Sunday, 27 February 2011

Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye - Diana and Marvin

I was inspired to dig out the following LP after hearing a cover version of one of the songs on it while walking around the romantic setting of discount shop “Wilkinson” looking for green tea towels.  It reminded me what a great “lovers album” this LP is and how it’s been a long time since I listened to it.

What more appropriate way to start discussing what for me was the 20th century’s best example of a body of music made for lovers than talking about……..


My copy of this LP comes with a cover that opens in the centre of the LP cover, it has a nasty crease in it that I did when putting the LP away once, but the cover has never been in great nick all the time I’ve owned it.  A previous owner left an ominous stain to the left of Diana’s nose.

Once the card is “spread opened” we are met with a big 12” picture of Marvin and Diana sitting closely together.  A bearded Marvin has put on a few pounds from how he looked on the “What’s Going On” and “Let’s Get It On” covers (that were later to be so inspirational to David James for a few games).  Diana is leaning on Marvin’s shoulders and looking, well, like Diana Ross.

I like the fact that now and again labels would make an effort to do something different with the 12” cover format, who wouldn’t enjoy folding out “Black Moses” in all its grandeur?  But they didn’t do it very often, and often not on all the issues (mine is a German Tamla release), so it brought back some nice feelings of nostalgia when I dug out this LP from my dusty utility room and placed it on the ones and twos.

The Stylistics had crossed over successfully in the 70s with the songs of Thom Bell and Linda Creed.  My Source?  I don’t need Billboard charts or old Guinness books of hit records to inform me, I know it because I grew up hearing my dad singing their songs while decorating, you know you’ve made it when painters sing your songs, it may have been this success that influenced the choice to cover a couple of Bell/Creed songs on his LP, in fact it is a Stylistics cover that opens up “Diana and Marvin.”

The production of “You Are Everything” replaces the soft but spacey Philly sound of the Stylistics version with something altogether sexier.  The rhythm section are joined by lush strings and Marvin is just this side of embarrassing cliché in his talky opening, if he’d moved a Rizla thickness more in the direction of “sexy” I’d have had to listen with a cringe that I normally reserve for watching Alan Partridge.  As it stands, it’s a marvellous opening, and one that he follows up with the soulful yearning that he injected into so much of his work.  The boy sounds hurt, RIP MPG.

Before discussing track two, I want to get my feelings for Diana Ross out in the open.  I don’t like her.  Much.  It’s not that I hate her, and it is too easy to quote stories and rumours about being a diva from before I was born, or go digging on google for facts about special treatment by Berry Gordy.  It is not a political reason I don’t much like her, it is just that her voice has never excited me.  On this LP though she sounds like a well chosen foil to Marvin’s soulful range, a range used brilliantly on my favourite track, “Love Twins.”  After another great intro, the band settle down into a funky little groove with Marvin reaching almost Eddie Kendricks heights of falsetto before the heart warming “I love you baby, I love you too Marvin” interplay that again sits dangerously close to corny but they pull off charmingly.

It’s a great LP, that the above two tracks sum up well, a mixture of romanticism and lustful desire, but I don’t want to write too much about each individual track, it is a near perfect example of the LP as it should be, a collection of songs carefully picked and ordered with the listener in mind (what you’d expect from the Motown machine I suppose, left to his own devices Marvin may have done things differently, but that shouldn’t detract from this LP).  I would like to make a few hounarble mentions however.

“Don’t Knock My Love” is an upbeat cover of “Wicked” Pickett’s funk opus, and makes the listening experience a more dynamic one, placed where it is at track three.  “Just Say, Just Say” is a wonderfully touching breakup/come together song at the beginning of side two, by the end of that and the start of “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” I’m almost weeping into the keyboard!  Their version is by far the best in my opinion and has been sampled and remade in that style a few times.

Sadly worth a mention is the lack of any musician credits on the LP, the writers get credits (including one Gloria Jones, of “Tainted Love” fame and widow of Marc Bolan), producers get a mention, but the poor old “Funk Bros”, presuming it is them, remain anonymous.  I know Bob Babbit and Denis Coffey played on Wilson Pickett’s track, so they may be on here.  But who knows?

SPOILER ALERT If you want to listen to the LP in its entirety and marvel at how close and charming the two singers sound then proceed with care, or don’t read at all….

According to a Marvin Gaye biography I read, Diana and Marvin where thousands of miles apart when they recorded this LP.  When I read this I was shocked, I regarded it as the pinnacle of “duet” recordings, above Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, above Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, above any other duet I’ve ever heard.  It spoiled it a bit for me, I loved the charming little asides between the singers, so I felt cheated by the fact.  A decade later however and a  chance hearing of a dodgy remake in “Wilkos” and the fact that youtube has films of the singers singing together made me want to dig the LP out and give it another go.

I’m glad I did.

A1 You Are Everything  3:10
A2 Love Twins  3:28
A3 Don't Knock My Love  2:20
A4 You're A Special Part Of Me  3:35
A5 Pledging My Love  3:34
B1 Just Say, Just Say  4:10
B2 Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)  2:53
B3 I'm Falling In Love With You  2:42
B4 My Mistake (Was To Love You)  2:55
B5 Include Me In Your Life  3:04

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