Diana, Doris And Bobby (Soul April 25th 1970)

The highest new entry on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for April 25th 1970 was the debut solo single by a singer for whom her label had the greatest of expectations. In the preceding 10 years Tamla Motown’s commercial, artistic & indeed cultural influence had become the most incredible story in American popular music. The company began the new decade with the launch & instant success of the Jackson 5. It was now the turn of their biggest female star to take centre stage.

 

 

Diana Ross (1970) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

 

Diana Ross : Diana Ross (1970) (LP, Vinyl record album) -- Dusty ...Diana Ross had already sung on 12 US Pop #1 records with the Supremes, a trio that her name had been at the front of since 1967. For her debut LP she was placed with husband & wife writer/producers Nikolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson who provided 10 of the 11 songs, a surprising 6 of which had been previously recorded by other Motown acts. “Reach Out & Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was the lead single & it sold 500,000 copies, more than respectable for any single. While it’s now one of Ms Ross’ signature songs #20 on the Pop chart & #7 R&B was lower than expected particularly while “Up the Ladder to the Roof”, the first 45 by the Supremes without Diana hit #10 & #5 respectively.

 

The “Diana Ross” LP is undoubtedly a fine record & the next single, a remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, a hit for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, put Diana right back at the top, achieving the double whammy of #1 Pop & R&B. Despite this Motown rushed her back into the studio with staffer Deke Richards & another album “Everything Is Everything” was released in November 1970. There were more modern standards, 2 Beatles songs, Bacharach & David, Aretha Franklin & on the cover, after the previous dressed-down, doe-eyed, elfin look Diana was much more glam. Diana Ross was already an American musical icon before she started a solo career. Whether she was singing big, positive, emotional ballads or songs custom-made for her by the Bee Gees & Chic, new music from her was an event anticipated by her millions of fans & she remained a major star for over 30 years.

 

 

 

After a week in the Top 10 Doris Duke’s “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”, a top shelf example of Deep Soul, was sliding down the chart to #21. Doris Curry, born in Georgia, had moved to New York to see what opportunities were offered by the music business. In 1966, now Doris Willingham, there was a single & regular gigs as a back-up singer at the Apollo theatre & for recording sessions. A spot as a member of Nina Simone’s touring band was certainly prestigious. In 1969 Doris was introduced to Jerry Williams Jr a performer/songwriter who was re-inventing himself as Swamp Dogg & setting up his own production operation. Mr Dogg made a deal with Phil Walden, the former manager of Otis Redding, so the pair headed off to the new Capricorn studio in Macon Georgia to make an album.

 

Soulful Detroit: Wonder B - 'The Wonder-photo Man' - 1Swamp’s vision was to make Soul “concept” albums & “I’m A Loser” is a collection of lovelorn, love-weary songs from the perspective of a grown woman. With Doris’ strong, Gospel-inflected vocals getting understated support from the talented Capricorn Rhythm Section (that’s got to be Duane Allman on “Ghost of Myself”) it really is Southern Soul at its best. The remarried Doris Logan became Doris Duke & they were ready to go.”To the Other Woman”, written by Swamp & Gary US Bonds, a Rock & Roller from the early 1960s, is a strong almost Country ballad, the lyrics unusual & distinctive enough to be memorable & to stand out when heard on the radio. It & the more upbeat follow up “The Feeling Is Right” both made the R&B chart.Doris objected to having little input in the recording process beyond providing vocals to finished tracks & her relationship with her producer was never a good one. The pair did record another LP together, “A Legend In Her Own Time” & then only because of the previous success. Swamp Dogg had his own thing going on, an album & a single rising up the chart. We’ll get to this in a couple of weeks.

 

 

Eclectic Vibes — Sam Cooke's Widow Marries Bobby Womack 77 Days...Further down the Top 50, stalled at #41, was a singer on the way to restoring his reputation as a significant talent. In 1964 Bobby Womack, with his sister-in-law Shirley wrote “It’s All Over Now” for the family group the Valentinos & a cover version by the Rolling Stones became that group’s first UK #1. Later in the year the untimely death of Sam Cooke, Bobby’s idol & mentor was a great blow. A hurried marriage to Barbara, Sam’s widow, met with disapproval from the Cooke family & a reluctance from radio stations to give airtime to his records. In Memphis Bobby found a place at American Studios where he played on many sessions, having a couple of his songs picked up & put on the chart by Wilson Pickett. “I’m In Love” & “I’m a Midnight Mover” featured on his 1969 debut LP. Covers of “Fly Me To the Moon” (the title track) & California Dreamin'” were R&B Top 20 singles.

 

Bobby Womack Soul Funk Art Poster | Etsy“More Than I Can Stand” is taken from the “My Prescription” album, a disc I don’t own but I know every song. Bobby was hitting his soulful stride with a mix of original songs & sometimes unlikely covers (“Everyone’s Gone To the Moon” & “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”) with great backing from his friends the session men at American. “Communication” (1971) &, after a move to Muscle Shoals, the self-produced “Understanding” (1972), with “I Can Understand It” & “Harry Hippie”, continued the run. I have a “best of…” from these first 4 records & it’s a double album. In the future Bobby’s title track for the “Across 110th St” movie became an instant & abiding classic. In 1981 the LP “The Poet” was something of a revival & while his subsequent recordings reflected changing times & styles he kept his essential qualities. The self-styled & justifiable “only survivor left in town” kept on until his passing in 2014. In 1970 Bobby Womack had already laid the foundation of his reputation, by the time he was done he was a legend.

Marvin Gaye (the duets)

I can’t muse upon Motown without thinking of the duets recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. There are other man/woman duets which I rate as highly. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s, “Some Velvet Morning” has a mystery, an otherness. “Love Hurts” in the hands and voices of Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris  is melancholy beauty defined. The songs of Marvin & Tammi are joyous, potent & young, everything you want from cheap popular music. They make me happy.

The songs have the same effect on others. Whoever has enhanced the sights and sounds of this clip has done us all, and the song, a big favour. Marvin was Motown’s biggest male star but not the happiest. He had come from the church and was looking to go to cabaret. His idol was Nat “King” Cole, Marvin wanted to croon. Tammi was not a star at all. The care he shows for the young Mod girl, helping her through the nonsense of record promotion, adds to the already immense charm and chemistry of their songs. I am not going to dwell on the tragedy of her collapse while onstage with Gaye in 1967. That and her failure to recover (she died, aged 24 in 1970) contributed to a new maturity on Gaye’s part. His subsequent recording of the best LP recorded in the history of popular music, “What’s Going On”, stands as a fine tribute.

A young couple (later married) Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, wrote the songs. It is their dual voices which make the songs so effective. They are written to be sung as duets. Reliable sources have said that Simpson sang on the later records as Tammi was too ill to record. Others, around at the time, have challenged this. I really don’t care. This was released as Marvin & Tammi & that’s how I first loved it. “Good Lovin” was not a big hit in the UK, the inferior “Onion Song” made a bigger impression. This song is such a personal favourite.

The record label were eager to put the “King and Queen of Motown” together. Marvin was not as enthusiastic. When he finally agreed there were delays for the producers, Ashford & Simpson (their last job for Motown). The record was released in 1973. The stories from the making of the record are very funny. The pair were not the best of friends and both possessed a sizeable ego. Not surprisingly I take Marvin’s side in most of the arguments. If he needed a joint or two to ease his voice then…& why is the LP not titled “Marvin & Diana”?

The producers only had two songs for the couple. They turned to a new hit factory over in Philadelphia for two songs which had already been hits. Thom Bell & Linda Creed wrote “You Are Everything” a hit for the Stylistics. The song is not a duet rather a song they sing together. Marvin was no-ones backing singer & rose to the occasion for his performance. He joins Diana for the first chorus and then sings the second verse himself. I still find this to be one of the loveliest, most affecting vocal performances I have ever heard. Marvin is really trying on this one.

Detroit dream girls (the supremes)

The Supremes’ story is now part of pop music’s DNA. The promotion of Diana Ross at the expense of her friends. The reaction of Florence to this marginalisation leading to her being dumped from the world’s leading female act & to a sad demise. It has become one of the folk tales of the 60s. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, developing a self-belief & a sound that would affect the world or the separation of Brian Jones from the group that he thought he led, it has been told & re-told from many different perspectives. We think we know the “truth” of these stories. We don’t need Carl Jung to come over & explain to us how a culture develops it’s own myths & legends.

Well…”Forever Came Today”. What a great pop single this is. The third single released as Diana Ross & the Supremes burns with a slow fuse before building to a fine dramatic climax. The “Reflections” LP introduced a touch of psychedelic soul to the hit sound but this track eschews the gimmicks and excess of the title track. The restraint of the arrangement, in the verse the electric piano is joined by a tambourine as a lead instrument, adds to the power of the song.

These were turbulent times at Hitsville & not just for the Supremes. Holland-Dozier-Holland, the writers responsible for the group’s amazing run of winners (10 #1 hits) were unhappy. They slowed their song production & were planning a future away from Motown. “Forever” was the last 45 they wrote for the girls. Recorded in 1967, released early in 1968, it was the first record of their’s to miss the top 20 since their success had begun & the first record to use session singers in place of the harmonies of “and the Supremes”. By the end of 1968 the Supremes were back in the top 10. Lamont Dozier & the Holland brothers had left Motown in a blizzard of suit & counter-suit.

There are clips of the Supremes promoting their world-wide smash of the 1967  summer of love, “The Happening”, with Florence. In others Cindy Birdsong (wonderfully, her real name) had tip-toed into her place. Two singles later Ed Sullivan was introducing Cindy as part of a group who promoted all their releases on Sullivan’s prime time TV show. The group always had their best new frocks on for these performances. Anyone who wants a view of the range of 60s fashions only has to check on the Supremes’ photos. Whether dressed like Vogue models or in more “street” clothes they were never less than immaculate.

The performance shows how Diana was now the focus. Her ambition can be criticized but she could sure sell a song. However, the Sullivan house band are not the Funk Brothers. This absence of groove makes for a pretty insipid result & perhaps influenced the song’s eventual sales. I have included this clip because it shows Mary Wilson at her best despite the exclusion from recording & the absence of her chidhood friend.

The Supremes first came to the UK on the back of a 2nd hit with “Baby Love”. They appeared on Top of the Pops in quite low cut dresses & made an immediate impression on my young self. I had never seen beautiful, young Afro-American women on British TV before. It was Mary who made the biggest impression. Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti, Julie Christie, for myself  Mary Wilson joins that list of great 60s beauties. Diana can smile & over-emote , she can take the majority of the camera shots. Show me a clip of the Supremes in the 60s & I only have eyes for Ms Wilson…and there ain’t nothing I can do about it !

I have been looking around for a clip to show just how good the Supremes could be. The early appearances are in black and white. They often sang live with a white bread band making little effort to emulate the sound of the record because that would be impossible. I have settled on the breathless rush of “You Can’t Hurry Love”,often copied but never bettered. This is another great pop record from Tamla Motown.