Surrender (1971)

“I don’t know how to be nothin’ but yours…”

Considering the calculated effort it took to extricate Diana Ross from The Supremes — including a frantic race to release a final #1 single on the group and then a whirlwind of publicity surrounding the move — the first year of the singer’s solo career was surprisingly erratic.  When Diana’s debut solo single, the Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson-penned “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” failed to make an immediate impact on listeners, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. panicked and put Deke Richards to work with the singer.  Then, suddenly, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” raced to #1 on the pop and R&B charts, and producers Ashford & Simpson were back in the driver’s seat, quickly coming up with a follow-up single (“Remember Me”).  The result was that the Richards album, titled Everything Is Everything, was released without a promotional single…and “Remember Me” was released without a parent album.

“Remember Me” ended up peaking in the pop and R&B Top 20 in early 1971, and it led Ashford & Simpson to produce a second full-length album on the singer.  According to Simpson in the liner notes to the 2008 reissue of Surrender, “The fact that we had a No. 1 record out of the first album meant that Berry Gordy just gave us another album to do.”  Because the writing-producing duo had been so busy throughout 1970, working up material for Diana’s debut along with a pair of joint albums by The Supremes and Four Tops, Ashford & Simpson simplified the process a bit for this album, recycling some tracks  that had been cut for other artists and producing new versions of songs that had been previously recorded.  “And If You See Him,” for example, was initially meant for Marvin Gaye, while “I’m A Winner” was first assigned to Edwin Starr.

Says Simpson in the 2008 liner notes, “Diana Ross was probably the hardest worker of any of the people we worked with at Motown.  She was always prepared, ready, early, on time.”  Perhaps most importantly, Ashford & Simpson clearly pushed the singer to expand her range, something that resulted in some of the most outstanding vocal work of Diana’s career.  The combination of strong material and soulful, assured vocal performances should have lifted the album to unprecedented success; unfortunately, the timing of Surrender was all off.  Finally released in July of 1971, Diana was unable to promote the album due to pregnancy; she would give birth to her first daughter, Rhonda Suzanne, in August.  Immediately following the birth, Ross dove headfirst into research for her first motion picture role, as trouble jazz singer Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues.  Principal photography would begin at the end of the year.

Thus, Surrender (Motown 723) fell through the cracks; despite a Billboard review dubbing the album “a smash,” it enjoyed only moderate success on the charts.  It did better in the U.K., although the success overseas ironically came thanks to Deke Richards, who’d been bumped aside as Diana’s producer by Ashford & Simpson; when the Richards penned-and-produced “I’m Still Waiting” became an unexpected smash hit there, the song was tacked onto Surrender and the album renamed I’m Still Waiting for its U.K. release.  In any case, this album stands as definitive proof that chart positions have nothing to do with quality; Surrender remains one of the finest albums of Diana’s entire career.  Because the singer would “re-emerge” the following year as a motion picture actress and jazz/pop singer, Surrender is really the closing chapter on the first phase of her solo career – that of a young, exciting, soulful woman bursting onto the music scene and finding her voice.  If it had to end, at least it came with her best collection yet.

***

1.  Surrender:  Ashford & Simpson had cut the track for the fiery “Surrender” way back in August of 1970, as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was approaching the top spot on the music charts; work continued on the track through September.  If “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” pushed Miss Ross to new heights as a soul stylist, then “Surrender” sent her soaring into a completely new universe; Simpson describes the song as “edgy, pushy” in the 2008 reissue liner notes, and those words are an understatement for the full-on musical attack waged by the producers and the vocalist.  Opening with thunderous, repetitive piano jabs and a driving percussive beat, the cut is immediately more aggressive than anything Diana had thus recorded in her career; soon, the track erupts into a swirling storm of keys, blaring horns, and wailing background vocals.  Ashford & Simpson turn in clever, playful lyrics as memorable as those featured in the brilliant “Keep An Eye” from Diana’s solo debut, and the singer is completely committed to them here, turning in a commanding vocal performance which erupts into soulful abandon at 1:30, when she begins her ad-libbing with a dazzling “Ow!” that remains spine-tingling to this day.  Valerie Simpson’s piano work here is absolutely stunning, displaying a strong gospel influence, and the rest of the musicians turn in impeccable performances.  When Surrender was released, its title cut immediately gained some airplay; a Billboard article from the time mentions that WCAR (Detroit) program manager Neil McIntyre added the song to its playlist before it was officially issued as a single.  Motown did end up releasing “Surrender” as a single on July 29, 1971, but it fizzled out just inside the pop Top 40, peaking at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hitting #16 on the R&B side.  The lack of promotion from Miss Ross (who gave birth to her first child in August) certainly didn’t help, and Valerie Simpson also partially blames the moderate response on audience expectations: “We might have been putting her in too much of an R&B direction on the album,” she says in the 2008 liner notes.  Perhaps some listeners preferred to hear Miss Ross tackle more pop-oriented material, but she definitively proves here that she is a superb soul vocalist, and possesses a range and power for which she’s often not given credit.

2.  I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You:  It’s likely that few fans realized how many times this song had been recorded before it showed up here on Surrender; prior to this album, the tune had been cut on singers Kiki Dee, Rita Wright (aka Syreeta), and even Diana Ross as a member of The Supremes.  Written by Ashford, Simpson, and Brian Holland (of the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team), it was initially released in 1968 as the first single on Rita Wright, though it failed to chart; then-Supreme Diana Ross would also record it that year, but it went unreleased until 2008’s Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities.  Says Valerie Simpson of this version, “It was Nick’s idea to revisit the song.  Sometimes, you almost feel like you missed the mark and you don’t know why but you feel like the song has some potential so you try it again” (2008 reissue liner notes).  Whether they’d missed the mark previous is up for debate, but one thing’s certain: They hit the bullseye with this version.  Ashford & Simpson admittedly arrange it in a similar style to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in terms of spoken passages, sung refrains, and passionate, over-the-top climax.  And as with “Surrender,” the instrumental track here is superb, featuring another fabulous piano performance by Simpson and a prominent bassline, along with blaring, memorable horns that help whip the song into a frenzy during its final minute.  But the star of the show is Diana Ross, who delivers a chilling performance that puts her in the league of the very best female soul vocalists of the era.  Ross gives an impassioned reading of the lyrics for the first two and a half minutes, but as soon as she belts out the lyrics, “‘Cause it will grow/’Til the world won’t go ’round/No more,” she transforms into a full-bodied singer who demands attention through the sheer power and force of her pipes.  In the liner notes to the re-release of this album, Valerie Simpson says Diana’s ad-libs at the end of this song are “in the stratosphere!” – and it can’t be said any better than that.  (NOTE: A few years later, singer Diahann Carroll would cover the song — complete with spoken passages — for her self-titled 1974 Motown album.  In 1982, Ashford & Simpson produced the song for Stephanie Mills, and it ended up on her  LP Tantalizingly Hot.  Mills, of course, is the woman who originated the role of Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, a role Diana would play on film.)

Billboard: January 9, 1971

3.  Remember Me:  “Hot on the heels of her No. 1 chart winner, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ comes a driving rock ballad penned by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.  Headed right for the Top 20,” wrote Billboard in a December 19, 1970 review of this single, and indeed, that’s right where “Remember Me” ended up.  By February, the single was peaking at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #10 on the R&B listing, not the singer’s biggest hit, but certainly a solid showing; had Motown waited a little longer to release the song so that it coincided with the April airing of her first television special, Diana!, it would have certainly done even better.  The song itself is an impassioned pop/soul number with an intensity that ebbs and flows with each section; the verses begin with Diana’s breathy vocal over a sizzling beat and build to explosions of slicing strings and the singer’s frenzied repetition of, “Didn’t I, boy?”  The lyrics which Miss Ross are given to deliver are also particularly descriptive and, at times, quite whimsical; lines like, “Remember me as a funny clown/That made you laugh when you were down” give the singer plenty of opportunity to sing with emotions ranging from regret and resignation to moments of humor and wisdom.  Her vocal performance is extremely impressive, and she’s matched by the soaring backgrounds of Ashford & Simpson and the brilliant work of the studio musicians.  It’s unfortunate that the song wasn’t a bigger hit, because the singer only occasionally included it in her live shows over the years; it was included to great effect during her famed stage show captured in the 1980 HBO television special Standing Room Only: Diana Ross, when the Diana used it following her tribute to The Supremes.  (NOTE: When Surrender was finally reissued in an expanded edition in 2008, it included Valerie Simpson’s demo performance of “Remember Me,” which features a really nice, soulful performance from the writer over the same backing track.)

4.  And If You See Him:  “That’s an odd song,” says Valerie Simpson in the liner notes to the 2008 Surrender reissue.  “It starts in the middle of a sentence and picks up out of nowhere.”  The track was initially cut for Marvin Gaye (under the working title “And If You See Her”) in January of 1971, but ended up getting vocals from Diana before the male vocalist had the chance to record it.  When he reviewed the album for Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 (in a somewhat confusing analysis, during which it’s hard to tell whether he admires or despises the album), Russell Gersten praised this particular cut, writing that it “has the poignancy of the great early Motown songs like ‘You Beat Me To The Punch.’  The brilliant, but simple use of rhythm instruments, and the rapid shift of moods perfectly recreate the ambivalence and desperation of someone rejected.”  Considering Gersten seems to long for the days when Ross sang more straightforward, simplistic material, it makes sense that he would prefer this song, which doesn’t include any background vocals and features a beat-driven instrumental track.  That said, it is an absolutely outstanding cut, led off by a heartbeat-mirroring bass and guitar line that erupts with pulsing horn blasts during the refrain.  There’s an inherent, sizzling urgency in this instrumental line, and Miss Ross instinctively picks up on the tone, elevating it with her fully-engaged vocals.  Ashford & Simpson add a nice touch by doubling the singer’s vocals at times, lending the song something of an otherworldly quality; when the overdubbing stops and Diana wails the swinging refrain solo, it’s a striking change.  Although “And If You See Him” remains an under-appreciated gem from the singer’s early solo career, it did gain a spot on the Tamla-Motown release Greatest Hits, a compilation assembled from Diana’s first three solo albums which was never released in the United States.

Billboard: April 24, 1971

5.  Reach Out, I’ll Be There:  Motown released this song as a single on April 8, 1971 — just ten days prior to the airing of Diana’s first solo television special, Diana!  Unfortunately, as the special had been taped way back in December, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” wasn’t performed by the singer, which meant the label missed a major opportunity to promote this particular release.  The single eventually stalled just inside the Top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #29 there and at #17 on the R&B chart.  The song itself, of course, was already a very familiar one to record buyers, having topped the charts in both the United States and the U.K. when it was released by The Four Tops in 1966.  That said, the Holland-Dozier-Holland tune gets a radical makeover here, transformed by producers Ashford & Simpson much in the same way the duo had reimagined their own “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Miss Ross a year earlier.  Interestingly, session notes included in the 2008 Surrender reissue list this song as having been initially intended for Valerie Simpson; Simpson’s own self-produced debut album Exposed was released in May of 1971, and featured liner notes by none other than Diana Ross (who wrote, “The only word for this album is fantastic!”).  As they’d done for Diana’s previous #1 hit, Ashford & Simpson take the basic structure of “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and stretch it out, letting the piece slowly build from a near-a cappella opening to a thunderous, gospel-inspired finale.  While this approach isn’t terribly surprising, considering it had been done to great success before, it is a surprise just how effective it is a second time around.  The original “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” is one of the most urgent, driving recordings to ever come out of the Hitsville studios, featuring a galloping beat and the impassioned lead vocals of Levi Stubbs.  This time around, Ashford & Simpson really slow things down, letting Diana’s gorgeous, velvety vocals drive the action for the first half of the song’s five-and-a-half-minute running time; Diana’s performance is astonishingly lovely, with each syllable from the singer landing like a crystal-clear drop of water.  In a way, her vocals during these first three minutes foreshadow her work on the Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack, as she lags behind the beat with the command of a seasoned jazz singer.  Then, of course, things behind to build; Miss Ross, buoyed by the choir of background voices, repeats the phrase “You can always depend on me” over and over again until the track explodes into a soulful climax, featuring some of the best belting of Diana’s career.  It’s a stunning production; true, it’s not as successful as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but how could it be?  That earlier song is an iconic, once-in-a-lifetime work.  But “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” stands on its own merits, and is a highlight of Surrender; it certainly deserved better than the moderate success it found.  (NOTE: Part of the issue might have also had to do with Diana competing with herself; the April 15, 1971 Soul Brothers Top 20 chart published in Jet magazine lists Diana’s own “I’m Still Waiting” from Everything Is Everything at #18, indicating it was generating some interest at the same time.)

Billboard: July 31, 1971

6.  Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime)?:  This is a terrific soul ballad first cut on Gladys Knight & The Pips back in 1969; it was released as a single on that group, although it wasn’t a major hit (it did manage to climb to #11 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart).  As they did on the previous track, Ashford & Simpson really ramp things up for this version of the song, creating a track with a swirling introduction and dominated by big, boisterous background vocals provided by the producers and Joshie Armstead.  It’s to Diana’s credit that she’s not completely swamped by the choir of voices behind her; although this isn’t the most melodic song on the album, Ross actually delivers a skilled performance that would be easy to overlook.  During the verses, the singer delivers a husky, sultry vocal reminiscent of her work on “I Wouldn’t Change The Man He Is” from Diana Ross; but, as is standard on this album, Ashford & Simpson pitch the refrain so that Miss Ross is required to really stretch into her upper register, something she accomplishes very well.  There’s a nice rawness to her ad-libs here, a roughness around the edges that helps sell the song’s “I told you so” message.  To be fair, “Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime)?” does lack a little of the punch present on the previous five songs; the melody isn’t as easily accessible and the track feels a little baroque at times.  That said, it’s still a terrific slice of soul; an album with highlights as good as those on Surrender needs strong filler to keep it afloat, and that’s exactly what this song is.

7.  A Simple Thing Like Cry:  This is one of the more offbeat songs featured on the pair of early Diana Ross albums produced by Ashford & Simpson; “A Simple Thing Like Cry” boasts a slinky vibe that bears some similarities to the weird and wonderful “What Do You Have To Do (To Stay On The Right Side Of Love),” a tune featured on the Supremes and Four Tops joint album The Return Of The Magnificent Sevenwhich was released right around the same time as Surrender.  Both songs shuffle along with feline basslines and and soulful piano chords, and both give their vocalists plenty of room to offer up strong, surprising performances.  Diana shines on the track, beginning the song with a low-key, relaxed delivery and then exploding with power during the swinging refrain, pushing way up to the top of her range; she sounds especially full-bodied and raw as she wails the word “cry” several times toward the end.  There are moments here, as with so many other songs on this album, that are goosebump-inducing; the emotion in Diana’s voice is that stunning.  Interestingly, when Motown decide to release “I’m Still Waiting” (from Everything Is Everything) as a single in October of 1971, following that record’s massive success in the U.K., this song was placed on the b-side; I wouldn’t be surprised if a few radio disc jockeys flipped the single and played this song, too.

8.  Did You Read The Morning Paper?:  Ashford & Simpson share the writing credit with Richard Monica on this tune, which stretches Diana’s skills as a storyteller by giving her a specific narrative; in this case, she’s a woman who sees a newspaper picture of her lover with another woman.  Although lyrically this song is a departure, and more in line with something like “I’m Still Waiting,” it follows the Ashford & Simpson formula of beginning with just a whisper and building to a bold, powerful finale.  The opening, with Simpson’s deliberate piano playing giving way to cinematic strings, lends the piece an ominous quality which Miss Ross picks up on right away, dulling her tone into one of complete resignation.  She’s joined by some incredible lovely counter-harmonies (listen to the way Simpson’s voice rings above Diana’s on the song’s title phrase at :25), and the bridge beginning at 2:29 contains a melodic phrase similar to that featured on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” an interesting touch that could make “Did You Read The Morning Paper?” something of a sad sequel to that earlier, triumphant hit.  At nearly four minutes in running time, this is one of the longer songs on Surrender, and in the hands of a lesser artist, it might have become a bit plodding; thankfully, Diana Ross is a superb musical storyteller, and the song works brilliantly.  Diana more than handles the couple of key changes toward the end of the song, her voice in full command of the challenging tune.

9.  I’ll Settle For You:  This delightful song was first recorded by Candy & The Kisses back in the 1960s, when the female trio had signed by Scepter Records and was assigned to work with Ashford & Simpson; that group’s biggest hit, by the way, came with the Kenny Gamble-Jerry Ross dance song “The 81” (1964), which bears much more than a passing resemblance to “In My Lonely Room” by Martha & The Vandellas.  While the original version of “I’ll Settle For You” is arranged as a slow, almost somber ballad, Ashford & Simpson add in a little sizzle for this version, and the result is a sparkling pop song that stands out as one of the most memorable of Diana’s early career.  According to Miss Simpson in the liner notes to the 2008 Surrender reissue, “We called it our ‘crossover’ song, in case white radio wanted to play something.  Diana was one of those artists who really did cross over to pop.”  Indeed, the lyric and melody of this song are much more simplistic and strait-forward than the more soulful material the precedes it; the song is essential a series of couplets that sound like nursery rhymes (“Every star has a twinkle/Every palm has a wrinkle,” etc.)  Though it’s not as vocally challenging as the songs that come before it, this kind of tune is right in Diana’s wheelhouse; her great gift as a Supreme was to inject even the simplest of words and melodies with passion and meaning, and that’s exactly what she does here.  The singer’s performance is achingly pretty; her breathy lower notes and round, healthy higher notes a perfect match for the sing-song melody.  Meanwhile, she’s complemented by superb harmonizing from the background vocalists and an orchestral track marked by lovely strings and wind instruments.  In an era dominated by the singable pop songs of The Carpenters and The Osmonds, “I’ll Settle For You” should have been a huge hit for Diana; it’s not the best song on Surrender by any stretch, but it’s a perfect, compact recording that doubtlessly would have caught on quickly as pop radio and could have been a great addition to the singer’s live shows.

Billboard: July 24, 1971

10.  I’m A Winner:  This track serves as an interesting counterpoint to the album’s title track; both are energetic, in-your-face pieces of soul, but while “Surrender” has a staccato, slightly discordant (and thus darker) instrumental, this is a feel-good tune, and nicely builds upon the sugary pop of “I’ll Settle For You” while requiring a much more energetic performance from Diana and company.  This driving soul number was first cut on Martha Reeves & The Vandellas for the 1969 LP Sugar ‘n’ Spice; Ashford & Simpson then re-cut the song in April of 1970, originally intending it for singer Edwin Starr before giving it to Miss Ross instead during the Surrender sessions.  It was a good move; while Starr no doubt would have delivered a sterling version of the song, “I’m A Winner” gives Diana a chance to really cut loose, and the singer dives in headfirst with an aggressive vocal performance.  Buoyed by a rollicking instrumental track with Simpson’s soulful piano work and a ringing brass section, not to mention a fantastic break led by funky guitars, Miss Ross attacks the vocal, confidently shifting from a breathy urgency to soulful belting and screeching.  Ashford & Simpson give her playful lyrics to deliver, filling the piece with allusions to gambling as a metaphor for love, and Diana sings as if she’s Sharon Stone in Casino, blissfully tossing her chips in the air.  There’s a real sense of freedom in Diana’s performance, and it’s something to be savored; in the coming years, the singer would become more measured and calculated in her performances, and it’s nice to hear her really letting loose.  It its review of Surrender, Billboard named this as one of the album’s standouts; it was later placed on the b-side of the “Surrender” single.  (NOTE: Coincidentally, Diana Ross would later turn the phrase “I’m a winner” into something of camp masterpiece when she famously shouted it at Billy Dee Williams in the 1975 film Mahogany!)

11.  All The Befores:  If there’s a hidden gem on Surrender, this is it; a largely-overlooked soul ballad, “All The Befores” is one of the most beautiful songs recorded by Miss Ross during the early part of her solo career, and remains an incredible achievement due to her brilliantly controlled performance.  The song is something of a cousin to the spectacular “I’m Glad About It,” also written by Ashford & Simpson and recorded by The Supremes and Four Tops for The Return Of The Magnificent Seven, an album released the same month as Surrender; though they are very different songs, both bear a gentleness and intimacy that are quite rare within the Motown fold.  “All The Befores” is a slow, haunting ballad far more complex in structure than anything else on the pair of Ashford & Simpson-helmed albums Diana recorded in her early solo days; the phenomenal instrumental track features piano and string arrangements that sound almost classical in comparison to the songs that come before it.  The melody also takes a little work to access; it’s not like “I’ll Settle For You” or “I’m A Winner,” both of which are immediately singable even to those hearing them for the first time.  This is a song with a dense, textured melody, and Diana Ross excels at letting her voice slide up and down the scale, resting lightly on each note before moving on to the next; she gets a rare chance to showcase the bottom of her vocal range on lines like “But as you see, here I am/ Loving you stronger than ever,” hitting low notes that sound startling coming from the same singer who’d wailed to soaring heights on earlier songs.  The song is probably way too slow to have ever been considered for single release, especially given that there’s not even any singing on the last full minute of the song.  It is, however, one of the most beautiful ballads Diana Ross ever recorded, and probably one of the most beautiful that had come out of the Motown studios up to that point.  It’s also a perfect way to end the album, carrying forth the theme of beautiful yet darker songs that are often focused on the painful side of being in love.

***

In his 1999 book The Soulful Divas, writer David Nathan quotes Diana Ross as saying about her early solo career, “I was beginning to feel happier, you know…I also felt like I could sing.  I was beginning to trust myself more as a singer.  I was getting much more confidence, and I think that may have shown through, too.”  Diana’s confidence shows through loud and clear on Surrender, which remains one of the best albums the singer has ever released and contains some of her most impressive vocal work.  It’s unfortunate that the timing of the album worked against it; when it was released in July of 1971, it managed a disappointing peak of #53 on the Billboard 200 and #10 on the R&B listing, her lowest showings yet as a solo artist.  As noted earlier, Miss Ross immediately gave birth following the release of the album, and then began preparing for her debut as a motion picture actress; she wouldn’t return to the album charts for more than a year, with the release of the Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack album.

Although many fans and critics prefer 1970’s Diana Ross to this album, Surrender is a darker, more challenging work; this album doesn’t contain a single song as dazzling as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but it presents a dynamic portrait of a young woman coming into her own as an artist.  Years later, when Diana broke out of her stately pop diva phase with 1979’s disco classic The Boss and it’s hard-edged follow-up diana, music buyers would be shocked at the range and explosive power displayed by the singer; this album proves that fire had been there all along, waiting to resurface when the time — and material — called for it.  As Valerie Simpson says in the 2008 reissue liner notes, “We had a good union, Diana, Nick, and I.  We pushed her and she delivered.  I think sometimes an artist wants to ‘show out.’  Diana did.  She felt freed up.  She should be proud of her vocals on this album.”

Final Analysis: 5/5 (A Soulful “Winner”)

Paul’s Picks: “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You,” “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “All The Befores”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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40 Responses to Surrender (1971)

  1. Paul says:

    Hey guys — I normally post on Sundays but put this one up a day early because I’ll be out of town tomorrow — hope you enjoy — I LOVE this album, as you can tell 🙂

  2. Lawrence says:

    Great review again! I couldn’t agree more. I also think track # 2 — “I can’t give back the Love” — would have been a very strong single.

    Best, Lawrence

  3. Paul says:

    Lawrence — it’s a great song, isn’t it? It really seems like Motown kind of messed this one up — better single released and promotion, and maybe it would have gotten the kind of attention it deserved!

  4. wayne2710 says:

    Agree all the way with what you say here. This one album was proof to me that she had left the Supremes way behind her. It had NO filler on here , every track was superb. Always wished that EMI had got their act together and released I Can’t Give Back as a single here in the UK. It had the potential to be as big here as I’m Still Waiting.

  5. ejluther says:

    I’m really loving your blog posts and appreciate all the love, hard work and thought you’re putting into them. The best part is that I’m being inspired to revisit the music of Diana Ross and it’s simply wonderful…thanks!

  6. Paul says:

    Ejluther — your comment is so amazing — thank you! I’ve been wanting to do this for so long, and I’m also enjoying going back though all the music I’ve forgotten or ignored from Diana. Hope you continue to enjoy my reviews…and don’t disagree with me too much!! 🙂

  7. spookyelectric says:

    Paul once again thanks are due for what a great job you’ve done on this blog. Having only discovered it a few weeks ago I’m now going back and reading some of these earlier posts.

    Absolutely agree with you that ‘Surrender’ is one of the best sets of her career. I knew it originally as ‘I’m Still Waiting’ as it was released it the UK (with the addition of that song as it had been such a massive no 1 hit here). ‘Still Waiting’ was placed as the opening track which of course made marketing sense to Motown UK but ruined the record in my opinion. The album as you say is one complete piece as crafted by Ashford & Simpson. ‘Surrender’ itself is one of my favourite Diana singles ever (literally one the other end of the spectrum in her repertoire to ‘Still Waiting’).

    Once again, Nic and Val selected tunes perfect for Diana and she invested them with complete conviction. ‘I’m A Winner’ has always felt like another theme tune for her to me. The dramatic arrangement ‘Can’t Give Back The Love’ easily make it the best version, surpassing even Dusty Springfield’s (and Kiki Dee’s and Rita Wright’s!) and ‘All The Befores’ is stunning.

    But for me one of the best tracks here – a real ‘sleeper’ in her catalogue – is ‘And If You See Him’ – it’s a strange, off centre song, almost like an interlude, and quite unlike anything Motown, Ashford & Simpson and/or Diana did before or after. Diana’s storytelling ability shines on the track and she handles the tempo shifts so effortlessly – can you imagine a song as intelligent and musically complex as this being on the radio today? Actually you can extend that to almost any of the songs here really!

    • Ditto on what everyone said. How Surrender was not a hit single is baffling. I actually much prefer the Alternate version of Cant Give Back the Love, without all the over-dramatic lyric reading, which, although a popular Ross signature, can sometimes border on pandering or overwrought camp. Sometimes you can almost hear the echo of a long ago directive toward the working producer at the time — “We need a guarantee hit record. See if you can get Miss Ross to do another one of her spoken word passages on this next take. You know, like she did with those girls or on that Mountain song that was such a big hit a couple years ago.” The majority of the songs on the album immediately moved to my “Most Played” list, and continue to be, even long after my 24/7 emergency Diana period ended. I concur what a shame this album got lost in the crowd of the “Let’s make sure Diana Ross makes it in her solo career” trajectory and frenetic output. Imagine had this album been held until after the Lady Day period and then hit the public and critics dead-on following the LSTB success. Then a year later follow up with Touch Me, thereby closing the gap of years between TMINM and Mahogany. Even with throwing Last Time I Saw Him into the mix, I think had the releases between 70 and 75 been better planned and conceived, her solo career kick-off could have been a similar story as what became of her work in 60s–year after year of hit records, in concert this time, with hit albums to correspond with the fast evolving trend of album oriented 70s music. But, a Thursday morning quarterback is the easiest missive to make, and my ignorance in the music biz is probably showing. Again, just glad to see my personal opinion, formed last January without any external influenc, is right in line with all the esteemed experts on your “Project.” Perfection in review. Thanks!

    • Damecia says:

      Agree with everything you said Spooky in your final paragraph

  8. dishy says:

    I just found your website! (Where have I been!) I am loving everything – but must post a remark re: Surrender – truly her finest moment until ‘diana’. Just brilliant! THANKS MAN!

    • Paul says:

      Thanks! Glad you found the site and please…comment lots!!!

      • SpringAffair says:

        Hey Paul! Great job by the way reviewing all these Diana gems!
        Im 19 years old, and I became a Diana Ross fan a few years ago… She is truly an amazing singer, and I have most of her albums…well the 1970’s ones anyway. Surrender remains one of my favourites! Its hard to pick a favourite song from this album because they’re all sooooo amazing…. I think And If You See Him is one of the best, and I Cant Give Back the Love I Feel For You…. and you’re right! My Goodness, during the last minute of that song Diana hits some increadible notes, peaking at the G#5 (A VERY high note) especially when hit in the upper chest register! Just goes to show Diana had a huge range!! Most female singers when hitting a note like that would go into their head voices, but Diana resists the switch, and instead takes the more difficult, yet most dynamic route, and goes for the full voiced sound, which of course sounds fantasically robust, even if it was at the top end of her register.

        My God! She was a tour de force back in her hey day! I wish she had looked after her voice more… Ive listened to her later stuff from the 1980’s etc, and her tone became weaker and lost its high arching Soprano edge.

        Surrender was her greatest triumph in showing her true soulful vocal ability.
        Even “the Boss” which came about 8 years after this album, didnt live up to Surrenders standards…..
        The Boss was weak in areas..like that song “Im In the World”!! Yikes!! as well as “Sparkle” and “All for One” are also pretty dull too.

        The fact is Surrender had NO weak songs. Every song, even “Baby Ill Come” is AMAZING, well crafted and sexy.
        I adore Miss Diana Ross!! these 1970’s gems are just INCREDIBLE!!!

        Anyway, Paul, Ill be checking out more of your reviews!! 🙂

        SpringAffair (a.k.a George)

        🙂

      • nycdishy@aol.com says:

        HI PAULIE! I am really enjoying your site – it’s fantastic – plus it’s making me re-evaluate all these Ross releases – of which I will post in your site! In any event – I have a huge RECORD collection and have every Supreme/Ross release on Vinyl up to an including “Workin’ Overtime” – question: were the later Motown releases also available on vinyl?

        Please let me know!

        THANKS! BTW Where are you?

        Peter

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  10. Damecia says:

    If someone were to ask me to show them Diana Ross’s best collective & vocal work this is the album that I would present to them. There’s not a bad song on here.

    Surrender comes on banging! Thanx to Paul I now know that Valerie S. was rockin the keys and I just love the low and soulful way Miss Ross comes on the track with “I want the love that you denied me that I need so desperately” Not only is the lyric intriguing, but Ross’s delivery leaves you wanting to learn more of this woman’s story. Not to mention the background singers were on fire with those “Surrender, Surrender’s” I love to hear them close the song. Ross’s ad libs are also quite entertaining.

    I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You I love the opening with the horns, the spoken parts, the chorus and then Ross really gets into and there’s no turning back. Again the background vocalist rock. Also, again credit should be given to Ashford & Simpson their lyrics are superb.

    Remember Me IMO opinion is Ross’s second “theme song” second to “Ain’t No Mountain.” By this I mean if Ross biography was done to music and you had to pick one song to play while showing her life story these 2 songs will be it. This songs makes me reminiscent every time I hear it….well that shouldn’t be a surprise though because it is called “Remember Me” lol

    And If You See Him is the most underrated song on this album and perhaps in Ross’s entire catalog. Here her vocals are double tracked which I don’t believe we’ve heard since “You Keep Me Hanging On.” I’ve always wondered if the song was meant to be that way or if the producers played to vocal takes together and decided that they like 2 instead of one. It makes for an interesting hearing and somewhat makes this woman story even more sad. Plus Ross hits alot of vocal heights toward the end.

    Reach Out, I’ll Be There way better than the 4 Tops and Ross totally kills the vocals. If you doubt her ability when it comes to reaching notes here this song. Also, another underrated song of hers. Ashford & Simpson really knew how to build up a song to climax and the resolution is always a great ending. They really knew how to tell a story with a song from the lyrics to the instrumentation.

    Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime) this is the song I will have to disagree with you Paul. To say this song is not “as immediately grabbing as the five superb songs that precede it” made my eyes burn, lol, when I read that. IMO this is the stand out song of the album. The BEST song off the album. From the dramatic opening to the wonderful chorus, to the heartfelt delivery Ross gives, to the background vocalist creeping in the same way they open the song after the second chorus around 1:56.

    A Simple Thing Like Cry: is great lyrically & vocally. Love the piano here!

    Did You Read The Morning Paper gets off to a slow start to me, but the story of it all makes this a must listen too.

    I’ll Settle For You is a good song. I love the beat it is perfect to sample. Ross sings this song sweet as a lullaby. If release as a single no doubt in my mind this would’ve been top 10.

    I’m A Winner is the funkiest song on this album. The opening line automatically grabs you, This track is pure funk & fun. Did Ross ever sing this live? With the horns and background vocals this would’ve been great to do live.

    All The Befores is my least favorite song on this album. I’ve never been able to get into it. I would’ve preferred if “Baby I’ll Come” made it unto the album instead of this.

    • dishy says:

      Give “ALL THE BEFORES” some time…… as you get older it will make more sense. You are a fantastic write, Damecia!

      • Damecia says:

        Okay I believe you. Songs I hated when I was 12, I now love and understand at 20. lol. By the way thanx for the compliment.

      • dishy says:

        WRITER is what I meant type… you have great way with music appreciation review. the “diana” album (ain’t no mountain) and “surrender” – I feel, are her best vocal triumphs. I feel bad for her – I went through a huge hating her phase (as most people did) and then rediscovered her and forgave her for her horrifying behaviour to her ‘supremes’. Not easy being Diana Ross. HOWEVER – Cher is is till being Cher, so ……….

      • Damecia says:

        Well thanx again! LOL. I live for music so I guess it comes through. Hate Miss Ross? LOL I don’t see how that is possible. Of course I discovered Diana in the 90s, so I missed out on everything really, but I’ve always admired her work ethic, focus, determination and glamour. As a singer, I listen to how a singer interprets a song and Diana never failed to give some emotion also her phrasing, even before Lady Sings the Blues was really wonderful. Cher is another one I love. I love she still has her spunk and wits about her lol. Guess I have a thing for divas.

        Here’s my singing a Motown cover

      • Paul says:

        Dishy,
        You are 100% correct. “All The Befores” is a triumph, and a song that takes a little “life experience” to appreciate. Lyrically it is stunning — and Diana interprets it perfectly. It is, I think, one of the great ballads of Diana’s discography — certainly one of the hidden gems.

      • dishy says:

        I think it is a shame she has not brought that back to her live performances …there is such a majestic quality to the piece and how the piano keeps reaching for another octave and then another …. it’s really one of her hidden gems. That said, the entire SURRENDER album is actually a gem! As for another hidden gem – what do you hear about the “Baby It’s Me” release?? I thought that was going to be spring and “Ross” to be fall??? Grrrrrrrrr!
        XO

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  14. TouchMe says:

    This album (to me) has always been a mixed bag. It has great highs and boring lows. Overall, I feel her solo debut was stronger, and to be honest, EIE had stronger tracks overall (yet WEAK AS HELL TRACKS..)

    Best: Surrender, And If You See Him, Remember Me, I’ll Settle For You, Did You Read the Morning Paper

    Worst: Everything else? I am sorry…it’s just bogged down by this murky soul feeling. Perhaps I cannot appreciate the artistic merit, but if you say, compare this song to a highlight like “Dark Side of the World,” it just falls flat.

    Remember that A&S were about to leave MOTOWN at the time, and perhaps were not giving their all. Now yes her vocals are soulful, but I think she did much better before and much better after.

    And what’s with the cover????

    • Paul says:

      Hey! I understand why some people don’t “feel” this LP — but I think it’s easily in her top 3 best complete albums. I don’t think Ashford & Simpson were uninspired at all — in fact, I think they really upped the game with darker, more complex songs. Valerie Simpson has noted in interviews that they really wanted to challenge and push Diana as an artist, I think SURRENDER is the result of that. Diana had never sounded more assured and confident, and sang with a gutsy emotion that I believe was lacking in some of her earlier work (with and without The Supremes). And OMG…I LOVE the cover! It’s classic 70s — and I think it’s a perfect fit for the music inside! Ha ha…I have the album cover framed on my wall…so I guess to each his own 🙂

      • dishy says:

        Hey guys! TOUCH ME – I would like you to listen to this again and think about Diana at this point in her career … this is actually her second solo release – Everything Is Everything was a mish mash of singles and cuts to rush release for the popularity of “I’m Still Waiting” in the UK.
        She was looking for a soul approval, hence the gorgeous portrait of her with an afro by Harry Langdon. Hoop earrings and all!

        Paul – I agree – her three best LPs would be diana ross (ain’t no mountain), diana (nile rodgers) and this, SURRENDER!

        I think this plays beautifully from start to finish; her vocals are fresh and alive – every cut on side one / I can’t Give Back The Love / Remember Me / And If You see Him / Reach Out (quite an inspired of what must be the most recorded Motown song!) – they are smooth and soulful.

        Side 2 with DIdn’t You know / A Simple Think Like Cry (weak) – followed by Did You Read The Morning Papers and the an amazing trio of unbelievable Ross deliveries: I’ll Settle For You, I’m A Winner and ALL THE BEFORES – which is one of her most delicate vocal deliveries – TOUCH ME – you need to listen more. Maybe smoke some pot LOL.

        As for the bonus tracks they are amazing – this is when Diana was truly interested in delivering great vocals in the studio – as she had been drilled by the Motown machine – and before her ego got the best of her! This is an amazing piece of music!

        Give It Another Chance! Let me know!

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  21. michael says:

    Well done, Paul. It is one of my favorites also. Loved the cover as well. Reach Out, I’ll Be There blew me away the first time I heard it. The same goes for All The Befores. As far as it being my favorite Diana album, it is in my top 5. The crown jewel for me will always be TMH.

  22. Kevin says:

    Excellent evaluation, Paul–as well as plenty of thoughtful reader comments that I will echo–one of Diana’s all-time best albums. Dating myself, I discovered this in the mid-70s, and the incredible SOUND of the vinyl album jumped out of the speakers like nothing I’d heard before. The instrumental and rhythm tracks are phenomenal–kudos to A&S and all the musicians and arrangers. Topping it off is Diana–the range displayed is revelatory, and her vocals convey so many moods and emotions. Hard to compare tracks, but Can’t Give Back tops it for me. Keep the great viewpoints coming!

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  26. I often think that Diana should have recorded Valerie Simpson’s “Silly, Wasn’t I” on the Surrender project. It would have suited her vocals perfectly and would have gone with the overall flavour of the album. Although a short song of only 2:30 minutes, it could have extended out with the addition of a verse.

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