Even her staunchest detractors may be won over by To the Baby.
Daryl Easlea 2010
As prevalent in every 70s suburban household as shag-pile carpet, Blue Nun and Artex plastering, Diana Ross’s Touch Me in the Morning was the album that placed her in the easy listening pantheon alongside Barbra Streisand and the Carpenters. This is grown-up music – affecting ballads that both showcased and supported Ross’s fragile voice. On the title track, All of My Life and I Won’t Last a Day Without You, you hear the big, widescreen ambition of Ross and Motown label boss Berry Gordy.
Earlier in 1973, Ross had been nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, and the film and its soundtrack had taken Ross out of her album cycle. Ross knew that when she returned, it would have to be with a potent, commercial record. Several recordings were shelved, as Gordy only wanted the most mainstream release possible. A project for her children, To the Baby, recorded across late 1971 and into 1972, looked to be fascinating – and some of its songs fed into what was to become Touch Me in the Morning.
On this exhaustive double compilation, the, um, aborted To the Baby is here in its entirety. The title-track, written by Leon Ware and Ross’s brother ‘T-Boy’, is one of the best things that Ross has put her name to: sumptuous, off-kilter urban soul.
Touch Me in the Morning, is, of course, all about its own title-track. It remains one of Ross’s most indestructible anthems, a direct homage to her previous US number one, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. It is here that you really understand why she has such fervent followers – her voice is, in turns, so strident and yet vulnerable.
Aside from the medley of Oscar Brown’s Brown Baby and Marvin Gaye’s Save the Children, which is marvellous, lushly orchestrated and impassioned, the album is mawkish in the extreme. It formulated her diva ballad style perfectly – solo piano introductions, orchestral builds on first chorus, spoken word passage, emotive run-outs.
Although this repackage is not going to attract Ross any new fans, its detail will enthral her fanbase. That said, even her staunchest detractors may be won over by the track To the Baby.