“Different people look at life with different points of view…”
The 1973 album Diana & Marvin remains an interesting — if frustrating — listen decades after its initial release. Released at a peak time in each performer’s career (Marvin Gaye just off of “Let’s Get It On” and Diana Ross having scored with “Touch Me In The Morning”), nothing on the album even comes close to the quality of each artist’s solo work. That’s not to say the LP is a failure; songs like the UK hits “You Are Everything” and “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” both manage to hit upon an appealingly slick, sultry vibe, and others like “Love Twins” and “I’m Falling In Love With You” are solid and memorable recordings. Still, there’s really not a bona-fide classic to be found on the album, and it didn’t produce any big hits on par with the singles each singer had released separately before or after the project.
That’s why the addition of four “bonus” tracks — three previously unreleased — was so exciting when Motown re-released Diana & Marvin in 2001. The hope for all fans, of course, is that one of the songs lifted from the vaults would be that perfect duet, a song that really showcased both Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye equally well. One of them, “I’ve Come To Love You So Much,” held an especially unique promise, in that it was written and produced by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who’d churned out classics for both singers — including the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which was a major hit for them both. Producer Hal Davis — who helmed most of Diana & Marvin, including the notable single “My Mistake (Was To Love You)” — is responsible for the other two newly-discovered songs, “Alone” and “The Things I Will Not Miss.” The final addition is the funky “I’ll Keep My Light In My Window,” which had been issued on the 1979 Motown compilation Pops, We Love You…The Album.
In the end, the new tracks are as uneven as the original LP in terms of song quality and vocal performance. The duo sounds great on “I’ve Come To Love You So Much” — a song that should have been on the 1973 release — and “I’ll Keep My Light In My Window.” But “Alone” features Marvin in fine voice totally outsinging Diana Ross, while she runs circles around him on “The Things I Will Not Miss,” which has got to be one of Marvin’s weakest hours on record. Those two songs, while interesting listens, display an audible and distracting lack of chemistry, something that already ruins bizarre songs like “Include Me In Your Life” from the LP. So do the four bonus tracks improve Diana & Marvin? Not really. But to be fair, it would have taken a batch of really, really amazing recordings to elevate the quality of an album that was so unbalanced to begin with.
Alone: An odd song written by Wade Brown, Jr. and David Jones, Jr. (who also penned “I’ll Be Here [When You Get Home]” — recorded by Miss Ross around the same time and eventually released on the Hip-O Select reissue of her Last Time I Saw Him), this is probably the weakest of the four tracks solely in terms of Diana Ross’s performance. She opens the track singing in an almost childlike voice, nailing the notes dead-on but without much personality or sense of purpose. This continues for the first 1:20 of running time, and there is such a startling lack of charisma that it’s almost difficult to continue listening. The problem is compounded by the fact that Marvin Gaye sounds so much more “into” the song, soulfully wailing and adding much-needed life and color to it. Though it seems to close to coming together for awhile — the pair sing in unison for a few lines, which works better, and Marvin’s solo parts showcase his gorgeous instrument — “Alone” remains an apt title for the song, as the two basically sing at each other, instead of with each other. Though there are a few opportunities, Diana never cuts loose, something that’s desperately needed; she is so controlled and rigid with her singing that there’s just no chance at any real life to the tune. Aside from all that, “Alone” isn’t a catchy song; there’s really not a discernible verse or chorus here, which makes it difficult to follow. While it’s always fun to hear a song from the Motown vaults, it’s not difficult to figure out why this one was there in the first place.
The Things I Will Not Miss: Another strange choice for a Diana/Marvin duet, this is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David piece written for the 1973 musical film Lost Horizon. Thus, the talent involved in this one recording is pretty impressive — Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and producer Hal Davis — each among the most successful in his or her field at the time, if not of all time. The song’s musical origins are obvious; this is a showtune, and it sounds like a showtune. Diana Ross, known for her versatility and adaptability to just about any genre, is up to the challenge of this fast-paced, wordy song; she delivers it like a pro, full of energy and spunk and letting the “actress” in her have a field day with the lyrics (although, to be honest, she does seem to be a little confused at times, ad-libbing little quips that are completely at odds in meaning with the lyrics she’s just sung). Marvin Gaye, on the other hand, comes off as badly as Diana did on the previous song; he hits the notes, but that’s about it, and seems to have zero interest in what he’s doing. There’s a joyful exhilaration to Davis’s production here that matches Miss Ross’s buoyancy; the urgent bells and racing percussion are certainly unique and memorable, and the instrumental track really becomes the focal point of the entire listening experience. Though the song is written as a duet and the lyrics really wouldn’t make any sense otherwise, it’s a shame Diana Ross couldn’t have somehow just recorded the song herself and included it on another album. As it’s a duet between two women on the film soundtrack, it’s compelling to think what could have been had Motown paired Diana with someone like lablemate Thelma Houston on this track.
I’ve Come To Love You So Much: At last, a song that sounds like it could have become something of a classic for Ross and Gaye; this is a beautiful, lazy-Sunday ballad written and produced by Ashford and Simpson, who also contributed the track “Just Say, Just Say” to Diana & Marvin before leaving Motown. It’s a complete mystery as to why this song was left off of the final album lineup; it is so superior to pieces like “Don’t Knock My Love,” “Pledging My Love,” and “Include Me In Your Life” that replacing one of those with “I’ve Come To Love You So Much” seems like a no-brainer (though, perhaps because Ashford and Simpson had left the company, Motown didn’t want to give them another chance at having a hit — which this could have been). Given Diana’s track-record with Ashford and Simpson, it’s no surprise that she sounds fantastic here; her vocal is relaxed and warm, with the same kind of maturity and sophistication that made her work on “Touch Me In The Morning” so notable. Marvin Gaye delivers an equally effortless vocal, allowing his gorgeous tones to blend beautifully with Diana’s and never sounding as though he’s singing against her. They sound best together starting at around 2:35, as they harmonize on the lyrics, “But all my doubts, and all my fears” — Marvin Gaye then takes over, his voice raw and powerful on the line, “…were suddenly wiped away.” Miss Ross’s next line, “So please believe me when I say…” is powerful and soulful, too, bringing the song back to the sweet and simple chorus and proving that when motivated, the two really could mesh together well and enhance each other’s voices in the process. This is a song that didn’t deserve to sit in the vaults for so long; it’s one of the few cases on which both Ross and Gaye are vocal equals, rather than one totally showing up the other. This should have been on the 1973 LP release, and would have even made a better lead single than “You’re A Special Part Of Me” — which ended up at #12 on the pop charts in the US.
I’ll Keep Me Light In My Window: Previously released but relatively unheard, this song first appeared on the 1979 Motown compilation Pops, We Love You…The Album and was then interestingly added to 1981’s Diana’s Duets. The song had been recorded a few times, including a version by The Temptations from 1984’s Truly For You, but here uses the arrangement as released by Caston & Majors on Motown in 1974 (the song was written by Leonard Caston and Terri McFaddin — and Caston also co-produced this version); the vocals here also match those on the Caston & Majors release almost note-for-note. This is an uplifting, funky tune that mixes elements of disco, gospel, pop, and soul; the production is absolutely fabulous, with a popping bass, well-used “wah-wah” guitars, and eerie, almost robotic background vocals. Front and center are Diana and Marvin, both sounding full of energy and passion; they are both at the top of their game here. Diana in particular delivers a soulful vocal; she is really loose, throwing in little flourishes and ad-libs that aren’t necessarily characteristic of her singing. Listen to her at 1:28, as she sings, “I feel so good when I help my fellow man…” and then “‘Til love and mercy shine throughout the land…” — she sounds strong and confident, and follows it all with a nice little run of notes from 2:15-2:19 that are full of feeling and vocal muscle. Mr. Gaye is just as impressive, getting to show off both the smooth, relaxed side of his range on the verses and then pushing himself and jumping all over the musical scale during the refrain. Also helping the recording immensely is the fact that the song is insanely catchy; it’s hard to listen to it from beginning to end and then not have it trapped in your head for hours afterward. The Pops, We Love You project was a unique addition to the Motown catalog, as it served basically as a tribute to Berry Gordy’s father, and the “Pops, We Love You” single wasn’t a big hit despite featuring four of Motown’s shining stars (Ross, Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson all sang on the track); still, Motown should have pulled this song as a single, too, as it probably could have given Diana and Marvin at least a nice R&B and dance hit.
When it comes to these four “bonus” songs, Diana and Marvin each score three wins and one miss; Diana sounds good on everything but “Alone,” and Marvin impresses on each song except “The Things I Will Not Miss.” However, Diana & Marvin is a full-length duet album, which means both artists should work well enough together that it’s impossible to imagine one voice without the other on a track. That’s really not the case with most of the songs from the LP, which is probably why Diana & Marvin has never been considered a real classic in either singer’s discography. Still, there are some standouts on the original LP, and had “I’ve Come To Love You So Much” been included, it would have been one of them, too. It’s just too bad the two artists couldn’t have taken the song’s lyrics to heart when it came to the entire project: “I’ve come to need and depend on you…”
Best Of The Bunch: “I’ve Come To Love You So Much”