“Let everyone debate the true reality…I’d rather see the world the way it used to be…”
After the summer of 2000, when Diana Ross teamed up with 70s Supremes Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne in the fantastic (but short-lived) Return To Love tour, the singer entered into what amounted to a musical drought for fans. Until she began touring again in 2004 and made some duet appearances in 2005, the public heard almost nothing from Miss Ross. Her contract with Motown Records in the United States ended, leaving Diana (incredibly) without a recording contract in her home country; this essentially meant there was no pressure on the singer to head into the studio, and no immediate demand for new material. After 1999’s Every Day Is A New Day, Diana would not release another full-length studio album until 2006-2007, with her I Love You project.
A single new song did surface during this lengthy dry spell, thanks to a compilation released by EMI internationally. Different versions of Love & Life: The Very Best Of Diana Ross ended up hitting shelves in different countries; a two-disc edition was separated into a “Love” disc and a “Life” disc, which basically meant love ballads vs. uptempo tracks. Work from all eras of Diana’s career — Supremes, early solo, and 80s — was included, as was one new track, “Goin’ Back.” The song is a cover of the 1960s Gerry Goffin/Carole King track; the song has been recorded many times over the years, most famously by Dusty Springfield in 1966 and The Byrds in 1967. Springfield’s single was a #10 UK hit, while The Byrds recording managed to hit the lower reaches of the US Hot 100.
Diana’s version of “Goin’ Back” is arranged, for the most part, identically to Dusty’s; both are simple, piano-driven “mood” pieces with a real emphasis on the lyrics. Diana begins singing almost immediately, and as she sings the openings words (“I think I’m Goin’ Back…”), there’s an obvious heaviness to her voice that seems to weigh down the lyrics. This is the same kind of heaviness that was audible on recordings like “Until We Meet Again” and “Someone That You Loved Before” from 1999’s Every Day Is A New Day — something many fans have attributed to the fact that the singer was dealing with the end of her marriage. Whatever the reason, it’s there, along with a deeper tone due to age. Diana sings the words very deliberately; her trademark crystal-clear enunciation is in full effect here, and is really the only thing that distinguishes this performance. As the tune progresses, the weighty feel of the vocal becomes, unfortunately, something that stands in the way of the song’s success. The lyrics here become more and more wistful; lines like “…but thinking young and growing older is no sin…” could have registered nicely if they’d been sung with a little bit of lightness and playful defiance instead of a resigned sadness. There is a nice rawness to her delivery of the line “And every day can be a magic carpet ride…” at 1:49 — her voice actually cracks on the word “can” which, oddly, ends up making her sound almost child-like for a moment, something that is extremely effective give the lyrics. The bridge also injects a little bit of energy into the song, nicely bringing the background singers onto equal ground with Diana, as they all shout the famous “Let everyone debate…” line. Other than this section, however, the production is rather subdued; though a slight beat kicks in, it’s masked by a glossy string arrangement that really obscures everything other than the prominent piano.
Diana’s reading of “Goin’ Back” was apparently released as a single in some markets; a Wikipedia entry lists the song as hitting #82 in the Netherlands. The compilation also apparently did well enough in the UK, going gold there. That said, the entire collection wasn’t the most imaginatively produced project (its cover used a photo from The Force Behind The Power — released ten years earlier!) and the song isn’t a particularly notable addition to Diana’s discography. It’s been well-established that at heart, Diana Ross is a truly gifted melody singer; she has a real talent for allowing her voice to lightly ride the notes of a song in the way a skilled pianist’s move over a keyboard, never allowing her vocals to push too hard and murder a melody (like banging loudly and heavily on the keys of a piano would, to continue the analogy). However, “Goin’ Back” is not a very melodic song; it doesn’t require Diana to do very much, and coupled with a lack of that “lightness” that she does so well, ends up robbing the recording of personality.