Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye [extended]

  • Diana Ross [Motown, 1970] C+
  • Everything Is Everything [Motown, 1970] C+
  • Super Hits [Tamla, 1970]
  • What's Going On [Tamla, 1971] B+
  • Surrender [Motown, 1971] B
  • Trouble Man [Tamla, 1972] C
  • Lady Sings the Blues [Motown, 1972] B+
  • Let's Get It On [Tamla, 1973] A-
  • Touch Me in the Morning [Motown, 1973] C
  • Diana & Marvin [Motown, 1973] B+
  • Anthology [Motown, 1973]
  • Live [Tamla, 1974] C+
  • Anthology [Motown, 1974]
  • I Want You [Tamla, 1976] C+
  • Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits [Tamla, 1976] B-
  • Diana Ross [Motown, 1976] B-
  • Diana Ross' Greatest Hits [Motown, 1976] B+
  • Marvin Gaye Live at the London Palladium [Tamla, 1977] B-
  • Baby It's Me [Motown, 1977] C+
  • An Evening With Diana Ross [Motown, 1977] B-
  • Here My Dear [Tamla, 1978] B+
  • The Boss [Motown, 1979] B
  • Diana [Motown, 1980] A-
  • In Our Lifetime [Tamla, 1981] A-
  • All the Great Hits [Motown, 1981] B
  • Midnight Love [Columbia, 1982] A-
  • Dream of a Lifetime [Columbia, 1985] C+
  • Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye [Motown, 1986] A-
  • Romantically Yours [Columbia, 1986] C+
  • Workin' Overtime [Motown, 1989] C+
  • The Force Behind the Power [Motown, 1991] Dud
  • What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) [Motown, 2001] **
  • The Very Best of Marvin Gaye [Motown, 2001] A
  • Blue [Motown, 2006] Dud
  • I Love You [Manhattan, 2006] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Diana Ross: Diana Ross [Motown, 1970]
The sound of young America grows older, replacing momentum with progress and exuberance with nuanced cool. Producers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson provide all but one of the songs--they've written a couple of great ones for Marvin & Tammi in the past. Unfortunately, the same couple (of songs) provide two of the three high spots here. And there ain't no high spot high enough. (Catalogue number: S-711.) C+

Diana Ross: Everything Is Everything [Motown, 1970]
If I'm not mistaken (and let's face it, that's possible) this is an answer record to Aretha's This Girl's in Love With You. A little heavier on the corporate consultants, granted, but she does cover Aretha's own "Call Me" as well as several Beatles numbers and Bacharach-David's Carpenters (instead of Herb Alpert) hit. Blame its inferiority on the inferiority of her corporate consultants--and on her own. C+

Marvin Gaye: Super Hits [Tamla, 1970]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On [Tamla, 1971]
This may be a groundbreaking personal statement, but like any Berry Gordy quickie it's baited skimpily: only three great tunes. "What's Going On," "Inner City Blues," and "Mercy, Mercy Me (the Ecology)" are so original they reveal ordinary Motown-political as the benign market manipulation it is. And Gaye keeps getting more subtle vocally and rhythmically. But the rest is pretty murky even when the lyrical ideas are good--I like the words on "What's Happenin' Brother" and "Flyin' High (in the Friendly Sky)" quite a bit--and the religious songs that bear Gaye's real message are suitably shapeless. Worst of all, because they're used a lot, are David Van De Pitte's strings, the lowest kind of movie-background dreck. B+

Diana Ross: Surrender [Motown, 1971]
This time the hits Ashford & Simpson have written for Diana were written for Diana, which minimizes embarrassing comparisons. And the verve of side two--where Motown finally learns how to kowtow to Broadway and keep the songwriting royalties--suggests that she's learning to hold her own. B

Marvin Gaye: Trouble Man [Tamla, 1972]
Buy the single unless you like soundtrack albums. This ain't no super-fly shit. C

Diana Ross: Lady Sings the Blues [Motown, 1972]
Billie Holiday is uncoverable, possibly the greatest singer of the century, yet the fact is that Ross's versions--which occupy only two sides of this soundtrack album--are intensely listenable. That's the word I want, because it doesn't fit Holiday, who either seizes your full attention or disturbs you in the background. While copying Holiday's phrasing and intonation, Ross smoothes them out, making the content easier to take without destroying it altogether. This may be a desecration and a deception, but it speaks to the condition of a ghetto child who's always had a talent for not suffering, for willing herself up and through. Not every singer turns into a junkie, after all. B+

Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It On [Tamla, 1973]
Post-Al Green What's Going On, which means it's about fucking rather than the human condition, thank the wholly holey. Gaye is still basically a singles artist, and the title track, as much a masterpiece as "Inner City Blues," dominates in a way "I'm Still in Love with You," say, doesn't. Then again, it's an even better song, and this album prolongs its seductive groove to an appropriate thirty minutes plus. A-

Diana Ross: Touch Me in the Morning [Motown, 1973]
One advantage of imitating Billie Holiday's vocal style is that you get to sing Billie Holiday's material. Another is that you get to sing like Billie Holiday. C

Diana & Marvin [Motown, 1973]
Motown's record division could really put out some terrific albums if the publishing division wasn't always butting in. Of the six Motown-composed tracks, only Ashford & Simpson's "Just Say, Just Say" and the hit, "My Mistake," have any charm of their own. But this girl-boy duo sound just great on two Bell-Creed songs and the follow-up single, Wilson Pickett's "Don't Knock My Love." And while I suspect it was Marvin who edged Diana into the warmest and loosest--and streetest--performance of her career, maybe it was just the proximity of "Pledging My Love." B+

Diana Ross & the Supremes: Anthology [Motown, 1973]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Marvin Gaye: Live [Tamla, 1974]
There's inspired singing here, but even on the stupendous version of "Trouble Man" Gene Page's orchestra intrudes--Gaye hasn't managed to mix the instruments into the unified background presence of his recent studio albums. Also: seven great oldies banished to a "Fossil Medley," and "Jan," conceivably the worst song he's ever written. C+

Marvin Gaye: Anthology [Motown, 1974]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Marvin Gaye: I Want You [Tamla, 1976]
This isn't as disgraceful as would first appear--as disco-identified mood mewzick for light necking it offers nifty engineering, pleasant harmonies, and the occasional snatch of melody. But as a Marvin Gaye record it's a Leon Ware record. Ware is the producer who cowrote every one of these . . . tunes? segments? . . . cuts (which is more than Marvin can claim). But was it Ware who instructed Marvin to eliminate all depth and power from his voice? I mean, if you're into insisting on sex it's in bad taste to whine about it. C+

Marvin Gaye: Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits [Tamla, 1976]
Even though it omitted "Inner City Blues" while offering "How Sweet It Is" and "Can I Get a Witness" (already included on four other Marvin Gaye compilations and who knows how many Motown anthologies), I thought this might serve a function, since I find all of Gaye's '70s albums except Let's Get It On distressingly uneven. But "I Want You," "After the Dance," and the live version of "Distant Lover" are embarrassed by such stellar company. I guess when I want to hear "Trouble Man" I'll put on Anthology. B-

Diana Ross: Diana Ross [Motown, 1976]
This is a generally catchy album by the sad standards she's settled for, but beyond Ashford & Simpson's gorgeous, mournful "Ain't Nothin' but a Maybe" and the seven intoxicating minutes of "Love Hangover" it's often catchy-annoying rather than catchy-compelling or at least catchy-fun. Major offenders: "Theme From Mahogany," the boop-nostalgia "Smile," and its clone, "Kiss Me Now," which captures her at her archest. (Catalogue number: M6-861.) B-

Diana Ross: Diana Ross' Greatest Hits [Motown, 1976]
I'd hoped this would drag me kicking and giggling to rock and roll perdition, just like the old Motown best-ofs. Instead I found I had to learn to like it. Which I did, eventually--these are good pop tunes for the most part, and her "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" sounds more valid now than it did when Marvin & Tammi were fresh in my ear. But rock and roll perdition is beside the point, because this isn't rock and roll. B+

Marvin Gaye: Marvin Gaye Live at the London Palladium [Tamla, 1977]
Especially considering how awkward Gaye can be on stage, this isn't bad for a live Motown album--the arrangements are finky, but some of Marvin's more interesting vocal quirks seem to have survived editing. Which is not to suggest that the live stuff is worth owning. "Got To Give It Up," on the other hand, is his quadrennial studio masterpiece, and its 11:48 are cut up on the single. Still, I think the single is what I'd buy--while petitioning for a disco disc. B-

Diana Ross: Baby It's Me [Motown, 1977]
I've got nothing special against Richard Perry, although he used to find more interesting songs--and songwriters, which since he's now developed his own stable is more relevant. But even when he made interesting records he tended to push the epicenters of eccentric artists toward the middle of the road, and that's not what Diana needs. Her problem isn't her vocal limitations, although she's obviously no Betty Carter, but her blank taste. What if the best of the slick trivia here were combined with, I don't know, a good '30s pop tune done straight, a blues, something obscure by Al Green, something familiar by a non-Motown girl group? Might be worth hearing, and Perry could make it happen. Yeah sure. C+

Diana Ross: An Evening With Diana Ross [Motown, 1977]
The band could be Doc Severinsen's and the rushed tempo medleys are maddening, but the vivacity in this live double-LP is palpable. I haven't gotten such a good idea of what the fuss is about since Lady Sings the Blues. B-

Marvin Gaye: Here My Dear [Tamla, 1978]
The brightness of the disco remix Motown has made available on "A Funky Space Reincarnation" is a vivid reminder of how pathologically laid back Gaye is striving to be. I mean, seventy minutes of pop music with nary a melody line almost qualifies as a tour de force, and the third side barely escapes the turntable at all. Yet this is a fascinating, playable album. Its confessional ranges from naked poetry ("Somebody tell me please/Why do I have to pay attorney fees?" is a modernist trope that ranks with any of Elvis Costello's) to rank jive, because Gaye's self-involvement is so open and unmediated, guileless even at its most insincere, it retains unusual documentary charm. And within the sweet, quiet, seductive, and slightly boring mood Gaye is at such pains to realize, his rhythmic undulations and whisper-to-a-scream timbral shifts can engross the mind, the body, and above all the ear. Definitely a weird one. B+

Diana Ross: The Boss [Motown, 1979]
In which La Suprema passes a crash course at the Ashford & Simpson School of Total Adult Fulfillment, although not with As. It's her house, she wants your good lovin' once in the morning and once in the evening, she'll compete and regret it, she'll cooperate and be glad, and she shall survive, because she's the boss. Quite smart, quite sexy, but sometimes dull--it doesn't do much for A&S's crash material that there's only one singer. B

Diana Ross: Diana [Motown, 1980]
The right-every-which-way "Upside Down" and all-purpose gay lib pep song "I'm Coming Out" are only the highlights: not since Lady Sings the Blues has Ms. R. been forced into such a becoming straitjacket. Her perky angularity and fit-to-burst verve could have been designed for Rodgers & Edwards's synergy--you'd swear she was as great a singer as Alfa Anderson herself. And Nile is showing off more axemanship than any rhythm guitarist in history. A-

Marvin Gaye: In Our Lifetime [Tamla, 1981]
Personal to David and Brian: For techno-Afro atmospherics, try this. Pay attention to Nigel Martinez's drumming on "Far Cry" or Frank Blair's bass on "Funk Me" and you might even try to hire them. And though the words are confused, at least they're sincere, which in an age of irony has its advantages. Just like on your record, not one cut announces itself, but that's only because these days Gaye aspires to a line (by which I mean a con or a come-on as well as a musical schema) more sinuous and insinuating than the peculiar hooks and JB elementals of yore. And though not one cut announces itself, every one gets through the door. A-

Diana Ross: All the Great Hits [Motown, 1981]
First time through this double I said fine, perfect in fact--only aficionados will remember anything else. Even ascertained that the fifteen-minute Supremes medley, segued together from the originals rather than recorded live with her show band, wasn't offensive. But it is useless, and it's also true filler--imagine, her entire solo decade has been good for less than four sides of compilable material. This woman is nothing without a context, and beyond the obvious, Rodgers & Edwards are the only one she was ever made for--Ashford & Simpson's domesticity still sounds awkward on her after years of familiarity, and her movie themes are no better than Shirley Bassey's. The great exception is "Love Hangover," produced in 1976 by true hack Hal Davis, who with that song and that track could probably have gotten a disco classic out of June Pointer, Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong--though not Shirley Bassey. B

Marvin Gaye: Midnight Love [Columbia, 1982]
Gaye's always had more feel for sexual healing than for wholly-holy or inner city blues, and this album's concentration on the carnal is one reason it's his best ever: after a week of grumping about his coke-snorting super freaks, dick-brained Bob Marley tribute, and jive ooh-la-la, I realized I was in bed with the man anyway and decided to lie back enjoy it. His wet croon makes up for the lost grit of Let's Get It On, and never before has the rhythm master layered the tracks with such deftness and power. King Sunny Adé, meet Dr. Feelgood. A-

Marvin Gaye: Dream of a Lifetime [Columbia, 1985]
Like a lot of rock and roll geniuses, Gaye was also a nut (or jerk, if you prefer). One reason he worked so assiduously in the studio was that he was loath to let us see all the way inside him, which means that these posthumously consummated outtakes and private jokes are by his own best standard too unmediated to carry much aesthetic weight. By my own best standards, too. On "Ain't It Funny (How Things Turn Around)," the only track that bears Gaye's rhythmic and harmonic signature rather than Gordon Banks's or Harvey Fuqua's schlock-it-to-'em, and "Savage in the Sack," a joke he knew enough to find funny, his wit and charm shine through. Elsewhere he's just letting off guilt in heavenly visions or sexual fantasies out of control. Maybe bondage freaks will find "Masochistic Beauty" a turn-on--what do I know? I know what I infer from "Sanctified Lady" (formerly "Sanctified Pussy")--that this man found himself despising women for doing the kinky things he forced them to do. And there's no way that's a turn-on. C+

Marvin Gaye: Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye [Motown, 1986]
These "never before released masters" were rejected for good reason--they lacked both the hooky spark that spelled hit to Mr. Gordy and the show-tune gentility he thought appropriate to the upscale LP market. The result is a groove album Motown wouldn't have risked back in 1965, by which time seven of these twelve tracks had been laid down, though not so sparklingly engineered. As much a showcase for the Funk Brothers band as for the jazz-tinged pop-gospel phrasing of the label's pet matinee idol, it's a chance to hear Motown's music unalloyed, without the distraction of sweet memory. And damned if I can tell what flaw Gordy descried in Smokey's "Just Like a Man," Ashford & Simpson's "Dark Side of the World," or Cosby & Stevenson's "That's the Way It Goes." A-

Marvin Gaye: Romantically Yours [Columbia, 1986]
The sad testament of a tormented weirdo who longed to redeem himself in the world of middle-class convention. On side one he covers "standards" that are beneath him ("More"), beyond him ("Fly Me to the Moon"), or beside the point ("Maria"). On side two he attempts to write his own. The singing isn't bad--was it ever? The strings are godawful. C+

Diana Ross: Workin' Overtime [Motown, 1989]
How 'bout that--"an equity partner" "returns to the foundations of kids' street music," with well-known former expert Nile Rodgers guiding her every note. Which song means the most to her personally? Is it the well-named "Workin' Overtime"? The even better-named "Bottom Line"? Perhaps the revealing "Going Through the Motions"? The answer is "Take the Bitter With the Sweet." Comments Ross: "Every person and every moment is a combination of bitter and sweet, and that is what makes life so rich and surprising." Thanks for letting us in on this secret, equity partner. C+

Diana Ross: The Force Behind the Power [Motown, 1991] Dud

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) [Motown, 2001]
"alternate Detroit mix" useless, concert version hornier and less strung up ("Head Title," "Sixties Medley: That's the Way Love Is/You/I Heard It Through the Grapevine/Little Darling [I Need You]/You're All I Need to Get By/Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing/Your Precious Love/Pride and Joy/Stubborn Kind of Fellow") **

Marvin Gaye: The Very Best of Marvin Gaye [Motown, 2001]
Gaye was so rhythmically and dynamically astute that his albums sustained whether he was a Motown matinee idol (try In the Groove) or a self-actualizing nut (Let's Get It On). But that doesn't mean they were perfect, which goes double for the inflated What's Going On. His first not-too-big/not-too-small since the long-departed Anthology puts 19 songs on the idol disc (including six key duets) and 15 on the nut disc (including one solid previously unreleased). Gaye makes much more than most out of waving his dick, expanding his mind, and proving that jazz needs him more than he needs jazz. But in the end, the airy grit, hip innocence, and invention-within-stricture of his clean-cut period are more magical and probably deeper. A

Diana Ross: Blue [Motown, 2006] Dud

Diana Ross: I Love You [Manhattan, 2006] Dud