Diana Ross: A Concert Review: It’s Her House

When it comes to defining superstar look no further than Diana Ross. From the elegance of her smile to her ageless vocals, she is the entire package.

Recently, I saw Ms. Ross’ during her mini-residency at New York City Center. Her final night was Saturday. This was my fourth time seeing Ms. Ross in concert and although my pocket-book feels pain, I feel completely blessed.

Ms. Ross started the concert out with her iconic 1980’s anthem “I’m Coming Out.” The energy in the room was magnetic, drawing all eyes to the stage as one began to hear her fragile, yet demanding voice. The atmosphere turned electric when she stepped on stage.

She quickly followed with a near chronological order of some of her biggest hits and fan favorites. She started out with the timeless tunes from her tenure with the Supremes. These songs have lost none of their splendor with Ms. Ross. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along with her with the likes of “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In The Name of Love.” I don’t think she has aged a day since The Supremes 1962 debut.

It wasn’t soon that Ms. Ross turned to her everlasting solo career with some of her top dance/disco hits, “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Love Hangover.” There are no words for the energy she produced in the room. A few lucky fans were even lucky enough to be chosen by Ms. Ross to come dance alongside her during “Upside Down.”

Although Ms. Ross knows how to throw a party with a song, some of my favorite moments of the concert were when she slowed it down and simply sang. “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going Too)” are always amongst my favorite moments from each show I have seen of hers. For this concert, my favorite moment was when she embarked on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” No one will ever be able to sing a song like Holiday, but Ross also proved that no one can sing a song like her.

Then Ms. Ross began to close the show. This is a process at one of her concerts. It’s hard to come off the high of Ross. She begins with her first solo hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song immediately had me on my feet. And yes, she can hit all the same notes she could when the song was released.

Then comes her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Again, it’s impossible to sit as she walks the stage in her 5th gown of the evening belting a number everybody relates too. This is her closing number, but there is always room for an encore if the audience properly requests it (I’ve been to shows where she hasn’t returned). She closed the night with another one of her early hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”

With each show I see of Ms. Ross’ I have always walked away amazed, not only from her pure musical talent, but the atmosphere she creates for an audience. When the music begins and her smile comes to the stage there is immediately a feeling of acceptance. When Ms. Ross sings she immediately erases your background, race, age, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Her music and presence bring people together. This atmosphere is created through the love she portrays for every fan. It’s seen in the halls of the auditorium and the random dance partners found all over the concert hall.

I had two thoughts as I walked away from this show. First, entertainers just aren’t constructed the same as they once were. Ms. Ross comes from a land where autotune didn’t exist and dancers were not a necessity. She is the fully rounded performer.

My last thought walking away was, “When’s the next show?” I think I could see her a dozen more times and still want to see her again. Not many artists do this for me, and I’m often a tough critic, but it’s not just the music that brings me back. It’s the memories and love that I have wrapped up in her music and celebrity and how she brings this element together amongst everybody in the room. That is what keeps me returning.

Basically, when Ms. Ross enters a room, she makes it her house.

Diana Ross: My Top Ten

As I have pondered over my music collection, I have started to notice a trend. The artists that I go back to repeatedly are oddly my mother’s favorites as well. When she would play these singers for me when I was younger, instead of rebelling and listening to the music of the day, I fell in love with what she liked.

I think this was all part of her plan. She didn’t have a desire, nor did she like the current music. She definitely didn’t want a “rebellious” child listening to the “devil’s music” (I did grow up in Oklahoma). Needless to say, her master plan worked, and she’s had to fund a vinyl addiction since around 2004.

For my third installment for Women’s History Month, I decided to go with one of our favorites, Ms. Diana Ross. My mom and I have gone to see Ms. Ross twice in concert and both times she was impeccable. What I loved most about these shows was what Ms. Ross and her music brought out in my mom….

I found out my mom could dance! She would be a regular on American Bandstand if those moves were still in style. My mom was stopping in the name of love and literally turning upside down. Seriously, my mom totally could have been the white Supreme.

So for this post, I have gathered 10 of my favorite Diana Ross songs. This list is not comprehensive, complete, or in any order. It’s all a little glimpse into one of my musical journeys with my favorite duet partner.

1. “He Lives In You”

The above clip is the first I remember seeing of Diana Ross. In 1999, Ms. Ross starred in the made for television movie Double Platinum along with Brandy Norwood. This movie was an instant hit for my mom, which in turn became a must-see for me (whether I liked it or not). Although she is not performing one of her hits in this clip, I believe it shows how iconic Ms. Ross is. From the dress and staging to her ever fragile yet strong vocals, Ms. Ross captured my heart in this scene.

2. “I Will Survive”

I know this song was not originally Ms. Ross’, but she has made it a staple in her live performances. This song holds a very important memory for my mom and I. We had second-row seats at one of Ms. Ross’ shows in Tulsa and I had brought along Ms. Ross’ first solo album with me to wave in the air. Push literally came to shove and I found myself right by the stage holding this album in the air with a sharpie. I now have a signed album of Diana Ross on my wall, but my mom got so excited she forgot to take pictures.

3. “Summertime”

As I venture down Ross street, I have found many favorites on some of her lesser-known albums. Here is one of my favorite songs from her 1987 album, Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. Fun fact, this song was co-written by Leonard Cohen.

4. “Endless Love”

Most know this song as a duet with Lionel Richie, but she also recorded a solo version on her 1981 album Why Do Fools Fall In Love. I’m a sucker for the original, but I love Ms. Ross’ vocals on this solo recording. She is daring with her vocal technique and it is sung straight from her heart. (Sorry for the odd video, the Spotify link was not working)

5. “It’s My Turn”

This was my first favorite Diana Ross song. I’ve had many since, but I will always love this ballad of independence.

6. “Upside Down”

If I need to dance all I have to do is turn this song on. This track’s electric beat mixed with Ms. Ross’ sassy and sultry vocals makes it one of her best.

7. “The Boss”

At my first Diana Ross concert, she opened with “The Boss.” It was magnetic watching her walking down a stairway belting out “Uhhhhhh….yea…” I’ve never seen an audience jump to their feet so quickly.

8. “Home”

After I had watched Double Platinum a few dozen times, I asked my mom if we could go to Blockbuster and rent another movie Ms. Ross was in. We returned with The Wiz. Over the years as I have moved from home and embarked on my life, I have realized that home is where your mom is. On Mother’s Day a few years ago, I surprised my mom in church and sang this song to her. It holds a special place in both of our hearts.

9. “Touch Me In The Morning”

This song is classic Ross. When she sang this at one of her shows, I began to sing it with her. I didn’t realize how loud I was for a lady turned around to me and told me that I had a nice voice. It was just another great moment brought to me by Ms. Ross.

10. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

I never get tired of hearing this song. As Ms. Ross’ first big solo hit, it serves as a staple in her career, especially in defining her as a solo artist. It differs drastically from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s version. This arrangement is dramatic and literally feels like a musical mountain range. Ms. Ross’ vocals soar over these mountains like a bird going in and out of valleys. It’s one of those songs that is just perfection.

Whew, I don’t want to stop! I could make a list of my 50 top favorite Diana Ross songs, but I thought that would be overkill. Diana Ross is an icon of icons and this list barely touches on her music catalog.

For me, Diana Ross will always hold a very special place in my heart, because she is one of the artists my mom and I love together. She’s always a safe choice when going on long car rides with my mom. There isn’t another artist that compares to Ms. Ross. I hope one day I can thank her for all the joy she has brought to me and my favorite duet partner, my mom.

Check out my full playlist here on Spotify:

 

Back in My Mind Again

We all have those “go-to” artists. I have many of them including Judy Garland, Jack Jones,  and Loretta Lynn. My “go-to” artists are the those I am most familiar with, but the other night I listened to one and it struck a different chord with me.

I’m a sucker for every Supremes album I have ever heard and they are one of my top Supremesfavorites. I prefer “The Supremes,” over “Diana Ross and The Supremes.” Their earlier work, with the late Florence Ballard, possess something much different then their later work (don’t get me wrong though, I love Cindy Birdsong).

Although Ross is the lead in both groups, there is just a sense of sincerity, honesty, and unity in their earlier works. When they took Florence out it wasn’t the same.

Last Friday, June 12th, was the 50th anniversary of “Back in My Arms Again” going number one. I did not realize this was one of their number ones, and it was actually their 5th consecutive number one single. I immediately called my mother and asked her if she remembered this song. I then reminded her how old she is.

That evening I listened to the album that features “Back in My Arms Again,” More Hits By The Supremes. This album contains many of my absolute favorite Supremes’ songs including “Nothing But Heartaches,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and the lesser known “The Only Time I’m Happy.”

51bl0wd2zPL._SY300_The back liner notes are littered with pictures of the Supremes and their world reign as the top female group. As I listened and reflected on their career I am just astonished at what these three young ladies from Detroit were able to achieve through music. They are a cultural staple. Their beauty has out lasted decades and their impact on pop culture is profound.

Many credit the Supremes, and Motown, as making African-American performers acceptable in mainstream pop. The Supremes are at the head of this break through. They, along with artists like Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, were able to rise to fame during America’s difficult Civil Rights Movement. Although they were African-American in segregated America, they still had number one hits and rivaled Beatles fame.

This speaks to the power of music. It doesn’t matter your race, gender, orientation or background, for music transcends all of that. It penetrates straight to your emotions and soul. Due to this phenomenon sometimes history is made and that is exactly what happened with The Supremes. We were taught through their music that music has no tolerance for racism and social immoralities.

It also makes one realize it is never just music. Music, no matter what format, is essential to our history as human beings and a country. It ignites emotions and endorphins that nothing else can. Sometimes it even brings out the best in people and helps correct a long time wrong.

I guess you could say music has a supreme impact.

 

Exploring The 5th Dimension

I remember picking this record up at a thrift store awhile back. It is The Fifth Dimension’s Greatest Hits On Earth. I didn’t think much of it, just that it had a cool cover and I had heard the name. I wasn’t expecting to be schooled in soul, pop, rock, funk, and psychedelic music.

The album opens with “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All.” This song first 5th Dimension 1introduced me to the crooning of the impeccable Marilyn McCoo and The Fifth Dimension’s pristine melodies. This was a good pop/ soft rock mix to get me started.

Up next was their chart toping “Stoned Soul Picnic.” This song is funky and soulful with a sprinkle of psychedelic. It’s a perfect companion piece to “Second Hand News” by Fleetwood Mac. I just want to lay in the tall grass and do my stuff, which may include sassafras, moonshine, and soul.

I loved their classic pop rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “One Less Bell To Answer.” Marilyn McCoo’s vocal interpretation is flawless. She knows the exact moment to hold back and let go.

Next up was their legendary, Grammy Award winning “Aquarius/ Let The Sunshine In.” It was soul and pop, yet that doesn’t perfectly describe it either. It was revolutionary. It is its own genre. I found it interesting that just three months later Diana Ross and the Supremes released an album of the same name and recorded the same two song melody. To have the Supremes cover you is equivalent to conquering the world.

Side B starts with “Save the Country.” This was folk and pop with the added side of soul. It seemed to be a song of hope after the hard fought Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. This song is also a perfect companion piece to Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing in The Street.”

5th Dimension 2Skipping over, we come to “Puppet Man.” This song contained extreme elements of funk. The melody sung by Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue has quite a sexual overtone. I would imagine this could have inspired Marvin Gaye a few years later in his 1973 album Let’s Get it On.

Then came their break-out hit, “Up, Up and Away.” This song was written by the legendary Oklahoman, Jimmy Webb. This song is pop with The 5th’s usual twist. The men and women sang separate melodies and parts resulting in a group duet. Not to mention it showed their vocal range through the songs many drastic changes.

Lastly to close the album, there are live versions of “Never My Love” and “Together Let’s Find Love.” “Never My Love” is a ballad that let’s McCoo’s soulful voice just sail. “Together Let’s Find Love” is a duet between McCoo and her bandmate Billy Davis, Jr. This song brings it all together and is a perfect ending to this compilation.

This album consisted of The 5th Dimensions most successful line up, Billy Davis Jr., Marilyn McCoo, Florence LaRue, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson. This particular greatest hits album came out in 1972. This line up was broken up in 1975 when Davis and McCoo (who were married) left the group to become a singing duo.

Today Davis and McCoo still perform together and are celebrating over 40 years of 5th Dimension 3marriage. Being born again Christians, they give the glory of this accomplishment to God. Florence Larue is the only original member who still tours with a more or less tribute band to the original. As of 2006, McLemore was living in Las Vegas and performing with the group Flashback. Sadly, Townson died of kidney disease in 2001.

It amazes me how versatile this group was and how ahead of their time they were. Although they have been recognized with Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you don’t hear their name enough when talking about legends. Their contributions to music were undoubtedly large and serve a long and still standing tenure.

If you don’t agree, you must be living in the 11th dimension and I am not even sure scientists know what that is yet….