“This is my retreat, we’re together, and My Place is now even better…”
These days, when it’s common for artists to take three or four years between releasing studio albums, it seems astonishing that Diana Ross’s second solo album hit shelves just a few months after her first. It also seems strange given that the first album – while not a blockbuster hit – was a strong success, and featured a #1 hit in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Though the company potentially could have pulled further singles – “Something’s On My Mind” for example – it instead moved on to this album, featuring a completely different behind-the-scenes team and sound.
Everything Is Everything was put together by Deke Richards, who employed the work of several songwriters (including Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, and Burt Bacharach) and also producers such as Hal Davis to fill up its eleven tracks. Given the variety of material and production credits, the album immediately stands in contrast to its predecessor, Diana Ross, which was a cohesive work delivered by the songwriting/production team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson (except for one track). That cohesiveness is sorely missing here, on an album that has its share of both strong and weak efforts.
Taken on its own terms, Everything Is Everything is a good, listenable piece of early 1970s pop/soul. It is, without a doubt, dated – the very title of the album, a popular catchphrase of the day, indicates that. While still a stronger release than anything put out by Diana Ross & The Supremes in the last few years of their career, this album is closer in spirit to those albums than to 1970’s Diana Ross, because there’s not necessarily a theme to the work as a whole. The songs of Diana Ross told the story of a young woman emerging into solo stardom through a collection of exciting, passionate performances. Everything Is Everything instead is more of a showcase of what Diana Ross could do with a song as an interpreter (especially cover songs) – which, at times, is wonderful…and at other times is a little less than inspiring.
1. My Place: The album opens with an upbeat Hal Davis production that immediately contrasts with the work Diana Ross has done with Ashford & Simpson. The bouncy, energetic pop song is standard Motown all the way, and while Diana does a nice job on the vocal, it doesn’t stretch her much more than anything she’d done with the Supremes years earlier had. The sound quality – somewhat gritty and tinny – also sounds much closer in spirit to “In And Out Of Love” or “Love Child” than the high-gloss, epic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I could have lived without the accordion-interlude, and wish Diana’s vocal was less mushy during her singing at the end, but “My Place” certainly isn’t the weakest track on the album. I have to say, though – television producers totally missed the boat on this song. Doesn’t is sound like it would have been a perfect opening-credits theme for a 70s sitcom?
2. Ain’t No Sad Song: A true soul/funk song – the kind of which Diana rarely recorded, unfortunately – this could have easily found a place on an early Millie Jackson album. The problem here isn’t with the production or the performance, but the fact that the song doesn’t have a memorable lyric. It is, in fact, an odd composition, with no identifiable verse or chorus (at least to my ear). Had there been a catchier, sing-along lyric, this would have been far stronger track; instead, it merely showcases an earthy, funky vocal from Diana.
3. Everything Is Everything: Essentially “My Place – Part 2” – the title track of the album is a similarly bouncy pop song that is much more classic late 60s/early 70s Motown than much of the other work Diana Ross had been recording. The repeated use of the phrase “everything is everything” and lyrics like “everything is groovy” don’t help this song to age very well, and while Diana again sounds youthful and fun on the track, it’s not much of a vocal showcase for her and the song isn’t one that likely would have burned up the charts.
4. Baby It’s Love: After three pretty good but not particularly memorable songs, “Baby It’s Love” kicks the album up a notch. This is one of the best album tracks of Diana’s early 70s career; a smooth, soulful song co-written by Marvin Gaye. The instrumental track certainly sounds like the work Marvin was turning out at the time, with a notable sax line and some nice percussion and guitar work. Above all, “Baby It’s Love” allows Diana a chance to give a breathy, sexy performance that, while not as challenging as much of her vocal work with Ashford & Simpson, is just as mature and appealing. Certainly her growth as a vocalist is evident in this song, as the “cute” affectations that often bogged down her work with the Supremes are nowhere to be heard. Though it’s one of the lesser-known songs of her early career, this is one of her best.
5. I’m Still Waiting: This is the most recognizable song from the album, and the sole single released from it in the US. Fans in the United Kingdom apparently fell in love with it, and “I’m Still Waiting” sailed to #1 there and became one of Diana’s most popular recordings; the single nowhere near equaled that success in the states, not even making the Top 40. This is unfortunate, because “I’m Still Waiting” is a lovely, melodic pop ballad that ranks among the best on the album. One of the few Deke Richards originals on the album, it’s a perfect song for Diana. Without a doubt, what Miss Ross has always done best with her songs is to tell compelling stories, and this is a perfect example of what she could do as both an actress and interpreter of lyrics. Diana scales back her vocal, sounding young and fragile here while telling the story of losing her childhood love, and the track itself is highlighted by a memorable guitar intro and soulful background vocals. While not as dazzling a song as “Ain’t No Mountain…,” this song is an understated, deceptively simple work that merits greater recognition in terms of Diana’s early career.
6. Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedood’ndoo: The second Deke Richards composition in a row, this is another strong addition to the album and kind of makes you wonder how much better it would have been if the entire album had been written and produced by him. This oddly composed, episodic song features a laid-back groove on the verses which crescendos into an gospel-esque, choir-laden chorus. If not for the completely insane title, this probably could have been a single; it straddles the R&B/pop line nicely and while as contemporary as anything else on the radio in 1970, was also different enough that it could’ve garnered some good airplay. Diana sounds nice here, but her vocal during the fade-out is particularly impressive, as she jumps an octave while singing “I just started livin’…” This is the kind of singing she had done on almost every track of her previous solo album, and it’s a shame she hasn’t let loose more often here, especially on a song like this one which merits the kind of vocal gymnastics that Diana was more than capable of performing, but isn’t necessarily known for.
7. Come Together: The first of two Beatles covers, this one is certainly the far superior. Again produced by Deke Richards, the track and arrangement here sound like they were tailor-made for the Jackson 5 – which makes sense, since Richards was part of the crew responsible for the group’s phenomenal run of hits. For proof, listen to Diana’s call-outs at about 4:30 into the song (which runs nearly seven minutes); her “C’mon y’all!” sounds exactly like something Michael would done in the same song (which also makes sense, as Michael Jackson admittedly emulated Diana Ross in his early career).
8. The Long And Winding Road: This is unquestionably the low-point of Everything Is Everything, a nauseating piece of MOR that sucks the soul right out of the string of good songs that come before it. Perhaps I’m a little biased because I’m not a Beatles fan, but the song is a laborious, overwrought ballad that, like the title suggests, seems to meander along while never actually getting anywhere. Diana, unfortunately, doesn’t rise above the material, and brings some of her Supremes affectations back from the dead here, stretching words like “here” into “hee-aaaaah” and “disappear” into “disa-peeeee-ahhhhh” in the overdone, show-biz sort of the singing she often incorporated into her medleys of hits during live shows in the late 1960s. This is disappointing in light of the fresh, inspired singing she’d turned in for her solo debut album and on a few cuts on this album. If any song should have been left in the vaults, this is it.
9. I LoveYou (Call Me): Thank God, after the disaster of the former song, Diana and Deke do a 180 and turn in the highlight of the entire album. Their cover of the Aretha Franklin hit was (in a rare display of extremely good taste) nominated for a Grammy as Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and is easily one of the best recordings Diana Ross made in her early solo career – and maybe in her entire solo career. The soulful ballad is perfectly produced, thankfully eschewing the rest of the album’s tendency toward using dated instrumentals, and the background vocals are superb. Front and center is one of Diana’s more impassioned vocals, mixing both the breathy sexiness of the earlier track “Baby It’s Love” with the strength of her cuts with Ashford and Simpson. Her “Don’t for-GET!” at 2:42 into the song is perhaps the most raw her voice ever sounded on record. Though Aretha Franklin is cited by many as the world’s best female vocalist – Diana’s version of “I Love You (Call Me)” easily stands with the original and her voice and interpretation are just as affecting as Aretha’s. The next time you hear someone say Diana Ross was nothing more than a bubblegum pop singer or that she wasn’t truly a “soul” artist – play them this song.
10. How About You: A Deke Richards-original that sounds like something Dionne Warwick might have recorded as an album track in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it’s placed directly after the masterpiece of “I Love You (Call Me)” and directly ahead of a song Dionne Warwick actually did record in the 1960s, both of which are so much stronger that this song literally disappears between them. Not a bad inclusion, but certainly not a hidden gem.
11. (They Long To Be) Close To You: An amazingly good version of the oft-covered song, and one that manages to avoid falling into the trap of being way too saccharine and sappy. The production is helped immensely by the soulful backing vocals, which lift the song out of its pure pop origins. Diana turns in a nice, simple performance, and even the addition of a few spoken passages don’t sink the production. This had the potential to be another “Long And Winding…” – but thankfully both Deke and Diana sound far more inspired on this track and it turns out to be one of the better songs on the album.
Note: For information on bonus tracks from this album, click HERE.
There is no doubt that there’s an unevenness to Everything Is Everything which results in it sounding more like a collection of songs than a complete album. Even Diana Ross apparently knew this, having said “I wasn’t satisfied with the Everything Is Everything album…When I do an album, I like it to be good all the way through” (David Nathan, The Soulful Divas, 153). Still, there are some strong productions here that tend to be overlooked in the context of Diana Ross’s solo career. Later in the decade, Diana would sometimes play it safe, following much more closely to the melody of the songs she recorded and shying away from recording songs that required her to push her voice. But Everything Is Everything captures the singer at a time when she was still experimenting with her sound as a solo artist, and when she scored, she scored big.
Final Analysis: 3.5/5 (Almost Everything “Comes Together”)
Choice Cuts: “I Love You (Call Me),” “Baby It’s Love,” “I’m Still Waiting”
The Grammy nominees for Best Female R&B Vocal Female Performance that year were:
Aretha Franklin, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Winner)
Jean Knight, “Mr. Big Stuff”
Janis Joplin, “Pearl”
Freda Payne, “Contact”
Diana Ross, “I Love You (Call Me)”