Diana Ross (1970)

“What a feeling it is to know you’re in my corner and you won’t let me go…”

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.

***

Billboard: May 23, 1970

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.

Jet: July 30, 1970

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.

Billboard: August 1, 1970

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)

Billboard: August 15, 1970

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.

Billboard: July 11, 1970

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 ExposedBillboard 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”

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Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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80 Responses to Diana Ross (1970)

  1. Everett says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your intelligent review of Diana’s first solo album. I remember it well! I never liked the album cover photo (We called her Miss Biafra back then!). I was hoping that Motown would release Something On My Mind as a single. I really love that song! I was a senior in high school that year and was able to see the “Let’s See If Diana Ross Can Make It On Her Own” show at the famous Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. A guard let me backstage and I got an autograph from Diana!! As far as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough losing the Grammy, I was told by some radio people that I knew that the record was a pain to play on the air because of all the highs and lows and it had to be manually monitored. And since they are the ones who vote, I guess that’s why it didn’t win. Technology has improved significantly since then and that would no longer be an issue. I love that the People’s Choice Awards and the American Music Awards were launched to get the public’s views. We certainly think that Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was the best vocal by a female artist in 1970!

  2. Paul says:

    Everett — thanks, glad you enjoyed! I’m incredibly jealous that you saw her solo show back then AND got an autograph!! I’m not a huge fan of the cover shot, either….my favorite early album cover is “Surrender” & I think that would’ve been a better cover for this album. I’d never heard about the “highs and lows” challenges of playing “Ain’t No Mountain…” but it makes sense…it is a challenging and unique record!

    • But wasn’t there a single mix created for record stations & 45″ single that ran at about 3.20mins?

      • Eddie Scott says:

        Yes; there was an edited version of Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that was released as a single (and received radio airplay) in the summer of 1970.

  3. Donnie Conner says:

    Rarely does a “cover” trump the original recording of a song. Miss Ross does it twice on this album with “Ain’t No Mountain” and “You’re All I Need To Get By”. She is an incredible stylist who improves with age. In her recent tour, her live performance of “Don’t Explain” is absolutely mesmerizing!

  4. Paul says:

    Donnie — I absolutely agree about “Don’t Explain” — I wish she would perform this song on the television appearances she makes these days, because she sounds sublime and I think the quality of her voice would shock people who don’t realize what a great vocalist she still is.

  5. Donnie Conner says:

    I agree Paul. Should Miss Ross perform at the Grammy’s (which is unlikely) I would love it if she did “Don’t Explain” or “Strange Fruit”. Both songs when performed by Diana are absolutely haunting!

  6. Paul says:

    Donnie — I thought the same thing — IF we got a Grammy performance, I hope it’s one of those. I wished when she performed on “American Idol” some years back that she’d done “Don’t Explain”…

  7. Diana says:

    The cover of her first album was brilliant. It signaled a rebirthing of Ross; one stripped of all the show biz trappings, and relying on pure talent alone. Brilliant, and a very artistic approach to her first offering as a solo.

  8. Diana says:

    This, with Take Me Higher and Every Day Is a New Day are my favorite Diana Ross albums. Interesting that two of my favorites came when her recording career was winding down, and neither caused much of a stir.

    • Paul says:

      “Take Me Higher” is in my Top 3 Diana albums, too — it’s a fresh, energetic, soulful album that was completely overlooked. What a shame! I still listen to it all the time!

      • spookyelectric says:

        Taking time to go back and read some of your reviews I missed and once again you’re spot on, Paul. This debut really is incredibly strong – Diana sings beautifully and of course Nick and Val are at the top of their game. But there’s some extra magic here too. Those arrangements for a start – many years after I first heard this album I discovered her earlier recordings of ‘Keep An Eye’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain’ with the Supremes and they really aren’t a patch on the versions here.

        I didn’t know that story behind ‘These Things..’ – I’ve always thought it jarred with the rest of the album – now it makes more sense why Gordy (mistakenly as it turns out) wanted it there.

        The quality of Ashford & Simpson’s song writing here though really is quite something. Loads of these songs were subsequently covered and it’s not surprising given what great melodies they are. Randy Crawford did a killer version of ‘Where There Was Darkness’ on her ‘Raw Silk’ album in the late 70s, and Valerie Simpson cut her own gutsier, R&B take on ‘Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow’ for her debut solo album. She also recut ‘Now That There’s You’ which doesn’t quite capture the breathless excitement of the lyric quite as accurately as Diana’s.

        Marvin Gaye’s version of ‘Dark Side Of The World’ eventually surfaced on a compilation – I think it could well be the same backing track Diana used. As brilliant as Marvin was, I would dare say Diana’s version is a tad more haunting and pleading.

        And while I agree with your reservations about ‘I Wouldn’t Change The Man..’ within the context of this set of songs, I think taken on its own you must agree it really stands up with the best of her catalogue. And once again Nick and Val really reshaped this for her following a so-so version they cut on lesser-know Motown recording artist Blinky in the late 60s.

  9. augustine hawkins says:

    ………. also,’Reach Out & Touch’ was, like,’All The Before’s on ‘Surrender’,a waltz and it reached No1…..waltz’s don’t often sell in pop music !

  10. Augustus Dulgaro says:

    Paul, can I tell you how much I love your blog! I don’t even know anyone who owns Diana Ross discs, let alone writes about them with such clarity of vision! You’re right: this is a stunner. What I love about this album is the way Ashford & Simpson’s production frame Diana Ross’ voice. While I loved the Supremes, her voice has never sounded as appealing as it does here – in turn relaxed and passionate, clear as a bell without being reedy.  That said, while i agree “Diana Ross” remains one of her best, for me it takes a while to kick into gear. At the risk of being provocative, the first four tracks are just ok. I preferred the Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s version of You’re All I Need (To Get By) and The Velvelettes These Things Will Keep Me Loving You. But then Ain’t No Mountain High Enough……. Wow. You’re right – a masterpiece. Majestic in scope, theatrical and swelling with drama, it takes “Diana Ross” to another level which I reckon Ross and Ashford ad Simpson maintain for the rest of the album. The orchestrations are just amazing and the production – while elaborate – doesn’t pull focus. A & S let Diana Ross’ voice breathe amongst the drama. Case  in point:Check out the original version of Dark Side of The World by The Velvelettes (Bring Back The Sunshine/You Tube) and see what a difference the production makes.  Keep an Eye is another fantastic song (both of these on high rotation on my iPod).  While I love Blinky’s original I Wouldn’t Change The Man He Is, Diana’s is version is terrific. Like Surrender, Baby It’s Me, The Boss and diana, consistency is this one’s strength.

    Btw, if you love this, check out Valerie Simpson’s Motown solo discs Exposed & Valerie Simpson. 

    Thanks so much Paul!

    • Paul says:

      Augustus,
      Thank you SO much for the nice comments! I’m glad you stopped by and decided to write in. I agree — Diana’s voice suddenly sounded alive in a totally new way here — Ashford and Simpson were clearly able to push and inspire her in a way nobody had before, and the results are stunning.

      I’ve never really listened to Valerie’s solo albums — now I will — thanks for the recommendation!

      • Augustus says:

        They’re well worth the effort. Apparently the original of REMEMBER ME was recorded for the second solo album, and Berry Gordy asked (asked?!) for it to go on Surrender. The bonus of that has Valerie’s version on it. Till the next post. A

  11. spookyelectric says:

    I didn’t know the Velvelettes recorded a version of ‘Dark Side of the World’ – the only other take I’ve heard is Marvin’s. Thanks for that Augustus.

    If anyone’s interested in exploring Valerie’s solo work – and it really is worth it, there isn’t a dud tune on either record – the two solo sets were compiled onto one CD a few years back titled ‘Valerie Simpson – The Collection’ – on Spectrum records. As well as her versions of several songs from ‘Diana Ross’ there’s takes on her tunes that were recorded by Rufus & Chaka, Dusty Springfield and the Temptations.

  12. Augustus says:

    I didn’t know about Marvin! Thanks backatcha

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  16. SpringAffair says:

    AMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAZING album!!!!!
    Well done Paul for reviewing this classic masterpiece!!

    Oooh I love “Keep an Eye”!!
    I love how she sings the lyric, especially the part where she goes.. “She was just like a SPIIIIIIIIIDER!”. Oooh that line is amazing!!

    Can’t it wait till tomorrow is, as you said, one of the weaker tracks, but I love Dianas high
    ad libbing at one point in the song.

    Reach Out And Touch is a nice song, but not great. Its that waltz rhythm which sounds a bit dated. It could have been better.
    But the song overall is pretty good. I always think of it as being the sequel to Barbra Streisand’s song “People”. Both songs have similar messages.

    NOW THAT THERES YOU is amazing!!!! I live ending where she does the “la lalalalla!!!” bit. Amazing vocals there!!!! And her vibrato at the end on the word “you”.
    Very soulful heartfelt reading from Miss Ross.
    I love how she sings the line “Everyday I seem to find, a new dimension of my mind”..
    So sweet sounding. 🙂

    Seriously, Something on My Mind could have been a HUUUUGE hit!!!!
    My goodness! What were Motown doing??! They messed up there. This should have been released straight away as a single. Its just… OMG…. AMAZING!!! Perhaps my favourite song from Miss Diana Ross!!
    I love her wonderful dramatic high jump up to the E5 note when she goes “Baby don’t cha KNOOOWWW!”

    By the way Paul, in the live version, Live at the Grove (on the extended edition of this album) she has the key raised, although it doesnt sound as good as the lower original version on the album.
    I think, even though Diana sounded mighty sexy using her lower voice, I dont think it was comfortable for her. Miss Diana Ross used to be a Soprano after all and when she goes down really low, it just amazes me at how effortless she sounds, but clearly, she didnt find that part of her voice as easily accessible as her mid-upper range.

    SpringAffair (A.K.A George)

    🙂

  17. Mike says:

    I’ve never cared for the cover, but I respect it for the impact that it had. I recall well the shock and comment that resulted owing to its being completely unexpected, out of character. Well-planned. Does anyone remember her appearance on Make Room for Grandaddy in which she somewhat recreated the album cover look for part of the plot (diva is actually simple girl who uses her glamorous image to mask insecurity)? I disagree about These Things Will Keep Me Loving You. It to me is the non-hit highlight of the album; its circular, non-stop groove recalls later Supremes tracks (as you point out re: Someday We’ll Be Together). I’ve often thought, in fact, Gordy might have released it as a Supremes song had Someday not clicked.

    • Damecia says:

      Absolutely agree about “The Things” being the song that should’ve been dropped from the album.

      I saw that episode of Make Room for Grandaddy on Youtube and I thought Ross did a good job.

  18. OK Paul, I’m gonna try this again, as life sometimes just gets in the way. I will start from the beginning — again. I thought I had posted on this album, but must be thinking of the next album.

    Your reviews are amazing and so detailed, it must be a true disappointment for you to have come to the end of this project. I know for me it is a huge let-down not to read your detailed posts every Sunday, about a full album of work, as well as feeling excited about the next album in her catalogue and what you might say next week. That said, as I have read and re-read many of your posts several times, curiously upon the subsequent readings I have found myself surprised at how many instances our opinions differ, which is why I’m gonna give this another shot to respond in chronological order, life’s issues be damned!

    Make no mistake, I acquiesce to your expert and professional opinions, and will not waste time or words when I am in complete agreement. Maybe a quick acknowledgement or piece of relevant info that yet to be shared.

    Reach Out — Never liked this song except when she performed it in concert during the 70’s and 80’s where it gave us a chance to feel an intimacy as she worked her way conversationally through the audience. When discussing her show in the early to mid-90s, she (Ross) expressed her frustration with this piece in that she was feeling trapped in having to leave the whole spectacle intact, as it would always be otherwise noted in reviews and by the audience. My knowledge of this conversation took place backstage at the old Desert Inn Las Vegas, when my boss, whose corporation I was running at the time, flew in a day early as she was following Diana’s show the next week. My boss flew in to see the last show of Diana’s week long engagement, and then a get together backstage after the show, and Miss Ross’ usual meet and greet with fans, family and friends was concluded. As a fan, I asked to tag along, which my boss (a notable and highly regarded Actress/Dancer/Singer) generously invited me to fly out of LA to Vegas with her on the private jet the D-I provided. My boss was/has always been a fan of Diana, and vice versa, so it was an interesting meeting to witness and a dream come true for me.

    I bring this up, as my boss encouraged Miss Ross to go forward and not be afraid to evolve and mix it up. She advised that Diana should trust her instincts and that two decades had been enough of making this song, etc the focal point of her live performances. If Miss Ross was unhappy with that portion of her show, she should begin to faze it out. Which she did. As much as I, and most of us, loved that portion of her show, for many of us multiple show attendees, I think the Reach Out spectacle was becoming tired and dated in her live show. And, as much as I liked the song in her live repertoire, I have never liked it as a stand alone and never include it in any of my “Playlists”.

    Although probably regarded as unfair, many of my opinions are based on the reissue, as that is the only version I know. This album is a perfect example. Released on my sixth birthday, it was a little before my album buying period began, and so my first exposure to this full work was just over a year ago. Shockingly! My point?

    I much prefer the alternate version of Now That There’s You, and find that version to be a standout of her career and far superior than the album cut. Some of the choices made during this era of her career baffles me, especially thanks to the excellent reissues and discovered cuts that were overlooked for inclusion of inferior and illogical choices.

    My only other differing opinion is my less than enthusiastic affinity for Keep An Eye. That said, many of the tracks of this album are on my “Cool Retro Soul Diana” Playlist and played during dinner parties where the comments are always of surprise and bewilderment as to why this isn’t the “Diana Ross” the critics and public ever focus on.

    • Paul says:

      Bring it on, Rick!! Can’t wait to hear your opinions! I hope some of your differing thoughts on songs will challenge my own beliefs on her recordings. Like every other fan, I’m always evolving and my feelings about certain albums and songs have really changed over the years. I love your “behind the scenes” story — I’m speculating right now who your boss was 🙂 What was your impression of Miss Ross backstage?

      • After teasing you throughout this process, I promise, once I reach the end, I will divulge my former boss’ names that relate to my Ross stories. It’s always a tricky prospect in a forum such as this, because although I was never asked to sign confidentiality agreements with any of my high profile jobs, I’m still close friends with many of my former Hollywood intersects, and therefore don’t want to speak out of turn.

        In answer to your question about backstage. It’s funny, but in all the dealings with these larger than life personalities over the years, one thing that always catches me off-guard is their genuine persona of being and behaving just like any other person you may cross paths with in life. On this particular instance, I had already had a few significant encounters with Ms. Ross, so was easy to ingratiate myself with her at this point, as she remembered immediately our previous encounters. Additionally because I was now the President of a significant actress/entertainer’s entire conglomerate, that brought me to a level where I was not relegated to that of an assistant, publicist associate, etc., but rather an equal (or as equal as a “pedestrian” can be in relation to such respected “stars”). So to sit in this backstage dressing room, with my wife, and hang out at the bar (I decided to make myself useful and become an impromptu bartender, knowing it would make a great story) with the cast of characters that circled around and attached themselves to Diana Ross, was similar to an out of body experience. How was she? Just like any of us would be in the same situation. She was kind, annoyed, frustrated, funny, pampered, edgy, stressed, yet happy. Her two boys had been reluctant to be pulled out on stage earlier during the show, so as a mother she dealt with that. A couple of lights she had been complaining about were still not right, that irritated her. It was Thanksgiving week, so there were the usual family travails and scheduling we all deal with during such a time. A fan, a dillusioned lesbian, came back stage for the hundredth time (from what we were told) and made the habitual, redundant and borderline obscene inappropriate overture while declaring her passionate love, at which time Ross dismissed her once again (was explained to me that this was a common situation at almost every venue, and these “fans” were placated to avoid troubling situations). And through all this, she was interested in some aspects of my life since our last encounter, graciously and sincerely included my wife and I as part of the conversation throughout, and was aware of those around her and their comfort and surroundings. I saw very little glimmers of the “diva” persona she had been so associated with. Make no mistake though — that persona could pop up here and there, just as it would with my boss, or any person like they, who had been true “stars” for decades. But to say that all the negative assignations were true and was the dominant impression? No way. No more so than when you or I get short on patience and react accordingly. There is a lot more to this story, including and not including Ms. Ross, but I won’t hog any more comment space. Suffice it to say, my concerns about her not living up to the pedestal I had placed her on were definitely and thankfully unfounded. But have no fear, as I continue through your great site, there are more personal Ross stories and recollections to come. Thanks again, Paul.

    • Damecia says:

      Great insight!

      Question: Do you prefer DR & The Supremes version of “Keep An Eye”? (Not that the solo is bad, but I like the phrasing a little better in the “group” version.

      • Paul says:

        Hi Damecia! I actually prefer the solo version — they’re both great, but I think Diana feels a little more “invested” in her solo recording of the song. It is interesting to listen to them back to back and hear the subtle growth in Diana as a vocalist.

      • Damecia says:

        Hi Paul! Thanx for responding lol. I agree that it is interesting to hear the two tracks played back to back.

        Just want to say I L-O-V-E your blog! I can’t wait to read all your post. I’m a huge Miss Ross fan. I’ve been one since I saw her when I was 6 yrs. old and saw her half time performance @ the ’96 Superbowl. When the lady flew out in a helicopter my eyes where forever opened lol. Being a huge Michael Jackson fan I knew of her, but didn’t realize why she was so great until that moment (and this is out of the mouths of babes lol). I’m seeing her next month. Have you been to any of her concerts recently? What’s your favorite Supremes album?

  19. You could always count on Michael for a good ‘oh!’ (and later for a good ‘awow!’). I take your point about Jermaine though.

    • Damecia says:

      Are you a J5 and/or Michael fan?

      • spookyelectric says:

        Total Jackson fan. Yes. And complete Ross fan.

        Thinking about the MJ vs DR stakes – when they’ve both recorded the same tune – it’s usually a pretty close call but I would go for:

        Diana’s top takes:
        1 Keep An Eye (solo version) – digs deep into the lyric. J5 is a bit shrill.
        2 Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone – the right level of drama. MJ’s is a touch melodramatic.
        3 Reflections – Supremes version is definite. J5’s is sadly throwaway.

        Michael’s top takes:
        1 Forever Came Today – intensely funky, especially the Larry Levan remix
        2 You Are Not Alone – Diana’s sounds cheap + tinny next to his
        3 Corner Of The Sky – when Michael sings ‘why do I feel i don’t fit in anywhere I go’ I believe him.

        What you think?

      • Damecia says:

        So spookyelectric I think you and I are gonna be good buds! I am first and foremost a Michael fan and then Miss Ross. I remember around the time when I was like 7 I got the HISTORY CD and Michael had Elizabeth Taylor (who I am also a fan of) Jackie O and so many others in the CD Book. I would always see pictures of him and Diana or he would mention her so I became intrigued which resulted in a fan for life. lol.

        All of Diana takes I would agree with. lol. Especially Keep an Eye. I think they should have had one lead instead of Michael & Jermaine exchanging lines. “Love” & “Reflections” are such Supremes songs they shouldn’t have been touched.

        Now as far as Michael takes. I don’t think either wins with the battle of “Forever”. I love both their vocals, but in each version it seems to be missing something. The Supremes version reminds me of the little engine that could….it just chugs alone. J5 version is just too disco for my liking and it also chugs. Much rather listen to “We’re Almost There.” You’re right Diana’s version “You Are Not Alone” sucks lol and I say that with love for Miss Ross. Actually though I’m not fond of most of her 90s, especially late 90s music. (We will probably get into that later on). I actually do like “Drop the Mask” Have you heard it? It is said to be about Michael and I believe it. Do you ever think they had a romantic relationship?

        As far as “Corner of the Sky” I would agree that Michael has the more supreme version. No pun intended lol.

  20. spookyelectric says:

    Hey D. You’ve got to give ‘Forever’ another chance – it’s a real grower. Amazing how many Diana tunes Michael covered really – more than anyone else in his catalogue I’m sure. Thinking about it there were a lot of Stevie and Smokey covers too, especially in the Tamla days of course.

    Agree with you about ‘We’re Almost There’ – thats a great underrated song of his, really suits his vocal. Alicia Keys did a nice version recently – its on youtube somewhere.

    ‘Drop The Mask’ is a funny one – I’m not sure if its really about Michael or if just people want it to be about that. Either way, yes its a great track. Whenever that funny intro riff comes on I always think its Prince or something then remember this odd thrown away Diana tune. Great vocal too, but not the strongest song she’s ever recorded, Should have been on the ‘New Day’ album though I think.

    What’s your thoughts on the tracks Michael created for Diana in the 80s? ‘Muscles’ and ‘Eaten Alive’??

    • Damecia says:

      Yes that riff is totally Prince lol and it should’ve been on the album. I love the part when Ross sings “this is me talking to you” lol. I’m about to play it now! lol

      First I love anytime Michael & Diana work together. I assume Michael produced “Muscles” either before recording Thriller or when he was in the process. Diana sounds like we’ve never heard her sound before or sense on this track. Michael was smart by getting her to speak on the track. That “I want all I could get” lol was a jackpot. Not to mention the beat or should I say the lack of was totally hot. And the subject matter was just perfect for it’s time. Great song all around.

      I wished Michael would’ve produced all of Eaten Alive instead of Barry Gibb. Nit saying that it’s a bad album, but it just would’ve been interesting to see what those two would created. I don’t understand why Eaten Alive wasn’t a top 10 hit for Ross. It had a great video the song was great too. I guess those zany lyrics which are reminiscent of Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” IMO just couldn’t catch on. I love when I can’t tell where she ends and Michael begins on the chorus/bridge.

      • spookyelectric says:

        Totally agree with you about ‘Muscles’ – its must be one of the most left field tracks Diana ever recorded. I think the lyrics and campy video kind of overshadowed what an innovative track it is – love the minimal funkiness of the production and the Patti Austin backgrounds. From the dates I guess Michael must have worked on this with Diana just before or during the ‘Thriller’ sessions like you say so he was on pretty top form!

        I can’t really make sense of the lack of success of ‘Eaten Alive’ – especially given Michael was easily the biggest star on the planet at the time and Diana was still on a pretty hot streak and the video was amazing. Maybe they didn’t get the promotion together. I think you’re right about the lyrics – maybe the sentiment was just a bit ‘out there’. Its certainly no less commercial than (and really similar in vibe) to ‘Swept Away’ which had done well the year before. Who want a whole collab album would have been like? MJ wrote and produced a tune for Jennifer Holliday around the time called ‘You’re The One’ – I’ve wondered if that was ever intended for Diana to record (it would have suited her better for sure).

      • Damecia says:

        Ah, just learned something new from you…didn’t know that was Patti Austin on the background just like I’ve recently found out Martha Walsh was on the background of Rebbie Jackson’s ‘Centipede’.

        Totally agree with you about the similarity of ‘Eaten Alive’ and ‘Swept Away’ which is one of her best and dare I say over the top lol videos. I actually think ‘Eaten Alive’ is her best video. Never new this about the J Holliday song I will have to check it out!

    • Damecia says:

      checkout my cover

      • spookyelectric says:

        This is great!! You have a really lovely tone – backing vocals are really cute too. I love it. Totally impressed!

    • Damecia says:

      Oh wow I haven’t heard more than 30 seconds of the J Holliday song and I can hear Diana all over this….wow =…she should’ve gotten this song!

    • Paul says:

      I’m gonna “jump in” and respond to your question on the Diana/Michael 80s tracks if I may, Spooky! While “Muscles” is a fascinating, bizarre novelty and “Eaten Alive” an interesting takeoff on “Thriller” — I don’t think the duo really clicked during the decade except on their brief few lines together on “We Are The World” in ’85. During the brief chorus they share, their vocal similarities and subtle differences in tone is magic; it’s really, I think, the highlight of the entire star-studded song. Of course, the pair also had some fun on Diana’s 1981 “diana” TV special, a wonderful visual display of their affection for one another.

      This all said — I’m not sure MJ was the right producer for Diana Ross. It’s been noted that he was quite intimidated by her in the studio, and I wonder if that made it tough to “reign her in” a bit from some of her 80s excesses. I wish the two had teamed up during the 90s — Diana’s reading of his “You Are Not Alone,” for example, is such a strong performance — I wonder what the two of them could have turned out during that period, when MJ was older (and likely less intimidated) and Diana a little more open to suggestions.

  21. Damecia says:

    So ecstatic that I have impressed you!

    • spookyelectric says:

      I watched a few of your other youtube clips – they’re great! By the way there’s another MJ production circa early 80s you might not know. ‘Just Friends’ a Burt Bacharach/ Carole Bayer Sager song he co-produced and duetted on for Carole’s ‘Sometimes Late At Night’ album. Another tune that would have fit Diana & Michael like a sequinned glove – especially as the lyrics chimed right into the media’s fascination in the nature of their relationship at the time.

      • Damecia says:

        Thank you! = )

        Wow, you are so right…this would have been a great duet for them. Carole kinda sounds like Dionne Warwick. I love Michael’s harmonies. Is there anymore Michael features I don’t know about? lol

  22. spookyelectric says:

    There’s a few I can think of… I’m sure you know the Rockwell track ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ that MJ sang the hook on – that was huge at the time. There’s a great track he produced on LaToya’s debut album called ‘All Night Lover’. A great duet with Paul McCartney called ‘The Man’. One of my favourites is a track from the Minnie Riperton album ‘Love Lives Forever’ that was put together after she passed away that Michael added vocals to. See what you think…

  23. Damecia says:

    Yes, I am familiar with those tracks and Michael killed each and eveyone lol. If only Michael had produced all of Silk Electric…it would probably have been a bigger hit than it was.

    • Paul says:

      This is an interesting comment — I wonder what Silk Electric would have sounded like had MJ done the whole album. Obviously, at this point, he was creating a masterpiece of his own…so I guess he never really could have devoted time to an entire Diana Ross LP.

      That said — if he had — it would have been a fascinating project. Due to their vocal similarities, it could have worked. But (similar to Gibb’s work for Diana on the “Eaten Alive” album) his style was so pronounced it probably would have overpowered Miss Ross a bit too much. It’s also been reported several times that MJ was totally intimidated by Diana in the studio — so who knows if he could have handled ordering her around for a whole LP!

      • spookyelectric says:

        It’s fun to play these ‘what if’ games with Diana’s career. I tend to think Jackson had the time and inclination to cut a whole album with Diana at that point it would have been brilliant. He was at peak of his powers, she was on a hot streak and in great voice. ‘Muscles’ was easily the standout on ‘Silk Electric’ – I actually think it’s one of her top recordings of that decade.

        I’m not sure I agree with you Paul about MJ’s style being ‘overpowering’ – I think that’s a valid point for say Prince who’s production stamp tended to dominate some of the acts he worked with, but though nowhere near as prolific, Michael’s work at this point was pretty varied. Take the Jennifer Holliday track I mentioned before or the songs he worked on with Freddie Mercury. Of course we’ll never know – but it’s nice to imagine. Lionel and Luther are the other ones from that decade it would have been amazing to have had full album collaborations from.

      • Damecia says:

        Yes I have heard the intimidation rumors before lol.

        But we all know Diana wanted major control of all her projects at RCA, so a total Michael probably wouldn’t have happened anyways, but still I wonder.

    • Paul says:

      Diana also turned down the chance for Luther Vandross to cut an entire album on her during the late 80s — apparently feeling he was too “inexperienced” (when, in fact, he’d already cut successful albums on Aretha and Dionne!). So, yes, her need to Executive Produce and have full creative control probably would have never allowed a full Jackson-helmed LP.

      • Damecia says:

        Sounds like Miss Ross to me! LOL. But I don’t think I would’ve liked an whole Luther produced album for her. “It’s Hard For Me To Say” is a nice enough song, but it never felt like Ross to me.

      • I’ve always thought ‘It’s Hard For Me To Say’ was one of her top recordings of the 80s! Luther really understood the subtleties of her voice and to me its a major shame they could never got to do a full album. Luther was more or less a student of Aretha, Dionne and Diana and after the great work he produced with them I’m sure they would have come up with some gems. Luther’s production style was very distinct and could sometimes tend towards overpowering I think – of course when you have a singer like Aretha that’s never going to happen but I wonder what would have resulted with Diana, especially on uptempo material. The ballads I’m sure would have been superlative – his ear for vocal production was pretty much unparalleled. Plus in the late 80s when an album collaboration was on the cards, Luther’s sound was still very organic – perfect for Diana – by the early 90s he was dabbling with harder synthy swingbeat type sounds (think of the duets he produced with Whitney and Aretha at the time) which could have been dreadful.

        I’d forgotten that ‘too inexperienced’ quote from Diana. I wonder how that session they did went and if they attempted more than one track? Between the two of them there would have been an excess of ego no doubt – the clashes between Aretha and Luther on their second album ‘Get It Right’ have been well documented and they were close friends. Plus I imagine with her relationship with RCA at the time she wouldn’t have had the security blanket she had with Gordy during the Chic sessions that she could have the album remixed and sprinkled with Diana dust before release…

      • Paul says:

        Totally agree, Spooky — “It’s Hard For Me To Say” is stellar — should have been serviced to R&B radio and could have been the beginning of a great collaboration between Diana and Luther. He worshipped her, and totally understood what made her sound so unique. This, I think, could have resulted in some really great songs and vocal performances.

        That said…the ego thing…oh dear! Luther also infamously clashed with Anita Baker on tour — the two apparently got pretty vicious with each other for awhile! So in-studio, with Diana and Luther together for a long period of time…who knows what would have happened!

  24. Damecia says:

    Agree with you spooky about Silk Electric being a stand out of the 80s for Ross!

    I also agree with you about MJ not overpowering Ross. I think they’re style was so similar and Michael was not a selfish producer that Ross would’ve been up front with her distinct sound.

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