Take Me Higher B-Sides (1995)

TMH Bsides

“What a sweet surprise, can’t believe my eyes…this has really made my day…”

Diana Ross’s 1995 studio album Take Me Higher, released during her second tenure with Motown, is without a doubt one of the singer’s best offerings ever.  From start to finish, the album is fresh and exciting, featuring contemporary and classy songs that are perfectly suited to Diana’s gorgeous, mature vocals.  Though the album wasn’t a huge seller in the United States, it did give her a #1 dance hit with the title track, and song still beloved by club-goers.  The set’s closer, “I Will Survive,” has been adopted by Diana as her own latter-day theme song, often closing her own shows with it and performing it to appreciative audiences.  Between those two upbeat anthems, Take Me Higher includes some absolutely stellar mid-tempo numbers and ballads, some of the best of Diana’s storied career and certainly among the most underrated.

Incredibly, as strong as Take Me Higher‘s twelve released tracks are (eleven on the US version plus “Swing It,” a song included on EMI’s international release in place of the ballad “Let Somebody Know”), there were more.  There are three b-sides that didn’t make it onto final pressings of the CD, but did manage to find release from other venues.  According to Diana’s biographer, J. Randy Taraborrelli, the song “Soul Kiss” was featured on a Canadian promo cassette.  Another song, “Too Many Nights,” showed up on the international single for “Take Me Higher,” while the ballad “I’m So Happy (To See You Again)” featured on an international single for “Gone.”  This wasn’t uncommon for Diana Ross in the 1990s; because Motown handled her domestic releases and EMI released her work internationally, what ended up on store shelves often varied country to country.

The three songs continue working relationships with people who already figure prominently on Take Me Higher; “Soul Kiss” and “Too Many Nights” are Nick Martinelli songs, while “I’m So Happy (To See You Again)” is a Brenda Russell tune.  While the album as released doesn’t suffer from any of these songs being left off, all three could have easily been added to Take Me Higher and maintained the high level of quality set by the collection of contemporary soul and dance tracks.  Each of the three b-sides feature strong production values and gorgeous, soulful work from Diana Ross.  This was a peak time for Ross, who was embracing her maturing voice and showing off her deepened range, and these three songs are the perfect way to “extend” an album that was already pretty much perfect.

***

Soul Kiss:  A cool, beat-heavy mid-tempo tune written by Diana’s longtime collaborator Nick Martinelli, this is probably the funkiest work the two turned out together.  The track is driven by a thick, heavy bass and metallic-sounding guitars that provide a more angular (almost Chic-like) musical bed for Diana’s smooth and soulful work.  Miss Ross provides a breathy, sexy vocal here that works perfectly with lyrics like, “All you have to do is breathe with your lips close to mine…”  She sounds loose behind the mic, offering up a lot of sighs and spoken snippets that make the piece feel intimate and warm (the same kind of thing she’d done back in 1976 with her #1 “Love Hangover”).  The chorus is light and airy, memorable without being overtly “hook-y,” and probably would have sounded really good on adult R&B radio had it made its way onto the finished album.  “Soul Kiss” isn’t necessarily stronger than any songs on the album, but it would have been a nice change of pace had it been included thanks to the unique instrumental track; a few lines sound similar to the melody of “Don’t Stop,” which did feature on the CD, which may be why “Soul Kiss” ended up getting left off.  Much of Diana’s work with Nick Martinelli was rooted firmly in the pop world (especially the duo’s work on Forever Diana and, of course, A Very Special Season), so it is nice to hear something different from them.  Anyway, bottom line, “Soul Kiss” is a nice “hidden” treasure in the Diana discography that fans of her mid-90s work really need to hear.

Too Many Nights:  Another sexy Nick Martinelli track; the vibe here is pure, cool sophisticated soul, with Diana Ross yet again offering up a sublime vocal that shows off just how great she was sounding during the sessions of this album.  It says a lot about Take Me Higher that a song this good was left off the finished album; Diana was recorded so many good songs at this time that obviously there just wasn’t room for them all.  On any other album, “Too Many Nights” would have been a welcome addition; it would have sounded particularly good among the other sophisticated R&B tunes on her next studio album, Every Day Is A New Day, and in fact bears a similarity to “Free (I’m Gone),” a Japanese bonus track from that album.  “Too Many Nights” is classic mid-90s R&B; the track doesn’t differ much from the work being released by artists like Brandy or Faith Evans, with its cool, head-bopping beat and soulful instrumental flourishes.  Miss Ross sounds confident and mature on the vocal, keeping it low-key and allowing the deeper end of her range to do much of the work.  Listen to her sing beginning at the 2:00 mark; her voice lightly dusts the lyrics “Now I’m as serious as a heart attack, ’cause I’ve decided baby, we’re through…,” riding the melody with the perfect mix of attitude and detachment to create the perfect kiss-off.  Again, had “Too Many Nights” been added to the Take Me Higher tracklist, it would have merged in seamlessly while also managing to sound unique; the closest song to it, in terms of production and tone, is “Keep It Right There” (and, perhaps, “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right”), and it doesn’t really sound too much like that.  Instead, the song was a pleasant surprise to those who found it, and remains a great supplement to the album.

I’m So Happy (To See You Again):  It should go without saying that this a lush, gorgeous track; after all, Diana’s work on Brenda Russell tracks is always near-perfect.  “Let Somebody Know,” from the Motown release of Take Me Higher, was one of the standouts of the entire work, and her recording of “What About Love” on 2006’s I Love You is among her most moving performances ever — and both of these are Brenda Russell songs.  “I’m So Happy (To See You Again)” was also co-written by the great Ms. Russell, and the result here is another standout ballad, a melody-driven song that really allows Diana Ross to shine.  Diana shows off far more range on this song than on the previous two; not only does she use her lower tones, but she also spectacularly displays her still-supple upper range, with her higher-notes on the verses ringing out clear and strong.  Just the opening line (referenced earlier in this post), as her voice spills down the scale singing “What a sweet surprise, can’t believe my eyes…,” is so pitch-perfect and full of emotion that it’s impossible to not be moved.  There’s a bit more of a beat on the chorus, which adds some nice variation to the piece and certainly makes the song sound more contemporary and memorable.  That chorus (with the bouncy “I’m So Happy To See You Again” repetition — reminiscent of a slowed down “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige) absolutely would have sounded perfect on R&B radio in 1995; this song could have easily been pushed as a single had it found a domestic release.  Again, Take Me Higher isn’t worse for missing this song, but it would have been just as good had it been added to the project.  What a sweet surprise, indeed.

***

Nearly twenty years later, Take Me Higher remains one of the single best discs ever turned out by Diana Ross; it is still a vibrant listen and shows Diana Ross at her vocal best.  There’s not a single dud on the project, and there’s not one among the b-sides, either.  It would be interesting to hear from Diana Ross herself — executive producer of her later projects, including this one — what goes into choosing which songs make it onto the CD and which get left off.  Certainly quality has nothing to do with why these three songs were left off; they all match the high standard set by the others.  Whatever the reason, at least the songs saw the light of day at all — giving fans the chance to extend the CD to fifteen total tracks (not to mention additional remixes of “Take Me Higher,” “I Will Survive,” and “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right”).  This remains a high point in Diana’s career, and these additional songs take Take Me Higher…well…even higher.

Best Of The Bunch:  “I’m So Happy (To See You Again)”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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10 Responses to Take Me Higher B-Sides (1995)

  1. bokiluis says:

    I am friends with the co-writer of “I’m So Happy to See You (Again)”. He will be pleased to see this reaction because he had mixed emotions on how it finally turned out. The 90s releases really, really underscore the strength of her producing and executive producing skills. I loved every single album that she released from 1991-1998.
    The quality of “Take Me Higher” was near incomparable. There was so much to chose from. I have the advanced cassette of the EMI UK version. On that version, “I Thought We Were Still in Love” was much more symphonic. Instead of the jazz-like piano opening of the U.S. version, the track opens up with a gorgeous, near classical blend of violins and piano for the first 30-45 seconds before it drills down to the piano bar opening that U.S. fans are most familiar with. As dramatically different as that song was on the U.S. and International released version, this more symphonic mix goes even a step further though still somehow fitting nicely with the rest of the album.
    On that same advance, “Too Many Nights” has a much more rock guitar during the break giving it an almost Santana-like solo.
    It really is a shame that Diana virtually stopped recording after “Everyday is a New Day” because from “The Force Behind the Power” forward, she kept getting better and better. It was almost as if the controversy surrounding “Workin’ Overtime” made her more determined to make the kind of music that she and her fans loved. And though the “Ross Records” imprint came into being with the release of “The Force Behind the Power”, it was almost as if returning to Motown freed her to concentrate on her art and not intermingle running the business aspects of a label with the creative process. We, the fans, reaped the benefits.

  2. Paul says:

    How interesting to hear about your friend! Please assure him the song came out well…at least in my humble opinon 😉 If you can say — what was it about the final product that gave him mixed emotions — was the production, Diana’s performance, or the fate of the song (as it was left off of the eventual release)?

    I agree totally that WORKIN’ OVERTIME was another turning point for Diana. The album was extremely narrow in focus, and we all know that one of Diana’s major strengths as an artist is her versatility. Her best albums — SURRENDER, BABY IT’S ME, and TMH — allow her to show off range and to perform different styles of songs while still managing to remain cohesive in terms of sound/theme. WORKIN’ OVERTIME was almost TOO cohesive — the songs sounded too alike and didn’t make much of Diana’s vocal abilities. So I think the re-grouping of FORCE must have led Diana (at least subconsciously) to again focus on creating albums that touched on various aspects of her vocal range and interpretive skill. Her 90s albums were all extremely strong — some of the best of her career — and her voice was in top shape, especially during the TAKE ME HIGHER sessions.

  3. bokiluis says:

    I think my friend, Allan Rich, who co-wrote “I’m So Happy To See You Again” and also “Run to You” for “The Bodyguard” soundtrack ironically was frustrated with the song not making the final cut. It was so difficult to get a hold of at first because it was only a B-side in Canada. I got a copy directly from him. He sorta complained that the vocal performance was problematic. Then when I finally heard it, I said that I liked it. And had given him the positive consensus from the fans whom that had heard it. I did express to him my belief that the album was full of strong songs and it was just unfortunate that all the songs could not make the final cut. The fact that album did well in Europe probably made him feel a little out of sorts. And honestly, if I were the Executive Producer struck with having to chose the final track listing. It would have not made my final cut either. It was not soulful enough to outplace say the Babyface cuts or possibly even “Too Many Nights”.
    And I am no fan of utilizing the full 74 min on a CD. “The Boss” was a perfect album and it was less than 40 minutes long. This madness of filling up all the blank spaces on a CD, undermines the quality of the “album listening” experience. Unfortunately, the digital age has undermined the album listening experience because of the belief that it is somehow giving fans “more bang for the buck”. I much prefer to have a coherent 7-8 songs coming in under an hour than the chance of filling up a CD with “filler”.

  4. Tony says:

    Hello,

    I like soul kiss least of these selections. But I really enjoy “too many nights “and “I’m so happy…..” Bukiluis I agree with you conception of what makes a grate album and what is required to maintain an albums integrity. I Agee that the “boss” is perfect in that respect. I think once the younger artists started adding more and more songs and creating lengthy albums the impression was the customer was getting “more ” for the same price of what they use to pay.

    • spookyelectric says:

      Totally agree with the whole ‘filler’ route that went a bit out of control after CDs killed off vinyl. Less is usually more for sure. Having said that I’d definitely have kicked a track off TMH for ‘I’m So Happy’ it’s one of Diana’s best performances of the 90s I reckon, so effortless and soulful. Great tune.

      ‘Too Many Nights’ is pleasant but not exceptional and ‘Soul Kiss’… was I the only one hoping she’d covered the Olivia NJ classic?

  5. Eric says:

    I think I could make love to “too many nights”! It’s sexy!

    • bokiluis says:

      Interesting that you find “Too Many Nights” as sensual when it is actually a sad love song of reaching a point where one can no longer tolerate the absence of a lover.

      • Eric says:

        It’s about heartache but the music and her vocals ooze erotic heat

      • bokiluis says:

        That was yet another fascinating aspect of her recording during her time with Arne. She revealed in a few interviews that she and Arne lived a transcontinental life jetting between London, where Arne’s corporate offices were and Greenwich/New York City and then sometimes their homes in Oslo and Los Angeles. The Concorde afforded them the opportunity to be together in 3-4 hours. That didn’t prevent a degree of loneliness and lack of intimacy to intrude. So it seems that songs like “Change of Heart” would speak to devotion while “You’re Gonna Love It” reflected the hot, burning passion that would ignite once they were back together.
        London was the intermediate stop between Diana’s work in New York and Arne’s corporate based work from Oslo.
        I so wished that Diana would have reconsidered making London their shared home base. It was always with a word of caution that moving into a partner’s established space usually was not healthy for a new couple. If they owned an island in the tropics, why not buy fresh new dwellings in London that allowed for an equality that moving into the Greenwich estates just could not offer…..hence we get songs like “Too Many Nights”, as well as, “(I’m So Happy) To See You Again” and “One Shining Moment” all from the same recording sessions.
        As fans or rather Diana tribesmen, we understood the range of emotions.

  6. Pingback: Take Me Higher (1995) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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