Diana’s “New” Duets (Released 2005)

“I’m shining like a candle in the dark…”

After several years of absolutely no musical activity to speak of, Diana Ross finally returned to the charts in 2005.  Aside from the track “Goin’ Back” and appearing on the choir of the charity single “We Are Family” – both in 2001 – Diana hadn’t really produced anything from the recording studio in several years, and her last full-length album had been way back in 1999 (the under-the-radar Motown release Every Day Is A New Day).  Fans who’d been holding out for another full-length Diana Ross album would have to wait a little longer, but the singer did appear on no less than three successful projects by other artists in ’05, which ended up being the perfect way for the singer to dip her toes back into the water, so to speak, and prepare for her own “comeback” in 2006-2007 (with the release of Blue from the Motown vaults and the long-awaited new CD I Love You).

All three of these 2005-released duets bear an interesting link to the past.  “Big Bad Love” with Ray Charles featured on his posthumous Genius & Friends CD, a follow-up to his Grammy-winning Genius Loves Company.  Diana and Ray had actually recorded “Big Bad Love” back in the 1990s, and it was featured in the movie The Favor; this, however, was its first CD release and introduction to a wide audience.  Genius & Friends reached the top 40 of Billboard 200, as did Thanks For The Memory: The Great American Songbook, Volume IV by Rod Stewart, which contained a duet with Diana called “I’ve Got A Crush On You.”  This was the fourth in Stewart’s ultra-successful series of jazz/pop standards collections, a genre which, ironically, Diana had pioneered with her work on Lady Sings The Blues in 1972.  “Crush,” a Gershwin classic, was released to radio and ended up charting in the top 20 of the Adult Contemporary listings.

Finally, Miss Ross fans had a unique sense of déjà-vu when her classic ballad “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” ended up at #2 on the UK charts, a peak it had first reached back in 1991.  This time, Diana shared the spotlight with the popular British group Westlife, who re-recorded the song with Diana and included it on its Face To Face album.  The ballad battled for the famed holiday top spot in the UK (and, according to Wikipedia, missed #1 by less than 200 copies!), capping off a strong year for Miss Ross at home and abroad.  And here’s the good news — not only was Miss Ross back, but she was sounding as strong and assured as she had in years.  All three collaborations show her off to good effect, and the two new recordings proved that during her absence, none of her vocal charisma had faded.

***

Big Bad Love:  Released in 2004, just months after his death, the Ray Charles collection Genius Loves Company was a huge hit, topping out at #1 on the Billboard 200 and winning the Grammy for Album of the Year.  A year later, Genius & Friends hit shelves, replicating the formula of pairing Charles with other popular entertainers.  Though the album charted at a respectable #36, it did receive some criticism for the fact that most of the songs were “fused” together in the studio, with artists recording their parts after Charles had already passed away.  The duet “Big Bad Love” featuring Miss Diana Ross, however, was a standout in that it was indeed recorded by the two artists together.  “Big Bad Love” had originally been heard over the closing credits of the 1994 film The Favor, starring Brad Pitt and Bill Pullman, but otherwise somehow went unnoticed for the most part until it was placed on Genius & Friends.  The song is a lighthearted, loose bluesy number that opens with a trademark Ray harmonica solo; his vocals kick off the song, and it’s a pleasure to hear the R&B legend sounding powerful as he growls, “Your lips say ‘Come and kiss me…'”  Diana’s vocals, beginning around 20 seconds in, are smooth and playful; her velvety voice is a perfect counterpoint to the raw, gravely work turned in by Charles.  The two play off of each other well; Diana’s high note at 1:09 on the word “sweet” and her soulful delivery on the line, “…and I end up at your feet” a few seconds later are the kind of sexy, surprising touches that Miss Ross hadn’t done much of in the early 90s.  When the two sing in unison, the pairing really proves genius; as with the best Diana Ross duets, there’s no jockeying for first place here, and the two voices are both unique enough that together they create a different, new sound.  Though the production on the song is a bit on the bland side, sounding a little too overproduced and slick, there’s a real energy here that’s hard to resist.  Right down to the very end — during which Diana purrs “You say that to all the girls, Ray…” — she sounds like she’s having a fantastic time, something that can’t be said for all of her early-to-mid 90s recordings.  Aside from 1985’s “We Are The World,” this is the only song on which Diana and Ray appear together, and the recording does both legends proud.

I’ve Got A Crush On You:  Rocker Rod Stewart took his career on a hard right turn in 2002, releasing It Had To Be You: The Great American Songbook, a collection of jazz and pop standards.  The “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” singer was suddenly crooning classics like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and selling millions in the process.  He continued releasing a Songbook volume each year, and 2005’s fourth entry saw him collaborating with legends including Chaka Khan, Elton John, and Diana Ross.  “I’ve Got A Crush On You” not only opened the disc, but was also lifted as a radio single; it returned Diana to the Adult Contemporary listings, topping out at #19 (the album hit #2 on the Billboard 200).  The Amazon.com review of the album points out that Diana’s “affection for this material comes through as convincingly as her spike-haired partner’s” — something that should come as a surprise to nobody, considering Miss Ross was effortlessly essaying Gershwin tunes and other standards in the 1960s and 70s.  As with the Ray Charles duet, the vocal mix here is one of sand and silk; Stewart’s voice is as raspy as ever, and Diana’s vocal is remarkably smooth and youthful, considering the fact that it was her first new release in several years.  From her very first line (“Ooooh, you’re my big, brave, handsome Romeo…”), Diana sounds assured and relaxed; she channels the “lazy phrasing” of her Billie Holiday recordings while managing to sound contemporary.  Listen to Diana sing at 1:35; she delivers the lyrics “The world will pardon my mush, ’cause I have got a crush, my baby on you…” as perfectly as they could be sung; there is both a wisdom of age and a coy sexiness that exist side-by-side, something that Diana might not have been able to pull off as well at any other point in her career.  While Diana’s lower register is stunning, her higher notes on “I have got a crush…” at 2:28 are a highlight of the recording; there isn’t a false note in her performance here.  While your ultimate judgement of the song might depend on your feelings about Rod Stewart (most critics were pretty harsh toward him in their reviews of this album), there is no denying that Diana Ross sounds fabulous here, and is completely suited to this type of material.

When You Tell Me That You Love Me:  The Allmusic Guide hasn’t always been kind to Diana Ross in reviews of her work; however, in its review of the Westlife album Face To Face, Peter Fawthrop — while criticizing the group for sound like a “karaoke band” — writes, “The exception to this major gripe on Face To Face is that Diana Ross lends her classic “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” and lends her vocals, too. It is a near perfect treat, because it is so well mastered, such an angelic song, and because the pairing is unique.”  Record-buyers liked it, too; when released as a single around the holidays in 2005, this version of “When You Tell Me…” matched the original’s #2 chart peak, and Face To Face topped the UK album chart.  To see Diana’s name riding high on the charts was certainly a thrill, although this version of “When You Tell Me…” is inferior to her original.  To be fair, it would be tough for Diana to match her own vocal performance from 1991; the song was iconic for her in the UK, and she was in a very good place vocally at the time.  Not that she sounds bad here; she doesn’t, but there’s a lack of intensity in her performance that’s noticeable to those familiar with the earlier recording.  Miss Ross sounds best on her first verse, with her deep, mature tone a nice counterpoint to the younger, modern voices of Westlife; she sounds comfortable on that first verse and chorus, albeit a little mannered in her delivery.  The weakest point comes during the bridge, on which Diana eschews the fire of the original for a much sweeter, relaxed mood; though she sounds fine, the song is really made for a more passionate vocal.  Unlike on her songs with Ray Charles and Rod Stewart — both of whom have extremely recognizable voices — Diana here doesn’t bounce off of her partners quite as well, simply because the young men don’t offer as unique of a sound.  All of that said, again, this isn’t a bad recording…it’s just not a particularly memorable one, especially in light of the fact that Diana had already done the song better.

***

Appearing on two top 40 albums in the United States and a hit UK single meant that 2005 was a very good year for Diana Ross the recording artist; sales of both the Rod Stewart and the Ray Charles albums were far better in the states than her last few Motown studio albums, which means more people heard these songs than her own latest solo work.  It certainly helped that Diana sounded good on these recordings, reminding listeners that she was — and always had been — an extremely talented and unique vocalist.  Thus, in 2006, listeners and critics were ready and willing to embrace Blue, the shelved jazz album that was finally released and hit #2 on the jazz LP chart.  Diana’s profile, of course, rose even higher in early 2007, when her studio album I Love You charted at #32 on the Billboard 200, her highest charting album in more than 20 years.  Diana Ross herself has acknowledged that success and fame are fleeting, and that all music stars have a “shelf life.”  But by making these smart and strategic career moves after several years away from the spotlight, Miss Ross helped reenforce her place as a music legend and pioneer.

Best Of The Bunch:  “I’ve Got A Crush On You”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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14 Responses to Diana’s “New” Duets (Released 2005)

  1. Tony says:

    Her voice is outstanding on these duets…..as if she has really worked hard not to be outdone ! Her voice is rich and the tone is bang on- pitch perfect. The Westlife duet pales for me a little …. I like her voice but I can’t put my finger on what I don’t like about the blend of this version. I really enjoy Diana in most of her duets….and I hope she continues to reach out to other artists and do more. I used to love the rumours of Diana Ross and Barbra Strisand duets coming soon. I recall the rump re of Diana and Donna Summer. I think Teddy pedndergrass also wanted to do one with her!!!!

    • Paul says:

      Tony — I agree totally — Diana almost always rises above and beyond when performing duets, and it would be great to hear her team up with others in the future. I’ve been saying for a long time now I’ve LOVE for her next album to be a collaboation with Smokey Robinson. After hearing how their voices blended on “Kewpie Doll” — I can only imagine how they’d sound today. Both have so much history and could turn in a beautiful album together celebrating their musical history.

  2. I’m a huge fan of ‘Big Bad Love’ – Diana gets the chance to sound unusually loose and joyful. That holler at 1.10 – at least it sounds like her! – wow. The Rod duet isn’t such a relevation. Like you say, we’ve heard Diana pull this kind of material off more than once, but still she sounds great.

    Not so keen on the Westlife duet. Partly because the boys are such dull vocalists and also as Diana is slightly sleep walking thru the tune. Certainly far less engaged than the other two tunes. But pleased it took her (almost) to the top of the UK charts, even if she appears to be beamed down from another planet in the video!

    • Paul says:

      This video has always cracked me up — it’s so weird. I’m with you 100% — happy it was a hit for Diana, but it just can’t compare to her original solo version, and there’s very little “spark” here.

  3. bokiluis says:

    Of the “new” duets reviewed here, they all had a surprising sentiment that gave them a special significance to me. I had seen an early, tentative track listing for the “Forever, Diana” boxset that had “Big Bad Love” listed on disc 4 and also a space reservation for a forthcoming David Foster track that unfortunately never came to be. Ray Charles had been a favorite of my parents and his “Country, Western & Pop” classic album was in our family collection. In the early 60s, Ray was one of the rare black artists you might see, along with The Supremes, on Primetime television. Though I always had great respect for Ray, his music skewed too old by the time I became entranced by the Motown Sound. That said, Ray certainly added gravitas to this project and it was the kind of bonus material I was hoping for on the slightly disappointing boxset retrospective. Being an avid moviegoer and a Brad Pitt fan, I was also a little puzzled that I didn’t remember “The Favor”, the movie it was featured in. Music wise it is right up there with “Try it Baby” from the first smash duet album between The Supremes and The Temptations. As good as it is, and it is a good record, it had little chance of getting more than scant Adult Contemporary play so there was never a soundtrack. Considering the critical praise it has received, it was a little disappointing that it didn’t make Mr. Charles’ more celebrated “Genius loves Company” duets album. (It wouldn’t be the first time that Diana would be left off a superstar project. She was slated to having the first track on Sinatra’s “Duets II” album).
    While Diana again went into discussions with Clive Davis to sign to Arista, though that signing never came to be (Clive was definitely under pressure, like most of the music industry to cut costs and strictly go for the “hits”, manufactured or not. Therefore, not only was he unable to sign Diana, nor did he renew Aretha or Dionne’s contract as the industry had no space for “heritage artists”. He would also lose the Arista and J Records labels. So while, on the surface, it seemed like a diss to Diana, it would prove to be a lot more complicated than that. He was also faced with a Whitney Houston contract that L.A. Reid had executed for a reported $100 mil/though that figure was never given until albums were completed and certain sales levels were met by Whitney on 3 disappointing sales releases such as “Just Whitney”). Clive was able to include Diana on the next installment of Rod Stewart’s covers albums. Diana opened up the album with a sublime duet of “I’ve Got a Crush on You”. It had been over 4 years since we had heard Diana’s voice on a new song. And it honestly took me awhile to get used to it. Her voice seemed deeper, but, richer and initially not as warm. Time would change my feelings and I now have come to enjoy this duet.
    Clive would also dedicate his Grammy party to Diana’s legacy that year. He would honor her once again, though less sensationally, at the 2012 Grammy party.
    Being a fan of English pop, I was excited that Diana teamed up with Westlife for a remake of her smash comeback, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”. While I prefer the video to the actual recording, it was great to see her have a hit in 2005! Like her duet with Julio Iglesias, it was the 2nd single from a massive selling album so rather than posting great single numbers across international territories, her Westlife duet, no doubt, helped to sell a lot more “Face to Face” albums for Westlife. This duet version isn’t as passionate as her solo smash. Then again, I have never, ever seen Diana perform “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” as soulfully as I saw her do on the opening night of the “Here and Now” World Tour. (The single nor the album were released at the time, but, her performance captivated the sold out audiences in Poughkeepsie, New York that night…..she received the 2nd of 7 standing ovations almost exclusively for introducing songs from “The Force Behind the Power”. The arrangement she did that night could have easily been a muti-format smash including R&B).
    I still holdout hope for one more massive American to global smash project. I fantasize of it possibly being a duets album. However, Diana doesn’t seem to be completely comfortable working with other artists. Is she not truly a team player? Is she slightly intimidated? I don’t know. But I just cannot see that kind of project coming together. Berry seems responsible for isolating her from other artists. I could imagine a top producer like David Foster producing a “Tribute to Wonderland” with Diana doing covers of Stevie Wonder songs and hopefully a few new songs. It would require a massive global marketing campaign from a label committed to a global smash. I envision a critical and commercial sensation with the Grammys finally giving her due and her legacy emblazoned. (Diana would need to trust a new mgr and/or visionary for this to work. A friend from the tribe has suggested this idea years ago……I still think it is brilliant).

    • Paul says:

      I think most of us missed “The Favor” — it was released between Brad Pitt’s massively successful hits “A River Runs Through It” (his breakout) and “Interview With The Vampire” and got completely lost.

      I’ve posted several times here that my “dream” project for Diana at this point in her career would be a collaborative album with Smokey Robinson. Having the two Motown legends team up would be huge deal, and their voices always sound incredible together. Smokey gave Diana her start, and for the two to team up again would be a “full circle” moment — one that would also shed light again on the amazing songwriting skills of Mr. Robinson.

      • bokiluis says:

        I would love to hear a collaboration with Smokey. In fact, I often wondered how it would have sounded if Diana and Smokey had done the excellent “Floy Joy” album. In another bit of irony, my best friend, when I was 11 yrs old and just getting into music, would share our music together. I would buy The Supremes 45s and he would buy all the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles singles. (if I really liked a. Miracles single like “Baby,Baby Don’t Cry”, I would buy a copy too). By doing that I got to learn classic B-sides like “Much Better Off” and “Give Her Up” from the “Special Occasion” album which we’d purchase as well. I would turn him onto classic Supremes B-sides like “Always in My Heart” or “Whisper You Love Me Boy”.
        My only query about working with Smokey is the few earlier attempts like “A Breath Takin’ Guy” were not commercially successful. Whereas, her covers of Stevie Wonder material like “Ribbon in the Sky” or “Overjoyed” were usually well received. That’s why I think Stevie is a no-brainer. That said, Smokey’s most recent studio album, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” is excellent and demonstrates he still has great writing and producing skills.

      • Paul says:

        I’ve never considered Diana’s voice on the “Floy Joy” tracks, but it could have worked with the two of them together, absolutely. The unreleased “Kewpie Doll” is just a fabulous recording — what a shame it stayed in the vaults so long.

        The reason I would go with Smokey over Stevie for a joint album is simply that I think it would make a better duets album. Diana sounds amazing on Stevie Wonder songs (particularly “Too Shy To Say” and “Overjoyed”) — but because Stevie tends to do so many vocal runs and “tricks,” I don’t think he’s quite as successful as a duets artist as either Diana or Smokey. Especially now, with Smokey’s still-airy tone and Diana’s deeper, warmer vocals, I think they would sound quite good together, and I think a joint set would garner them strong, positive publicity.

      • bokiluis says:

        Ah, therein lies the differences. My personal tribe friend and I are actually referring to Stevie simply producing and not a duet. Or if there was a duet, it would maybe one or two songs with the rest being Diana covering and interpreting Stevie’s songbook.
        I did watch the “Missing You” duet performance again. I realize that they had little to no time to rehearse so it seems as if they were searching for a balance to not upstage the other while still adding their own signature vocal stylings.
        I do love “Kewpie Doll” and actually disagree with the strong favorable All Music review where they praise the album but say that “To the Baby” is lacking a single as strong as “Touch Me in the Morning”. I think both “To the Baby” and “Kewpie Doll” along with her take on “Got to Be There” are all single candidates.
        Since when we are discussing duets, I am currently reading Luther Vandross’ bio. Along with a lot of other sweet little comments, the book ends on a retelling of Luther attending the Madison Square Garden show of “Return to Love” where he famously harmonizing duets with her on “The Best Years of My Life”! (Of course, Luther also attended the opening night of “Return to Love” in Philadelphia where he duets with Diana on “Amazing Grace”. I have both fan copies of those concerts. Luther was truly a fan. Only a true member of the Diana tribe would make it a point to see both shows). It leaves me with two distinct thoughts, a) How could Diana not allow Luther to propose an entire album on her? B) The fact that Luther attended both opening night and closing night of the “Return to Love” tour speaks volumes about how excellent that show really was.

  4. I seem to remember reading somewhere at the time that Luther did want to do a whole album with Diana – but for some reason it never happened. Only the one (standout) track on ‘Red Hot Rhythm & Blues’. (Of course he’d done backgrounds on ‘So Close’ years before, and on ‘The Wiz’ – I think they’re their only other recorded collaborations?). It’s a shame because just it the same way he made ‘career’ records of the era for Aretha and Dionne, there’s no doubt he would have pulled it out the bag for Diana too.

    I think you’re right – a covers or duets set is probably the only way Diana could get a new album cut now. That seems to be route now for ‘heritage’ artists. Clive Davis’ name came up earlier – I believe he was a major force behind the revitalisation of Rod Stewart’s career with that series of dreadful but mega-successful standards albums. And the Manilow series of cover albums of songs from different eras. Tom Jones had a huge reboost with his album of duets with current acts, helping him cross back onto radio. But for every one that works, there’s plenty that fail (I don’t remember Aretha’s duets album selling much).

    I really hope Diana gets to record another album one day. I think Stevie and Smokey would both have been great collaborators for her in the 70s or 80s and would have produced landmark records for her. I wish that were the case now too, but I doubt it. I just hope she doesn’t do a ‘Motown Songbook’ or a duets album with the likes of Kelly Clarkson or Usher. That really would be depressing.

  5. Eric says:

    While these duets are fine (except the abomination known as westlife) I much prefer solo Diana .

    I want a new album of just her! No covers! A real album!

  6. Pingback: Diana’s Duets (1981) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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