard: April 13, 1973

Bad Weather:  “Michael Leslie and the students at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., want to know what’s happening here in the U.S.  Is someone sleeping on the job?  Their plea is: ‘Please don’t lose this hit.'”  So wrote Julian Coleman in his “Soul Sauce” column in the May 12, 1973 issue of Billboard, referring to “Bad Weather” by The Supremes.  Released as a single on March 22, 1973, expectations were high for the song; it was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, who was then riding high with his groundbreaking album Talking Book.  It’s no coincidence that Wonder ended up in the studio with The Supremes; then-member Lynda Laurence had sung backup for Wonder, and her brother, Ira Tucker, Jr., co-wrote the song.  Reviews were immediately positive; New Musical Express proclaimed, “In a week filled with revolting dross of all possible description, the arrival of something like this gives me new faith in humanity, and new optimism for the future.”  The single managed to make the UK Top 40, but it bombed in the states, peaking at #87 on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s worst showing on that chart since “My Heart Can’t Take It No More” stalled at #129 in 1963.  One issue is that “Bad Weather” likely came a little ahead of its time; it’s a pre-disco dancefloor workout, arranged as a bold, blaring statement for lead singer Jean Terrell.  Wonder’s track is a rollercoaster of horns, funky guitars, and ear-piercing whistles; Terrell rides the ups and downs of the instrumental bed with skillful perfection, her vocal a plaintive masterpiece.  The recording is also an opportunity for fans to hear Lynda Laurence, whose voice had been swamped by additional singers on The Supremes — Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb; Laurence possesses a soulful, brassy voice which is used for some nice flourishes here.  Although the song divides some fans today, it’s hard to believe it didn’t do better in the United States; it’s easily the best single released by the group since “Nathan Jones,” and it deserved far more success than it ultimately found.

Billboard: April 7, 1973

Love Train:  This classic song was originally a huge hit for The O’Jays in early 1973; written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it topped both the pop and R&B charts and foreshadowed the coming wave of disco much in the same way that “Bad Weather” did.  This version features Jean Terrell, Mary Wilson, and Lynda Laurence; Wilson remembers it being cut around the same time as “Bad Weather,” which means it was likely recorded at the same time the song was peaking for The O’Jays.  Interestingly, this version was produced by Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston; Wilson had been the architect of the 70s Supremes sound, helping songs for the group’s 1970 LP Right On and then entirely producing follow-ups New Ways But Love Stays and Touch before moving on to work with Motown singer Eddie Kendricks.  Wilson and Caston keep their arrangement basically the same as that of The O’Jays recording; both are set to a driving, appropriately locomotive beats, and feature ringing three-part harmony on the refrains.  In this case, Jean Terrell leads the song with a soulful, light-as-air performance that feels completely effortless, and her harmony with Mary and Lynda is a joy to listen to.  The issue is that this version is too slick and polished, something that translates to a lack of excitement; it would have been nice to hear all three ladies dig into the material a little further, adding some funky flourishes to give their version its own identity.  As it is, this “Love Train” is a thoroughly competent recording, but it’s nothing that wasn’t already done better.

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At Their Best ended up not even charting on the Billboard 200, something unsurprising given the tumult surrounding the name “Supremes” within Motown at the time.  Later, these ten tracks would be added to the 2-CD compilation Gold, a Supremes retrospective made up of every one of the group’s previously-released Greatest Hits packages.  Although At Their Best includes all the biggest hits, it does do the group a disservice by condensing nearly a decade’s worth of material into a ten-track set; alas, the 70s Supremes really wouldn’t get their due until the 2002 release of The 70s Anthology, a double-disc set which featured hits, new mixes, and previously unreleased tracks.  Only with such an expansive set could the 70s Supremes truly be shown at their best.

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