To Love Again (1981)

“At least I know I’ll take my share of chances…”

“He began to play, and when he got to the chorus, he began to sing, if you want to call it that: ‘It’s my turn, da-da da-da da-da,” and he kept da-da-ing until he got to sing the title line again: “It’s my turn, it’s my turn.”  He was now singing so loud he almost drowned out his already deafening piano playing.  However, I couldn’t deny his talent” (120).

Billboard: September 6, 1980

Those are the recollections of songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, writing in her book They’re Playing Our Song: A Memoir about the first time she met composer Michael Masser.  After breaking into film composing with the 1975 Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany and earning an Academy Award nomination for the film’s theme song, Masser penned further scores to motion pictures including 1976’s Pipe Dreams (“So Sad The Song”) and 1977’s The Greatest, for which he wrote the future blockbuster “The Greatest Love Of All.”  The latter was released by Columbia Pictures, and in 1981, the company again drafted Masser to write a theme for the film It’s My Turn, a 1981 romance starring Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas.  Armed with his melody, Masser dropped in on Carole Bayer Sager at Burt Bacharach’s home in Del Mar, and the two churned out a sweeping, empowering song that would give Diana Ross her third Top 10 hit in a row when it was released in September of 1980.

Although Masser may have known “It’s My Turn” was a perfect fit for Diana Ross the vocalist, there’s no way he could have known how prescient it was to Diana Ross, the person.  Although she was enjoying the biggest success of her career with 1980’s dianathe singer’s growing need for independence had led her to consider something many thought impossible: Leaving Motown.  Signed with the label since 1961, Diana’s Motown contact was set to expire in November of 1980; with “It’s My Turn” climbing the charts, Ross must have felt like the song was more a theme to her own life and career than a motion picture.  She would later write in her 1993 memoir Secrets Of  A Sparrow, “‘Okay, go on out there, sing your songs, wear your gowns, look pretty, we’ll do the rest.’ That was basically the message Motown was always giving me.  As I followed their directives, I was stagnating.  I got caught up in the mode of allowing everybody else to take care of my life…Somewhere in there, I decided that enough was enough.  I felt that I had to start doing for myself” (203).

With contract talks continuing between Motown and Miss Ross, the label decided to capitalize off of the success of “It’s My Turn” by putting together an album of the singer’s ballad recordings with Michael Masser.  Similar to 1978’s Ross, the result was a studio album/compilation hybrid, with new recordings on the album’s first side and previously released songs on the second.  Aside from “It’s My Turn,” Masser had Ross record a pair of ballads he’d written with Gerry Goffin, and another new ballad came from Masser and songwriter Allee Willis.  According to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s Diana Ross: A Biography, Masser cut additional instrumental tracks for Ross, for which she never laid down vocals; not only is this possibly due to distractions caused by the uncertainty of her future with Motown, but Ross has also been honest about her troubles working in the studio with Masser.  In her memoir, Ross praises the Masser’s talent, while also recalling, “Michael…was a very difficult man to work with, maybe because he knew how fabulous he was” (202).

Combining the new and older tracks, Motown released To Love Again (Motown 951) in February of 1981, also releasing the ballad “Once More Chance” as Diana’s latest single the same month.  Neither was a huge hit, which isn’t a big surprise; not only did Diana do zero promotion for the album, but there’s a fundamental issue that project like To Love Again must resolve.  The problem with placing new songs and established hits on a single album is, of course, that the new songs have to compete against those that are already proven winners.  Every single one of the final five songs – especially “Touch Me In The Morning,” “Theme From Mahogany,” and “To Love Again” — are strong, standout Diana Ross tracks.  “It’s My Turn” easily stands among them; unfortunately, the other three new recordings aren’t even close.  Therefore, To Love Again is an uneven and not always satisfying listen, although it’s fitting that an album released less than a year before Diana’s “new start” at RCA features some of the greatest highlights from her career thus far.

***

Billboard: October 18, 1980

1.  It’s My Turn:  “…this is a soft, anthem-like ballad that is immediately infectious,” wrote Billboard in its October 18, 1980 review of “It’s My Turn,” continuing, “Replete with swirling strings and a perfect vocal performance, this cut epitomizes romance.”  The orchestration here is certainly romantic, but the lyrics from the great Carole Bayer Sager speak of a deep, powerful self-love rather than a romantic one; the writer remembers in her 2016 book They’re Playing Out Song: A Memoir, “I quickly wrote words that were actually meaningful to me, and to my life as I felt it at that time” (120).  Little could she have known how meaningful they would also be to Diana Ross, and later legions of listeners around the world.  Of the recording process, composer Michael Masser would later say, “By the time we got to ‘It’s My Turn,’ it was simple.  She had confidence in me.  As she would say it, ‘Michael can’t sing, but he tells me what the song feels like'” (To Love Again: Expanded Edition).  Opening with just a piano and Diana’s high, crystal-clear voice singing the now-iconic lyrics “I can’t cover up my feelings/In the name of love,” it’s immediately obvious that “It’s My Turn” is going to be the quintessential Diana Ross ballad; as the orchestral track swells over the next few minutes, so will the singer’s voice become more assured and powerful, displaying a kind of control rare amongst her contemporaries.  The vocal performance here is simple and powerful; producer Masser smartly resisted any possible temptation to add background voices, which means there’s nothing to distract listeners from both the song’s message and from the singer’s singularly voice.  The gorgeous strings are the work of the great Lee Holdridge, who’d worked on several previous Ross project including the superb but long-unreleased Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz; once again he envelops her with a warm musicality that helps heighten the already tangible bittersweet feelings inherent in the song and the vocal performance.  It cannot be overstated how important Carole Bayer Sager’s lyrics are to the success of the song; lines like “And if living for myself/Is what I’m guilty of/Go on and sentence me/I’ll still be free” may read schmaltzy today, but they’re incredible effective, making the song instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever made the decision to go out on his or her own.  Again, Diana’s delivery of these lyric is never overdone; she sounds wise and tempers the sometimes overly optimistic theme with just a hint of sadness which adds complexity and depth to the entire work.  Released as a single in October of 1980, the song climbed into the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 while Diana’s previous singles “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” (from diana) were also still there; “It’s My Turn” ended up peaking at #9 on both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart, and reached #14 on the R&B listings.  The song was overlooked for a Grammy nomination, something that seems unconscionable today; Ross should have been nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for this performance, and arguably should have won.  Although Aretha Franklin would memorably cover the song for her 1981 LP Love All The Hurt Away (and take it back to the Top 30 of the R&B chart), “It’s My Turn” remains a Diana Ross classic, and a highlight of her career.

2.  Stay With Me:  Considering it was never really made a hit by anyone, “Stay With Me” has surprisingly been linked to several popular artists over the years.  The first released version came in 1978, when Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. recorded the song for their album Marilyn & Billy; that album, by the way, contained a cover of Diana’s 1976 single “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love).”  The following year, Roberta Flack cut the song for her LP Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, and Teddy Pendergrass eventually covered the song for his 1984 LP Love Language (which also featured a duet with Whitney Houston called “Hold Me,” previously recorded by Diana Ross for her 1982 album Silk Electric under the title “In Your Arms”).  Listen to any of these released versions of “Stay With Me,” and you’ll hear a soft ballad with genuine feeling; all three, especially Flack’s, are relatively simple in arrangement and delivery.  This really isn’t the case with Diana’s recording, which is given a bigger, more epic treatment by Masser; if a listener didn’t know the songs beforehand, they’d be forgiven for choosing “Stay With Me” as a likelier movie theme candidate over “It’s My Turn.”  To be honest, Masser doesn’t just produce this recording, he arguably overproduces it, whipping up such a glossy instrumental track that it ends up feeling a little plastic; Ric Schlosser contributes some heavy power-ballad drums, the great Gene Page layers in syrupy-sweet strings, and a wash of female voices back up Miss Ross robotically.  Amazingly, two of those background singers are Maxine Waters Willard and Julia Waters Tillman, renowned session singers who also happen to be backing Diana Ross on the 1969 #1 hit “Someday We’ll Be Together” (and isn’t it poetic that the singers are featured on Diana’s last released album as a Supreme and her last released album before leaving Motown?).  Diana’s performance is quite good; she sounds tender and vulnerable as the song opens, but her vocal grows in intensity and she really gets to display some impressive lung power toward the end, especially during the key change at roughly 2:50 into the song.  Still, the singer is let down by the artificiality of her surroundings, something that’s even more obvious coming directly after the tasteful and deeply-felt “It’s My Turn.”

3.  One More Chance:  “Diana is a wonderful lady.  She was very ‘chancy’ in the studio, and had no issues being cautious.  Diana has great acting ability.  She really put out; she really did.”  When Michael Masser talked about Diana Ross really pushing herself in the studio, as he did in this quote from the 2003 To Love Again reissue, there’s a possibility this song flashed through this mind; likewise, when Diana would later remember Masser being “difficult” in the studio, she might also have been thinking about “One More Chance.”  Of all the released Ross-Masser collaborations, this one certainly contains the most audible tension; the song’s climax features the singer shredding her voice, growling the song’s title repeatedly.  It’s not the kind of thing Diana Ross does often; 1978’s The Wiz certainly showcased gut-wrenching belting from the singer, along with an appealing rawness in her voice, but the strain on “One More Chance” sounds forced and frequently unpleasant.  The team of musicians is carried over from the previous “Stay With Me,” with swirling strings again arranged by Gene Page and thumping drums from Ric Schlosser; although the background trio of Becky Lopez, Maxine Waters Willard, and Julia Waters Tillman are again credited here, Diana’s own voice is tracked into the backgrounds, too, and her strain to hit the higher notes is what’s most audible.  The song itself is fairly repetitive in terms of medley, but it begins growing in intensity from the very beginning, getting bigger and bigger until it explodes into that eye-popping finale.  To be fair to Miss Ross, such a construct forces her to get bigger and bigger, too, until there’s really nowhere left to go except angrily growling the title phrase; rather than modulating her performing from a quiet intensity to passionate crooning, as on something like “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today In Fell In Love),” here she’s directed to begin with the passionate crooning, and must build accordingly from there, which is clearly a strain on her voice.  The result is a recording that’s a fascinating listen and certainly something new and different in terms of the Diana Ross discography, but it really isn’t very pretty or even that easy to listen to; it certainly doesn’t showcase what the singer does best, which is to honestly interpret strong material.  Interestingly, this ballad was chosen for release as a single in February of 1981, in connection with the release of To Love Again; with Diana preparing to sign a recording contract with a new label, “Once More Chance” certainly didn’t get any significant promotion, and it ended up barely making the pop charts, peaking at #79 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #54 on the R&B side.

4.  Cryin’ My Heart Out For You:  Aside from “It’s My Turn,” this is probably the most successful new ballad included on To Love Again; “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You” manages to find a nice middle-ground between the syrupy blandness of “Stay With Me” and the over-the-top histrionics of “One More Chance,” emerging as a fairly memorable song which serves Diana’s voice quite well.  Masser co-wrote the song with the prolific Allee Willis, co-writer of eclectic songs such as “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire and “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts.  Interestingly, Willis would also go on to co-write the Broadway musical The Color Purple, including the song “What About Love,” which many consider the highlight of Diana’s 2006 album I Love You.  Masser produces “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You” with just a tinge of country around the edges, echoing his work on previous Ross collaborations including “Sorry Doesn’t Always Make It Right,” which helps give some song some character; Diana Ross responds with a relaxed, leisurely vocal that’s right in her comfort zone for the first half of the song.  At about two minutes in, the song shifts to a new key, forcing the singer to reach higher into her range; fortunately, unlike on “One More Chance,” Ross really nails this section, pushing herself but never completely losing touch with her own sound.  Interestingly, Motown decided to issue “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You” as a single in May of 1981, as news of the RCA deal was breaking and just a month before “Endless Love,” the singer’s duet with Lionel Richie, would be issued.  Unsurprisingly, the failed to even chart in the United States, although it did manage a peak position of #58 in the United Kingdom.

NOTE: The album’s second side consists of previously released recordings.  Below are the discussions from earlier album posts on THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT.

Jet: December 4, 1975

5.  Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To) (from 1976’s Diana Ross):  “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” is an apt title for a song that took some twists and turns before finally becoming the Oscar-nominated classic it is today.  Writer-producer Masser  penned the song and it was initially recorded by Motown singer Thelma Houston; according to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s Diana Ross: A Biography, Motown film executive Rob Cohen heard the song one day and decided it would be a perfect love theme for Diana’s upcoming film.  Masser and writer Gerry Goffin re-worked the song for Diana and the movie and it was recorded quickly; Masser recalls in Diana Ross: A Biography, “I think Diana did it in one take, maybe two.  It was perfect.”  Indeed, in many ways, this is a perfect recording; the song itself is an exquisitely-written ballad with an instantly memorable melody and enough repetition that it buries itself deep within the listener’s brain.  Recorded with a full orchestra, the song is lush and certainly sounds cinematic; it ebbs and flows in all the right places, surrounding Diana Ross in a sweeping symphony and bringing forth a thoughtful, dreamy performance from the singer.  This is one of those deceptively simple performances that Miss Ross delivers 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.  But that would be overlooking the skill it takes to put over the interior lyrics.  This is not a song like “Last Time I Saw Him” or “I’m Still Waiting” – there’s not really 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 pensive quality to it is something that sets her apart as an artist (for proof, listen to the covers of this song by Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez, which both come off antiseptic compared to Diana’s version).  The quality of her voice is also outstanding; the singer’s voice is as smooth and creamy, and she effortlessly nails every single note.  Released on September 24, 1975 (and backed with “No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever” from Last Time I Saw Him), the song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in November; twelve weeks later, it topped the chart, becoming Diana’s third #1 pop hit and also topping the Easy Listening chart.  It was eventually nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song, although not without some controversy; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences initially deemed the song “qualitatively ineligible” for the award, a move that elicited such outrage from the entertainment community that AMPAS reversed its decision, paving the way for the song to score one of that year’s nominations.  It ended up losing to Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” from the film Nashville, but “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” remains one of the decade’s definitive ballads.

6.  I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love) (from 1976’s Diana Ross):  Following the major success of “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” Motown decided to release another Michael Masser-penned ballad as the follow-up single; on February 20, 1976, the label serviced “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” (co-written with Pam Sawyer and backed by “After You”) to radio and record-buyers.  Ads at the time proclaimed it “Her Next #1 Single…” and, indeed, the company had every reason to be optimistic of the song’s success; this is a superlative ballad, a more challenging record than “Theme From Mahogany” and just as deeply moving.  The song opens as a near-duet between Diana Ross and a violin, with the singer pondering “Am I really hard to please?” in a breathy, mature tone as the stringed instrument dances around her; with a deep, thunderous piano chord, the song opens up into another sophisticated slice of symphonic pop, slowly building in intensity until the dramatic crescendo of the song’s refrain.  The melody here is far more complex than that of “Theme From Mahogany,” and it requires more range and power from its vocalist; Diana Ross more than delivers, her voice both controlled and surprisingly elastic as she shifts from the velvety vocals of her lower register to the ringing high notes during each chorus.  Backed by a powerful chorus of hypnotic voices, Diana turns in one of her best ballad performances ever; it’s a shame that this particular recording was overlooked for a Grammy nomination in the Female Pop Vocal Performance category, as it was certainly worthy of the shortlist.  Unfortunately, “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” wouldn’t find the kind of success it deserved on the charts, either; although Motown predicted another chart-topper with this ballad, the label was forced to essentially kill it by rush-releasing Diana’s version of “Love Hangover” a month later, in order to compete with a version released by pop group The Fifth Dimension.  Diana’s “Love Hangover” shot to #1, but “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” died in its wake, peaking at a disappointing #47 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The song did, however, make it to #4 on the Easy Listening chart, and it more than stands the test of time as a compelling piece of work.  (NOTE: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. covered this song for their 1978 LP Marilyn & Billy, which also featured their recording of “Stay With Me.”  Singer Stacy Lattisaw also covered “I Thought It Took A Little Time” for her 1985 LP I’m Not The Same Girl.)

7.  To Love Again (from 1978’s Ross):  This ballad was recorded back in 1975; written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin, it was considered for the Mahogany soundtrack before the decision was made to include only instrumental music on that album, aside from the popular theme song.  It’s strange that “To Love Again” wasn’t then placed on 1976’s Diana Ross, on which it would have fit beautifully; perhaps Ross and Executive Producer Berry Gordy, Jr. didn’t want to overload that album with Masser ballads.  In any case, “To Love Again” sat in the vaults until Rossand it was more than deserving of a place there; this is one of the singer’s best ballad performances ever, a tender vocal that displays Diana’s gifts for subtlety and control.  The song itself is one of the more unusual in the Ross discography; Masser (along with arranger Lee Holdridge) crafts an instrumental that’s basically an homage to French cinema, utilizing a prominent mandolin, accordion, and romantic strings to set the mood.  The European inspiration is likely a direct result of Masser’s scoring the film Mahogany, since a good portion of the film takes place overseas (although the movie is set in Rome, not France).  Because the instrumental track is so ornate, it would be easy for Diana to get lost a little in the mix; thankfully, she rises to the occasion, minting a rather deceptive vocal that sounds far more simple than it actually is.  This is, of course, a reason that Diana is all too often overlooked as a vocalist; because she doesn’t run up and down the scales here, showing off her range with bombastic gymnastics, the casual listener might mistake her singing for being weak or “limited.”  However, a song like “To Love Again” requires careful, multiple listens; only then is the complexity of Ross’s singing revealed.  Her vocal control during the first minute or so is extremely impressive; she is singing a challenging melody line and is required to hold certain notes and words for several beats at a time, but never sounds like she’s putting any excess effort into her performance.  And her singing of the song’s title at 2:19 (when she takes them an octave higher than she had earlier in the song) is one of the single most beautiful moments in a Diana Ross recording; her delicate, crystal clear reading of the words, and her four-note improv following them, combine with the soaring strings of the instrumental track to create a breathtaking musical interlude.  Although the song was likely too stylized to have been a radio hit, it’s a masterful recording; Miss Ross added the song to her live act, and actually performed it after being carried onstage in a giant pink shoe!  (NOTE: This song was eventually placed on the b-side of the “Cryin’ My Heart Out for You” single.)

8.  No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever (from 1974’s Last Time I Saw Him):  This Michael Masser-Pam Sawyer song had already been released by Motown singer Thelma Houston by the time Diana recorded her version.  Houston’s was first issued as a b-side on the MoWest label in March of 1972, and another version was cut by vocal group The Friends Of Distinction for that group’s 1973 album Love Can Make It Easier.  According to session notes included on the Last Time I Saw Him 2007 reissue, Masser cut the track for this version of the song way back in July of 1972, although Diana didn’t lay down her lead vocal until November 6, 1973, just a month before the album was released.  It’s not a surprise that Diana’s version of the song falls squarely into the pop side of the music spectrum, as opposed to the more soulful renditions by Houston and The Friends Of Distinction; Masser’s vision of Diana Ross positioned her as an interrupter of sophisticated pop ballads.  Here, Masser and arrangers Michael Omartian and Gene Page craft a mid-tempo track that weaves in Alpert-style horns and country-tinged guitars with swirling, symphonic strings, therefore tying together elements from Diana’s previous hit “Touch Me In The Morning” with those featured on “Last Time I Saw Him.”  Diana’s vocal performance here is very strong, with the singer offering up relaxed and deeply-felt vocal during the verses and spirited work on the catchy refrain; the original Billboard review of this album noted the song’s “pretty multiple voicings all by Diana,” and the multi-tracking of her voice is indeed a nice touch.  Best of all, Miss Ross gets to do some ad-libbing during the final 40 seconds of the song which allows her a chance to finally put some muscle back into her singing; the singer hadn’t ad-libbed in this way since 1971’s Surrender, and it’s a relief to hear her break out from the laid-back pop/jazz mold a little bit.  Although the song does sound dated today due mainly to the rather busy orchestration, it’s a superb album track that likely could have generated solid airplay at the time; it’s interesting that Motown didn’t try this one out as a single, especially considering it was written and produced by Michael Masser.  “No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever” was eventually placed on the b-side of Diana’s 1975 single “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To).”

Billboard: August 25, 1973

9.  Touch Me In The Morning (from 1973’s Touch Me In The Morning):  “Diana is back in a delightfully contemporary vein after saluting Billie Holiday,” announced Billboard on May 12, 1973, just as this single was entering the marketplace; it would take the single three long, laborious months to climb to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the singer’s second solo #1 hit and fourteenth overall, counting her work as a Supreme.  “Meeting with Berry Gordy and Suzanne de Passe, at the time, they were very much looking for a song for Diana Ross, who hadn’t had a hit for, I guess, about two years following ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,'” recalled Michael Masser in an unaired 1986 interview for “PM Magazine.”  Co-writer Ron Miller says the title was his idea, and together the two men crafted a lush, modern pop ballad about a sexually liberated woman who tells her lover that “nothin’ good’s gonna last forever.”  By all accounts, the recording process was a nightmare, with a less-than-enthusiastic Ross forcing take after take until the producers managed to get enough material with which to piece together a winning performance; Miller is quoted in the Billboard Book of Number One Hits as saying it took 300 hours of editing to finish the song.  Still, it’s to the credit of everyone involved that the finished product is so seamless; from the opening piano chords to the swirling final fade in which Diana duets with herself, this is a professional ballad that sounds light years more sophisticated than the solo material Ross had recorded just two or three years earlier.  “Touch Me In The Morning” is, in fact, the perfect musical evolution of Diana Ross from the newly-solo, attention-hungry singer desperate to please to a wiser woman with nothing left to prove; whereas before she pledged to her audience that “Nothing can keep me from you,” now she’s a movie star with unabashed worldwide acceptance, waving goodbye with a simple “Let’s just be glad for the time together.”  The instrumental track is a warm collection of contemporary instruments, from the crisp piano to the deeply-felt guitar work (possibly performed by the great Jay Graydon, who played on several Diana Ross recordings of the decade, including many of the songs on this album), and it’s matched by a superb performance by Miss Ross, whose voice retains the healthy roundness she’d first displayed on her Lady Sings The Blues recordings.  The producers (Tom Baird and Michael Masser) smartly include some echoes of Diana’s earlier work, from spoken passages to swelling background vocals reminiscent of those favored by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, but the aggressive breathiness of Diana’s previous solo recordings is gone, replaced by a relaxed resignation that perfectly suits the song’s lyrics.  The result is a song that easily stands the test of time, and became one of Diana’s biggest hit singles; along with topping the pop charts, it also hit #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at #5 R&B.  The recording also earned Miss Ross her third solo Grammy nomination, for Best Female Pop Vocal Female Performance, an award ultimately won by Roberta Flack for “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

***

Coming on the heels of Diana’s gold-selling The Boss and the platinum smash diana, the release of To Love Again was fairly anti-climactic; “It’s My Turn” had been long available both as a single and on the film’s soundtrack album, and three of the five songs featured on the LP’s second side were not only available on their original albums, but also as part of Diana’s successful 1976 Greatest Hits package.  That said, many fans were doubtlessly excited about some new Ross-Masser productions, and the album peaked at respectable #32 on the Billboard 200 and #16 on the R&B Albums chart.  Any general interest in To Love Again or its new songs was soon swallowed up, however, in the wake of the blockbuster single “Endless Love,” Diana’s duet with Lionel Richie which would be released in June of 1981 (just a month after Motown issued “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You”) and top the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking nine weeks.  “Endless Love” turned out to be such a perfect Diana Ross ballad, produced with simplicity and taste and allowing the singer to showcase the undeniably purity of her voice, that it rendered most of the new ballads on To Love Again irrelevant.

Jet: June 4, 1981

Today, To Love Again is particularly notable for being the final Diana Ross album released before the singer left the label for a new multi-million dollar deal with RCA; the next several years would bring Ross an unprecedented independence and career responsibility, giving her an artistic freedom she’d clearly been craving for quite some time.  But To Love Again’s second side also serves as a potent reminder of just what Michael Masser and  Diana Ross were able to achieve during their fruitful time together in the 1970s.  Songs like “Touch Me In The Morning” thrust Diana straight into the pop arena, leading to a new kind of mainstream acceptance for African-American female vocalists through stately, sophisticated balladry; the image of Ross standing alone on stage in a glittery dress, delivering a tender love ballad, has cast a shadow that artists continue to stand in today.  The very best of their collaborations stand among the best love ballads in pop music history; whatever tension there might have been in the studio, it led to songs that serve as the indelible soundtrack to life.

Final Analysis:  3/5 (An Uneven “Turn”)

Paul’s Picks:  “It’s My Turn,” “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love),”  “To Love Again”

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Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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58 Responses to To Love Again (1981)

  1. Antje says:

    Somewhere on the internet you can find the vocal track only of “It’s my turn” – stunning!
    Thank you, Paul, for making so many people’s Sunday.

    • Paul says:

      Wow…I’ve never heard this — I’m going to look for it now!

      • Tony says:

        It is stunning – I have heard it. You hear every breath and subtle note! Lovely!

      • markus says:

        here you are, Paul:

        another great review! Although I do love all that growling at the end of “One More Chance”…as we would say, she is “sangin HARD!”. LOL

        When I play that and “Fool For Your Love” from Silk Electric for people the reaction is usually “THAT’S Diana Ross???”

      • Paul says:

        I’ve gotten that reaction too…especially to “Fool For Your Love”…no matter what you might think of that song, gotta give her props for going there with such confidence!!

  2. Antje says:

    And let me take the chance to say a BIG thank you to Dick Ketler, who linked his wonderful “Dick’s Diana Ross Website” to yours. Both of you are doing a tremendous job!

  3. wayne2710 says:

    I have always loved this album, and of the ‘new’ songs believed One More Chance to be up there with the best of her work.
    I never really understood the cd expanded edition that added songs and productions that weren’t by Michael Masser, it took something away from it.

    • Paul says:

      Wayne — it’s funny — I used to love “One More Chance,” but over the years have liked it less and less. There’s just something that sounds really forced to me now, even though I think it’s a vocal by Diana that’s extremely unique and needs to be heard!

      As far as the added tracks on the CD…it totally ruins the “Michael Masser” theme and changes the entire idea, but I like that it includes some very nice performances (such as the Lionel Richie and Marvin Gaye duets). I also like it includes “After You” — which I wish had been on the original album!

    • ejluther says:

      I’m with Wayne – “One More Chance” stands up there her best material. Would I want her to sing every song with that kind of gutteral force and angry passion? No, but she turns it out here and delivers a wonderful performance both vocally and emotionally…I love the way she “acts” a song and think she does it beautifully here (as well as the title track “To Love Again”)…

      I also think it’s worth mentioning that the TO LOVE AGAIN album was essentially planned, compiled and released after Diana made her decision to leave Motown. If I remember it all correctly, she had very little to do with its release and probably didn’t want it to come out seeing as it wasn’t even a “real” album and oversaturating the market ran the risk of slowing the momentum of her RCA debut. In fact, there was yet another “new” Diana Ross record called REVELATIONS that Motown/Berry planned to release soon after TO LOVE AGAIN. A collection of unreleased tracks with little if no cohesion, the LP was apparently cancelled after Diana had this exchange with SOUL magazine about the planned project:

      “when “Soul” magazine posed the question to Diana that an unreleased Motown LP was in the works she said “I dont believe that..Berry would never stand in the way of my career..I know he loves me …He cant stop loving me overnight”..apparently Berry highlighted these comments in an internal Motown memo about the planned release and the project was aborted..”

      more on the REVELATIONS project here:
      http://soulfuldetroit.com/archive/index.php/t-5401.html

      Speaking of the RCA years, I’m very much looking forward to the discussion about the next several records – what an eclectic mix! Again, thanks for doing this project – it’s really great to revisit all these albums through your perspective and to hear others weigh in on them. Plus, it’s just kind of staggering to reflect and consider the sheer size of her catalog – she’s nothing if not prolific!

      Any chance once this is done you’ll go back in time and spotlight her albums with The Supremes? I would LOVE to see that happen…

      • Paul says:

        Hey! That’s a great point — I’m sure Diana didn’t have much, if anything, to do with this one since she was in transition between labels at the time.

        I’m definitely considering doing the Supremes next — I’m dying for the chance to write about the “Funny Girl” album, on which I think Diana does some of her finest singing — not to mention great works like the “Love Child” albums and all those great singles!!

  4. Tony says:

    One of my greatest Diana ballads is “Its; My Turn.” For me, the album needed this song on it to even make the album listenable! Second, To Love Again, is magic to me, a master piece for sure. The other new songs all begin with a promising introduction – but all fail me by the time the song ends. I started out liking “On More Chance” as well, but it actually grates on me. WHy? Well the new ballads on the album – sound like Diana “acting Like Diana Ross.” They sound unauthentic- LIke she is imitating her self! I do enjoy “Cryin My Heart Out for You”- but – for some reason – still leaves me a tad empty. Having said that– with a take away – like “Its My Turn” – all is fine !

    • Paul says:

      What a perfect way to say it — Diana acting like Diana Ross. Michael Masser has a quote somewhere that says something about Diana “being wrapped up in being Diana Ross” — that’s maybe what he was alluding to.

      • Tony says:

        Wow ! I thought i was the only one who thought Diana’s singing on the Funny Girl album- was amazing! ( Not to digress- but – I played that album to death) And for the record – I found it in a Used Record store – I was way too young to have been around back then!! I do believe the Funny Girl Album is extremely rare!

      • Paul says:

        I can’t wait for the day when it’s re-mastered and re-released. I discovered it when “The Music That Makes Me Dance” was included on the Love Song compilation a few years ago — I had never heard Diana belt the way she does at the end of that song while a members of the Supremes — her vocals on the album are absolutely superb…her best of the 60s, I think. Someone should have put her in a Broadway show back then!!

      • Antje says:

        She sometimes referred to herself in the third person, or made remarks of what was expected of her “being Diana Ross”. From the film set “Out of darkness” somebody recalled, she would appear all natural. Then, after the shooting was done, she disappeared into the bathroom with the words “I have to go back to being Diana Ross” …Of course, I do understand all this, it is part of show business to keep an image. But when singing? Or is it just another piece of the puzzle to explain why she left Motown? She said in an interview, she did what she was told at Motown. So maybe she even started playing a role when recording then, because she was so fed up with being bossed around?

      • Paul says:

        Interesting thoughts…maybe that’s it…she was “playing” herself…biding her time until she was in a new situation…

  5. spookyelectric says:

    I think the point about many listeners at the time thinking of this as a mainly ‘new’ album is a valid one – of course ‘Mahogany’ and ‘Touch Me’ were huge hits, but only more diehard fans would have known the rest of the tracks, especially the stunning title tune. The ‘diana’ album had introduced her to a whole new generation, so I think this was a pretty clever move on Motown’s part. It certainly feels more cohesive than some other compilations of her work.

    It’s interesting to hear the perspective on the new songs, I especially like the comment about ‘Diana imitating Diana’. I get that totally – it’s something I think all artists with a career as long as she’s had can sometimes be accused of – this is probably the first time that criticism was as consistently appropriate I think. (Although I personally get a kick out of the excess of ‘One More Chance’, especially those gutsy ad-libs on the fade). It’s also worth considering the time this was recorded as well – Michael Masser was writing/producing this kind of material for the likes of Billy Preston & Syreeta and Crystal Gayle around this time with a very similar ‘overproduced’ sound.

    Never was a big fan of ‘Stay With Me’ until I heard the Teddy Pendergrass version a few years later – he really nails the song. I only recently discovered it was originally recorded by Billy Davis on the late 70s ‘Marilyn & Billy’ album – another great version. Masser must have written the song with a male voice in mind – it takes on a slightly different meaning – more vulnerable than submissive maybe.

    Diana fans might also be interested to know that record also contains a couple of other Masser tunes – a loungey soul version of ‘I Thought It Took A Little Time’ by the pair (nice, but Diana’s version trumps it for drama and emotion) and also ‘Saving All My Love For You’ – which of course years later kickstarted a run of million selling Whitney/Masser collaborations. Wonder how Diana felt about that? Did she ever speak publicly on it?

    • Paul says:

      I’ve wondered, too, if Diana ever looked back and wished she’d worked more with Masser once he started having all those hits with Whitney. “Greatest Love Of All” is the kind of uplifting message song Diana Ross loves…seems it would have been a natural for her to tackle at some point. Of course, she did return to Masser’s compositions with “In Your Arms” in 1982, which Whitney also recorded (as “Hold Me” with Teddy Pendergrass). But. of course, more on that song to come… (MUCH more…I can’t stand it!!)

      • BabyLuv says:

        It’s funny that the 2 of you mention this because I have also wondered what were Diana’s early thoughts about those Whitney/Michael collaborations. “Greatest Love of All” is especially one song that I could hear Diana rendering. It makes me think whether Diana could’ve sustained commercial success in the US for a little while longer had she continued to reach out to him and recorded those songs.

      • Paul says:

        I wonder, too, if she would’ve had hits with those songs…or perhaps the public was just ready for a fresh new face. Whitney experienced the same thing in her career; there came a point when radio just didn’t want to play her anymore and newer singers took over. In Diana’s case, it’s a shame, as she was still making some really good music long after her albums/singles stopped being hits.

      • spookyelectric says:

        Of course, I forgot about that song. How appropriate that the last Masser song Diana recorded then got picked up for Whitney – like a passing of the diva ballad baton!

      • Paul says:

        I know, right? It’s funny that Whitney would deny all comparisons to Diana Ross way back in the day, saying she didn’t “need her” as an inspiration. It sure seems now that the people mapping out her early career were looking directly at Diana Ross for inspiration!!

      • BabyLuv says:

        I was shocked and actually a bit disappointed when I saw that clip of Whitney Houston denying Diana as an influence. Yes, her mother & cousin Dionne Warwick may have been stronger influences but I felt like she could’ve gave Diana more respect than that. It’s like she was offended at the implication.SMH. But clearly she put the pettiness aside & years later dedicated whole tribute segment in honor of Diana at one of her concerts that’s up on Youtube.

      • Paul says:

        I agree — there was a weird attitude in the way she said she didn’t need Diana Ross, and it certainly made it seem as though being compared to Diana was an insult. I’m glad that as years went on that attitude seemed to soften up; their careers were similar and overlapped in many weird ways…from working with Masser to starring in (or almost starring in) “The Bodyguard”…to working with Brandy on a TV movie!

  6. Tony says:

    I recall that interview. Sad, on many levels. Sad that Whitney didn’t see the warrior who paved her road(DIANA). Sad , that once again Diana was not shown the respect she deserved and earned. Sad, that Whitney seemed so petulant and rude when she had a chance to be graceful and poised. Whitney – did come to see that a career of Diana’s magnitude is to be respected, and honoured and is most certainly responsible for the career of many who followed. Whitney was just not properly groomed, and advised about her history. Diana respects her past , those who paved the way for her….. and deep down so did Whitney.

    Here is my prelude to the RCA years.

    Whitney changed the taste of the American listening audience. Diana did just that in the 60’s and 70″s. However, Whitney’s voice became the the new standard. Diana sounded a little more “white” when the audience wanted it . Whitney sounded a little more rich and gospel. Tastes had changed…. and so did the intensity of the desire for that crystal clear , clean, crisp voice know as Diana Ross!!!!! The world wrapped their arms around a new sound , a new tone…an new voice…Whitney.

    No matter how good the Diana song was , no matter how well it is sung, how ground breaking or innovative the music was….. the world wanted the “Whitney” sound.

    The RCA years……..to be discussed……NEXT.

    • Antje says:

      Summed up perfectly, Tony!

      • Antje says:

        Let me add this little story: Last year a voting on a – very much acknowledged – German-French TV-channel took place to crown the “The Queen of Pop”. Out of 50 proposals, Diana surprisingly made it into the top 10, together with Aretha, Beyonce, Donna Summer (!) and the expected (Madonna, Britney Spears and so on) – no Whitney, no Tina. Specials dedicated to the top 10 were broadcasted, including interviews with people like Nile Rodgers on their opinion/experiences. They also interviewed a professor from Princeton ( I think she is the one to come up with a book about the role of black female singers in musical history). She admitted that – though her body language clearly told she was obviously disliking Diana – she does not need to sing around a note like so many others, because she hits it perfectly while carrying along all the emotions.

    • Paul says:

      Tony — I totally agree that Diana’s output from 1985-onward really could have been the best work of her career and her sales still would’ve slipped. Popular arists, unfortuantely, have a “shelf life”…and there comes a time when people move on to the next big thing.

  7. BabyLuv says:

    Anyway, speaking of “It’s My Turn”…that song created one of my favorite Ross TV moments when she went into a spur of the moment rendition on Oprah. It’s so obvious this is one of those songs in her repertoire that will always be meaningful beyond words. You really feel the emotion come through, even as she sings it 20 years later.

    • Paul says:

      I LOVE that moment, too!!! One of Diana’s most amazing television moments, to be sure. She sounded amazing on those first few lines…the emotion was so thick…it was a moment that proved that hadn’t lost a bit of her ability over the years.

      • BabyLuv says:

        It’s only a couple weeks ago that I discovered that Aretha Franklin recorded a cover of the song.

    • Tony says:

      I fell in love with her all over again! That voice just moves me like no other!!! And sometimes we need to take things down off the shelf- to enjoy them again — and again. Actually that is what this Project does. It takes Diana Ross off the shelf and forces us us enjoy her and her voice again —- THANKS PAUL!

    • Tony says:

      I fell in love with her all over again when I saw this scene. That voice just moves me like no other!!! And sometimes we need to take things down off the shelf- to enjoy them again — and again. Actually that is what this Project does. It takes Diana Ross off the shelf and forces us us enjoy her and her voice again —- THANKS PAUL!

      • spookyelectric says:

        Good to see BabyLuv posting Aretha’s take on ‘It’s My Turn’. Heaven forbid dissing the Queen of Soul but this is a really good example of what Diana brings to a melody and lyric – Diana really sells the sentiment, Ree kind of bulldozes it. Of course Aretha’s version is thrilling and exciting, but Diana’s ends up far more moving and honest.

        Also on a ‘It’s My Turn’ tip – some readers might remember Diana’s recording (along with loads of other Ross classics) being used in a lovely little short film from the mid-90s called ‘Trevor’. About a teenager coming to terms with his sexuality – it won an Oscar for best Short Film and inspired a great charity ‘The Trevor Project’ that supports kids. Well worth hunting out.

      • Paul says:

        I have never seen “Trevor” and I’ve always wanted too — I’m afraid I’ll sit there bawling through the whole thing…it may hit pretty close to home!!

      • Paul says:

        Tony — I am loving listening to her again, too…especially in chronological order. I am gaining a new appreciation for the risks she took over the years, especially in the 80s. Can’t wait to start discussing works like “Silk Electric” and “Eaten Alive” — I know we’ll all have differing opinions about her choices!

  8. spookyelectric says:

    Paul – do try to watch ‘Trevor’ if you can get hold of a copy. It may have dated a bit (it came out in 1994) but it really has something special about it – it’s funny and moving and really ahead of its time. It’s the first time I remember every seeing a rounded attempt a portraying a young gay kid on screen (this was over a decade before the likes of Ugly Betty and Glee). And of course, it has all those great Diana tunes in it. I interviewed Diana Ross a few years back and asked her about it and not only was I surprised she had seen the film and loved it, she told me all about The Trevor Project too.

  9. oscar zepeda says:

    I happen to love this album and I am glad the expanded edition included all the songs it did. “One More Chance” also being one of my favorite songs.

  10. chris meklis says:

    To Love Again: I always thought of as a classic Diana Ross ‘showpiece/ career summation’..
    When I eventually got that album on tape, I did not have any of the 70’s studio albums and so I listened to it as a studio piece which enticed me to the 70’s sounding Ross without the at that time, hard to digest strange tracks like Brown Baby and Save The Children, even Surrender, Young Mothers and Love Hangover… I found hard to digest as a “Diana rookie” (all of 11 years old in 1985)…I could not piece together sounds and concepts of her Anthology…

    So, with 2 RCA’s (Swept Away and Eaten Alive), a Betamax of Central Park and Caesars Palace 1979, I dove into To Love Again and it had a charm about it for me that finally bridged me to the 70’s Diana Ross.

    It’s My Turn needs no explanation- that stellar performance of perfect balance of emotion, vocal prowess, female assertion and lyric and mood interpretation represents what Diana the balladeer, Diana the self- assertive independent woman, and Diana the talented vocalist/performer is all about.
    And because of singular performances like this, where nobody can sing songs like this and pull them off (same with the Supremes hits), Diana has the right to ‘act’ like Diana Ross…lol 🙂

    I liked Stay With Me and Crying My Heart Out at the time, they were cute, melodious and satisfying, now I cannot handle Crying My Heart anymore…it’s too slick, and I rather prefer her gutsy growling of “One more” “One More Chance” in that song than I do the “Once again, I’m losing myself….over YOU!!!! I’m crying my heart out for you, What can I DOOO! I’m losing myself over you, OVA and OVER AGAAIN”….the former seems more authentic and expressive of the pain of losing a love.
    One More Chance has over the years become a firm favourite power ballad for me…

    To Love again and I Thought It Took A Little Time fast became my best soft ballads and I always have a soft spot for No One’s Gonna Be A Fool…probably because I knew and liked this song years before I ever had the whole Last Time I Saw Him album in my hands!

    Touch Me In The Morning, well no need to go into that- of course it’s a classic, a masterpiece creation for our lady!
    If I had been an older fan familiar with her 70’s albums- my take on this collection would have been far different I think

    Chris xx

    You are a stat mr. Paul…I and all the others are clearly getting right back into our albums and I love hearing opinions about them…Diana Ross has such a collection, “eclectic” is understating it!

  11. Michael Coleman says:

    Great review, but I couldn’t disagree more about “One More Chance”. After “Be A Lion” and “It’s My Turn”, it may be be favorite Diana ballad vocal.

  12. Michael Coleman says:

    Great review, but I couldn’t disagree more about “One More Chance”. After “Be A Lion” and “It’s My Turn”, it may be my favorite Diana ballad vocal.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks, Michael! I know a lot of people love “One More Chance” — and I agree that it’s a powerful performance — it just feels too forced for my liking!

  13. Mike says:

    Why has no writer that I know of ever commented on Michael Masser’s cribbing of some of his own Stay With Me lyrics for a Crystal Gayle song c. 1986? I’m writing this from memory, but this was one of her crossover songs, a medium-level hit, and both the melody and the accompanying line “I never thought that I would meet someone so beautiful” crop up several times within the song–instantly identifiable for those who know Stay With Me.

  14. Mike says:

    The song was A Long and Lasting Love, 1985, cowritten w Gerry Goffin. Chorus of it and Stay With Me have identical melody and identical first two lines. Second two lines differ.

  15. Piotrek says:

    On “To Love Again” (expanded edition) there’s a remastered version of “I Thought It Took A Little Time (but today I Fell in Love)”-probably the best thing that Diana Ross has ever recorded. I played it to my girlfriend and said that this must be our “first dance” during soon-to-come wedding. Perfect song.

  16. V16TROLA says:

    I listened to One More Chance last night on full blast. The power of the music and vocals in the last half of the song just blew me away. Agreed that it is completely overblown but I love the completely OTT-ness of it. Whilst I don’t come back to it that regularly, I still love it. 🙂

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  19. David Wilson says:

    I love Diana Ross. I’m a massive fan but I also retain the ability to be objective about her work. This album was a massive disappointment following the 1980 DIANA album produced by CHIC Organisation which captured the zeitgeist. Instead this was a real backward step containing a few sub par “new” schmaltzy ballads with some excruciating vocals and a few of her greatest hits. The impression was that these “new” hadn’t quite made it onto previous album projects for obvious reasons. Diana doesn’t have much depth to her voice and sounds even thinner here. I’ve never understood why Gordy allowed producers to push her voice beyond her limited range until it becomes painful to listen to and so off key (the final part of Touch Me In the Morning makes me wince every time I hear it) It only hi lights her shortcomings. This album was a blatant cash in by Motown as Diana was heading off to pastures new- if only she’d realised that the grass definitely wasn’t greener on the RCA side and that she was pressing the self destruct button on her career. Apart from It’s My Turn” the other singles didn’t chart well in the UK because they were 2nd rate dated bland MOR fayre. The move to RCA, Dreamgirls, The Motown 25 Special all contributed significantly to Diana’s downfall. Mary’s memoirs sealed her fate. This album was a warning sign of things to come- the 80’s Diana Ross’s “Lost Decade”. She should have dominated the 80s charts instead her career hit an all-time low. She did manage a few good hits (Missing You No10 US, Chain Reaction No1 in UK) but certainly not the consistency or quality we had come to expect. She was no longer the first choice for producers and songwriters to work with. Nor was she high on the list of those that other stars wished to collaborate with. A duets album or American Songbook style standards collection would’ve been awesome (I’ve Got A Crush on You with Rod Stewart gives a glimpse of what might have been). Such a shame.

    • Paul says:

      David — Of course I agree that the 80s were a wildly uneven period for Diana’s career — but I don’t think I’m as harsh when assessing the output. Every artist has a “shelf life,” sadly, and I’m not sure Diana would have continued to top the pop charts, even if she’d stayed with Motown. Ross has repeatedly stated that she felt the need to express her own creativity and exert control over the career — and that’s what RCA afforded her the opportunity to do (especially on the first 2 RCA albums). Although I’m not crazy about either of those two works, I understand that Diana was finally at a point in her career when she felt she could experiment, and I can appreciate that. Later in the decade, she would seemingly start to struggle with getting a “hit” again — and I think that’s when her discography became bland and uninspired (i.e. EATEN ALIVE, RED HOT). Thankfully, she really bounced back with FORCE and TAKE ME HIGHER, albums that balance her need for creativity with good, polished material. Thanks for reading along!!

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