As so often before, Motown succeeded itself at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on this date 44 years ago. The chart for the week of September 19, 1970 showed Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ having its three-week reign ended by Diana Ross, scoring her first solo chart-topper and starting a three-week run of her own with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’
Ross’ solo career after leaving the Supremes had, surprisingly, not had the most auspicious start, when her first single in her own name, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s ‘Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),’ peaked at No. 20 on the pop chart. In the UK, it only made No. 33.
To heighten matters, the Supremes’ first single without Diana, ‘Up The Ladder To The Roof,’ had done altogether better, peaking at No. 10. It all appeared to knock Diana’s confidence. In some of her first solo concerts, she would say to the audience: “Good evening, everybody, and welcome to the ‘Let’s-see-if-Diana-Ross-can-do-it-by-herself-show.”
Then in July 1970, Motown released her cover of another Ashford & Simpson song which had been a hit three years earlier for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The singer herself was rather surprised at the writers’ suggestion of a cover of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ but went along with it. Then Berry Gordy insisted that he would not release it as a single unless the producers move the chorus to the front, which Ashford & Simpson flatly refused. It was radio programmers who took the cut, from her self-titled first album and started playing it, that created the hit.
Ross’ remake truly made the song her own, and went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, where it lost out to Dionne Warwick’s ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.’ All the same, the song really lit the fire under Ross’ solo stardom and became the first of no fewer than five pop chart-toppers.