“Heaven must have sent you to me, and I’m not gonna let you go back…”
That big, rushing sound you heard in the fall of 1970 was the collective sigh of relief from everyone at Motown when Diana Ross scored her first #1 single with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in September; though the company was outwardly confident that the singer would be a solo success, there was no doubt extreme pressure to deliver on the promises. With her first album, titled Diana Ross, pushed to #1 on the R&B Albums chart thanks to the success of “Ain’t No Mountain,” plans moved forward for a television special and a feature film (discussions concerning Ross portraying jazz legend Billie Holiday stretched back to 1969); Ross, meanwhile, continued perfecting her stage show and was already back in the studio to cut tracks for her second album, which would hit music store shelves just five months after the first one.
Producer Deke Richards was put in charge of the album eventually titled Everything Is Everything, and years later, he would admit that it was something of a rush job. “…all I remember is Berry [Gordy, Jr., Motown founder] said he wanted something different. Problem is he wanted it yesterday,” Richards remembers in the liner notes to the album’s 2008 reissue. Gordy was apparently concerned over the performance of Diana’s debut single, “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” released in April, and wanted something else ready for release; Richards immediately began amassing material, turning to fellow Motown producer Hal Davis for help and also cutting tracks for covers of then-popular songs by artists ranging from The Beatles to Aretha Franklin. Richards himself composed only three of the album’s eleven songs, including two brand-new songs, the ballad “I’m Still Waiting” and the absurdly-titled “Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedoo’ndoo.”
In his Soul Sauce column in the November 28, 1970 issue of Billboard, Ed Ochs wrote, “Our local ears predict that ‘My Place,’ from Diana Ross’ ‘Everything Is Everything’ LP will be her next single.” A month later, “Come Together” was gaining enough R&B attention that it turned up on the Jet magazine Soul Brothers Top 20 chart. And yet…Motown didn’t jump on either cut. Instead, thanks to the massive success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the writing-producing team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson was given first dibs on a follow-up single, which they delivered with “Remember Me” in December of 1970. Without a single promoting the album, Everything Is Everything really never got a chance at finding real success; it wouldn’t be until a full year after the album’s release that Motown released “I’m Still Waiting,” in an attempt to capitalize off of the song’s incredible success in the United Kingdom.
Thus, Everything Is Everything (Motown 724) became something of a “lost” album for awhile, garnering little attention from anyone aside from die-hard Diana Ross fans and not getting a proper reissue until 2008. That’s unfortunate, because it’s an interesting entry in the Ross discography and there are certainly some cuts that merit rediscovery. Everything Is Everything is, without a doubt, dated; the very title of the album, a popular catchphrase of the day, indicates as such. Really, it’s closer in spirit to latter-day Diana Ross and The Supremes albums than to 1970’s Diana Ross, because there’s not necessarily a theme to the work as a whole; even Deke Richards would later say, “I began to feel knots in my stomach when I knew there would be no overall concept to the album.” 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.
1. My Place: Although Billboard predicted this song would be issued as a single in late 1970, it was passed over and remains one of the lesser-known album tracks of the singer’s career; the composition was eventually covered by The Devastating Affair and placed on the b-side of that group’s 1972 single “I Want To Be Humble” (The Devastating Affair can be heard backing Miss Ross on her 1974 LP Live At Caesar’s Palace). “My Place” was written by Jerry Marcellino, Mel Larson, and Hal Davis, and produced by the latter; Marcellino and Larson would contribute “The Bigger You Love (The Harder You Fall)” to The Supremes and Four Tops joint LP Dynamite in 1971, and Davis would go on to produce a bona fide Diana Ross classic with the 1976 #1 hit “Love Hangover.” “My Place” is certainly no “Love Hangover,” although it is the kind of bouncy, energetic pop song that latches itself onto the listener’s brain and just won’t let go. The difference between this song and the material featured on Diana Ross is immediately audible; “My Place” sounds gritty and tinny, much closer in spirit to “In And Out Of Love” or “Love Child” than the high-gloss, epic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Same goes for the vocal; Miss Ross does a nice job, but it doesn’t stretch her much more than anything she’d done with the Supremes years earlier. The singer’s dependably crisp, clear tone becomes quite mushy toward the end, too, something Deke Richards noted in the liner notes to the album’s 2008 reissue: “There was one place near the end where Diana’s voice distorted during the chorus. It drove me crazy. I kept telling Hal to bring her back in and re-dub that part.” The end result is a pleasant listen, but something that sounds much more like the theme song to a 1970s sitcom than a recording that could have been a bit hit.
2. Ain’t No Sad Song: This is the second Hal Davis production in a row, and this one takes Diana Ross to perhaps the funkiest place she’d been since “I’m So Glad I Got Somebody (Like You Around),” a song she recorded as a Supreme back in late 1968. Her hard-edged, earthy performance probably surprised a lot of people who hadn’t mined the deep cuts of her latter-day Supremes albums; there’s a breathy aggressiveness to her work here, and she certainly makes a distinct choice in the way she’s going to deliver the song and then sticks to it wholeheartedly. It’s not a very “pretty” performance, especially in light of some of the gorgeous vocal work that will come later on the album, but it demonstrates the artist’s willingness to experiment in the studio, something which critics often ignore. The song itself was penned by Davis along with Berry Gordy’s son (Berry Gordy IV, credited on the album as “The Bear”) and Diana’s brother Chico Ross, who would later serve as one of his sister’s onstage dancers; it’s a brisk, fun composition, but it unfortunately doesn’t boast a memorable refrain and there’s no real “hook.” When Everything Is Everything was reissued on compact disc in 2008, a second version of this song was included with alternate lyrics; it’s actually an improvement, giving the song a bit more structure. In any case, “Ain’t No Sad Song” may not be a Diana Ross classic, but it is a nice diversion and something different in terms of the singer’s early solo output.
3. Everything Is Everything: This is a peppy song that, in many ways, serves as a sonic sequel to “My Place” — both tunes feature similar “sunny pop” arrangements that take Diana back to her Supremes roots more than they further her solo career. To that end, “Everything Is Everything” was written by Margaret Gordy (the 2008 liner notes clarify that the writer was a girlfriend of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.; together they have a son, Kennedy, who would later record under the name Rockwell), who also wrote the sublime, bluesy “The Beginning Of The End,” featured on Diana’s final studio LP with The Supremes, Cream Of The Crop. “Everything Is Everything” was a popular catchphrase in the early 1970s; soul singer Donny Hathaway’s debut album was also titled Everything Is Everything, and released only two months before Diana’s album. Here, the writer uses the words to convey the blissful feeling of true love, giving Miss Ross lines like “You’re my joy/You’re my pleasure/But most of all, darling/You’re my treasure” to sing over bouncy “Baby Love”-esque piano chords. Today, the song is obviously dated; aside from the title phase, the word “groovy” also makes several appearances. But there’s something about the unabashed happiness in both the instrumental performance and in Diana’s vocal that is hard to resist. As with the previous pair of songs, “Everything Is Everything” doesn’t exactly stretch Miss Ross, nor does it take her far from where she was musically in the previous decade. But the song doesn’t really aspire to be anything more than a few short minutes of pleasant listening, and it certainly achieves that.
4. Baby It’s Love: This is one of the best songs on the album, and it’s comes from a surprising source; credited as writers on “Baby It’s Love” are Anna Gordy Gaye, Marvin Gaye, and Charles Laskey. Coincidentally, work on this cut was happening in July of 1970, precisely the time Diana’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was beginning its climb to #1; the song, of course, had originally been recorded by Mr. Gaye, as a duet with Tammi Terrell. Gaye was apparently staying very busy at the time; he’d recently been turning out hits for Motown group The Originals, and work was progressing on his own “What’s Going On,” which would be released in January of 1971. “Baby It’s Love” bears many sonic similarities to Gaye’s work from that period, particularly to the supple, sax-heavy “Baby, I’m For Real,” which had taken The Originals to #1 (and was also co-written by Anna, Marvin’s wife); it’s interesting to wonder if perhaps the song was initially meant for that group instead of Miss Ross. The song is a buttery-smooth soul track featuring a sexy, knowing vocal from Diana atop a chugging instrumental track led by the aforementioned sax and driving guitars; there’s a subtle urgency to the track that plays against Diana’s laid-back vocal, creating an interesting texture to the song. The singer’s work is extremely accomplished; her breathy vocal is mature and appealing, and the producers (in this case Hal Davis and Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.) add in some unique touches, such as the doubling of the singer’s voice at 1:03. With Gordy co-listed as producer, it’s strange that “Baby It’s Love” didn’t get more attention; the song easily could have been a single, and it would have been a perfect addition to the singer’s live performances. It remains one of the best cuts of Diana’s early solo career, and is a recording ripe for discovery by those who want to dive deeper into the artist’s discography.
5. I’m Still Waiting: This is the song Everything Is Everything will forever be remembered for; although many in America never knew the song existed, it enjoyed a much different fate overseas, becoming an iconic classic and achieving incredible success in the Untied Kingdom. According to Deke Richards, who wrote and produced it, “I wrote the original basic chart, which I wanted to be simple and unassuming…Diana liked the song but the soft, vulnerable style took her by surprise.” Indeed, “I’m Still Waiting” is light years away from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in terms of the tone; the sad, desperate voice that cries out, “Come back, come back/I miss you!” is certainly not the same woman who pledged, “If you need me, call me” earlier that year. But “I’m Still Waiting” is no less successful as a song and in terms of the performance; if nothing else, listening to the two recordings back-to-back reveals Diana’s gift for interpretation, and proves that she was an adept actress long before ever setting foot onto a movie set. Much credit must go to Richards, who clearly guided the singer according to his vision for the song; in the album’s reissue liner notes, he remembers, “I had to hold her back at times, especially on the chorus. Her tone and timber were too strong. In the verses I had to keep her from anticipating lines and certain simple syncopations without overdoing it.” The result is that Miss Ross sounds amazingly young and naive, giving herself over completely to the character and allowing her voice to very gently ride over the softly-swaying melody. Richards praises Diana Ross for doing exactly what he asked without question; this is important, because it demonstrates the artist’s gift for giving a song exactly what it calls for, and never giving in to the temptation to showboat or oversing. Miss Ross is so good at this, in fact, that it’s led to a long-running misconception about her vocal abilities; there are those critics who still contend that then singer possesses a “thin” tone or limited range, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. If Diana Ross sounds “weak” at times on this song, it’s because she’s playing a weak character, and she’s doing it brilliantly; it clearly struck audiences, because it ended up a #1 record in the U.K., much to the surprise of just about everyone. As remembered by Deke Richards in his reissue liner notes, “Tony Blackburn at BBC Radio played ‘I’m Still Waiting’ so much that public demand persuaded Motown to finally release if there as a single. After a few short weeks it went to No. 1 and stayed there for weeks. It because one of the U.K.’s biggest-selling records of all time.” Based on the incredible reaction abroad, Motown released the song in the United States on October 13, 1971, more than a year after it had released the Everything Is Everything album; by that point, the public had been saturated with three successive singles from the singer’s latest album Surrender, and Diana was preparing to film Lady Sings The Blues, which left little time for promotion. “I’m Still Waiting” ended up peaking at a paltry #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #40 on the R&B chart, unfortunate showings for such a strong record. Still, outside of the United States, “I’m Still Waiting” lives on as one of the great Diana Ross recordings of all time, and it remains a beautiful vehicle for both its singer and writer-producer.
6. Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedood’ndoobe, Doobedood’ndoo: This is, without a doubt, the album’s most ambitious track; written and produced by Deke Richards, it’s an episodic and dramatic work that pushes Miss Ross more than any of the album’s preceding songs. Richards plays with some interesting religious ideas here, arranging the entire production as though a choir of angles is looking down on the narrator, having finally sent her a true love; that choir opens the song with, “Girl, we’re gonna send you someone to love,” before Diana responds with, “Heaven must have sent you to me.” Richards lends the song a sense of majesty through his unusual orchestration, which gives most of the spotlight to a harpsichord and features blaring trumpets; the lyrics later reference a “rock and roll symphony,” and Richards certainly seems to be aiming for that goal. Diana Ross, of course, is an ideal vocalist for such a theatrical track, and she delivers one of her best vocal performances of the entire album; Ross sings with complete confidence, navigating the tricky transitions from verse to refrain with ease. In the hands of a lesser singer, such a jarring change in tone likely wouldn’t have worked well, but Ross uses her interpretive abilities to sell the lyrics and lend the entire production a believability which holds it together. If not for the completely insane title, this could have been a strong choice for a single in the U.S.; 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. According to Richards in the album’s reissue liner notes, “I hadn’t finished the lyrics when I cut the track. All I had was the ‘Doo-bee’ part, so I put that down on the session notes as a dummy title…The original title was going to be ‘I Just Started Livin’.'” He goes on to say that Berry Gordy argued against a title change, supposing that the strange collection of syllables would generate curiosity amongst radio programmers. Although the song was unfairly passed over by radio and the record label in the States, the title didn’t turn off fans in the U.K.; issued as a follow-up to the wildly successful “I’m Still Waiting,” this song peaked at #12 on the chart there.
7. Come Together: When Everything Is Everything was released in September without an accompanying single, radio programmers began spinning some of the cuts themselves; “Come Together” is one that gained some early traction, and ended up making the Jet Soul Brothers Top 20 chart for the week of December 17, 1970. The song, of course, is a cover of the Beatles classic, which had topped the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1969, only a few weeks before Diana Ross and The Supremes would assume the throne with “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Producer Deke Richards actually cut a few Beatles tracks for Miss Ross, mentioning in the Everything Is Everything reissue liner notes that he considered them for a separate project called Diana Takes On The Beatles; he cut the track for “Come Together” at RCA in Hollywood, admitting that he hadn’t even written all the musicians’ parts and that “in the background you can hear them sporadically stop playing.” The result is a track that feels spontaneous and quite loose, which gives the recording a tremendous boost of energy; there’s a freshness here that recalls some of the work Deke Richards had produced for The Jackson 5. Although Diana Ross didn’t record her vocal until after the instrumental track had been finished, she listens to and plays off of the band beautifully; there’s also a spontaneity in her performance, as if she’s doing the entire thing live in concert. This is where Diana’s “musician’s ear” comes into play; as an artist, she’s generally very aware of her musical surroundings and the tone set by the track to which she happens to bed singing, something that will become more and more demonstrable throughout the decade. There’s also an appealing rawness to the singer’s voice on this recording; Diana Ross may be famous for her sophisticated and polished vocals, but she’s also capable of summoning up some real Detroit grit in her work, and it’s certainly audible here (and listen to her “C’mon, y’all!” at 4:30 into the song — it’s pretty clear from where young Michael Jackson was drawing his inspiration). Interestingly, a few of Motown’s female stars covered this song around the same time; producer Johnny Bristol cut it with Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Frank Wilson turned out a version for The Supremes, led by Diana’s replacement Jean Terrell. The latter was included on the trio’s New Ways But Love Stays LP, released the very same month as Diana’s album.
8. The Long And Winding Road: Let’s be honest; “Come Together” is definitely an anomaly when it comes to Diana Ross covering The Beatles. She’s buoyed on that song by a superb instrumental and arrangement, just as she was on “Hey Jude” from 1969’s Cream Of The Crop. But aside from these two performances, Ross and The Supremes had never fared well when tacking material written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; just listen to the disastrous 1964 LP A Bit Of Liverpool and Diana’s uninspired reading of “Yesterday” on 1965’s I Hear A Symphony for proof (or, actually, do yourselves a favor and don’t listen to them). Unfortunately, this cover of “The Long And Winding Road” (which had been a #1 for The Beatles earlier in 1970) is pretty awful, and unquestionably the low-point of Everything Is Everything. Coming after seven songs that straddle the line between pop and R&B really well, “The Long And Winding Road” dives straight off the cliff into schmaltzy MOR territory, killing the rootsy vibe summoned by songs like “Come Together” and “Baby It’s Love.” The arrangement here is laborious and overwrought, and seems to meander along while never actually getting anywhere (which, to be fair, is appropriate given the title). But 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 Love You (Call Me): And then…a masterpiece. “I always wanted to cut [this song] on Diana, to take her away from the pop sound, and give her a chance to cut loose,” says Deke Richards in the 2008 reissue liner notes to Everything Is Everything, and that’s exactly what he accomplishes with this brilliant cover of the Aretha Franklin classic. Franklin had written the song and recorded it for her This Girl’s In Love With You LP; when it was released as a single in early 1970, it sailed to #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart and peaked in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. According to producer Richards, “There was very little direction…Diana already knew the tune and liked my arrangement,” and that arrangement is very close to one featured on Franklin’s original; both recordings are softly-swaying and slow-burning soul ballads with a lot of room for the vocalists to add in soulful riffs and play with the melody. Interestingly, both are also arranged in the exact same key, revealing similarities in the voices of Ross and Franklin that many critics would likely deny exist. As soon as Miss Ross begins singing over the smooth strings and twinkling piano, it’s clear that she’s right at home; her performance is a mix of the breathy sexiness of “Baby It’s Love” and the soulful power demonstrated on her work with Ashford & Simpson, and she effortlessly blends both styles into a spellbinding mix of sandpaper and silk. In another example of her mastery of interpretation, Diana’s injects her vocal with a plaintive urgency that makes her sound even more impassioned than Aretha Franklin did; not just do you believe that Diana is in love, you believe she’s desperately in love, and can’t stand to live a single moment without the person she’s singing to. The performance if full of standout moments; I’m partial to her “Don’t for-GET!” at 2:42, which is as raw as her voice had ever sounded on record. The key to appreciating this recording and Diana’s work is to realize that this is truly a singer’s song; only someone with clear, demonstrably vocal talent could really pull this off, because there’s nowhere to hide. Within this loose, spacious track, Miss Diana Ross shines, proving without a doubt that she is one of the great pop/R&B voices of all time. It’s unfortunate that this cover came so quickly after Franklin’s version had topped the charts; if it hadn’t, Motown might have had the vision to release it as a single. Although it never got the chance to gain its own audience, it did earn Miss Ross her second solo Grammy nomination, this time for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Although she didn’t win (ironically, she lost to Aretha, with “Bridge Over Troubled Water”), her performance remains a thrilling achievement.
10. How About You: This is a sugary-pop confection written by Deke Richards along with Sandra Sanders and David Van De Pitte and originally cut on Motown singer Chris Clark for her 1969 LP CC Rides Again. Listening to Clark’s version, it’s impossible to miss the pop influence of Herb Alpert and the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Richards was clearly working to fit the talented Miss Clark into the “Dionne Warwick Sophisticated Soul” camp, although the singer possesses a gritty, soulful voice capable of much more depth. The pop influence is just as noticeable on Diana’s of the song, which is sped up quite a bit, revealing how much the lilting melody recalls songs like “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” a hit for Warwick in 1968. In the 2008 Everything Is Everything reissue liner notes, Richards discussed his desire to recall the Bacharach sound, writing, “I was a big Burt Bacharach fan since the early days. When Burt did a show in Las Vegas, I approached him to write a song for Diana.” Although that didn’t happen, Richards admits he recorded this song as a “humble tribute” to the songwriter. “How About You” is a really nice recording; there’s an appealing lightness to it, and Miss Ross has the perfect voice for the song, bouncing along the melody without ever getting swamped by it. In the context of this album, it suffers by being sandwiched between two far superior recordings; “I Love You (Call Me)” is the masterpiece of the album, and “(They Long To Be) Close To You” actually was written by Bacharach and David, and is a better, more fully-formed composition. Taken on its own terms, however, this is a solid little tune and showcases some versatility for Miss Ross and Mr. Richards. (NOTE: “How About You” would be placed on the b-side of Diana’s third solo single, “Remember Me,” released in December.)
11. (They Long To Be) Close To You: Like “I Love You (Call Me),” this tune had been a huge hit not long before the release of Everything Is Everything; released by pop duo The Carpenters in the spring of 1970, it ended up topping the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in July and August, relinquishing the throne just in time for Diana’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to take it in September. Although it had been recorded a few times before, The Carpenters hit pay dirt by facing the song’s sappiness head-on; by embracing the childish lyrics and syrupy melody, Karen and Richard Carpenter created an unforgettable pop classic that lives on in pop culture decades later. Smartly, Diana Ross and Deke Richards don’t stray much from the formula; if anything, her vocal and his production lend the song a lightness that helps relieve some of the melancholy that seems to underscore the Carpenters version. Diana’s performance is pitch-perfect; there’s a lovely dreaminess to her interpretation, and she lightly dances over the melody with ease. Although Deke Richards turns in a rather busy track, it’s frothy and filled with whimsical touches; he also replaces the slick, layered backgrounds of the Carpenters recording with earthier, soulful voices, which helps give this rendition its own identity. It would have been very easy to go wrong with this song; it could have easily slipped into the over-the-top, saccharine territory into which “The Long And Winding Road” landed with a thud. Instead, Diana’s sweet and sincere reading elevates this song to being one of the most memorable on the album, and a satisfying one with which to close it.
Although it was released in September of 1970, Everything Is Everything didn’t debut in Billboard until November, when it bowed on the Top LPs chart at #105. It eventually peaked at a disappointing #42, although it fared much better on the R&B Albums chart, topping out at #5. The chart positions aren’t a big surprise, considering Ross really didn’t do any immediate promotion of the album, and there was no single to draw attention to it. Motown would finally follow-up the blockbuster single “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in December, but it wouldn’t go with a song from this album; as mentioned earlier, because Ashford & Simpson had produced a #1 hit on the singer, they got the opportunity to try for a repeat, and their “Remember Me” would become Diana’s third solo single. Miss Ross would perform two of this album’s songs on her television special Diana! in April, but by then the Everything Is Everything was forgotten.
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 (An Uneven “Road”)
Paul’s Picks: “I Love You (Call Me),” “I’m Still Waiting,” “Baby It’s Love”