“And there ain’t no use in holding on, when nothing stays the same…”
After scoring two of the biggest hits of her career — “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” — and propelling her sound to a completely new place with the dynamic diana album, Diana Ross slowed things down considerably and took a step back to the past with her next album, To Love Again. The LP is essentially a Michael Masser songbook, featuring four new songs on Side A and five classic love ballads written and produced by Masser on Side B, including the #1’s “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany.” Therefore, like 1978’s Ross, it’s sort of a studio album/compilation hybrid, this time bound together with Masser as the common theme.
The album came after the success of “It’s My Turn,” a beautiful ballad of empowerment written by Masser and recorded by Ross as the theme song to the film of the same name. The song was a big hit, reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in late 1980, following closely on the heels of “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” Diana herself has often cited the ballad as one that’s very close to her, having written in her memoirs, Secrets Of A Sparrow: “Michael…was a very difficult man to work with, maybe because he knew how fabulous he was, but he could surely write songs that were relevant. ‘It’s My Turn’ became very important to me” (202). It’s interesting that Diana pointed out in her book that she had trouble working with Michael Masser — perhaps that’s the reason half of this album is made up of older songs. For his part, Masser is quoted in the liner notes of the CD re-release of To Love Again as saying, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have known and worked with Diana.”
The entire To Love Again album holds great significance in terms of Diana’s discography because it contains her last batch of new recordings for a Motown album before leaving for RCA (unlike Diana’s Duets and All The Great Hits, which were both also released by Motown in 1981 and were outright compilation albums). After the enormous success of the diana album, the “It’s My Turn” single, and of course the monster-mega-insanely successfully “Endless Love” duet with Lionel Richie, Diana accepted a $20 million offer to leave her first and only record label; her debut album for RCA, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, would be released in late 1981. Because Miss Ross was so vocal about her reason for leaving Motown — she wanted more creative control over her career — “It’s My Turn” certainly feels like it could have been a personal anthem for her at the time. It also gives an interesting subtext to the rest of the new songs — which all have to do with the challenges of leaving one situation for another.
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. The very best Diana Ross ballad performances are built upon a foundation of simplicity; they’re not overproduced, and they allow Diana’s voice to take the lead. As much as Michael Masser clearly understood that, “Stay With Me” and “One More Chance” in particular are a sea of swirling production elements, and Diana’s vocals are pushed so far at times that they cease to even be pretty. 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.
1. It’s My Turn: This song still stands as one of the greatest ballads Diana Ross would ever record; it was a deserved Top 10 hit, and it’s a crime that Diana didn’t receive a Pop Female Vocal Grammy nomination for it. The vocal performance here is simple and powerful; there are no background voices to distract from Diana, and she stays comfortably within her range while still displaying impressive lung power as she belts out the familiar refrain. Michael Masser’s lyrics here are some of his most memorable; though lines like “I can’t cover up my feelings in the name of love…” and “…if living for myself is what I’m guilty of, go on and sentence me, I’ll still be free…” are admittedly schmaltzy, the song is instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever made the decision to go out on his or her own and try something new. Diana’s reading of the 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. Diana’s emotional crooning of the words “…it’s my turn” at 1:50 into the song and then again at the end is some of her best singing since The Wiz soundtrack back in 1978; she’s certainly feeling this song as she’d been feeling those songs back then. “It’s My Turn” remains a fresh, satisfying listen, and still sounds like it could be a hit today.
2. Stay With Me: In a strange way, this song could be considered a kind of “answer” song to “It’s My Turn” – in the previous track, Diana had been declaring her independence in a relationship, and in this one she’s begging for the opposite to happen, as though taking on the other party’s point of view. The song starts out promisingly enough; Diana’s vocal is tender and quiet, and there’s a nice vulnerability that as she sings “…I know there’s a whole new world you found, and it’s to that world you’re bound.” However, at about 1:10 in there’s a bit of a tempo shift, as the beat kicks up and the background vocals kick in alongside Miss Ross. This section is actually quite similar to the section of “Touch Me In The Morning,” when Diana sings, “Well, I can say goodbye in the cold morning light…” However, while the tempo had been steadily building in that previous #1 hit, the shift feels more jarring here (listen to the Roberta Flack version of “Stay With Me” recorded around the same time, without the tempo shift — the song feels much more cohesive). The backgrounds also hurt the song a bit for the duration of the track; Diana’s voice becomes a little lost in the wash of female voices, especially at 1:52, when Diana reaches way up into the top of her register to sing “Won’t you stay with me?” Hearing her sing such high notes should be a powerful, key moment in the song, but her voice quickly fades into the background as the other voices take over, which robs the moment of the emotional payoff — not to mention the fact that her voice doesn’t sound that strong to begin with. There are some nice moments here; I like the key change at 2:50, a case in which Diana’s voice does sound full and powerful and really does rise above the rest of the production, but on the whole this song just isn’t the classic you’d hope for out of two such talented artists.
3. One More Chance: This is an interesting early 80s ballad from Diana Ross; it was released as a single, though it failed to do much airplay or sales-wise. This may be the closest thing to a “power ballad” she had ever recorded at Motown, with the song building to an eye-popping climax in which Diana Ross growls in a way she never had on record before. Seriously — if you’ve never heard this song before — immediately listen to the final 40 seconds; Diana Ross sounds almost raging-angry in her repeated delivery of the words “one more chance.” Though there’s no doubt that, as J. Randy Taraborrelli writes in Diana Ross: A Biography, Diana’s voice is “pushed to the limit” here, it’s unfortunately not that pleasant of a listen. Diana Ross had proven on The Wiz and The Boss that she could soulfully and gut-renchingly belt out a song, and performances from those albums (for example, “Home” and “I Ain’t Been Licked”) feature an appealing rawness to her voice. Here, the near-screaming on both her lead and background vocals sounds way too forced; again, she sounds more angry than impassioned, as though she was ready to get the heck out of the recording booth and go home…and maybe that was the case.
4. Cryin’ My Heart Out For You: Aside from “It’s My Turn,” this is probably the best new recording on To Love Again; it’s not nearly as strong as the first track or the five on Side B, but it’s a nicely written tune by Masser, and the production doesn’t drown out the lead vocal here. Diana sounds confident and comfortable with the lyric; though this is a heartbreak tune, she’s not as vulnerable as she’d been at the beginning of “Stay With Me.” Diana’s performance instead sounds honest and simple for the most part, and certainly not overdone like her work on “One More Chance.” Still, this track does give her a chance to show some range and emote quite a bit toward the end, as her voices soars into her upper register (especially as she sings “What can I do?” at 3:15). This song was released as a single, though it didn’t even chart in the United States (although soon after it’s release, Diana would be back on top of the charts in a big way — with the theme from “Endless Love,” a duet with Lionel Richie.)
5. Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To): From Diana Ross (1976) Read My Album Review Here
6. I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love): From Diana Ross (1976) Read My Album Review Here
7. To Love Again: From Ross (1978) Read My Album Review Here
8. No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever: From Last Time I Saw Him (1973) Read My Album Review Here
9. Touch Me In The Morning: From Touch Me In The Morning (1973) Read My Album Review Here
Note: For information on bonus tracks from this album, click HERE.
In the end, To Love Again feels a bit thin, especially coming after The Boss and diana, both strong, cohesive albums filled with great original songs. Because the best songs here — “It’s My Turn” and those on Side B — are all available on other Diana Ross compilations, this album isn’t necessarily an essential in the Diana discography. To Love Again was re-issued on CD in 2003 with an expanded tracklist, and was far more successful creatively — it contains the superior Masser production “After You” (which was inexplicably left off the original 1981 lineup) and other non-Masser love ballads from the mid-to-late 70s, most of which are better (i.e. not overproduced) than the 1981 recordings included here. As mentioned before, later in ’81 Diana would score with the ultimate love ballad, “Endless Love” — a single that proves once again how important simplicity is to a successful Diana Ross recording. I’m sure a lot of fans have a strong attachment to the original To Love Again; surely a lot of the lyrics here are very relevant and there are those who love Diana Ross singing a ballad, no matter what it is. Still, I think Diana Ross and Michael Masser had set the bar so phenomenally high with their best work that they just couldn’t match it with all of these 1981 recordings.
Final Analysis (The “New” Songs): 3/5 (“It’s My Turn” Soars; The Rest Need More “Heart”)
Choice Cuts: “It’s My Turn,” “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You”