It may seem, from this distance, that Diana Ross had it all her own way and became an immediate solo sensation when she left the Supremes. But in the first two years of the 1970s, as she set out on her own path at Motown, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Her first, self-titled album was a No.1 on the R&B chart in 1970. But it only reached No.19 on Billboard’s US pop countdown. The swift follow-up Everything Is Everything was an R&B No.5, but ran out of steam in the pop market at No.42. Then on April 24, 1971, she entered the US pop list with the soundtrack of her first solo television special.
It was titled Diana!, not to be confused with the smash hit 1980 set diana produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. The original Chic mix of that set made its vinyl return for Record Store Day 2017. The 1971 LP (and the show) featured Ms Ross with her “protégés” the Jackson 5 and comedians Danny Thomas and Bill Cosby.
The soundtrack album was released, perhaps oddly, just before the show itself had aired. But when the ABC TV show went out, it was a ratings success. It made the Top 20 and led to Emmy nominations for Diana, designer Bob Mackie and in technical categories.
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“Remember Me,” which had just been a Top 20 US pop hit, was included in the album and show, along with the No.1 that preceded it, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The special also had Ross covering other artists and writers, including Bacharach & David’s “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” the Carpenters’ version of which had topped the charts in 1970. She did Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me” and, true to Motown and Berry Gordy’s enthusiasm for cabaret material, Bob Merrill and Jule Styne’s “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” from the 1964 musical Funny Girl.
All of those factors, plus the Jackson 5’s two medleys and the Thomas and Cosby segments, helped the Diana! album reach No.3 on the Billboard R&B chart. But in the pop listings, it was another modest achiever, reaching only No.46.
In the UK, Motown delayed the release of the album until after the BBC2 broadcast of the TV special, on September 18. It spent one week on the chart there, at No.43. But the LP was eclipsed by the debut, at No.10 on the same countdown, of her new studio set. Titled Surrender in the US, that was renamed I’m Still Waiting for a UK audience that had recently made the song of that name a No.1 single.