It’s a few days late — but Happy V-Day to Diana fans around the world! If there’s any holiday that seems to fit in with the career of Diana Ross, let’s face it, it would have to be Valentine’s Day — is there anyone alive who can tug at the heart and interpret a lyric of love like The Boss?
So, in honor of the day (and in absence of anything new to post about — I think I’ve just about covered her solo career!) — let’s talk about Diana’s romantic, lush ballad performances. Here’s the question — what are the top 5 best ballad performances in the Diana Ross solo discography?
Questions like this are maddening, due to the volume of work recorded by Diana Ross as a solo artist between 1970 and today. And, of course, as fans — our “favorites” are always changing. That’s the great thing about Diana’s work — as we grow, she grows with us, and thus new songs become important and personal. That said, since I’m posing the question, I guess I have to take a crack at it. So — as of this very moment, these are the five ballads I would say display Diana Ross at her best vocally; they are works of art that more than stand the test of time, and which easily reveal her as a singer of enormous skill and artistry. (Note: Each one is linked to the original post on which it appears, and I’ve pasted in a few comments from my original reviews of each song.)
1) Missing You: “This is, simply, one of the great R&B ballads of the decade; again, that it garnered no Grammy nominations at all seems baffling now, especially given that the song which followed it at #1 on the charts, “Nightshift” by the Commodores (coincidentally also dedicated to the late Marvin Gaye) won one for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Still, it gets my vote for the best ballad performance of Miss Ross’s career, and remains definitive proof that she’s among the very best pop and soul singers of all time.”
2) To Love Again: “I’d also say that Diana’s singing of the words “to love again” at 2:19 (when she takes them an octave higher than she had earlier in the song) is one of the single most beautiful moments in a Diana Ross recording; her delicate, crystal clear reading of the words, and her four-note improv following them, combine with the soaring strings of the instrumental track to create a breathtaking musical interlude.”
3) Be A Lion: “…perhaps the most thrilling moment here is Diana’s reading of the lyric, “You’re the bravest of them all,” during which she nearly screams out the words, belting higher than she had in years (probably since the Surrender album). Not only is she belting out the notes, but she sounds great doing it; there’s a power here that many people are unaware exists in her abilities, and she nails the notes spot-on.”
4) Little Girl Blue: “There’s a complexity here, a subtlety that hints at an entire story happening beneath the surface of the lyrics, that makes it a compelling listen. This kind of subtle shading is something Diana Ross is so good at that it’s too often taken for granted or, unfortunately, completely overlooked…which is a real shame. This is a masterpiece.”
5) Summertime: “Diana Ross becomes one of the instruments here, gliding along as easily as the string and wind instruments accompanying her. This is a song with a challenging melody; like 1977′s “To Love Again,” it never allows for Miss Ross to oversing, lest she become completely tangled up in the words and kill all emotion. Thankfully, Miss Ross is a singer for whom subtlety comes naturally, and her performance is one of emotional complexity disguised in simplicity.”
This was tough; there are several “honorable mentions,” among them “Let Somebody Know” from Take Me Higher and “Always and Forever” from I Love You. There are also much lesser-known gems like “All The Befores” (Surrender) and “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” (from the Everything Is Everything Expanded Edition) that arguably deserve a place. And what about big hits like “Endless Love” and “Theme From Mahogany” — certainly those are among the best, too.
Anyway, now it’s your turn — what are your top 5 Diana ballads?