Diana Ross: Touch Me In The Morning Expanded Edition (Hip-O Select/Motown)
By 1973, Diana Ross seemed to be light years away from her tenure as a founding member of The Supremes. She had already hit two pinnacles garnering her first #1 solo single in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and even more impressive, a #1 album and movie with “Lady Sings the Blues”. Her movie debut would earn a Best Actress nomination and Golden Globe. She lost the Oscar to Liza Minelli. All the excitement generated from her cinematic debut would also cause her contemporary music career to take somewhat of a backseat. It is not like she stopped recording. In fact, she had been quite prolific in the recording studio with no less than 3 projects including “Everything is Everything”, “Surrender” and the unreleased, “To the Baby” albums. Gordy had decided it was time to return to the top of the charts w/another radio friendly smash.
Michael Masser, a new songwriter/producer, was commissioned to create that smash. The result was “Touch Me in the Morning”. FM radio was becoming more and more pervasive. FM radio would break the rigid formula of its counterpart. Its freeform nature, at that time, would give equal time to the full 6:06 minute version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, rotated next to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Ten Years After’s “Love Like a Man”. It would be the last days of the relevance of AM radio. Berry Gordy had mastered the demands and boundaries of that format. Famously Gordy commented that “a single would not be released until its sound was calibrated through a transistor radio”, as well as, a state of the art sound system.
So let’s step back in time for a second and remember when albums had a Side 1/Side 2. To my ears, “Touch Me in the Morning” Side 1 was geared towards AM radio. The songs were more Adult contemporary and the sound was compressed and safe, just like that format in general. Michael Masser wrote a rather complicated song about the end of a love affair. As a producer, he had Diana layer vocals on top of vocals. (Reportedly, this drove Ross crazy and she grew to resent those sessions). The lyrics were a lot more sophisticated than what one may have initially thought. In fact, a lyric like “mornings were blue and gold, we use to feel each other living” would only grow in significance. Diana would experiment with various live arrangements of the song through the years.
Songs like “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” written by Paul Williams (The Carpenters) and Michael Randall (“Leave a Little Room”, “All of My Life”) had that sunny AM radio sound that would be antecedent to the “soccer mom” phenomenon of the millennium era. The kind of copyrights that eventually found its way onto Johnny Mathis, Helen Reddy albums. It would also demonstrate the dichotomy that Diana and Berry wrestled with in deciding what direction her solo career should take. (A noted British music critic reflected on how Gordy fashioned Diana’s next makeover from a more soulful, edgy Diva (see “Love Child”, “I’m Livin’ in Shame”) to a more cabaret-ish songstress (Streisand, Dionne Warwick). “Lady Sings the Blues” captured both sides beautifully. However, high-end supper club bookings were still coveted compared to arenas. Supper club bookings catered to an older audience. Therefore, her set list would be more MOR (middle of the road).
Side Two would be slightly more adventurous. It would open up with a gorgeous, acoustic rendition of Rodgers-Hart’s “Little Girl Blue”. (Diana recorded no less than 4 different arrangements of this song from The Supremes (“Sing Rodgers and Hart”, “Lost and Found: Let the Music Play”) and more recently as a solo artist (“Stolen Moments”). She tackles a fairly straightforward version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. There is a decidedly more urbane feel to “My Baby My Own” with its wonderful, mournful adlibs. These songs sound ready made for the burgeoning FM radio format. The album closes out with a beautiful medley of “Brown Baby”/”Save the Children”, the latter from Marvin’s iconic “What’s Going On” album from a couple of years prior. Diana had begun to stretch her creativity once again by producing “Imagine” and “Save the Children”. While her production skills were fairly safe, it offered promise of what may possibly come. (In fact, when it was announced that Diana and Marvin would record together…….possibilities seemed endless, from writing and producing collaborations. Alas, it would never be fully realized).
The alternate mixes on this “Expanded Edition” are particularly impressive. The set includes alternate mixes on half of this album’s songs. The two extra versions of “Touch Me in the Morning” are quite listenable. Mix 1 has a fuller orchestration, Mix 2 is even more majestic and symphonic with a long, elegant opening that leads into some of Diana’s most potent singing. Still, in reflection, the version that was first released was probably more commercial and radio-friendly. “All of My Life” ,1973 mix, is a tad more soulful with strong violins and a soulful guitar/sax ending. It would become a Top Ten hit in the U.K. And Deke Richards’ “We Need You” is decidedly more soulful as well ending with a heartfelt plea. This has always been one of my favorite Diana Ross albums. The soft focused photo cover captures Diana seemingly floating in clouds like an angel listening to harps and orchestral strings.. The album flows delicately like the sound of birds chirping on a spring morning.
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry. Kirk can be contacted via email at email@example.com
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.