The Bones Howe Sessions (Released 2002)

“And all too soon it was so easy to tell that I was winning in a game…”

March 26, 2002 marked Diana Ross’s 58th birthday, but it was her legions of fans that received an amazing birthday gift.  Motown finally re-released her 1970 debut album, Diana Ross, which had been out-of-print for some time; better yet, the CD came loaded with eight bonus tracks, including live performances, alternate vocals takes, and — best of all — a batch of tracks from the vaults.  Those tracks were produced by Bones Howe, and had apparently been recorded as possibilities for Miss Ross’s debut album as a solo artist.  Her former manager Shelly Burger is quoted in the liner notes of that re-release:  “I had known Bones for a while and he was very hot at the time, particularly with the Fifth Dimension.  The thought was we should go outside the company to do something completely different for Diana’s first album.”

Motown, of course, was scrambling to hit upon a winning formula for Miss Ross the solo artist; she’d been delivering #1 hits as lead singer of the Supremes for almost a decade, and expectations were high for her first post-group offering.  One of the first solo possibilities, the Johnny Bristol-produced “Someday We’ll Be Together,” ended up being released as a Supremes single.  Then the brilliant writing/producing/performing team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson began working on songs for Diana, as did Howe.  Miss Ross finished four songs with Mr. Howe, including the Laura Nyro-written “Time And Love” and “Stoney End,” but it was Ashford and Simpson who ended up handling her debut album.  It’s impossible to argue with that decision today, given that Diana Ross was a solid success and game Miss Ross a top 20 hit, “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and a Grammy-nominated #1 masterpiece, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Still, what’s surprising is just how good the Bones Howe-produced songs are.  The four songs lean more toward the “pop” side of the spectrum than Ross’s soulful, darker work with Ashford and Simpson, and after years of crooning pop standards on television and in clubs, she is more than adept at the sunnier style of music.  There’s a youthful sparkle to her performances on these songs, but they also showcase Diana in fine, full voice, giving her chances to belt and reach for high notes that many listeners still don’t realize she’s capable of.  While 1970’s Diana Ross really is the perfect debut album for Miss Ross — spectacular and stylish and still surprising more than 40 years later — it’s a treat to hear what might have been with a different direction and team behind her.

***

Time And Love:  Written by singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, this song first appeared on her 1969 album New York Tendaberry.  Diana, of course, recorded the song not long after the release of that album, and when her version was shelved, Motown lifted the track from the vaults and had Jean Terrell dub over a new lead vocal, placing the song on the 1971 Supremes album Touch.  “Time And Love” also hit the charts in 1971 when Barbra Streisand included it on her album Stoney End (which also, of course, featured the song “Stoney End” — also cut on Ross by Howe!), which was produced by Richard Perry.  Miss Ross’s version here is a swinging, big-band, Vegas extravaganza, as buoyant and energetic as anything Diana had ever recorded.  It would be easy to imagine this song becoming a Ross concert-opener; she sounds comfortable and confident on the verses, her performance a mix of sexy breathiness and youthful zeal.  She gets to open her voice up and really show off some power on the choruses; this is especially true as she repeats it in the last 40 seconds of the song, emitting a soaring shout at 3:42 followed by a nice alteration of the melody as she sings, “Don’t you let that devil fool ya, here comes the dove…”  The “full-steam ahead” brashness of the arrangement and the choir of male and female singers behind her do date the song; it certainly sounds far less contemporary than “Ain’t No Mountain…” and other works that eventually made it onto her first album.  That said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable song and performance, displaying the excitement of a young woman finally coming into her own as a singer and performer.  (Note:  “Time And Love” did get a release on the superb Diana compilation The Motown Anthology, which had hit store shelves a year earlier, in March of 2001.)

Stoney End:  Another Laura Nyro composition, this one was first recorded by the writer for her 1967 debut album, then by actress Peggy Lipton in 1968.  It, of course, also fell into the hands of Barbra Streisand, who named her 1971 album after it and released it as a single; it became a top 10 hit for her.  Nyro’s version has an interesting, almost rustic feel, with a banging piano and harmonica leading the way; Streisand’s was more rock-oriented and theatrical.  Miss Ross’s version here is the glossiest of them all, shimmering pop perfection that stands as the best of these Howe tracks in terms of production and vocal performance.  The arrangement here retains some of the brashness of “Time And Love” during the intro and the choruses, but layers in a beautifully done bongo line and features a nice, classy restraint during the verses that really allows Miss Ross’s performance to shine.  She’s at her most alluring here, eschewing the gutsiness of her Ashford and Simpson recordings and reigning in the brassiness of her latter-day Supremes works, and letting her voice smoothly ride the melody and showcase the passion of the lyrics at just the right moments (her slowed-down “Cradle me…mama, cradle me…” at 2:34 is as perfectly emoted as any Broadway star could hope for).  Just listen to her first line; her “I was born from love…” is as gorgeous as she’d ever sounded on record.  Again, it’s impossible to say what would have been, but this recording certainly had the potential to be every bit the hit that Streisand’s was the next year; this is a beautifully crafted work of pop.  It’s also a reminder of how strong the material being given to Diana Ross was at the time; she was the biggest female star in the music world, and on the cusp of even greater achievements.  That a song this good would be left in the vaults for years and years is pretty amazing; it would be a career benchmark for most anyone else.

The Interim:  The production by Howe here is much different from his work on the previous two songs; the horns and bass are plodding and almost laborious, creating a dense musical bed devoid of any bounciness or joy for most of the running time.  Diana’s vocal is also much different; she matches the instruments by drawing out the lyrics, each word stretched and twisted like taffy.  Her work here, shaded with soul and mystery, is much closer in tone to some of the songs that ended up being released as part of her finished debut; Ashford and Simpson-produced tracks like “Dark Side Of The World” and “Keep An Eye” also feature Diana in a deeper, almost-mournful voice.  While it’s not as immediately striking as “Stoney End,” this is a compelling piece of work; Diana’s vocal is extremely mature, especially as she wails the line, “I wish that I was stronger and able to hold, without the help of someone weaker I can mold into the person I would like myself to be…” at 2:40.  This is great singing, and while the song probably never would have been a hit due to its complexity and lack of traditional structure, it’s a fascinating listen.  (NOTE — though the 2002 CD reissue of Diana Ross lists this song as written by Jimmy Webb, I was recently contacted and told that it was indeed penned by Cheryl Ernst Wells, a staff writer for Bones Howe during the recording period. According to this e-mail, she actually owns the copyright and has the original recordings.)

Love’s Lines, Angles And Rhymes:  An oddly titled song that found fame as a single by The 5th Dimension; the group named its 1971 album after the song, which climbed into the top 20 of the pop charts.  That version was also produced by Bones Howe, which explains why it’s so similar to Diana’s, recorded a year earlier.  The rhythm of the song cleverly mimics the pendulum referred to in the lyrics; it swings back and forth, giving Miss Ross a chance to vacillate between being sexy/breathy on the lower notes and more powerful in her higher range.  Her performance on just the opening words (“Love…leads…”) has got to be among the sexiest she’s ever sounded on record; it’s impossible not to be immediately drawn into the song with her delivery.  Interestingly, this song is also one of the few cases of Diana audibly “working” while singing; for someone who usually makes it sound so effortless, her run of lyrics starting at 2:34 (“Of the angles and rhymes of the circles and lines of the tunnels of love running over…”) sound raw and unrehearsed, with the singer taking some deep breaths to get through it.  This “break” in the gloss is actually nice to hear; Miss Ross sounds like a woman totally caught up in the moment.  Behind her, the instrumental is hypnotic, if quite dated; the bass work is ridiculously accomplished, though, with the plucking the strings adding nice intrigue to the piece.  Heard today, “Love’s Lines…” certainly doesn’t sound as timeless as much of Diana’s other work of the era, and doesn’t immediately sound like a “lost hit” — however, being that an extremely similar version was a hit for another group, it’s hard to say what would have been had it been released on Diana.

***

If nothing else, the release of these four songs in 2002 was a good reminder of just how much was at stake when Diana Ross went solo in 1970.  Her success wasn’t necessarily a sure bet;  the singer herself said, “The fear was, you know, Will I be okay?  Will my records be hits?  People had done some of the same things, and they weren’t successful” (David Nathan’s The Soulful Divas, 152).  These tracks show that there was some experimentation when it came to Miss Ross’s solo career, and that her versatility as lead singer of the Supremes obviously led to some question about what direction she ought to take.  As good as these four recordings are — and they are all very good — there’s no doubt the work Ashford and Simpson came up with for 1970’s Diana Ross was the perfect springboard for her future career.  Still, these are four welcome additions to the Diana Ross discography and continued proof of her power and skill as a vocalist.

Best Of The Bunch:  “Stoney End”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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22 Responses to The Bones Howe Sessions (Released 2002)

  1. Tony says:

    I was thrilled with both Stoney End and Time and Love. I will admit that I was worried that these tracks would be released and worried how it would compare Strisand!! All my life friends and family constantly compared my idol Diana to Barbra. I felt I was constantly defending Miss. Ross and educating people about her gifts! So needless to say I was hoping Diana would at least pull it off. She did. Time and Love with Stoney End are amazing. She seems to really connect with the songs and understand them and how to project them. Saying that , I feel she is removed from the Interim and LLA&R appear to be too high brow for her. For me … I can hear that she doesn’t really get these songs on a level that one needs to in order to have them resinate with listeners.

    Now — I urge folks to listen to Time and Love by Jean Terrell and compare it to Diana. Miss Ross has a spark in her voice that makes it clear as to what makes Diana … Diana !

    • Paul says:

      Tony — I really love Jean Terrell’s voice, but I totally agree that Diana FAR outshines her on “Time And Love” — there really is a spark and energy in Diana’s performance that brings the song to life!

  2. It’s interesting listening to these tracks again. When reading the Taraborrelli tome ‘Call Her Miss Ross’ (a million Summers ago) one of the myths that stuck in my mind was the Streisand/Ross “feud”. This was an ongoing belief I had in my head for a long ass time, and as I had long been in a love affair with Barbra it was often easy to fall into the trap of believing in the legend.

    That Diana Ross & The Supremes recorded their ‘Funny Girl’ record as the movie soundtrack was released (because no other artist recorded tracks from the ‘Funny Girl’ score. Ever. ;-)) that Miss Ross wanted a concert in Central Park ‘just like Barbra’, and a movie career, and television specials…Just. Like. Barbra.

    So when I initially heard Diana’s versions of both ‘Stoney End’ & ‘Time & Love’ I thought oh here we go again, Miss Ross worshiping at the Streisand alter…and I am sure like every female artist of the era Diana looked at Barbra’s career with interest as a great blueprint on how to manage successfully across multiple media outlets. I am unsure that this means that there was envy or jealousy involved however?

    What I now understand (and learning the timelines of these tracks) so often Miss Ross was working either ahead of the curve or concurrent with Barbra. Now this doesn’t mean that I can’t quite get Barbra’s voice out of my head when listening to these tracks but as I have never been a huge fan of ‘Stoney End’ as a song anyway (though I love the Streisand album of the same name) or ‘TIme & Love’ (I’m not a huge fan of Laura Nyro as a songwriter/performer anyway) It is great to hear Diana’s spin on these very, of their time tracks.

    So where Miss Ross was trying to launch her stand alone career, almost in the same breath Streisand was working to re-launch her’s. So very interesting times for both artists.

    I think my favorite of the four tracks is ‘Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes’ if you want to dive deeply into that early seventies sound/production you can’t get much better than this. Just the fact that Miss Ross is giving it a good go, I hear exactly what you mean Paul in regards to ‘working’ the track, it almost feels like a demo, with Diana always being just behind the beat trying to get the lyrics out fast against the arrangement. There is something lovely and endearing about that. It is the one track of the four that could have easily been included on the final LP (easily sliding in next to ‘Dark Side of the World’)

    I am glad we get to hear these tracks finally, but I think that the actual Ashford & Simpson led album release meant that Miss Ross stood out in the crowd, really allowing for the distinction between her Supreme years, and the decade to come. These are great performances and why they weren’t used on other records earlier is interesting but I just feel the right direction was taken as to sound & production.

    • spookyelectric says:

      You’re right Julius, you can’t help be reminded of the whole supposed Diana/Barbra feud when you listen to these tracks. Who knows what the exact truth is – certainly Randy Tambourine got a lot of mileage out of it, that’s for sure! Interestingly, you can pick up almost any Streisand biography and there isn’t a single mention of Diana. Make of that what you will. I reckon it’s more along the lines you suggest – Barbra was a benchmark of the ultimate ‘crossover’ superstar of the day. It’s been said many times Gordy wanted to shape Diana into ‘the Black Streisand’ – whether he ever used those specific words who knows, but I can certainly believe he saw her career trajectory as one Diana could/should emulate (and pretty much pulled it off too).

      As for these specific Laura Nyro tunes, though the timelines are very tight, it seems to me likely Diana’s recordings had nothing to do with Barbra’s. Nyro was red hot as a writer at the time, with hit after hit by artists of the day (including Blood Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and specifically producer Bones Howes’ proteges 5th Dimension who also covered ‘Time And Love’ together). That would have been the draw I think. Barbra’s ‘Stoney End’ sessions actually started a few months later than Diana & Bones’ the same year – Barbra actually covered five Nyro tunes summer to late 1970 – two coincidentally being the same as the Ross ones. Again because Nyro was one of the hottest new hit writers around (and a woman too, which I reckon would have appeal to both of the singers).

      For my money, on those particular two tunes, Streisand has the edge on ‘Stoney End’ (the excitement of hearing that voice in a more loose, abandoned rock environment for the first time) and Ross on ‘Time And Love’ (she sounds so young and happy). Like you say Paul, it’s amazing these tunes took decades to see the light of day. Maybe once the Streisand versions were released, Gordy didn’t want Diana to be seen as ‘following’ Barbra? Still not only would they have fitted right in with the breezy pop of the ‘Everything Is Everything’ album – they are way, way better recordings than loads of the material on there!

      • Paul says:

        Spooky — I also find it strange that Barbra bio’s NEVER mention Diana — seems like perhaps the “feud” is a myth started by “Call Her Miss Ross” and picked up on by other Ross critics…

    • Paul says:

      Julius — you are right, there’s a “demo” feel to LLAR — who knows if the song would’ve been re-mixed or overdubbed had it been released! That’s what makes it hard to really judge these unreleased tracks — there’s no promise that they really were in “final” form here — or if they were works in progress!

  3. wayne2710 says:

    Good point Spooky. Considering what was released on ‘Everything’ it would have made sense to include some of these tracks on there.
    Also I always thought Time and Love to be the odd song out on Touch, and was pleased to hear Diana’s version almost 30 years later, and actually understand some of the lyrics. NOT that I’m knocking Jean Terrell – I just found it difficult to understand some of the words on the Supremes’ release.

    • markus says:

      Wayne- i totally agree. I enjoy the Touch album but Time & Love didnt seem to fit into it. I was shocked when I heard Diana’s version and discovered it was the EXACT same arrangement. I think Diana gets the edge over Jean (and Barbra) on that one.

    • Paul says:

      YES — these songs would’ve fit so well on “Everything” — I hadn’t really thought of that either!

  4. markus says:

    Overall these songs were an unexpected surprise. I had no idea they had existed previously.
    Like Julius, I don’t care much for Stoney End as a song regardless of who’s singing it, but Diana acquits herself nicely on it. My favorite from these sessions is also “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes”- it’s a busy song and Diana chugs along with it nicely (and I love that breathless delivery after 2:30!).

    • I think ‘Love’s Lines’ may well be my favourite from the sessions. I always forget it, likewise ‘The Interim’, but once I start playing it again it’s on loop all week. Both those songs have a seductive meandering quality that really draws you in – they’re quite distinct in Diana’s catalogue.

      It’s amazing that this sort of complex material was mainstream ‘pop’ at the time. I was surprised when I found out the 5th Dimension’s version of ‘Love’s Lines’ was a US Top 20 hit. It’s slower in tempo that Diana’s, and Marilyn McCoo’s lead is lovely with great enunciation, but I prefer Diana’s – it’s edgier. Coincidentally, Marilyn McCoo and Diana also share another song in their catalogues – ‘I Thought It Took A Little Time’.

      • Paul says:

        I like Marilyn’s LLA&R better than Diana’s — I think her voice is suited well to the material. However, there is no question that Diana KILLS ITITALT — no other singer, not ever McCoo, can come close on that one!

    • Paul says:

      Interesting — I like “Stoney End” — to me, it’s more musically interesting than “Time And Love” and provides more “drama” for Miss Ross to dig into!!

  5. bokiluis says:

    It is just impossible not to compare Diana’s versions of these songs with the version by Streisand, The Fifth Dimension and/or Jean Terrell.
    “Time and Love” was the most critical as Motown used the same instrumental track on both Diana and Jean. Jean wins out here and seems a lot more elastic. Jean sounds alive and full of alacrity. Diana is a lot more studied. I would have gone back to the drawing board just like Berry had Diana and Ashford & Simpson do.
    Now, I was a little shocked to learn that Diana had actually recorded/released “What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life”, 2 years before it showed up on Streisand’s 1974, “The Way We Were” album. And now it seems that Diana recorded the song that gave Streisand a contemporary lean with “Stoney End” around the same time (1968-69) Streisand was recording it. Ironically, this was only a year before Diana controversially took on “Funny Girl”. Streisand’s head must have been spinning and reeling.
    Though it has been debated just what Streisand thought of Diana, in my view, Diana was simply a fan of Streisand’s body of work. Streisand, on the other hand, struggled in taking on Motown material. Her version of “Shake Me, Wake Me” comes to mind. She gets a passing grade, but, barely. Even when Streisand took on Stevie Wonder material like “All in Love is Fair”, it is clear she is no match for Diana in that regard.
    “Love Lines, Angles & Rhymes” belongs to Marilyn McCoo because of her tonality and diction. She and Diana are similar in phrasing, but, familiarity gives the nod to The 5th Dimension.
    “The Interim” is one of those weird songs that Diana has recorded, out of her element. Had Motown gone with Bones Howe, her solo debut would have not been an easy call. Imagine a mix that included “The Interim” with say “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hands)” for a very, eclectic, mature, but, decidedly uncommercial solo debut. I imagine critics falling all over themselves, in part due to, a conscious abandonment of “The Motown Sound”. Clearly, the public responded more favorably to a soulful Diana (e.g. “Someday We’ll Be Together”) rather than a transformed “cerebral Diva”. Ashford & Simpson understood how to blend the two…..more effectively. We will never know if Diana wouldn’t have been embraced by the critics because she did walk away with a Grammy nod.
    The more interesting aspect of this release would be to hear the full concert from the Cocoanut Grove where Diana seemed in perfect pitch!

    • Paul says:

      Interesting analysis — I’m on the other side of the fence when it comes to Diana vs. Jean on “Time And Love,” though — I think Diana’s showboating here is exactly what’s needed to really bring the song alive. Don’t get me wrong — I love Jean Terrell’s voice — but I don’t think a brassy song like this was her style.

      • bokiluis says:

        Interesting word choice in “showboating” because what I find different with Jean’s version is a sense of vitality. I really enjoyed Jean as a singer, but, strangely she was lacking personality. I could hear range and fluidity through a few octaves….but, though I liked them, her recordings was somehow devoid of personality. And I think that may explain why she ne’er had that star quality. If Berry had wanted a return to a more harmonic “Supremes” instead of someone to step into Diana’s shoes, Jean didn’t really add that either.”The Supremes 70s” may have allowed for more ensemble work, but, they were not in harmony like say on “Come See About Me”. So in listening to something like “Time and Love”, I more marveled at Jean’s vocal abilities than say applauded “The Supremes 70s”. Diana’s version makes me think of a sense of exploration of “what can Diana Ross do alone” as they zeroed in on what her solo debut would be like. “Reach Out and Touch (Somebdody’s Hands)” reflected the “feel good vibes of the late 60s”, while ” Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” signaled the emergence of a sophisticated superstar (not unlike the imagery on the back cover).

      • wayne2710 says:

        I’m with you too Paul. While I always loved Jean’s voice, I find it hard to understand some of the lyrics on Time and Love, whereas with Diana I can hear and understand them all. To me it was a low point on Touch.

  6. Paul says:

    Bokiluis — I agree about Jean’s voice lacking a little in terms of personality — and I also think that’s why she perhaps didn’t have the “staying power” of someone like Diana. Jean is a great singer — her work on songs like “Stoned Love” is sublime and among the best Motown ever released — but there is no denying Diana Ross (in both voice and performance) possesses a whirlwind kind of energy that demands attention.

    This is, of course, the thing that so many people seem reluctant to admit about Diana Ross. It is impossible to watch Diana Ross sing and perform live — from her Ed Sullivan days to her 70s TV specials to Central Park — and not objectively admit that she was far too strong to ever remain part of a group. This in no way diminishes the talent of the other ladies — I am a fan of each of the Supremes and believe each possesses a unique set of skills that added to the group, especially Mary Wilson, who I think is an underrated vocalist — but Diana Ross was destined for solo stardom, no matter what her relationship with Berry Gordy was. She is just too strong a singer and entertainer, and always was.

  7. Write Zilla says:

    When I heard those Bones Howe tracks I was floored. They are so good, I thought it was strange they weren’t released as singles. Diana displays impressive skill on them, especially with Loves, Lines, angles and rhymes, where she has to deal with key changes and crescendo nuances

  8. Pingback: Diana Ross (1970) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  9. Pingback: Touch (1971) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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