“Don’t let your pride hold you back…that’s a silly way to act…”
Diana Ross’s 1971 album Surrender remains the best of her early solo work, and is still one of the strongest albums of her entire career — probably in the top 2 or 3. In terms of vocal performance, Diana Ross never sounded better than she did on Surrender’s eleven tracks, each produced by the brilliant Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson; her work during the final minute of “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” is some of the most impressive and powerful singing she’s ever released, and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is nearly as good as her masterpiece “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — which is saying a lot. Though it wasn’t the huge hit it should have been, it did produce three top 40 singles and is considered by many to be the most soulful work Diana Ross recorded. In truth, it’s also one of the best early 70s Motown albums, easily ranking with the work being turned out by Marvin Gaye and The Temptations at the time.
In 2008, on the heels of the masterful reissue of Everything Is Everything, Hip-O Select released an expanded edition of Surrender, adding several alternate versions to the existing lineup (not to mention also tacking on the UK #1 “I’m Still Waiting” and an alternate mix of “Ain’t No Mountain…”). Most exciting of all was the release of the song “Baby I’ll Come,” apparently the only song from the Surrender recording sessions which didn’t make the final cut. The song was also written and produced by Ashford and Simpson, and in the liner notes to the reissue, Simpson doesn’t offer any reason for the song’s exclusion from the original lineup except to say, “It’s a strange song, not really commercial, and something we wrote early, early on in our career, not for the Surrender project” (the liner notes also mention it was first recorded by singer Mary Love in 1967). So, of course, the question is — does “Baby I’ll Come” match the quality of the eleven songs that did make the album?
Opening with a striking, staccato piano line unlike anything else on the Surrender album, “Baby I’ll Come” soon erupts into the kind of sizzling, soulful groove that Ashford and Simpson became known for with songs like “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. In fact, the driving percussion here is extremely similar to that song’s, though the melody line on this tune is more challenging and abstract. Diana’s performance here is as vibrant and soulful as on songs like “And If You See Him” from the original LP; listen to her voice build through the first minute of running time, from the deep, breathy delivery of the initial words through the soaring “I’ll come!” refrain. This is the kind of singing that only Ashford and Simpson seemed capable of drawing from her in those early days; her “…baby, BABY, I’ll come!” at 1:18 displays the kind of abandon that she would rarely show in the next few years, once she was into her more sophisticated, muted work. She is especially strong starting at 1:50, with, “I’ll love you more for saying you’re wrong…” and continuing through the end of the song; there’s a real power and elasticity to her voice that would surprise many who don’t consider Diana Ross a “real” soul singer. She was — and is — and it was never more evident than on her work with Ashford and Simpson. While Simpson says the song isn’t “commercial,” there is something about it that sounds modern today; the muscular piano line that drives much of the tune and the complexity of the melody give it a timeless feel, and it’s not hard to imagine someone like Alicia Keys covering it. That is, of course, true of much of the Surrender album; the performances of everyone involved are so good that they just don’t date the way other material from the early 70s does.
Though leaving the song off of Surrender‘s final lineup obviously doesn’t hurt the LP, the addition of “Baby I’ll Come” wouldn’t have hurt it, either; it probably could have worked well between the tenth and eleventh tracks, serving as a bridge between the soulful, peppy “I’m A Winner” and the darker, more intricate “All The Befores.” In any case, it’s a thrill to hear today; it’s further proof that Ashford and Simpson were the perfect teammates for Diana Ross, pushing her to push herself in the studio and allowing her to feel confident enough in her voice to really show off and explore the top and bottom ends of her range. “Baby I’ll Come” is a welcome addition to what is already one of the absolute shining moments of Diana Ross’s long, storied career.