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Diva Demolition Derby: Aretha, Diana & Dionne

From the mid-60s to the early 70s, pop was dominated by three very different young female singers: Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick. Despite their differences in approach, they ended up recording a lot of the same songs, and comparing those performances is what this page is about.

The scoring system is mind-bogglingly simple: All songs recorded by more than one diva during the decade (loosely construed) are included. +1 for the best rendition of a given song. -1 for the worst rendition of a given song, and 0 for the second-best (if all three recorded the same tune) or a pass (i.e. the person didn't record the song). In a few cases, I'm aware of multiple versions but have only heard one - in that case, the performances are listed but not ranked. Clearly, each singer excelled with her own style, so the point of these matchups isn't to sully anyone's reputation, just to get a closer look at the different ways they handled identical material.

I know I'm missing some tunes here; if you see anything I've left out please let me know. And if you're not bored yet, I recently put together a 90s version of the same concept, comparing Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige. (DBW)

"A Change Is Gonna Come" (Sam Cooke)
  1. Aretha (I Never Loved A Man): Moving and meditative.
  2. Diana (Supremes At The Copa): Gospel in Vegas, via perky Diana. Yuck.

"Amazing Grace" (Traditional)

  1. Aretha (Amazing Grace): If you're going to listen to the song, get the full-blown gospel version. That's just common sense.
  2. Dionne (From Within): Sung straight down the middle, this just isn't very interesting.

"Baby Love" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

  1. Diana (Where Did Our Love Go?): Perhaps the least of the Supremes' early chart-toppers, it's still a classic.
  2. Dionne (The Dionne Warwicke Story: A Decade Of Gold): A live parody of Ross that's breathtakingly unfunny.

"Blowin' In The Wind" (Bob Dylan)

  • Diana (Cream Of The Crop): I haven't heard this version, but it's gotta be better than Warwick's.
  • Dionne (Here Where There Is Love): Hokey and almost embarrassing.

"Bring It On Home To Me" (Sam Cooke)

  • Diana (We Remember Sam Cooke): I haven't heard this.
  • Aretha (Soul '69): With a weirdly peppy big band treatment.

"Call Me" (Franklin)

  1. Aretha (This Girl's In Love With You): A lovely hit single Franklin wrote herself.
  2. Diana (Everything Is Everything): A pleasant treatment - only slightly precious - but nothing you'd compare to Franklin's version.

"(They Long To Be) Close To You" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Make Way For Dionne Warwick): Dionne actually cut this twice, but I'm only considering the earlier one.
  2. Diana (Everything Is Everything): Far from my favorite Bacharach tune, but Ross sells the melody without getting too cute - tough to choose between the two singers on this one.

"Come Together" (Lennon/McCartney)

  1. Dionne (The Dionne Warwicke Story: A Decade Of Gold): Performed as a medley with the Youngbloods' "Get Together."
  2. Diana (Everything Is Everything): A full version, but it's pretty silly; Mary Wells actually did the best contemporary cover of the tune.

"Do Right Man - Do Right Woman" (Moman)

  1. Aretha (I Never Loved A Man): One of Ree's greatest achievements - I can't imagine anyone else even wanting to record this song after hearing her version.
  2. Dionne (Soulful): Pleasant but perfunctory.

"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Here I Am)
  2. Aretha (With Everything I Feel In Me)

"Everyday People" (Sylvester Stewart)

  1. Dionne (From Within): Flairless, but still the best of the bunch.
  2. Aretha (What You See Is What You Sweat): Mechanical and silly, but at least she's in good voice.
  3. Diana (Let The Sunshine In): Fuzz guitar and all, this is faux hippie Motown at its most contrived.

"Here I Am" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Here I Am): A neglected Bacharach classic, beautifully sung by Warwick.
  2. Diana (An Evening With Diana Ross): Kind of an unfair comparison... Ross performed a snippet of this tune live in her most breathlessly showoffy manner.

"I Love You Porgy" (Gershwin/Heyward/Gershwin)

  1. Diana (Blue)
  2. Dionne (Here I Am)

"I Say A Little Prayer" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Aretha (Aretha Now): The only time one of our three divas went directly after another one's hit... and did it better. One of the best pop singles of the decade.
  2. Dionne (The Windows Of The World): Perfectly enjoyable in its own more modest way.

"The Impossible Dream" (Darion/Leigh)

  1. Dionne (The Dionne Warwicke Story: A Decade Of Gold): It's hard to pick a "favorite" recording of this horrible tune, but Warwick's is a bit less tacky.
  2. Diana (Join The Temptations): My ears are still hurting from this.

"I've Been Loving You Too Long" (Otis Redding)

  1. Dionne (Soulful): One of the few great cuts on her R&B album, she succeeds by finding the subtleties in the melody and the dignity in the lyric. I feel bad penalizing Franklin here because both versions are quite good.
  2. Aretha (Young, Gifted And Black): A spine-tingling performance, but so close to Redding's version she doesn't get any points for originality.

"The Look Of Love" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Greatest Hits, Vol. 2): Recorded earlier by Dusty Springfield and later by Isaac Hayes, but Warwick brings out the joy embedded in the melody.
  2. Diana (Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969): Nothing to complain about here; Ross also did a nice version of this on her 2007 I Love You.

"Make The Music Play" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Presenting Dionne Warwick)
  2. Diana (Let The Sunshine In)

"My Favorite Things" (Rogers/Hammerstein)

  1. Diana (Merry Christmas): The highlight from this early merchandising ploy, it's boisterous big band jazz.
  2. Dionne (On Stage And In The Movies): I like this take too. Though I also like Wing's version as well, and everyone likes Coltrane's. Kind of a likeable song.

"My Way" (Paul Anka)

  1. Aretha (Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul)
  2. Dionne (I'll Never Fall In Love Again)
    I find it hard to believe that Diana never took a stab at this one, but I can't find any evidence that she did.

"Over The Rainbow" (Arlen/Harburg)

  1. Aretha (Her First Twelve Sides)
  2. Diana (Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969)

"People" (Merril/Styne)

  1. Dionne (Make Way For Dionne Warwick): If you insist on listening to Barbra Streisand's signature song, I suggest you try this take, with an intriguing orchestration.
  2. Diana (Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969): I haven't heard the abridged version originally released on The Supremes Sing And Perform Funny Girl.
  3. Aretha: Recorded during the Columbia years, swamped by a kitschy orchestra.

"People Get Ready" (Curtis Mayfield)

  1. Aretha (Lady Soul): Sung with a lot of feeling over gentle Stax-Volt backing. (I still prefer the Impressions' version, though.)
  2. Dionne (Soulful): Here the arrangement is wooden and unimaginative, and Warwick's vocal isn't much better.

"Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)" (Ashford & Simpson)

  1. Diana (Diana Ross): Ross sounds so angelic here you can't believe all the horrible stories you've read about her. For those three minutes, anyway.
  2. Aretha (Live At Fillmore West): Heartfelt and moving, but she can't touch Ross on this one.
  3. Dionne (From Within): Though there's an original Bacharach/David introduction, it's still a rote and rather dull performance.

"Respect" (Otis Redding)

  1. Aretha (I Never Loved A Man): Her signature song.
  2. Diana (TCB): I haven't heard this, a Supremes/Tempts collaboration, but I'm pretty confident it's inferior to Franklin's.

"Satisfaction" (Jagger/Richards)

  1. Aretha (Aretha Arrives)
  2. Diana (Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969)

"Someday We'll Be Together" (Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol)

  1. Diana (Cream Of The Crop): Ross at her insinuating best on this bittersweet kissoff to her old bandmates.
  2. Dionne (From Within): Warwick's interpretation is straight down the middle and altogether unremarkable. I guess she had a couple of hours to kill in the studio.

"Somewhere" (Leonard Bernstein)

  1. Aretha (Hey Now Hey): These interpretations couldn't be more different, and Aretha's spacey vocals over Quincy Jones jazz backing (to which she adds a fine piano solo) is a lot more original.
  2. Dionne (The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick): Warwick can breathe life into a show tune without overdoing it - quite a feat - but unfortunately she loses the point to Franklin.
  3. Diana (Live At The Copa): As overdone Broadway belting goes, this isn't that bad.

"This Girl's In Love With You" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Promises, Promises): As with so many Bacharach/David hits, once you've heard Warwick's way with the tune you can't imagine anyone else singing it.
  2. Aretha (This Girl's In Love With You): You live by the belt, you die by the belt. The same raw emotion that made Franklin's version of "I Say A Little Prayer For You" doesn't work quite as well on this tender melody. It's a fine performance, don't get me wrong, but it pales before the original.
  3. Diana (The Supremes Join The Temptations): Another campy Supremes/Tempts collaboration; Ross is perfectly on key but not particularly expressive and way too perky.

"Unchained Melody"

  1. Diana (I Hear A Symphony)
  2. Dionne (The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick)

"Up, Up & Away" (Jimmy Webb)

  1. Dionne (Valley Of The Dolls)
  2. Diana (Reflections)

Walk On By (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Make Way For Dionne Warwick): A masterpiece; if I assigned bonus points this would get one.
  2. Aretha (Runnin' Out Of Fools): From her pre-Atlantic days, the arrangement copies Bacharach as Franklin copies Warwick.

"The Weight" (Robbie Robertson)

  1. Dionne (Soulful): The loping backing track captures the honky-tonk spirit of the original, which combined with Warwick's crisp, delicate delivery makes for a weird, but not unenjoyable, combination.
  2. Aretha (This Girl's In Love With You): For once, Franklin sounds unsure of herself on this number - forced on her by producer Jerry Wexler - and the arrangement is MOR boredom.
  3. Diana (The Supremes Join The Temptations): Recorded with the Temptations, it's pure Vegasy schlock.

"What A Diff'rence A Day Made" (Stanley Adams/María Mendez Grever)

  1. Diana (Blue): One of the highlights of Ross's long-buried jazz album.
  2. Aretha (Unforgettable): A fairly tepid and predictable run-through.

"What The World Needs Now Is Love" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Here Where There Is Love)
  2. Diana (Reflections)

"Yesterday" (Lennon/McCartney)

  1. Diana (I Hear A Symphony): The strings are laid on a bit thick, but Ross does a fine job of not under- or overemoting.
  2. Dionne (Very Dionne): Recorded at the end of the Bacharach/David era, this is lackluster filler.

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

  1. Diana (Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland)
  2. Aretha (Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul)

"You Send Me" (Sam Cooke)

  1. Aretha (Aretha Now): Not particularly exciting or memorable.
  2. Diana (We Remember Sam Cooke): Even more unexciting and unmemorable.

"You'll Never Get To Heaven" (Bacharach/David)

  1. Dionne (Make Way For Dionne Warwick): Her light sophistication stands her in good stead here, as she threads her way through the delicate melody and rhythm changes.
  2. Aretha (With Everything I Feel In Me): Franklin drops all the song's subtleties, but doesn't fully commit to a gutbucket blues approach either, and the end result just seems forced and unfocused.

"Young, Gifted And Black" (Nina Simone)

  1. Aretha (Young, Gifted And Black): The centerpiece of one of her finest albums.
  2. Dionne (From Within): Much milder than Franklin's take, it's still dignified and engaging.

"You're All I Need To Get By" (Ashford & Simpson)

  1. Diana (Diana Ross): Produced by the writers, and Diana's high, smooth vocals suit the elegant arrangement perfectly - perhaps better than Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's original hit version.
  2. Aretha (Thirty Greatest Hits): The polar opposite of Diana's take, but Franklin's heartfelt, belted version is damn near as good.
  3. Dionne (From Within): All three of these versions are respectable, but Dionne's is a bit less taut and moving.

"You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weill, Phil Spector)

  1. Dionne (Soulful): I'm so sick of this song it's hard to appreciate either version (both of which were singles), but I think Warwick's stately elegant take is a bit better.
  2. Aretha (Thirty Greatest Hits): Franklin has such a strong delivery that she's always in danger of becoming a caricature of herself, and she sort of falls over the line here.


  • Dionne (Presenting Dionne Warwick)
  • Diana (???): I could have sworn she recorded this, but I can't find any evidence to support that belief.

The Final Score:


I want those ten minutes back.

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