Diana’s Duets (1981)

Diana's Duets (1982)

“I’m gonna use every trick in the book, I’ll try my best to get you hooked…”

Long before Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, or Barbra Streisand had hit albums comprised entirely of duets, Motown cobbled together Diana’s Duets, a 1981 Diana Ross anthology featuring work stretching all the way back to the singer’s days with The Supremes.  By this time, of course, Miss Ross was already transitioning to a record-breaking contract with RCA Records, leaving Motown after two decades.  Still, the singer’s swan song on Motown was the blockbuster smash “Endless Love,” a duet with Lionel Richie that spent a whopping nine weeks at the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100.  Thus, Motown likely felt it could squeeze some more money out of the Ross name with a full collection of the singer’s collaborations.

“Collaborations” is the key word here, because technically, only a few of the tracks on Diana’s Duets are true duets (meaning just two singers).  The fact is, aside from her work with Richie and an album with Marvin Gaye, Ross really hadn’t partnered with many other singers during her time with Motown (she had, of course, enjoyed a Top 50 pop hit with Michael Jackson from The Wiz soundtrack, “Ease On Down The Road” — but this had been an MCA release, not Motown).  So to fill out this particular LP, the label used several late ’60s recordings by Diana Ross and The Supremes with The Temptations and the 1978 tribute single “Pops We Love You”, featuring Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson.

There’s one big problem with Diana’s Duets, however — “Endless Love” isn’t on it (at least, not on the US-released version; it was later included on international pressings, along with a few other tracks).  Whether because Motown didn’t want overlap with its upcoming All The Great Hits (a Ross compilation also released in 1981) or there was an issue with timing, the biggest duet in music history up until that point is missing, and its absence is strongly felt.  “Endless Love” wasn’t only a monster hit; it was also the best duet Diana had ever recorded (easily trumping much of the lackluster Diana & Marvin LP).  So while Diana’s Duets certainly demonstrates the singer’s versatility, it can’t really be considered a “best of.”

***

Note: Click on song titles for more information on the songs/albums previously discussed on The Diana Ross Project.

1.  I’m Gonna Make You Love Me:  This LP wisely opens with a bona-fide classic, recorded by Diana Ross and The Supremes with The Temptations. The only surprise about the success of this 1968 release is that it didn’t reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100; it settled for the second spot on both the pop and R&B charts. Still, the song is a Motown masterpiece, featuring Eddie Kendricks sharing the lead with Diana Ross; their voices are perfectly matched, with his falsetto bouncing around her brassy delivery in a playful interpretation of the song’s “I’m gonna get you” lyric. Meanwhile, the Supremes and Temptations offer up soaring, soulful support, all atop another toe-tapping Funk Brothers instrumental track.  This is one of the best singles released by Diana Ross while still leading The Supremes, and a wonderful showcase for everyone involved.

2.  My Mistake (Was To Love You):  This wasn’t the biggest chart hit from 1973’s Diana & Marvin, but it’s probably the most recognizable of the US-released singles and shows up fairy frequently on Ross anthologies. Though it’s got a memorable hook and Marvin Gaye sounds terrific, “My Mistake” isn’t a particularly good showing for Diana. She sounds a little too laid back here, and at times, a little flat. Anyone familiar with the backstory of the Ross/Gaye duets knows the pair recorded separately and neither was apparently very interested in the project, so it’s probably no surprise that this wouldn’t be a classic recording. That said, there is material on Diana & Marvin that exhibits way more chemistry (however manufactured) between the singers.

3.  I’ll Try Something New:  Though “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was the big hit for the Supremes and Temptations, I’d argue this is the better recording. A lovely Smokey Robinson composition that for some reason stalled at #25 on the pop chart, the song features one of Diana’s best vocal performances of the 1960s; she is relaxed, sexy, and soulful here, allowing her voice to mine the lower reaches of her range before sweeping up to some powerfully high ad-libs during the climax. Again, she’s well-matched with the great Eddie Kendricks, and both groups sound like a chorus of angels singing the “I’ll Try Something New” refrain.  This might not technically qualify as a “Diana Ross duet” – but the singer never sounded better.

4.  Include Me In Your Life:  Why anyone wanted to “Include” this song is beyond me; it’s one of the weakest recordings featured on Diana & Marvin, and a poor showcase for both Miss Ross and Marvin Gaye. As I wrote in my review of the original album, the vocals on this song sound like “scratch” vocals – in other words, the tracks laid down by singers to get a feel for the melody. Neither is helped by the fact that the song just isn’t that good; the repetition of the word “darlin’” will certainly trap itself in your head…but not in a good way. Although the Diana & Marvin album is a lackluster one overall, just about any choice would have been better than this one.  (It should be noted that toward the end of the song, Gaye says, “You know I’m just a stubborn kind of fellow.”  The song by that title is later featured on Diana’s Duets — so perhaps some Motown staffer was having a little fun with the lineup here.)

5.  I’ll Keep My Light In My Window:  This song is a much better example of what Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye were capable of. Originally included on the 1979 collection Pops We Love You…The Album, this is a funky disco tune featuring a popping bassline full of swagger and an uplifting lyric about making “a world of love for me and you.” Both Gaye and Ross seem very relaxed here, neither working too hard nor trying to outshine the other. Being a disco song, it predictably comes off as dated today; that said, it’s soulful enough that it still sounds good, and probably could have been a decent dance and R&B hit for the pair had it been released as a single.

6.  Try It Baby:  A fun, jazzy number again pairing the Supremes and Temptations, this one was originally released by Marvin Gaye and written by none other than Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.  That fact alone could be why it was placed on Diana’s Duets, as Gordy has reportedly said he was inspired by Diana to write the song (and, according to J. Randy Taraborrelli in Diana Ross: A Biography, considered this version for a single release).  The feel of this recording is miles away from “I’ll Try Something New,” replacing that song’s subtlety and soul with a big band pizzazz; this one certainly feels tailor-made for the glittery television specials the groups were starring in during the period.  It doesn’t necessarily sound like a hit, but it is a spirited recording and an enjoyable listen.

7.  Pops We Love You:  Again, this isn’t really a duet, but a collaboration among Motown’s top four stars paying tribute to Motown founder Berry Gordy’s father, known as “Pops” Gordy. Though a minor hit on both the pop and R&B charts, the song really never stood a chance at becoming a classic; the singers are specific in their praise of “Pops,” which means it’s not exactly a universal nor relatable lyric (and speaking of, the lyrics are pretty bland, anyway). It’s not a bad song; Ross, Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder all sound great, and each are given an equal chance to display their particular vocal talents. Diana kicks things off, and pretty much holds court over the entire proceeding; she no doubt sounds like the Queen of Motown here.

8.  You Are Everything:  Finally we get a really great duet, and a song that truly deserves a place on a collection of Diana’s duet work. The lead track from 1973’s Diana & Marvin, this song was a big hit in the UK (hitting #5) and is one of the two best songs on that LP, along with the other UK single, “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart).” Motown probably didn’t release this one to radio because it’s a cover of a Stylistics hit, but should have, anyway; both Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye offer up sizzling performances which rank among the best of their respective 70s output. Perhaps more importantly; there seems to be a real chemistry between the two, which is sorely lacking on so many of their other collaborations. It may be futile to wonder “what if” – but this sure seems like a song that could have been a solid hit stateside for the two singers, maybe even an R&B chart-topper.

9.  Stubborn Kind Of Fellow:  The Marvin Gaye connection continues with this track, another Supremes/Temptations recording from their 1969 album Together.  At this point, Diana’s Duets feels more like a Gaye tribute album, considering almost every single song either features him or had been recorded by him first.  In this case, “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” had been Gaye’s first hit, released in 1962.  That version is deservedly classic, full of grit and featuring the notable voice of Martha Reeves in the background.  It doesn’t fare nearly as well in the hands of the Supremes and Temptations, becoming a bit of a mess and losing much of the melody due to a strange, scaled-back track.  The lead singers all sound okay (Miss Ross does a lot of screeching, foreshadowing some of the more soulful work she’d do early in her solo career), but this isn’t a standout by any stretch.

10.  Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing:  The best explanation I can come up with for placing this version of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit on Diana’s Duets is name value; perhaps Motown execs hoped people would just think that the Supremes and Temptations originated it. Unfortunately, they didn’t; this is an inferior version to the classic Gaye/Terrell recording, and it’s impossible to listen to without hearing the better rendition echo in your head. Though Ross and Terrell possessed, in some ways, similar sounds, Diana just doesn’t quite convey the quiet fire needed to pull off the yearning Ashford and Simpson lyric (she would fare much, much better with her solo remake of “You’re All I Need To Get By” in 1970).  At least, unlike the previous track, the arrangement is kept pretty close to the original, which was a wide decision.

***

If ever a Diana Ross release deserved an Expanded Edition, it’s Diana’s Duets. Not because it’s such an essential album to the singer’s discography, but because of how much more could be included. Not only do “Endless Love” and “Dreaming Of You” (the other Ross/Richie duet from the Endless Love soundtrack) deserve places here, but now, so do many other duets recorded by Diana post-1981. Chief among them are “All Of You,” a 1984 collaboration with Julio Iglesias which soared to the Top 20 on the pop charts, and 1991’s “No Matter What You Do,” a solid R&B hit and duet with singer Al B. Sure!.

Miss Ross would also score some lovely duets in the late 1990s and beyond; “Love Is All That Matters” with Brandy (from the Double Platinum soundtrack) deserves a proper release, and she sounds wonderful crooning with Rod Stewart on the 2005 recording “I’ve Got A Crush On You.” The digital booklet to the recent Baby It’s Me Expanded Edition includes a reference to a still-shelved duet with Billy Preston on the song “Room Enough For Two” – so who knows if there are even more Diana duets waiting in the Motown vaults?  Hopefully we’ll find out soon enough.

***

For now, if tasked with piecing together a totally new collection of Diana’s Duets, here’s what I would include. I’d stick with true duets from her solo career (Diana plus one other singer), and throw in a few bonus tracks from late 1960s Hollywood Palace performances as a nod to her earlier days. Of course, there would be several record labels involved here, so the likelihood of such a collection might be pretty low…still, it’s an easy iPod playlist to throw together!

  1. You Are Everything – with Marvin Gaye
  2. Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) – with Marvin Gaye
  3. Ease On Down The Road – with Michael Jackson
  4. Endless Love – with Lionel Richie
  5. Dreaming Of You – with Lionel Richie
  6. All Of You – with Julio Igelsias
  7. Missing You (from “The Motown Revue Starring Smokey Robinson”) – with Smokey Robinson
  8. You’ve Got What It Takes (from Red Hot Rhythm & Blues TV special) – with Billy Dee Williams
  9. No Matter What You Do – with Al B. Sure!
  10. Big Bad Love – with Ray Charles
  11. Love Is All That Matters – with Brandy
  12. Baby Love/Stop! In The Name Of Love (from Divas 2000: A Tribute To Diana Ross) – with Mariah Carey
  13. I’ve Got A Crush On You – with Rod Stewart
  14. BONUS TRACK: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (from “The Hollywood Palace”) – with Stevie Wonder
  15. BONUS TRACK: Bread & Gravy (from “The Hollywood Palace”) – with Ethel Waters

Now it’s your turn – what, for you, would make up the perfect Diana’s Duets?

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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12 Responses to Diana’s Duets (1981)

  1. Peter says:

    Hi, Paul–

    “Bread and Gravy” popped into my mind immediately and I’m pleased you included it. It’s lovely and well done. I’d include the Oscar performance of “Endless Love” as a bonus track. For my list, lots of others come to mind, most of them live performances. How about the fabulous sing-off with the fabulous Andrews Sisters, the gorgeous medley with Bing Crosby and the flight-themed songs sung for the Air Force with Bob Hope (It’s disappeared from YT but featured a fantastic “Fly Me to the Moon”) in 1980. For the relatively recent past, we need look no further than the shows with the two tenors and have our pick from a very interesting pocket of her later career. Rather than the Christmas show, I might go with the Taipei concert’s finale–“New York, New York”. I don’t especially like this song in general but this version is fun because Diana out-belts two male opera stars and lyric-swaps “Taipei” for “New York” at the end to show appreciation of the audience. She then asks the conductor to reprise the last few lines to drive her point home, confusing him and requiring Placido Domingo to explain Ross’s spontaneity and showmanship. It’s a great display of the genuineness in Diana’s talent. Thanks for this review Paul. Always great to read your posts.

    • Paul says:

      Hey Peter! Ah, yes — the Oscar performance is wonderful — the chemistry between Diana and Lionel is so palpable, and both really bring out the best in each other. Diana particularly sounds so strong on that live performance. I’m DYING to hear the “Fly Me To The Moon” you refer to — I don’t think I’ve ever seen nor heard it!

  2. James Grattan says:

    Greetings from Key West, Paul. I remember so clearly the time when this LP (That’s right I said LP!!) was released. As a new fan in the early 1980’s it was fantastic time for a record buyer obsessed by all the music of La Ross. Within the period of months it seemed I purchased “To Love Again” The Diana Ross Anthology” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” “All the Greatest Hits”…and of course “Diana’s Duets.”. My journey to the record store in “downtown” Baltimore, was always filled with immense anticipation. Worst case scenario, I would just straighten up her section and put all of the releases in chronological order…what it was 1981?:)
    For me, the Duets Album was always about “I’ll Keep My Light in My Window.” Even though in its time it sounded dated, I thought the words and Diana’s interpretation were incredible. (…and if I was being truthful, I might even admit to having the words written on my binder-notebook…LOL) But this album took me to “Diana & Marvin”…then to the recording with the Supremes…and on and on. Those were heady days indeed.
    There’s was always that rumor that it was Diana, and not Donna Summer that was first approached for “Enough is Enough”. I’m not sure of the validity of the that story…but a Streisand Duet, though cliché…would be triumphant. MY money would be on any duet recording on a collaboration she would do live. But unfortunately a contemporary, that shares her memories, I think, would bring out the nostalgia that I’m not sure she would be open to That said. there’s a video of Diana with Jamiroquai, performing Upside Down that remains staggering.
    So I guess I hear the other ladies (Aretha, Bette) recording Miss Ross’ music on their latest releases, and I think “What if….”
    Great, as always, to read your post Mr. Paul,
    James
    PS: I’ll spare you my 10 minute diatribe about the unlistenable duet, (but VERY watchable video ) “All of You” 🙂

    • Paul says:

      I love your memories of going to the Baltimore record store — 1981 was definitely a big year, with so many Diana albums hitting the shelves — quite a feat for someone who’d had a record contract for 20 years by then! I used to visit the music store in the mall as a kid and arrange the Diana section, too — always moving her records (and later, CDs) to the front and making sure my favorites would be visible to anyone browsing the section 🙂

      I’ve heard the “Enough is Enough” rumor, too — as well as the rumor that Diana, Barbra, and Donna were supposed to record “It’s Raining Men” TOGETHER! Can you imagine? A few years ago, news circulated that Diana and Barbra were going to record together…obviously it never happened. I agree that it would be a big, big deal. I’m not a huge Streisand fan, but she is doubtlessly a timeless talent and I think she and Ross share many of the same qualities.

      As I mentioned in another comment — I’ve always dreamed and wished for an entire album of Diana and Smokey together. I think the combo of these two Motown luminaries would result in a big critical hit, and both still sounds pretty good — much more like “themselves” than many of their contemporaries do. With Aretha and Bette recently getting so much press for their releases, the time does feel right for some new Diana!!

  3. Luis Boki says:

    When it was first announced that Diana & Marvin were set to record an album, my fantasies went wild since Marvin was coming off of two landmark albums and Diana had begun self-production. I understood that Diana’s gifts are not necessarily songwriting….but, I had hoped that maybe the two of them would have tried. “What’s Going On” and “Let’s Get it On” with “Lady Sings the Blues” and the “Touch Me in the Morning” were all artistic. Motown graduated from a singles label in the 60s (though there are some incredible 60s albums) into the 70s making great albums. Alas, it was meant to be.
    Admittedly, “Diana & Marvin” did not live up to my expectations. But eventually it grew on me. When the expanded edition was release, it sounded new and fresh.
    It is important to know that international sales had become at least 40% of the music industry business. So the album was a smash in Europe, Australia and Japan. That helped to remind me that this Gold U.S. album, did even better abroad…..which makes it a triumph in my book. In the recent Jan Gaye bio, she failed to acknowledge that point underscoring inadequate research.
    It may have not been icons as some of the Marvin & Tammi singles, but, it was hardly a commercial disappointment…selling over 1 million internationally!

  4. spookyelectric says:

    Great to see The Project is back and firing on all cylinders! This post came out of the blue and caught me by surprise – I like it. I played this one a lot when it came out as a big chunk of the tracks – particularly the Tempts duets – were mainly new to me then. I didn’t know the US version was different. ‘Endless Love’ was the lead cut on the UK version which made sense of the whole compilation at the time (it’s also called out on the front sleeve). Shame they never put ‘Dreaming of You’ on there – that’s a lost tune for many fans I would imagine.

    I’m comparing the track listings on the versions now – there’s actually 14 cuts squeezed onto the UK version, as well as the Richie duet you get a few more Tempts duets/covers – ‘Uptight’ and ‘I Second That Emotion’ – and two more Marvin duets ‘Stop Look Listen’ and ‘You’re A Special Part of Me’ (replacing ‘Include Me In Your Life’). A lot more bang for your buck.

    Glad you mentioned the ‘lost’ Billy Preston again – I’m intrigued by that. It would make a lot more sense of the song. Wasn’t there also some mention/rumour of a lost Smokey duet in the Motown vaults or am I imagining that? The only duet I’d add to your alternative duets list is the live performance of ‘Best Years of My Life’ with Luther – sadly the only duet they ever performed as far as I’m aware.

    Oh, and thanks for alerting me to the Ethel Waters duet! I never knew this existed. You can really see the admiration Diana has for her – rare to see Diana looking so humbled next to another performer. It reminds me of the Barbra and Judy 60s TV duets – a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation to the next… love it.

    • Paul says:

      Glad to be “back” — after taking some time for other projects! And so glad you’ve heard the Ethel Waters duet now — isn’t it great? I agree — very similar to the Barbra/Judy kind of thing — I wish we could get a good release of the Diana/Supremes “Hollywood Palace” appearances, some of which were truly stellar.

      There is no doubt the UK got a better “Diana’s Duets” than we did here in the US. Still, the lineup is a mystery to me — the inclusion of “You’re A Special Part of Me” doesn’t make much sense on the international release, since it was a US single — and why did anyone think “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” or “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” deserved a place on ANY of the versions? To me, there were such better options.

      I hope beyond hope that there are some duets left in the vaults — I’m not sure I’ve heard of a Smokey duet, but we know they did record together (“Kewpie Doll”) so I wouldn’t be surprised. Personally, I’ve thought for a long time that Diana and Smokey should do an album together now — the combo of the two Motown legends would generate plenty of publicity, and they both still sound good — their voices haven’t lost the “magic” that made them special in the first place.

  5. Hi Paul, it’s Carlton from Philly. Here’s my iTunes album version of Diana’s Duets.

    Endless Love (with Lionel Ritchie)
    This Guy’s In Love With You (with The Temptations)
    Stop, Look, Listen (with Marvin Gaye) (Look Both Ways Remix)
    I’ve Got A Crush On You (with Rod Stewart)
    Kewpie Doll (with Smokey Robinson)
    All Of You (with Julio Inglesias)
    No Matter What You Do (with Al B. Sure) (12” Young ‘n’ Strong Mix)
    I’ll Try Something New (with The Temptations)
    Ease On Down The Road (with Michael Jackson) (12” Extended Version)
    Dreaming Of You (with Lionel Ritchie)
    Big Bad Love (with Ray Charles)
    Pops We Love You (with Motown Superstars) (12” Extended Version)
    When You Tell Me That You Love Me (with Westlife)
    Bonus: Love Is All That Matters (with Brandy)

    • Paul says:

      Carlton — this is great! Love all of these songs! It’s been awhile since I’ve really listened to “This Guy’s In Love With You” — I’m gonna go dig it up from my collection now!

  6. Peter says:

    We’re dipping deeply into Supremes territory! Maybe it’s time to officially expand the project! Maybe someone here has the “Fly Me” clip and can post it. There’s a clip of “Reach Out “from the same show. She’s wearing a sequined gown during the day and everyone else is in uniform, which is pretty funny. Her phrasing is beautiful and unlike any I’ve heard before (I’m a huge fan of the American Songbook and its great interpreters and it’s all due to hearing the Rodgers and Hart album in the late 80s). Carlton’s list is much more professional than mine, which is more is of a YT set list–overindulgent! Speaking of the other ladies, I’m going to see Bette next week, whom I haven’t seen since 1993. We’re lucky that all our great ladies are still going strong. I can’t believe the 70s are so long ago!

    • Paul says:

      Peter — yes, finally touching on the Supremes here — I think there will be more to come 😉 Have a great time at the Bette show — I’ve never seen her live — let us know how it is!!

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