“Wonder how they have the power to shine…”
English singer/songwriter Peter Frampton (of the famous “talking guitar”) recorded the song “Baby, I Love Your Way” in 1975, first including the song on his Frampton album and then issuing a live version on the monster smash Frampton Comes Alive! Being that the latter LP remains one of the biggest selling live albums of all time, the song got plenty of exposure; as a single, it peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976, becoming one of the artist’s signature tunes. It remains a well-known song, reaching even greater heights in the 90s when covered by the band Big Mountain and featured on the soundtrack to the hit movie Reality Bites.
Miss Diana Ross tried her hand at the song not long after Frampton released it, cutting “Baby, I Love Your Way” with producer Richard Perry as the two worked together on the 1977 LP Baby It’s Me and, apparently, a possible follow-up collaboration which never materialized. According to writer J. Randy Taraborrelli in Diana: A Biography, Perry and Ross cut three additional songs that remained in the vaults: “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Country John,” and “Brass Band” (he also notes that four other tracks were given to Motown singer Syreeta Wright for her 1980 LP, Syreeta). Of the three songs Diana did apparently put vocals on, two remain in the vaults to this day. Fans, however, finally got to hear “Baby, I Love Your Way” when it was included on 1983’s Anthology.
Retaining the prominent acoustic guitar from Frampton’s original recording, Diana’s is presented in a far more Quiet Storm/smooth R&B form — fitting, considering that’s the predominant tone of the Baby It’s Me LP. Though the guitar gives the song a far different feel than the others produced by Ross and Perry, the rest of the track — with instrumentation including shimmering chimes, soulful keyboards, and shuffling percussion — bring to mind tracks like “All Night Lover” and “Confide In Me.” As on those songs, Diana’s vocal performance here is just sublime; there is a warmth of tone that’s present on the best of her work, but also an unexpected sparkle and youth that echoes her earliest recordings with The Supremes. Listen, for example, to her “ooh-ooh-ooh!” at 1:52; she conveys a sudden whimsy and joy in just three wordless syllables, a technique Diana Ross makes sound effortless but that is, indeed, unique to her. Though the song weaves in elements of pop, soul, and jazz, the superb guitar work also exploits the song’s natural reggae feel (something that would become even more apparent when covered by Big Mountain in 1994). Miss Ross offers up some relaxed and light ad-libs during the song’s final minute of running time, her crystal clear voice riding the track expertly. She sounds about as comfortable on this track as on anything else recorded during the period; the song indeed seems to flow right through her.
Had “Baby, I Love Your Way” been considered for possible inclusion on the Baby It’s Me album, it was probably a wise decision to leave it off. Though the song is lovely and the lyrics fit the romantic theme of the album, it’s a tune that’s so recognizable it might have pulled focus from the other compositions surrounding it. The great strength of Baby It’s Me lies in its incredible cohesiveness; it is a complete work, one in which every single song naturally leads to the next. Most fans would agree that Baby It’s Me remains one of Diana’s strongest complete efforts; in a 1977 profile in Rolling Stone, Ross remarked of the album, “We wanted to make a record people could make love to – keep putting the arm on back to the thing, and make love to it.” She and Perry succeeded — probably far better than either ever dreamed — which is why it’s hard to imagine any additions to the track list today.
That said, if “Baby, I Love Your Way” was indeed intended for a follow-up LP, it offers a fascinating glimpse into what else Ross and Perry could have achieved together. They’d team up again — Perry produced the 1984 top 20 hit “All Of You,” a duet with Julio Iglesias — but he would never handle another entire LP with the singer. It’s more than clear that the two had a good working relationship — the joy and romanticism that comes through on Baby It’s Me could only have been created by two professionals feeding off each other’s positive energy. This is why — at the time of this writing — the most anticipated piece of Diana Ross-related news is an announcement of a Baby It’s Me Expanded Edition from boutique label Hip-O Select. The chance to hear the other tracks in the vault — along with possible alternate vocals, edits, and mixes — could only enhance the reputation of this masterwork, not to mention give fans so much more to enjoy.