Voice Of Love/A Gift Of Love (1996/1997)

“From your lips to God’s ear…may every wish and every prayer find its way…”

Though in the United States the 1990s represented a cold period for Diana Ross commercially, the singer was still enjoying tremendous success in other parts of the world.  Thanks to the fact that she was signed to EMI International (Motown handled her domestically — very poorly, it must be added), she received excellent promotion in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe and Asia.  Thus, while albums like The Force Behind The Power and Take Me Higher were completely lost in the United States, they gave her big hits in other markets; Diana’s biggest hit of the decade was her 1991 #2 UK single “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” from The Force Behind The Power; she was also still riding the huge success of the 1988 single “If We Hold On Together,”which had been a #1 smash in Japan.

International markets received far more material from Miss Ross in the 1990s; her popularity abroad created demand for more material, which EMI provided.  1993’s One Woman: The Ultimate Collection was an enormous seller for Ross and a #1 UK album, 1994 brought the holiday album A Very Special Season (a superb collection that should have gotten a domestic release), and the compilations Voice Of Love and A Gift Of Love followed a few years later.  Voice Of Love — a collection of Ross love songs supplemented by three additional new recordings — was released in 1996 in Europe; Diana Ross toured in support of the disc and one of the new songs, “In The Ones You Love,” was a top 40 hit for her. The pared-down  A Gift Of Love was released by EMI Japan in 1997, and featured one new recording, the dance song “Promise Me You’ll Try.”

Thus, a total of four new recordings resulted from the two collections — four songs that never saw the light of day in the US.  As mentioned before, “In The Ones You Love” was pulled as a single and got a music video, too.  However, the other two Voice Of Love tracks are extremely notable; “I Hear (The Voice Of Love)” was co-written by Miss Ross, and “You Are Not Alone” is a cover of the 1995 Michael Jackson #1 hit (written by R&B superstars R. Kelly), a song that would reappear in Diana’s repertoire following Jackson’s death.  “Promise Me You’ll Try,” meanwhile, later found a stateside audience when Jennifer Lopez covered it on her debut album On The 6.  Making them even more notable, however, is that they’re all really good recordings — though not all of them quite equal the bar set so high by the tracks of Take Me Higher, these are all lush, well-produced pieces that still sound good today.

***

In The Ones You Love:  A beautiful, inspiring song that’s similar in feel to “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” — it’s no surprise this was chosen for a single release; the real surprise is that it didn’t chart any higher than it did (#34 in the UK).  Diana Ross’s vocal performance here is easily one of her most powerful of the entire decade; she pushes here — really pushes — her voice soaring far beyond what many people still believe she’s capable of.  The first verse here is sparse and low-key, with Diana’s mature, seasoned delivery spot-on as she sings the well-written, deeply-felt lyrics (the piece was written by Marsha Malamet and Liz Vidal, both of whom have long track records as successful songwriters).  Diana is accompanied by a quiet, relaxed group of background voices during the first and second chorus, a group that erupts into a full-on gospel choir when the bridge hits; this section (beginning around 2:10) is also when Diana’s voice begins to open up, really grabbing hold and digging into the lyrics.  Listen to her sing “Rejoice and celebrate…” at 2:28, stretching the latter work across several powerful notes.  From this point on, Miss Ross really lets loose with some powerful vocals; her “…coming SHINING through…” at 3:11 and the incredible high note at 3:39 are spectacular displays of what she can do when she’s really moved by a song and feels that song is worthy of some vocal gymnastics.  Along the way, the lush production and soulful backing vocals only enhance Diana’s emotional performance.  This really is a great recording — the song itself isn’t the best ballad Diana ever recorded, but the quality of the performances here certainly elevate it to being in the top-tier of her 90s output.  There is no doubt that Diana Ross was vocally in peak form in 1995-1996, as she recorded Take Me Higher and promoted it; clearly that carried over into the recording of this song, which could have easily fit onto that fine album.

You Are Not Alone:  Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” — written and co-produced by R. Kelly — was the second single from HIStory, the singer’s 1995 double-disc career retrospective.  The song was a huge success, becoming the first song in history to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was Jackson’s final #1 hit at home, and also topped the R&B charts.  Diana’s recording, obviously, came right on the heels of Jackson’s — his album had hit shelves just about a year before hers (and, interestingly, his liner notes included a picture with Diana and brief tribute to her — perhaps recording this song was her response to him).  Because Jackson’s version was so ubiquitous and remains so memorable, it’s hard not to compare the two versions; thankfully, Diana’s is extremely good, and holds up very well next to the original.  The production on Diana’s recording is classy and uplifting; it’s a bit more glossy than Jackson’s, although both versions are quite simple.  That, of course, was the key to the success of the song in the first place; there’s a clear, direct melody that’s memorable and easy to sing along to, and Diana’s version respects that for the most part.  Miss Ross offers up a well-executed vocal performance; though she doesn’t provide her own background vocals, her voice is often doubled, with a “second” Ross offering a little color to the melody.  As with the previous track on Voice Of Love, Diana gets to show a little “muscle” and push the upper end of her range a bit; this is especially true during the key change at 4:27. as the song kicks up a notch and Diana gets to wail a few lines.  At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be a surprise that “You Are Not Alone” fits Diana Ross’s voice as well as it did Jackson, considering the vocal similarities between the two.  The song, of course, took on a greater significance (and larger audience) when Jackson passed and named Diana Ross as backup guardian of his children; Diana began performing it in concert again, and it received many hits online, with the general consensus being that Diana more than did it justice.  Indeed, she does.

I Hear (The Voice Of Love):  The most interesting thing about this song, co-written by Diana Ross, is the production; the lead vocal is brought front and center, positioning the singer as the literal “voice of love” of the title.  This recording is all about Diana Ross’s vocal; the backing track, the lyrics, and the melody really aren’t particularly noteworthy, and there aren’t even any background voices included here.  Diana’s vocal is quite nice; it’s not the muscular performance of “In The Ones You Love” or the melodic crooning of “You Are Not Alone,” but is a sure, deliberate delivery that almost sounds like it was done in a single, uninterrupted take.  Again, the song itself isn’t a strong one; the lyrics are generic and wordy, with lines like “All things are achievable, nothing is impossible…you can reach your highest  high, you can make it if you try…” maddeningly meaningless.  The melody is also a bit all over the place, and the section beginning at 48 seconds in, as Diana sings “Life’s interactions…,” sounds like it was borrowed straight from the hit song “If We Hold On Together.”  Still, the entire point of the song is obviously to draw attention to Diana Ross’s position as the leading interpreter of love songs, and the new recordings on Voice Of Love — even this song — certainly continue to make the case that she really is a voice of love.

Promise Me You’ll Try:  The single new track on A Gift Of Love is a fantastic, joyful dance track that plays almost like a sequel to her 1995 #1 dance hit “Take Me Higher” — it’s a high-quality recording that should have been released and pushed as a single in the US…and undoubtedly would have given the diva another dance chart hit.  The melody here is strong and uplifting; the song is one of the most memorable dance tunes Diana recorded in the 90s, with thoughtful lyrics set atop a pleasant club beat that’s danceable without being too “thumping” or overpowering.  Diana’s performance could also be called “thoughtful” — she injects the words with a youthful zeal while also managing to sound wise and mature, and she rides the melody with a nice, light touch.  That youth and vibrancy is helped along by the fact that the melody has a tinge of “60s Motown” to it, something that Diana exploits with her crisp delivery.  Like the best of her solo dance hits, however, the song gives Miss Ross ample opportunity to show off some range and vocal strength; listen to her soaring vocals at 2:22, as she reaches high to sing “Don’t promise me FOREVER…” — she effortlessly belts out the lyrics and then nails her highest note at 2:35 during the word “cry.”  When singer/actress Jennifer Lopez covered the song for her 1999 debut album, it was arranged as a ballad; that choice, unfortunately for her, completely robbed the song of its powerful, hopefully message and left the vocals sounding weak and uninspired.  Diana’s original is so far superior that it almost doesn’t even sound like the same song; this is really a top-notch dance/pop recording that deserved a far wider audience.  It’s unfortunate that Motown didn’t find a place for it somewhere, whether it be on a soundtrack or compilation or something; again, it should have at least given Miss Ross a big dance hit (it’s certainly way better than 1999’s “Until We Meet Again,” which hit #2 on the dance chart) and gotten a shot at gaining some pop/R&B airplay.

***

Of the four new recordings featured on these two discs, two are truly great recordings — “In The Ones You Love” and “Promise Me You’ll Try” stand among her best work of the decade.  “You Are Not Alone” is a very good one; not only is it a deeply-felt recording, but it’s also taken on a greater significance in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death.  Finally, “I Hear (The Voice Of Love),” while not a great song, certainly shows off a gifted and skilled vocalist, and shines a spotlight centered firmly on that glorious voice.  While many discount Diana’s recordings from the 1990s (with some critics saying she’d become too calculated and worried about sounding fresh), songs like these prove that she was just as capable of turning out strong, memorable tracks as she had been during the height of her stardom in the 60s and 70s.  It’s a shame that she was so largely ignored during this decade in her home country; had Motown been smart enough to release the two best songs here, and radio been smart enough to play them, a largely generic and overproduced period in music might have gotten a nice little dose of true artistry.

Best Of The Bunch:  “In The Ones You Love,” “Promise Me You’ll Try”

Advertisements

About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
This entry was posted in Compilation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Voice Of Love/A Gift Of Love (1996/1997)

  1. Paul, I’ve got to admonish you just once, you are costing me money…pretty much every time I log on. So though I’ve had little time to write (life and all) I do read every Sunday night, which usually then entails a visit to Amazon, where I just picked up ‘A Gift of Love’…yes another exorbitantly priced import! I am blaming you simply for once again opening my eyes to tracks by our Miss Ross I haven’t heard…thankfully I already owned ‘Voice of Love’. 😉

    • Paul says:

      lol — SORRY!!! But hey, we’ve all done it! I couldn’t even tally up all the cash I’ve dropped on Diana merchandise! It’s the literal price we pay for loving The Boss, I guess 🙂

  2. Tony says:

    I have to agree. I do already own thie material….but I do re- listen many of the tracks. You know what ? I rediscover them, hear different things in them, am moved by them in different ways. Paul, this is an interesting album. I never gave “in the ones you love” much of a chance ….. But wow , having hear it again the other night, it really spoke to me.

    Thank you Paul.

    • Paul says:

      I’m the same way — I overlooked “In The Ones…” for years — but now it’s one of my favorites. She is really “going for it” in her vocal — and she sounds totally devoted to the lyrics. I love that as I grow older, different Diana songs seem to “pop” out and speak to me. I’m on a strange kick for the song “To Love Again” now — one that I didn’t like much as a kid, but that I absolutely love now.

  3. Antje says:

    Your remark on “Promise me you’ll try” – “…she rides the melody …”, Paul, reminded me of something I once read. May I quote (this is refering to her work with the Supremes):
    “Diana Ross was able to thread her way dexterously through a complex and overloaded arrangement, to deal effortlessly with changes in tempo, to shift accents, to mount waves of sound like a surf-board rider.” (David Morse, Motown, Studio Vista, London 1971, p.67)
    Indeed, this effortlessness, combined with her unique ability of phrasing IS IT. You put it straight to the point, as usual!

    • Paul says:

      I love that quote. Indeed, Diana Ross possesses a special “lightness” that allows her to be a superb melody singer. It is something so many singers are lacking — and unfortuantely it’s a quality that’s hard to describe, and thus often overlooked by “critics” and those who write about music.

      • I was thinking about this the other morning when I was listening to The Voice of Love, and how I can just listen & listen to Miss Ross at all points of her career and though she is rarely a belter in the classic sense or a Gospel wailer there is something so light & optimistic through all of her recordings.

  4. Luke says:

    I am lucky to live in Europe, so I had the chance to buy this superb collection right after it’s release, it is a very important part of my cd collection which holds some special memories of those good years. I try hard, but still don’t understand why Motown burried Diana’s career during the 90s! Why so many unreleased material in the Us, while the same material in the rest of the world sold so well?

    • Paul says:

      Luke, sadly, I think you answered your own question in your comment on “Red Hot Rhythm & Blues” — Motown just assumed radio wouldn’t play Diana’s new material, and there was really no demand for it from radio due to newer singers like Janet and Whitney. What Diana really needed was a label that could create that demand through successful marketing. The high-quality material was there from Diana, which is why it’s all the more unfortunate that it really went unnoticed in the states.

  5. bokiluis says:

    “Voice of Love” would prove to be more than just another compilation as Diana toured the U.K. extensively and returned to rare Eastern European markets like Bucharest, Vienna and Budapest for example. (Earlier in the 90s, she recorded the global holiday hit, “Christmas in Vienna” with The Two Tenors and performed one of their Super Concerts in Budapest). The tour merchandising produced two of her most beautiful tee-shirts, in the league of the great tour merchandise created for “The Force Behind the Power”. Randee St. Nicholas directed a simple, but, effectively glamorous video for “In the Ones You Love” that got played on MTV Europe. Oddly, though I saw one date at Wembley, she frustratingly never performed anyone of the 3 new songs, to my knowledge, until “You Are Not Alone” was added to the “More Today Than Yesterday Tour” in memory of Michael Jackson. “Gift of Love” was not only released in Japan, but, it would be the version of “Voice of Love” released across Asia. She toured Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and parts of China. Once again, EMI would be a much better promoter for her releases as “Voice of Love”, a very nominally produced album as it encompassed 80% previously released material and the new songs, produced by Rick Wake, Nick Martinelli and Diana herself.

  6. spookyelectric says:

    I didn’t see the More Today tour but I did see the I Love Your tour in the UK a few years earlier and I’m pretty sure she performed You Are Not Alone then and even commented on what a great songwriter she considered R Kelly.

  7. david hess says:

    I like the newer tracks but think this was a lost chance,… if only Diana could have recorded more NEW material for this collection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s