mahogany-coverHere’s a clip of Diana Ross’ “The Theme From Mahogany”, the title song from the 1976 film in which Ross stars as an ingénue in the fashion industry. The picture was directed by her svengali figure and Motown label boss, Berry Gordy.

This tune is very much of its time perhaps, much like the film in which it features. But, for whatever reason, I love it. It’s almost classical sounding to me, like a Bach fugue in places. And usually sumptuous orchestration is a red flag for this kind of song, unless the vocalist presents a contrasting texture of some kind. Ross doesn’t do this, which is a testament to how well arranged the tune is. It shouldn’t have worked, but it does. Well, it does for me, anyway.

I’ve said before that Diana Ross’ career owes a lot to the material upon which it was built. This tune, for instance, was co-written by former Brill Building songwriter, Gerry Goffin, for which he won an Oscar nomination. And her Motown oeuvre owed a huge debt to the superlative writing talents of Holland Dozier Holland. I’m not sure that her voice is terribly special, frankly. But, maybe her bland voice is her secret weapon in this way. For one, it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, and makes way for the delivery of the material. Maybe this is why Ross was able to skip across genres so easily too.

Her late 70s-early 80s renaissance was largely down to her being able to etch out a niche for herself when disco came along. There again, she was bolstered by great producers and players, as well as great songs in “Love Hangover”, “I’m Coming Out”, and “Upside Down”. Her 1980 album Diana, produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, is the perfect example of Ross working with the best to get the best results.

Although saying that, there is the story of Ross demanding that her vocals be brought up in the mix, after hearing a version of the record as laid down by Edwards and Rodgers. I wonder how grand the original mix of the Diana album would have sounded, with a slinkier bass, a more playful rhythm guitar, and funkier drums. It might have caused heads to explode, or very least for disco and funk to remain more mainstream further into the decade. Who can say?


4 thoughts on “Diana Ross Sings ‘The Theme From Mahogany’

  1. hmmm. Diana Ross…not one of my favourite performers but I must admit that the Supremes and all that motown stuff was a big part of my life when I was a teenager.

    And her voice, as you point out is not particularly good, although it has something of an unforgettable quality about it
    that I think has kept her “alive” well beyond some of her compatriots, many of whom seem to be doing revival concerts for bluish haired audiences.

    Wait a minute…I’m one of those!! Okay forget I said that.

  2. 🙂

    I think her voice is alright. But again – it’s the material which is the real star. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I like to think that she understands that pretty well.

    Thanks for comments!

  3. I love Diana Ross’s voice. It is so unique and delightful. It quietly expresses to every young future star that it is important to hold on to your dream and persevere.

  4. Hey Ann,

    Thanks for your input, and welcome!

    Yeah, I suppose she is something of the American Dream personified, given that she was just a girl from the neighbourhood who became a refined pop star. And as I mentioned, she had tremendous material to boot, including this tune.

    Thanks again for comments!

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