To Set Things Right: Top 5 Diana Ross “Vault” Tracks

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Considering the pace of Motown’s release schedule during the 1960s and 1970s (remember, there were three Diana Ross studio albums released in 1973 alone), it’s hard to believe there was anything left over that didn’t make it to the public. But indeed, in the past decade or so, Diana Ross fans have been treated to some stellar reissues from Motown Select, which typically include at least a few previously unreleased tracks.   Some of these songs, like 1970’s “Stoney End,” had been talked about by fans for years, and even leaked in low-quality, bootlegged versions. Others, like “Room Enough For Two” from the recent Baby It’s Me: Expanded Edition, seemed to come out of nowhere.

It’s always interesting to ponder why certain songs were left behind in the Motown vaults and others plucked for release on an album or as a single. Quality is often an issue; certainly nobody would mistake “Alone” (cut from Diana & Marvin) for being a hit, and while the bizarre “Go Where Your Mind Is” might be an interesting listen, it definitely didn’t need to knock anything off of Diana Ross (1976). But there are other reasons why certain tracks were held back; the superb jazz album Blue apparently went unreleased for more than thirty years simply because Diana Ross didn’t win an Oscar for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues, and Motown wanted to move her back into pop territory.

Although most of Diana’s albums have now been re-released in expanded formats, there’s always hope for more “lost masterpieces” in the Motown vaults, just waiting to be unearthed for fans.  Until that happens, here are my personal top five favorite Diana Ross tracks that waited for decades in the “dark side of the world” before finally being given a chance to shine.  (NOTE: The bulk of the discussions here come from previous reviews on The Diana Ross Project; click on the links to read more information.)

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5. What A Diff’rence A Day Makes (Released on Blue, 2006)

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This is an achingly beautiful, delicate reading of the classic most closely identified with Dinah Washington (who won a Grammy for it in 1960).  This recording is so good — so absolutely perfect — that it’s really quite surprising it never managed to find its way onto an album earlier; it would’ve fit well on Touch Me In The Morning, and would have been a better choice for 1976’s Diana Ross than the dreadful “Smile.”  Opening with swirling strings and driven by a lovely acoustic guitar, the instrumental here is languid, relaxed, sophisticated, and sexy.  Diana Ross’s performance is all of those things, too; she displays a stunning mix of youthful optimism and mature wisdom.  Listen, for example, to Ross begin the second verse, crooning “What a diff’rence a day makes…there’s a rainbow before me…” with a skillfully restrained joy; as sluggish as the lyrics come, the listener can’t help but notice a “smile” in Diana’s voice.  This transmission of emotion through tone is something Miss Ross excels at; it’s what makes her such an outstanding vocalist.

4. Home (Released on The Motown Anthology, 2001)

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Diana’s Motown version of “Home” surfaced in 2001, with the release of the beautifully-produced The Motown Anthology, a 2-CD collection featuring hits, rare songs, and alternate mixes.  This recording is credited to producer Lee Holdridge (the incredibly prolific composer and arranger) and features a lovely arrangement, taking the drama and whimsy of the film version and mixing in more pop-oriented instrumentation, notably a fabulous acoustic guitar accompanying Diana during the opening few lines.  The vocal performance here is sublime; Diana’s voice is sure and controlled during the opening, her lower notes strikingly husky and appealing.  As the song builds, she retains the sense of wonder she’d discovered as the character of Dorothy, while imbuing the performance with a warmth more characteristic of classic Diana Ross ballad work.  She uses her voice in new, interesting ways on lines like “I have had my mind spun around in space” — listen to the slight edginess in her vocal (especially on the word “mind”), a little roughness surfacing just long enough to give the song a sense of realness in the midst of its fantasy elements.  The sustained belting during the final minute of running time is dead-on and impressive; there just a slight wobbliness as she holds “world” for several bars, but she really delivers the lyrics, “…so it’s real…real to me!” from her gut, growling out a few words.  The musical track finally swirls to a delicious close, finishing off a truly strong recording that showcases Diana at a personal peak.

3. You Build Me Up To Tear Me Down (Released on diana Deluxe, 2003)

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In tone, “You Build Me Up…” is similar to Diana’s brilliant reading of the Bill Withers tune “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” off of Baby It’s Me; both offer a refreshing complexity to Diana’s dance discography.  This is a sexy, sultry number with an instrumental intro that recalls Stevie Wonder’s 1972 hit “Superstition” and a wonderful vocal that’s as moody and shaded as anything else Diana turned in during the period.  Written by Holland, Holland and Ronald Dean Miller, the producers utilize a soulful bass and dark keyboard work to create an atmospheric song that manages to be danceable without sounding like disco camp to contemporary listeners.  From the very start, Miss Ross’s vocal is perfectly done; her hushed delivery on “Something’s troublin’ you…it’s gonna mess up your mind…” and the rest of the first verse sets a tone of anguish and complexity that’s extremely compelling.  Listen to her starting around three minutes in, as she sings the chorus along with the powerful group of background voices; there’s an excitement to the song that’s almost soul-stirring here, with Diana confidently leading the way but never forcing her vocal or hitting a false note.  It’s a real shame this track wasn’t featured on Ross; it would have made a far better single than that album’s “What You Gave Me.”

2. Kewpie Doll (Released on Touch Me In The Morning: Expanded Edition, 2009)

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A revelation and a masterpiece; written and produced by Smokey Robinson, this is a fabulous recording that languished in the Motown vaults for far too long.  Diana Ross and Robinson, of course, shared a long history; Robinson was responsible for helping the Supremes obtain their first audition at Motown, and he’d written and produced several songs for the group over the years.  Incredibly, Robinson and Ross really never collaborated after she went solo (save for the song “Pops, We Love You” in 1979), which makes “Kewpie Doll” such a spectacular find.  The track here is sublime, driven by a soul-stirring guitar; the composition shifts from major to minor key in a unique way that gives is far more complexity than much of Diana’s other work of the period.  But best of all is the vocal arrangement; Smokey Robinson provides the background vocals here, and they are so prominent that the song is pretty much a collaboration between him and Diana Ross.  This turns out to be a great thing, as both are in fine voice; Diana Ross is as smooth and soulful as she’d ever been on record here, delivering the same kind of youthful passion heard on her earliest solo albums without any of the rawness that crept through.  Robinson’s layered backgrounds are just breathtaking; they work with Diana’s vocal rather than detract from it, adding an aching and tenderness to the recording that it really needed to have.  The end result is such a classic, timeless song that it really doesn’t sound that dated; it could easily be a “neo-soul” tune by a contemporary artist.

1. Let Me Be The One (Released on Last Time I Saw Him: Expanded Edition, 2007)

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I hate to keep throwing around the word “masterpiece” here — but Miss Ross’s version of this oft-recorded hit made famous by The Carpenters is one of the single best recordings of her 70s discography.  An incredibly brief recording (running under 2:30!), there is not one unsatisfying moment here; the laid-back, dreamy production is matched by a smooth and soulful vocal by Diana and a gorgeous, inspiring choir of voices backing her up.  The production here is credited to Lar Mar – whoever or whatever that is, this is the perfect mix of toe-tapping percussion and sweeping strings.  Diana gets to really showcase her lower register on the verses; she sounds warm and mature singing “…if you should find yourself alone…” at :15 – the perfection of these lower tones is made even more acute when Diana jumps up an octave to sing “Let Me Be The One!” at :56.  Her higher singing here (especially the section beginning with “Come to me…”) is among the best of her mid-70s work; it’s powerful and emotional while still sounding full and round in tone.  Had this not been a big hit for The Carpenters, this could have been a #1 hit for Diana Ross; this is light soul/pop at its best, and still sounds good today.  Though it’s a shame the song never got a chance back in the 70s, it’s a blessing for fans to hear something this incredible come out of those fabled Motown vaults.

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It was tough to narrow this down to a list of five; songs like “Share Some Love” and “Stoney End” also feature stellar production and vocal work and rival anything else released in their respective years.  And of course, I couldn’t end this article without a shout-out to Harry Weinger, George Solomon, Andrew Skurow, and everyone else responsible for “sharing some love” with Diana Ross fans and lovingly re-mastering these songs.  For those of us who’ve memorized every nuance of hits like “Upside Down” and “Endless Love,” it’s such a treat to hear these previously unreleased tracks, if only to gain a greater understanding of what Motown wasn’t looking for when crafting a Diana Ross hit.

Now…let’s hear it.  Which “vault tracks” have become essential parts of your Diana Ross playlist?

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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18 Responses to To Set Things Right: Top 5 Diana Ross “Vault” Tracks

  1. Louis Castro says:

    Thank you for taking out the time to truly give your best in reviewing all Diana’s work through her lifetime. Your words always fair & even if l may not agree you make so many relevant points it’s hard not to go back & say oh l never listened to it in quite that way. With much respect Louis Castro

  2. david h says:

    I agree with your list except I want to replace out Home with the song WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, from the EIE album. that being said, how can Motown release an album like ROSS 78 with retreads like TOGETHER? and have so many gems in the vaults.
    with all these reissues, I have at least found one song for each that should have been released. not to mention Blue? no album released in 1975? why not release it then?
    thanks for your thoughts.always enjoy coming here
    btw, want to nominate BEGINNING OF THE END OF LOVE from the pink box set as a gem that should have been released.

    • Paul says:

      Oh, yes…I also love “What Are You Doing…” — a beautiful song. I totally agree that Motown had WAY better options when putting together ROSS ’78, which could have been a really good album of all original material, instead of recycling “Reach Out I’ll Be There” or “Sorry Doesn’t Always Make It Right.” Maybe my next post should be “Reworking ROSS” — songs that should have been included on that album!

  3. david h says:

    ps I really like COUNTRY JOHN from BABY IT’S ME

  4. Your comments are so detailed and knowledgeable of Diana’s work that I remain amazed and look forward to each posting. I was also stunned when “Blue” was released after so many decades. When you think back to the early 80’s when Ronstadt & Simon were releasing albums of standards and then in the 2000’s it was Rod Stewart – where was Motown and this fantastic collection? Hopefully Diana still an ace up her sleeve as I suspect and will create another #1 as I expect she will. The perfect song has been near her all the while and it is …

    • Paul says:

      Marvin — for you, what would be the perfect “next Diana” recording? I’d love her to record some more jazz standards (on which she still sounds fabulous) — and I’d love to hear her collaborate with Smokey Robinson, who is also still in fine voice. I think if Diana & Smokey did an entire album together, it would win major critical acclaim — two Motown legends together again!

      • Actually I have always thought that Diana’s voice is perfect for Ashford & Simpson’s “Found a Cure” and if only she would record it I believe she’d have a huge dance club hit … very similar to her A & S produced “The Boss” LP. Would bring it full circle musically … imagine a gospel choir in the background. Paul you correct in saying that Diana’s voice can easily handle jazz and standards now. I think we fans would like another smash hit and “Found a Cure” seems like a “Boss” for our time.

  5. I have created a playlist of my favorite rare & unreleased tracks pulled from the multiple expanded, deluxe & alternate releases (and I always try to keep the track list to only 20 songs to keep me in check and force me to edit my selection…I just went a little over board on the trainspotters aspect of this didn’t I…;)). Here goes :

    1. Baby I’ll Come (Surrender – Expanded)
    2. Wish I Knew (Everything is Everything – Expanded)
    3. What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life (Everything is Everything – Expanded)
    4. Something (Everything is Everything – Expanded)
    5. I’ll Be Here (When You Get Home) [Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded]
    6. Why Play Games (Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded)
    7. Get it All Together (Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded)
    8. Since I Don’t Have You (Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded)
    9. Let Me Be The One (Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded)
    10. I Want to Go Back There Again (Last Time I Saw Him – Expanded)
    11. Baby I Love Your Way (Baby It’s Me – Expanded)
    12. Brass Band (Baby It’s Me – Expanded)
    13. Country John (Baby It’s Me – Expanded)
    14. Rom Enough For Two (Baby It’s Me – Expanded)
    15. Fire Don’t Burn (diana – Deluxe Edition)
    16. We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again (diana – Deluxe Edition)
    17. You Build Me Up to Tear Me Down (diana – Deluxe Edition)
    18. Sweet Summertime Livin’ (diana – Deluxe Edition)
    19. Share Some Love (To Love Again – 2000 Expande Edition)
    20. Seems We’re Always Saying Goodbye (To Love Again – 2000 Expande Edition)

    So that would be my desert island disc edition of Vaulted Miss Ross! I would have to include “Home” if it were in my collection and I might need to search it out because I LOVE the soundtrack version.

    • Paul says:

      Julius — great list! And “Home” is SO worth it. The track is beautifully done and Diana’s vocal is just sublime. I really wish it had been released as a single somehow, even though the film fell below expectations. Apparently the Motown version of “Home” had been recorded for a proposed album called “Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz” — maybe there are more tracks from that canceled album in the vaults??

  6. northcarolinafan says:

    Paul – How I love and look forward to your posts. Your knowledge of all things Ross is astounding!

    I agree with the inclusion of “Share Some Love” and “Kewpie Doll” on this top five and would add “The Interim”, “I’ve Come To Love You So Much” and “Sweet Summertime Livin.”

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. spookyelectric says:

    Hey Paul – this post just reminds me how much I want a physical release for ‘Baby It’s Me’ Expanded! Still you’re right – we’ve had a ton of vault tracks over the last decade or so – really since the release of ‘diana’ deluxe – so we’ve been spoilt.

    Totally agree with you about ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ deserving a slot on one of her 70s albums – it made me think again how odd that Motown just seemed to seal up the Blue sessions for good and never pulled any tracks onto other projects. The Blue version of ‘Smile’ is far better than the released DR version.

    Anyway, my top 5 ‘vault’ tracks:

    5 I’ll Be Here (When You Get Home) – one of those lovely warm vocals Diana was regularly knocking out of the park in the early 70s… love the way this tune builds to thrilling interplay with big background vocal arrangement. Worth checking the released version Johnny Bristol produced on Gladys Knight a few years later too.

    4 To Love Again (Alternate Version) – I’ve always been a sucker for a spoken intro, so I have to include this as a/ is one of my all time fave Masser/Ross collabs and b/ Diana gets to talk in french too. (It was a toss up between this and the brilliant ‘Little Girl Blue’ – Blue version)

    3 The Interim – wow. I think this is the only Jimmy Webb tune Diana ever recorded but I could be wrong. I totally get why the studio shelved a lot of the 70s solo experiments, including this, which meanders all over the place, barely has a chorus and isn’t remotely commercial. Still, it’s brilliant. And Diana nails the tricky time signatures of the tune – especially the dynamic outro.

    2 99 And A Half Won’t Do – from the box set – great (and rare) to really hear Diana let rip vocally like this, probably the most ‘gospel’ Diana ever got. Not a million miles away, there’s also her equally punchy take on ‘Sweet Soul Music’ from the same era that surfaced on last year’s ‘Red Hot R&B’ expanded..

    1 I’ve Come To Love You So Much – there really isn’t one bad tune from any Diana/Nic & Val session and this again proves it. This really should have been on Diana & Marvin instead of ‘Falling In Love With You’. They sound (or fake sounding!) dewy-eyed and lovestruck together brilliantly….

  8. david h says:

    Paul, had a chance to listen to HOME from anthology, wow what a vocal , beautiful performance all around..
    thanks for recommending and redirecting me back to it. lost gem in my books(cds)

  9. Justin says:

    Stoney End, The Things I Will Not Miss.

  10. Christopher K says:

    Hi Paul,
    1. You Build Me Up To Tear Me Down
    2. Let me Be The One
    3. I’ll Be Here When You Get Home
    4. Harmony
    5. In the Ones You Love (if it qualifies as vaulted and not just hard-to-find)
    5a. Let’s Do It
    Always a treat to read your posts.
    Peace.

    • Paul says:

      Great list! “In The Ones You Love” was totally thrown away — I wish it had been included on SOMETHING here in the states. Great performance by Miss Ross with so much power.

  11. Jon J says:

    We have been quite fortunate in gaining access to so many of the vault tracks over the last 15 years – with some, as you say, it’s easy to see why they weren’t released (all of the bonus tracks on the recent Baby It’s Me digital reissue, for instance – that’s a case where they got the original album track selection bang on), but others are real gems and are stronger than many released tracks.

    I love all the Bones Howe-produced tracks that were recorded for the debut solo album, but Time and Love is perhaps the one that fits Diana best.

    Kewpie Doll is another cracker, as is Let Me Be the One. As it happens, although their version is so well known that you’d think it had been a hit, the Carpenters never released Let Me Be the One as a single. While Diana’s version isn’t quite as powerful as Karen and Richard’s version, she could perhaps have had a shot at getting a hit single with it given that no one else had done so before, especially given the lack of hit singles elsewhere on Last Time I Saw Him.

    Baby I’ll Come is another fine track – it sounds like something that could have slotted easily into the high quality of the Surrender album.

    But my absolute favourite vault track is To the Baby. Just stunning. One of her best songs period.

    • Paul says:

      Wow — I always assumed “Let Me Be The One” had been a single. Just another reason why Diana’s should have been released! I also like “Baby I’ll Come” and “To The Baby” quite a bit — considering Diana’s brother wrote the song, it’s strange that it never made it onto an album — I wish it had been included on TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING in place of something weaker…

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