Diana Ross (1976)

“Now, looking back at all we’ve planned, we let so many dreams just slip through out hands…”

“Do you know…”…where Diana Ross has been?  Music fans may have been asking that question by the time Diana Ross hit store shelves in 1976.  It had been a long time between this album and her last offering, the live LP Live At Caesar’s Palace — maybe not a long time considering today’s music industry standards, but two years without a Diana Ross album on store shelves must have seemed like an eternity at the time, considering she’d basically been averaging about two-per-year.  Still, Miss Ross had spent late 1974 and early 1975 devoting time to Mahogany, her second film, in which she starred and also designed her own costumes.  The movie, while not a critical hit like Lady Sings The Blues, was a big hit with audiences, and set her up for a major return to radio.

That return came via the film’s theme song, the ballad “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” another Michael Masser production that went to #1, becoming Diana’s third solo chart-topper.  She then trumped that by releasing another, even bigger #1 hit, the now-classic “Love Hangover.”  Those two songs, along with the Top 30 “Once Love In My Lifetime” and the beautiful single “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” led this album to becoming one of Diana Ross’s biggest sellers.  It soared to the Top 5 of both the pop and R&B album charts, becoming her first album since Touch Me In The Morning to do so (a Diana Ross album wouldn’t chart so well again until 1980’s diana).

This is, in a way, a shame, because as good as those songs are, I’d argue that Diana Ross is actually one of the more uneven albums Miss Ross would release in the 1970s.  I know that statement will divide a lot of fans, but while the good songs here are great, and rank among her best…some of the others are among the most uninspired recordings of her career.  There’s no doubt that Diana’s attention at this point was on other things; she’d been focused on her movie, her children, and preparing for An Evening With Diana Ross, her one-woman show that would conquer Broadway and earn a Tony Award.  So while it’s understandable that some of the recordings here may sound more like afterthoughts than attempts to make great music, it’s too bad that an album that became such a huge hit couldn’t have been more of a consistent effort.

***

1.  Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To):  An Oscar-nominated, #1 smash hit, this is one of the great Diana Ross performances, and has become one of her most enduring hits.  The song itself is a brilliantly written, instantly memorable composition by Michael Masser (who’d written hits “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Last Time I Saw Him” for Diana) and Gerry Goffin, and the soaring ballad is a perfect fit for the gorgeous vocals of Diana Ross.  This is one of those deceptively simple performances that Diana Ross gives so well; it would be easy to say that song isn’t a particularly challenging one to sing, or that it doesn’t stretch her much as a singer.  That, however, would be overlooking the skill it takes to put over the thoughtful, almost-abstract lyrics.  This is not a song like “Last Time I Saw Him” or “I’m Still Waiting” or even “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – there’s not a specific story being told here.  Instead, Diana Ross uses her sensitivity to convey the sense of a story behind the words; her ability to interpret a lyric and bring such a dreamy, pensive quality to it is something that sets her apart as an artist (and something that she’d surely become an expert at with her work on Lady Sings The Blues).  The production is also top-notch; the instrumental track is sweeping and dramatic, fitting for its place as the theme song to a film.  Strangely, this song was overlooked for a Grammy nomination in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category; it certainly stands as one of the great female vocal performances of the year, if not the decade.

2.  I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love):  This was the second single released from Diana Ross, and made it to the Top 50 on the pop charts before stalling out.  According to The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits, Motown had been promoting this track when it was forced to rush-release “Love Hangover” as a single to kill a version by The 5th Dimension.  That makes sense, as this song is another stunning ballad from Michael Masser and seems like a natural hit for Diana Ross; had attention not shifted to “Love Hangover,” this one probably could have been at least a Top 10 record.  “I Thought It Took A Little Time…” is just as beautiful a song as the “Theme From Mahogany,” and requires Diana to use more of her vocal range; she sounds controlled and relaxed here when using the lower end of her range as well as pushing herself higher during the song’s climax.  Diana’s voice, particularly on the dramatic, string-laden intro, is also extremely mature here; though she’d turned in wise, sophisticated work on her past few studio albums, she actually does sound older and more seasoned here.  The instrumental track, as on the previous offering, is dramatic and symphonic, with a prominent piano line, soaring strings, and dreamy, almost hypnotic background vocals.  Though they turned out some amazing work together, and had much bigger hits than this, this is clearly one of the strongest collaborations between Mr. Masser and Miss Ross, and stands among her best work of the mid/late 1970s.

3.  Love Hangover:  If a song had to kill the chart success of “I Thought It Took A Little Time…,” at least it was a monster hit like this one.  “Love Hangover” is, of course, a disco classic; it went to #1 on the pop and R&B charts, was nominated for a Grammy, and has more than stood the test of time, having now been sampled and remade by several artists in the years since its original release.  The song is one of the most unusual of Miss Ross’s career; the album version runs nearly eight minutes long, as the slow-burning groove of the intro erupts into a feverish, guitar-popping beat at 2:45 into the track.  The Diana Ross singing for those languid first two-and-a-half minutes is unlike any we’ve heard from her before; her vocals are breathy, sexy, mature, and relaxed.  This is maybe the most effortless she ever sounded on record; it’s honestly as though she’s singing into a microphone straight from her bed.  She’s helped immensely, of course, by the superb session players (consisting of Joe Sample of keyboards, James Gadson on drums, and Henry Davis on bass, according to The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits), who turn in a luxurious, sizzling groove that is completely irresistible.  Of course, it’s the second part of the song that made it a dance-floor classic, as the beat suddenly kicks up with a fantastic guitar vamp that would later be appropriated for Thelma Houston’s similar “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”  The second part of the song is particularly interesting in terms of Diana Ross as a singer because there are no actual lyrics; she ad-libs everything for the final five minutes of the track.  This gives the singer a chance to completely cut loose in a way she rarely does on record; she actually sounds like she’s have a great time, changing up her voice and even laughing over the track at times.  At 6:30 in the song, she goes from rumbling the lyrics “If there’s a cure for this” in the lowest section of her range to suddenly sounding like she’s channeling a jazz and blues singer again.  The entire performance here is fun and surprising; this track was produced by Diana’s longtime collaborator Hal Davis, and this is probably their best collaboration.

4.  Kiss Me Now:  After three strong, dynamic songs that have all become Diana Ross classics, the high quality of Diana Ross comes to a screeching halt with this song, which gets my vote as one of the most irritating in the entire Ross discography.  The song is written to sound something like a 1920s-era vaudeville piece, with rapid-fire lyrics and ragtime piano line that dominates the track.  Unfortunately, the 1970s production values kill the song; the cutesy background vocals sound like something from a high school production of A Chorus Line.  Diana Ross also gives a strange performance; though it’s a treat to hear her singing what might be the lowest notes of her career, and she easily keeps up with the challenging, fast-paced lyrics, she also breaks into a Louis Armstrong impression at about 1:45 in that’s unfortunate to say the least.  Again, coming on the heels of three such great selections, this song comes off as something like a joke; it’s certainly a novelty tune that doesn’t add anything to the album.

5.  You’re Good My Child:  This is, at least, a stronger song and production than the previous track, but it’s still one of the weaker efforts on the album.  Unfortunately, this time, it’s Diana herself who sinks the song; her vocals here are as affected and uninspired as some of her work on the Diana & Marvin album.  The sexy and sophisticated performance she’d turned in on “Love Hangover” should have carried over to this song, which features a similar groove to the slow-burn opening of that #1 hit.  Instead, her voice sounds a little out of control here; the raspy quality she affects makes her sound more tired than sexy, and there are moments where it sounds like she just plain goes off-key (for example, she doesn’t quite hit the “Move me!” at 1:20, nor does she quite nail the word “child” about twenty seconds later).  The thunderous piano of this song is similar to that of Diana’s 1971 single “Surrender” – and it’s a shame that she can’t match her vocal performance from that earlier, far superior song.  While she’s clearly trying to sound earthy and soulful here, it’s a forced performance that just doesn’t work.

6.  One Love In My Lifetime:  Thank God, after the previous two misfires, things finally click a bit again on Diana Ross with this, which became the fourth single from the album (and a moderate hit, peaking in the Top 30 of the pop charts and Top 10 R&B).  An upbeat, funky, joyful love song, this is one of the catchiest on the album, and features a glorious, memorable chorus.  Diana’s voice sounds pretty good here; her vocal at least features more energy and soul again, although she does sound like she’s straining a little bit at times — strange, consdering there’s nothing here out of her range.  She trades vocals at the end of the song with a background singer, a nice and unique addition which adds some life to the already-spirited track.  The instrumental is funky and rock-oriented, with prominent guitar work and a complex, popping bass-line.  The joyousness here is a highlight of the album; it’s a shame it wasn’t an even bigger hit.

7.  Ain’t Nothin’ But A Maybe:  This song is a Nick Ashford/Valerie Simpson composition; it was recorded and released by the duo on their I Wanna Be Selfish album, and also recorded by Rufus for the funk group’s second album, Rags To Rufus.  It’s actually interesting to listen to all three versions, as they’re remarkably similar — the song is a husky soul ballad, and all three artists perform it in the same way, keeping the pace relaxed and simmering.  Diana sounds strong and confident here; her vocals aren’t quite as fiery as on her other Ashford & Simpson work, and it would have been nice to hear her do a little more “soul belting” toward the end, as she had on songs like “I Can’t Give Back The Love (I Feel For You)” from Surrender.  Still, this is one of the better non-single additions to Diana Ross, and is a nice, mellow listen — it was also produced by Miss Ross herself, and is one of her best efforts in that regard.

8.  After You:  Originally released as an instrumental on the sountrack to Mahogany, this is another Michael Masser ballad that’s perfectly suited to the smooth, honeyed voice of Diana Ross.  This tune is nearly as strong as the other two Masser-written and produced ballads on this album, which is saying a lot, considering just how good those songs are.  As on “Theme From Mahogany,” both the production and vocals are gentle and soothing; to risk sounding too cliche, they really do have a “dreamy” quality.  Diana Ross again turns in strong vocals that are never overdone; she matches her voice perfectly to the pitch required by the lyrics, but imbues them with a complexity that hints at a hidden subtext.  This song, as with the other ballads featured on Diana Ross, is definitive proof of Diana’s gifts as an interpreter and storyteller.  She was at the top ofher game in 1976 and getting to work with the best ballad material out there, and she easily made the most of it.

9.  Smile:  Unfortunately, after three strong tracks in a row, Diana Ross ends on another low point.  “Smile” had originally been recorded in the early 1970s for the unreleased Blue album — a project proposed to have followed up the Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack.  When finally released in 2006, the Blue album proved to be phenomenal, but this song is not nearly the strongest on it — making the choice of its inclusion here something of a mystery.  Certainly the fact that it was written by comedian Charlie Chaplin continues the “Hollwood” feel of this album, and as always, the orchestration by Gil Askey is beautiful.  Diana’s vocals, however, are a rare case of her overdoing a standard; rather than retaining the aching simplicity of her other Lady and Blue recordings, she lays it on pretty thick.  There’s a saccharine and syrupy quality to her performance here that echoes some of the most pretentious of her Supremes recordings, and this is especially evident in light of her masterful readings of ballads like “Theme From Mahogany” and the previous track, “After You” — there’s a subtlety and understatement to those performances that she pretty much throws out the window here.  Though I’m sure a lot of fans are fond of this particular recording, Diana Ross really was capable of so much better.

Note: For information on bonus tracks from this album, click HERE.

***

Though it remains one of her most popular and best-charting albums thanks to the huge hits it contains, Diana Ross is, as mentioned earlier, an uneven album.  Had the three weakest songs — “Kiss Me Now,” “You’re Good My Child,” and “Smile” — been replaced with stronger inclusions, this could have been one of her definitive works; the singles and best album tracks are absolute career standouts.  Unfortunately, that trio of songs keeps the album from truly being one of Miss Ross’s timeless works.  Another issue keeping this from being a true Diana Ross essential, of course, is that just about every great song here is easily available on another album.  All four singles would show up the next year on Diana’s first Greatest Hits collection, and “After You” would later appear on the All The Great Love Songs collection.  Therefore, while Diana Ross is an important part of the Ross discography, it’s not a highlight in terms of her album output.  Her next studio collection, Baby It’s Me, would prove that Diana Ross was still more than capable of turning out a cohesive, seamless collection of songs — it is, in fact, perhaps the single best album of her career.  This one is much more reminscent of some of her albums with the Supremes — some really great singles, a few classic album tracks, and weak filler.

Final Analysis:  3.5/5  (“You’re Good” — But Not Great)

Choice Cuts:  “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” “Love Hangover,” “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)”

Trivia:
The Grammy nominees for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance that year were:
Natalie Cole, “Sophisticated Lady (She’s A Different Lady)” (Winner)
Aretha Franklin, “Something He Can Feel”
Dorothy Moore, “Misty Blue”
Melba Moore, “Lean On Me”
Diana Ross, “Love Hangover”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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33 Responses to Diana Ross (1976)

  1. Tony says:

    Bang on again! I love ” thought it took…” but felt her voice needed to be out front and center at times. She sounds drowned out by then production at points where I really wanted to hear her sharp voice. Mahogany theme is the song I continue to turn to when I need to reflect on where to turn next…..and what path I should take. It seems to set my mind up for proper reflection.

    Thank you. Great job.

    • Paul says:

      Tony — I’m with you — on certain Michael Masser ballads I think Diana was drowned a bit by the production — there’s some of that on “I Thought…” — but I think it’s much worse on some of the “new” songs on “To Love Again” like “Stay With Me”…where at times the orchestration just kills her voice. “Mahogany” really is a perfect song for reflection, I totally agree!

  2. Antje says:

    Again, you put it in a nutshell, Paul. My favorite is “After you”. The only appraisal I disagree with is your despricption of “the dreamy, almost hypnotic background vocals” – especially these made me always dislike most of the album’s songs, along with too many strings. For my taste this too is pure saccarin (I would call it sloppy). Recently I watched a video with Miss Ross introducing “Do you know” on the Johnny Carson Show. First time ever, I liked to listen to that song – nice laid-back arrangement. Mmmhh, maybe somebody will do some slimmed down remixing …
    Thank you Paul, can’t hardly wait to read your next one!

  3. ejluther says:

    Great job, as always – what are your thoughts on the recently release 2-CD expanded edition of this record?

    Thanks!

    • Paul says:

      Thanks! To be honest, the 2-CD re-release is probably my least favorite so far. As always, Hip-O did a beautiful job, and it’s always awesome for us fans to hear alternate vocals…but the unreleased songs are all pretty strange, don’t you think? There’s definitely some experimenting going on with “Go Where Your Mind Is” and “Le Lo Li” and I guess I can appreciate that…but to me they’re not “long last classics” the way some of the unreleased tracks on the expanded “Touch Me…” and “Last Time…” are. I do LOVE the interview at the end, though…it’s always so cool to hear Diana talk about her music and career in different eras. What do you think of it?

      • ejluther says:

        Yes, those 2 songs are very odd but fun nonetheless although, like you point out, hardly “lost classic” material. Still, I’m glad to have/hear them. I like the alternate versions on Disc 2 and think they reveal another dimension to the record. What I’m really looking forward to is the next expanded release by Hip-O, BABY, IT’S ME – that’s long been one of my favorite Ross LPs. Will you be featuring it next in your DR Project? It will be nice to see it get some attention – I think it’s one of the most cohesive and satisfying LPs she ever released…

      • Paul says:

        I LOVE “Baby It’s Me” too and am dying for a re-release…if ever an album deserved it, that one does!!! I can’t wait to post about it. It will come next week, after tomorrow’s new post of “An Evening With Diana Ross” — which I also love!

      • Antje says:

        Yes, she sounds so alive and enthusiastic!!!
        And we hear her own conclusion: “I don’t ever want to be stuck in a category as far as singing because I like all music” (cited from the booklet). – period! So everyone of us listeners has to find their niche in her musical oeuvre. And as life goes on, your preferences may change, you listen to songs you might have disliked or ignored for years, and finally fall for them!

  4. Lawrence says:

    I always thought “After You” was the song that got away. I think it could have been a huge hit single!

    Best, Lawrence

    • Paul says:

      Lawrence — I agree — it’s too bad that “After You” got buried under the two other Michael Masser ballads on the album, because it’s a great song. I wish her vocal version of “After You” had been featured in the movie “Mahogany” and on the soundtrack — maybe it would have gotten more attention that way.

      • spookyelectric says:

        ‘After You’ is a great song I agree – very underrated in her catalogue. Roberta Flack released a nice version a few years after Diana’s – more laid back than Diana’s version, almost maudlin but still beautiful.

        Nice review of album by the way – I agree ‘You’re Good My Child’ is one of the weaker tracks on original set. The just released alternate take on DR Deluxe is so much better – vocals much more punchy and loose.

        Anyone know who the co-lead female vocal on ‘One Love In My Lifetime’ is? It doesn’t appear to be credited anywhere?

      • Paul says:

        I’ve always wondered who that “other voice” is, too…I have no clue who it is! I like Roberta’s “After You” — but I much prefer Diana’s — I think it was much more suited to her, and again, think it could have been a hit for her.

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  6. spookyelectric says:

    Joss Stone has just covered ‘One Love In A Lifetime’ on her new album ‘The Soul Sessions Vol 2’ – what a cool and unexpected cover. But I would say that!

    • ejluther says:

      I know! I was very happy to see/hear that when I picked up her CD last week. She does a nice job but I still prefer Diana’s version (of course)…

    • Paul says:

      lol — look at the EDIAND comments — I posted the same thing yesterday 🙂 So glad to see this song getting re-discovered…and I love Joss’s version of Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” on this album, too!

  7. spookyelectric says:

    Yes – I realised afterwards! Haha. I think Joss does a really nice version – the background vocal arrangements are amazing. Plus Ernie Isley on guitar. What’s not to like? And yes good to see ‘Pillow Talk’ getting revived too!

  8. Eric says:

    I actually love this album! One love in my lifetime is amazing !and ur too harsh on kiss me now! It’s jazzy fun! Kinda a sequel to “last time I saw him” yes?

    So many classics on this album! How did this and touch me not sell 20 million copies each ??!?

    I have the album on my wall. Great pic!

  9. bokiluis says:

    From the unique, thrilling live album cover shot, to the first spine-tickling audience applause after the overture, “An Evening with….” truly captures the excitement of the Tony Award/Emmy Award winning show! How often does a live record transplant the listener right back to their theater seat with a simple, building applause! “Here I Am/I Wouldn’t Change a Thing” finds Diana in strong, confident voice. She totally enrolls the listener into the start of the evening. When a fan, who just happens to be a friend of mine, says “I love you” and Diana playfully says “I love you, I love you” I love you too”, the audience roars in approval again as she tears into a passionate “Touch Me in the Morning”. Early on she introduces her record breaking self-titled album giving Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” a fantastic rendition and then segueing into a burning, blistering funky “Love Hangover” with James Brown flourishes.
    The art of the broadway show takes center stage as she dedicates the entire Harry Nilson “The Point” to her first daughter, Rhonda. And then pays homage to “the dark divas”, Josephine Baker, in banana regalia, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters leading into Billie Holiday. The broadway show included her dressed as these women and the television special had her in a dialogue/monologue for each diva salute.
    What is probably the Tony Award clincher, Diana pays homage to “A Chorus Line” completely acting out each song as a vignette.
    In the closing, she salutes her Motown beginnings befitting its own broadway musical more than three decades later.
    Up until the Central Park concerts, this was my favorite documented concert. Once again, only a Grammy would complete the picture here. Alas, somehow the Grammys couldn’t register what the Tonys and Emmys saw plain as that dazzling smile!

  10. Eric says:

    2 things about “Mahogany”

    -doesn’t the chorus melody kinda rip off “here there and everywhere” by the Beatles off their white album?

    -the episode of The Simpsons entitled “Rosebud” includes the instrumental of this song during a montage of Mr. Burns’ (fictional) life through projections at his party

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  20. Joey says:

    This has probably been discussed somewhere on this site and I’m just not seeing it, but does it also bug anyone that Motown and/or Miss Ross herself seemed quite unimaginative in naming albums over the years? One eponymous album isn’t unusual but to have albums named “Diana Ross,” “Diana Ross,” “Diana,” “Ross” and “Ross” seems not only odd but also quite confusing. WTF????? Why do you think this happened?

    • Paul says:

      Haha Joey — that’s a great question. Personally, I think it’s because Diana didn’t record a lot of concept records. Her albums tended to consist of hit singles and filler — but generally weren’t put together with the purpose of telling a complete story. Something like Marvin Gaye’s HERE, MY DEAR tells a specific story, and it’s titled appropriately (referring to his ex-wife and the fact that he’d be giving her half the royalties from the album). Albums like DIANA ROSS ’70 and DIANA ROSS ’76 were really built around hit singles, and thus I think you end up with generic titles.

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