A few weeks ago, we came to the conclusion that history’s most perfect pop song is Todd Rundgren’s ‘I Saw The Light’. To be fair, I suppose I should acknowledge that you didn’t have much say in the outcome, I just decided on your behalf.
Today, in a similar spirit of one-handed democracy, ‘we’ are going to contemplate the greatest pop performance of all time. For although Todd turns in a cheery offering, as he reminds us that he ran out before, but he won’t do it anymore, he doesn’t make us go gooey inside, and make us want to marry him and father his children, unlike the heart-sappingly delicious woman who, by a clear margin, produced the greatest vocal ever heard in popular music history.
In 1969, to be too cool for school, it was essential, if you were a young fellow striving for credibility in the playground, to be seen clutching The Band, or Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut albums. You might just about have got away with Abbey Road.
Girls with cheesecloth blouses and flyaway hair wept delicately over their Pentangle album and, if especially prone to bouts of uncontrollable tears, Laura Nyro’s ‘New York Tendaberry’.
Whilst acknowledging all of the above, and especially ensuring I was very able to discuss Joni Mitchell’s ‘Clouds’, if it meant an actual conversation with a girl, my soul was stirred by music that was delivered on 7” singles, in a simple silver and grey sleeve, with an even simpler label that had one word outlined in bigger letters than the name of the artist and the song: ‘Motown’.
On the cusp of setting off on her solo career, Diana Ross recorded an album of cover versions with the Supremes and The Temptations. Never intended as a single, track four began to gain airplay both on the R&B stations and, crucially for the launch of the international success of the track, the mainstream top forty stations.
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” features Eddie Kendricks from The Temptations as Diana’s foil, with dreamy, sublime backing vocals from (deep breath) Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards. Step forward also, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Motown in-house session band, the Funk Brothers.
Diana Ross had grown up in the projects of Detroit; she was twenty-five years old, and she knew what the boys wanted. Yet Diana was never ever the girl next door. She was born to shimmer, to sparkle with an iridescence that could turn men (and especially Surrey schoolboys) into blushing wrecks, with her mascara drenched, dark, dark eyes.
On IGMYLM, Diana only sings one verse and a chorus and then breathes out half of a spoken middle eight, but oh baby, how she infuses them into the deepest depths of our aching soul. In fact, we’re one minute and seven seconds in before she skillfully instructs to “Lookie here…” and yet in this verse, Diana finds the perfect tone of sensuality that has us gasping as she ends lines with “Oooh baby” and “Hey baby…”
Already I want to get on the first flight to Detroit and propose marriage, undying fidelity, and if at all possible, make the first bid to sire seventeen of her children.
Her voice, moist and misty, advises (it isn’t a warning – nobody would run away) that she intends to use every trick in the book; “I’ll try my best to get you hooked” and then that breathy “Hey baby…”
“Look out boy, ‘cos I’m gonna get you” is delivered with a luscious, heavenly confidence, with a broad smile of certainty.
Then, the chorus,
“I’m gonna make you love me; Ooh yes I will, yes I will; And I’m gonna make you love me; Ooh yes I will, yes I will (you know I will)”.
That final emphatic “You know I will” is sung with such passion, that, in 1969, radios were known to have melted due to the heat and fire generated by that line.
If by this time, we are still just about able to breathe, Diana Ross fires the ultimate weapon of eroticism: her ability to sigh a few lines of a Gamble & Huff middle eight as if she were Juliet, on the balcony, vowing her love to Romeo of the Montagues.
“Every breath I take, and each and every step I make, brings me closer baby, closer to you.”
And apart from a spirited reaffirmation on the fade, she’s gone. Three minutes and five seconds that encapsulate everything that pop music should be – a great song, superb arrangement, an unsurpassed supporting cast, and the greatest vocal performance ever heard on a pop record. A performance of confidence, panache, style and passion; Diana Ross.