To The Baby (2009)

“Let my baby be a baby in this world…”

As was the case with Blue in 2006, Diana Ross fans got a rare treat in late 2009 when an entire previously shelved album was finally pulled from the vaults and released to the public.  To The Baby had been recorded in the early 1970s; most tracks were cut in either late 1971 or early 1972, during a busy time in Miss Ross’s career when she was working on several projects, including her Oscar-nominated film Lady Sings The Blues.  She’s quoted in the release’s liner notes as saying, “I recorded [the songs] while I was pregnant, songs about children, for my children.  I wanted something to give them that they can listen to and say, ‘Hey, this is what my mother was doing when I was a kid,’ you know?  And I wanted to do an album that I can talk to them in.”

Plans changed, of course, when Motown decided to follow the movie with a big pop hit, and Diana soared to #1 with “Touch Me In The Morning.”  An album was pulled together around the single, and several of the songs meant for the To The Baby album ended up on Touch Me In The Morning — and thus, Diana’s children-themed project seemed doomed to oblivion.  Thankfully, Universal Music Group imprint Hip-O Select, in reissuing Miss Ross’s solo albums, resurrected To The Baby and included the entire album on its Touch Me In The Morning Expanded Edition.  The release gave fans five new songs, including the title track written by Miss Ross’s younger brother Arthur “T-Boy” Ross (coincidentally, Diana recorded her brother’s “I Want You” just a few years before this release, on her I Love You).  The other five songs had all been previously released on other projects, but in very different versions.  As a bonus, Hip-O included two other similarly themed tracks to round out the disc.

It’s hard to say how To The Baby would have done if it had been released in the early 70s; being that the world got “Touch Me In The Morning” instead, it’s hard to argue with Motown’s master plan.  Still, finally hearing this scrapped project is like getting an intimate glimpse into Diana’s private life during an exciting time in her life.  Though she didn’t write the songs here, she worked clearly worked closely with producer Tom Baird on them — and even produced a few of the tracks herself.  Consequently, the project feels extremely personal; her vocals here are warm, relaxed, and tinged with the excitement of childbirth; it’s impossible to listen to opening track “Part Of You” and not feel the giddiness of an expectant mother.  More than anything else, To The Baby also serves as continued proof of just how strong the material being recorded and released by Miss Ross was during this time period.  Most artists would kill to create an album this good; it’s amazing to think Motown and Diana had so much good stuff, they could afford to leave this one behind.

***

1.  Part Of You:  Written and produced by Tom Baird, this is a glorious opening track, built upon a shimmering, syncopated rhythm and featuring a sparkling, knowing performance from Diana Ross.  Because this was recorded around the same time that Miss Ross was transitioning from her Ashford & Simpson work to the jazz standards of Lady Sings The Blues, her vocal style is a mix of the two; there’s a warm crispness to her voice that nods to the Billie Holiday recordings, but she also sounds much more contemporary here, keeping her voice nailed to the beat rather than letting it lag behind as it does on much of her jazz work.  Baird’s production is impeccable; the song’s musical track sounds like a grown-up lullaby, built upon an accented piano line that gives way to swirling strings and a classic, soulful choir of background voices, and there’s a “tick-tock” that comes at the end of each chorus that serves as a smart, subtle nod to the theme of the song.  They lyrics here are intelligently written, coming across as a love poem from an expectant mother to the father of her child, filled with the excitement of the journey or parenthood.  Had To The Baby been released in the early 70s, this would have been a nice choice for a single; the song is incredibly catchy, and probably could have done well at radio, and Diana’s voice is at her gorgeous best.

2.  A Wonderful Guest:  Also written and produced by Tom Baird, this song serves almost like a slowed down sequel to “Part Of Me,” opening again with a piano line and also featuring lyrics from the point of view of an expectant mother.   Because the song is set at a slower tempo, Diana gets to really sink her teeth into the material, and her voice sounds great here; the warmth and fullness of tone are on full display as she sings lines like “How…how can it be?” at :43, beautifully drawing out the first word over five full seconds.  The instrumental break here is a bit odd; producer Baird brings in what sounds like a mariachi band to fill the space between 1:30 and 2:05, which doesn’t quite match the pensive, lullaby-esque atmosphere set by the other elements.  Still, this is a lovely, touching ballad that again feels very authentic and unforced; the melody is almost as memorable as the snappy “Part Of You,” which is saying a lot.

3.  Young Mothers:  This is an alternate version of the acoustic ballad that first showed up on 1983’s Anthology as a “previously unreleased” track.  Again produced by Tom Baird, he co-wrote this one with Kaye Lawrence Dunham, and it certainly has a different feel than the previous two pieces of music, which he’d written alone.  “Young Mothers” is far more evocative of the folk/pop sound of the late 1960s and early 1970s, thanks to the persistent strumming guitar and the lyrics, which nod to the Vietnam War with lines like, “Hey now, young mothers…how shall we raise our sons?  To live their lives in peace, and not take out the guns?”  Miss Ross’s performance here is simple and pretty; she sounds gentle and knowing as she calls to other young women to raise their children in a world of peace.  Because of the theme and sound of the production, “Young Mothers” does come off as more dated than much of the other material on To The Baby, and it’s certainly less exciting than many of the other songs here.  That said, it’s nice to hear Diana “sing” her feelings about the war on record (she’d earlier called for the return of troops from Vietnam during the Supremes farewell concert in 1970, a moment that’s captured on the recording of that show).  Most in the general public never associate Diana Ross with anything remotely political, though fans know she often made her case for peace and civil rights in her own elegant way.

4.  First Time Ever I Saw Your Face:  During the same time Diana was recording the songs for To The Baby, Roberta Flack was enjoying her first massive hit with this song.  Flack had recorded it back in 1969, but it only became a hit when it was used by Clint Eastwood in his 1971 film Play Misty For Me.  Flack’s version spent several weeks at #1, and soon became an oft-recorded standard.  Miss Ross’s version here is produced by none other than Gil Askey, the man who’d been handling her jazz work; the reissue lines notes state it happened “…on a break from Lady Sings The Blues.”  His touch is immediately audible on “First Time…,” there’s a lush, dreamy feel to the song that echoes songs like “Little Girl Blue” and “I Can’t Get Started” on Blue.  Miss Ross opens the song with a spoken dedication to her “little baby, Rhonda,” a nice reminder of the motivation for this entire project, before launching into a fine vocal performance.  The only fault with the lead here is that it does seems a little affected, similar to her work on “Smile” (featured on both 1976’s Diana Ross and Blue), meaning she seems to be laying it on a little thick, rather than just letting the performance happen.  Her delivery on other songs from the era, like “Little Girl Blue” and “Touch Me In The Morning,” seemed more effortless and organic; there was an innate sophistication in those performances and others that just isn’t quite matched here.  That said, Miss Ross is interpreting this song as a love song to a baby, not an adult lover, which means it would make sense for her to use a different tone in her voice.  Listened to in that context, there is certainly an appealing sweetness to “First Time…,” even if it ultimately isn’t the standout here.

5.  Got To Be There:  This is a real treat of To The Baby, a self-produced version of the 1971 hit from Michael Jackson (his first solo single, which topped out at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100).  Miss Ross’s recording is beautifully done, featuring one of her best and most engaging vocals on To The Baby, and an absolutely gorgeous backing track.  Jackson’s version, of course, is a classic, but there’s no denying it sounds quite dated today; the harpsichord-opening, overdubbing of the lead, and background vocal arrangement are all pure late 60s/early 70s.  Diana’s interpretation of the song is far more timeless; as producer, she must be credited with the joyful, elegant arrangement, including the bouncier, string-laden instrumental track.  The vocal here is warm and inviting; Miss Ross nails the highest notes without the slightest hint of strain, especially her “me” at two minutes in (which she holds for a solid five seconds or so) and “home” at 2:34, which nicely jumps up a note, then back down again.  Though there’s overdubbing of the vocal here, it’s not nearly as invasive as it is on Jackson’s recording; Miss Ross layers her voice off and on, at times overlapping lines as though she’s duetting with herself, and the effect is unique and memorable without seeming gimmicky or dated.  Had Jackson’s version never been released, this one certainly could have; the fact that she’s singing it to her little girl might have limited its commercial appeal, but it’s a great listen and Diana sounds far better than she did on several songs from her albums of this era (like Diana & Marvin) that actually were released.

6.  To The Baby:  The album’s title track is another gem that went unheard for far too long; aside from being a wonderful, soulful recording, it also happens to feature the name Arthur “T-Boy” Ross as co-writer.  Diana’s younger brother wrote some well-known songs at Motown (Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are”) and even released an album of his own on the label in 1979.  His involvement in the title track makes this entire project seem even more personal, given that Diana’s babies were also his family.  Interestingly, “To The Baby” has a sound that’s not unlike that which was coming out of Philadelphia at the time, as Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were setting up Philadelphia International Records to compete with Motown.  This Philly soul sound was lush and full, a little less “rough around the edges” than the Funk Brothers-driven Motown sound.  “To The Baby” has that smooth, lush sound; it could easily been recorded by the Stylistics.  The lyrics speak of letting children enjoy their childhood and not growing up too fast; Miss Ross sings “To the baby, for the baby…to my little girl,” which makes it seem like she’s speaking directly to her own daughter, a nice touch.  Her vocal here is sublime; she’s low-key but there’s an obvious emotion behind her delivery.  For example, her “…she’ll reach up and kiss you, ’cause she loves you…” at 1:26 and the section that follows, with Diana’s voice doubled, sound convincingly impassioned; you wonder how differently she would have interpreted the lyrics had she not been a new mother herself.  The song itself is extremely brief; it runs only around two-and-a-half minutes.  It is, however, a sterling track and one of the best on the album; it’s good enough that it’s surprising it was never placed on another album of the era, like Touch Me In The Morning or Last Time I Saw Him.

7.  Brown Baby:  Here’s one that actually was released on another album; fans will recognize “Brown Baby” as part of a medley with “Save The Children” on Touch Me In The Morning.  That medley was one of the great treasures of that album, thanks to its incedible, soulful instrumental track, still one of the best ever featured on a Diana Ross album.  Hearing the song on To The Baby without the “Save The Children” interlude is a huge treat; it means the hypnotic, dark groove plays unbroken for more than four minutes.  Miss Ross’s performance is one of her most deeply felt; she combines the loose, lazy feeling of her jazz recordings with the more urgent, intense tone of her pop work.  Had it not been sliced up for the medley — and had it been released to radio in this form — this song probably could have been at least an R&B hit for Miss Ross; like “To The Baby,” it sounds akin to the Philly soul hits that were starting to really take off in the early 70s, but has the benefit the amazing Motown musicians creating a mesmeric musical reverie.

8.  My Baby (My Baby My Own):  Another Tom Baird composition and production, this song showed up in an altered version on Touch Me In The Morning.  The difference between the two is both subtle and striking; the version from Touch Me… is slowed down, resulting in Diana Ross seeming to have a far deeper voice.  It’s interesting, therefore, for fans who are used to Miss Ross’s deep, mournful call on the released version to suddenly hear the piece at a faster tempo and higher key.  Miss Ross’s performance in no less impressive — in fact, her ad libs around 2:25 are maybe some of her best ever — but the song sounds much less somber here  on To The Baby, something that works since the intended audience for this project was Diana’s children.  Back to those ad libs — listen to her work closely at 2:25; her wordless improv here is so sublime it’s worth putting on repeat a few times.  Miss Ross’s devotion to jazz music at this point in her career is obvious in the way she handles her vocal performance at the end of this song; her musical ear was clearly well-developed at this time and she confidently slides up and down the scale, using her voice as a musical instrument rather than solely as a tool to convey lyrics.

9.  Turn Around:  This song was released with a different mix on Miss Ross’s Last Time I Saw Him; on the discussion for that album, I wrote: “‘Turn Around’ doubtlessly would have worked better in the context of other child-themed songs; here, coming on the heels of youthful, contemporary, and energetic tracks, it’s far too saccharine and overproduced to be enjoyable.”  That is true; surrounded by other similarly toned songs, “Turn Around” does sound better, though it remains pretty saccharine in comparison to soulful songs like “Brown Baby” and “To The Baby.”  The lead vocal featured on this recording is a little more relaxed and less-affected than the one chosen for Last Time…, which helps the song sound less dated.  The production, however, with the “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhhhhh” opening background vocals (which are then repeated several times) still sounds pretty silly and overdone.  This isn’t one of the strongest tunes on To The Baby, which makes it all the more strange that it was released on an album in place of better tunes that were left in the vaults for decades.

10.  Medley: Imagine/Save The Children:  On Diana’s hit 1973 album Touch Me In The Morning, her self-production of the John Lennon classic “Imagine” and a medley of “Brown Baby/Save The Children” were the final two tracks.  Little did listeners know that initially, the songs had been conceptualized in a different way, with “Brown Baby” as its own recording and “Imagine/Save The Children” making up the medley.  On To The Baby, fans get to hear the songs as they were apparently originally recorded and, as it turns out, they’re just as good if not better than the more famous versions from the Touch Me… album.  Though “Brown Baby” and “Save The Children” worked well together thematically, “Brown Baby” is such an outstanding recording that — as mentioned earlier — it’s nice to hear it unbroken.  In the same way, “Imagine” and “Save The Children” end up working well together, lyrically making sense and each adding excitement to the other.  Miss Ross’s vocal on “Imagine” is lovely and wistful, striking just the right note of optimism without sounding forced or phony.  “Save The Children,” meanwhile, remains a satisfying soulful interlude, with Miss Ross both singing and speaking the lyrics passionately.  Who knows why Motown switched things up when choosing to place these songs on Touch Me… — perhaps execs felt having the recognizable “Imagine” as its own recording would resultsin better sales, as Lennon’s version had hit #3 in the US.  Whatever the case, they really needn’t have bothered; though all three recordings stand as very good ones, they actually sound best in his original context.

11.  Kewpie Doll:  The first “bonus track” included here is a revelation and a masterpiece; written and produced by Smokey Robinson, this is a fabulous recording that languished in the Motown vaults for far too long.  Ross and Robinson, of course, shared a long history; Robinson was responsible for helping the Supremes obtain their first audition at Motown, and he’d written and produced several songs for the group over the years, though none had been big hits.  Incredibly, Robinson and Ross really never collaborated after she went solo (save for the song “Pops, We Love You” in 1979), which makes “Kewpie Doll” — recorded in 1971 — such a spectacular find.  The track here is sublime, driven by a soul-stirring guitar; the composition shifts from major to minor key in a unique way that gives is far more complexity than much of Diana’s other work of the period.  But best of all is the vocal arrangement; Smokey Robinson provides the background vocals here, and they are so prominent that the song is pretty much a collaboration between him and Diana Ross.  This turns out to be a great thing, as both are in fine voice; Diana Ross is as smooth and soulful as she’d ever been on record here, delivering the same kind of youthful passion heard on her earliest solo albums without any of the rawness that crept through.  Robinson’s layered backgrounds are just breathtaking; they work with Diana’s vocal rather than detract from it, adding an aching and tenderness to the recording that it really needed to have.  The end result is such a classic, timeless song that it really doesn’t sound that dated; it could easily be a “neo-soul” tune by a contemporary artist.  Again, it’s just incredible that this song went unreleased for so long; according to the liner notes, an entire collaboration between the two artists was being talked about, and so when Diana’s career focus shifted to film, that project and this song probably just died in the water.  Still, it’s an absolute shame the two never really teamed up again (look online for a fantastic clip of the two singing Diana’s “Missing You” together on TV in the 80s for further proof of their compatibility) — being that both are still recording, someone should start a petition to get them teamed up for an album — PRONTO!

12.  When We Grow Up:  The second “bonus” is Diana’s recording from the 1972 album Free To Be…You And Me, a collection of songs by various artists aimed a kids and promoting confidence and individuality (the project was the idea of actress Marlo Thomas).  Ross’s song on the album was “When We Grow Up,” the lyrics of which repeat “…we don’t have to change at all,” a message of self-esteem to young boys and girls.  Diana acts the song as much as sings it; listen to her at 1:31, sing-speaking “Like making noise…and making faces…” — you can picture her mugging in front of the microphone like she did in her television comedic sketches of the era.  The brief song is really cute and very memorable; it ended up many years later being used as the end-credit song for the film Young Adult starring Charlize Theron.  When Free To Be…You And Me was made into a popular TV special in 1974, Roberta Flack and Michael Jackson took over “When We Grow Up” — an interesting coincidence, since Diana had already covered Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and Jackson’s “Got To Be There” for To The Baby.

***

Had To The Baby been released in the early 1970s, it would have been a great-sounding album, if nothing else.  There’s no telling if it would have been a hit or produced any singles; this is a concept album, something that Motown didn’t do much of until Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder mastered the form.  But each of the recordings here is extremely well-done, and certainly show off Diana Ross’s interpretive gifts.  Recordings like “Part Of Me,” “Got To Be There,” “To The Baby,” and especially “Kewpie Doll” stand up with the best of Diana’s work from this transitional phase of her career; the performances are better than much of the filler included on Diana & Marvin and Last Time I Saw Him, and are certainly more worthy of notice than her live album released 1974 (but recorded in ’73), Live At Caesar’s Palace.  Though it would have been nice to enjoy these recordings years ago, they do come a great time given that Diana’s recording output has been so sparse in the new millennium.  And, as it is, To The Baby serves as a pleasing companion piece to 2007’s I Love You — both are concept albums that focus on life, love, and family.

Final Analysis:  4.5/5 (A “Wonderful” Treat)

Choice Cuts:  “Kewpie Doll,” “Part Of You,” “Got To Be There”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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32 Responses to To The Baby (2009)

  1. Billy says:

    Great review Paul! “To The Baby” has to be one of my favorite albums by Diana. Above all, it makes for a very cohesive listening experience, not to mention that her vocals here are very unique, probably because of what you mentioned pertaining to a combination of styles. If we place it in its original context, it definitely shows a transition and growth in her artistry.

    “Brown Baby” is truly the masterpiece here in my opinion. The deepened bass and slightly ‘rougher’ beat – which somehow funk it up a bit compared to the “Touch Me…” version, which had more stressed strings – give the song an edge that works so perfectly in that it creates a whole narrative even just by its music. “My Baby” is another show-stopping performance, although I can’t decide which one of the two versions I prefer. And finally, yes, “Kewpie Doll” is gorgeous. Fantastic blending of vocals (just like in the live version of “Missing You”), superb melody (thanx to Smokey) and just a very interesting in a complex way track overall.

    Really special album.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks, Billy! Yes — she shows tremendous growth here. This is so, so far removed from her work with the Supremes…and only a few years after she left the group! It’s pretty amazing how her sound evolved so quickly…and yet to naturally.

  2. The ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ LP has forever been a dreamscape for me when listening to the original release. Between the genius of ‘Brown Baby/Save The Children’, ‘Imagine’ & ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ it always felt like I were finally entering “Miss Ross World”

    With the Hip-O-Select Expanded Edition & the inclusion of ‘For The Baby’ it only clarifys my own feeling of peeking into a very private moment in Diana’s life.

    There isn’t one track that I would excize & it is perfectly formed from beginning to end. I love ‘Turn Around’ especially back in context (the French horn alone is just breathtaking). I don’t hear the syrupy vocal or arrangement at all (but then I did like ‘Smile’ wherever it appeared ;-)) & think it takes on an anthem quality with this arrangement & building chorus.

    The new mix of Imagine/Save The Children & the stand alone ‘ Brown Baby’ are simply glorious. I loved each of these in their original incarnation on TMITM & love them here (I could almost create a playlist for these four tracks alone).

    Funnily ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is the song my Dad most associates with holding me as a new born (awww) so I have always thought the lyrics to that song can be interpreted by performer/listener as being sung to anyone that is very close.

    My only preference would be for the original arrangement for My Baby (My Baby My Own), there is something completely otherworldly to both the mix & the lower register Diana pitches her voice.

    It is difficult with hindsight to know how this might have charted but as Miss Ross’ official releases through this whole period were so disparate or that the early Seventies were a time of the songwriter & concept albums abounded there’s no reason it wouldn’t have worked well in that market. Who can say?

    Such a fantastic release to have finally. Thank you Hip-O-Select folks for refidiscoveringthis lost gem. One of my favorite listens.

    *I can’t explain how excited I get when I know there is a new entry to ‘The Diana Ross Project’ (I hope someone flags this blog with our Miss Ross).

    • Paul says:

      lol — glad the new posts are exciting for you — I love posting them!! Hip-O is amazing for these reissues — such care is put into them, and they really are treasures for fans. This one in particular is satisfying — I love the crispness of the remastering of the entire “Touch Me…” LP and “To The Baby.”

  3. Oh. I forgot to mention how in love with ‘Kewpie Doll’ I am. I have been known to have it on loop on a couple of occasions…that fade out as the layers slip away leaving us with only Smokey’s back vocals. Genius.

    • Lawrence says:

      what is the story behind this song? did Smokey write it specifically for Diana? It’s so catchy, I wonder why it never got a release – L

      • spookyelectric says:

        From what I’ve read it was the only track they completed together for a proposed album called ‘Satisfaction’. I’m not sure if it was to be a Diana solo album or a duets album written and produced by Smokey… whatever it never was finished. Motown seemed to pair acts and producers all the time and see what took place – there are loads of unreleased tracks in those vaults! Apparently lots of unreleased Ashford & Simpson produced Diana material, Diana/Stevie Wonder collaborations.. maybe one day we’ll hear them!

      • Paul says:

        Like Spooky said, I’ve heard there was a planned album for Diana produced by Smokey, but who knows what happened. Smokey, of course, did cut an entire album on the Supremes in 1972, around the same time as the “To The Baby” recording was going on — he wrote/produced “Floy Joy” for the Supremes with Jean Terrell singing lead. It was a nice work — I wish he’d done more with Miss Ross!

    • Paul says:

      I know…”Kewpie Doll” is breathtaking…and the fade out is AMAZING!

  4. Tony says:

    A very special album indeed. Her voice is “top drawer” and in stunning form. Paul you are bang on with the review of the album and the songs. I truly enjoy her on songs such as Imagine / Save the Children – Brown Baby, just stunning. Part of you and Wonderful Guest are just beautiful. Turn Around – is so beautiful, actually I am really pressed to find a song that does not sound like just such a treat to listen to.

    If I have to mention one that fails me … it is a “The First Time Ever …” It is a wonderful song – that I feel Diana rushes through. Perhaps she knows it can never really measure up to the original – so she doesn’t give it the interpretation, tone and temp it could to be really special.

    One just need to hear the George Michael version to hear what could have been done with that song.

    On the point as to how it would have done on the charts if released when originally planned. I believe it would have been a astronomical BOMB, disaster and miss! Not because the album is poor , on the contrary — it is a stunning album, complete and rich, important and meaningful, BUT I think the public would have rejected this from the “Diana Ross” of that time.

    This was a time , Diana was becoming sultry and sexy. She was really developing a spicy , diva persona with sex appeal and glamour. Hearing her sing these “sappy” emotional , motherly songs — was not what the public wanted from her!!!

    Paul…. thank you, This has been just wonderful on so many levels!

    “Until We Meet Again” – with your NEXT PROJECT!

    Tony

    • Paul says:

      Tony — we’re not done yet! Next week — I’ll start going back — picking up one-off tracks, album appearances, and “mini-albums” like “When You Dream” and “Making Spirits Bright” and “Forever Diana.” She still has a lot of recordings that I’d like to write about — so stick around!! This Sunday, I’ll be posting about her unreleased tracks with producer Bones Howe from 1970!

  5. Tony says:

    PAUL! Did we forget the album entitled “When You Dream “.

  6. spookyelectric says:

    Interesting to see how few comments this one has got so far. I wonder whether this release just didn’t reach the masses in the way ‘Blue’ did a few years earlier because of the way it was packaged and promoted? Universal may have missed in trick in not pushing this as ‘a lost Diana Ross classic’ and lead with ‘To The Baby’ rather than the remastered ‘Touch Me’? Just a thought.

    As for the album itself, there’s no doubt there’s some stunning stuff here – for me it’s all about what would have been Side 2 (if indeed this was the original sequence intended, who knows?) The 5 cuts starting with the title track comprise some of Diana’s deepest, most soulful work ever. Tracks like ‘Brown Baby’ and ‘My Baby’ are such a departure from the image most people have of her as a performer – and of course fit in totally with the socially-aware, conscious soul her label mates Marvin and Stevie amongst others were producing at the time.

    I enjoy Side 1, but for me it doesn’t quite live up to the depth and strength of the other material. To my ears, it’s much more akin to the kind of productions and arrangements on ‘Everything Is Everything’ lighter and popper and very much of the time. Glad they’ve been unearthed finally of course – she sounds great throughout.

    It’s interesting to consider what reception this album would have received if it were released as intended. It’s unusual in her catalogue as it’s a concept album dealing with mature themes and artistically it’s a great statement. Arguably a little too indulgent and reflective for what the public wanted from Diana at the time. (Interestingly around the time Barbra Streisand – at a very similar stage in her career – was working on a similarly introspective album ‘Life Cycle of a Woman’ that dealt with motherhood amongst other themes – that was never released).

    I think Berry Gordy made the right commercial decision though in shelving it. ‘Lady’ had already recently stretched Diana and proved she could cut it as an actress, but she hadn’t had a solid crossover US smash since ‘Ain’t No Mountain’ at this point and needed one to get her recording career back on track. ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ was a brilliantly crafted pop single for the time – balancing her soulful vocals with a song with huge MOR crossover appeal and a very liberated lyric fitting into the spirt of the time. Reshaping the sessions into the ‘Touch Me’ album was a sound commercial move.

    I wonder how Berry and Diana dealt with that decision. You would have thought this project in particular would have had a deeper personal significance than most to Diana. But then again, we also know now that the unborn child Diana was singing to was Berry’s child – so there was I imagine quite a lot of complicated emotional terrain to be negotiated at the time, to say the least.

    For me, the great find here (beyond the original versions of tracks that were released on other albums) is the title song. ‘To The Baby’ feels quite slight on initial listens, but over time really works into your mind and has a lovely engaged warm vocal from Diana – very Philly as you say, Paul. Interesting, her brother T-Boy recorded his own version on his one and only solo album ‘Changes’ released on Motown in the late 70s. I only heard it a few years ago for the first time – see what you think…

    • Paul says:

      Spooky — I think “To The Baby” deserved a release on its own — the Starbucks-led marketing campaign for “Blue” was so effective that it could have been repeated for this album to good sales. The same can be said for the 2nd disc of the “Last Time I Saw Him” reissue — which Hip-O cleverly calls “First Time I Saw Him” — as they form a kind of concept album of their own, too. That said — I’m just glad “To The Baby” was released at all!

      It’s funny — I actually think “Side 1” is the highlight for me — I adore “Part Of You” and “Got To Be There” — and I think the progression of songs and mood is nice. The lighter tone on the early songs nicely reflects the excitement/anticipation of pregnancy, while “Side 2” becomes more complex with the emotions of being a parent and watching a child grow.

      • spookyelectric says:

        Interesting point about the lyrical progression in the sequencing – I hadn’t thought about that – totally makes sense! Actually the more I listen to this set of songs the more I love the dreamy, melodic qualities of ‘Part of Me’ and ‘A Wonderful Guest’.

        I never noticed the ‘First Time I Saw Him’ title on the ‘Last Time’ reissue – that’s a nice touch. Hopefully we’ll have your post on that in the next couple of weeks!

  7. Paul says:

    HEY ALL! Sorry I’ve been missing in action all week — I’ve been quite under the weather! But…I’m feeling better…and glad to see some comments for this great “lost” album. More to come next week…we’re going back to 1970…and Miss Ross’s unreleased tracks with Bones Howe!

  8. Tony says:

    Great to hear from you….. And super glad you are feeling better. Post a way!!!!!! We are all here !

  9. wayne2710 says:

    It was great to finally hear this album as originally intended, although I tend to believe that the right decision was made back in the day to shelve it and break it up for different releases. Touch Me In The Morning would have suffered without tracks like My Baby, and the medley (agree that this mix is better – Brown Baby is better as a stand alone track.) Although to be fair there was nothing being released on Diana for an almost 12 month period throughout 1972, making the fans wait for the release of ‘Lady’ sort of elevated it to a higher level, and on it’s release was such a departure from the Diana Ross the world had known for nearly ten years it had a far bigger impact than if Motown had been releasing a new Ross album every 3 months the way they used to, and actually still were releasing Supremes albums. The cultural tidal wave Lady Sings the Blues had was immense at the time, and paved the way for artists such as the Pointer Sisters and even Bette Midler to gain global attention.

  10. markus says:

    Completely missed this review- great job Paul!!!
    I think ultimately the right decision was made as far as reshaping the project for TMITM (aside from a couple of curious choices, like the medley juggling), but there is some good stuff that got left off.
    I actually think “A Wonderful Guest” is sublime from start to finish, love the title track, and “Kewpie Doll”, to me was a revelation. Echoing prior comments that we should petition Diana and Smokey to cut an album together!!!

  11. spookyelectric says:

    Tucked away at the back of the sleeve notes it says there were some other tracks recorded for the ‘To The Baby’ sessions with Tom Baird that were uncompleted – Elton John’s ‘The Greatest Discovery’, Cat Steven’s ‘Where Do The Children Play’ and two songs I’ve never heard of called ‘Nature’s Way’ and ‘Growing’. Anyone know anything more about these I wonder?

    • Paul says:

      I wonder if “Nature’s Way” and “Growing” were Tom Baird originals, as were “Part Of Me” and “A Wonderful Guest.” Baird seemed to take the TO THE BABY project very literally with his great compositions, and those two unfinished titles kind of sound like his work. Just a guess!

      • spookyelectric says:

        That would make sense – I wonder. Interesting to think at one point ‘Baby’ would have had Diana covering Marvin, Lennon, Cat Stevens, Elton John and Roberta Flack all on one record! Almost a complete step away from what she had released up till then. What an amazing time the early 70s were!

  12. Pingback: Touch Me In The Morning (1973) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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  16. Luis Boki says:

    In a well known Rolling Stone 70s interview, Diana revealed that she had recorded at least 3 albums worth of material. She said casually that she didn’t care which Motown released first. Her role as “Queen of Motown” was almost naively entrusted in Mr. Gordy, that artistically she surrendered the fate of her career. On the surface, this certainly didn’t seem dangerous because Mr. Gordy’s dedication to her career was undeniable. Since The Supremes broke through in 1964, she was guided to unparalleled success. The enormously popular and diverse theme albums from a platinum tribute album to the great British Invasion, the artistically well timed tribute to Sam Cooke to the meticulous focus of the entire company on their first live album,”At the Copa” sailed to platinum not only for the ladies but eventually labelmate brother group, The Temptations, the Prince of Motown to even an unreleased album from Martha & The Vandellas would also record their own “live album at the Copa” brought prestige and millions to the label.
    The same sort of attention was given to her first television special, “T.C.B.” with The Supremes and The Temptations. That award winning special not only became the #1 Variety Special of the year, 2 more platinum albums, a sequel “On Broadway” and most of all, underscore that she was the star.ł
    That manicured care would be applied to her first solo television special, another ratings winner!
    Of course, her motion picture debut, proved to be everything that she and Motown wanted. That solidified her global awareness as a solo entity. She enjoyed commercial and, most of all, critical acclaim including an Oscar, a BAFTA (UK) and Cesar (France) Best Actress nomination! The soundtrack became her first #1 solo album.
    So with her solo career off to a blazing start, it is little wonder she had placed so much of her destiny with Mr. Gordy and Motown.
    Her work effort she established as leader of The Supremes became the benchmark and the envy of the entire company.
    There within lay this beautiful jewel, “To the Baby”. My pets are my children. And I found myself listening to the album while staring at my beautiful cats. Remembering the times when they were kittens to now 15 years later, two beautiful cats.
    The title track with its sweet tender beauty musically sounds like a hit. Lyrically, you may not usually hear songs on Top 40 actually dedicated to babies into young children. Diana delivers the song with warmth, joy and maternal innocence.
    The songs like “My Baby (My Own)” and “Brown Baby” included on the beautiful “Touch Me in the Morning” sound perfect in their originally intended environment.
    She nearly outshines Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There”. She could have made it to #1 because of her wonderful reading.
    “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” sheds
    it’s haunting tone from its association with “Play Misty for Me” and becomes a parental celebration honoring their parental accomplishments.
    I find “To the Baby” to be such a resounding conceptual success and Diana’s performances so undeniably engaging that it is hard to gauge its commercial prospects.
    However, I am forever grateful to be here when “To the Baby” arrives.

  17. Pingback: The Return Of The Magnificent Seven (1971) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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