This is a selection of Diana Ross albums that I have not reviewed individually. I have collated brief bite-sized reviews for them here. Like Aretha Franklin, Ross is an artist that put out so many albums that it is a Herculean task to review them all in intricate detail, so I am dealing with some of them in this fashion.
Diana And Marvin (1973)
2. Love Twins
3. Don't Knock My Love
4. You're A Special Part Of Me
5. Pledging My Love
6. Just Say, Just Say
7. Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart
8. I'm Falling In Love With You
9. My Mistake (Was To Love You)
10. Include Me In Your Life
It would seem that this apparently harmonious collaboration between two of Motown's biggest stars in the early seventies was beset with problems. The album of duets between Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross had been mooted once 1970 but Gaye was having problems getting over the death of a previous singing partner in Tammi Terrell. He also felt that singing duets was not a good thing, as both Mary Wells and Kim Weston suffered career contract breakdowns after recording with him. So, he was loth to join up with Ross. He also blotted his copybook by smoking marijuana in the studio (as was his wont) as the then pregnant Ross showed up. Arguments and tension ensued. Then there was the problem of the billing - whose name would be mentioned first. Ross got the nod.
It was surprising, therefore, that the album turned out to be a very successful and polished sounding affair. Some of the material was recorded with the artists in separate studios but you would never have known. The album has a high quality sound throughout - nice and warm with a fine seventies stereo separation and a deep bass sound.
The big hit You Are Everything is very well-known and the two singers combine superbly, as they also do on the lively, semi-funky Love Twins, declaring their love for each other (they weren't a couple). Don't Knock My Love has the pair going funky, impressively. Apparently Ross hated the song and didn't want to record it. It is one of the best cuts on the album for me and she would be singing many tracks like this in three years time and beyond. She no doubt was happier, though, in 1973, with You're A Special Part Of Me, which is a typical Ross big ballad, with Gaye's vocals sounding a bit superficial. He takes the lead, however, on the syrupy ballad Pledging My Love.
Just Say, Just Say is a nice, uplifting, soulful Ashford & Simpson song and Thom Bell and Linda Creed's Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart was an appealing big hit. I'm Falling In Love With You is pretty unremarkable, but My Mistake (Was To Love You) was a fine, Gaye-led very Motown, upbeat and soulful number. It is another of the best songs on the album. Include Me In Your Life is another slow-paced, gentle ballad typical of the album. It was certainly an album with none of the social comment that Gaye was heavily involved in on his material at the time (even Ross got in on the act with Brown Baby). This was full-on, unthreatening romance all the way. The last word maybe should go to Gaye, who said "it's hard for me to deal with prima donnas..".
At the end of 1973, Ross, having given birth to a daughter, returned for another solo album:-
Last Time I Saw Him (1973)
1. Last Time I Saw Him
3. Love Me
6. Turn Around
7. When Will I Come Home To You
8. I Heard A Love Song (But You Never Made A Sound)
9. Stone Liberty
10. Behind Closed Doors
Last Time I Saw Him was a bit of a musical departure, being a bit of a lively ragtime, jazzy piece of vaudeville fun. It was only a minor hit single. No-One's Gonna Be A Fool Forever is a very typical Ross number, with a big, string-backed chorus and some Bacharach/David-style brass backing. This was instantly recognisable as Diana Ross, the early seventies were full of this sort of thing from her. Her stock was falling a bit, though, from doing no wrong in the previous three years of her solo career. Love Me was also a single, and a nice, sensual one but the days of automatic bits hits seemed to be suddenly in the past. Ross would always have a big hit in her, as subsequent years would prove, but it was not a given anymore. Sleepin' is an impressive late-night ballad, with some nice bass and that oh-so-seventies brass sound once more. The lyrics contain a rather mysterious story about a character, Johnny, that they never quite reveal fully.
You is an Aretha Franklin-esque gospelly number. Ross is no Aretha, though, and her voice can't quite match the power that the song requires. The spoken vocal part is unnecessary, too. Turn Around, a Harry Belafonte song, is moving and emotive. This song, in comparison to the previous one, is Ross at her best. When Will I Come Home To You is a catchy, pleasant ABBA-esque love song with a light funk guitar backing on the chorus. Once again, this is where Ross shines.
The last three tracks are all good ones - I Heard A Love Song (But You Never Made A Sound) is an upbeat, slightly rock-ish, brass-driven number with the album's most pounding beat. It has a bit of a sixties Motown feel to it in places. Stone Liberty is a soulful number with a bit of a message to it - female empowerment, and also functioning as simply a song of freedom. It is an unusually hard-hitting song for Ross, lyrically and musically. Charlie Rich's hit country song, Behind Closed Doors, is given a soulful makeover that works well. It would be two and a quarter years before Diana Ross would release another solo (not soundtrack) album.
Diana Ross (1976)
2. I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)
3. Love Hangover
4. Kiss Me Now
5. You're Good My Child
6. One Love In My Lifetime
7. Ain't Nothin' But A Maybe
8. After You
By the time early 1976 had arrived, sweet soul had, to a certain extent, been taken over by the pounding rhythms of disco and Diana Ross got in on the trend early. She would, for subsequent years, be associated as much with classy disco as for her sweeping, polished ballads. The interesting thing about this album is that all the tracks (apart from Smile) have extended, chunkier, bassier alternative versions on the latest release of the album, which I much prefer.
This imaginatively (not) titled album (it was her second eponymous album, would you believe, after 1970's debut) contained two huge hits in the beguilingly beautiful Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To) and the now iconic disco groove of Love Hangover. These were classic examples of the big hits that Ross still had in her armoury. The latter is included in its full seven minute-plus glory. It sort of set the foundations for many disco/soul grooves in the same period and beyond. The way it builds up through a few minutes of slow-burning smooth soul before it breaks out at 2.45 into that instantly recognisable disco riff is one of the song's main strengths. It powers along on the one main riff, like Chic's disco material did. This would be the sound of disco from 1976-1979.
I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love) continues in the same easy, smooth ballad style as the opener, with some laid-back verses and a catchy chorus. Kiss Me Now, however, resists the vaudeville, camp, stagey feel of Last Time I Saw Him (the song) from two years earlier.
After You is a solid, appealing slow number, while Smile is a pleasant enough cover of the 1936 easy listening standard.
For me, this was a fine, varied album of quality soul with some disco diversions that was Diana Ross’s finest solo album thus far. I would always choose the "alternative" version of the album, though, every time. It is grittier, more "street/soul" and less "pop".
More albums will be added in time to this collection of reviews, hopefully.