‘Diana & Marvin’: Motown’s Superstar Friends Finally Join Forces On Record
‘I’ve loved Marvin for years and wanted to record with him,’ Diana told Rolling Stone.
For Diana Ross, 1973 was the year of Touch Me In The Morning, her first solo Top 10 album on both sides of the Atlantic. It arrived in the wake of her Oscar-nominated starring role in, and soundtrack for, Lady Sings The Blues. For Marvin Gaye, it was the year of his R&B chart-topping Let’s Get It On LP, in the slipstream of his own movie score adventure, Trouble Man. But when the old Motown friends combined forces, 1973 was also about Diana & Marvin.
The duets project, released on October 26 that year, arrived just two months after Let’s Get It On and, although his first with Diana, it was Gaye’s sixth collaborative record. An early double-header with Mary Wells had been followed by one with Kim Weston and then no fewer than three magical combinations with the ill-starred Tammi Terrell.
Diana & Marvin had been mooted as early as 1970, when Ross was newly solo and Gaye was nursing the emotional wounds of Terrell’s tragic death. Recordings began the following year, by which time Marvin was creating his What’s Going On masterwork. Diana was on her own tight schedule of album releases, film work, TV specials and, at 27, being mother to her first child.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the sporadic nature of its making, the duets LP had several producers, with credits for Hal Davis, Berry Gordy and his wife Margaret, Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons (during their brief time in the Motown orbit), and Ashford & Simpson. It was released with Let’s Get It On still at No.1 in the R&B chart and Touch Me In The Morning, which had led that list in August, still in its Top 20.
Just after the new album’s emergence in December 1973, Diana told Paul Gambaccini in Rolling Stone: “I’ve loved Marvin for years and wanted to record with him. We did a great number of songs together during the last year and a half, so many that I didn’t know which ones would be selected for the album. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know which one was the single until you told me.”
That selection as the first US 45 was one of its few originals, “You’re A Special Part Of Me.” It didn’t quite live up to the Cash Box review that boldly stated “it shouldn’t take more than two or three weeks before this becomes the best selling song in the country,” but it did become a substantial No.4 R&B and No.12 pop hit in the US.
As it climbed, Billboard greeted the album’s appearance by admiring the “gentle magic to the musical blend of the two voices.” The magazine reserved special praise for Mel Bolton and Marilyn McLeod’s “Love Twins” and the duo’s remake of Wilson Pickett’s 1971 soul chart-topper “Don’t Knock My Love” (of which Ross reportedly disapproved as a cover choice). Another highlight was “My Mistake (Was To Love You),” written by Hitsville stalwarts Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer.
There was also great admiration for the song craft of masterful soul authors Thom Bell and Linda Creed, whose work for Philly soul hitmakers the Stylistics was plundered for both of the album’s best-known tracks, certainly from an international standpoint. Sensitive reworkings of “You Are Everything” and “Stop Look Listen (To Your Heart)” both became 1974 UK hits and ensured that Diana & Marvin became a gold-selling fixture on the British charts that year, with an aggregate 36 weeks in the Top 40, the last of them as late as February 1975.
In the US, the album only made No.26 pop, going as high as No.7 R&B. That was something of a disappointment given Motown’s extensive merchandising campaign for the record, described by sales director Phil Jones in Cash Box as “perhaps the biggest in the company’s history.”
A 2001 expanded reissue of Diana & Marvin added four bonus cuts, of which “Alone,” “The Things I Will Not Miss,” and “I’ve Come To Love You So Much” were from the 1972 sessions and “I’ll Keep My Light In My Window” was taped in 1978. Originally released by soul duo Caston & Majors, the Ross-Gaye version of that tune was on Motown’s multi-artist 1979 album Pops, We Love You, dedicated to Berry “Pops” Gordy, Sr.
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