Live At Caesars Palace (1974)

“Can’t you see I want my life to be something more than long?”

“Diana Ross has established herself as a superstar with her current outing at Caesars Palace,” raved Billboard in its February 24, 1973 issue, reviewing the singer’s engagement at the popular Las Vegas casino and hotel.  Miss Ross was touring mainly in support of her recent film triumph, Lady Sings The Bluesand its #1 soundtrack album; just about a month after Billboard published its review, Diana would be seated at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, awaiting the announcement of the Best Actress Academy Award for which she was nominated.  This must have been a heady, exciting time for the former lead singer of The Supremes; Lady Sings The Blues marked her first real step into solo stardom, and positioned her as an entertainer with far more to offer than just a good singing voice.  In touring the world to promote the film, Miss Ross further expanded her appeal and her renditions of the Billie Holiday songbook, which she’d covered for the film, became an important part of her live act and would remain so for the rest of her career.

The final line of the Billboard review notes, “During her engagement the show was recorded live for Motown with Gil Askey conducting the Nat Brandwynne Orchestra.”  At the time the show was recorded, most of the world was convinced that Diana Ross would win the Academy Award; Motown had an album of further jazz standards waiting in the wings to celebrate the moment.  But on the evening of March 27, 1973, something totally unexpected happened:  Liza Minnelli took home the Oscar for Cabaret.  Motown immediately shelved the jazz album (which would be released decades later as Blue) and focused instead on coming up with a hit for Miss Ross; “Touch Me In The Morning” was released in May, and ended up becoming the singer’s second solo #1 hit, which led to a succession of three studio albums (Touch Me In The MorningDiana & Marvin, and Last Time I Saw Him), all of which hit store shelves before the end of 1973.  The result was that the live recording from Caesars Palace was held back as the record company flooded the market with new Ross material, reminding the public that even though she lost the Oscar, she still remained the queen of Motown.

But by May of 1974, Diana Ross and Motown were gearing up for production on their next film venture, a dramatic project titled Mahogany.  Likely in an effort to fill the gap while Ross was busy preparing for the movie (she both starred in Mahogany and designed her own costumes, and principal photography began in November), Motown went back to the Caesars Palace recording and released it as the singer’s first solo live album, titled Live At Caesars Palace (Motown 801).  To promote the release, Motown proclaimed June “Diana Ross Month,” and the album was given an unusual packaging which featured several photos of the singer folding out from the center of the album cover.  In a “spotlight review” published on June 1, 1974, Billboard raved, “With the LP, she showcases her remarkable ability to communicate with all kinds of audiences,” and predicted it was “The kind of LP that should appeal to all record buyers and make record buyers out of many.”

Miss Ross certainly displays her total ease with audiences on the album; her gifts as a natural performer are stunningly apparent.  The problem with Live At Caesars Palace has nothing to do with the singer, and everything to do with timing.  Because the recording was held for more than a year, it doesn’t feature any material from Diana’s then-current studio albums; songs like “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Last Time I Saw Him” are sorely missed, and inclusions like “Corner Of The Sky” and “Big Mable Murphy” just don’t feel necessary.  Motown also cut some selections from the show when transferring it to vinyl (the original Billboard review mentions “Happy” and more than just one song from the TV show “Sesame Street”), which results in a choppy setlist that doesn’t make much sense from song to song.  The end result is an album that comes off as a sampler of what Diana Ross was capable of as a live entertainer in the early 1970s, but it never feels like a seamless show representing this peak moment in her career.

***

1.  Overture:  This is a big, blaring introduction that runs for just under a minute, interpolating a snippet of “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and bleeding directly into Diana’s opening number.  As noted in the Billboard review of this show, we’re hearing the Nat Brandwynne Orchestra here; Brandwynne was a Las Vegas pianist and orchestra leader who, according to his obituary in The New York Times, played at Caesars Palace for a dozen years before his passing in 1978.  Diana’s musical director, Gil Askey, conducts the orchestra during this show; Askey had first worked with Miss Ross way back in 1965, during her triumphant engagement at New York’s Copacabana with The Supremes, and he was the man responsible for choosing and cutting the songs featured in Lady Sings The Blues.  It’s worth noting again what an indispensable figure Askey was in Diana’s career at Motown; from the superb The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart to the long-unreleased Blue, the musical conductor lent a sense of style and elegance to his work with the singer which helped her gain acceptance as an all-around entertainer, verses  being seen as just a pop singer.  Askey, by the way, was also an Oscar nominee at the time of this recording; he was up for Best Adapted Score for Lady Sings The Blues.  He told Jet magazine at the time, “I guess I should be more excited.  But I keep remembering this band teacher in high school who always told us to never say you’re going somewhere until you’re there.  I won’t say I really got the nomination until I win the Academy Award” (March 15, 1973).  Unfortunately, like Diana, he lost to work from the film Cabaret.

Billboard: February 24, 1973

2.  Don’t Rain On My Parade:  This old warhorse from the Broadway musical Funny Girl had been opening Diana’s live act for a while now; it was already featured on 1971’s Diana! Original TV Soundtrack and had first been recorded by the singer way back in 1968 for Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing and Perform “Funny Girl.”  The song had always been a perfect fit for the singer; loud and brash, it helped generate excitement right off the bat, and Diana’s belted declaration of “Hey y’all, here I am!” seemed like her personal way of assuring audiences that even without The Supremes, she was going to give them a hell of a show.  Miss Ross delivers a spirited performance here, nailing every note with a full-bodied and engaging vocal; at this point in her career, Diana could belt this song while sleepwalking, and it’s to her credit that she doesn’t sound like she’s coasting here.  That said, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” doesn’t have nearly the impact it did when it opened the singer’s first solo television special a few years earlier.  Perhaps the problem is that by this point, Diana was established as a solo star; when this album was recorded, she was enjoying unprecedented success as an actress, and by the time the LP hit store shelves, she’d enjoyed a pair of #1 hits by herself and was a bona fide movie star.  Thus, the freshness of a newly-single star announcing “Hey y’all, here I am!” had greatly faded.  While it would have been nice to get a surprise opening number, at least Diana is vocally strong, and her patter following the song (“This is another first for me…the first time onstage in two-and-a-half years that I haven’t been pregnant”) is cute.

3.  Big Mable Murphy:  This number is a surprise, a snappy cover of a song written and recorded by Dallas Frazier in 1971; his version peaked at #43 on the Billboard Country charts.  Frazier’s original is a swinging acoustic tune and certainly something of a novelty, with lyrics about the titular character and her boyfriend “little Melvin,” whom she beats up! The tune is arranged for Diana Ross as a glitzy blues number complete with a finger-snapping beat, honky-tonk piano, and fantastic background vocals (which consist of grunts punctuating certain lyrics) provided by The Devastating Affair.  That Motown group consisted of members Greg Wright, Harold Johnson, Olivia Foster, Karin Patterson, and Andrew Porter, and they backed Miss Ross during the early part of her solo career along with releasing a few singles of their own; Wright, it should be mentioned, would go on to write produce some sterling tunes for Miss Ross later in the decade.  “Big Mable Murphy” turns out to be a strong fit for Miss Ross; the song changes key several times, scaling higher and higher, and Diana’s voice impressively leads the way; her belting on the last few verses is full-bodied and even a bit gritty, which is perfect for the song.  Although it’s a slight addition to the concert, it’s fun and gives Diana a chance to really stretch her voice out; it also seems to foreshadow her future recording of “Last Time I Saw Him,” and you have to wonder if Michael Masser might have heard Diana Ross perform this song before writing his own country-pop confection for her.

4.  Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand):  Back on 1970’s Farewellthe deluxe live recording of the final performance by Diana Ross and The Supremes, the group used a boisterous medley of “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” as an audience participation number, with Diana Ross weaving her way through the packed crowd and urging various audience members (including Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye) to sing along with her. The staggering fifteen-minute performance remains the centerpiece of that album, and is a real tour de force for Diana; the effortless way in which she controlled the crowd and compelled them to do her bidding is incredible, and was the final piece of definitive proof that the singer was ready for a solo career.  Miss Ross continued to use the audience participation technique when she struck out alone, her first single “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” becoming the new vehicle with which she quite literally reached out into the crowds and touched them with her magnetic presence.  Anyone who has been part of this “sing-along” phenomenon at a Diana Ross show knows how powerful it can be; it is a complete experience, with the sounds of hundreds (or even thousands) of people singing together, the visual of hands clasped and raised high, and the feeling of an electric energy transmitting through the venue.  Without seeing or feeling what’s happening, the effect could easily be dampened; it worked so well on Farewell thanks to the novelty of having so many celebrities in the audience and, frankly, a rare magic captured within the grooves of vinyl.  Unfortunately, the magic isn’t quite up to the same level on Live At Caesars Palace;  this is a strong cut and a great representation of Diana’s command as a performer, but it’s not as dazzling as one might expect.  To be fair, she doesn’t have any vocalists up the level of Marvin or Smokey to play off of here; she sings with several bashful audience members, and being able to see these men, women, and children would have heightened the experience significantly (for proof, watch her 1980 television special Standing Room Only: Diana Ross, coincidentally also recorded at Caesars Palace).

Billboard: June 1, 1974

5.  The Supremes Medley (Stop! In The Name Of Love/My World Is Empty Without You/Baby Love/I Hear A Symphony):  Although she’d only left The Supremes three years earlier at the time of this recording, it must have felt like a lifetime to the singer; not only had she made a major splash as a motion picture actress, but she’d also gotten married and given birth to two children.  She acknowledges the great maturation that had taken place in the introduction to this Supremes medley, laughingly calling herself an “oldie” in reference to her former group’s music being sold on “oldies” packages.  That said, as soon as she dives into this breathless collection of hits from the previous decade, she sounds vibrant and youthful; her voice is warmer than it had been as lead singer of The Supremes, and that warmth sparkles on these classic tunes.  The songs, of course, sound nothing like the original versions, thanks to Askey’s big-band, Vegas-y arrangements — but Supremes medleys had sounded like that since the mid-1960s, so this really isn’t a surprise.  This one opens with the iconic 1965 hit “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” which Diana breezes through with confidence before transitioning into the turbulent “My World Is Empty Without You,” which loses the studio recording’s dark intensity but works well as a brassy, showbiz tune.  The crowd gives a rousing reception to “Baby Love” before Diana makes a classy move by acknowledging her former group-mates, mentioning Mary (Wilson), Cindy (Birdsong), and Florence (Ballard) by name.  In fact, Miss Ross almost always gave credit to her former groupmates during live shows, in this case using “I Hear A Symphony” as something of a love letter to The Supremes.  About including Supremes medleys in her stage show, Diana Ross would tell Don Pietromonaco in a 1976 interview, “Those are things I would never, ever leave out of my act.  I mean, I can change my show for stage over and over again, but I can’t ever change certain segments.  That’s one that has to always be there and it makes me feel good to do it.  It brings me back to where I belong, my roots there.”  For a fascinating comparison, listen to the medleys included on the Supremes recording In Japan!, a live album briefly released overseas in 1973 and recorded just a few months after Diana’s Caesars Palace show.  At that point, The Supremes consisted of original member Mary Wilson, lead singer Jean Terrell (who’d replaced Ross in 1970) and Lynda Laurence, who had recently stepped in for Cindy Birdsong.  The group performs “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “My World Is Empty Without You,” and “Baby Love” during the Japan performance; suffering something of an identity crisis between the past and its current direction, The Supremes sound rather lost while delivering these hits.  There’s little affection or nostalgia in the group’s readings, with Jean Terrell making such an effort to change the Holland-Dozier-Holland compositions up that they almost completely lose their charm; Diana Ross, on the other hand, sounds convincingly proud to be running through these classic tunes.  The original Billboard review of Live At Caesars Palace listed this as one of the album’s best cuts; it is certainly a highlight of the album and a nice reminder that even as a fairly new solo superstar, Diana Ross had been at the forefront of popular music for a decade.

6.  Ain’t No Mountain High Enough:  It’s interesting to hear Diana’s first #1 hit come at the halfway mark of this show; it would soon become the “grand finale” of her stage show, a place of honor which it occupies to this day.  At the time Live At Caesars Palace was recorded, this was Diana’s only Top 10 hit as a solo artist; that said, this particular tour was about promoting Lady Sings The Blues and celebrating the Diana’s successful transition to Oscar-nominated actress far more than her actual career as a popular music artist, which is likely why “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is given its rather inauspicious placement in the album’s lineup.  Miss Ross performs the truncated version of the song, which was written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, eliminating most of the spoken parts and proceeding on quick journey to the big, climatic finish; she delivers a solid vocal, really wailing toward the end and nailing the higher notes with total confidence.  To be honest, the performance as a whole does sound a bit antiseptic; the background vocals by The Devastating Affair are competent but never approach the emotional intensity of those on the recorded version, but it’s probably unfair to compare a live rendition to something so magical as the studio original.  Perhaps the best touch here is the addition of an “encore” — on which Miss Ross shouts “Stand up and do it!” and begins belting for another 30 seconds or so.  Although “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” isn’t necessarily a standout on this album, it’s always a treat to hear the singer perform her signature song.

7.  Corner Of The Sky:  More than any other song on Live At Caesars Palace, this track reveals the strange place occupied by Diana Ross as a performer in the early 1970s.  At this point in her career, Diana was a bit trapped between the slick nightclub dates of her Supremes past and the large-scale solo stage extravaganzas of her future; her creativity would explode over the next few years, but she wasn’t there yet…resulting in performances like this one, which never quite pulse with energy in the way one might expect.  “Corner Of The Sky” comes off a lot like a number that would have been sung by The Supremes at New York’s Copacabana nightclub (if it had been written back in the 1960s), with a piano-driven cabaret-style arrangement that sounds best suited to a small, intimate venue.  The song was written by Stephen Schwartz for the Broadway musical Pippin; though Diana had always incorporated Broadway showtunes in her stage show (both solo and with The Supremes), there was an ulterior motive to including this one.  Pippin first opened on Broadway on October 23, 1972, and was partially financed by Motown; to help promote the show, the label had several of its acts record songs from the score, including “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” by The Supremes (included on the group’s 1972 LP The Supremes — Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb) and The Jackson 5 on “Corner In The Sky,” which became a Top 20 hit for the group in late 1972.  In a spoken introduction, Miss Ross calls Pippin “one of the biggest Broadway shows out today” (when Live At Caesars Palace was recorded, the show had only been on Broadway a few months) before launching into the song; with The Devastating Affair offering up soaring, complex harmonies behind her, Diana does turn in a strong vocal; she’s relaxed and warm during the verses, and though some of her night notes sound thin, she hits every single one that she goes for.  That said, “Corner Of The Sky” never quite rises above feeling like that cabaret number; it’s disconnected from the material that precedes and follows it, and probably would have worked better as part of a larger medley.  Interestingly, in a 1999 essay for The Advocate, writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch would remember introducing Miss Ross to Steven Schwartz on an airplane, and informing her that he wrote this song.  “‘Ooh, that was a good one,’ [Diana] said…and then proceeded to sing it, a cappella, word for word,” Vilanch remembers.  “‘I can’t believe she remembered that!’ [Schwartz] said to me.  ‘I can’t believe she’s flying commercial,’ I replied.”

8.  Bein’ Green:  Part of a larger “Sesame Street” segment during the original stage show, Motown edited the medley down to just a single track for Live At Caesars Palace, resulting in another disconnected track that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the overall show.  “Bein’ Green” was written by famed songwriter Joe Raposo and made famous by puppeteer Jim Henson as the voice of Kermit the Frog; it was subsequently recorded by several popular music artists, including Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne, and Van Morrison released his cover as a single in September of 1973.  It’s important to note that at the time Diana’s stage show was recorded at Caesars Palace, she’d recorded a bunch of songs themed around children for a proposed album dedicated to her children; To The Baby wouldn’t get a proper release until 2009, although several of the songs would show up on other studio albums released in 1973.  So it makes sense that Miss Ross would include some songs inspired by her children in her stage show, and she would later explain the song choice to Don Pietromonaco in a 1976 interview: “With my first child Rhonda, I would spend a lot of time watching ‘Sesame Street’…I sit there and I’ll watch ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘The Point!’ and some of those other programs that come on and I enjoy it as much as they do.”  Her performance of “Bein’ Green” is sweet and playful, as if she’s reading a bedtime story to her little girls; she speaks her way through most of the song, evoking a child-like voice that clearly delights the audience here, setting up the song within an imaginary take of coming across a sad frog while taking a walk.  Gil Askey and the band also sound particularly gorgeous, creating a soft and whimsical bed of music behind the singer.  Again, the only real issue here is that the song seems to come out of nowhere, especially placed between “Corner Of The Sky” and “I Loves Your Porgy” — as a stand-alone track, it would have flowed better coming out of something more nostalgic, like the Supremes medley.  Still, it’s a nice moment and a fun inclusion…and for even more fun, find a clip of Diana’s performance of this song at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1973, where she adds in some pretty racy jokes referencing a certain X-Rated film popular at the time!

9.  I Loves You Porgy:  This is another interesting addition to the Live At Caesars Palace setlist, as it essentially promotes an album which wouldn’t be released for several decades.  Diana recorded a swinging, upbeat version of the Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy”  (from the opera Porgy And Bess) with Gil Askey for her studio album Blue, the project of jazz standards which reportedly was to be released in the wake of Diana’s Oscar victory.  When the actress didn’t win the Academy Award for Lady Sings The Blues, Motown shifted attention toward revitalizing her pop music career, and Blue was shelved; years later, catalog producer George Solomon would tell writer J. Randy Taraborrelli, “I found the reels for Blue just mixed in haphazardly among dozens of Marvin Gaye tapes.  Of course, within two seconds of listening I knew what we had” (Diana Ross: A Biography 273).  Blue was finally released in 2006 to rave reviews and solid sales, and Diana’s live version of “I Loves You Porgy” finally made sense, as when the singer sang it at Caesars Palace in February of 1973, Blue was still very much a possibility as the singer’s next album release.  In any case, the singer positively sparkles on this brief version of the classic tune; Askey and the band provide a bold arrangement with a jaunty bassline and ringing brass section, and Diana tops it all with a vocal that’s the equivalent of Fred Astaire skillfully dancing across a movie screen.  There’s a delightful lightness to Diana’s singing, as she jumps around the melody and displays range and power; she really sounds alive, and seems to be enjoying the song.  Now, some might be a little put off by the arrangement here; there is no denying that this “I Loves Your Porgy” couldn’t be further from Nina Simone’s haunting, mournful reading of the song from the late 1950s.  Still, taken completely on its own terms, this is a highlight of the album and a real demonstration of Diana’s verve and energy as a live performer.

Billboard: June 1, 1974

10. Lady Sings The Blues Medley (Lady Sings The Blues/God Bless The Child/Good Morning Heartache/T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do):  This medley is basically the reason this album exists in the first place; in February of 1973, Diana was touring to promote her motion picture debut as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues and her astounding performances on the film’s soundtrack, which was in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 at the time this concert was recorded (it would hit #1 following the Oscar telecast).  Diana Ross follows up her brilliant vocal on “I Loves You Porgy” with some of the finest singing of her entire career on this medley of songs from the soundtrack; opening with an extended, haunting rendition of the song “Lady Sings The Blues,” her voice loses all of the brashness of her earlier singing on songs like “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and immediately takes on the crisp, biting clarity of Billie Holiday.  The last few lines of “Lady Sings The Blues” in particular, as she sings “She’s never gonna sing ’em no more,” are absolutely masterful; this is as good as Diana Ross ever sounded.  She transitions into the classic “God Bless The Child,” sounding as relaxed and slightly mournful as she did on the studio soundtrack version, and her live vocals on “Good Morning Heartache” are, amazingly, even better than her original recorded version; her voice is stronger and more assured here.  The medley finishes with the upbeat “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do,” allowing Diana and the band to swing it on home with a crowd-pleaser.  Again, this is such a standout that it makes one wish for an entire live album of Lady Sings The Blues songs (which would finally happen two decades later, with Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings…Jazz And Blues).  Diana Ross had clearly spent so much time immersed in the life and music of Billie Holiday that she sounds much more natural singing these songs than even her own hits; this is the heart of the album and it alone makes the entire LP worthwhile.  (NOTE: According to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s Diana Ross: A Biography, this medley also included the songs “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “Strange Fruit,” and “All Of Me,” but all three were edited out when Motown decided to make this a single album release instead of a double-LP.  The love theme from Lady Sings The Blues, titled “Happy,” was also performed in concert but left off this album.)

11.  The Lady Is A Tramp:  Ah, “The Lady Is A Tramp.”  This song shows up on more Diana Ross albums than almost any other, starting with 1967’s The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart and continuing through 1977’s An Evening With Diana Ross.  When Miss Ross was part of The Supremes, the Rodgers & Hart song was presented in a medley with “Let’s Get Away From It All” and featured as a frenetic, powerhouse moment in the group’s live act; for my money, it’s used to best effect as one of the opening selections on Farewellthe double-LP recording of Diana’s final performance with The Supremes.  On that album, “The Lady Is A Tramp” is absolutely electric, with an amped-up Diana Ross belting her way through the song and the bawdy backgrounds of Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong accentuating the devil-may-care tone of the lyrics.  Diana could have used Mary and Cindy here; she delivers a solid vocal, effortlessly nailing each note, but the magic and playfulness of the group dynamic is sorely missing, robbing the number of some charm and spice.  Placement is also an issue; the song feels inappropriate coming out of the superb medley that precedes it, especially considering another song from Lady Sings The Blues closes out the album.  Although “The Lady Is A Tramp” always shows off Diana’s vocal range and highlights her energy as a live performer, it probably would have served this album better had the previous medley been left intact (see the note above; Motown edited out a few songs for this album) and this song been dropped from the lineup.

12.  My Man:  Live At Caesars Palace closes out with a final number from Lady Sings The Blues, one that Diana had been performing in concert for several years.  Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. had actually added the song to the singer’s repertoire back in 1969, having her perform it solo on a Bob Hope special (at the time, rumors were beginning to swirl that Diana Ross would play Billie Holiday in a motion picture); later, Miss Ross performed it during her final engagement with The Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, a recording of which is included on 1970’s Farewell.  Diana then recorded a studio version of the song for her film debut, and the result was one of the singer’s best ballad performances ever; her vocal is complex and commanding, and it remains a singular achievement to this day.  Caught somewhere between her earlier performances of the song and now singing it with an understanding of Billie Holiday’s life, Diana’s performance of “My Man” is really interesting; she retains some of the melodramatics of her Farewell performance (including the cringe-inducing “I think the ladies know what I’m talking about” line, something that just never worked) but also imbues parts of her vocal with the sensitivity of having studied the life of Billie Holiday.  As superb as the studio version of this song is, it would take Diana some time to really “grow into” performing it live; the pinnacle would arguably come at the end of the decade, with a breathtaking performance on the Standing Room Only: Diana Ross television special which, coincidentally, was also taped at Caesars Palace.  Although this is not the singer’s best live permanence of the song, it’s a terrific reading and an impressive way to end this album.

***

Despite the “Diana Ross Month” promotion surrounding Live At Caesars Palace in stores, the album wasn’t exactly a blockbuster with record-buyers; peaking at #64 on the Billboard 200 (and #15 R&B), it became the singer’s lowest-charting solo album up to that point.  Part of this was likely due to some Diana Ross fatigue at the time; not only had the singer released a whopping three studio albums in 1973, but Motown also issued a deluxe, three-LP Anthology on Diana Ross and The Supremes in May of 1974, the same month as this live album.  As previously noted, Ross and Motown were also gearing up for the grueling shoot of Mahogany; acting in the film and designing the costumes would soon take up Diana’s full attention, and the singer wouldn’t release another album until Diana Ross hit shelves in March of 1976.  But beyond these factors, Live At Caesars Palace just isn’t a great album; the choppy setlist makes listening to the album from start to finish jarring, and the lack of then-current popular material (i.e. “Touch Me In The Morning”) likely hurt a bit when it came to sales.

Jet: April 19, 1973

Although the album itself wasn’t a huge hit, Diana’s performances at Caesars Palace always were, and the venue would continue to play an important role in her career for years to come.  Miss Ross brought her An Evening With Diana Ross stage show to Caesars Palace before it opened on Broadway (Jet raved that the show “opened to a reverberating roar of applause throughout Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which should give Diana a cushion of confidence as her sizzling show goes to Broadway on June 14 to play the Palace Theatre”), and the singer taped her 1980 television special Standing Room Only: Diana Ross there, which remains a career highlight for her.  Today, Live At Caesars Palace feels like something of a sketchbook for these later stage shows, a kind of early draft for the creative extravaganzas that would follow as Diana Ross developed into an even better live performer.  The artist may have found a corner of the sky at this point in her career, but she’d claim more and more of the entertainment galaxy as the decade wore on.

Final Analysis:  3/5 (A Choppy “Parade” Of Hits)

Paul’s Picks: Lady Sings The Blues Medley, The Supremes Medley, “I Loves You Porgy”

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Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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33 Responses to Live At Caesars Palace (1974)

  1. Antje says:

    I just listened to the tracks you highlighted, Paul. I totally agree with you on the “Lady sings …” medley. With “Ain’t no mountain …” I am not so pleased, mainly because the piano and drums are so dominating. My favorite of all the live versions I know is still the one on the Dick Clark Show (1978 – YouTube). These days, it seems, she never does the full version anymore, which is a crying shame.
    I was never happy with the live albums, even back in the Supremes days. Too many standards, the Motown songs rushed through, and as you said, in Vegas style arrangements; at least in today’s shows they sound more like the originals. Truly a live recording (and dvd!) from a promotional tour is missing – I’ d love one from the “Take me higher” tour – isn’t there something in the vaults, Miss Ross???

    • Paul says:

      Antje — I SO agree — she was FLAWLESS on the “Take Me Higher” tour — it was my first Diana concert, and I was completely blown away. Her takes on her hits (she did TONS of them) and new songs were amazing. Somewhere, someone HAD to have taped that show…right? I wish we would’ve had iPhones back them…I’d have recorded it myself 🙂

      • Antj says:

        It’s 2013 – Miss Ross celebrates her 50th career anniversary with the release of a brandnew dvd. Not only fans are delighted with a superb selection of hits and favorites from life stage appearances and tv-shows from all over the world.The clips were carefully reworked to bring out the best possible quality, just like the Reflections-dvd. A beautiful booklet illustrates her career highlights. Even her critics have to admit that this collection captures the legacy of one of the most unique voices in musical history of our times and the outstanding qualities of a once-in-a-century performer, who thrilled millions of people in almost every country on the globe.
        Ups – I wake up …
        There HAS TO BE SOMEBODY to “go for that dream”! Almost every nine days’ wonder in pop has a dvd “like this” on the market, I simply don’t understand why not her.

  2. Another well-written, thoughtful, and interesting post, Paul. After you’ve completed the Ross catalog will you perhaps delve into the Supremes albums? I, for one, would enjoy your take on them…(while realizing the Ross material is probably richer fodder for comment.)

    • Paul says:

      Yes…I think a “Supremes” project just might be in the future! It would be interesting the trace the huge changes the group made in music style from the early Doo-Wop years, to their big hits, to their Broadway-esque final years, and then the post-Diana 70s, too. It would also probably be earlier, at least in the beginning, since their songs each ran only about 2 minutes long!

  3. wayne2710 says:

    I love the vocal gymnastics on ‘I Loves Ya Porgy’ and the overall quality of the live recording. What I never could get to grips with about this album was the strange and bewildering editing. The Lady is a Tramp supplanted in the middle of the Lady Sings the Blues segment instead of it’s rightful place near the beginning of the concert, and to this day I refuse to believe she would have ended on ‘My Man’. I hope that one day Hip-O get round to releasing a more truthful version of this show, and pray they delete for all time that A1 stinker ‘Big Mable Murphy’ – possibly the lowest point in Ross’ entire catalogue !

  4. david hess says:

    Paul,once again i think you hit this one right but i did want to point out that this was originally a 2 lp set that was cut back to one disc which may be the reason why this album sounds a bit off. i think the reason was given that 2 lps sets do not do well although the Supremes HITs 67 did very well selling 2 million copies originally and went on to sell 6million all together as well as the 1974 Anthology album went on to sell over 500,000 copies and be certified gold.
    if i remember correctly the Supremes Sing Rogers and Hart was originally planned as a 2 lp set.
    i really enjoy your reviews. very refreshing.thank you.david

    • Paul says:

      I guess I understand why Motown cut down the album…but I wish I could hear the 2-LP version to see how much more cohesive it would sound! I bet it would make SO much more sense!!

  5. david hess says:

    Paul,i dont have a current track list but i think there was a tv special by Diana LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL in which most of this show was based upon. i seem to recall a Jesus Christ Superstar medley,I Love You Call Me,I’m Still Waiting in the show.i will have to find this and pull it out and watch it again.it was supposed to be released on dvd last year but at the last minute it was cancelled due to licensing problems[i think] . it still may be released but not sure as of havent heard anything more recently but will check in with my motown contact.david

  6. spookyelectric says:

    For me ‘Big Mable Murphy’ was the highlight here and main reason for returning to the record. Diana sounds like she’s having so much fun. Great to hear her tackle a style you didn’t often hear from her – I think of it as a companion piece to ‘Gimme A Pigfoot…’ from ‘Lady Sings The Blues’.

    • Paul says:

      I agree — I like “Big Mable Murphy” and I think she sounds great on it — love how she builds higher and higher through the song until she’s nearly shouting!

  7. davidh says:

    Big Mable….is my favorite track from this album.

    • Paul says:

      I like it too, David — so much fun and Diana’s vocal really soars! She’s got a lot of power when she performs live — something a lot of people don’t realize.

      • davidh says:

        yeah,u r correct. i have seen Diana many times live over the years including 2 years ago in atlantic city ,where she sang her — off for 2 hours. she sounded great!!!!
        i also noticed that in most cases ,you pick what u think are the best tracks on each album and i have agreed on each track so far. i suppose we both have great taste in music.just read the review of Red Hot lp which i think is her best rca album.thanks for your reviews

      • Paul says:

        David — great minds think alike!! 🙂

  8. davidh says:

    i like the version of AINT NO MOUNTAIN here but the back up singers, sorry,just dont hit the song correctly. this version is kinds funky but the backing vocals are blah, just lackluster

  9. pnyc1969 says:

    This is a great review. You captured its essence very aptly. This is definitely the quirkiest example of Diana’s live act in either audio or video. You can not imagine Diana doing something this casual and loose once you’ve seen her heavily produced shows like “Evening With” and “The Boss”. I agree with most of your assessments (especially the wincing and boredom experienced on “Reach Out”) but I think “Corner of the Sky” is a superb cut. It shows Diana at the height of her show tune powers. The arrangement and backup are beautiful and Diana’s emotion and range are exemplary. It’s one of my favorite live songs of her entire career.

  10. Altho Diana’s performance is excellent as usual, this album definitely suffers from being a single LP and not the entire concert.

    • Paul says:

      Indeed, Stephen…this ultimately becomes one of the lesser albums of Diana’s discography due to the cutting. Motown got it right three years later with “Evening'” thank goodness!!

      • Stephen says:

        I keep wishing they would expand this and give us a deluxe edition with the whole show and any video they have of it. Same with Evening with Diana Ross. There really is too little DVD live footage, especially in good quality, of Diana who is after all a legend.

      • Paul says:

        I totally agree — an expanded “Caesar’s Palace” LP would really set the record straight (so to speak) on her stage act from this time — listening to the LP as it was released, the show comes across as choppy and stilted, which it clearly was not. It is, to me, a major lost opportunity to not have any good, official releases of Diana’s 70s stage shows — this could only help raise her profile and cement her status as one of the great live performance in popular music. “Evening” was taped in Japan — there are many clips of this on YouTube — and this would be a fabulous release.

  11. Peter says:

    This is the same show as the Royal Albert Hall show that is currently viewable on YT, I believe. They are both the only examples of pure concertizing in the first decade of Diana’s solo career, as Diana!, Evening With and Standing Room Only are lavishly produced and heavily choreographed. Caesar’s and Royal Albert Hall have an earnestness and funkiness that the others do not have. It’s interesting to see Diana do both types of performances so well.

    • Paul says:

      Peter — I believe Diana’s first solo show (the famous “Let’s See If Diana Ross Can Do It By Herself Show”) was recorded by Motown, but is still in the vaults (her live version of “Something On My Mind” from that show was on the reissue of her 1970 debut). It would be great to finally get a release of this show, too — would be interesting to hear Diana “feel” her way through being a solo act — not to mention hear her perform some of the other songs from her first solo LP live. I love her earliest performances of “Ain’t No Mountain…” — as she often ran through the entire 6+ minutes and really went for the ad libs at the end.

  12. Peter says:

    I’m sure they do have it in the vaults. Why else would they have that one song, right? Berry probably had one of his definitely-correct-at-the-time notions to not release it. Likely he didn’t want to take attention/sales away from the “Diana!” TV special and LP. It would be wonderful it they released it and it seems only appropriate they should. Many fans feel “Diana” is her best solo album (not me, tho) and it’s an historic moment. I’d like to see how she transitions from being a Supreme to being a solo act.

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  19. Kevin says:

    Excellent evaluation and perspective, Paul. Regarding the orchestra, I bought this album decades ago at a used record store in Florida, and it was a white label vinyl album; years later I learned these were special DJ/promotional pressings. I have to tell you, the orchestra was mixed MUCH higher up on that copy; the vinyl reissue and subsequent CD didnt come close to sounding as good. As others have noted in their comments, the orchestra is sometimes sacrificed for the rhythm section; I still remember how the strings and horns soared on the Supremes medley, and “Mountain” really benefited hearing more. When the CD version came out, I gave away the white label copy; to this day I regret it! I’d love to have this album remastered at some point to showcase all the musicians, but since it didn’t do so well at the time, I doubt it’ll happen.

  20. This album really should be released as a double album complete show with the Live At The Royal Albert Hall footage as an accompaniment in a nice 2CD/1DVD package. I cant understand how this and the 1979 Live show havent had that treatment.

  21. Pingback: An Evening With Diana Ross (1977) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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