Sunday, February 26, 2023

Kat's Korner: The re-release of Diana Ross' SURRENDER

Kat: "Don't you know I'm taking my case to the highest court of love and these are some of the crimes you'll be found guilty of."  My nephew Matt used to sing that all the time as he'd play in his grandparents' (my parents) backyard.  The Ashford & Simpson song featured an incredible lyric opening and, of course, an amazing vocal by one of America's greatest singers.  

Diana Ross is a huge star today.  She's had a string of hits like no other.  And was recently nominated for a Grammy for her THANK YOU album.  She's an Academy Award nominated film actress on top of everything else (LADY SINGS THE BLUES), a Golden Globe winner and a Tony winner.  Success is linked to Diana Ross.

But it wasn't always so obvious.  

She took a big leap at the start of 1970 as she stepped away from Diana Ross & the Supremes -- the only group to rival the Beatles on the US top forty during the sixties.  The big leap was the solo career.  

With the Supremes, she'd sung lead on 29 top forty hits (I'm counting top forty in the US -- both pop and R&B charts) -- and for the 29th, I'm counting the dance chart in the 90s when a remix of "Someday We'll Be Together" charted).  Solo? 62 recordings became top forty hits on the US chats (pop, soul, adult contemporary and dance -- 62 includes her vocal on "We Are The World").  

What seems so obvious now was a gamble in 1970 and it could have gone either way. 

DIANA ROSS was a hit in 1970, all the way to number one on BILLBOARD's Soul Album Chart.  And EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING was also a hit.  But it was a less focused album.  It might be an album that would benefit from a reissue.

I say that because Diana's third solo album, SURRENDER, benefits from a reissue.  

It's one of the three albums that Diana did with Ashford & Simpson -- Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson -- producing (and with most of the songs written by the duo).  DIANA ROSS, SURRENDER and THE BOSS.  I had always felt SURRENDER was a rather weak entry in the trio. 

What the re-release does -- on thick vinyl -- is let SURRENDER reclaim its own legitimacy.  

I don't think, for example, that you can understand Michael Jackson's THRILLER without first listening to Diana Ross' diana album ("Upside Down," "I'm Coming Out," "Have Fun Again," etc) and you really can't get appreciate Michael's earlier vocals without listening to the remastered SURRENDER.

I had SURRENDER on CD.  I never had it on vinyl.  I don't think I had it on cassette but you know my memory.

SURRENDER on CD isn't worth any amount of money unless you just want to have every CD that Diana released.  It's sound quality -- like too many of the ones MOTOWN produced in the 80s -- is very poor and makes the album sound underwhelming.  (In 2008, an expanded version was released on compact disc, I've never owned or heard that release.)  

In publicizing their release, ELEMENT (the label) notes,  "Limited Edition LP. Deluxe 180-Gram Reissue. Including Original Artwork & Credits. The third studio album by American singer Diana Ross, Surrender was released by Motown Records on July 6, 1971. The album saw her reuniting with writer-producer team Ashford & Simpson who had overseen her self-titled debut album in 1970."

Don't get excited about 'original artwork.'  That's the cover and back cover.  Otherwise, all you have is the white sleeve the album comes in.  Don't get excited about "credits" either -- there are no credits -- other than songwriter and producer credits.  They're on the back cover. 

And don't get excited about it arriving if you do order it.

There are two stories there.  The first is ELEMENT wasn't ready to meet the requests.  The second is AMAZON fell asleep on the job.

I did an advance order of this album which meant I was supposed to have it on January 27th.   I did not.  And I was not happy.  AMAZON, in replies to my questions about this (and I did note I was going to be writing about this), insisted that it was the label's fault.  They hadn't provided the product.  They also changed their listing to "not in stock."  So that was part of the delay.

But two weekends ago, I'm looking around and still waiting on the album when I see that AMAZON no longer lists it as "not in stock" and is also promising delivery within six days.


I'm back online arguing with them.  It takes three days of arguing to get an informed response.  Oops, they forgot they had people waiting.  It was out and they were shipping, but oops, they forgot that some of us had ordered in advance.  They forgot us, Woops.  Sorry.  

So the album that I was supposed to receive on January 27th never arrived until February 21st. 

If you go to AMAZON now, you'll see "only six left in stock." (WALMART and TOWER RECORDS have it in stock and don't note that they're limited on the amount they have -- WALMART has it cheapest at $21.57 currently.)

I'm telling you that because I don't want to hear you complaining to me if you order it and you have trouble getting it. 

That happened long ago with Holly Near's album with Emma's Revolution.  It wasn't a very good album to begin with but they couldn't deliver it -- and this was digitally.  I got so many e-mails complaining about that -- complaining as though I was over digital releases -- that I've not been in the mood for it again.

So you have been warned.  

If you walk into a record store and see it, grab it.  If you're willing to possibly wait a month, order it.

What have you got if you do?

A great album.  I am so impressed with this vinyl copy.  The music and the vocals are front and center.  The 80s MOTOWN reissue made the music sound small and tinny.  With this reissue, you get the mountains and valleys of soundscape that Nick and Valerie came up with to accompany Diana's thrilling vocals.  And the vocals are so much more thrilling.  

I don't know, for example, why "I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You" wasn't a single.  

Diana has posted the song on her YOUTUBE channel, four years ago, and it's a pretty strong version in terms of sound.

As strong as that sounds, it sounds even better on the vinyl version.  

Side one is a hit on all five tracts -- perfection.  And I love the background vocals from Nick and Valerie and from Diana Ross herself.  I hadn't noticed her in the mix before the vinyl.  But mainly, I love marveling over Diana's lead vocals.  

"Didn't You Know (You'd Have To Cry Sometime)?" is an Ashford & Simpson song Gladys Knight & The Pips released in 1969.  It made it to number 11 on the soul chart.  It's a strong recording.  But Diana's version is the definitive one.  The thrill of hearing her roll the note up as she sings "know" in the chorus, the talk-singing of the second verse (the conversational way she phrases it), the final chorus, it's all a dazzling piece of art.

The vocal on "A Simple Thing Like Cry" is equally amazing -- the way she throbs and draws out "cry" in the chorus.  And the piano figures throughout.  Why isn't someone begging Valerie Simpson to not just sit down at the piano for one of their albums but also to produce it?

The vinyl re-release of SURRENDER makes clear it's part of a one-two-three punch for team of Ross, Ashford and Simpson.  As for Diana, she's had 103 recordings make the top 100 of the US charts and listening to SURRENDER makes clear why.  "I'm A Winner" is one of the songs on side two and she certainly is.