Saturday, November 06, 2021

Kat's Korner: No, Diana Ross, Thank You

Kat: Diana Ross has released THANK YOU and it's a great album -- one that allows us to look at the shortcomings in the system.

Such as?  It's been called Diana's 25th solo studio album released by the media and that's not accurate.  I may have repeated it myself online, that false claim.  I mentioned it to C.I. and she rolled her eyes.  Huh?  "Kat, THE WIZ."  Immediately, I knew two things (a) that it was a lie and (b) how the lie started.

This is Diana's 26th solo, studio album.  

Back in 2016, I wrote "Kat's Korner: Diana Ross releases a masterpiece (belatedly)."

She brings each song to life.

"Wonder Wonder Why" may be one of her strongest performances and, even if you're a fan of "Is This What Feeling Gets?" from the original soundtrack for THE WIZ, you'll love her version here even more.

Oh, and that's the thing.

This is not Diana's tracks from the film soundtrack being repackaged.

In 1978, she went into the studio with Suzanne de Passe and Lee Holdridge to record these thirteen songs.  In the years since, only "Home" has been released (in 2001).

And that's how you know Motown was over by the 80s.


These were not expected to be huge sellers or even strong ones.

The point was to make clear that Diana could handle more than top forty.

The point was to make clear that Diana was an artist.

This album was supposed to have been released in January of 1979, following the release of the film in October of 1978 (the film's soundtrack was released in September 1978).

The digital booklet notes:

When the film wrapped and Ross returned to Los Angeles, producer/arranger Lee Holdridge received a call from Motown.  "We've got to have her do some cover versions of these songs," he was told with some urgency.
"We literally ran into the studio in a great hurry to do this," Holdridge says.  Luckily, this was not Holdridge's first time working with Motown or Diana Ross.  "I did all the orchestrations and arrangements for the film MAHOGANY, and 'Do You Know Where You're Going To' was a big hit for her," he adds.  "So she knew exactly who I was.  We knew all the keys and stuff like that, so we tried to emulate what some of the film tracks were like.  Diana was excited about it."

Months later, Cher would star in her ABC's CHER .  . . SPECIAL featuring a 15 minute segment of her playing all the parts in the musical WEST SIDE STORY.  But before that happened, Diana should have been presented to the public playing all the parts from THE WIZ.

And the film could have been rescued somewhat by the album being released.

As it headed to the second-run houses, the dollar theaters, DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS FROM THE WIZ could've provided incentive to check out the film.  It would have also telegraphed just how strong a singer, how great an artist, she is.

As she demonstrates on "Don't Nobody Tell Me No Bad News" and on "Believe In Yourself," she could have easily played the role of either Evillene or Glinda The Good Witch in NBC's broadcast last year.  Her medley of "You Can't Win"/"Slide Some Oil"/"(I'm A) Mean Ole Lion" argue she could have handled the roles of Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion as well.

Do you get it?  DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS FROM THE WIZ is a studio album.  It was recorded for a January 1979 release.  It didn't get released until 2015.  Like BLUE.  Diana recorded that album in 1971 and 1972 but it didn't get released until 2006.  CRAPAPEDIA rightly counts BLUE as a studio album.  But DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS FROM THE WIZ is wrongly listed by CRAPAPEDIA as a "compilation" album and appears wrongly listed with various best of and greatest hits albums Diana recorded.  These are not recordings from the film soundtrack of THE WIZ.  These are recordings of those songs done by Diana in a studio after the film for an album.  Every song on this album was recorded after she had completed THE WIZ and was intended for this album.  It was Diana taking on the entire soundtrack and she did a wonderful job.

But she's a woman and she's African-American so CRAPAPEDIA doesn't give two s**ts about the truth.

I care about the truth.  Sometimes I'm a little slow on the take.  So when I read Friday's snapshot, a point C.I. was subtly making went right over my head.  I nodded along and thought I got it.  Then I talked to Ann (read her "I'm really tired of the every day racism.") and really got the point.  Brit critic at THE GUARDIAN was utilizing racism to dismiss Diana -- her new album and her accomplishments.  He was doing it by resulting to the sexist and racist criteria that allowed the male created the rock canon that tossed in a few tokens but otherwise excluded all women and men of color.    Ann's documented it far beter than I could so make a point to read what she wrote and grasp what we allow and what we ignore encourages racism.

THANK YOU, the 26th solo studio album by Diana Ross, is an amazing accomplishment.  And, if we include compilations and her work in the sixties with the Supremes, this is at least her 123rd album.  

That's a lot to compete with.

Is it Diana's best album?  

No, I don't think so.

I think THE BOSS is her best album.  That 1979 album features the title track, "It's My House," "I Ain't Been Licked," "No One Gets The Prize," "All For One," "Once In The Morning" and "Sparkle."  And, for me, it's Diana's finest album.  It's gorgeous -- the vocals are so powerful and crisp, the musical arrangements are perfection.  

THANK YOU?  Out of Diana's 123 or so albums, I would rank it . . . number two.

I have loved THE BOSS since I first heard it in 1979.  That's a lot to compete with.  And I also love her 1980 album diana, 1984's SWEPT AWAY, 1985's EATEN ALIVE, 1992's THE FORCE BEHIND THE POWER, 1999's EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY, 1970's DIANA ROSS, 1971's SURRENDER, 1976's DIANA ROSS, 1972's soundtrack to LADY SINGS THE BLUES, 1989's GREATEST HITS LIVE, Diana Ross & The Supremes' 1968 REFLECTIONS, 1993's STOLEN MOMENTS: THE LADY SINGS . . . JAZZ AND BLUES, 1994's DIANA EXTENDED: THE REMIXES, 2020's SUPERTONIC MIXES, 2015's DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS FROM THE WIZ, 1966's THE SUPREMES A' GO-GO, 1967's THE SUPREMES SING HOLLAND-DOZIER-HOLLAND, 1968's DIANA ROSS & THE SUPREMES SING AND PERFORM FUNNY GIRL, 1977's AN EVENING WITH DIANA ROSS, 1994's A VERY SPECIAL SEASON, 1973's TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING . . .

Against all of those albums and many more, THANK YOU ranks number two as the best Diana Ross album of all time.

It's that good.  It's that great.  It's truly wonderful.

Thirteen tracks of perfection.  Keyon Harrold's trumpet on "Just In Case" is moving and layered and nearly as textured as Diana's vocals on the song.  The music doesn't compete with Diana.  On every track, it enhances her vocals.  And it's real music.  The way some critics are describing the album, you'd think it was Madonna in the '00s.  As Ava and C.I. observed in the 2006:

The fear, for many, with Madonna was that, at age 80, she'd still be slithering across the stage, in her panties. After "Justify My Love," Erotica, dripping wax on a bound Willem Dafoe in Body of Evidence and the Sex book, that fear seemed valid for some. Us, we would have preferred that she pursue that track. It would have been interesting. Instead, the same fawning and thoughtless critics that led her to believe she was gifted and talented, stage managed her into something else: boring.

That's pretty much all she's been now for over a decade. Boring.

We blame the critics who applauded her 'soft' side move.

They're the 'thinkers' that were seeing 'meaning' where there was none for most of Madonna's career. (In better days, Madonna laughed and sneered at them. Choosing to embrace them has killed any excitement in her career.) They're the type who, as early as the Who's That Girl tour were seeing 'empowerment' in the performance of "Live To Tell" where, for the song's ending, Madonna slumps then stands erect. They penned over-thought, embarrassing praise like this:

". . . a pose that suggest surrender and desolation, and then . . . as if recovering her strength and courage through an act of titantic will . . ." (We'll be kind and not name the 'author' of that crap.)

People, she just stood up. The really bad rewrite of Joni Mitchell (lyrics) with the drone that would dominate in her later music had come to an end. She needed to do something on stage. (Another nitwit saw in that brief moment the battle against AIDS. We'll spare you his tripe.)

It was that kind of crap that led her away from actual songs ("Cherish," "Like a Prayer," "Holiday," "Angel," "Dress You Up," etc.) into what she is today: 'inspirational.'

With her more recent work (heavily on display in the concert NBC broadcasts) grafting banal lyrics onto the never ending wump-wump beat of a drone, some saw the influence of the Kabbalah. While she does now repeatedly present herself as the modern day Aimee Semple McPherson -- it's Church of the Madonna. Don't blame Kabbalah, these days it's all about her.

There was a time when that might have made for an interesting tour and, certainly in the past, she's been able to mount stage shows that grappled with the tensions between sexuality and spirituality, conventionality and iconoclast. These days, she's just another boring celebrity and who would have ever thought you could say that about Madonna?

Sister Madge's following eats it up, they pay hundreds for a ticket and (due to ticket pricing more than anything) the last two tours have been seen as financially successful. Anything resembling art (even pop art) long ago left the building, but there are people across the country, around the world, willing to waste a couple of hundred to listen to her dither on, with the drone behind her, about how tough it is to be Madonna.

The drone.  The lack of anything resembling music, let alone music that pops.  "Let's Do It" pops on Diana's new album.  It's a stripped down track with fluttering lines and strong percussion. 

The piano work by Charlie McLean on "I Still Believe" is right up there with the piano on "More And More" and Valerie Simpson's piano work on THE BOSS.  The song also features some of Diana's deeper register.  She really has a great lower register and I'm always surprised she doesn't feature it more.  Yes, I love it when she goes to the top of her range and, yes, that work clearly influenced Michael Jackson.  But she's also got a gorgeous lower register.  1982's "Fool For Your Love" is one of the few songs where she really resorts to the lower register for the entire song.

Diana co-wrote that 1982 song, by the way.  She also co-wrote 1982's "So Close"  and "I Am Me," 1984's "Fight for It" and "Swept Away," 1983's "Girls," 1987's "Shockwaves"  and1999's "Hope Is An Open Window."  

I mention that because one prissy critic wants you to know Diana co-writes nine of the thirteen tracks and he (you knew it was a 'he,' didn't you?) insists she's not really been a songwriter and really just previous co-wrote 1981's "Work That Body."  Uhm, no.  

She and the other songwriters do a great job on THANK YOU.  Those writers include her oldest daughter Rhonda Ross who wrote, all by herself, the delicious "Count On Me"  -- another song with great piano work and with a vocal from Diana that really delivers.

I love the background vocals on "Come Together."  I love all the extra touches and flourishes that go into this album to make it so special and wonderful.

In Betty's "WHO IS THE GREAT EARTHA KITT? (and thank you, Diana Ross!)," she notes:

I also highly recommend Diana Ross' THANK YOU. A fantastic album. I am loving it. It is wonderful and I cannot praise it enough. If you like Diana, you are going to love this album. One of the songs features a syncopated vocal like on "Now That You're Gone" (diana album) or "Not Over You Yet" (EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY album). I love all the songs and even the ones that I loved as singles work so much better on the album in the context of the other songs.

She's talking about "In Your Heart" and it's really something with the syncopated vocal, the drum rumbles, the caressing musical notes.

I love this album.  I love the title track, I love "If The World Just Danced" -- all of it.  

I love the lyrics, I love the vocals.  In the album notes, Diana explains THANK YOU Is a "songbook of love."  That's truly what the album is.  It's a celebration and reflection of what we have and what we can have.

"The Answers Always Love" probably sums up the album.

Diana Ross' THANK YOU is an album you don't want to miss.  It's everything a musical album should be.


[Note: For this review, I used C.I.'s advanced copy of THANK YOU.  I have paid for my copy, it's just been lost in transit, see my "Once upon a time AMAZON revealed they were a liar" from Friday.]