It was, perhaps, the worst-kept secret in popular music. Throughout 1969, rumors swirled that Diana Ross, lead singer of the world’s top female recording act, was preparing to leave The Supremes; though there were cagey denials by group members and Motown Records, it seemed pretty obvious that the currents were pushing Miss Ross further and further adrift from the group of which she’d been part since late the previous decade. After signing with Motown in early 1961, The Supremes toiled as a road act for a few years before finally hitting it big with “Where Did Our Love Go” in 1964; in the years since, the trio had grown into America’s top vocal group, scoring a strong of #1 hits unmatched by anyone except Britain’s The Beatles. But with each passing year, lead singer Diana Ross moved more out front, to the point that the group was officially renamed Diana Ross and The Supremes. Behind-the-scenes, label executives were plotting a perfect time to split the two into separate entities; that time finally came in late 1969, when American magazine Jet carried the blazing headline: DIANA ROSS TO LEAVE SUPREMES; ERNIE TERRELL’S SISTER ADDED.
Today, it’s easy to forget what a bold move it was to remove a lead singer from his or her group; this was, after all, long before Justin Timberlake and Beyonce left their respective musical launching pads for solo stardom. Though there was little doubt that Diana Ross was ready for this new phase of her career, she also admitted to harboring doubts. “You know how a runner has somebody to pace him? Well, Mary [Wilson, of the Supremes] and I have been pacing each other for years. Now, out on my own and without anybody to pace with, it may be a problem for me,” the singer told Ebony is a surprisingly frank February, 1970 cover story. Although Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. boasted in the same article, “She will be sensational if she does nothing but stand up there and sing,” there was certainly extreme pressure to launch Diana Ross, Solo Star with a hit. Writing-producing duo Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who’d produced a few cuts on the 1968 Supremes album Love Child, began working up tracks for Miss Ross in early November of 1969. Outside producer Bones Howe also cut a batch of tracks for the singer, including Laura Nyro’s “Time And Love” and “Stoney End.”
“Berry told us that he wanted us to get a little bit away from the Motown sound,” says Ashford in the liner notes to the 2002 reissue of Diana Ross; he and Simpson began by updating their earlier Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “I Wouldn’t Change The Man He Is,” a song they cut on Motown singer Blinky in 1968. Throughout early 1970, Ashford & Simpson added to that list, eventually coming up with ten tracks that would make up the singer’s solo debut album (the Bones Howe sessions would be scrapped, finally gaining a release many decades later). Most of the songs had already been recorded by other artists; one of the few originals was an uplifting waltz called “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” that would end up as the album’s first single in April of 1970. But it would be one of the remakes that would really cement the album’s success, another Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell cover which underwent a glorious reconstruction at the hands of its writers-producers to become one of the great pop recordings of all time.
Diana Ross (Motown 711) hit store shelves in June of 1970, a mere five months after the singer gave her final concert with The Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas; amazingly, the album charted at the same time as Right On, the first Supremes album with new lead singer Jean Terrell, and Farewell, the double-LP live recording of the final show in Las Vegas! All three albums are superb, but Diana’s solo set stands up as a true pop-soul masterpiece; at the time, Billboard wrote, “Diana Ross is as potent on the solo trail as she was when leading the Supremes,” and Ron Wynn of AllMusic would later call it “arguably her finest solo work at Motown and perhaps her best ever.” In the span of just a few busy months, Ashford & Simpson managed to craft an album that retained the essence of Diana’s established star persona while exploiting a new, exciting vulnerability in her vocal performances. If the goal of a debut album is to build a foundation upon which a long career can be built, Diana Ross is a textbook example.
1. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand): “Diana Ross’ first single is on its way to the place you’d expect…the top,” read a full-page ad placed by Motown in the May 23, 1970 issue of Billboard; that same week, “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” sat at #22 on the magazine’s Hot 100 chart, poised to become the singer’s first Top 20 pop hit as a solo artist. Ashford & Simpson cut the track for the song in January of that year, just days after the final Supremes show; by February, the recording was complete, and it was released as the album’s first single on April 6. The track itself is an inspirational blend of pop, soul, folk, and gospel – the same genres touched upon in the final Supremes single, “Someday We’ll Be Together” – but the relaxed, almost sleepy vibe of that previous song is replaced by a far more active one here. The producers (along with the brilliant arranger Paul Riser) open the song with strumming guitars setting a low-key tone, a move which will allow the track to build in intensity throughout its three-minute running time. This is something Ashford & Simpson excelled at; the songwriters seem to have a natural affinity for drama, recognizing the power of letting a song naturally build rather than trying to force energy right from the top. The instrumental track, it must be mentioned, sets the tone for the rest of the album; it’s remarkably free of the “grit” so associated with the Motown Sound, instead creating a lush, glossy bed upon which Miss Ross can lay her vocal performance. Compared to her latter-day work with The Supremes, Diana’s vocal is unexpectedly smooth and supple; the singer had become more and more brassy in her singing throughout the previous decade, but she seems to be creating a more textured tone here, with a sexy, breathy lower register and clear, round higher tones. The singer’s ad-libs beginning at 2:24 are perhaps the most “loose” and unstructured singing she’d done in her career that far, at least in terms of released singles; her focus on singing clear, crisp melody lines with the Supremes has been completely thrown out the window at the end of this song. In a word, this is a mature performance; there’s a care and attention to detail in both the singing and the overall production that are really refreshing and promising to hear. Interestingly, a month after the release of this single, Ashford & Simpson cut the song again, this time for The Supremes and The Four Tops; it ended up on their joint LP The Magnificent Seven. It’s an interesting re-imagining of the song, but Diana’s remains the definitive version; there’s a magic here that took a lot of time to become fully realized. “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” peaked at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on the R&B charts, viewed by some as a disappointment for the singer’s first solo outing; that said, the song has more than stood the test of time, and it remains a powerful tool through which Miss Ross connects with her audiences.
2. Now That There’s You: This song had first been recorded by songwriter Valerie Simpson in 1969, although it wouldn’t be released until 1971, on the singer’s solo LP Exposed; both her version and this one for Miss Ross use the exact same arrangement, giving fans a unique opportunity to hear both women tackle the same material. To Diana’s credit, she doesn’t copy Simpson’s delivery at all, instead injecting the material with a sexy breathiness that brings forth her full vocal charisma. The opening of this song is continued proof of Diana’s growth as a singer; her vocal lags behind the instrumental in the first five beats of the song (“Now that there’s you…”) in a way that she had rarely deviated from it before. The singer was already studying the music of Billie Holiday for the possibility of starring in a movie about the jazz singer’s life (something which would come to fruition in the next few years), and her relaxed singing here is perhaps influenced by Holiday’s. In any case, the result is that she seems far more mature and in command of the material. The song itself pushes the singer to the top of her register in the chorus, and again features strong ad-libbing in the final minute or so of the track – witness her explosive reading of the word “honey” at 2:49. There is a sense of freedom in her interpretation of the song that had only been hinted at in earlier work like “Love Child” – which I imagine is indicative of her enjoyment in working with Ashford & Simpson. In its initial review of Diana Ross, published July 11, 1970, Billboard named this song as a standout; it remains a solid recording and a perfect addition to the album. (NOTE: The following year, R&B singer Geraldine Hunt released a funky cover of this song, which Billboard called “a wild vocal workout.”)
3. You’re All I Need To Get By: This was one of the first songs recorded by Ashford, Simpson, and Ross for this album; according to website Don’t Forget The Motor City, the cut was completed in November of 1969, a full two months before Diana Ross officially left The Supremes. The song, of course, would have been quite familiar to all of them; Ashford & Simpson originally wrote and recorded it for Motown singer Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, who scored a major hit with is in 1968 (their version peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B). This time around, the writing-producing duo dress the song up in a slow-burning, bluesy approach perfectly suited to the “less Motown” command from Berry Gordy, Jr. Instead of the driving, percussion-driven track of the original, the 1970 version features a hypnotic, repetitive bass-line and dreamy background vocals upon which Diana offers a passionate reading of the familiar lyrics. Again, the change in Diana Ross’s voice when compared to her earlier work from the 1960s is pretty stunning – she is far more soulful here than might be expected, and delivers a sultry, mature performance. Lots of Motown remakes (including many recorded by Diana Ross herself) lack the fire of the originals; this, however, is not one of those cases. While many Marvin Gaye fans will likely find some fault with this version of the song, it truly does stand on its own and is a perfect inclusion on the album, helping to bridge the gap of Diana’s legacy as the Queen of Motown with her future as a soloist. Interestingly, decades later, Diana’s daughter Rhonda Ross would include this song in her own set when opening for her mother on the In The Name Of Love tour (read review here); it served as a beautiful tribute to both her mother and her father, Berry Gordy, Jr., the true architect of the Motown Sound.
4. These Things Will Keep Me Loving You: This is the album’s only song not to be written and produced by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson; this one comes courtesy Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol, and Sylvia Moy, the former two responsible for the final #1 hit released by Diana Ross and The Supremes, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Fuqua and Bristol had initially produced this song for unsung Motown female group The Velvelettes; that group released the song in August of 1966, and it climbed to #43 on the Billboard R&B Singles listing. Bristol cut this song on Diana Ross in the wake of the major success of “Someday We’ll Be Together,” intended as a possible follow-up single for the artist; eventually, once “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was chosen for release, this song was scheduled to be its b-side, though it was eventually replaced by another Ashford & Simpson production, “Dark Side Of The World.” This is, perhaps, the toughest song to consider when looking at the album as a whole, being that it’s the only one not written by nor produced by Ashford & Simpson; taken on its own terms, the song is a bouncy, singable piece of pop, featuring the same kind of “sing-outs” by Mr. Bristol as were so memorable on “Someday We’ll Be Together.” That said, this one doesn’t require nearly the effort to sing as the other songs on the album, and thus seems a bit dated in the context of the other recordings. Though she gives an appealingly subdued, husky performance, it does little to further the evolution of Diana Ross as an artist. Its inclusion was likely a “safety” mechanism by Berry Gordy, in case none of the other songs were hits. While it’s an enjoyable song and certainly worthy of an album release, it does feel a little superfluous, especially in terms of the song that follows.
5. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: “This heavy updating of the past Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit will prove a sales and chart topper for her first smash,” predicted Billboard in its August 1st, 1970 issue, and that is exactly what happened on September 19th, when “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” topped the Billboard Hot 100, beginning a three-week run at the top and becoming one of the year’s biggest records. The song was first recorded back in early 1967 on Marvin and Tammi, although it wasn’t produced by its writers; Ashford & Simpson were unproven at the time, and Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua ended up helming the production. That version was released in April of 1967 and was a solid hit for Gaye-Terrell, peaking at #19 on the pop chart and #3 on the R&B side; it was produced as peppy, rhythmic number with memorable percussion and a perfect vocal blend by the two singers, and led to a string of successful duets for the pair. Supremes fans will remember that Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong next covered “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as a collaboration with The Temptations; the cut was included on the 1968 LP Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations, produced by Henry Cosby with an arrangement almost identical to the earlier version. Ashford & Simpson didn’t re-cut the song for Diana Ross until March of 1970, after the album’s other songs were complete; Ashford would later tell The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits, “At that time, lengthy records were starting to come out: six, seven minutes. We didn’t have any songs like that, but we wanted Diana to feel she was into new things. We thought to stretch ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and we thought how sexy and silky her voice was” (75). To stretch the previous hit, Ashford & Simpson took the basic idea of the melody and the lyrics and somehow turned the song into an episodic, almost operatic track that defies genre classification. Arranger Paul Riser did a brilliant job orchestrating the track into a lush, theatrical piece, remembering, “We cut the rhythm track in Detroit. The strings and horns were a little too sophisticated for the players there, so we went to New York to do it, to get the best possible performance” (Billboard Book 75). The original album version of the song runs six minutes and 20 seconds (almost three times the length of the longest Supremes single!), giving Diana and the background chorus of voices plenty of time to build up to arguably the most exciting musical climax in pop history. Instead of traditionally sung verses, the song was arranged to take advantage of Diana’s “sexy and silky” speaking voice (and likely inspired by Peggy Lee’s then-recent hit “Is That All There Is?”); Miss Ross had spoken on record before, notably in the hit “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone,” but those melodramatic readings are here replaced by an almost chant-like recitation of lines, resulting in a new and instantly mesmerizing sound for her. At 4:18, when the dreamy, string-laden bed of music erupts into the thunderous “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” refrain, the Diana Ross that emerges is not only a singer unlike anything we’ve heard on any Supremes song; she’s also a completely different singer from anything we’re heard on this album. Her abandon for the duration of the song – not to mention the ad-libs, which reach higher than any notes she’d hit before – is a thrill and remains among the best vocal work she would ever produce. Ross is backed by the voices of Ashford, Simpson, Jo Armistead, and Louvain Demps, who join together to form a roof-lifting gospel choir that seems to soar straight to heaven, and the musicians play with a fire and drama that blows apart the boundaries of pop music. All of this drastically defied Motown founder Berry Gordy’s directive to release only crisp, compact singles; Ashford remembers in the reissue liner notes, “He didn’t like all that talking at the beginning. We thought it should have been the first single but he held it back because we didn’t change it. Once the DJ’s started playing it, we knew we were right.” Indeed, the song was finally edited down and released in June of 1970, eventually topping the charts and earning Diana her first solo Grammy nomination, for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female (she lost the award to Dionne Warwick). It should have won; in fact, it should have won several Grammy awards that year. This is truly one of the masterpieces of music from the 1970s or any other decade, and is easily the highlight of the album. Beyond that, Ashford & Simpson drew up a blueprint with this song that somehow managed to anticipate the entire trajectory of the singer’s career, playing up her strengths as an interpreter, a dramatic actress, a glamour queen, and even as a mother raising five children in the public eye. It’s hard to think of another song that is so perfectly matched to a performer.
“That record, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ is one of the ten best singles ever made. Diana Ross, when she talks on a record in that petulant dirty whisper, could sell me anything. Diana’s solo records, under the direction of her new handlers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, are some of the most gloriously melodramatic virtuoso pop since Phil Spector did the Righteous Brothers.” – Michael Thomas, Rolling Stone (February 1, 1973)
6. Something On My Mind: This song was first recorded by Motown singer Syreeta Wright (under the name Rita Wright) and released as a single in 1968; interestingly, it was produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, two of the men responsible for the bulk of the hit singles recorded by The Supremes. Wright, in fact, was an early choice to replace Miss Ross in the trio, another interesting connection between this song and Diana Ross. Ashford & Simpson cut it for Miss Ross in January of 1970, during the same sessions that produced “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and two of the album’s later songs; Ross added her vocal soon after. In retrospect, “Something On My Mind” is the perfect song to follow “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — it quiets down the mood and relaxes the atmosphere, letting down listeners slowly while still adhering to the incredible high standards of quality set by the album thus far. This may be the most “pop” song on the album; it’s a fairly straightforward tune, recalling a bit of the simplistic clarity of the 1960s Supremes catalogue while still allowing Miss Ross a chance to offer up a passionate performance displaying power and range. It wouldn’t surprise me if this song had been considered for possible single release at some point; it’s easy to imagine it gaining strong pop airplay. Miss Ross did add it to her solo show; it was listed in a Billboard review of her engagement at the Grove in Los Angeles, in which Eliot Tiegel called it “a love song which she did with a lot of soul.” (NOTE: A recording of the singer performing the song live during that run would later be placed on the 2002 CD reissue of the album.)
7. I Wouldn’t Change The Man He Is: “The songs were a little more challenging than the things that Diana had done,” Valerie Simpson says in the liner notes to the album’s 2002 reissue, specifically referencing this song; she calls it a “tour-de-force kind of tune” and remembers first cutting it on Motown singer Blinky Williams. Blinky’s version was recorded in 1968 and released as a single in November of that year; it was produced by Nickolas Ashford and Frank Wilson, the man who would orchestrate a new beginning for The Supremes in the wake of Diana’s departure. Ashford & Simpson recorded this version with Diana Ross in November of 1969, two months before the singer had even left The Supremes, making it clear that the producers had the intent to expand the singer’s vocal range. Says Simpson in the liner notes, “With the Supremes, the producers had kept her in her medium vocal range. We stretched her, got more out of the top end of her range. She really enjoyed that challenge and she was a very hard worker.” Many fans likely place this cut toward their top of the list in terms of vocal performances from this album; it certainly stands out, being one of the bluesiest songs recorded thus far by Diana Ross and showcasing her vocal range by requiring a low, breathy reading of the verses and plaintive belting on the chorus. That said, the subject matter of the song – a resignation that while her man isn’t perfect, he’s still the right one – requires a world-weariness that Diana never quite achieves on the nearly-spoken verses. It isn’t that Diana Ross isn’t capable of such an emotion (witness much of her work on the Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack) – but within the scope of this album, one filled with the excitement and freshness of an emerging artist, the idea of the singer as a slightly jaded woman never comes across as very believable. There are moments of brilliance here, though, including her sarcastic “huh” at 1:10 into the song, and the song is a welcome addition to the album; if it wasn’t competing with such strong material, it probably would have been a standout.
8. Keep An Eye: Supremes fans must have had a strong sense of deja-vu when first hearing this song; Miss Ross had in fact already recorded it with Ashford & Simpson, for the 1968 album Love Child. A few months later, the producers recorded it again with Gladys Knight & The Pips; it was placed on the b-side of the group’s 1969 single “Didn’t You Know (You’d Have to Cry Sometime),” a song Diana Ross would cover for her third solo album. Then, in January of 1970, Ashford & Simpson recorded the song again, this time for Diana Ross as a solo act. The arrangement isn’t terribly different from that featured on Love Child, which makes it a fascinating way to compare Ross singing as a group leader versus a solo act. The song itself a superb soul number, with a sizzling groove and a dark lyric similar to that featured on the 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” recorded by Motown act The Undisputed Truth, and it features one of my favorite lines in any Diana Ross song, ever: “Just like a snake on the limb of a tree/A friend is an enemy you can’t see.” The differences in the vocal work on this version and the earlier Supremes recording might seem subtle, but they’re quite revealing about Diana’s progression as a vocalist. She’s far more controlled on the Supremes cut, with a tightness around her vocal chords which produces a ringing, focused tone emphasizing Ashford & Simpson’s clever lyrics. On this album, however, she’s looser in her interpretation, offering up a breathy and textured performance which gives more shading to the song’s message. Both versions of the song are stellar, but Miss Ross is masterful in her work here; the performance is also strong ammunition against the argument that Diana Ross is strictly a “pop” singer. There’s real, serious soul in her work through her debut album, and especially on this track.
9. Where There Was Darkness: According to the liner notes accompanying the 2002 reissue of Diana Ross, this song was chosen from tracks that had been prepped for Valerie Simpson’s own solo album; however, when that album finally came out in 1971, “Where There Was Darkness” was not included in the tracklist. The song is a nice midtempo number which leans a little more toward the pop side of the music spectrum; it’s perhaps most memorable for its strange, haunting musical introduction led by quivering strings and a wailing instrument that sounds like a mournful ghost. It’s an unusual way to open the song, especially considering the lyrics aren’t at all melancholy; the song speaks of a love that is “my anchor now,” using words that are simple and emotionally honest. Miss Ross delivers each verse in a husky, restrained voice, but is allowed to unfurl a powerful vocal on the dramatic refrain, during which she declares, “What a feeling it is to know/You’re in my corner and you won’t let me go!” Her performance is extremely impressive in terms of the changing tones and textures of her voice, and her ad-libbing during the final 50 seconds or so is again proof of the singer’s generally underestimated vocal range. Although Valerie Simpson didn’t include the song on her LP Exposed, jazz and R&B singer Randy Crawford eventually covered it for her 1979 album Raw Silk; her sophisticated version is a nice counterpoint to Diana’s dusky reading here.
10. Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow: It’s worth mentioning for a moment just how prolific Ashford & Simpson were during this period, and how indispensable to Motown; not only was the duo the driving force behind Diana’s solo career, but they also gave the “new” Supremes and Four Tops a solid hit with “River Deep, Mountain High” and contributed several tracks to its parent LP, The Magnificent Seven. Meanwhile, they were also working up material for Miss Simpson to record herself; “Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow” is one of the songs which had been cut for Simpson’s own album, which would eventually be released in 1971 (in its review of that album, titled Exposed, Billboard would name this track as a standout). It certainly says something about the artistry and character of Valerie Simpson that rather than keep the strongest material to herself, she was willing to share it to help further the careers of Diana Ross and the 70s Supremes; without the material provided by Simpson and Nick Ashford, it’s hard to envision what kind of solo career Diana Ross might have had. That said, Simpson’s version of “Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow” couldn’t be any more different from Diana’s if it tried; these are radically different interpretations of the same song (singer Dee Dee Warwick also recorded the song, and her version features a similar arrangement as the one on Exposed). Simpson’s is a funky, bombastic reading, while Ross is far more subdued; there are several moments in which her laid-back tone of resignation foreshadows her later forays into jazz music. Although she gives a strong performance, the song itself isn’t one of the more memorable selections on the album; the melody and arrangement lack fire, especially when compared to the other aforementioned renditions of the song. Still, plenty of people heard “Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow” — it ended up being placed on the b-side to the #1 hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
11. Dark Side Of The World: This incredible song first found life as “Bring Back The Sunshine,” a swinging cut recorded by The Velvelettes in 1967 and produced by Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua. The song was then totally reworked by writers Ashford & Simpson and turned into a passionate soul song for Marvin Gaye, who recorded it in early 1969; like the Velvelettes version, it would go unreleased for several years. Finally, the writers cut the song again in early January, 1970 on Diana Ross, using the same instrumental track as the Gaye recording, and it finally saw the light of day (pun intended); it was placed on the b-side of first single “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” making this one of the first two songs fans ever heard from the newly solo Diana Ross. “Dark Side Of The World” is a terrific cut, a sizzling soul number wrapped up in a mesmerizing swirl of strings and classic Motown backbeat; taking its cue from the lyrics, the tone here is darker than most of the preceding material, giving Miss Ross a chance to dig deep and offer up a seasoned, plaintive performance that’s one of the best on the entire album. Her reading is miles away from the girlish coo of “Come See About Me,” and it’s hard to believe only six years separate the two; Ross manages to produce a startling, low moan during the verses before transitioning to urgent pleas of “Bring back!” which highlight her abilities as an interpreter and actress. The song is a perfect way to end the singer’s solo debut album; it leaves listeners with no doubt of her burgeoning skills as a vocalist, and clearly positions her as a songstress comfortable in both the pop and soul worlds.
With its striking photographs by Harry Langdon, simple overall design, and a distinct emphasis on mature, soulful material, Diana Ross is more than just an album; it’s an artistic statement. Although it wasn’t a blockbuster on the Billboard 200, on which it peaked at #19, the LP did top the R&B Albums chart for two weeks, the first of three times the singer would top that chart with a solo album. Interestingly, Diana Ross was still hovering within the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 when Motown chose to release the singer’s second solo album, Everything Is Everything, in November — effectively launching a rather chaotic period in the singer’s early career in which Motown seemed intent on flooding the marketplace with albums and singles (the label did the same thing with The Supremes, releasing three albums on the group in 1970 and three more in 1971).
Listened to today, it’s hard to consider this album purely on its own terms, knowing that it was only the beginning of a solo career filled with some spectacular high points. But as a singular work by a “new” artist, it’s extremely strong from start to finish. Motown had rarely put much care into albums, instead focusing on churning out hit singles throughout the 1960s. That changed in the 1970s, and I’d argue this album is one of the first from Motown to really make a complete statement. Diana Ross is never placed in the same category as 1970s albums by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, mainly because Diana Ross didn’t write or produce the music herself, but it’s ever bit as effective in terms of telling a complete musical story. That narrative involves a singer learning to use her voice in a new, exciting way to tell much more complex stories.
Final Analysis: 4.5/5 (A Stunning, Sky-“High” Debut)
Paul’s Picks: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Dark Side Of The World,” “Keep An Eye”