Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Diana Ross

  • Diana Ross [Motown, 1970] C+
  • Everything Is Everything [Motown, 1970] C+
  • Surrender [Motown, 1971] B
  • Lady Sings the Blues [Motown, 1972] B+
  • Touch Me in the Morning [Motown, 1973] C
  • Diana Ross [Motown, 1976] B-
  • Diana Ross' Greatest Hits [Motown, 1976] B+
  • Baby It's Me [Motown, 1977] C+
  • An Evening With Diana Ross [Motown, 1977] B-
  • The Boss [Motown, 1979] B
  • Diana [Motown, 1980] A-
  • All the Great Hits [Motown, 1981] B
  • Workin' Overtime [Motown, 1989] C+
  • The Force Behind the Power [Motown, 1991] Dud
  • Blue [Motown, 2006] Dud
  • I Love You [Manhattan, 2006] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Diana Ross [Motown, 1970]
The sound of young America grows older, replacing momentum with progress and exuberance with nuanced cool. Producers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson provide all but one of the songs--they've written a couple of great ones for Marvin & Tammi in the past. Unfortunately, the same couple (of songs) provide two of the three high spots here. And there ain't no high spot high enough. (Catalogue number: S-711.) C+

Everything Is Everything [Motown, 1970]
If I'm not mistaken (and let's face it, that's possible) this is an answer record to Aretha's This Girl's in Love With You. A little heavier on the corporate consultants, granted, but she does cover Aretha's own "Call Me" as well as several Beatles numbers and Bacharach-David's Carpenters (instead of Herb Alpert) hit. Blame its inferiority on the inferiority of her corporate consultants--and on her own. C+

Surrender [Motown, 1971]
This time the hits Ashford & Simpson have written for Diana were written for Diana, which minimizes embarrassing comparisons. And the verve of side two--where Motown finally learns how to kowtow to Broadway and keep the songwriting royalties--suggests that she's learning to hold her own. B

Lady Sings the Blues [Motown, 1972]
Billie Holiday is uncoverable, possibly the greatest singer of the century, yet the fact is that Ross's versions--which occupy only two sides of this soundtrack album--are intensely listenable. That's the word I want, because it doesn't fit Holiday, who either seizes your full attention or disturbs you in the background. While copying Holiday's phrasing and intonation, Ross smoothes them out, making the content easier to take without destroying it altogether. This may be a desecration and a deception, but it speaks to the condition of a ghetto child who's always had a talent for not suffering, for willing herself up and through. Not every singer turns into a junkie, after all. B+

Touch Me in the Morning [Motown, 1973]
One advantage of imitating Billie Holiday's vocal style is that you get to sing Billie Holiday's material. Another is that you get to sing like Billie Holiday. C

Diana Ross [Motown, 1976]
This is a generally catchy album by the sad standards she's settled for, but beyond Ashford & Simpson's gorgeous, mournful "Ain't Nothin' but a Maybe" and the seven intoxicating minutes of "Love Hangover" it's often catchy-annoying rather than catchy-compelling or at least catchy-fun. Major offenders: "Theme From Mahogany," the boop-nostalgia "Smile," and its clone, "Kiss Me Now," which captures her at her archest. (Catalogue number: M6-861.) B-

Diana Ross' Greatest Hits [Motown, 1976]
I'd hoped this would drag me kicking and giggling to rock and roll perdition, just like the old Motown best-ofs. Instead I found I had to learn to like it. Which I did, eventually--these are good pop tunes for the most part, and her "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" sounds more valid now than it did when Marvin & Tammi were fresh in my ear. But rock and roll perdition is beside the point, because this isn't rock and roll. B+

Baby It's Me [Motown, 1977]
I've got nothing special against Richard Perry, although he used to find more interesting songs--and songwriters, which since he's now developed his own stable is more relevant. But even when he made interesting records he tended to push the epicenters of eccentric artists toward the middle of the road, and that's not what Diana needs. Her problem isn't her vocal limitations, although she's obviously no Betty Carter, but her blank taste. What if the best of the slick trivia here were combined with, I don't know, a good '30s pop tune done straight, a blues, something obscure by Al Green, something familiar by a non-Motown girl group? Might be worth hearing, and Perry could make it happen. Yeah sure. C+

An Evening With Diana Ross [Motown, 1977]
The band could be Doc Severinsen's and the rushed tempo medleys are maddening, but the vivacity in this live double-LP is palpable. I haven't gotten such a good idea of what the fuss is about since Lady Sings the Blues. B-

The Boss [Motown, 1979]
In which La Suprema passes a crash course at the Ashford & Simpson School of Total Adult Fulfillment, although not with As. It's her house, she wants your good lovin' once in the morning and once in the evening, she'll compete and regret it, she'll cooperate and be glad, and she shall survive, because she's the boss. Quite smart, quite sexy, but sometimes dull--it doesn't do much for A&S's crash material that there's only one singer. B

Diana [Motown, 1980]
The right-every-which-way "Upside Down" and all-purpose gay lib pep song "I'm Coming Out" are only the highlights: not since Lady Sings the Blues has Ms. R. been forced into such a becoming straitjacket. Her perky angularity and fit-to-burst verve could have been designed for Rodgers & Edwards's synergy--you'd swear she was as great a singer as Alfa Anderson herself. And Nile is showing off more axemanship than any rhythm guitarist in history. A-

All the Great Hits [Motown, 1981]
First time through this double I said fine, perfect in fact--only aficionados will remember anything else. Even ascertained that the fifteen-minute Supremes medley, segued together from the originals rather than recorded live with her show band, wasn't offensive. But it is useless, and it's also true filler--imagine, her entire solo decade has been good for less than four sides of compilable material. This woman is nothing without a context, and beyond the obvious, Rodgers & Edwards are the only one she was ever made for--Ashford & Simpson's domesticity still sounds awkward on her after years of familiarity, and her movie themes are no better than Shirley Bassey's. The great exception is "Love Hangover," produced in 1976 by true hack Hal Davis, who with that song and that track could probably have gotten a disco classic out of June Pointer, Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong--though not Shirley Bassey. B

Workin' Overtime [Motown, 1989]
How 'bout that--"an equity partner" "returns to the foundations of kids' street music," with well-known former expert Nile Rodgers guiding her every note. Which song means the most to her personally? Is it the well-named "Workin' Overtime"? The even better-named "Bottom Line"? Perhaps the revealing "Going Through the Motions"? The answer is "Take the Bitter With the Sweet." Comments Ross: "Every person and every moment is a combination of bitter and sweet, and that is what makes life so rich and surprising." Thanks for letting us in on this secret, equity partner. C+

The Force Behind the Power [Motown, 1991] Dud

Blue [Motown, 2006] Dud

I Love You [Manhattan, 2006] Dud

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]

See Also