Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pride Month: Diana Ross/ The Supremes Song Facts


This was written by the Motown husband and wife songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. Nick Ashford was inspired by an experience when he first moved to New York. He was walking down a Manhattan thoroughfare, determined that New York City would not get the best of him; the words "Ain't no mountain high enough" popped into his head.

She had many hits with The Supremes, but this was Diana Ross' first US #1 solo hit.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell recorded the original hit version peaking at #19 in the US in 1967. Uriel Jones of The Funk Brothers, who played the drums on Gaye and Terrell's original version, recalled in Mojo magazine February 2009: "Ashford and Simpson had written the song and they always came to the studio with charts. This time was no exception; they came with the song fully written out. The lyrics were written out too. They were one of the few producers and writers who had full charts and made us work from them. They knew 95 percent what they wanted to hear. Johnny Bristol and Harvey Faqua were the actual producers in charge of the recording. We did the rhythm track first, then they put the horns on second. Then they recorded Tammi Terrell's vocal, then they did Marvin Gaye's next. Each vocal was done separately, the singer in the studio with the producer on their own, and they put it all together at the end. You know, I never heard the finished song until I switched on the radio and it was playing."

Amy Winehouse's 2007 single "Tears Dry On Their Own" is based around the backing instrumentation of this song. Ashford & Simpson were also credited on Jessica Simpson's 2006 transatlantic Top 20 single "A Public Affair," as towards the end of the song, the background vocalists can be heard singing a few lines of "aaah, aaah, aaah" in a clear duplication from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

Diana Ross' second husband, Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Næss, Jr., died in a South African mountain climbing accident in 2004.

With a message of overcoming any obstacle, this song is a great fit for politicians seeking office. Hillary Clinton used it a great deal in her 2016 campaign for president, especially when courting male voters who might not connect with her main campaign song: "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten.

The informal contraction "ain't" is frowned upon by strict grammarians, who would also cringe at the double negative that is "ain't no," but "There Isn't Any Mountain High Enough" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Michael McDonald covered this for his 2003 Motown covers album, titled Motown. His version reached #111 in the US and got a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (he lost to Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River."

This song has popped up in a number of movies and TV series. The Diana Ross version shows up in these:

Good Times ("The Break Up" - 1976)
Designing Women ("The Rowdy Girls" - 1989)
The Wonder Years ("The Pimple" - 1989)
Nip/Tuck ("Joel Gideon" - 2004)

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Chicken Little (2005)

The Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell version appear in these films:

Stepmom (1998)
Remember the Titans (2000)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - This was big: It was part of the soundtrack, which went to #1 in America. Chris Pratt's character plays a mixtape given to him by his mom (the Awesome Mix Vol. 1) throughout the film. Near the end, he discovers Vol. 2. When he pops in the tape, this song plays.

Other movie uses of the song include:

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), where a Michael McDonald DVD plays the song.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), where the nuns, including Lauryn Hill, sing it over the end credits.

In TV, Nia Peeples and Janet Jackson sang it in a 1985 episode of Fame, and Will Smith did it on a 1992 episode of his series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.


This was the theme song to the 1975 movie Mahogany, staring Ross as Tracy Chambers, a woman from humble beginnings who becomes a glamourous fashion model using the name "Mahogany." The movie was directed by Berry Gordy Jr., who worked with Ross as head of Motown Records.

Mahogany was Ross' second film; in 1972 she played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. Both films also star Billy Dee Williams.

Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser wrote this song. Goffin was married to Carole King, and wrote many famous songs with her, including "The Loco-Motion" and "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman." Masser wrote "Touch Me in the Morning" for Ross in 1973, and wrote several hits for Whitney Houston.

This song was not written for the movie; Goffin and Masser wrote it in 1973 and had Thelma Houston record it, but her version was never released (it did appear on YouTube). When Berry Gordy asked Masser to compose music for Mahogany, he revisited "Do You Know Where You're Going To." The verses were changed a bit to suit the storyline, but the major elements of the song - including the arrangement and chorus - were kept intact.

For Houston, it was another tough break, as she had been recording for years without a hit. She finally came out on top with her 1976 disco hit "Don't Leave Me This Way," which went to #1 in the US.

The song is about evaluating life's journey, asking if what lies ahead is what you really want. It's appropriate for the film, as Ross' character finds that fame and fortune may not be what makes her happy.

This song caused a kerfuffle when it was deemed "qualitatively ineligible" for an Oscar, meaning it wasn't good enough to even be nominated, even though it was one of the most popular songs of the year. The ensuing uproar led to this decision being revoked, and it was nominated for Best Original Song, losing to "I'm Easy" by Keith Carradine (from the movie Nashville).

Diana Ross was on tour in Europe, but performed the song live via telecast, becoming the first singer to do so at the ceremony. She was in Holland and sang it while walking the streets of Amsterdam.

This song makes the bad grammar category because it ends a statement in a preposition. Proper grammar would be "Do you know where you're going?," but that wouldn't scan very well.

Along with Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance," this was one of the most requested graduation songs.


After this song was recorded, the group's name was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes, something the other Supremes were not happy about. This was their first song to be released under that name.

This was written by the Motown songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland.

Diana Ross loves this song. When the Supremes re-formed in 2000, they used this to open their Return To Love tour. Ross also sang it on her 2004 European tour.

This was the first foray for The Supremes into Psychedelic Pop. The trippy sound effects on this song were created with a custom oscillator designed by one of The Funk Brothers, who were session musicians for most Motown songs of the period.

This was released during The Summer of Love (1967) when the Vietnam War was raging. This made it an appropriate choice for the theme song of the TV series China Beach, which was set in Vietnam during the war. The series ran on ABC from 1988-1991.


This was the Supremes' first number #1 hit not written by the team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. They had left Motown.

Motown founder Berry Gordy wrote this with staff songwriters Deke Richards, Pam Sawyer, R Dean Taylor and Frank Wilson. Instead of writing about love, they come up with a much more controversial song about a child born to unmarried parents.

A year after this came out, The Supremes released a sequel song called "I'm Livin' In Shame," which told the story of the child growing up embarrassed by her mother.

Neither founder member Mary Wilson nor more recent addition Cindy Birdsong (replacing Florence Ballard) sang a note on this single. The test run with Motown session group The Andantes as back-up singers was issued as the single. Mary claims that this was a move by Berry Gordy to make clear to her and Cindy that they were expendable and further establish his power over them as well as playing up to his protégé/lover Diana Ross. Mary further says that the miming to the number for the Ed Sullivan Show was particularly difficult in view of this.

When The Supremes performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show, they appeared in sweat shirts and bare feet as opposed to the glamorous gowns and wigs they were known for. This look was more suited to the song.


When Diana Ross left The Supremes in 1970, the group continued with Jean Terrell replacing Ross alongside Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. Motown head Berry Gordy was much more interested in Ross' solo career, and pulled resources away from The Supremes. With Frank Wilson in charge of producing the group, they defied expectations and had a hit with "Up the Ladder to the Roof." They followed it up with "Stoned Love," which Wilson wrote with a 17-year-old songwriter named Kinney Thomas, who he heard on a talent show on the Detroit radio station WJLB. Wilson tracked down Thomas and asked him if he had any songs. Kinney played him "Stoned Love," and Wilson loved it. He recorded the track with an orchestra, and had The Supremes add their vocals in another session, with Terrell singing lead.

The Supremes' biggest hit without Diana Ross; it was a #1 R&B hit. It was also their last US Top 10 hit.

According to Kinney Thomas, who wrote this song, it has nothing to do with drugs. It's really about the social issues of the time, including the Vietnam War, and the need for compassion. "Stones are forever," said Thomas. "They don't break or come apart. Love will be here forever."

Thomas wasn't unique in assigning an alternate meaning to the term "stoned." Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and the Chi-Lites are some of the acts who have recorded songs with different meanings of the term.

The song's writer Kinney Thomas was credited on this track as "Yennik Samoht" (Thomas's first and last name spelled backwards respectively). This was something Stevie Wonder had done (credited as Eivets Rednow on his recording of "Alfie"), and Thomas also liked how it sounded a bit like the name of one of his favorite singers: Nina Simone.

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