Diana Ross and/or The Supremes
Reviewed on this page:
Where Did Our Love Go - A Bit Of Liverpool -
Sing Country Western And Pop - More Hits By The Supremes -
Merry Christmas - I Hear A Symphony - At The Copa - A Go Go - Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland - Sing Rodgers & Hart - Reflections - Live At London's Talk Of The Town -
Join The Temptations - Love Child - Let The Sunshine In - Together - Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969
- Farewell - Right On -
Diana Ross (1970) - Everything Is Everything - The Magnificent Seven -
New Ways But Love Stays - Surrender -
The Return Of The Magnificent Seven - Lady Sings The Blues - Blue -
Floy Joy - Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb -
Touch Me In The Morning - Diana & Marvin - Last Time I
Saw Him - The Supremes - Diana Ross (1976) -
High Energy - An Evening With Diana Ross - Baby
It's Me - The Boss - Diana - Why Do Fools Fall In
Love - Ross - Swept
Away - Eaten Alive - Red
Hot Rhythm and Blues - Workin'
Overtime - The Force Behind The Power -
The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues... Stolen Moments - Take Me Higher - Every Day Is A New Day - I Love You
The most commercially successful of all Motown's 60s acts, which is saying quite a bit. Since
everyone at Motown used the same backing musicians, and the
Supremes didn't write their own material (Smokey Robinson was the
only Motown artist during this period who wrote all his own hits),
what set them apart? Well, a lot of it is due to lead singer Diana
Ross, who coasted through Motown's most complex arrangements with a cool voice that could carry a heavy emotional payload. Also, they had Motown's most
consistently original songwriting/producing team, Holland-Dozier-Holland. I also think that for whatever reason the Supremes inspired HDH more than the Four Tops did (HDH also wrote all of the Tops' hits).
Motown's Quality Control people usually released the best cuts as
singles, so you can get away with buying an anthology, but isn't it
more fun to listen to the whole album, weak tracks and all? Anyway,
if you get bored with Diana you can always listen to bassist James
Jamerson and drummer Bennie Benjamin pounding away, and Mike Terry laying down genre-defining bari sax solos.
Plus groovy vibes parts. These
folks were so far ahead of the standard R&B rhythm sections (to say
nothing of rock and rollers) it's not even funny.
Because I don't get enough hate mail, I've compared songs sung by Ross, Dionne Warwick and
Aretha Franklin on our Diva Demolition Derby page. Special thanks to Bob Wilhite for information on the Supremes' post-Diana years. (DBW)
Lineup (all vocalists):
Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Mary
McGlown. McGlown left 1961, replaced by Barbara Martin, who
also left 1961. Ballard left 1967, replaced by Cindy Birdsong
(ex-Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles). Ross quit, replaced by Jean
Terrell, 1969. Birdsong replaced by Lynda Laurence, 1972, but
returned in 1974; Terrell replaced by Sherrie Payne, 1974.
Birdsong replaced by Susaye Green, 1975. Wilson quit, group
Meet The Supremes (1964)
Famously, the Supremes were the last early Motown act to have a hit single before becoming the most popular group on the label. Berry Gordy was so determined to break the Supremes that he not only put out flop single after flop single (his own "Let Me Go The Right Way") he collected them onto an LP. The group worked with almost every house production team except Holland-Dozier-Holland, and it's one four-chord bubblegum soul tune after another ("Buttered Popcorn") with no distinguishing features. If you're a Flo or Mary partisan,
othing to spend your meal money on.
Where Did Our Love Go? (1964)
Okay, break out your meal money for this one, the beginning of the Holland-Dozier-Holland run. A bunch of smashes
that still work fifty years later - "Baby Love," "Come See About
Me" and the title song all went to #1 - and helped define the Sound of Young America.
Inventive arrangements, with unusual percussion including the feet-in-sandbox intro to "Baby Love," and a stunning octave leap on the chorus of "Standing At The Crossroads Of Love."
The album is padded out with some earlier unsuccessful singles - "Long Gone Lover," "I'm Giving You Your Freedom," "Run, Run Run" - though even these are well constructed. Throughout, this is the single best album to hear Mike Terry on baritone sax, perhaps the most underacknowledged of all the Motown musicians ("When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes").
A Bit Of Liverpool (1964)
At this point Motown viewed singles as their main moneymakers, and LPs as opportunities to cross over to new audiences... this time they targeted Beatlemaniacs. Producers Berry Gordy, Hal Davis and Marc Gordon stick pretty closely to the original arrangements ("You Can't Do That," right down to the
ending chromatic guitar lick), though they modify the harmonies here and there ("Can't Buy Me Love"). They return to
the original lyrics of the bad-girl lament "House Of The Rising Sun," while copping the Animals'
instrumentation. And I applaud Gordy's restraint in not re-recording "Money" or "Please
Mr. Postman," the other Motown hits covered by the Beatles. Diana's tonal purity works wonderfully on the melodic tunes ("World Without Love") though it works against her on numbers
calling for passion ("A Hard Day's Night").
But is there any reason to listen to this cash-in forty years later, unless you're a demented music critic? Of course not.
They do cover several Beatles tunes here, but the real idea was to rip off the entire British invasion. So they do
"House Of The Rising Sun," a hit for the Animals; the Dave Clark Five's "Do You Love Me" (a Contours cover),
"Bits And Pieces," and "Because"; and the Beatles' aborted first single "How Do You Do It," given to Gerry and the
Pacemakers. There's also "You've Really Got A Hold On Me," which was covered by the Beatles, but originally was a hit for
the Miracles. And there are some L & M tunes that were hits for other Liverpool acts, like "World Without Love," done by
Peter and Gordon. (JA)
Sing Country Western And Pop (1965)
Ludicrously ill-conceived. Evidently an attempt to follow in the over-crossing footsteps of Ray Charles, but where he carefully selected the country songs most ripe for his radical
reintepretations, it seems Gordy just told producer/songwriter Clarence Paul to go write a pile of country-western sounding
tunes, and record them all with the same 2/4 beat. The only bona fide country hits here are Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time
Slips Away" and Bobby Nolan's silly "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"; Paul's contributions ("My Heart Can't Take
It No More") are almost bad enough to count as parodies of the genre, but not quite. And just for weirdness value, there's
a run through the Mercer-Carmichael tune "Lazy Bones" (I guess that's how "Pop" got into the album title). But there is a
silver lining of sorts: in his quest to throw together originals in a hurry, Paul pressed his thirteen-year-old charge into
service, and so it is that this album contains the first known original compositions by Stevie
Wonder: "Baby Doll" is stale 50s bubblegum, but "Sunset" is a curiously effective, downtempo mood piece that's worth hearing.
More Hits By The Supremes (1965)
More of the Where Did Our Love Go? formula: great singles ("Stop! In The Name Of Love" with
the speeding-up glissando sound on the intro - actually played by an organ, not a sound effect - and "Back In My
Arms Again" both went to #1; the delightful sax-fueled "Nothing But Heartaches" missed the Top Ten) and overlooked album tracks ("Who Could Ever Doubt My
Love?," "Honey Boy"). The material is mostly new - although "Ask Any Girl" is repeated from Where Did Our Love Go, and two songs were originally written for Mary Wells - and everything sounds good. (DBW)
We Remember Sam Cooke (1965)
This could hardly be more tasteless; Cooke had just been shot to death months earlier. All of his biggest hits are here, including "You Send Me," "Chain Gang," "Twistin' The Night Away," "Bring It On Home To Me," and "Shake." (JA)
Merry Christmas (1965)
There's something for everybody here, just not much: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" gets a Motown makeover, with Bennie
Benjamin pounding the drums, rhythm guitar chicks on the two and four, and the horns blowing, recalling hits like "Same Old
Song." "My Favorite Things" is dolled up as big band jazz, with prominent drumming
and unpredictable strings. And there are a couple of decent originals (Harvey Fuqua and Isabelle Freeman's sweet "Children's
Christmas Song"). But most of the LP is exactly the sort of syrupy orchestrated kitsch you'd expect, with Diana gamely
piping her way through the most over-recorded tunes imaginable, from "White Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" through
"Joy To The World."
Actually, this wasn't too crass as mid-60s cash-ins go; the Beach Boys cut a similar record
the year before. (JA)
I Hear A Symphony (1965)
Most of this record was cut over a couple of days in LA, without the usual Motown rhythm section, and it shows: heavy on the orchestral arrangements and strings,
and unusually soft-hitting. It does show off the group's versatility ("Unchained Melody") and
willingness to flirt with MOR ("Yesterday"), but it's far from their best work.
The really good news is the irrepressibly melodic title track (another #1) and the dynamic "Any Girl In Love"
(lyrically a variation of "Ask Any Girl");
you may find the hit "My World Is Empty Without You" entrancing, though I find it monotonous. (DBW)
Supremes At The Copa (1965)
Live at the Copacabana with liner notes by Sammy Davis Jr., and it's even cornier than you'd imagine. The Motown arrangements
are turned into brassy nightclub pap, spoiling the big hits, and the show tunes like "Put On A Happy Face" and "I Am Women"
are painful to hear. Ross' voice is high and lovely, but she camps it up instead of projecting any real emotion. This is only
worthwhile for lounge lizards, and Ross-haters looking for ammunition against her. Orchestra arranged by Gil Askey; produced
by Berry Gordy and Lawrence Horn, who in 1993 hired a hitman who murdered Horn's ex-wife, quadriplegic son and the boy's nurse
so Horn could collect $2 million in insurance. Just thought you ought to know. (DBW)
Amazing - six full LP's in one year. This one has a bunch of covers like "The Boy From Ipanema" and a Sam Cooke medley, in addition to hits like "Baby Love" and "Stop!" (JA)
Supremes A Go-Go (1966)
- The Supremes' entry in "Go-Go" mania (Stevie Wonder
recorded "Love A Go Go" and the Miracles released both Here We
A Go Go and Away We A Go Go). Anyway, besides the hit
singles ("Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart" with experimental
echo effects, and "You Can't Hurry Love") there are Supremes
versions of big Motown hits by other artists - they do both the
Isleys' "This Old Heart Of Mine" and the Four Tops' "(Shake Me Wake
Me) When It's Over" better than the originals - plus the
unbelievably straight-faced cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots
Are Made For Walking." Wilson gets a rare lead on "Come And Get These Memories." (DBW)
- I guess H-D-H were just burned out after their madcap recording
the previous year. There are so many covers here it's a chore just to
track everything down - the Four Tops get victimized three times,
for example. And four of the weakest walk-throughs were produced by
Frank Wilson and Hal Davis ("These Boots..."; "Get Ready"; "Money (That's What I Want)"; "Hang On Sloopy"). Because H-D-H
had such a rich songbook to mine, the end result is still solidly
enjoyable. But it's extraordinarily unoriginal, even more so than other
Motown albums from this era. I've given it an extra half-star just on
the strength of "You Can't Hurry Love" and some other amazing Jamerson
bass lines. (JA)
Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (1967)
An interesting title, because this was released after Holland-Dozier-Holland had gone virtually on strike and were preparing to leave Motown for their own label. "You Keep Me Hangin' On,"
which still rocks after outliving terrible cover versions by
everyone from the Vanilla Fudge to Kim Wilde, is here; the other
#1 hit is the breathy, desperately emoting "Love Is Here And Now
You're Gone." The album is filled out with remakes of other artists'
tunes, mostly recorded in 1964 or 1965: "Heat Wave"; "It's The Same Old Song";
"I Guess I'll Always Love You" (originally a flop single for the
This year's other big HDH hit, "The Happening," was only released on a greatest hits record. (DBW)
Sing Rodgers & Hart (1967)
There were no singles released from this collection of show tunes, which charted more poorly than any Supremes
release since A Bit Of Liverpool. Despite that inauspicious showing, it's been re-released a couple of times with
numerous outtake bonus tracks, first as The Rogers & Hart Songbook, and then as Sing Rodgers & Hart: The
Complete Recordings, which is the edition I have.
Produced by Gordy and Askey, and arranged in full-out orchestral mode, with lots of over-the-top bombast (Diana camping up "The Lady Is A Tramp"). The usual bases are covered, from "My Funny Valentine" through "Blue Moon."
But the Motown rhythm section does get to play some (mellow jazz on "This Can't Be Love"; uptempo stomp on "My Heart Stood Still"), it's all well recorded, and despite lapses of taste, Ross's pitch and tone are flawless. So as Rodgers & Hart songbooks go, it's not bad... better than Carly Simon's, anyway.
The bonus tracks are roughly of the same quality as the original ones (check the groovy strings on "Manhattan," which seem to be at 33 rpm while everyone else is at 45), so if you're going to buy the thing at all, make sure you get the full version.
Nominally produced by Holland and Dozier, but the only tracks HDH had
anything to do with were two hit singles recorded in early 1967:
"Forever Came Today" fortified with theremin, and the title track, which opens with extremely weird
sound effects that are either synthesizer or tape loop manipulation.
(Besides HDH leaving, Florence Ballard had just been fired, which didn't
affect the group's sound as much as you might think.) Gordy didn't know
where to go next: most of the disc sounds like a collection of outtakes.
The musicians and Ross are at their usual high standard, but the tunes
are familiar covers ("What The World Needs Now Is Love") and
unsatisfying originals. The best non-single is "Then," another witty
formulaic Smokey Robinson number, although Diana's version of "Ode To
Billie Joe" has substantial amusement value. (DBW)
Live At London's Talk Of The Town (1968)
Am I actually reviewing another mediocre Motown live album? Shouldn't I be doing something more productive, like pulling lint out of my belly button? Anyway, in addition to the big hits, there are a bunch of show tunes, mostly shoehorned into medleys ("Thoroughly Modern Millie"/"Second Hand Rose"/"Mame"). Thus, the only songs that get full runs-through are the hits from the previous year or so ("The Happening"). And since, for
whatever reason, the group's 1967 singles are underrepresented on oldies radio, the renditions of "In And Out Of Love"
and "Reflections" (which admittedly suffers from the too-fast live performance) sound relatively fresh. Thankfully, Ross's
insufferable stage patter is kept to a minimum, except on the encore "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You."
A rushed live album, repeating the formula of hits - mostly strung together into medleys - plus covers; so
you'll find a few oddities here like the Beatles' "Michelle" and Herb
Albert's "Mame." (JA)
Sing And Perform Funny Girl (1968)
What a bizarre project - Funny Girl was a successful Broadway musical that had been turned into a movie starring Barbara Streisand, who also scored a hit with "People," which you'll find here with the rest. (JA)
Join The Temptations (1968)
Both the Supremes and the Temptations were huge hits on the nightclub circuit at this point, and they pooled their talents on several network television specials. They also came up with a few highly orchestrated albums. On this one (the Supremes' first full post-HDH outing) the producers made some excellent use of the vocal talent at their command, particularly on the delightful single "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and the followup "I'll Try Something New." The record is filled out with listless covers of earlier Motown successes ("I Second That Emotion," "A Place In The Sun"), a couple of current soul hits (a nice take on "Funky Broadway" and the overrecorded ballad "This Guy's [Girl's] In Love With You") and some blatant pandering to middle America ("The Impossible Dream"). (DBW)
Love Child (1968)
- After all the turmoil of the preceding year,
the group now known as "Diana Ross and the Supremes" came back with a solid album. The #1 title song, of course, and Ashford & Simpson's complex pop tune "Some Things You Never Get Used To,"
plus the standard Motown Sound of "He's My Sunny Boy" and "Honey Bee," and some weird stuff: Jamerson goes space-age on "How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone," and Dr. Funkenstein (George Clinton) serves his internship here, writing "Can't Shake It Loose," which turned up under a different name on a Funkadelic album ten years later. (DBW)
- With Birdsong replacing Ballard and the 12 songs nearly being outnumbered by the production teams, I wasn't expecting much from this patchwork effort - even Tommy Chong (that Tommy Chong) shows up in the roomfull of songwriters. But Chong and Tom Baird's "Does Your Mama Know About Me" is sleek and romantic, and it's just one of many surprisingly good efforts here - it helps that Ashford and Simpson contribute three numbers, including their forcefully emotional "Keep An Eye" and swinging "You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin'." (JA)
TCB (with the Temptations: 1969)
This is the first of two live records to come out of the Temptations/Supremes collaboration. The track selection is really unimaginative, unfortunately; the title track resurfaced on Farewell, and other than that it's all hits - and just a few of them are covers of other people's hits that the Supremes didn't do elsewhere, like Otis Redding's "Respect." (JA)
Let The Sunshine In (1969)
The three singles are so good, they alone justify buying this album: the
Clan's tale of filial impiety "I'm Livin' In Shame"; Smokey's gorgeous
"The Composer" and Berry Gordy's pop/funk "No Matter What Sign You Are"
with groovy electric sitar. It's a lucky thing, because there's no
depth here - there are a zillion covers, either servicable but
pedestrian (Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted," Jerry
Butler's "Hey Western Union Man" cowritten by Gamble and Huff,
Bacharach/David's "Let The Music Play"), or painful attempts to be up
to date (title track, Sly Stone's "Everyday
People" including fuzz guitar). According to Mary Wilson, she and
Birdsong were barely participating in the studio by this point; Ross
meanwhile was indulging her taste for Vegas kitsch ("Discover Me (And You'll Discover
Love)"). No producers listed; I'm sure this is a group effort like most of
the act's later work. (DBW)
Together (With the Temptations: 1969)
In the year since the first album cut with the Temptations, everything had changed: Norman Whitfield had taken the band psychedelic, Vegas showtunes were out, and Sly Stone-style rock/funk was in (there's a cover of Sly's "Sing A Simple Song" here). The covers of Motown standards are more gritty and soulful than the last time around: Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" and "I'll Be Doggone," Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" (complete with hilarious distorted guitar).
The problem is, gritty soul is not Ross' forté, and in addition there are almost no new tunes (the single was The Band's "The Weight"). The weirdest moment is a medley of "My Guy" and "My Girl" (both by Smokey Robinson) featuring some pumping bass lines from Jamerson, but switching from one tune to another so often it's downright confusing. The one pleasant surprise is the bopping "Why (Must We Fall In Love)" by Deke Richards. (DBW)
On Broadway (with the Temptations: 1969)
The second live Tempts/Supremes record. A couple of the tunes are pulled
from early Temptations collaborations, like "Funky Broadway," and they
reprise "Let The Sunshine In" as well; but mostly it's covers of
Broadway standards like "Fiddler On The Roof" and the title track that
neither group did on their other records. (JA)
Apparently, this is a "fake live" release: studio recordings with crowd
noise dubbed in. How many of these damn things did they need, anyway?
Cream Of The Crop (1969)
Emphasizing the point Diana was a de facto solo act, the classic "Someday
We'll Be Together" (yes, another #1 single) doesn't feature the other
two Supremes at all. (DBW)
Surely a must-have as it includes their versions of "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Hey Jude" (argh). Actually, it does look
like most of the tracks are originals. (JA)
Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (rel. 2008)
This two-CD set is aimed squarely at obsessive collectors: who else would want to hear early rejected singles ("(You Can) Depend On Me"), silly covers ("Not Fade Away"; "It's Not Unusual")
and alternate vocal takes ("Back In My Arms Again")? And within those parameters the package delivers, with terrific liner notes and a handy guide to tracking down all the rarities that didn't make it onto this release. Mostly it's of no general interest, but there are a few special moments: "Don't Let True Love Die" (cooked up by Holland/Dozier/Holland and cousin James Dean) and "The Beginning Of The End Of Love" (by Richards) are gorgeous outtakes. Ross does a lovely version of "I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You" (an Ashford/Simpson number originally a hit for Rita Wright, a.k.a. Syreeta). And the girls' takes on gospel ("What A Friend We Have In Jesus") and jazz ("Autumn Leaves") aren't great but they're odd.
Berry Gordy's self-importance went out of control here: not only did
Motown set up a gala event to celebrate Diana leaving for a solo career,
the company released this two-LP boxed set to preserve the hit lineup's
final performance for eternity. It's uneven to say the least: there
are full versions of show tunes like "The Lady Is A Tramp," "Big
Spender," "The Impossible Dream," etc., while the HDH hits are
mostly consigned to a brief, tossed-off medley. Birdsong and Wilson's
backing vocals are mixed way up, which is good, but they're frequently
way off key, which is not so good. If you believe Mary Wilson's career
was destroyed by a Gordy-led conspiracy, listen closely to her solo
feature, the Frank Valli hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," and I think
you'll change your mind. The surprise is the band (Jimmy Garrett on
bass, Napoleon Allen on guitar, and Curtis Kirk on drums), which doesn't
hesitate to stray from the original arrangements, and stays fresh
and alert even during the show's dullest moments. There's endless
self-congratulation and stage patter (a lengthy missive from Ed Sullivan
is read aloud) that nobody would want to hear twice. And the 22-minute
version of "Let The Sunshine In," with all the celebrities in the house
(including such vocal talents as Steve Allen) singing one chorus each,
is unlistenable, though Marvin Gaye nearly
makes the whole thing worthwhile. But fanatics will want to have this piece of history. (DBW)
Right On (1970)
The first post-Diana album, and producer Frank Wilson works hard to restore the original Supremes
sound, with new lead singer Jean Terrell closely imitating Diana
("Take A Closer Look At Me"), and back-to-basics arrangements that
avoid all the late 60s gimmicks. Commercially, the strategy worked:
"Up The Ladder To The Roof" was a Top Ten single, and "Everybody's
Got A Right To Love" was also reasonably successful. Though there's no
innovation, there are several memorable tunes, including "Then We Can
Try Again" and "I Got Hurt (Trying To Be The Only Girl In Your Life),"
both by subsets of The Corporation.
Though there are some ho-hum numbers like "Bill, When Are You Coming Back?" and Smokey's tossoff "The Loving Country," and often
too much string sweetening, it's harmless, mostly pleasant nostalgia.
Diana Ross (Ross: 1970)
- Ross' commercial sense seems uncanny here. She could have gone with a producer like Frank Wilson or Norman Whitfield who might have put her into dangerously experimental territory and loaded her down with overblown covers. But instead, she teamed with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who not only produced but wrote all but one of the songs. The result is a great collection of elaborately produced, mostly three-minute Motown ballads - the orchestration is so baroque it's mind-numbing.
But the arrangements are always clever enough to be bearable, the song material is uniformly strong, Ross and Jamerson's performances are as solid as ever, and the high points are significant.
The first single ("Read Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)") is a memorable, if slightly sappy message tune - and the second, a thundering six-minute remake of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was a #1 hit. There's even some light, but clever funk ("Keep An Eye," originally done on Love Child). Supremes fans will find this one really satisfying because it doesn't stray from the Motown sound as much as Diana's later output. (JA)
- The string arrangements are superb, the tunes are memorable, and Ross' glass-clear voice is a perfect complement to the gentleness of the ballads - for my money, Diana's version of "You're All I Need To Get By" is even better than the original. Ashford & Simpson apparently decided to save all their gospel and R&B influences for Simpson's concurrent solo album, and mixing things up a bit would've given this set more variety, but it's still probably Diana's brightest moment as a solo artist. (DBW)
Everything Is Everything (Ross: 1970)
Actually, Ross did indeed record a routine collection of covers and forgettable experiments
(the echoey, interminable "Come Together"), and it duly flopped, peaking at #42.
Produced by Deke Richards and Hal Davis, the record is like Cream Of The Crop II, with such unimaginative remakes as "The Long And Winding Road" and "(They Long To Be) Close To You."
The new material is no more commercial (the single "I'm Still Waiting" did go all the way to #1 in the UK, though it did nothing in the States - thanks Reese!), and contains too much trivial perkiness (title track).
Still, there are some moments: the multipart "Doobedood'ndoodbe Doobedoobe" sounds like Motown's shot at a Brian Wilson pop symphony, and the opening "My Place" is a perfect, jubilant slice of pop.
The Magnificent 7 (with the Four Tops: 1970)
With both groups struggling in the post-HDH era, and the Tempts/Supremes
collaboration a huge success, the company threw the Tops and Supremes
together to see what they could come up with. At first, the gamble was
successful, both commercially and musically: Ashford & Simpson produced a fine hit
cover of the Phil Spector/Ike & Tina Turner classic "River Deep -
Mountain High" (a flop in its original 1966 incarnation), plus the
Laura Nyro-penned Fifth Dimension hit
"Stoned Soul Picnic" and two of their own tunes ("Reach Out And Touch,"
cut concurrently by Diana; "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing"). Clay
MacMurray, best known for his work with Gladys Knight, contributed several tracks
thoughtful, laid-back string arrangements - "Baby (You've Got What It
Takes)," the HDH leftover "Without The One You Love" - even his version
of Sly Stone's "Everyday People" is relatively
bearable. Duke Browner produced several fine if lightweight pop numbers:
"Knock On My Door," Ed Townsend's "For
Your Love," a surprisingly funky version of "A Taste Of Honey," earlier
recorded by the Temptations and the Beatles. (Though Frank Wilson was producing
each act individually, he had nothing to do with this project.) The disc
is thoroughly listenable, with Levi Stubbs doing most of the attention
grabbing, but it relies so heavily on covers it's hardly a standout.
New Ways But Love Stays (1970)
This late 1970 album features their third, biggest, and possibly most Diana-esque post-Diana single, producer Frank Wilson's "Stoned Love" (it reached #7).
Wilson, who had also taken over the Four Tops from H-D-H, went for the trendiest Sly Stone-inspired production values possible: sound effects, cross-fades between songs, stereo gimmicks, massive echo, sitar, congas, and especially that grating distorted rhythm guitar.
He also filled the record out with a couple donated tunes and some really embarassing covers of popular contemporary rock songs - "Come Together"; a nearly six-minute "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; "Love The One You're With"; even one-hit wonder Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," a #1 single for them in 1969.
The desperate effort to keep up extends even to the self-conscious title and the cover portraits sporting new Afros and sombre black turtlenecks. But at least Wilson's original tunes are a little interesting, with some serious funk backbeat; and although some tracks are long, they're never endless like Norman Whitfield's Temptations epics. (JA)
The Return Of The Magnificent Seven (with the Four Tops: 1971)
Running the formula into the ground, the Supremes and Tops got together
again. Surprisingly, though, they didn't do any covers this time out,
settling for sappy, Vegas-style tunes from the likes of Dino Fekaris,
affectionately known as "Mr. Schlock" - "You Gotta Have Love In Your
Heart" (a single, incredibly) sounds like a Telly Savalas number. The one major exception is
the gospelly "One More Bridge To Cross," written by Ashford
& Simpson and driven by a stirring Simpson piano line - it's easily
the best track on the record, with Levi Stubbs emoting in fine form.
The other A & S composition, "I'm Glad About It," is fluff like the
rest of the disc; I'm guessing they produced their own numbers,
and the remake of Marvin Gaye & Tammi
Terrell's obscure "I Can't Believe You Love Me." I don't know
who produced the rest. In contrast to the Supremes/Temptations albums,
it seems there was no thought about effectively using the different
strengths of the two groups - the two lead singers alternate apparently
at random, while the backing vocalists are completely faceless. It's
hard to see what Gordy was thinking when he approved this release.
Surrender (Ross: 1971)
Ashford & Simpson produced again, and basically reused the same formula
as Ross's first solo album: there's one remake of a 60s Motown hit ("Reach
Out I'll Be There," the only tune here they didn't write), and lots of
orchestrated pop and ballads. What's missing is the attention to detail
that made the hooks and arrangements on the previous record so memorable
- A & S were getting ready to leave Motown at this point, and it's
possible their collective heart wasn't really in this one. There are a
couple of lovely melodies here ("Did You Read The Morning Paper?,"
"Remember Me," which was a minor hit single like "Reach Out" and the
title track), but overall it's thin, and disappointing when you know
everyone involved was capable of so much more. Again, this album didn't
hit the Top 40 at all, a disaster considering Ross's incredible
marketability up to this point. (DBW)
"Nathan Jones," a substantial Top 40 hit, is here, with co-lead vocals by the three current Supremes. (DBW)
Dynamite (with the Four Tops: 1971)
The Tops/Supremes ploy clearly wasn't working too well, and it was dropped after this point. (JA)
No single was released from this collection. Around this time, a fourth post-Diana studio album was cut (tentatively titled Promises Kept) including covers of "It's Too Late," "If I Were Your Woman" and "Eleanor Rigby" - it wasn't released until the recent 3-CD box set This Is The Story.(DBW)
Lady Sings The Blues (Ross: 1972)
Soundtrack to the film, which Ross starred in - she was nominated for an
Oscar for her portrayal of Billie Holiday. Gordy was determined to
make his mark in motion pictures, and he went all out here, recruiting
jazz legends Benny Golson and Oliver Nelson to work on the arrangements,
Michel Legrand to write the "Love Theme," and top musicians like Red
Callender, Max Bennett, Harry "Sweets" Edison,
George Bohanon, etc., with none of the usual Motown players aside from
arranger Gil Askey. The music is mostly period small-combo jazz,
including most of Holiday's best known material ("Strange Fruit,"
"God Bless The Child," title track), and was a huge departure from
Ross's previous work. The gamble paid off commercially, as the album hit
#1 - impressive for a double album, and Ross' only solo LP to do so.
But it doesn't stand the test of time. The first disc uses the
irritating device of superimposing music and film dialog to
encapsulate the plot, which means hardly any of the songs are performed
to completion - it's frustrating at best. Disc two is better: no dialog,
and full versions of "Good Morning, Heartache" (an unsuccessful single),
"My Man," "Fine and Mellow," "Lover Man," and so on. I may as well admit
here that I don't really get Holiday's appeal, so I'm not the best
person to judge Ross's attempt to step into her shoes. Ross's singing is
(as usual) clear and a bit cold - sometimes coming across as
sophisticated, at other times just unemotional. A testament to Ross's
range, and Gordy's strength of will, but not a great listening
Blue (Ross: rec. 1972, rel. 2006)
A jazz vocal collection, with re-recorded Lady Sings The Blues songs ("My Man") and more; apparently, this was slotted for release if Ross won an Oscar for Lady, but was shelved when she didn't. The album is more enjoyable than the film soundtrack, in every respect: no dialog or song snippets, Askey's arrangements avoid both retro corniness and modern gimmicks, and Ross finds her own way into the tunes instead of channeling Lady Day. As a result, she sails gorgeously through songs like "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes"
and the Gershwins' "Love Is Here To Stay."
On the other hand, her clarity gets in the way of the more emotional, less melodic material like "I Loves Ya Porgy," and some of the standards are so stale they're just impossible to pull off (Cole Porter's "Let's Do It").
A couple of these recordings saw release on later 70s projects ("Smile"; "Ellington's "Solitude" and a rollicking "T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do" (complete with pro-domestic violence final verse).
Floy Joy (1972)
- Motown seems to have been really worried by now: legendary singer, producer, writer, and company executive Smokey Robinson was brought in to run the show, and he went straight back to the mid-60s sound that made Motown great. James Jamerson's still-masterful bass is clearly in the mix (the five-minute "Now The Bitter, Now The Sweet"), and there's just a dash of "modern" guitar effects and recording gimmickry to break up the stream of punchy pop tunes. Only the lighter use of orchestration and the insistent, vaguely Stevie Wonder-ish electric piano parts really bring it up to date.
Understandably, the public didn't bite. The title track was another hit, reusing the traded lead vocals motif and verging on a James Bond theme song reject in its arrangement. But it didn't really surpass "Nathan Jones" or approach the original lineup's chart performances; the Summer of Love-sounding followup "Automatically Sunshine" barely made it into the Top 40, and the best tune ("Oh Be My Love") wasn't even a single.
Still, Terrell is more of a Diana Ross doppelganger than ever here ("The Wisdom Of Time"), and despite some campiness you can't argue with Robinson's ingrained commercial reflexes. Any 60s Supremes fan who ignores the release date and photo on the cover is going to enjoy the music. (JA)
- Jamerson's bass lines are marvelous, and Robinson's in fine form: "Your Wonderful Sweet Sweet Love" is as joyful a song as he's ever come up with. And while it's retro, he does push himself with a bossa nova number ("Precious Little Things"). To me, Terrell sounds more like Smokey himself than like Diana, but what the hell. As Alroy says, it's an enjoyable listen for Motown fans though not up to the level of the 60s lineup. New member Lynda Laurence is in the cover photo but not in the grooves. (DBW)
Produced And Arranged by Jimmy Webb (1972)
In the late 60s, songwriter Jimmy Webb was the bridge between hippie
culture and the mainstream, a longhair who wrote digestible pop songs
like "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"
and "Up, Up & Away." He was brought in as
producer here - the first time Gordy had resorted to such a well known
outsider - and he contributed six of his own tunes, besides arranging
several covers. One side is tacky ballads, including Webb's absurd
racial harmony tune "When Can Brown Begin" and a Mantovani-like version
of the oft-recorded "Silent Voices," though Webb's "5:30 Plane" is
pleasant. The other side is would-be rockers, including a bizarre
horn-powered version of Joni Mitchell's
"All I Want" - Mitchell's engineer Henry Lewy also engineered this album.
On this side too, most of the material is overobvious, emphatically including Harry
Nilsson's "Paradise" - just one of Webb's compositions, "Once In
The Morning," is worth the trouble. Terrell's voice is crystal-clear but doesn't add any of the personality this disc so desperately needs. The laconic rhythm section is Ray
Rich (drums), Fred Tackett (guitar), Skip Mosher (bass) and Webb on
keyboards; there are strings added to nearly every track. The one tune
Webb wasn't associated with was the lightweight single "I
Guess I'll Miss The Man" written by Stephen Schwartz and produced by
Deke Richards and Sherlie Matthews; it peaked at #85. The only full album by the Wilson-Terrell-Laurence lineup. (DBW)
In 1973 the Supremes released the single "Bad Weather," produced by Stevie Wonder; I think this was Terrell's last hurrah. It sank without a trace, and I don't think it appeared on an album. (JA)
"Bad Weather" has been released on some recent compilation CDs, and I have the 7": it's pleasant enough, but nothing like the 70s Stevie magic you may be hoping for. (DBW)
Touch Me In The Morning (Ross: 1973)
There's such a fine line between the classic orchestrated Motown sound and grating Vegas-style MOR. Ross' debut effort is definitely the former, this is definitely the latter - but they're really quite similar. The devil is in the details: here instead of working with a single, reliable production/writing team, Ross goes with the unwise Motown method of rotating a pile of producer/writers, like Michael Randall, Tom Baird, and Deke Richards. The overblown, but irresistable Roberta Flack-like #1 hit title track was Baird and Michael Masser's, and Randall's lush "All Of My Life" sounds like a hit that could have been.
The rest of the tunes are a motley assemblage: an unimaginative take on John Lennon's "Imagine"; some unconvincing 40's-style jazz numbers that might have been left over from the last album (Rodgers and Hart's "Little Girl Blue"; Baird's "My Baby (My Baby My Own)"); an interesting, but mind-bogglingly tacky eight-minute pop symphony ("Brown Baby/Save The Children"); and "I Won't Last A Day Without You," the next year a really annoying hit for the Carpenters.
Either Jamerson was gone or completely worn out at this point, and the tons of strings, horns, backing vocals, and little production gimmicks often leave the record dated-sounding and gutless. Still, you've got to give all those producer-arrangers some credit for relentless professionalism and ornate craftsmanship. (JA)
Powered by the title single, this album sailed into the Top Five, making this her most successful early 70s release outside of Lady Sings The Blues. "Little Girl Blue" was indeed a leftover from the shelved Blue. (DBW)
Last Time I Saw Him (Ross: 1973)
Continuing the trend of the previous album, more lushly orchestrated, unimaginative supper club music, but this time it flopped. Masser's back with the leadoff single and "No One's Gonna Be A Fool Forever," which is arranged exactly like the Mary Tyler More Show theme. Ron Miller, who'd had success working with Stevie Wonder previously, goes over the top with the ballads "You" and "Sleepin'." Ross even covers the excruciating Harry Belafonte number "Turn Around," and when she starts giving a Vegas-style rap about how beautiful life really is, you may get sick. It's all so phony and soulless that the pseudosoul of "Stone Liberty" (one of the only tracks to feature standard Motown instrumentation) stands out in comparison. Bob Gaudio is responsible for most of the worst music here ("When Will I Come Home To You"), and one hopes he took a lengthy sabbatical after this album was completed. Please spare yourself. (DBW)
Diana & Marvin (Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye: 1973)
You'd think Berry Gordy had learned nothing from the preceding seven years of rapid change in the industry. Though Marvin Gaye had headed into an experimental smooth funk zone, miles from the Vegas stylings Ross was
recording, they were teamed up for a hastily-recorded duets album crafted by a hodgepodge of different songwriters and producers.
Unlike Gaye's duets with Tammi Terrell or Mary Wells, there's no chemistry between these two, and
there's no personality or defining attitude to the selections. Two tracks are by the red-hot team of Thom Bell
and Linda Creed ("You Are Everything" and "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)"), two more are by Marilyn McLeod and Mel
Bolton ("Include Me In Your Life" and "Love Twins"), and there's even one more contribution from Ashford & Simpson ("Just
Say, Just Say"), but they all come across as sappy, characterless ballads. The only plusses are the bearable, uncomplicated
production, mostly by Hal Davis (though Gaudio comes back for an encore on "Pledging My Love"), and the duo's voices, which
are fine despite everything. (DBW)
Live! In Japan (1973)
Yes, there is a latter-day live Supremes album, though it was initially released in Japan only (making it to CD in the States in 2004). Fronted by Jean, the disc is made up mostly of medleys (including a bunch of Diana-era hits), and there are some other curiosities like "Bad Weather" and "Somewhere." Fortunately for my readers I'm certifiably insane, so I may well hunt this down and review it.
Live (Ross: 1974)
Recorded at Caesars Palace, it includes many of the same tracks as
An Evening With - a Lady Sings medley, a Supremes medley - but perhaps it's better.
Arranged by Askey, with backing by the Nat Brandwynne Orchestra (who?) and vocals from The Devastating Affair (double who?).
I have this on LP and will review it in the course of things.
The Supremes (1975)
Flailing wildly, the company brought in a horde of producers, hoping
somebody could make a hit with the group, which now featured Scherrie
Payne on lead vocals (Birdsong also made a brief comeback). But nothing
works: Brian Holland contributed a couple of weak ballads ("Early
Morning Love"), Hal Davis ponied up with a ridiculous attempt at gospel
shouting ("This Is Why I Believe In You"), and track after track is
totally generic ("Color My World Blue"). Payne's voice is fine, but not
nearly enough to save this pile of hackneyed compositions, mostly
midtempo or slow. One of the only signs of life is the frantic "He's My
Man," which climbed to #1 on the Disco chart despite (or because of)
mindless lyrics. Even fans of the post-Diana group should hesitate
before buying this. (DBW)
High Energy (1976)
Lacking any better ideas, Motown turned this whole album over to Brian
Holland. He responded with a decent if low-key effort, heavy on ballads
("Till The Boat Sails Away," "Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You,"
earlier recorded by Dionne
Warwick). He doesn't have any new ideas at all: the title track
is an expansive disco-funk tune recalling early 70s Temptations (with Wah Wah
Watson on guitar), "You Keep Me Moving On" is a ripoff of the Ohio Players' "Fire." The single "I'm Gonna
Let My Heart Do The Walking" only went to #40; the best track is the
closing "You're What's Missing In My Life," folding fluttery strings,
blues guitar, and a hip bass line into the ballad arrangement. Musicians
include James Gadson, Ray Parker,
Joe Sample, Clarence MacDonald and Gary Coleman - not the actor of
"Wutchyoutalkinbout, Willis?" fame, but rather a well-known West Coast session player and father of Lisa Coleman. Birdsong left again during recording; she's present on a couple of tracks with Susaye Green on the rest. (DBW)
Diana Ross (Ross: 1976)
Two #1 hits here, Masser's MOR "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where
You're Going To)" and the wonderful, tempo-shifting disco tune "Love
Hangover," which showcases the languid, sexy side of her voice and
brought Ross back to the R&B mainstream. And none too soon. The rest of
the album reveals the same split between the orchestrated ballads of the
previous few albums ("After You," "I Thought It Took A Little While")
and the catchy soul of the following album (the funky "You're Good My
Child" with a Moog bassline, a cover of Ashford & Simpson's sly "Ain't Nothin'
But A Maybe," Terry McFadden's "One Love In My Lifetime"). She only goes
over the top on the painful "Kiss Me Now" (complete with - so help me
- a Louis Armstrong imitation) and the Charlie Chaplin-penned showtune "Smile" (from the Blue sessions). A transitional
album that ends up showcasing Ross' versatility, with
something for everybody. (DBW)
Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (1976)
The last Supremes album; the group broke up the following year. Brian Holland produced again and wrote most of the songs
with a few collaborators, prominently including Eddie. Arranged by James Carmichael and
Dale Warren. The single "You're My Driving Wheel" climbed all the way to #87.
An Evening With Diana Ross (Ross: 1977)
It really pains me to keep bashing Diana's records like this, but when
they're as kitschy, contrived, passionless and self-congratulatory as this
one, it pains me even more to have to listen to them. A double live album
on one CD, it seems like a faithful reproduction of her stage show, with
rambling monologues, corny show tunes ("The Lady Is A Tramp," "Send In The Clowns"),
brief snatches of her Supremes and solo hits, and a couple of awful, lengthy set
pieces: Harry Nilsson's unfunny suite "The Point" and Marvin Hamlisch's tasteless
ode to show business "One Giant Step." The high point isn't very high: Diana's
renditions of the signature tunes of Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Ethel
Waters and Bessie Smith are more musical than the rest of the show, but
they just spotlight her shortcomings compared to these other artists. The
only Diana-associated tune that gets a full-length rendition is
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and even there the
orchestrations interfere with the enjoyment. She sure sounds like she's
having fun up there, that's the best I can say for this disc. (DBW)
Baby It's Me (Ross: 1977)
This is a highly enjoyable album, produced by Richard Perry, loaded with catchy tunes ("Your
Love Is So Good To Me," "You Got It") and beautiful, jazz-inflected
singing (title track, the single "Gettin' Ready For Love"). The
arrangements are straightforward pop, with some dance and funk
influences; "All Night Lover" pleasantly recalls the
Holland-Dozier-Holland sound. She sounds comfortable and confident,
which isn't always true of her solo work, and often communicates joyous
enthusiasm. Also covers of Stevie Wonder's
"Too Shy To Say" and Bill Withers' "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh."
In 1978, Ross appeared in the film version of The Wiz and the accompanying soundtrack.
Mary Wilson (Wilson: 1979)
The first of just a couple solo Mary Wilson albums we know of, although she's still around and does live appearances
Written by Frank Busey and John Duarte; produced by Hal Davis.
"Red Hot" was a single; after this flopped a planned second album (produced by Gus Dudgeon)
was scrapped. (DBW)
Partners (Payne and Green: 1979)
Scherrie Payne and Susaye Green countered with an album of their own, also a flop. (JA)
Produced by Eugene McDaniels; Ray Charles guests on "Luvbug."
The Boss (Ross: 1979)
- Written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and performed by their usual band (in the seven years since Surrender, the pair had embarked on a successful solo career). As on Diana's debut,
every tune on this record is solid, although the production, often discoish, now sounds somewhat dated. The arrangements are a comfortable background for Diana's voice, both on dance numbers like "No One Gets The Prize" and the terrific "Once In The Morning" and ballads like "Sparkle." The hits were the title track and "It's My House." (DBW)
- If you like disco but think it's often too robotic, simplistic, repetitive, and tuneless, this is the record for you: plenty of great melodies and arrangements that pump the disco formula for all it's worth, even though a few tunes are noxiously light jazzish. (JA)
Diana (Ross: 1980)
Ross never got tired of naming albums after herself, it seems. This album was a monster hit, produced by Chic members Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, who were on an incredible hot streak at the time. The album generated two hit singles: the wonderfully syncopated "I'm Coming Out" may be the best piece of music to ever come out of the Chic camp, and "Upside Down" is also a fine effort, with a sinous guitar line and loads of hooks. The rest of the album is rather thin, though: "Have Fun (Again)" and "Tenderness" are reruns of the standard Rodgers/Edwards formula, and the ballad "Friend To Friend" is tired. Another ballad, "Now That You're Gone" has a
fine slippery melody, which Ross projects with gusto; otherwise, the album's only notable for the singles. The musicians include the rest of Chic - Tony Thompson on drums, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin on backing vocals, and the Chic strings - no other well-known players. Apparently the released version was remixed by a Motown staffer; Rodgers and Edwards' original mix didn't see the light of day until a recent deluxe reissue.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Ross: 1981)
The title remake of the Frankie Lymon hit was a Top Ten single, as was "Mirror Mirror" - both are dated but enjoyable pop-funk. This album also contains the non-duet version of Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" -- it's not the greatest tune to start with, and without Richie there's no spark. Produced by Ross, and she covers a lot of bases: there's a smooth disco tune recalling "Love Hangover" ("Sweet Surrender"), a stomping 50's style rocker ("Sweet Nothings"), a couple of painful, repetitive ballads ("Think I'm In Love," "Two Can Make It");
the album's real embarrassment is the one song Ross co-wrote: a Chic-styled aerobics number that's a campy scream the first time you hear it, but gets old in a hurry ("Work That Body"). The tunes are by a hodgepodge of different songwriters; most of the arrangements are by keyboardist Ray Chew, and there are a lot of second-tier session players like Ralph MacDonald, Yogi Horton and Jeff Mironov. (DBW)
"Why Do Fools..." was also covered by the Beach Boys. (JA)
Not to mention Joni Mitchell. (DBW)
Silk Electric (Ross: 1982)
"Muscles," the hit single produced by Michael Jackson, is kind of a period piece:
released almost the same time as Olivia Neutron-Bomb's "Physical," and in a similar vein. As usual, though, Diana gives her
best to even the most trivial material, and she gives the song more credibility than it ever deserved.
Otherwise self-produced with the same basic band as Why Do Fools, and it's a similar hit-or-miss hodgepodge of
styles; look for a full review soon. (DBW)
Ross (Ross: 1983)
The first half of the record was produced by Gary Katz with a Toto-heavy studio band, and it's formulaic and overobvious: the
horn-backed R&B number ("That's How You Start Over"), the bouncy romantic pop number ("Love Will Make It Right"), the
would-be hard-edged rocker ("Pieces Of Ice" with Joe Walsh on guitar). It's an even more lightweight
version of the Quincy Jones approach, right down to the hired-gun songwriters (including
Michael McDonald). Things get a bit better on the two Ray Parker Jr.-donated tracks, "Love Or Loneliness" and "Up Front," both
of which he wrote and produced: he plays some amusing guitar lines and at least tries to come up with good melodies.
Throughout, Ross sounds like she's on Quaaludes (no, I'm not implying anything), and I suspect only the most hardcore Ross
fan would be happy to have this. (DBW)
Swept Away (Ross: 1984)
The smooth, tender "Missing You" (by Lionel Richie) was the hit here.
The rest of the record is a rather desperate grasp at hipness: "Swept
Away," written and produced by Daryl Hall, is an unsteady mix of soul
and hard rock; Bernard Edwards' "Telephone" is
soft funk; "Nobody Makes Me Crazy Like You Do" is a bit too close to Donna Summer's "I Feel Love"
without that track's urgency. To appeal to the somewhat less hip, Ross
throws in a duet with Julio Iglesias (ably produced by Richard Perry,
but irredeemable). Largely produced by Ross, so she has no one to blame
but herself. The album also includes a torchy cover of Dylan' "Forever Young" which is saved
by a Jeff Beck guitar solo, and a bland reading
of "Rescue Me," a 60s hit for Fontella Bass. (DBW)
Eaten Alive (Ross: 1985)
Produced by Barry Gibb, although the title track was co-produced (and co-written and co-sung) by Michael
Jackson. Gibb's backing vocals are instantly recognizable, and the resultant crosspollinating-nostalgia kick is about all
you'll get from this dull MOR effort. Gibb's production is tasteful to a fault, making the ballads sound like Broadway misses
("More And More"), and the few uptempo tunes are unconvincing, except for the amusing "Crime Of Passion." Jackson drops by
and does some trademark emoting on the title track, which tries desperately to hold your attention, and fails. Ross is a bit
too laid-back, but with no good melodies to work with, she never really had a chance.
The same year, Ross contributed vocals to "We Are The World."
Red Hot Rhythm And Blues (Ross: 1987)
A well-crafted but unremarkable pop record, carefully produced by Tom Dowd (Luther Vandross produced his "It's Hard For
Me To Say"). The tunes are by a whole host of writers, including Leonard Cohen ("Summertime"),
and Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, and they range from danceable pop ("Shockwaves," the relatively racy "Dirty Looks") to
ballads ("Cross My Heart"). Ross is in fine voice throughout, although
she does overreach on "Stranger In Paradise" (not the standard she'd sung on I Hear A Symphony). Ross also
covers the 50s Lieber/Stoller chestnut "There Goes My Baby," which is fine
but unnecessary. Unlikely to be anyone's favorite or least favorite Ross album. (DBW)
Incredible (Payne: 1987)
Apparently there were a couple of charting singles here, but I don't know what they were. (DBW)
Workin' Overtime (Ross: 1989)
Did you ever wonder what Diana Ross would sound like if she pretended to be Janet Jackson? Me
neither. But the answer can be found on this album. Nile Rodgers produces, and serves up the most
vapid, blatant ripoff of the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis sound you could possibly imagine. None of the tunes are interesting; the only one that's effective even as tranced-out house music is "Paradise." Most of the tunes are by Rodgers; a few are by Preston Glass. Ross' voice is completely wasted, since she sings in the half-spoken, breathy style that Janet Jackson uses to cover for the fact that she doesn't have a powerful voice. The only reason to buy this album is if you have a leather fetish -- the shots of Diana in a black leather jacket will probably do it for you. (DBW)
The Force Behind The Power (Ross: 1991)
I'd like to say something good about this record, but nothing is coming
to mind. The compositions and arrangements are tepid, by-the-book adult
contemporary (only the title track, by Stevie
Wonder, is at all lively) and her singing is so dispassionate you
start to wonder if she's bored with the whole business. (DBW)
Walk The Line (Wilson: 1992)
When Wilson's bio Dreamgirl was a bestseller, she kept talking about putting out another solo album, but apparently
nothing happened until this release, nearly a decade later. (DBW)
The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues... Stolen Moments (Ross: 1993)
Maybe the reason Ross sounded so uninterested and uninspired on her last pop album was that she wanted to get back to jazz
standards. In any case, this is easily the best live Ross album I've heard: though it features many of the same tunes from
Lady Sings The Blues, she sings them a hell of a lot more confidently ("God Bless The Child"), using her high clear voice to best effect
instead of imitating others. She's as compelling on the slow numbers ("Lover Man") as on the lively uptempo pieces ("Gimme
A Pigfoot (And A Bottle Of Beer)," "Them There Eyes"). Also, she avoids the pitfalls of her other live recordings: no
ingratiating stage patter, mannered interpretations or tacky medleys.
The players are first-rate jazz cats including Gil Askey (who also arranged), Jon Faddis, Urbie Greene and Roy Hargrove
(horns); Ralph Moore and Justin Roninson (saxes); Barry Harris (piano); Ted Dunbar (guitar); Ron
Carter (bass) and Grady Tate (drums) - nearly everyone gets a solo at some point. Produced by Ben Sidran.
With a run-time over seventy minutes, it's an exceptional value: if you're wondering whatever happened to Ross's talent,
give this a listen.
Take Me Higher (Ross: 1995)
This is generic 90s pop, but it's well done: it doesn't have the feel of a fading star trying to stay hip. Most of the tracks sound like Babyface (he did co-write the sensuous "Keep It
Right There"); there's also a nice ballad courtesy of Brenda Russell ("Let Somebody Know"). She
also throws in a hi-tech cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" -
rather redundant considering that Gaynor's already remade it twice
herself, and it's also been covered by Gladys Knight among others.
There are a ton of photos inside, seemingly intent on making the point
that she still has a great body thirty-five years after entering the
business - you'd think by now people would be able to focus on her voice
rather than her looks or public persona, but that's show biz... (DBW)
Every Day Is A New Day (Ross: 1999)
The same multi-producer, mainstream pop approach as the previous album, but it's slower, and the tunes are less memorable. Arif
Mardin produced three tracks, two dreadful Diane Warren ballads ("Love Is All That Matters," "Someone That You
Loved Before") and his own reasonably enjoyable "He Lives In You," with an African chorus and percussion and a screechy Karen Briggs violin
solo. Ric Wake produced "Until We Meet Again"; Malik Pendleton
contributed four forgettable dance tracks (title cut), the best being the sly "Not Over You Yet"; Babyface
protegé Daryl Simmons oversaw "Hope Is An Open Window" (a rare Ross co-write). But they all sound about the same, with layers of
keyboards and backup vocals, programmed drums, the occasional guitar solo, and Ross's voice - generally passionless - on top. Meanwhile,
Chuckii Booker wrote and produced perhaps the best track on the album, the sinuous 80s soul "Sugar Free."
Hex Hector adds two remixes of "Until We Meet Again," both in the Hi-NRG style I thought was finished by the mid-90s.
I Love You (Ross: 2007)
Love songs handpicked by Ms. Ross, and they're from all over the map: Nilsson's "Remember"; Brenda Russell's "What About Love"; Queen's "Lovely Day"; The Platters' "Only You." There's even one original (title track, by Fred White).
Produced by Peter Asher, and his heavyweight band (including Larry Klein and Dean Parks) moves smoothly from light funk ("I Want You") to 60s pop (a rousing version of "More Today Than Yesterday," originally a hit for The Spiral Starecase). A bit too smoothly, in fact, because they recreate the variety of moods so effortlessly that the record never develops a shape or sound of its own, amid hypergeneric, super-professional takes on The Beatles' "I Will," the Giorgio Moroder-penned Berlin hit "Take My Breath Away," and "The Look Of Love" (which Ross had recorded back in the 60s).
It's still a pleasure, albeit muted, as Ross shines throughout if you can stomach some regrettable song choices ("This Magic Moment"; Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful").
I'm giving you your freedom...