[7 October 2007]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Diana Ross is a legend. She has had 24 top 10 singles, 11 top 10 albums and six starring roles in films spanning from the U.S. all the way to the UK Ms. Ross has been the voice behind such unearthly classics as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Touch Me in the Morning”. And all of this doesn’t even include the work she put in with The Supremes. During her time with the legendary R&B group, she was an intricate part of 11 number one singles in the U.S. and nine top 10 albums around the world.
So what’s the math you ask? Well, when one considers her entire musical venture, from her early days with one of the best all-girl R&B contraptions ever, to her days peddling solo efforts in between movies, Ms. Ross has had some sort of a hand in a grand total of 44 top 10 singles, 20 top 10 albums and 17 number one singles in the United States.
Yep. Diana Ross is a legend.
So with all of the success that she has accomplished musically, why didn’t anybody pay any more attention to her 1973 album Last Time I Saw Him? Sure, it generated a top 20 hit with the title track, but really, in the grand scheme of Ross and her history, it barely generated a blip on the radar. Was it the album’s over-abundance of ballads? Was it the tiny dip into Dixieland on the album’s lead single? Or was it because it just wasn’t “Touch Me in the Morning,” a single released earlier in the year that reached mega-hit status?
Whichever reason it may be, Hip-O Select decided that none of those reasons were good enough to not give the album it’s proper due by re-releasing it in digital form. This time around, they even decided to tack on the Japanese Quadraphonic release and 10 previously unreleased outtakes from the sessions, making it a double disc.
And while all of the songs from the original release are here, the remastering of such songs as “No One’s Gonna Be a Fool Forever”, “When Will I Come Home to You” and “I Heard a Love Song, (But You Never Made a Sound)” gives new life to already underrated songs. While the feeling of a record made in 1973 remains prevalent, the polished work done by the head of mastering and mixing, Kevin Reeves, adds a certain pop and flair that the original recordings lacked.
For instance, while the cutting notes for the original recordings suggested early fades for “Last Time I Saw Him”, “Stone Liberty” and “Behind Closed Doors”, Executive Producer Harry Weinger insisted on leaving the songs as they were meant to be heard, including the exact same mixes from the flat, two-track masters, and adding slightly longer fades to the suggested tracks. This, combined with the already superbly written songs that painted the original album, only makes what should have been a sure-fire classic legendary.
And then there is disc two. On this disc, filled with nine outtakes from the original sessions and one more, unedited version of “Last Time I Saw Him,” Ms. Ross reminds everybody that even her throwaways can still hold their own when put up against any other 1970’s-era R&B tune. “Why Play Games” is an excellent trip to the early ‘70’s with it’s funk guitar, groove-happy rhythm and strings that immediately suggest that a new episode of The Jeffersons will air tonight at 8 p.m. All of that coupled with Ross’ incredibly believable yet delicate vocal track demands an answer to the question of why the song was originally left off of the album.
Then, “I Don’t Care Where the Money Is” and “Let Me Be the One” showcase her uncanny ability to jump outside of what one would think is her comfort zone. On the former, Ross guides a psychedelic trip that immediately explains why it didn’t make the cut. And while the experimental tone may be the reason as to why it got left off, it doesn’t by any means suggest that it was a badly written song. In fact, it was a risk Ms. Ross pulls off with the flair and confidence of a true star. Then, on the latter, Ross lays back down with a half-ballad that showcases the fragility of her voice on a platform that may have never been done since. “Let Me Be The One” is a tale that begs for love over a groove that is addictive and a voice that has hardly ever sounded as honest.
Last Time I Saw Him has always been the most overlooked great record that Diana Ross ever produced. On this re-release, not only are we reminded of how great this album is in a way that captures the mood and culture of the early ‘70’s, but we are given a treat by finally having official access to nine songs that would have possibly made an even better follow-up. And while the record from top to bottom may have never gotten it’s just due, this second try may finally prove to music lovers all around the world just how much of a legend Diana Ross really is.