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Jan 07

DIANA ROSS – “I’m Still Waiting”

FT + Popular37 comments • 5,766 views

#303, 21st August 1971

Doomed childhood sweethearts are a perennial pop topic, somewhat unfortunately since it’s hard to write a song about them that isn’t cloying. In fact, it’s hard to write a song about them that doesn’t make the singer sound like an abject emotional cripple if you think about the lyrics for more than five seconds. The highpoint of the micro-genre, Hot Chocolate’s demented “It Started With A Kiss”, faces this squarely (Errol Brown howling “You don’t remember me do you?!”), but “I’m Still Waiting” tries to magic its mentalism into poignancy. How does it do?

The song’s theme of endlessly deferred love suits Diana Ross pretty well, as she’s never been the most torrentially emotional of singers: her stock-in-trade is a slight aloofness, a sense that she’s never really singing in top gear. She tackles “I’m Still Waiting” with a particular balance of daydreaming and detachment. She can’t – and doesn’t try to – sell us the idea that the singer actually loves her age-five sweetheart, but she can sell us the idea that she’s used her belief in that ideal love to wall herself off from any other. It’s a cold, sad, effective performance, marred slightly by a rather bored spoken word sequence and backed up by a suitably opulent arrangement (it’s easily the most expensive-sounding Number One of the period). Ultimately maybe it’s even too effective – the walls the protagonist puts up stops the song from touching me that much. But I admire Ross for having the poise and intelligence to save “I’m Still Waiting” from its lyric’s luring sentimentality.

{democracy:29}

SPECIAL POPULAR REQUEST: To my horror, I have discovered that my copy of “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)”, cuts off before the end. This obviously makes it difficult to review properly, also I want to know what happens. If anyone can provide freakytrigger at gmail dot com with an MP3, I’d be very grateful. Benefactors can remain anonymous if they wish.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Erithian on 2 Jan 2007 #

    I’m very fond of this one… but a question to spark this blog to life a bit in the New Year lull, do we count Diana Ross as soul or pop? Growing up I tended to lump all black American music under the label “soul”, but clearly Motown was on the poppier side of soul compared to say Stax, and Diana was on the poppier side of Motown. I ask this because I can’t think of anything she’s done since the gorgeous Mahogany theme that sounds particularly soulful – in particular the froth-laden murder of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” or the clunking “Chain Reaction”. (In a very unscientific comparision, googling “Diana Ross”+”soul” gets 1,160,000 results, while her name with “pop” gets 1,250,000!)

    Number 2 Watch – still waiting behind Diana were the New Seekers with “Never Ending Song Of Love”.

  2. 2
    Rosie on 2 Jan 2007 #

    This is a bit of a milestone for me in this venture – I have absolutely no recollection of this being number one at all! When I downloaded an MP3 it was clear that the song was familiar but only in the way that things are familiar when you’ve been exposed to them over many years in supermarkets without particularly noticing it.

    I’ve never been one of Diana’s biggest fans – her voice is too simpering, too unconvincing in its pain. Even so, although this is a pleasant enough little ditty, she could do better. Six seems a tad on the generous side – more a 4 for me.

  3. 3
    Daniel_Rf on 2 Jan 2007 #

    Re: Soul and Pop…I think maybe rather than calling Diana Ross Pop, there’d be a case to make for the early 70’s as the first time where you could truly distinguish between Soul and Pop as having different ambitions and image templates, and Diana fell on the Pop side (as was bound to happen.) I mean, all through the 60’s, Soul and R&B still had a very real Traditional Pop element to it – you wore suits & ties, you played the Copa. Nat King Cole was still a role model, careerwise if not musically. And that’s not even exclusively a Motown thing – you’ve got the Soul Clan, who were about as authentically Deep Soul as you could get, conciously trying for a black Rat Pack vibe.

    The 70’s brougth a lot of changes that made this model less viable – more explicit and agressive protest lyrics, weirder outfits (Ohio Players!), P-Funk, other Funk, concept albums (ok, yeah, Trad Pop had those too, but mostly as collections of short songs, not 11 minute epics flowing into each other.) The ties weren’t entirely cut (Stevie Wonder kept writing standards amongst other things, and I’m guessing most of the Philly Soul cats still worked within the supper club/variety show mold? I have no info to back this up, they just kinda look like they would on album covers and stuff), but I do think the lines were begining to get drawn more explicitly, and Diana Ross “became” Pop as a result.

    (Disco might be seen as a sort of reconciliation between Soul and Trad Pop, what with all the broadway camp and of course that Ethel Merman record.)

  4. 4
    Daniel_Rf on 2 Jan 2007 #

    (pre-emptive warning that for some reason my comments seem to show up with hours of delay after I’ve posted them, so if anyone else says what I did, sorry, it’s not that I skipped your post, I just wrote mine first :-/)

  5. 5
    Doctor Mod on 3 Jan 2007 #

    I have a certain fondness for the Supremes, even though they were nowhere near the greatest girl group (think instead the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, the Ronettes). As Dream Girls is currently playing here, one can’t help but remember that Diana Ross wasn’t the original lead singer of the Supremes–the rudely dismissed Flo Ballard was–and I wonder if the original configuration didn’t have it right after all. DR never struck me as having the sort of voice (like, say, Martha Reeves) to front a major girl group. Still, she did.

    Having said this, I really haven’t liked her solo work–then or now. In the early seventies, she did a lot of overblown, hyperbolic, and melodramatic stuff that seemed to have only a slight resemblance to what I’d call soul. I mean, who would take a great raving soul song like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and turn it into a gooey symphonic soliloquy?

    Even so, we now tend to forget that while this was on the charts, the Supremes (with Cindy Birdsong in the lead) managed to turn out some fine (and underappreciated) hit singles. “Stoned Love,” “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” and “Nathan Jones” were all a hundred times better than anything Ross did in the 70s.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Jan 2007 #

    Even “Love Hangover”?

  7. 7
    GeorgeB on 3 Jan 2007 #

    I don’t think it was ever a question of whether the quality of The Supremes work was better without her, so much as the fact that she was the one who sprinkled the stardust on that group. Yup, Florence was the better voice, Mary was prettier, but Diana was the one with the star quality – and without her The Supremes was occasionally exciting, but an ultimately functional outfit without her. Without Diana front and centre, they might not have even been the Exciters, let alone the Shirelles, Vandellas and so forth. Berry Gordy favoured her above the others precisely because of that. I think with hindsight her early output and career post-Supremes should be valued higher, especially given the dross which has masqueraded as pop “diva-dom” since she invented/embodied the term. She does a fine job on work which would seem cloying and overblown in the hands of a lesser performer. This one is a case in point.

  8. 8
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Jan 2007 #

    There are other reasons why Gordy favoured Diana above all others, if you read the Nelson George book…

    As with “Tears Of A Clown,” this was an album track released as a single by popular demand (I’m not sure it was ever a single in the States but correct me if I’m wrong) mainly because Tony Blackburn played it ceaselessly on his breakfast show.

  9. 9
    GeorgeB on 3 Jan 2007 #

    Right – Nelson George, the guy who described lovely Kim Weston as a “dark-skinned” singer prone to fat. Diana would have been out front even if she hadn’t been dallying with the boss. Anyway, why would he choose her from a huge roster of young talent hanging on his every word and over whom he obviously had “droit de seigneur”? She didn’t have the best voice, but her singing is the most appealing aspect of those Supremes songs – silky, sultry, full of verve. Plus she wanted it more than the others and was prepared to work for it, happy to become the cross-over artist that Berry Gordy wanted and needed.

  10. 10
    Doctor Mod on 3 Jan 2007 #

    ERRATA:

    1. Jean Terrell, not Cindy Birdsong, was the lead singer of the so-called “Mary Wilson Supremes.” Cindy replaced Flo Ballard.

    2. The correct title of the third-mentioned song above is “Everybody’s Got the Right to Love.”

    COMMENTS:

    1. Yes, even “Love Hangover,” even though that was surely the best of Ross’s 70s output. I’ve just downloaded all four of the post-Diana hits I listed. Having just listened to them, I think they all hold up better than anything Ross did on her own.

    2. “Star quality” is a term that begs definition, more than just some sort of ineffable personal attribute. I think we could say that Madonna has “star quality,” but at least Madge calls it what it is–ambition. No one could deny that Diana Ross has always had that. But “star quality” and artistic quality are not necessarily synonymous–a lack of “star quality” has kept many a fine artist (particularly many female artists) from getting their due.

    3. Kim Weston was indeed a lovely woman. This does not obviate the fact that was “dark-skinned” and “prone to fat.” Such attributes do not preclude loveliness, ethnocentric standards of beauty notwithstanding. Unfortunately for KW and many other black singers, those standards held a lot of power; Dream Girls makes that issue abundantly clear.

    4. Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is one of the most “cloying and overblown” things to come out of this period, which produced much that could be so described.

  11. 11
    intothefireuk on 4 Jan 2007 #

    I grew up understanding that Diana Ross was essentially the Supremes so I have to take issue with some of the revisionist thinking here that seems to want to discredit her. She has a strong distinctive voice that lends itself particularly well to sentimental ballads but also works well on uptempo pop songs. Luckily for most here she did manage to avoid the more overtly soulful songs (with the possible exception of ‘River Deep’) which is to her credit. ISW is handled well and works for me although I’m no fan of the spoken section.

  12. 12
    GeorgeB on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Kim Weston may well have been exactly as Nelson George describes her, but I find the the way he describes her and the reasons why he does it in those terms distasteful and mean-spirited. Ok, the term star quality may beg definition – but how? Can anybody explain why some people have a chutzpah and charm that engages? Without star quality Muhammad Ali would have been Joe Louis and George Best would have been Tom Finney. Sure star quality and artistic value aren’t synonymous, but this being popular entertainment it helps if they go hand in hand. You say potato….”ain’t no mountain high enough” is a soaring contrivance, but Diana Ross pulls it off because she’s a star at the top of her game. Who else could have got away with it? She was a lot better than people give her credit for.

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Diana Ross ad campaign the year she opened the Harrods sale (early ’90s): “Half price bargains throughout the store – on this you can depend and never worry.”

  14. 14
    Lena on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Does Nelson George say anything about Brenda Holloway? (I guess I should just read the book.)

    Kim Weston was married to Mickey Stevenson (head of A&R at Motown), did a whole album with Marvin Gaye that went nowhere (was it even released? not sure [“It Takes Two” was]) and then left Motown. They never quite knew what to do with her, or Holloway, I’m guessing, because they never matched what Gordy had in mind for the sound of Motown. Whereas Ross did – she had a higher, smaller voice that was/is more ‘pop’ than the others (by others I mean Weston, Reeves, Wells) – more ‘cute’ (or ‘acute’ if you like).

  15. 15
    wwolfe on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Diana Ross didn’t have a conventionally big soul voice. She did, however, have an instantly recognizable voice, which is always a tremendous asset on the radio. Even more important, I think, was her ability to sing the emotion of a song while also seeming to wink at it, as well as us in the audience. This gave a subtle fizzy sensation to the best of her work with the Supremes that may have been the element that set that group’s work apart from the other top Motown acts. Certainly her work with the Supremes went into serious decline after Holland/Dozier/Holland left Motown, but she’s not alone in that respect: Martha and the Vandellas and the Four Tops if anything went into even steeper declines, both commercially and artistically, without HDH.

    It’s true that Diana Ross couldn’t do what Florence Ballard did. It’s also true that Florence Ballard couldn’t do what Diana Ross did: provide a voice and an image that made the Supremes stand out from the crowd. And she did more than make them a commercial force, in my opinion: the humor and timing in her delivery of the opening “Oooh” in “Baby Love” was one of the resources that made the Supremes special. Listening to Ballard’s lead singing, I hear no evidence that she could have supplied that same. (Also, I’m confused by the statements that Ballard was kicked out of the group when Ross became lead singer. Ross became sole lead singer sometime in 1963, I believe, but Ballard didn’t leave until roughly 1967 – a departure that I’ve always thought was the result of her own problems with alcohol, more than anything.)

    As far as the actual subject of this entry, I’ve never heard the record – or at least I have no memory of it.

  16. 16
    Chris Brown on 7 Jan 2007 #

    I first knew this song through the remix that was a hit in 1990 – and it may be the comparison that makes this sound better than it actually is.

  17. 17
    EJR on 14 Apr 2007 #

    If any of you had any idea what you are talkng about, you’d realize that Ballard’s sister, Maxine, has already written that Diana was the lead singer of the Supremes long before Gordy made it “DE Facto.”

    Diana Ross’ voice was special and remains special. Ballard’s voice was not special: it was loud and hard. She was a hard sorprano with no personality or stage presence in a recording studio. Mary was a boring voice with a talent for harmonizing. Today with all of this “Revisionalism,” we have a plethora of so-called experts who know nothing but say everything! Open up your ears and listen!

    There was talk in the early 60s of Gordy tinkering with the idea of dropping both Ballard and Wilson in favor of Diana as a sololist. He abandoned the idea because of the popularity of the “Girl Groups.” He was never interested in ballard or Wilson and this fact is in the “Public Domain.” Motown put The Supremes on the charts, but Diana’s voice put The Supremes on the map!

  18. 18
    MDfan on 1 May 2007 #

    Amen, EJR!

    I have been so tired of all of the revisionist history regarding the superiority of Florence Ballard’s voice over Diana Ross’ voice. There is ample evidence with which one can put that hypothesis to test. Florence Ballard’s voice was loud, strong, and unremarkable. Mary Wilson had a bland, non-melodious alto that has no other place except for in the background or singing a simple jazz ballad. No other singer in pop music history has had the distinctiveness of Diana’s voice nor the courage to branch out in so many different musical genres. Diana hit number ones with the 60s pop/soul Motown (12 times), with dramatic ballads with heavy orchestration (3 times) with disco numbers (2 times) and with a soulful/gospel tinged classic (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough). The post-Diana Supremes even with the magnificent voice of Jean Terrell lacked the personality and creativity to ever hit number one again and surprisingly only hit the top ten three times in 7 years after Diana left. With Diana as the lead the Supremes had 12 number ones and 20 top ten hits. The evidence is clear. Diana Ross carried the Supremes. Motown marketed the Supremes with Diana at the helm, but the public bought the records. That fact is almost always conveniently omitted when people allege that Diana received more backing than other Motown artists. Marketing is important, but the quality of the sound is what makes hits.

    Diana Ross has sadly been ignored as the pop music icon. In 14 years, she hit number one 18 times. Mariah, Whitney, Madonna, Janet, Barbara, Destiny’s Child, nor the other countless imitators have layed siege to this incredible record even though crossover for Black artists is now the norm and not the exception (as it was in Diana’s heyday).

    I’m Still Waiting was a number #1 song in the UK and is a staple of her live performances in Europe. It did not reflect contemporary U.S. stylings but the British fans loved it and made it a classic song. It was released 13 years later and became a top 10 hit. Diana has had 150 international hit singles. Songs that were released here were often not released as singles there and vice versa. Diana Ross has had greater international celebrity than any other superstar and is in a class of her own in terms of longevity. She had a #2 song on the UK pop charts in January 2006 (42 years after her first UK hit).

    Whether you hate or love Diana Ross or not (hate itself speaks to the strength of her star as people rarely take time to form negative emotions against inconsequential figures in music), her career in terms of breadth, depth, and achievement has no direct competitors.

    As an aside, it is always telling to watch the number of posters on Diana Ross topic sites who speak so virulently against her. I am intrigued by personalities that seek information on artists that they do not appreciate. Are you trying to convince others (or yourself!) that the object of your hatred is unworthy?

  19. 19
    Tivoli Eclipse on 30 Oct 2007 #

    MJR and MDfan… you took my breath away! I literally held my breath while reading — because I did not want your critical analyses to end. If my life has been part of some grand social Matrix — she has been the most efficient and effective dream of unrequited love — the ideal love — according to Hagakure. She is the icon and iconoclast of homoeroticism, like in “The Symposium,” when Socrates invited Alcibiades to sit on his lap. She was and still is the Siren I longed for — but yes, when I would hear her — I would die and be born again. Really… What planet is she on? I can only imagine and wonder, is she really real or some collective figment of our imagination? I am — a dreamer, a poet, and I was just lucky enough (and many are unlucky in this life) to have found my Muse — Diana Ross!

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 19 May 2008 #

    re 8: This was released as a single in the US, once it became a huge hit here. It only reached 63 on Billboard. Two other excellent UK Top 10 singles from Diana in ’71, Remember Me and Surrender, only got to 16 and 38 respectively. Possibly, during this immediate post-Supremes period, she was still more of a pop star here and had become pure celeb over there; in ’72 she didn’t make the Hot 100 once, not even with the splendid Doobe Dood’n Doobe (etc).

    It’s intriguing that this is the first post I’ve read where rabid fans have jumped on board to defend their hero/heroine. Same thing happened when I wrote a piece elsewhere on Dream Girls (lots of these mentioned Diana’s “God given talent” to make it just a bit creepier).

    There’s no doubt Miss Ross has a distinctive, probably unique voice. What Berry Gordy realised was that it could cut through over the radio unlike any other girl’s in his roster. It still does, if you hear it in the background in a cafe, supermarket, wherever.

    This doesn’t mean that Flo’s voice is worse; soul snobs would say it’s technically better. It’s feisty and fun, so from what we know about the lady it sounds like her, uh, soul – who knows what she’d have done with You Can’t Hurry Love or Love Child? And people will always defend her because she was dealt with appallingly. Not many people in pop have effectively died of a broken heart. How much more likeable does that make Flo than go-getting Di?

    Mary gets the rawest deal. Always, you read that her voice was useful for nothing more than harmonies. Her solo spots on the post-Di Supremes records are the highlights for me, so sensual when she’s cooing “you’re the man” on Floy Joy. She’s right there, right next to you. It does me in.

    And then again… neither Flo or Mary could make the cold, still heart of I’m Still Waiting, with its jumble of self-denial and self-loathing (“I’m just a fool”) sound anywhere near as good as Diana. The almost monotone spoken part, as Tom points out, gives the game away – this boy is an excuse for her “don’t try to touch me” walled-up heart. Which possibly makes it the greatest 45 the Shangri La’s never made.

  21. 21
    Tom on 19 May 2008 #

    Other threads with big googling-fan presence IIRC:

    – Peter Sarstedt – “Where Do You Go To My Lovely”
    – Engelbert Humperdinck – “Release Me”

  22. 22
    Laban on 6 Jan 2009 #

    This was covered in reggae fashion by G.T. Moore and the Reggae Guitars. I thought it was rather good at the time, not sure what it would sound like now.

  23. 23
    Darren on 14 Aug 2009 #

  24. 24
    Waldo on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Unless I am mistaken (and it wouldn’t be the first time) Diana owes this UK #1 entirely to Tony Blackburn who had unearthed ISW as an album track and thought highly enough of it to suggest it as a single and then preceded to play it to death on his breakfast show. Blackburn was always crazy about Ross and never hid it. For me, ISW was and is perfectly alright but “Remember Me” was so much better.

  25. 25
    Conrad on 14 Oct 2009 #

    You are spot on Waldo.

    Blackburn was a huge fan of la Ross. Mind you, he never stops going on about that anecdote!

  26. 26
    wichita lineman on 15 Oct 2009 #

    Every time he’s played it since 1971! I suppose I’d be pretty proud of plucking an album track, convincing UK Tamla to release it, then watching it sail to number one. Even more astonishing that UK Tamla did the same with Tears Of A Clown, then watched the parent company copy them back home where it ALSO went to number one.

    Waldo, I love Remember Me too, but always struggle with the line “remember me as a big balloon.” More likely to remember her as a tiny twiglet.

    A similarly unflattering description – yesterday I saw a copy of the original Rave magazine* that featured Peter Frampton, “the face of ’68”, on the cover. Except the actual wording was “the big new face of ’68”.

    *in the Beatles To Bowie exhinbition at the NPG which is very good indeed.

  27. 27
    Jimmy the Swede on 21 Aug 2011 #

    On POTP this week, this was top and I braced myself for Tony’s usual party piece about how he had personally got this released as a single. To be perfectly fair, he only mentioned it in passing this time. Five seconds max. Sensational!

  28. 28
    punctum on 22 Aug 2011 #

    He seemed agreeably bamboozled by Family’s “In My Own Time” and by Loud Heavy Rock in general.

    A curiously affecting chart, that 1971 one; all songs about or by the dispossessed, whether “Back Street Luv” or “Soldier Blue.” Made me irresistibly think of the current, astonishing top five.

  29. 29
    wichita lineman on 23 Aug 2011 #

    RIP Nick Ashford who wrote Di’s two hits either side of ISW – Surrender and Remember Me, both magnificent. The latter received much love on Mike’s Which Decade blog, the former was first performed by UK girl group The Carrolls, with comedienne Faith Brown on lead vocals. From ’66, very different to D Ross’s take, but it’s marvellous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHbRdQSpy_g

  30. 30
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Aug 2011 #

    The intro to “In My Own Time” is enough to bamboozle anyone. I think it’s a pity that “Monkey Spanner” was ignored but had to smile when Tony’s rundown merely mentioned “Leap Up And Down” without even the group name. Why this silly record is still airbrushed out beggars belief.

    Wichita – As I opined upthread, I think “Remember Me” was/is a fabulous offering from Diana and a good deal better than Tony’s love child, which he clearly still adores.

  31. 31
    AndyPandy on 29 Aug 2011 #

    He might have ignored ‘Monkey Spanner’ now but the TOTP clip from 1971 when ‘Double Barrel’ is number one is on Youtube and he seems genuinely please its number 1 – says “it’s” sensational or words to that effect. Those 1971 TOTPs are in a different league to 1976 or anything subsequent and once again show you what we lost with the mass wipings.

  32. 32
    wichita lineman on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I thought TB’s intro to In My Own Time was pretty funny – I wouldn’t want Roger Chapman moving in next door to me either.

    Did anyone mention Chapman as an influence on Feargal Sharkey? Never occurred to me at the time but hard to miss in retrospect.

  33. 33
    Jimmy the Swede on 1 Sep 2012 #

    Blackburn played this chart again today and once again: “I got that released as a single. I may have mentioned that before..” Ho hum.

  34. 34
    wichita lineman on 2 Sep 2012 #

    Bit harsh there Swede! It was very much in passing (as it was last year). I just caught the end of the ’71 chart but heard all of the ’84 one. Holy crap. It may have been a year for “event” number ones (and “party records”) but it was a godawful chart. At least he didn’t play On The Wings Of Love.

  35. 35
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Sep 2012 #

    Perhaps I am a bit unfair on Bannockburn, Lineman, but I’d just love him to just for once play the record and say nothing. At least he played Family again.

  36. 36
    punctum on 3 Sep 2012 #

    From the playlist it sounds like the exact same programme he did last year. Wonder if he made the same crack about Roger Chapman, except I don’t wonder at all.

    All these chart shows (I say all; there are two) have to realise that there’s only so much you can get from juggling the same floating crap game of charts year after year and when so many charts are ruled out for stupid demographic reasons – can’t play G*ry Gl*tt*r, don’t play punk or New Pop or rap or dance music, don’t play anything liable to wake the audience up – the exercise becomes pointless.

    We gave up on POTP ages ago and now are either out or listening to 6Music. Much more pleasant.

  37. 37
    lonepilgrim on 15 Aug 2018 #

    I’ve always liked Diana Ross’ voice, possibly because it doesn’t conform to the standard ‘soul’ template. There are precedents or peers like Ella Fitzgerald or Dionne Warwick who approach songs in a similarly restrained manner (not that DR is necessarily their equal). There is a degree of reserve to this performance that maybe makes more sense as an album track rather than as a single but I like it all the same.
    I also enjoy the lush arrangement for this song – both in its own right but also as a hint of the more sophisticated R&B grooves that lay ahead in the 1970s and beyond.

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