Take Me Higher (1995)

“Baby, we can rise above it if we leave our doubts behind us…we can learn to fly…”

Diana Ross burst back onto the music scene in 1995 with Take Me Higher, her first studio album for Motown since 1991’s The Force Behind The Power.  Though she’d released some collections, live albums, and international sets between them, it was a long wait for fans, and it was also a period of continued change in the music world.  By ’95, hip-hop was becoming mainstream, singers like Mariah Carey were breaking records with long-running #1 hits, and barely-teen artists like Brandy and Monica were topping the charts.  Certainly there was question about where Diana Ross would fit in, especially given that her previous two albums for Motown really hadn’t given her any traction sales-wise.  During a televised acceptance speech for her Soul Train Music Lifetime Achievement Award, she mentioned the time being one of a “new beginning” for her, and working with younger artists on her new album.

Released in the fall of 1995, Take Me Higher instantly allayed any fears of Diana Ross no longer fitting in to mainstream music; it is, without a doubt, one of the best studio albums of her entire career, and certainly the best she would turn out during her second stint as a Motown Records recording artist.  From start to finish, Miss Ross sounds stronger and more assured than she had on pretty much all of her material since the late 1970s/early 80s, and that material is uniformly good, with several of the songs here career standouts for the singer.  First single “Take Me Higher,” produced by the legendary Narada Michael Walden, is a slamming, fiery dance track that shot to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.  Miss Ross promoted the heck out of the song, energetically performing it on David Letterman’s late night talk show, on another Soul Train awards show, and in — in her biggest appearance of all — during the Super Bowl halftime show in early 1996.

Even with this kind of promotion — not to mention a slick music video that she personally presented on BET (Black Entertainment Television), the song barely registered on the pop and R&B charts.  None of the other singles saw much chart action — incredibly, not even Diana’s take on Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” a song she also promoted heavily with appearances and a music video and that has become a favorite of both fans and the singer herself.  Whether this was due to Miss Ross not getting enough support from her label, or to a youth-oriented audience not interested in new music from an established legend, it doesn’t really matter; in the end it was the general public that was the loser.  Take Me Higher is easily one of the best R&B and adult contemporary albums of the decade; nearly 20 years later, the album still sounds fresh and powerful, and Miss Ross’s voice is as lovely as it would ever sound on record.  With it, she finally achieved the perfect balance of classy, adult songs that are also exciting and youthful…something she’d been trying to attain for years.  For the non-initiated Diana Ross listener, Take Me Higher is a great introduction to the skill and versatility she possesses.  For the longtime fan, it’s continued proof of those qualities.

***

1.  Take Me Higher:  Possibly the most exciting Diana Ross single since 1980’s “I’m Coming Out,” this is Diana Ross at her upbeat, energetic best; it’s a perfect celebratory track that unsurprisingly topped the dance chart and gave Miss Ross new life as a dance diva and club icon.  This is the song that should have taken Diana Ross higher on the pop charts, too; it totally missed the top 100, mind-boggling given its catchiness and the quality of both the production and vocals.  Just four years later, fellow veteran Cher would have a #1 hit with the dance-pop track “Believe,” a good song but certainly not any better than this one, and it’s a shame “Take Me Higher” didn’t find the same kind of massive success.  Opening with an irresistible, skipping beat, Diana begins with deep, soulful spoken line before shouting one of her trademark “oooh!” sounds that date back to her work with the Supremes.  This is, perhaps, a hint of the “new beginning” Ross was talking about on the Soul Train awards; she seems rejuvenated and ready to tackle music full-on again.  Producer (and co-writer) Narada Michael Walden — who’d delivered #1 hits for Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Aretha Franklin — surrounds Diana with layered track featuring shimmering keyboards and an amazing background choir including Patti Austin and Angela Bofill.  Walden seems to understand something that many producers over the years have missed: the fact that great background voices behind Diana Ross can help elevate her vocals to another level.  Certainly Ashford and Simpson knew this, as did Rodgers and Edwards and Luther Vandross later; maybe it has something to do with her many years as lead singer of a vocal group, but Miss Ross certainly seems to push herself further and sing with more force when she’s joined on a track by talented session singers.  Here, Miss Ross’s vocals are soulful and sure-footed on the verses (listen to her gorgeous “Love will be there waitin’ for us…” at :50), and her voice rides the higher melody of the chorus with the kind of sublime urgency she’d mastered on her Holland-Dozier-Holland hits of the 1960s.  Like the best Ross dance hits (“The Boss,” “I’m Coming Out”), there’s an overwhelming joy to the track that just makes it a pleasure to both listen and groove to; though it should have been a bigger hit, it at least gave Miss Ross another #1 on a music chart, something she’d first done an astonishing 31 years earlier.

2.  If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right:  Another Walden-produced track, this one was released as the final single from the album (combined by Motown with “Voice Of The Heart”) and reached the lower portion of the R&B chart.  A smooth, mid-tempo number, the song is similar in tone to those released from Monica’s debut album, Miss Thang (including “Don’t Take It Personal [Just One Of Dem Days]” and “Like This And Like That”), but is completely age-appropriate and pitched perfectly for Diana’s deepening voice.  Miss Ross’s low-key, relaxed work on the verses is sexy and confident, and again sounds well-matched with the layered backing voice of Kimaya Seward.  Walden also wisely gives Diana some spoken words, something the actress in her pretty much always nails, and she sounds great purring the words, “…when you’re not here it makes me feel like…I can’t trust you.”  I like the key-change around 2:55, which adds a nice excitement toward the end of the song, and Diana’s ad-libbing for the duration of the track is soulful and never overdone.  More than anything, this is a “vibe” song; it’s a chunk of adult soul that aims to get the head nodding and set an atmosphere of cool sophistication, and it certainly succeeds.

3.  Voice Of The Heart:  The album’s first ballad is a knockout; produced by Nick Martinelli, the man responsible for Diana’s holiday album A Very Special Season the year before, “Voice Of The Heart” ranks among the diva’s best ballads of the 90s, if not of her whole solo career.  Released as a “second A-side” to the “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” single, this one managed to climb to #28 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary listing, not a bad showing but still well lower than it deserved.  This is, simply put, the most soulful ballad Miss Ross had recorded since “It’s Hard For Me To Say” in 1987; the track is miles away from Martinelli’s orchestral arrangements on the holiday album, and it’s much more complex than most of the slower songs featured on The Force Behind The Power.  The instrumental track features fantastic and subdued guitar work by Ted Pearlman, and the sublime backgrounds by Alexandra Brown, Tony Warren, and Jackie Gouchee Farris are gospel-tinged without ever being overpowering.  The real star here, of course, is Diana Ross, and her vocal work here is her best on the album thus far.  Listen to the spectacular control displayed during just the first verse; the low notes as she sings, “…you may run to the shelter of walls” are rich and deep, displaying a facet of Ross’s range that really hadn’t been explored much in her career.  The lyrics of the song convey the kind of inspirational message that Diana has always been fond of, all the way back to her first solo single, “Reach Out And Touch” — her trademark sensitive delivery and commitment to purely interpreting lyrics fit these kinds of songs well.  On any other album, this would be the standout ballad; amazingly, there are ever stronger ones to come, which says a lot about the quality of this work.

4.  Let Somebody Know:  Produced and co-written by singer-songwriter Brenda Russell, this is yet another stunning ballad, and perhaps the most “adult” song on the entire album.  The slow, almost somber tone is similar to the kind of classy work identified with Sade and Anita Baker, not to mention other Russell songs like “Get Here,” a huge hit for Oleta Adams in 1990.  As with “Voice Of The Heart,” Diana’s work on the verses is some of her most restrained and focused ever; she commands her lower register and allows her voice to soulfully brush the notes without ever muddling or losing them.  Diana’s attention to the lyrics here is masterful; listen to the way she delivers certain lines, such as “raise yo’ blinds” (at :32) — there’s a deeply felt, “root-sy,” almost bluesy feel to her work, as if she’s interpreting an old spiritual from her childhood.  The climax of the song comes even closer to true gospel than the previous track did; the choir here is full and powerful and yet, again, never steals focus nor outshines the lead singer (and the addition of  the soaring high notes at 4:20 is genius).  Close your eyes and listen to this song; it is a moving and emotional experience, completely visceral in the way that only the most dreamy Diana Ross ballads (like “Summertime” and “To Love Again”) are.  Strangely, “Let Somebody Know” was left off of international versions of the album, replaced by the uptempo Babyface tune “Swing It.”  I’m not sure why this decision was made, as both songs really should have been included on all versions of the project.

5.  Keep It Right There:  By 1995, no songwriter/producer was hotter than Babyface, who’d given major hits to superstars like Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, and Madonna (not to mention himself).  He co-wrote this tune with Jon-John, who also produced it, and who’d previously worked with TLC on its blockbuster album CrazySexyCool.  “Keep It Right There” actually has a very “TLC” kind of sound; it’s easy to imagine the girl group recording the song and including it on one of its albums.  That said, it’s a nice fit for Diana; this is smooth, cool R&B, and Miss Ross’s easy and relaxed delivery helps set the tone.  Coming after two much “heavier” songs in production and theme songs, this is a nice and necessary respite; it’s contemporary enough to remind listeners of Miss Ross’s relevance, but it doesn’t sound forced or inappropriate for her.  There’s also a playfulness here that adds a spark to the song; this is the kind of spark that was missing from some of the tracks on The Force Behind The Power in both the production and in the vocals.  Whatever was going on in Diana’s personal life here, she certainly sounds like she was feeling sexy and youthful at the time.

6.  Don’t Stop:  The most youth-oriented track here, this is the product of The Boom Brothers, a young team out of “the Babyface camp” (as Miss Ross said in interviews).  It also has the distinction of being of the very few (maybe the first?) Diana Ross songs to feature a sample (from Big Daddy Kane’s “Mortal Combat”) — certainly a sign of the times and proof that this was an opportunity for her to do something more “current.”  Though this was never released as a single, BET did play the song with a video made up of clips from the photography sessions for the CD booklet; it was presented by Miss Ross during an appearance on the show “Video Soul.”  Featuring a more angular, beat-driven track and echoes of rap music laced into the track, Miss Ross continues the vibe set by “Keep It Right There” with sexy yet subdued vocals; she isn’t required to show much range here, but she manages to inject her breathy vocals with enough strength to keep them from ever sounding weak or strained (as they sometimes had on the songs of 1989’s Workin’ Overtime).  The line-trading between Diana and singer Natasha Pierce during the bridge is also a really nice touch and a great way to add some energy to the song.  Though it’s slight in comparison to most of the others here, it is intentionally that way; the duration of the album is stacked with complex masterpieces, and this is a fun “breather” that helps balance the overall product.

7.  Gone:  Another one of this album’s shining moments, this was pulled as the second single from Take Me Higher; though it didn’t chart in the US, it managed to just pass into the UK top 40 (interestingly, some international singles featured “I’m Gone” written on the cover, though it’s just titled “Gone” on the CD and the US single).  This is another Jon-John production, and was written solely by him; it’s a shuffling ballad that nearly defies genre classification, weaving together elements of pop, R&B, and even classical music.  This complexity might be why it didn’t get much radio play; it certainly didn’t sound like anything else on radio at the time, and really doesn’t sound like much else in the Diana discography period, though the lush orchestration is reminiscent of some of her mid-70s pop ballads (like 1976’s “I Thought It Took A Little Time”).  Opening simply with a lovely, melodic piano line, the track soon intensifies with layers of violins, violas, and cellos; atop this swirling musical bed, Diana begins a virtuoso, Grammy-worthy vocal performance, deftly singing the quickly-worded verses in deep, velvety tones that are as accomplished as anything she’s ever recorded.  She employs a higher, delicate voice for the chorus; the lyrics during these sections are again dense and wordy (“And you’ll dream about love and how it will be, but then you’ll wake up to reality to find I’m Gone..”), but Ross’s expert enunciation and lightness of tone carry them with ease.  The final minute of the song is almost achingly beautiful; Diana quietly ad-libs over the instrumental, creating a wordless lullaby for the listener before the song merely fades away.  From start to finish, “Gone” is a masterpiece; every element here is perfect, and though chances were probably always slim for its success, it’s an absolute shame that it wasn’t heard by more people.

8.  Only Love Can Conquer All:  This song has become a minor Diana Ross classic, thanks to her superb performance of it during an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2000 (while promoting her “Return To Love” Supremes tour; during the performance, she handed the microphone off to an excited background singer, an unforgettable moment of graciousness).  Though it was never released as a single, it’s another fabulous ballad, with an inspirational message similar to those on “Voice Of The Heart” and “Let Somebody Know.”  Like those previous tunes, this also combines elements of soul and gospel; it was written and produced by Narada Michael Walden, and again features a background choir including singers Patti Austin and Angela Bofill.  This, more than any other song on the album, is a classic Diana Ross “message” song, addressing issues of race relations through lyrics like, “What if we try talking…we’ll see we’re the same on the inside.”  Diana’s voice is at its soulful best here; the critics who say she’s a “pop” singer without real R&B chops should be required to listen to this performance, which drips with feeling, as though the words were coming straight from her bones.  And more than any other ballad here, Miss Ross gets a chance to show some power and do some belting; kicking off the climax with a cry at 3:00 in, her work during the final minute of the song is perhaps the best on the album, and some of her best of the entire decade.  Because Diana Ross is not a singer who ever oversings or shows off during a song, the times when she does let loose are important and meaningful; the strong message of this piece certainly makes it a worthy opportunity for the star to prove what she can do.

9.  I Never Loved A Man Before:  Separately, songwriters Gerry Goffin and Tom Snow are responsible for two of Diana Ross’s greatest songs; the former co-wrote her 1975 #1 hit “Theme From Mahogany” and the latter helped create “Gettin’ Ready For Love,” the first single from her 1977 masterpiece Baby It’s Me.  Together, the two men deliver here the standout track of an already-incredibly strong album, a smoldering, seductive, and mature tune that fits Diana Ross better than one of her Bob Mackie stage gowns.  Opening with a sizzling Spanish-tinged jazz guitar line, the instrumental track here is an accomplished and classy work thanks to producer Nick Martinelli, who layers the expert guitar work with sexy percussion and piano flourishes that instantly transport the listener to a dimly lit, late-night lounge.  Once again, Diana Ross more than delivers with her performance; she sings much of the first verse in a hushed, breathy voice perfectly matching the mood of the track, and delicately reaches for the higher notes of the chorus with a gentle wistfulness that hints at some of her more dreamy ballad work from the early to mid-1970s.  The moment after the song’s bridge, when Diana sings “You make me feel like…” beginning at 3:42, is one of the most beautiful on the entire album; she reaches high into her range and alters the melody a little bit, and it’s a breathtaking moment of vocal virtuosity.  Every element of this song is so perfect that it again demonstrates how skillful Diana Ross is at combining elements of jazz, pop, and R&B; she is one of the few singers who can literally jump genres within single lines of a song.  There’s not a bad track on Take Me Higher,  but for my money “I Never Loved A Man Before” is the one that showcases Diana Ross at her very best, and is a song that deserves to be heard by a wide, appreciative audience.

10.  I Thought That We Were Still In Love:  Producer Nick Martinelli takes the jazz overtones of the previous track and carries them much further here, in a piano-and-sax-driven torch song tailor-made for Diana Ross.  Like the previous number, it was also co-written by Tom Snow, who’d worked up some fabulously sophisticated songs on Baby It’s Me, and this one is truly like an updated version of a selection that could have easily fit in on that 1977 album.  But beyond that, this song easily could have also fit in with those she performed on Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings…Jazz And Blues; Miss Ross’s work here is loose and relaxed, but never loses the poignant, emotional edge needed to sell the lyric.  Producer Martinelli commented in a recent interview with showbiz journalist Lance Chau:  “It was one of the few songs Diana did not get on the first day of recording.  I remember asking her to go back and work on it a little more.  The second day she had a real grasp of the song.”  Whatever the behind-the-scenes method here, it definitely worked; her vocal here is as good as anything she’d record during the decade, and along with the recording of her own composition “Where Did We Go Wrong” (included on international versions of Stolen Moments), makes a strong case for Diana needing to record a studio album of original jazz songs.

11.  I Will Survive:  The album’s closer is “dedicated to my girls,” as Diana purrs during the opening; it is, of course, a remake of the 1979 Gloria Gaynor disco anthem, and is transformed here into a modern club banger by Miss Ross and producer Narada Michael Walden.  It has since become an anthem for Miss Ross; she has used it as a concert-closer ever since recording it, and her version is likely her most-played song of the 1990s in the United States, thanks in part to its place on the soundtrack of the hit Kevin Kline movie In & Out.  Miss Ross filmed a video for the song (featuring drag queen RuPaul) and performed it on television (including a hilarious appearance on David Letterman’s late-night program)…and yet, amazingly, Motown never released it as a single in the states.  The song hit #14 in the UK, and probably had more potential than any other here to be a hit in the US; that it never really got a shot is just a total waste.  In any case, it’s a great version of a classic song; Diana sounds fierce and energetic, and the beat and background vocals are as irresistible as those featured on “Take Me Higher.”  Her performance here is not only powerful, it’s also playful; her ad-libbing toward the end is reminiscent of her work on 1976’s “Love Hangover,” as she changes the pitch of her voice and seems to be having a fantastic time in the recording studio.  There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end this album; “I Will Survive” brings it full circle, back to the full-on dance sound of the opening number, and is certainly a declaration from the singer that (in her own famous words at Central Park), “I’m not going anywhere.”

Swing It:  Included on the EMI edition of Take Me Higher, this song was featured instead of “Let Somebody Know,” (and got a release in the United States as the b-side to second single “Gone”).  The good news is that while “Let Somebody Know” is one terrific track, “Swing It” is a worthy recording, too, and so the replacement really doesn’t take away from the success of the album as a whole.  Co-written by Babyface and produced by Jon-John, the song is a slick and smooth piece of modern R&B, similar in tone to “Keep It Right There.”  The “Do you think that you can swing a little time with me?” chorus is even catchier than that previous song’s, and the “electro-flute” sound here is a nice gimmick that makes it memorable.  Diana’s performance is relaxed and sexy, similar to her work on “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” — her opening “Woo!” and laugh are nice and loose, too.  The superb background vocals by Heather Mason, Natasha Pierce, and Alex Rowe are also a smart addition; they end up sound like a 90s version of the Supremes behind Miss Ross.  It’s too bad that both the domestic and international versions of Take Me Higher couldn’t have just included both this song and “Let Somebody Know” — they’re both deserving of a place on the album.

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

***

Take Me Higher is, simply put, a perfect Diana Ross album.  But apart from the rest of her own discography, it’s just a great contemporary R&B album.  The quality of the songs, the production, and the vocals are consistently strong from start to finish, something that many albums of the decade struggled with.  Take Me Higher is every bit as accomplished as many of the albums that topped the R&B album chart in 1995, including Mariah Carey’s superb Daydream and the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack.  Even if the singles didn’t perform particularly well, the album itself certainly deserved a better showing than it found on the US charts (it at least managed to hit the top 10 in the UK, although none of the singles were massive hits there).

The good news?  Because it’s not well-known, it’s ripe for rediscovery.  In the way that folks who missed 1971’s Surrender and 1973’s Last Time I Saw Him are now realizing what gems they were thanks to splendid reissues, one can only hope someday young music fans will stumble upon this notable piece of work.  The production on the album is so good that it never feels dated (in the way that even some of the songs on The Force Behind The Power from ’91 do), and there’s a good chance that even 20 years from now, it will still feel fresh and vibrant.  That’s the power of Diana Ross at her best; her voice and spirit transcend musical styles and fads, and that’s why her stunning career continues.

Final Analysis:  5/5 (Diana Soars “Higher” Than Ever)

Choice Cuts:  “I Never Loved A Man Before,” “Gone,” “Let Somebody Know”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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81 Responses to Take Me Higher (1995)

  1. Lawrence says:

    This is a very personal album for me. While I of course already knew some of Diana’s earlier works before this CD, “Take Me Higher” was an important CD that will always be tied to some exciting events in my life.

    For starters, I finally got to see Diana Ross in concert during this tour for the first time – and sat in the front row! (This would be the first of 5 or 6 concerts I’ve now seen her perform – and this is one of the best, tied perhaps with her show at the Pantages in LA).

    Plus, I was fortunate to meet her at a CD signing/event – and talked with her and found her so beautiful, lovely, and sweet. When she said, “You’re cute, may I kiss you?” I smiled and nodded, afraid I would faint. When she kissed me on the cheek, I was thrilled and then told her I’d see her in concert the next night. I didn’t know then I’d be in the front row. When she spotted me the next night during the show, she pointed and said “You!” with a big smile.

    I agree that this is almost a perfect album. I never get tired of any of the songs, and I can’t believe it didn’t take her back to the top of the charts. Yet, I don’t feel Motown had the power with radio at the time to get her a huge pop hit.

    I do remember that Billboard Magazine named “Gone” as one of the top ten singles of the year – which is a pretty great accomplishment (even if it wasn’t heard on the radio). In the concert, Diana sang almost the entire album, except the Brenda Russell track, which was ironic because Brenda was there!

    “Take me Higher” on Letterman and at the Superbowl were classic performances. I also adore “Voice of the Heart”, “Only Love”, and “I Thought that we were still in Love.” But again, the entire CD sounds as fresh today as it did in the mid 1990s. Take me Higher indeed – this album soars!

  2. Paul says:

    Lawrence — same here — this CD is very personal to me, too. I also first saw Diana in concert when she was promoting this album — and I also remember her performing every single song in concert except for “Let Somebody Know,” “Keep It Right There,” and “Gone” — although, it was so many years ago, she may have done these songs and I just forgot!! I do remember vividly that “Take Me Higher,” “Voice Of The Heart,” and “I Thought That We Were Still In Love” were AMAZING live — each was a stand out of the show. She wore the red pantsuit for “I Will Survive,” of course, and the crowd went wild!

    • markus says:

      Like Lawrence and Paul, I also caught Diana live at this time- my first time. It was in Boston in August (which I’m pretty sure was where she kicked off her tour). Before the show I saw Tracee and Chudney talking to some people near the front of the stage. I ran over and introduced myself. I remember asking Tracee (who i thought was beautiful) for her autograph- she put her hand on my shoulder and said “oh, I’m nobody special”. If I knew then what i know now I would’ve insisted. 😉 Ah, to be 18 again…lol

      here’s some footage of Diana performing that very night that appeared on Entertainment Tonight:

      after the show me and a group of other people ran to the side of the stage (the pavillion was outdoors). A limo pulled up and guess who stepped out. I was literally 3 feet away from Diana. She put her arm on the open door and yelled out to “Tony”- someone on her tour who apparently had been hurt. She asked if he was alright and if he needed a doctor. A few people (myself included) reached out to touch her hand while this was going on…she didnt seem much phased. I remember saying repeatedly “Diana, I love you!!” Oh dear, I had it bad…LOL

      While in line to enter the place we could see her through a shaded fence doing a final soundcheck and singing a portion of Take Me Higher- “OMG, that must be the new single- it’s a club song!” I remember someone saying. Internet was still in its’ infancy so the only idea i had that a new album was coming was her comments on the Soul Train Awards which Paul mentioned in his review, and my local bookstore, which carried Blues & Soul magazine (the article i read called the song “Take Me High”). Anyway, she opened with Take Me Higher and the place went wild (this was a 10,000 seat venue that she sold out). From the album i recall she also sang “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” and “Only Love Can Conquer All” (I remember that one because at the beginning she made a comment about racial problems and hatred in the world and how she wished everyone would just “get over it” already, which got a big reaction from the crowd).

      • Paul says:

        Such great memories — I love it. It is interesting that “way back then” — before we knew of releases online — the news of a new single/album always came like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. From the moment I saw Diana on the Soul Train Awards saying she was working on a new album, I was at my mall’s music store — a Musicland — checking for release dates every week. I also remember trying my darndest to memorize the words to “Take Me Higher” during the concert!! The day the single came out, I made my mom go buy it for me so I’d have it when I got home from school!

    • Lawrence says:

      How funny that Paul, Markus, and I all saw Diana live for the first time with this tour – too bad we weren’t all watching her together! I also remember watching the video filmed for “I Will Survive” in West Hollywood (live). Her version was used as the theme song for “In and Out.” Another reason it should have been a huge hit on the charts…

      • Paul says:

        “I Will Survive” probably had the most “hit potential” of anything Diana had released since “Chain Reaction” — everything was there for a major success…what a wasted opportunity.

      • markus says:

        One reason I Will Survive wasn’t released- despite Diana’s push for Motown to do so- was the fact that Chantay Savage had just released a slow tempo version of it that was getting a big push from- ironically- RCA Records (it eventually became a Top 5 R&B hit and reached #24 on the pop chart).
        There was an article in Billboard that mentioned Savage’s version would likely preclude Diana’s from getting a single release.

      • Paul says:

        Ah yes…the Chantay version. I actually bought the single when it was a hit (got MAJOR rotation on BET back then, and I did my homework everyday watching BET Video Soul with Donnie Simpson!) and at the time, I hoped its success would HELP Diana’s version get a single release. Back in the day, when Motown was super competitive with singles, it probably would’ve rush-released Diana’s to compete…but no such luck this time around. I certainly think Diana’s is superior, though they’re very different recordings. What in the world happened to Chantay Savage, anyway? Gonna have to look her up! 🙂

      • markus says:

        @Lawrence- isnt that amazing? Interesting how this album and tour is sort of a watershed for all of us. It was an exciting time to be a Diana fan- on tour all of the TV and new music, even if it was frustrating to watch it struggle commercially. Unfortunately it had been 4 long years- an eternity in pop music. It would’ve been tough to bounce back for most artists. The momentum just wasnt there for her. 😦

  3. markus says:

    Was really looking forward to this review, of course. Thanks for another fantastic one, Paul. You captured the spirit of it perfectly, right down to the quote you used.

    Take Me Higher means alot to me, because it came out during a very difficult, trying time in my life. No 18 year old should be in the position i was in, but there i was, scared and uncertain about what to do next. I went to that concert and remember trying to remember lyrics to Take Me Higher AS Diana sang it. I felt my connection to it immediately.Then the video premiered on BET, which I put on VHS and watched incessantly. THEN they were playing it on the radio! A Boston Hip Hop station and a Providence Top 40 station both picked it up and had it on their playlists for a few weeks. Then the single came out…

    Take Me Higher literally got me through. I was taking a leap of faith, and whenever I felt apprehensive or discouraged all I needed was to hear Diana say “we can rise above it if we leave our doubts behind…we can learn to fly…”.
    Not to say anything of the fantastic production, swirling retro-disco with a 90’s club sound.
    The “100% Pure Love”-inspired percussion. Those gorgeous, shimmering electronic keys that offset an insistent single-note synth that almost sounds like a dance music-distress signal. All conjuring up a glorious atmosphere thanks to Narada Michael Walden (a talented man and absolute nutcase in person, goofy and funny). Walden also crafted those incredible background vocals as if he had spent weeks on end listening to her Ashford & Simpson collabrations.

    SIDENOTE: thanks for namechecking Patti Austin and Angela Bofill, Paul.
    Two amazing singers. Bofill in particular is a favorite of mine. Of course, Walden had worked with both of them many times over the years (he wrote and produced Bofill’s biggest R&B hit, “Too Tough”, and did a duet with Patti called “Gimme Gimme Gimme”). He had also previously produced for Nikita Germaine, who was Diana’s labelmate at Motown in the early 90’s and is also in the background here.

    The inspiring, assertive lyrics. Diana’s confident, cooing delivery. She’s rarely ever sounded more vital on a record at any point in her career. When she gets to the final refrain of the chorus, and puts the emphasis on the word “where”, while you hear her mumbling something in the background (which I figured out was Diana saying “take me higher…and higher and higher!” after buying the maxi-single)…and then “I wanna go…flying!!!!!” GOOSEBUMPS.

    Without even hearing the album yet, I knew this was the one i had been waiting for.

    Me and my best friend were at the record store WAITING for it to open on release day. I took it home and put the headphones on. And it was love. I didnt think the album was perfect- and still don’t- but it’s pretty damn great.

    As much as TMH meant to me, I immediately thought the best song on the entire album to be “Gone”. I still do. What impresses me most is how subdued yet expressive her vocal is here. Listen to the 2nd verse: when she says ” ’cause I won’t stay around to wait on you to make up your mind”. WOW. Perfectly phrased and timed. As mentioned in the review, the chorus is densely worded but not to an extent that it detracts. It flows perfectly. I think the best moment may be near the end, when the chrous and instruments (except for piano) fadout, and Diana is left singing with herself, mournfully intoning “Dream about…and wake up…to find I’m gone…I’m gone…” while wistfully ad-libbing in the background. That moment is so perfect to me.

    I gotta run! I could rattle on about this album day…lmao 😉

    Thanks again for a great review Paul!
    I’ll be back to put my two cents in about Let Somebody Know… 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Markus — I’m glad this music helped you through such a trying time. I’d also say it helped me through a lot — I was a sophomore in high school, and the album really became my personal “soundtrack” for the next several years. I love that you say this is album you’d been waiting for — I felt EXACTLY the same way — like Diana was speaking directly to me — I knew it the moment I heard the new songs in concert. I tried to put this emotion aside when writing about the album — but bottom line, it is a GREAT work, from start to finish, regardless of what it meant to me or anyone else personally!

      “Gone” is perfection — still sounds great today. I can’t wait to hear your “Let Somebody Know” comments, since it’s my favorite track here!

      • markus says:

        Added my thoughts- is Let Somebody Know really your favorite track, Paul? That’s something. It took me a long time to fully embrace. Now it’s a must for me.

        PS- just a quick note- Diana actually did perform If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right on TV- she performed it on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The clip pops up occasionally on youtube but currently it’s not there. 😦

      • Paul says:

        Wow — I have every one of Diana’s TV appearances promoting this album on VHS tape (I recently transferred them all to DVD, actually) — from BET Soul to the Soul Train Anniversary Awards to her Letterman performances to the World Music Awards and on and one and on — but I NEVER knew she did IYNGLMR on Leno!!! Let me know if it ever pops up again!

    • Tony says:

      Markus! Exactly…”Gone” is magic! She appears to be making a focused effort to hold back, to sing with remorse — yet still inflect a tone of strength and assurance and resolve that the relationship is over! her voice tells the listener that their is still hope for the love to thrive ….. but it is not with out limits !!! I really feel ITWWSILOVE. it really seems to work with her stye and where she is with her own personal stage of her life, but when i play “Gone” to guests and non – Diana fans —- they always stop and take notice of this song……. ( needI say more )? Once I say it is Diana Ross , with a little shock and appreciation, they ask to hear more from her and this album. in my own way I gather the Ross the base and promote the voce “style”

    • Tony says:

      Markus — Paul—have you seen the youtube live cut of “I Thought We Were..” It is amazing! that live performance is everything Diana is about ! Let me know your thoughts !

  4. Rosshead says:

    Hi, Paul!
    I’ve been an avid follower of your blog since its inception. Your takes on La Ross’ albums and underappreciated vocal work are always spot on and a joy to read! I look forward to every Sunday for the next posting. With that said…as regards Diana and sampling, it’s important to note that the title track of this monumental album is itself built on a sample. The drumbeats and synth strings at the beginning of “Take Me Higher” were lifted from Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love” (“…from the back to the middle and around again…”) I know I’m splitting hairs, but hey. 😀 Kudos to you and your splendid labor of love dedicated to our number one lady! The best to you!

    P.S.: When you reach the end of Miss Ross’ solo discography, will you be tackling the Supremes-era albums? Please say yes!!!! 😀

    • Paul says:

      Thank you so much!! Glad you’ve been following and thanks for commenting!! I always knew “Take Me Higher” and “100% Pure Love” were similar in tone and sound, but if it was officially sampled, I never knew that! Now I guess I’m gonna have to Youtube that song — I haven’t heard it since I was in high school!! 🙂 I’m definitely thinking about going through the Supremes albums…I’d love to write about albums like “Love Child” and “Funny Girl” in depth and get everyone’s thoughts on them!!

      • Rosshead says:

        Aaahhhh!!!! Thanks for your response. I cannot wait! And you named two of my very favorite Supremes-era albums! Pound for pound, you couldn’t touch Diana vocally in ’68-’69. That time period, along with ’76-’80 (ironically the period I first fell under her spell as an 8-year-old [God bless “The Wiz”!]) stand for me as her finest hours. Keep ’em coming!!!! “Don’t stop…” 😀

      • Paul says:

        Agreed — Diana in the late 60s was unbeatable — she was REALLY coming into her own as a vocalist, something that she carried over into her Ashford & Simpson work of 1970-71. “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance” are such great vocal performances!!

  5. Tony says:

    Hello- I have so been looking forward to this review.Wonderful job- and great justice has been done to this album! Paul – thank you! My choice cut is “I thought we were still in Love ” and “Gone.” Adore the Take Me higher song- it is my inspiration as well! This album – still sounds fresh and exciting! When I have a dinner party- it is my go to album — and with out fail guests are mesmerized with the entire set of songs!!!! This is my way of getting it out there that she has the the most moving and endearing voice – ever!

    • Paul says:

      Hey Tony! I’ve been dying to post this one, too — I love this album so much. I’ve also used this one as an introduction to Diana Ross for friends — it’s hard for anyone to say anything bad about these songs and performances, as they’re good across the board. I think this album and “Blue” are two of the best “beginner” albums for people who either don’t know anything about Diana Ross, or are convinced they won’t like her!

  6. markus says:

    It’s been great to revisit this album. Thoughts on some other tracks:

    If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right- sly and slinky. It’s actually a well constructed song for Diana, culminating in the “baby, not go so faaaaaast” modulation, which Diana sounds great on. At the time i did think the beat sounded a bit thin, but it’s totally grown on me in the years since. It’s definitely superior to the Crenshaw remix that appeared on the single, which unforgivably slows Diana’s voice down at the key change so the key remains the same, and Diana ends up sounding like some full-throated zombie…it then proceeded to edit the extended “baby don’t love me” section near the end of the song. Totally ruined it for me.

    Voice of the Heart- This is an expert ballad on which Diana gives a first-rate performance. It’s never really been a favorite for me- i always felt it was a somewhat by-the-numbers production, the lyrics a tad on the vapid side- but Diana manages to make the whole thing event-worthy, and it’s an enjoyable listen. It just pales somewhat next to the best tracks here.

    Let Somebody Know- I really didnt know what to make of this at the time. It’s a Brenda Russell song and it sounds like one (I would LOVE to hear Brenda’s demo if it still exists for comparison). It took a few years for this to transition from a curiosity to a favorite for me, for me to fully appreciate it’s intimate warmth. I love the fact that you refer to this as “adult”, Paul. I always say it’s one of the most “mature” songs Diana ever recorded. It’s a message song but not in the manner of Diana’s other message songs (everything from Reach Out and Touch” to “Hope is An Open Window”).This Diana Ross sounds like she’s really LIVED, and gained a bit of wisdom that she is imparting. Favorite moment: at the end of the second verse, when she says “I found you…”

    Keep It Right There- oh, mercy! Near the end when Diana ad-libs that bluesy “well” cooks me. The whole thing is clearly and unapologetically very sexy.Great track.

    Don’t Stop- The B side to TMH in the US (the single had a rap interlude that included the lyrics “with tha D-I-A-N-A…Ross…yo, you can’t touch the Boss!” 😉 ). I agree that it’s nothing substantial and certainly far from the best song on the album, but it’s harmless fun and certainly the most urban song on the album. (Those Xmas bells in it were so damn popular in mid-90’s R&B! anyone remember “Tell Me” by Groove Theory, which came out the same year?)

    Only Love Can Conquer All- Oh, I should dislike this- obvious message songs sometimes turn me off, but Diana’s so compelling it makes this a standout. Her vocal is again knowing and reassuring. She handles the key changes perfectly- in short, this is classic Diana Ross.

    I Never Loved a Man Before- simply gorgeous. The moment Paul mentions in the song after the bridge is also a favorite of mine. I can’t add anything at all to what you already noted about it. It’s just an irresistable song all around.

    I Thought That We Were Still in Love- This was heavy stuff for my young ears back in the day. A song I recognized as being great…but i had to do some living to fully appreciate it. It’s a tour de force- she’s totally feeling it. And she makes you feel it, too.

    I Will Survive- this is where I will probably differ from everyone. That day I first listened to this album I had gotten through nearly the whole album loving most of it and at least liking the rest. When I heard I Will Survive, I thought, “ugh”. I’ve never much cared for the song, and unfortunately didnt much care for this version either. The production seemed ever-so-slightly cheesy to me, and Diana’s vocal during much of it seemed tentative. I remember the Vibe review saying she sounded “complacent, almost bored”. I’m still not the biggest fan of it, but since history is stacked so highly against me when it comes to I Will Survive that I will concede this likely boils down to simple personal taste. It’s innocuous for me now- i can hear it and listen without any problem, but it was never a favorite of mine. C’est la vie. 🙂

    Swing It- oh, the pleasant surprise from my “Gone” single! More post-New Jack uptempo stuff. Curiously, Diana’s voice sometimes sounds strained on it. Doesnt detract from it significantly though- this still has plenty to recommend it.

    • Paul says:

      Okay, Markus, I love that you and I have the exact same reference points where music is concerned! I LOVED LOVED LOVED “Tell Me” when it came out, and always felt it bore a resemblance to “Don’t Stop.” In a weird, “sort-of-Diana” connection, one of the reasons I fell for “Tell Me” is that I thought Amel Larrieux sounded like a 1990s version of Jean Terrell — something about the tonal qualities in their voices struck me (and still does) as very similar. Anyway, I still think “Tell Me” is one of the best R&B singles of the decade — there was some damn good music being released in 1995-1996. (And these days, I love that Trey Lorenz is also on that single, since I’m a Mariah Carey fan, too!)

      As for “Let Somebody Know” — I’ve always loved the song, but it really wasn’t until I was in college that it became my favorite track on the album. Like you, I think it took me getting older to fully “feel” the message of the song, and to understand what a beautiful, understated, and meaningful piece of work it is. I wonder what we’d think of a full-length album of Diana Ross doing Brenda Russell songs — certainly this one and “What About Love” from I Love You are truly great recordings. I’m not sure if it would be way too much of one sound…but I’d certainly like to hear Miss Ross tackle more of Russell’s work.

      • markus says:

        @Paul- since we’re around the same age i figured we’d have somewhat similar points of reference for the time period…but the fact that you watched Video Soul like that tells me you caught it all! Donny Simpson and Sherry Carter…those were the days! 1995 was actually a very exciting time musically, I agree. I must’ve bought about 30 cassette singles that year! 😉

      • Paul says:

        Agreed — Donny & Sherry WERE the middle 90s for me, and really, the end of an era. As I replied to Billy’s post earlier, music took a big turn in 1997-1998, with songs like Puffy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Us Down” hitting the charts — sampled music really took over, which was far less melody-driven. I think 1994-1996 were golden years for R&B — with great music by Faith Evans, Tamia, Groove Theory, Xscape, and so many others.

    • Tony says:

      Ok Markus!!!! Are you competing with Paul for who writes the best reviews !!! (LOL). Seriously – Markus – Real;y well said(written). I am with you on the I will Survive … it sounds thin and campy to me, given the depth and authentic sound of the album. Voice of the Heart … you nailed it. I do like the simple melody…. and i do feel it misses a little something and can’t place my finger on …

      Thanks……
      T

      • markus says:

        LOL! Thanks Tony…of course this is Paul’s show- if he hadn’t pursued this big undertaking we wouldn’t be doing this! And his reviews sorta spur us on to write, you know? To see thoughts expressed about an artist we all clearly love gets the juices flowing. 🙂

    • spookyelectric says:

      Marcus – very nice review. Here’s Brenda’s version of ‘Let Somebody Know’ – not the demo I’m afraid, but the version she recorded from her last studio album. See what you think.

      By the way, got to agree with you re ‘I Will Survive’. Fun video and glad it gave Diana some kind of hit, but otherwise no. Probably, alongside that awful Westlife duet, the worst single of her career.

      • markus says:

        thanks for posting spooky- obviously not the original demo but it gives you an idea of what Diana was working with. I love Brenda.

  7. markus says:

    PS- a few other memories:
    another magazine my bookstore had was Billboard, and I faithfully went in there every week to check the chart positions.
    The week Take Me Higher (the single) debuted at #25 on the Bubbling Under chart (in essence it was at #125), i was over the moon. I had been requesting Diana non-stop. I still have on cassette a recording of me on the radio requesting TMH on Hot 106, and the DJ saying “Lots of calls for that one!” (which i didnt really believe, but it was nice to hear), and then when the song began, the DJ said:

    “Chance of showers tomorrow, High 68. It’s 70 right now in Providence with classy Diana Ross. She’s back! It’s Take Me Higher, brand new right here on 106!!!”

    YES!!!!

    of course, radio failed to get on board (I’ve always wondered why Motown didnt issue an urban mix to it- i knew R&B radio would be lukewarm on a dance cut, and a good urban mix would’ve broke the song on R&B radio in the big cities) and it peaked at #114. But hell, that was the first Diana song to have ANY pop action in years, and it was great hearing her on the radio again.

    Other chart positions:

    Take Me Higher: 114# pop, #77 R&B, #1 Dance, #32 UK
    Gone: #107 R&B (it “bubbled under”), #36 UK
    If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right: #67 R&B
    Voice of the Heart: #28 A/C
    I Will Survive: #37 Dance, #14 UK

  8. Tony says:

    Hey …. at least our girl is even charting!!!! Where Olivia Newton John, Martha of the Vandella, Mary Wilson, The 3 Degrees, Brenda Russal, Carol King , Heart , Pat Benatar, Natalie Cole ……..and yes … I will say it ….”Whitney Houston? Barbra, Cher? ….On and on I could go. Who charts this high … after 50 years of performing??????

    Point made????????

  9. ejluther says:

    I think it’s great you all love this album so much – I must admit I haven’t given myself the chance in the past to really get into TMH but these reponses and Paul’s lovely review are making a revisit impossible to resist…

    • Paul says:

      Definitely give is a few more listens and let us know what you think — for me, it’s just such a great piece of work…I think you’ll find out that you love it! 🙂

  10. wayne2710 says:

    Strange one this. Never have quite understood why it didn’t sell by the truckload. Ok it reached #10 in the UK albums chart, then rapidly sank like a stone, but still I guess facts are facts and no matter how poorly it sold it will always be a Top 10 hit album. (Force reached 11, but sold and sold and sold and stayed on the chart for the best part of a year). The single was released without any fanfare by EMI, in fact I remember walking into a record store and just seeing it and I’d never heard anything about it. I could hardly believe what I was hearing when I got it home and played it. To this day it has to be one of the single most uplifting tracks she has ever recorded. But again, despite her appearance that week on Top of the Pops performing the song live from the Motown museum in Detroit, it slipped into the top 40 at 32 then just as quickly dropped out again. Unbelievable !
    Previously some people have commented that a few of her previous releases had too many tracks on them, this time I think there weren’t ENOUGH tracks on this. Swing It is my own personal favourite track on the album, but that one was missing from the Motown release. Let Somebody Know was dropped from the EMI release, but other tracks should have been included too. Happy To See You Again and Too Many Nights should also have been on there.
    The 90s for me represented a golden period for her voice, she was sounding velvety smooth but still retained that crystal clear signature ‘Diana Ross’ sound that epitomised her output for so many years.
    Two tidbits for the curious – Gone was oddly renamed I’m Gone when released as a single, and I Will Survive ended a UK chart run of 33 – yes THIRTY THREE, consecutive years on the UK singles charts (1964-1996) a feat that will NEVER be either equalled or eclipsed in history. How long that chart run could have been extended will never be known, she has only had two singles released since then, one in 1999 – # 9, and one in 2005 – #2.
    Take Me Higher is certainly one of her better offerings, but sales wise probably the most baffling of her entire career.

    • markus says:

      I will say, if you stepped into the club in the fall of 1995 this song was INESCAPABLE. My brother was a DJ back then and used to spin it. Masny years later I ended up inheriting his TMH 12″…not to mention the Diana Extended album on vinyl.

    • markus says:

      I totally agree, Wayne. It’s especially curious it didnt have a long shelf life in the UK, as they were so much more receptive to Diana’s work at this time. But she did get 3 Top 40 hits, I guess that’s something of note.

      PS- interesting note about Diana’s record chart presence in the UK- in the US Elton John holds the record for the longest run of Top 40 singles by year- he had at least one Top 40 hit each year from 1970 to 1998.

      Didn’t “In the Ones You Love” reach the Top 40 in the UK as well? That was also 1996, so i guess it wouldn’t really alter her record.

      • wayne2710 says:

        Yes Markus you’re right – I’m getting a bit senile ! In the Ones came after Survive but was still in 96 so it doesn’t alter the chart record. EMi really missed out in 97 with Promise Me You’ll Try, I’m sure that one would have charted if released. Love the fact that everyone thinks I Thought That We Were Still in Love is a standout on this set.

      • Paul says:

        “Promise Me You’ll Try” was definitely a missed opp in many markets — it’s a good song that ended up being picked up by Jennifer Lopez for her 1999 debut CD!

  11. Tony says:

    Paul – so true regarding sales. I recall be bFFLED BY IT LACK OF CHART CLIMB…. YET PEOPLE SEEMED TO BE LISTENING TO IT! I really enjoy Happy to see you again and for sure … love Too Many Nights! What are your thoughts on “I thought we were still in love?”

  12. Tony says:

    I mean…….I recall being baffled BY ITs LACK OF climb on the charts…. YET PEOPLE SEEMED TO BE LISTENING TO IT! I really enjoy Happy to See You Again, and for sure … love “Too Many Nights!” What are your thoughts on “I thought we were still in love?”

  13. Billy says:

    Wow! There is a love fest for “Take Me Higher” going on here! Although I got the album years afters it was released, it was the Diana Ross album I was most looking forwarding to getting my hands on! It definitely is one of my favorite albums of Miss Ross. I love that she took a more stripped-down/”cool”/contemporary approach to this project, whithout doing something that would appear awkward. In other words, it is very representative of Diana Ross yet never sounding “uptight” or conservative. I think “cool” and “sophisticatedly sensual” are afew fitting descriptions for the sound.

    My personal favorite track has to be “I Thought That We Were Still In Love.” This song is such a masterpiece. It literally leaves me breathless each time I hear it.

    Still, my only two “complaints” would be that “Voice of the Heart” and “Only Love…” are too cheesy for my taste. I have the European version of the album so, had these two songs been replaced by “Too Many Nights” and “Let Somebody Know,” while adding “Happy To See You Again,” it would result in THE perfect Diana Ross album as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure Diana loves this kind of songs, and it would make sense that she would include at least some songs of this nature alongside the more contemporary styles of the album, but the three ‘extra’ songs I mentioned would make for a more cohesive sound throughout, more sensual and ‘adult’ overall. But that’s just my take on this, and it’s not to imply that I skip “Voice of the Heart” or “Only Love…”

    The mid-1990s were indeed a fantastic era! It is somehow the epitome of that generation. And Paul, I was very happy to see you acknowledging Mariah’s “Daydream” album! Definitely one of her best albums and a 1990s highlight! Although I love the whole album, “Melt Away” and “Underneath the Stars” (Live from Tokyo) are beyond perfection. What I love about that era in music is that it was very vibrant in a “youthful” way that made you feel joyous, while also having a ‘streetwise’ edge but in a very “chill” (not pretentiously phony) way.

    • Paul says:

      “Daydream” and “Take Me Higher” are, to me, quite similar in many ways — both are very satisfying from start to finish, with lush production and great care given to the vocal performances. “Underneath The Stars” is truly one of the great songs of not only Mariah’s discography, but the entire decade. And I always felt like “Melt Away” needed to be released to R&B radio — it’s a great “mood” song.

      I think you’re right about the music from the mid-90s bring vibrant and youthful and cool — things really took a turn (for the worse, in my opinion) in 1997-1998, when Puff Daddy came out with “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” and sampled music with less melody and harder edges took over radio. 1994-1996 really produced some sublime pop/R&B that I still listen to all the time!

  14. spookyelectric says:

    Got to agree with you Paul – and pretty much everyone so far – yes this is definitely her best ‘new’ studio set of the 90s. I actually think the US sequencing makes the album far stronger (even though it misses ‘Swing It’ one of the better of the swing/R&B tracks). The international version tends to lump a lot of similar sounding tracks together which slows the record down. ‘Gone’ is probably my favourite of hers of the era – that one really deserved to be a smash. Great ‘story’ video too, beautifully shot.

    This album kind of addresses many of the comments made over the previous few posts. There’s was talk of what a Diana new jazz style album could have been on the ‘Stolen Moments’ post and here she is delivering a subtle and mature vocal on ‘I Thought That We Were Still In Love.’ Quite stunning.

    And the possible swingbeat style album that was discussed as an alternative to ‘Force Behind The Power’s MOR pop – she handles it effortlessly here. As much as I enjoy these tracks though, I can’t help feel they were a tad too little, too late. Five years earlier, when this sound was at its peak and off the back of the success of ‘Workin’ Overtime’ and the Al B Sure duet I reckon Diana would have had more traction on R&B radio and maybe a hit. The other thing, sorry to say, is as pleasant as they are I don’t really hear a hit in any of them, they’re just too slight. Diana sounds comfortable and youthful, but there’s not enough for her to really get her teeth into I think.

    Likewise ‘Take Me Higher’ – I know everyone here loves it, but as spirited as Diana’s performance is, I don’t think it’s a great song. Good, not great. It’s not quite in the league of say CeCe Peniston’s ‘Finally’ as a great R&B dance crossover record. Nice production and great vocal arrangements though.

    The Brenda Russell song on the other hand. Alongside ‘Gone’ one of her very best. She really digs deep into that one. I don’t quite hear the Sade reference though. This really should have been on the main version of the album. The other Brenda track from these sessions, ‘I’m So Happy’, is great too, but not on the same level as ‘Let Somebody Know.’ Brenda actually did record her own version of this song on her last album ‘Between The Sun And The Moon’ – worth checking out. But Diana brings a quality and depth to the vocal that really makes it her own. For me it was tracks like this and ‘Gone’ that kept me riveted thru the decades – a reminder of what she can do with material that really suits her.

    On the other hand! Sorry to say I’m really not a fan of the ‘Heal The World’ type MOR route she got into on the ‘Force’ album and continued thru the decade. While I appreciate the craft of songs like ‘Only Love Can Conquer All’ and ‘Voice of the Heart’ I could do without it to be honest. It’s all a bit Hallmark greeting card. Diana was recording loads of tracks like this at this time – ‘Your Love’, ‘I Hear The Voice of Love’ and on and on. I’m just glad there’s only really two tracks in that vein – after the success of ‘Force’ you might have expected more. (By the way Paul, in your opening to this review you say she hadn’t had much commercial success with her previous Motown albums – ‘Force’ was actually her biggest studio album for years in the UK, maybe her biggest – non-Greatest Hits anyway – ever.)

    • Paul says:

      Spooky — “Motown” is the key word there — I’m talking about her state-side sales traction. Her 90s EMI sales/chart performance is obviously a very different story from the Motown releases of the 90s.

      When I mention a reference to Sade — I’m talking about the deep, yet uncomplicated delivery of a soulful and adult song. Listen, for example to the Sade song “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through” from the great Lovers’s Rock — a song that I think is very much in the vein of “Let Somebody Know.”

      • spookyelectric says:

        Sorry Paul, I get what you mean now re Motown vs EMI. I think it’s interesting to considered to whole picture when it comes to the decisions/directions of her studio albums. ‘Take Me Higher’ feels (in part) like a mix between trying to win back the US R&B market while maintaining the European success of the MOR direction she went in in the early 90s.
        Love that Sade track you posted – ‘Lover’s Rock’ and ‘Love Deluxe’ are her peak I think.

  15. chris meklis says:

    Don’t even get me started on Motown post Gordy…I am not a conspiracy theorist usually, but here I do feel that they purposely ignored Diana Ross- the same thing she complained about during the latter part of her RCA tenure. I so wish she just signed ONE single recording contract with EMI period.
    It was bad enough and down right embarrassing how they mismanaged the marketing of The Force album, when EMI had a proper plan in motion.
    But this sterling work…it’s almost a crime how they failed to deliver here, when her profile was the highest it had been in a long time in the US- the world cup, the Superbowl and again they dropped the proverbial ball (no pun intended!).

    It seems as though the European market prefers the more conservative Diana and maybe that’s why the album did not progress the way Force did, but that said, Not Over You Yet made nr. 10 in UK and that was a very “urban sounding” single- so one can never deduce for sure.

    This album for me marked Diana finally getting it right by recording music that appealed to the whole spectrum of her audience without any style being overdone.
    The production is so fresh without being too slick and she shows us once more why she is one of the top artists of all time- her interpretation of lyric and mood and driving it hauntingly home (Gone, I Thought That We Were Still In Love, I never Loved A Man Before, If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right, Only Love Can Conquer All and even Take Me Higher- the latter of which actually sounds better live- watch her vibrant energy at the Soul Train Awards when she rips through this song!)

    She clearly loved the new material this is evident in videos of her tour at the time. I hate the fact that she likes I Will Survive so much (she even mentions it during her HBO special in 1979 (” I Love those songs that have a message like “I Aint Been Licked”, “I Will Survive”, those are nice ones) she finally gets her chance to record it and then it becomes a staple in her concerts. I feel it messes her voice up and always want to shake her and say, “Don’t sing this song! It’s not good for your voice Diana!!!” All those “I will” “You Will” shouts- not good for the voice lol 🙂

    The packaging is stunning and I remember gobbling it all up at the time with all those pages of interesting concept pictures.
    An all round brilliant work- one of her best. When I think of who over the years have won Grammys and faded away, it’s a sin that the academy never even gave this legend a nod for her work since 1982!

    Sorry for the bitching session- my thoughts.
    Over and out, peace and love
    Chris xxxx

  16. spookyelectric says:

    You’re right Chris, the European market was very receptive to Diana’s MOR recordings around this time, thanks to all the radio hits lifted from ‘Force’. Maybe kicking off this album with ‘Take Me Higher’ as lead single threw a lot of MOR programmers off the project and it never regained traction. It’s a real shame because ‘Gone’ really deserved to be a top 10 hit somewhere – and was a great bridge between that MOR sound and something more contemporary.

    The ‘Force’ album gained such a momentum it really set the agenda I think for the kind of sound radio expected from Diana in Europe and kind of boxed her in to one specific sound. Commercially ‘I Will Survive’ worked I reckon as it was such a familiar song, a new twist on a golden oldie as it were by a name people responded to. A few years later ‘Not Over You Yet’ gave Diana her last top 10 UK hit of the decade – but it wasn’t the R&B version – it was quite a radical Metro dance remix. I have a feeling it would have been a very different audience buying that single!

    It’s a real shame so many of the ‘deeper’ album cuts – like ‘Let Somebody Know’, ‘I Thought That We Were Still In Love’ from this album – have never really been heard outside of fan circles. The kind of material that really showed off her skills as a singer. The public image of Diana at the time was pretty much limited to a woman in a big glitzy gown with giant hair singing MOR love ballads.

    By the way – just wanted to share this. I hadn’t heard ‘I’m So Happy’ (the other Brenda Russell tune from these sessions) for so long (it was on the cassette single of ‘I’m Gone’ of all things!) and thanks to youtube – it’s even better than I remember. Love the end part where the groove picks up “..happy… oww!’

    I’m surprised Diana never recorded more Brenda tunes before this period. Songs like ‘God Bless You’ and ‘If Only For One Night’ really would have fit her like a glove. Like the Luther tune on ‘Red Hot’, these melodic soul numbers bring out that warm tone she has so beautifully. Great fan-made video here too!

    • Antje says:

      And, spookyelectric, there is a snippet of an interview with her on YouTube, where she comments on this “Oww” in “I’m so happy…” (and some more snippets on the making of “TMH”). I always wondered why this song wasn’t included in the album, she indeed conveys this happy emotion so well.
      When I got to know the album two years ago, I instantly loved it. With the first bars of “Let somebody know” this became a very special song for me. As a “message song” it would be much more appropriate for her shows than the annoying “I will survive”. In addition, this one will always be a Gloria Gaynor song – two years ago, this lady got a very prestigious German award, the Goldene Kamera, for her musical lifetime achievement (??, sorry!), and basically it was all about “I will survive”.
      Hopefully DR’s new album will contain a lot of these melodic soul/R&B numbers which obviously all of us enjoy so much on this album.

      • spookyelectric says:

        Agree with you Antje – it seemed a shame to me that an artist with her history would have to resort to covering such a obvious anthem to try to have a hit. She’d never made such a move before or since. Says more about the fickleness of the music industry than anything else I think.

        I had a search for the interview you mentioned but sadly can’t find it – do post it if you come across it again. Saw this for the first time (we didn’t get Letterman in the UK)… she looks and sounds fantastic. Sometimes she’s come across as a little defensive in TV interviews – here she’s so relaxed and flirty. Fun.

      • markus says:

        I gotta say, I like I’m So Happy but don’t love it. For some reason Diana’s voice sounds a bit weak at times (I felt the same thing about Swing It).

  17. Antje says:

    Spooky, search for the channel “dianarossbroadcast”, there are 3 snippets. I cannot post the ULR (and obviously made a mess with “If you’re not gonna..” on Joe Leno – sorry, folks) since it is blocked due to copyright procedures with German YouTube. Good luck!

  18. chris meklis says:

    Antjie- and Spooky- I really think that at this point in her career- she pretty much did as she pleased and simply always loved the Gaynor song- probably as much as she loved the Martha Wash’s Carry On which she covered on Everyday Is A New Day in ’99

    The interview you are speaking about Anjie is I think one where she is wearing a red suit and talking about the album from a London hotel room.
    She is ALWAYS more at ease in England and abroad, and usually shines in those interviews.

    • Antje says:

      No, Chris, the interview took place at her Connecticut home. Yes, she admits how much she loves this song, and it is fine with me on the album. But not over and over again in her shows, so many songs we would like to hear instead. We should start an internet voting on the “forgotten” or rarely performed songs and submit the results to her!?

  19. chris meklis says:

    PS I have only ever heard LET SOMEBODY KNOW and PROMISE ME YOU’LL TRY like once I think, can someone tell me where to find these songs please…see I have always had the EMI version of the album

    • markus says:

      Hey Chris- Diana’s version of Let Somebody Know is not online, but here’s Promise Me You’ll Try:

      it should be noted this is NOT from the TMH sessions. It was recorded afterward.

      • Paul says:

        Promise Me You’ll Try was featured on the strange single-disc mini-compilation A Gift Of Love — I’ve had it for years, having bought it for this track. I wish “Promise Me You’ll Try” had made it on Every Day Is A New Day — I’m not sure it would have totally fit in with the rest of the tracks on that project, but it would have ensured a larger audience.

  20. spookyelectric says:

    Thanks to the joys of youtube Chris here it is.

    • markus says:

      AWESOME! so glad you found it, Spooky! How did I overlook it? 😉

    • spookyelectric says:

      By the way Chris, though it was sadly omitted from the album release – ‘Let Somebody Know’ did come out in the UK before the album on the cd single of ‘Take Me Higher’ – along with a (nice but not great) Nick Martinelli produced track called ‘Too Many Nights’. Worth getting hold of if you can still find one!

  21. markus says:

    I found it! Let’s see if it posts. Diana singing If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right on Leno:

    • spookyelectric says:

      What a hot performance. Love love love the ‘baby don’t love me’ breakdown at the end. You have to hand to Diana – she always adapted to the sounds of the day with dignity and style (most of the time at least!)

    • Paul says:

      You know, I have seen this before — I’d totally forgotten about it, but I did see it when it aired. She looks fantastic. So loose and fresh, as she did on both her Letterman performances. Diana was in peak form in 1995, no doubt about it.

      • Lawrence says:

        I agree! She looks SO young here and happy. I don’t understand the release history with the singles or what Motown was doing (or not doing, to be accurate). Take me Higher was the first single, and it was a huge dance #1 but didn’t chart on hot 100, which still seems unbelievable (although this was before iTunes). Then, this was the second single, released as a double A side with Voice of the Heart? If that’s the case, then maybe radio programmers didn’t know which one to play so they chose neither?

        It remind me of when Diana sang Force Behind the Power on TV, but When you tell me that you love me was the official single. Confusing for programmers and buyers!

  22. davidh says:

    LOVE this album! in my top 5 all time Diana albums.love the b sides as well

  23. bokiluis says:

    “Take Me Higher” triumphs in a way that underscored the strength of her 90s releases. When composing my favorite Top 10 Diana Ross albums, something I have done since I was a kid, I often don’t know where to place “Take Me Higher”. I do love your great, in depth analysis of her body of work. However, I see absolutely no need to undercut something like my all-time favorite, “The Force Behind the Power”, to explain the greatness that is “Take Me Higher”. Simply stated, for me, her 90s output rivaled her great 70s work. Where her 70s releases were huge domestically, as well as, internationally, her 90s work triumphed both critically and commercially in international markets, if not in the states.
    I happen to be in London the week the album was released. Not only did I get to celebrate its dynamic Top 10 debut with my UK friends/fans, but, the internationally renowned, London Times, gave the album a great review. What a weekend that was!!!
    My best friend, a Diana Ross fan by proxy or die (smile), even calls me after listening to the album and declared that this was the album to bring her back in the states!!! Hardly one for hyperbole, I couldn’t help but feel that he was indeed, right. He was my compass for mainstream appeal. A true Midwesterner from Ohio, if he felt it…..middle America would indeed embrace it, right? Unfortunately, not quite……
    When I first read the tour schedule included in the comprehensive promo box, my marketing sense saw her visiting Rhythmic Top 40 radio stations in the major markets…..the exclusivity of having Diana Ross do radio interviews on KMEL/San Francisco, WXKS/Boston, KPWR/Los Angeles, B96/Chicago, WJLB/Detroit, etc promoting the “Take Me Higher” single and the tour would have been a great incentive for those key stations to give it more airplay. I understood how difficult, no matter the quality, it was for an over 30 artists to get airplay. But the buzz the station would experience around having a Diana Ross interview could ultimately boost 3-4 wks of play until the single got its “legs”. Motown had at least scheduled in store appearances that would have also been promoted during the interviews. But it needed to be expanded passed New York and Los Angeles and hit less obvious mkts to include San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, in store appearances. You would be accomplishing so much with those half hour interviews as the tour hit those mkts for soldout shows. I had every belief that the aura left from those appearances would help to give the project a much higher profile. Alas, my great mktg plan was not to be. Motown of the 90s didn’t seem to have the marketing expertise to put such a simple idea into motion. Motown had little presence at Top 40 by the 90s save for Boyz II Men……so Diana, the megastar, would be Motown’s entry way to those stations (Motown no longer had the label clout at T40 for this to happen without Diana’s personal involvement). I imagined the interviews taking place in drive-time, the day of the show. Ticket sales would have already taken care of itself…..this was primarily to ignite more consumer interest in the album. Honestly, the last time I heard Diana interviewed on radio was around Central Park in 1983.
    But back to the music, in my travels, I heard “I Never Loved a Man Before” while on holiday in Brazil. It sounded heavenly.
    I saw several dates on this tour, but, nothing came close to the Universal Ampitheater/Los Angeles stop! She did 6-7 songs from the album. Berry Gordy, Narada Michael Walden, Nick Martinelli, Brenda Russell, The Boom Brothers all were in the house that evening. Diana also cleverly used the music video vehicle to promote the singles. By 1995, music video production cost(s) skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands of dollars….making profitability to be an even greater quest. So wisely, her music videos would be kept cost effective. With BET and some VH1 play, it was smart to keep a budget not to exceed 50k or there about. Still, the “Take Me Higher” video got solid play and looked a lot more expensive than it actually was. “Gone” music video was a Sundance-indie mini-movie. Whilst the “I Will Survive” video was easily the most expensive, smartly recreating an LGBT Pride parade starring RuPaul. They all helped to drive this album’s success across international territories.
    So yes, not only was “Take Me Higher” a great Diana Ross album, “Take Me Higher” was also one of the Best Albums of 1995!!!

  24. Luke says:

    If an extra terrestrial asked me to give him a sample of good entertaining music from Earth, Take me Higher would be my response. I bought it in 1997, 2 years after it’s release and from the first time I heard it, it became my favourite. The title track Take me Higher, Gone and I will survive got enough radio play in the mid to late 90s in Greece(where I live) and they were popular enough in clubs as well. For me, “Gone”, “I never loved a man before”, “I thouth that we were still in love”, “Voice of the heart” and “Only love can conquer all” are some of her finest solo recordings ever, even better than her top sellers of the 70s (forgive me old DR fans, but I was born in the 80s, so I discovered the treasure Diana Ross in the 90s). The rest of the project is a good example of contemporary pop/RnB sound of the era. However, what pisses me off again, is the dissability of Motown record label to take some wise decisions for Diana during those years and promote her records in the appropriate way. No good videos (except the Gone video) were made, no radio play again, no singles released again! After the RCA contract release, Diana made the biggest mistake of her career to return to the then dying Motown and suffer all that indifference. EMI promoted her much better internationally, so in Europe and Asia she found new audiences and fans who bought her material and attented her live concerts. Not too bad for a 50+ year old legend…

    • Paul says:

      Yes, Motown dropped the ball BIGTIME on this album. There is just no denying that this is one of the great missed opportunities in Diana’s career. In the states, Motown released three physical singles, but the vast majority of the buying public had no idea they were even available. Diana did her part with some great television promotion — her label needed to follow-up by making sure radio was playing the songs.

  25. T-ROX says:

    I love this site and I love Diana’s work, but I have to say that “Let Somebody Know” is one of the worst Diana’s tracks in my opinion. It’s kinda dull and a very, very unattractive song. I prefer “Swing It”, and I’m happy that it was released in U.K. and worldwide instead of “LSK”. I was kinda shocked to learn that almost everybody here loves this song. And I agree with you fellas, can’t really understand why Diana returned to Motown back in 1989, when she knew it would be a “baby-company” without Berry Gordy. She should have signed with EMI in U.S. as she did in international markets. But aside from poor promotion from Motown, U.S. audiences were having a problem in accept Diana’s records in the 90’s. She was scoring very low there. She deserved so much better.

    • Paul says:

      Hello and thanks for the comment! I’ve been away for a few weeks, so just getting to it now. Interesting to hear such a differing opinion — “Let Somebody Know” is one of my favorites! I think there’s a real depth to the song that carries it above many of her other ballads. As for what was going on at Motown around then…who knows…such a waste!

  26. Eric says:

    I believe this was the first Diana album I got (my first Diana cd was #1s and then love & life!) I was addicted to it! It was not promoted well! I was 10 when TMH came out and never heard of it, yet I def heard of releases by Madonna, Celine, tlc, Mariah, even Cher’s “one by one” got better promo (1996)

    I loved MTV as s kid and honestly, muscles was the only video I ever saw by her (though every Madonna video got tons of play!-which is fine by me 😉 )

    I guess no matter how talented, in the US, all artists have a self life!

    Back to the album! It just had this amazing mix of house, smooth r&b and sweet tender ballads

    “If you’re not gonna love me right” “take me higher” are def my fav and I listen to “gone” and “too many nights” on a regular !

    I loved the albums photo shoot too! So awesome!

    Her kind of music was def en vogue at the time, but kids never heard it! If I would’ve seen the videos as a kid I surely would’ve bought the album then. Actually I remember it being for sale on amazon for one cent used! Blasphemy!!

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  30. Rosshead says:

    Hi, Paul! It’s been a long time; we miss you! Back to the Diana-and-sampling question: I’ve recently discovered an even earlier instance of sampling in Miss Ross’ catalog. “Take the Bitter With the Sweet” contains elements of James Brown’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad)”! The wah-wah guitar strokes are the culprits. Could this be the first instance of a Ross record with sampling? The debate continues! Are you coming back?

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