Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars (1983)

“For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me…”

The 1983 LP Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars was a novel idea; an album of unreleased Motown covers by other Motown artists.  The vault tracks dated back to the 1960s, with recordings like  “Shop Around” by the Spinners and “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” by Jimmy Ruffin.  In the early 80s, before the advent of CD reissues and remastered “lost and found” collections, getting an LP like this was a huge deal for fans, giving added validity to the idea that the Motown vaults were full of hidden treasures; the album cover even trumpeted the collection as “…gems from the Motown vaults.”  And of course, 1983 was a big year for the record label anyway; the television special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” garnered huge ratings and publicity for the artists celebrating Motown’s 25th anniversary, and renewing interest in the classic music produced out of Detroit.

Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars wouldn’t have been complete, of course, without an appearance by Motown’s Queen (just as the television special wasn’t…for better or worse), and she shows up here with a version of the oft-recorded standard “For Once In My Life.”  Though the most famous version of the song remains Stevie Wonder’s 1968 single release (which hit #2 on the pop charts), the Ron Miller/Orlando Murden composition had already been sung by artists like Barbara McNair, Tony Bennett, and The Temptations.  That group’s Paul Williams performed an impassioned version of the song on the TV Special “TCB” with the Supremes, an early link between the song and Miss Ross.   Wonder also performed the song on the 1969 episode of “The Hollywood Palace” hosted by Diana and the Supremes; she sings a bit with him, although it’s really only a few lines on the back-end of the song.

Diana’s version here was produced by Hal Davis, the man who’d given her the 1976 smash “Love Hangover” and had recorded some other disco cuts on her that remained unreleased for decades.  Rumors of a full disco album (writer J. Randy Taraborrelli mentions a planned LP called Feelin’ Fun) swirled around for awhile, but never happened; Diana mentions recording dance tracks during a 1977 Rolling Stone Magazine interview during which she was working on Baby It’s Me.  This version of “For Once In My Life” was probably meant for that planned album, because Davis gives it the full-on disco treatment; the popping bass, breathy moans, and choir of background voices all could have come from the same session as “Love Hangover.”  For fans yearning for a classic-Diana, torchy reading of the song…well…this is not it.

Opening with two plaintive, breathy moans from Diana — something, again, she’d perfected on “Love Hangover” — Davis immediately sets the mood with the dense and busy bassline (lifted high in the mix — almost equal to the vocal) and the wind instruments, which give the song a “70s-lounge” vibe (even the album liner notes point to this).  Miss Ross handles the first verse extremely well, her voice sexy and husky but with a youthful spark that marked her work on 1977’s brilliant Baby It’s Me LP.  She ups her game a bit beginning around 46 seconds in, with her angsty, multi-note cry of “Yes!” leading into the second verse.  Her first reading of the famous “For Once In My Life…I have someone who needs me” is a little shaky, though she nails a nice little vocal run at 2:00 when repeating the refrain.  Producer Davis puts the emphasis on the track and beat beginning around 2:50, as the “Turn The Beat Around”-ish bongos take over and the flutes start going wild.  This dance break is also reminiscent of the track to the original swing-arrangement of “Lovin’, Livin’ And Givin’” as featured in the film Thank God It’s Friday — which was also, of course, produced by Mr. Davis.  This breakdown section sounds awfully dated today, although the popping bass is hard to resist and there’s some nice, muted keyboards woven into the mix.  Diana shows back up about a minute later, with a little spoken section that’s kind of silly (she actually spells out the word “need” — really?), but on which she sounds pretty sexy.  She then riffs a bit, singing bits and pieces of the song, sounding loose and comfortable in front of the mic, if not pushing herself too hard.  By the time the song fades out at around five-minute mark, the entire thing feels a little campy, but is also extremely likeable and memorable, with Diana Ross once again emerging as the wise, mature club diva that she created with “Love Hangover” and would soon re-create as a born-again love devotee with “The Boss.”

“For Once In My Life” may not be a classic, top-notch Diana recording, but it’s a nice addition to Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars, as it illustrates the fact that many, many Motown songs were recycled repeatedly and experimented upon in various ways.  Immediately following Diana’s song is a version of “Love Hangover” by recorded by the great Jr. Walker.  He turns Diana’s classy club smash into a more rowdy, rough affair, imagining it in a far more funky setting.  As with “For Once In My Life,” it doesn’t eclipse the more famous version, but adds a little perspective and history to it, which is all it really needs to do.


About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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22 Responses to Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars (1983)

  1. Jimi LaLumia says:

    as I recall, Diana Ross also performed “For Once in My Life” when she guested in an episode of a half hour comedy series starring Danny Thomas..

    • Jaap says:

      The whole episode is on YouTube. Fun too watch even though the quality is not too good. Ross sings a full version — though a bit fast-paced — of “For Once in My Life”, starting at 6:23 up to 8:09

      • Paul says:

        Interesting to see this — so cool! She definitely seems to rush through it, huh, but I guess that’s what had to happen on television. Dig that outfit — those fluffy leggings are…ummm…interesting!

    • Paul says:

      Yes, indeed — and later sang it as part of a Stevie Wonder tribute along with “I Just Called…” and a snippet of “My Cherie Amour.”

  2. spookyelectric says:

    Really like Diana’s vocal on the verses… and I’m a sucker for a spoken word monologue! Agree this could do with a bit of remix to downplay some of the cheesier high street disco elements. Hope this track finally gets a release on a Hip-O deluxe set soon – maybe ‘Ross’ (1978) slated for release next year!

    • I just listened to this via our ever lovin’ YouTube, just an amazing track (yup the break is a little dated) I love the chorus behind Miss Ross, very late 60s Andantes sounding.

      Spooky where do you get all your tidbits of news! Is Hip-O really releasing ‘Ross’, that’s Super cool news! And I would live if this version of ‘Once in my Life’ were included.

      I love that so often with the Diana Ross Project I learn of tracks from Miss Ross’ prolific career I never knew existed.

      • spookyelectric says:

        I’ve read rumours on various forums and stuff on the net… but believe it when you see it I reckon! ‘Baby It’s Me’ deluxe has been rumoured for a while, and that would make more sense to me as there’s also a few unreleased tracks from the Richard Perry sessions apparently and at least one 12″ mix.

        I always thought ‘Ross’ is less likely as most of it has appeared in one place or another already (except the version of ‘Where Did We Go Wrong’). But I’m sure someone on a post somewhere on here said that is was due out next year. So who knows. Maybe ‘Ross’ will show up on a 2cd deluxe of ‘Baby It’s Me’?

    • Paul says:

      I agree — I am really, really hoping it shows up on the ROSS reissue — I’d think it would have to, since it’s been so long hard to find!

  3. Lawrence says:

    where is this track available? Can’t find it on iTunes or amazon.

  4. Lawrence says:

    thanks so much!!!

    • Paul says:

      Lawrence — weirdly this seems to be one of the few tracks not on any CDs! I have it on the LP and also on a strange, budget casette compilation I found years ago (that also features random songs like “Stone Liberty” and “We Can Never Light…”!

  5. Tony says:

    I am not sure if I like it or want to like it! Her voice sounds good and emotive – but it seems to lack a punch or power for me.

  6. Jaap says:

    Although Diana Ross’s version of “For Once In My Life” is okay, the real winner on this album is Thelma Houston’s version of “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” also produced by Hal Davis. I wish Ross recorded that version!

  7. Paul says:

    For those who’ve never seen it — Diana’s more recent performance of this song! Her voice is a bit scratchy, but I quite like it — she looks great, is energetic, and I think her vocal performance overall is pretty strong on “For Once…”

  8. Pingback: Billboard Music Awards 2004 (Stevie Wonder Tribute) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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