by Driver 67
A discussion was under way on one of my Facebook groups.
Amy Winehouse vs Diana Ross – who’s best?
What a conversation! Who do you prefer? That would have been a better way of phrasing it. But who’s best? Come on!
Diana Ross wasn’t even the best singer in The Supremes. By general consensus from the time, that accolade would have gone to Florence Ballard.
But Berry Gordy sensed, quite rightly, that Diana Ross would have great appeal to white audiences. She was skinny enough to be a clothes horse, had fabulous hair and a gorgeous face.
And Diana was ambitious, only too keen to take direction and move upfront.
But the supreme irony of Diana Ross was that the very thing that stopped her being the best singer in the Supremes – a thin, reedy, slightly uncertain voice – was the very thing that propelled their records to the top of the charts.
It was a pure pop voice and it sliced through the AM frequency like a knife through butter. Like a slightly off-centre model whom the camera loves and makes beautiful, the microphone and the medium (radio) absolutely loved Diana Ross’s voice.
Today, I doubt she would make it through the heats of X Factor.
Mind you, would Amy?
Amy possessed any number of assets that would assure her victory over Diana. She had an innate musicality, steeped in jazz, gospel and blues. But – very importantly – she was a songwriter, a writer of rare integrity and uncomfortable honesty.
She sprang out of nowhere, with the voice and musical talent of a 1,000 year old.
So it’s no contest where I live. And I say that as someone who bought the first three Supremes’ singles and loves them forever.
And kudos to Diana, who learned her trade well enough to play Billie Holiday (very well) in Lady Sings The Blues; and to sing the songs (without shame, though without distinction). And her success in the music business over decades certainly beats Amy’s time in the sun.
But in a way it’s like comparing John Coltrane with Curtis Stigers. Coltrane barely made it to 40, treating his body so cavalierly that a coroner said his internal organs were those of a 60-year-old. I don’t imagine Amy Winehouse’s were very pretty.
But when it comes to music, that indefinable but undeniable magic that marks out the great from the merely good or mediocre, it’s John and Amy. Every time.