We celebrate the Queen of Motown with our favourite Diana Ross songs.
What is there left to write about Diana Ross? Adored by fans across the world, Miss Ross is one of the most successful recording artists of the twentieth century. She’s an iconic figure whose diva reputation is the stuff of legend.
She has also managed to miss a penalty at a World Cup, despite being given the world’s biggest football to play with.
Love her or loathe her, no one can deny her trailblazing impact upon the music and entertainment business. From her days as one of The Supremes, to her solo career, to her acting success, to her reputation as a stellar live performer, there really isn’t anything left for Diana Ross to achieve. Few artists have opened up the industry for generations of artists and performers like Miss Ross.
This month, still as elegant as ever, Diana Ross turns 75. And what a better way to celebrate than with a selection of our favourite Diana Ross songs. We’ve included songs from her solo career as well as our favourites from her tenure as lead singer of The Supremes. Some of these might not necessarily be her best or most successful in terms of units sold, but they’re the songs that we love the most.
Come See About Me
Interestingly, this classic from The Supremes, wasn’t destined to be released as a single.
The song first appeared on the Where Did Our Love Go album. However, a singer named Nella Dodds had recorded her own version of the song and released it as a single. Alerted to the potential of the song, Motown decided to put The Supremes version out as a single.
Given the brilliance of the production from Holland-Dozier-Holland (H-D-H), complete with the pounding drums intro and the tasty guitar riff, the song shot to Number 1, making it 3 singles in a row to reach the top spot by The Supremes.
Diana’s vocal is slightly higher than normal, contrasted nicely with the relatively low backing vocals of Mary and Flo. It’s one of the best singles The Supremes released, and marked another milestone in their rise to fame.
Stop! In The Name of Love
What can we possibly say about this stone-cold classic? Released in 1965, the song reached number one on the Billboard pop charts and become one of the Supremes’ biggest hits.
Written and produced by H-D-H, the song is pop-soul perfection. The Funk Brothers keep things suitably funky, while the vocals from The Supremes are elegant and sophisticated. Like so many Holland-Dozier-Holland songs, the fast tempo hides the sadness of the lyrics.
Now, if you’ve ever seen the song performed on TV or live on stage you’ll know the choreography: a single hand-gesture, like a police officer signalling “stop”. Legend has it the Supremes were taught this simple but effective move by The Temptations’ Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin. Whoever thought of the choreography did such an effective job that we’re doing it, over 50 years later, in concert along with Diana today.
You Keep Me Hangin’ On
In Motown’s attempt to flog The Supremes to white audiences and book them in places like the Copacabana in New York and the casinos in Vegas, the group were forced to record standards and bland covers in an attempt to broaden the group’s appeal.
Today, unsurprisingly, it’s the original songs that people remember, not the often naff covers the group were forced into recording.
One of the best (if you’re asking us) songs the Supremes ever recorded is ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, an absolutely brilliant song and production. It’s yet another typical H-D-H song, in which Diana plays a woman pleasing for her man to let her go and stop giving her hope that their relationship is salvageable.
Once again, the sad lyrics are masked by the up-tempo funky beat generated by The Funk Brothers.
From the opening panning of left-to-right guitar in the stereo mix, to the pounding rhythm, to the sassy delivery of Ross, this is undoubtedly one of The Supremes’ finest moments.
I Hear A Symphony
Unlike other H-D-H hits for The Supremes, I Hear A Symphony is far more restrained, lacking the standard H-D-H beat the Supremes rode on hits like “Where Did Our Love Go?”, “Come See About Me” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”.
Instead of giving the public more of what they loved, H-D-H gave their formula a subtle reworking for ‘I Hear A Symphony’, undoubtedly one of the trio’s best compositions.
The song has a restrained quality to it. H-D-H presumably knew that although their trademark formula was a hit, it also ran the risk of repeating itself (after all, they did write a song for The Four Tops called ‘It’s The Same Old Song’). H-D-H therefore did something different with ‘I Hear A Symphony’, taking a much more subtle approach.
Diana vocals have a warmth that would sometimes get lost in the more uptempo songs, but here her voice just glides across the elegant backing from The Funk Brothers. She rarely plays this song live anymore, which is a travesty given how utterly brilliant the song is.
By 1968 Motown was in a brief state of turmoil. Holland-Dozier-Holland had left the company and were suing Berry Gordy over royalties. With Motown’s most successful writing and producing team gone, several acts, including the re-vamped Diana Ross & The Supremes, began to suffer. After two singles on the group failed to chart (‘Some Things You Never Get Used To’ and ‘Forever Came Today’), Berry knew he had to take action to prevent a third failure.
Berry checked into a suite in a hotel in Detroit and brought with him some of Motown’s most talented writers, including Frank Wilson, R. Dean Taylor, Pam Sawyer and Hank Crosby. Berry effectively kept them in that suite until they had written a song for Diana and the Supremes. The result was ‘Love Child’, fantastic song that was a marked change from the group’s previous singles.
The song told the story of a girl telling her boyfriend to stop pressuring her to have sex out of fear that they’ll have a love child. In the song, Diana is a love child herself, and tells a story of living in poverty growing up. It was a real shift in the fairly generic boy-girl love songs that the group were previously given to record, but it worked. The song went to number one on the pop charts.
Although the song was billed as being from Diana Ross & The Supremes, neither Mary Wilson or Cindy Birdsong (who had joined the group as original member Florence Ballard was fired) performed on the song. Instead, Motown used their in-house backing group The Andantes to provide the backing voices on ‘Love Child’, a trend that would continue until Diana left the group.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
After the success of Love Child, someone at Motown the idea to combine their two most popular groups: Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations. It turned out to be a pretty good idea and resulted in two albums and a live television special, and live album.
Now, much of the material the group’s recorded together was pretty mediocre covers of soul and Motown songs, including a simple cover of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ (the Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye version).
However, their version of ‘’I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ is a real treat. The song, written by Jerry Ross and Kenny Gamble (the same Gamble of Gamble & Huff fame), was originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne. A minor hit for Dee Dee, but in the hands of the Motown producers, it was a big hit for the two groups.
Diana (obviously) sings the female lead, playing off gently with the male lead delivered by Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations. Otis Williams, who rarely sang lead, worked with Diana to craft a spoken word section in the song (something that over the years has become Otis’s niche on records).
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
When Diana Ross left The Supremes, most assumed it would be Diana who would have the first major hit. Indeed, her first solo single, ‘Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand) was a Top 20 hit in the US (although it stalled at #33 in the UK Singles Chart).
Meanwhile, no one really expected The Supremes to do much without Diana Ross. But, surprisingly, the group hit success with their first single without Diana, the soulful ‘Up The Ladder To The Roof’. With their new lead singer Jean Terrell, the group had a new sound and, for a time, it looked like they might survive the loss of Diana Ross.
With the tepid success of ‘Reach Out And Touch’ and the re-vamped Supremes, the pressure was on to ensure Diana had a smash hit. Thankfully for Diana and Motown, Ashford & Simpson were on hand.
The song writing duo brought Diana a re-worked version of their 1967 hit ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The original version was such a brilliant tune that a simple cover would not suffice (in fact, The Supremes had covered the song with The Temptations a few years earlier).
The song was completely overhauled. Instead of having Diana sing the original lyrics, Ashford & Simpson gave her new spoken word verses to perform, while allowing her to sing the rousing chorus. They also added in gospel-like backing vocals and a phenomenal string arrangement played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was unlike anything Diana, or Motown, had released at that point and, legend has it, Berry Gordy was at first unhappy with the result.
Berry need not have worried. A single version, culled from the longer album version (coming in at over 6 minutes long), was a number one hit on both the pop and R&B singles charts. It even earned Diana a Grammy nomination.
The song would become Diana’s signature, and the centrepiece in her live shows. Luckily for us there have been several live versions released over the years: one from Live At The Caesars Palace album (which is stunning, aided by the gospel backing vocals), one from the An Evening With Diana Ross album, and one from her Greatest Hits Live album (recorded at Wembley, this version is also great).
But if you’re going to listen to one version of this classic, it has to be the full album version. The arrangement and orchestration by Ashford & Simpson is incredible, and Diana delivers perhaps her greatest performance on record.
Touch Me In The Morning
In 1973, Diana Ross was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the film Lady Sings The Blues. So determined was Berry Gordy that Diana should win the award, he (and by extension Motown) went to extraordinary lengths to promote Diana to the Academy.
Yet it backfired, and she lost to Liza Minelli. Motown was shocked. The company had banked heavily on a Diana Ross Oscar win, and had recorded an album of jazz and blues to release once she had won, to make the most of her win. Yet, with the loss the album was canned (the Blue album would be released decades later).
Motown decided to change direction, and out of disappointment came one of the biggest and best hits Diana would ever record, the stunning ‘Touch Me In The Morning’.
Written by Ron Miller and Michael Masser the song would help reinvigorate Diana’s solo career, as well as transitioning her towards more pop material Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, the change of direction was only slight as Motown had always aimed at making Diana a mainstream pop star.
But it’s more than just your average, run-of-the-mill love song; it’s a sophisticated ballad perfectly suited to a diva of Diana Ross’s calibre, and one of her finest singles. Diana’s vocal glides across a beautiful arrangement by Ron Miller but, according to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, the recording of the song was far from plain sailing.
Taraborrelli claims that Ron Miller, keen to give the song a dramatic flare, arranged and orchestrated the song in D flat, a higher key than Diana wanted to record in. When Diana arrived to record the song at first went ballistic, but Ron fought back, and eventually lied to Diana saying it was in her key and he would prove it. Diana, recording at night after spending the day with her kids, gave in and gave one of her best vocal performances.
Who knew lying to a diva could be a good idea?
Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)
On paper a collaboration between Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye is a recipe for instant success. It’s 1973 and Diana is on the cusp of becoming a major international superstar, while Marvin Gaye has come into his own as a writer and producer. What could go wrong?
Well, quite a bit actually. By this point Marvin Gaye wouldn’t record without the use of marijuana. So, on the first day of recording, a pregnant Diana Ross asked Marvin to stop smoking while recording. Marvin refused. Infuriated, Diana refused to record with Marvin if he was to smoke joints all the time, and stormed out.
Salvaging the project, producer Hal Davis had the two record their parts separately, and you can tell listening to the album.
It’s not all bad, however. The album featured two covers of The Stylistics, ‘You Are Everything’ and ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’. The latter is a favourite of ours, and is sounds pretty good. Listening to it you can’t help but wonder what would have been produced if Diana and Marvin had recorded together, and put their whole into it.
Although Motown seemed to have an aversion to disco, Diana Ross possessed almost the perfect voice for the genre. Yet, reportedly, Diana was at first dismissive of recording disco. For established soul acts, disco was an alien art form, formed of generic beats and rhythms and less than inspiring lyrics. As a company, Motown struggled in the disco era and, with few exceptions (Love Hangover included), struggled to get it’s acts firmly on the disco bandwagon.
However, when Motown did disco well the results were stunning, as they are on Love Hangover. According to Ed Hogan on AllMusic, Hal Davis, the song’s producer had the engineer of the session Russ Terrana rig up a disco light in the studio, to set the vibe for the track. If true, it certainly worked. ‘Love Hangover’ would go to Number 1 on the Billboard charts and would earn Diana another Grammy nomination.
Now there is a single version of Love Hangover, but what you really want is the near-8 minute album version. Producer Hal Davis really elongated the lead-in before launching into one of the finest disco grooves ever produced.
Interestingly, Hal Davis would go onto perfect his Motown-styled disco a year later, with the release of Thelma Houston’s version of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Rumour has it Diana herself was scheduled to record the vocal but in the end Thelma Houston had the hit.
Getting’ Ready For Love
Produced by Richard Perry, ‘Getting’ Ready For Love’ is part-disco, part-jazz, part-pop. It’s a hard song to define. But, perhaps, that’s what makes it so good.
Perry, who had previously recorded an album with Martha Reeves when she had left Motown, brought together a collection of elegant pop-soul songs, intended to create an album with one sound. Previous records from Diana, with multiple producers, seemed too often lack a cohesive sound – one minute you’d be hearing ‘Love Hangover’, then you’d flip the record and hear something completely different.
The resulting album, Baby It’s Me, was released in 1977, but Motown didn’t seem to promote the album particularly well, including failing to release a single until after the album was released. The album did get some radio play, as did ‘Getting’ Ready For Love’, but the album would be dwarfed by the success of Diana’s last two albums at Motown: The Boss and diana.
On the back of two disappointing albums in terms of sales (Baby It’s Me and Ross), Motown had Diana reunite with long-time collaborators Ashford and Simpson for 1979’s album The Boss.
Diana had just starred in the movie adaptation of The Wiz and although now considered somewhat of a cult classic (the film also starred Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones did the music) the box office sales were pretty poor given the talent in the film. She had also come off the disappointment of the Ross album, and her career teetered on the edge.
Reuniting Diana with Ashford and Simpson was a masterstroke. The duo, who had crafted some of the most elegant and sophisticated Motown classics, had fared well in the disco era, able to adapt to emerging trends in the music business like few others.
The Boss is certainly one of Diana’s best solo albums, and the title track is pure disco joy. The slick disco-groove combined with Diana’s playful vocal was a smash on the disco dancefloors, as was ‘No One Gets The Prize’.
If you’re looking for an extended version of ‘The Boss’, you’re in luck. Not only is there a 12″ mix on the expanded edition of the album, legendary DJ and remixer John Morales released his M&M mix of the song on his Club Motown compilation and French DJ-extraordinaire Dimitri From Paris has also released a remix of his own.
It’s My House
Also taken from The Boss album, ‘It’s My House’ is one of Diana’s best known solo singles despite the fact that it didn’t chart on the pop charts when it was released. Which is surprising given how great the song is. It’s not a disco dancefloor filler like ‘The Boss’, but it grooves nonetheless.
I’m Coming Out & Upside Down
As the sun was setting on the disco era, Diana Ross hired two of the genre’s biggest stars to write and produce what would be her last true album on Motown.
First, a little context is needed. By 1979 the largely white backlash to disco was in full flow. DJs were burning disco records at sporting events, and disco records quickly went out of the pop mainstream.
Yet Diana still hired Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, two of disco’s architects, whose Chic records and work with Sister Sledge had made them two of the hottest writing and producing duos in the business, even as disco went down the pan.
After meeting backstage at a Chic gig, Diana hired the duo to produce her next album. At a meeting Diana, according to Nile Rodgers in his memoirs, claimed that “This is a time of major change in my life and everything is going to be 180 degrees different from now on… I’m actually looking forward to turning my world around.” And there was the inspiration for ‘Upside Down’.
The inspiration for ‘I’m Coming Out’, however, was somewhat different. In the bathroom of a New York drag club, Nile spotted 3 drag queens dressed as Diana Ross. Realising what Diana meant to the LGBT community, he wondered “[w]hat would it be like… if Diana celebrated her status among gay men in a song?”
Sharing the story with his collaborator Bernard Edwards, the other half of CHIC, the two wrote the smash ‘I’m Coming Out’.
At first, Diana was excited about the song and the rest of the album that she had recorded with Nile and Bernard. However, Diana didn’t initially know what the phrase ‘I’m Coming Out’ meant. DJ Frankie Crocker, an influential DJ in New York, took one listen to the song, informed her what the song meant, and came to the conclusion that it would ruin Diana’s career.
Eventually, Nile claims, he was able to persuade Diana that the song was more than just a gay anthem: it was a song about her, changing directions with her music and declaring her independence from Motown as she was about to leave the company behind. Indeed, the song would signify her transition from Motown star to independent super-star.
Whether Diana bought the speal from Nile, we don’t know. Either way, it’s arguably her finest record to date. The song itself is superb, the backing from Nile and Bernard (and others from the Chic world) is infectious, and it’s topped off with a corker of a trombone solo from Meco Monardo (who, interestingly, released the Star Wars disco cover albums).
Yet, Diana and Motown still weren’t sold on the song nor the rest of the album (titled diana) that Nile and Bernard had produced. Berry Gordy said that it was “not a Diana Ross record”. Motown demanded that Nile and Bernard hand over the tapes they’d produced on Diana and handed them over to in-house engineer and remixer Russ Terrana.
In the Expanded Edition linear notes, Russ Terrana said that upon first hearing the recordings Nile and Bernard had made, “[i]t seemed like a Chic album with a Diana Ross voice. It wasn’t a Diana Ross album”. Russ was left to remix the album, after all he’d been mixing Diana’s albums since she was in The Supremes. If anyone was going to salvage the album for release, Russ could.
The result was a much smoother, less-Chic mix that sounded more like a Diana Ross than the original mixes.But Nile and Bernard didn’t like the new Motown mix: “we hated it” claimed Nile in his memoirs, “and were furious about what had happened to our masterwork”.
Not that Motown cared about their thoughts. The album was released and was a smash, selling over a million copies, with ‘I’m Coming Out’ and ‘Upside Down’ becoming two of her biggest singles of all time.
It’s also given her the perfect song to open her live shows with. There’s nothing quite like hearing Diana Ross shout “I’M COMING OUT” before she appears, in full ball-gown and feather boa. Mesmerising.
One More Chance
To capitalise on the success of diana Motown put out the To Love Again compilation, bringing together new recordings and previously released material. Diana was about to leave Motown for RCA, which probably explains why the album was padded with previous hits such as ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ and ‘Theme From Mahogany’.
However, the compilation did feature one excellent new recording, ‘One More Chance’. It’s a typical Diana Ross ballad with everything you might expect from such a song. Produced by Michael Masser, Diana appears pushed to her vocal limits at one point, nearly growling towards the end.
A great song, even if the album was perhaps a disappointing end to Diana’s first stint at Motown. She would leave the label for a reportedly $20 million deal at RCA where she would also write and producer herself. It was a deal she couldn’t say no too, but eventually she would return to Motown.
One of Diana’s better post-Motown singles, ‘Missing You’ was recorded as a tribute to Marvin Gaye after his tragic death in 1984. The song itself was written by Lionel Richie, and produced by Richie and his long-time collaborator James Carmichael.
In the accompanying music video, images of Marvin feature prominently, but in a touch of class, pictures of ex-Supreme Florence Ballard also appears (Florence died in 1976, aged just 32), as well as images of Paul Williams of The Temptations (Paul committed suicide after leaving the group in 1974, aged just 34).
This is undoubtedly one of, perhaps the most, cheesiest song that became a hit for Diana Ross. Written and produced by the Bee Gees (including them singing backing vocals), ‘Chain Reaction’ would become one of her biggest post-Motown solo singles. Taken from the Eaten Alive album, the song would be Diana’s second Number 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Yet, the song didn’t fare as well on the American charts.
The music video itself is a thing of wonder. Diana is at her most diva, complete with several costume changes and settings that seemed to gently poke fun at her diva reputation. Hilariously, it also saw Ross, in a bright red dress, strapped onto what can only be described as a huge Catherine wheel.
Take Me Higher
I confess, I was not familiar with this song until I saw Diana play Vegas in 2017 (which you can read about here). But what a song it is, even if the sound is somewhat dated now.
Released in 1995 the Take Me Higher album is one of Diana’s better efforts in the nineties, and given it’s more dance-orientated sound, was a bigger hit in Europe and the UK than in America.
Perhaps the most famous performance of the song was when Diana included it in her slot at the Super Bowl Half Time Show in 1995. The whole performance is incredible (you should watch it here immediately) and featured a whole host of extras, several costume changes and, if it couldn’t get any better, a helicopter landing in the middle of the football pitch to airlift Diana Ross out of the stadium. Top that, if you can.