diana (1980)

“I think this time around, I am gonna do it like you never knew it…”

“Edwards and Rodgers are now excited about the album which they just produced for Diana Ross, to be released next month.  ‘When we met Diana,’ recalled Rodgers, ‘she said she wanted to get back to having fun.  She said when she walks onstage now she has all these heavy tunes and heavy musicians; it makes her crazy sometimes with so much going on.”

Jet magazine carried that mention in its December 27, 1979 issue, priming fans for a new Diana Ross album produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the music group Chic.  Miss Ross was fresh off of her most successful album in years, 1979’s The Boss, but even with its gold-selling status, her album was nowhere near the hit that Chic’s Risqué had been that year, thanks mainly to its blockbuster cut “Good Times.”  According to Rodgers in his memoir Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco, And Destiny, it was Motown executive Suzanne de Passe who came up with the idea to pair the duo with Miss Ross, in hopes of returning her to the kind of chart success she’d enjoyed earlier in her solo career: “Before [de Passe] moved up [within the Motown corporation], her last order of business at the record label was to reignite the musical career of Motown’s top superstar…and that meant making a radical move by going outside the company.  And we were the people she had in mind to do it” (159).

Billboard: August 11, 1979

Rodgers and Edwards had racked up some major hits since releasing their first Chic single, “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” in 1977.  More than that, the pair created an entirely new sound in the process, a lean, muscular, hypnotically rhythmic sound led by Rodgers’s explosive guitar work and the Edwards’s powerful bass playing; as Adam White wrote in Billboard, “What is most fascinating about Rodgers and Edwards’ work is their devotion to space, to sparseness, to the sound in between their chosen instrumentation and vocalists (September 1, 1979).  Although they’d turned out hits for their own group and Sister Sledge, Rodgers and Edwards had never worked with a star of Diana’s caliber; according to Rodgers, “Before we started composing, our plan was to have a few interview sessions with Diana…we wanted to get a broad range of subjects that she was interested in” (166).  Those interviews revealed an artist ready for a major change in her life and career; Ross told the producers that she wanted a new, New York-style sound and songs that her children could sing along to.

The result of those talks was a batch of eight strikingly original tracks, all of them far less glossy than anything Ross had recorded during her solo career.  Rodgers and Edwards expanded their own musical boundaries while simultaneously forcing Diana into the confines of their angular productions; they drew an appealing swagger out of her, tapping into the Detroit girl who’d long been hidden by the Los Angeles movie star.  Although Nile Rodgers had told Jet that the album would be released in January, recording actually continued through March, and the original version of the album was mixed late that month.  Unfortunately, Diana Ross and virtually everyone around her had major reservations about the album, which resulted in Motown engineer Russ Terrana remixing the entire thing.  “It seemed like a Chic album with a Diana Ross voice,” Terrana says in the 2003 release diana: Deluxe Edition.  “I’d worked with her for so long, so I came in knowing the kind of person she is and the kind of excitement she lies to create.”

The final mix of diana (Motown 936) was released in May of 1980; its first single, “Upside Down,” was issued the following month.  Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, Stephen Holden wrote that it “evokes the out-door rough-and-tumble of a playground jungle gym…Ross’ reedy soprano conveys the spirit of child’s play with amazing ease as she converts the emotion of The Boss, her last record, into pure rhythmic energy.”  Indeed, even with Terrana’s remix, the Chic groove exploded from speakers, led by a tougher, street-smart diva calling on everyone to “Give up your love to me.”  The public listened; diana became an unprecedented success for Miss Ross, giving her a pair of Top 5 singles (including the Grammy-nominated “Upside Down”) and topping the Billboard R&B Albums chart for eight consecutive weeks, her first #1 LP on that chart since 1973’s Touch Me In The Morning.  But make no mistake; this is a very different album from that 1973 effort, and a very different woman singing on it; the Diana Ross who once cried out “We Need You” was now grown, coming out, and taking charge. 

***

Billboard: August 16, 1980

1.  Upside Down:  Despite oft-repeated rumors that this song had originally been written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for Aretha Franklin, Rodgers remembers getting the idea of “Upside Down” during his interview with Diana Ross, and tailoring the song specifically to her.  “The first single…was different from anything we’d written before,” says Nile Rodgers in Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco, And Destiny.  “We included excessively polysyllabic words like ‘instinctively’ and ‘respectfully’ in the lyrics, because we wanted to utilize Diana’s sophistication to achieve a higher level of musicality.  Along with the complicated verse, we deliberately made the chorus rhythmically more difficult to sing than the catchier, one-listen song hooks for Chic.  We weren’t working with talented session singers this time, we were working with a star…Despite the departure from our tested style, we knew ‘Upside Down’ was a monster hit” (169).  Although there was considerable concern around Motown about “Upside Down” and just how radically different it was in terms of Diana Ross records, Motown eventually released the song as diana‘s first single on June 18, 1980, a month after it parent album had hit store shelves.  Motown’s indecision on issuing a first single had hurt Diana Ross in the past; “Gettin’ Ready For Love” came out a month after 1977’s Baby It’s Me, something which injured the performance of both the single and the album.  But in the case of “Upside Down,” Rodgers and Edwards were right; the public freaked out over the song, and it climbed up the Billboard Hot 100 until it finally hit the #1 spot in September, where it stayed for a full month.  The song did the same thing on the R&B chart, also camping out at the top spot for a month; over on the Disco chart, co-listed with “I’m Coming Out,” Diana did herself one better, sitting at #1 for five non-consecutive weeks.  It’s hard to believe today that executives ever doubted the song’s potential; it remains as dazzling as it must have been upon initial release, a dizzying, hypnotic soul-dance track made up of striking Chic strings, Rodgers’s dynamic guitar, and Bernard Edwards blasting out his bass.  Atop the head-spinning instrumental is a lyric that’s vague and repetitive, qualities that wouldn’t likely be a good thing on another song, but that are perfect (and frankly necessary) here; with such a strong, percussive background, a simple lyric is exactly what’s needed to ground the song and keep it accessible.  Diana’s performance here is crisp, clean, and down-to-earth; the vocal runs and powerful belting of “The Boss” are gone, replaced by a punchy, staccato performance.  She sounds tougher here; even though she’s singing about being cheated on by her man, she’s not weepy or over-emotive.  Of Diana’s performance, Rodgers writes, “We wanted to give her more ambitious, intricate material to work with and interpret, to fill with her own intelligence and skill” (169).  Indeed, despite the nursery-rhyme lyrics, it takes real skill to pull a performance like this off, to remain mature and sophisticated and to not get swamped by the complex instrumental track.  Miss Ross brilliantly succeeds, and her effort was rewarded with another Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Female Performance; the competition that year was tough (including Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, and Minnie Riperton), and although Diana was favored to win, Stephanie Mills took home the award for her dance hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”  Still, “Upside Down” remains a classic, still covered and sampled by new artists to this day, and is one of the best singles ever to be released on Miss Ross.

2.  Tenderness:  It is perhaps ironic that a song called “Tenderness” gets one of the least-tender arrangements on the entire album; Diana sings about needing kindness over a track that jabs and punches around her, as if she’s stuck in the middle of a street-fight.  Much more than “Upside Down,” this song really sounds like a Chic tune; the recognizable backgrounds by Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin are loud and robust here, the voices identical to what you hear on songs like “Good Times” and “I Want Your Love.”  The instrumental track, however, is tougher than much of that group’s released output; Rodgers and Edwards arrange the “Tenderness” instrumental as a kind of call-and-response between slicing strings and an abrasive guitar, and the result is a recording that’s extremely angular.  Diana’s performance is at least little more vulnerable than on the previous track; she’s singing in a higher key, resulting in a more youthful sound, but she still sticks to the melody here, singing each note clearly and with strength, but no embellishments whatsoever.  It’s to her credit that even in such a spare, staccato performance, Ross is able to convey the emotion of the song; she doesn’t sound on the verge of tears, as is the case with some of her Michael Masser work, but she convincingly puts across the idea of a woman looking for a different kind of love.  In an interesting way, a song like this is much more reminiscent of Diana’s work with The Supremes than anything she’d done in her solo career; Miss Ross had taken to letting her vocals lag behind the melody ever since her relaxed work on Lady Sings The Blues, but here, she’s anticipating the beat much more again, vigorously hitting her notes as she did on many of the urgent Holland-Dozier-Holland hits from the beginning of her career.  In the wake of the massive success of “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out,” Motown considered “Tenderness” for single release in the United States; it placed the song on 1981’s All The Great Hits in anticipation of such a move.  That never happened, but the single was released internationally, hitting #17 in Belgium and stalling at #73 in the United Kingdom (diana had already produced three Top 20 hits in the UK).

3.  Friend To Friend:  Discussing his work on the diana project, Motown engineer Russ Terrana says in the Deluxe Edition booklet, “There was plenty of excitement in the tracks.  I tried to create the dynamics that seemed missing, so you could feel the emotions change, and hear the subtleties already in the music.”  diana‘s only true ballad is perhaps the clearest example of Terrana’s vision in remixing the album; Terrana stripped “Friend To Friend” way down, leaving behind the sparest of instrumentals to accompany Diana’s stunningly controlled performance.  The original Rodgers and Edwards mix (finally released on CD in 2003) is laden with echoing effects, giving the song a kind of space-age solitude, as if Miss Ross is singing from a lonely planet somewhere deep in space.  Terrana removed many of these effects, shifting the focus solely onto Diana’s voice; having worked with Miss Ross since back in her Supremes days, the engineer likely understood how special her performance was on the track.  Again sticking to Diana’s desire for songs her children could sing along with, Rodgers and Edwards penned the singer a sleek lullaby with “Friend To Friend,” changing out her more familiar florid “love song” lyrics for simplistic fragments (i.e. “Good to you/Good to you/Is what I’m gonna be”).  As with other lullabies, the melody here is rather repetitive, and in a refreshing change, it forces Miss Ross to dig down toward the bottom of her vocal range, something she pulls off with alluring ease.  The singer’s performance is quiet but confident; she sounds like she’s singing the song directly into the listener’s ear, brilliantly controlling her pitch and possibly urges to oversing.  Although both mixes of “Friend To Friend” are beautifully done, Terrana’s really does help break the recording free of any genre constraints, giving the song a timelessness by keeping the focus on the album’s true star.  (NOTE: “Friend To Friend” gained a wide audience when it was placed on the b-side of the “Upside Down” single, which topped the pop and R&B charts.)

Billboard: September 13, 1980

4.  I’m Coming Out:  “One of the biggest light-bulb moments of my life happened at the G.G. Barnum Room, a club in the West 40s in Manhattan…I was using the bathroom and three transvestites dressed up like Diana Ross came in…And it hit me: ‘Oh, my God!  What would it be like if Diana Ross walked up on stage and sang, ‘I’m coming out!'”  That question, asked by Nile Rodgers in the booklet accompanying the 2003 release diana: Deluxe Edition, has been answered time and time again; in the years since “I’m Coming Out” first blasted out of radio speakers, the song has taken on a status few others have in popular music, becoming an anthemic, iconic classic that opens nearly every live show performed by Diana Ross.  According to Rodgers in his memoir Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco, And Destiny, that was the goal; he writes, “We originally envisioned the song as the opening to Diana’s live show for the new album.  The horns in the song’s intro were a soul fanfare for the pop diva” (168).  Indeed, from the opening vocal announcement atop an absolutely smoking guitar line and vibrant horn section, this song has “hit” written all over it; although the message would later worry Motown executives, it’s hard to imagine anyone denying it as a viable single. “I’m Coming Out” was eventually lifted as the album’s second single (after being scheduled as the first, then cancelled), hitting record stores in August of 1980; the song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the September 6 issue of the magazine, the same week that “Upside Down” finally hit #1.  Although “Upside Down” took some time to climb the charts, “I’m Coming Out” raced up the listings, eventually peaking at #5 on the Hot 100 while “Upside Down” was still in the Top 10!  Then song topped out at #6 on the R&B side, but it fared best of all on the Disco Top 100, which it led (co-listed with “Upside Down”) for five non-consecutive weeks.  Indeed, with “I’m Coming Out,” Rodgers and Edwards wrote one of the great dance songs of the modern recording area, and certainly one of the best singles Diana Ross ever recorded and released.  As upbeat and joyous as “The Boss” and as anthemic as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” this is Diana at her best; the memorable lyrics (“There’s a new me coming out/And I just have to live”) are delivered with fiery certainty by Miss Ross, who clearly felt a close connection with the lyrics.  The melody line here is much more complex than on any of the previous songs on the LP, so it’s nice to hear Diana use a little more of her range, in particular her shout during the word “out” at 5:10.  The song structure is brilliant; almost the entire first minute of running time serves as the intro, with Diana’s signature “I’m Coming Out!” repeated as the instrumental line builds until the track finally bursts alive with Bernard Edwards’s booming bassline.  Speaking of the instrumentals, “I’m Coming Out” also features a memorable jazz trombone solo performed by Meco Monardo; the musician would later remember recording just four takes of the solo at the end of a three-hour session.  Though the song is considered a gay anthem for obvious reasons, the lyrics truly are universal; Diana Ross has said that the song had a deep, personal meaning for her in terms of taking creative control of her career.  It’s hard to believe “I’m Coming Out” didn’t gain Miss Ross another Grammy nomination; it is one of her most vivacious vocal performances, and deserved the recognition.  It probably could have done even better on the charts had it not been competing with both “Upside Down” and “It’s My Turn,” the Michael Masser-penned theme song to the film of the same name which was released before “I’m Coming Out” had even peaked on the charts.  Still, “I’m Coming Out” has become a deserved classic, famously sampled on the 1997 #1 hit “Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy and Mase.  It’s rare that a recording captures the excitement of an entire movement in its words and music, but this one does.

Billboard: September 6, 1980

5.  Have Fun (Again):  At one point, this song was considered for release as diana‘s first single; considering the turmoil surrounding the project and its release, it’s no surprise that there was so much waffling back and forth behind the scenes.  Although “Upside Down” was eventually chosen and became a monster hit, co-writer and producer Nile Rodgers remains a big fan of the song, saying in the liner notes to the CD re-issue of diana, “I think the track that someone’s gonna have a No. 1 sampled record with is ‘Have Fun (Again).’  That is one of the coolest grooves we have ever thought of.  It kills me when the track fades back in.”  Listening to the cut, it’s easy to understand why Rodgers is so fond of it; instrumentally, it’s one of the heaviest-hitting songs on the album, with an aggressive guitar accompanying Diana on the verses, and one of the strongest bass lines on the entire LP.  Sonically, “Have Fun (Again)” is an unusual exercise in contradictions; although Miss Ross sings about letting loose and finding relief from the pressures of life, the track is a tightly-wound and repetitive; meanwhile, the background vocals (the most prominent since “Tenderness”) are sung in a clipped, staccato manner which, when given a slight echo, makes them sound like voices from outer space.  In a way, that memorable track and the odd, generic voices foreshadow “Genius Of Love,” a hit for Tom Tom Club the next year (and, coincidentally, one that already does have a #1 sampled record, “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey).  As much as “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” reflect Diana’s yearnings for change and independence, this song clearly comes from the singer’s desire to let loose a little bit; as Rodgers had told Jet back in 1979, “‘When we met Diana…she said she wanted to get back to having fun.”  That said, the singer sounded like she was having much more fun on “I’m Coming Out” than she is here; although Miss Ross works hard to show some personality on the track, there isn’t much room for her to do more than offer up some growls and rather uninspired repetitions of the title.  It’s not the singer’s finest hour on diana, but the song itself is funky and memorable; the stars here are Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, who again prove what masters they are of energetic, angular rhythms.

6.  My Old Piano:  This song was an international smash, hitting the upper reaches of the charts in many countries including the United Kingdom, where it peaked at #5 (besting “I’m Coming Out,” which topped out at #13).  It was eventually released as diana‘s third single in the United States, but it came right on the heels of “It’s My Turn,” the singer’s Michael Masser-penned theme from the film of the same name; while “It’s My Turn” climbed right to the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Diana’s third in a row, “My Old Piano” stalled in its wake, barely registering at #109.  This lackluster chart showing certainly in no way reflects the quality of the song; “My Old Piano” is a standout track which injects some dazzling personality into the album.  Although Ross would later say this was the album’s only track that wasn’t directly inspired by her life at the time, she certainly sounds engaged by the song; aside from “I’m Coming Out” and the forthcoming “Give Up,” this is the loosest Miss Ross sounds on diana.  “My Old Piano” also happens to be one of the album’s most energetic cuts, with a bouncy instrumental and rather silly lyrics celebrating a baby grand piano with an “international style” and “eighty-eight key smile.”  There is a basic piano featured on the track, of course, although it’s nowhere near as prominent as the guitar and bass, not to mention the ringing organ-toned keyboards which lend the song its most unusual touch; still, there’s a real, electric energy running through “My Old Piano” that becomes far more important than the actual message of the song.  In terms of vocal, this is one of Diana’s strongest moments on the album; rather than using the Chic voices for background, the singer’s own voice is layered on the refrain, which makes this more of a showcase for her.  Though it doesn’t require as much range as some other tunes on diana, the vocal here is a powerful one, especially during the verse roughly two-minutes in, during which Diana puts a lot of force into her readings of lyrics like “He demands/The middle of the room.”  Due to the song’s success internationally, it remains a popular recording in the Diana Ross discography; it’s also well-remembered for its promotional video clip, Diana’s first, which was filmed in London and features the singer gleefully dancing around — what else? — a piano.

7.  Now That You’re Gone:  On an album filled with hard-edged, muscular tracks that explode from speakers like fireworks, it’s necessary to mix in a few lower-key moments; not only does this provide some respite for listeners, but it also helps make those aforementioned explosions even more vibrant.  That said, lower-key certainly doesn’t mean lower quality; as with the earlier “Friend To Friend,” “Now That You’re Gone” is a smooth, spare song that adds a little variety to diana while still managing to showcase the best of what Ross, Rodgers, and Edwards have to offer.  In this case, the song is arranged almost as a duet between Diana and Bernard Edwards, whose heartbeat of a bass makes up a big chunk of the instrumental track; they’re joined by a soft bed of strings, which helps give the slow-grooved cut some softness.  The producers once again leave off any background vocals, letting Diana provide her own harmony on the staccato refrain; her delivery throughout the song is cool and haunting, a perfect match for the sorrowful lyric.  The prominent bass gives the song a strong urban slant; “Now That You’re Gone” is another song that sounds like it could be successfully sampled by contemporary Hip-hop artists, if it hasn’t been already.  Interestingly, while Rodgers and Edwards never produced another album for Miss Ross, the singer would work with them separately; in 1984, Diana would team up again with Bernard Edwards for the song “Telephone” from her Swept Away album.  In some ways, “Now That You’re Gone” is a rough draft for “Telephone,” which features a similarly bass-heavy track and stark vocal performance; the latter song became a Top 20 R&B hit in 1985, and “Now That You’re Gone” likely also gained some spins on R&B radio.  (NOTE: “Now That You’re Gone” was issued as the b-side to the US release of “My Old Piano.”)

8.  Give Up:  diana ends with one of its most dynamic tracks, a high-energy dance cut with boisterous background vocals and a playful lyric.  Nile Rodgers and his guitar strike like white-hot lightning, forcing Diana to turn in her gutsiest vocal performance of the entire album; opening with a trademark Diana Ross “Ow!” — the singer sounds completely alive on this song, which gives her a more complex melody line than any other song aside from “I’m Coming Out.”  The Rodgers and Edwards-penned lyrics are something of a clever and modern take on “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” which Diana had taken to #1 with The Supremes back in 1965; in this case, however, Ross isn’t pleading for love as much as she’s demanding it, sexily boasting “I have not met a man yet/To escape from my dragnet.”  The vocalist appropriately attacks the vocal, anticipating the beat rather than lagging behind it, and the result is a forceful and full-bodied performance; she’s more than supported by the famous Chic voices and strings, which swirl around but never swamp her.  Although “Give Up” was never given a shot as a single, it did end up as the b-side to “I’m Coming Out” in the United States and likely picked up some spins in dance clubs at the time; this is a terrific showcase not only for the musicianship of those playing on the album, but also for the album’s star.

***

Billboard: September 27, 1980

diana was an unprecedented success for Diana Ross and Motown; at the time, “Upside Down” was one of the company’s longest-running #1 singles, and the album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200, Diana’s highest-charting studio album ever (only the soundtrack album to Lady Sings The Blues did better, hitting the top spot in early 1973).  Aside from its two major hit singles, diana likely would have produced even more hits had Motown not been forced to release “It’s My Turn,” due to the imminent release of the film of the same name.  Still, the album gave Diana her first platinum certification and exposed the star to an even wider audience, likely gaining her a set of fans who hadn’t even been born yet when she’d first topped the charts as a member of The Supremes.  Although she inexplicably failed to gain any Grammy Awards for the album (a project with the same amount of success today would be showered with awards), Miss Ross did win a pair of American Music Awards, including Favorite Soul/R&B Single for “Upside Down.”

Although the rush of success for diana likely surprised Motown and Miss Ross herself, it’s not at all surprising when listened to today; there’s a freshness and energy to each and every cut that’s akin to capturing the proverbial lightning in a bottle.  Rodgers and Edwards were clearly at the top of their game here, and much credit must also go to Russ Terrana for turning in a crisp, clean mix that brought Diana to the front but never once sacrificed the musicians playing behind her.  While many fans doubtlessly prefer 1979’s The Boss, with its glossy soul and powerhouse performance by Diana Ross, diana is the stronger album from start to finish, with a lasting impact on R&B/soul and dance music that’s obvious nearly 40 years later.  Some will bemoan the fact that diana sounds more like a Chic album than a Diana Ross album, but the fact remains that the singer’s chameleon-like ability to fit into any musical style is what makes her such a unique and exciting artist.

Final Analysis:  5/5 (Diana “Comes Out”)

Paul’s Picks:  “I’m Coming Out,” “Upside Down,” “Give Up”

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Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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47 Responses to diana (1980)

  1. Tony Agro says:

    A REALLY stunning album. I recall its release. It was a different Diana for sure. from the cover I knew this was going to be a less complicated – under sung, and seemingly simple sounding Diana. To be honest – at the first look at the cover , i was not impressed. At the first listen to this album — I was not impressed. I felt confused by it. It was NOT the disco I was used to, it wasn’t the pop I was used to. It wasn’t the Diana I was used to !

    Shortly after I bought the album, my parents got a new stereo system, with all the bells and whistles. My father thinking I liked the new Diana album – put it on to be the first played album on the new stereo… with the volume turned up — and the bass thundering — i heard the opening of “Upside Down.” Let me just say at that point I was no longer confused !!! I finally “got” this album and figured out the new sound!!! I fell in love with “I’m coming out and adored “Give – up.” I love the sound and message of “Friend to Friend” – this is where I missed the melodic tone of her voice – needing to hear a stronger instrument backing her.

    Just like in life, its those times we don’t try “too hard” that give us our greatest success. We seem almost shocked that since we did’t stretch ourselves – we still managed to achieve great success. I believe that is the effect of this album for Diana.

    • tonybabylove says:

      Question – Any thought on the original Chic mixes – over the Diana ross remixed versions? This was a hot topic at the time!!!

      • Paul says:

        I honestly don’t think the new mixes changed the album as much as Rodgers & Edwards clearly did (sounds like there was some major drama behind the scenes)! In some cases, I like the vocals on the original mixes better — for example, I love Diana’s vocal on R&E’s mix of “I’m Coming Out” — she really attacks it and sounds amazing — I played it for my partner some time ago and he was struck at how engaged and vibrant she sounded.

        On other songs, though, I like the Diana/Terrana re-mixed versions better — “Upside Down” and “Give Up,” for example, I think offer more refined vocal performances than on the original mixes and sounds better to my ears.

        Something like “Friend To Friend,” which offers a radically different instrumental, is hard for me to say which it stronger — they’re two different interpretations of one song, and I like both. What do you think?

    • Paul says:

      Tony — that’s so cute that your dad put on Diana as the first to be played on the new stereo — I bet that bass almost blew out the speakers 🙂

      I love what you say about “not trying too hard” — I think that says it better than I could have ever said it — this is an album where Diana tones everything down, and the result is a finely-focused piece of work that still sounds fresh today.

  2. spookyelectric says:

    You’re absolutely spot on about the freshness and energy of this reckon – it still sounds timeless today. I even heard some kids in my street blasting out ‘Upside Down’ the other week which brought a smile to my face. A big part of that is down to Chic of course, but Diana certainly brought it with attitude and style – right down to that now iconic album photo shoot. Wow. And there certainly isn’t any other Chic-produced album that comes close to it as one complete album.

    Not many singers have so successfully reinvented themselves to a new generation (Tina’s Private Dancer a few years later springs to mind) – it’s quite an achievement. (Unless you’re Madonna of course and do it on almost every album!) It has to be a career landmark for Diana because of that.

    Agree with you about the alternative Chic productions – not as radical as I expected given the dramas subsequently reported. But Diana certainly sounds looser and rawer on them – which is a lot of fun to hear as the originally released versions have become so familiar.

    Only thing I’m going to disagree with you on is ‘Now That You’re Gone’ – for me that was always THE key album cut on the record. Right from Diana’s sexy syncopated ‘uhh’s at the beginning of the track – she’s so in the pocket on the groove. It’s not as up and immediate as the rest of the album, but it’s totally hypnotic and more ‘classic Diana’ in the smoothness of Diana’s vocal I think – give it another go!

    • Paul says:

      It’s funny…since writing this review (a few weeks ago, I usually try to stay ahead in writing the reviews!), I’ve thought about “Now That You’re Gone” some more — while it’s still not my favorite, I think I appreciate it a little more…and I really do sense a lot of parallels between it and 1984’s “Telephone” which is also a low-key groove. There’s really not a weak song on this album — some are better suited to Miss Ross than others, but they’re all pretty good compositions.

    • Mark says:

      I’m with Spooky on this ! ‘Now that you’re gone ‘ is my very favourite track of Diana’s- I think her voice is pure perfection on this track – restrained and pared down and I LOVE that her voice is layered across the track in such a subtle and understated way! Absolutely BEAUTIFUL !
      As with the album cover shot, Ms Ross is often at her very best when all the superfluous bells and whistles are removed from the production. She doesn’t need a complicated setting in order to sparkle and shine !

  3. tony says:

    “Friend to Friend” I agree , I do like both versions. I am looking forward to the next chapter, I assume we move into the RCA years next. This will be interesting…..

    • Paul says:

      Yes…we’re about to enter into some interesting years! I’m doing “To Love Again” next week…then will be “Why Do Fools…” The RCA albums feature such a wide variety of material and such experimentation from Diana that I can’t wait to hear everyone’s opinions…I’m sure lots of people will disagree with what I have to say on certain songs/albums!

      • Tony says:

        Oh – right ! How could I have forgotten “To Love Again” Perhaps one of my favourite songs is on that album. I will have much to say about the RCA years !!!

  4. Antje says:

    “Friend to friend” is one of my top-loved songs of Diana’s, and I definitely prefer the more laid back “re-mixed” version. And, Paul, sorry, I disagree with you on “I’m coming out”. I think, the familiar version is as exciting as the Chic-mix, different though.

    By the way, spookyelectric, Miss Ross repudiated that she ever “reinvented” herself. lol

    • Paul says:

      I love both versions of “I’m Coming Out” for sure…there’s just something about her vocal on the Chic-mix that I find really appealing! It’s such a great song — it should have won some big awards that year!

  5. Lawrence says:

    I think this is the first album of hers that I remember actually hearing on the radio, as a kid. The songs “Upside Down”, “I’m Coming Out”, “It’s My Turn”, and “Endless Love” were my first, real introductions to her 🙂 As such, this album will always have a fond place in my heart. It was after this collection (and “Why do Fools fall in Love”) that I actively sought to learn the rest of her hits – with some help from my older, Motown cousin 🙂 Within a few years, I had acquired her entire catalogue!

    As an album, I am not sure “Diana” stands the test of time as much as some of her collaborations with Ashford and Simpson – or even her later Motown CDs, in terms of song quality. But there is no denying the amazing energy and spirit in these songs. I agree that “Give up” and “Tenderness” could easily have been hit singles too….but “Upside Down” is one of those rare songs (like “Call Me” by Blondie) that instantly represents an entire era.

    • Paul says:

      Hey Lawrence! I think the album stands up well — maybe not as well as “Surrender,” but I personally think it sounds fresher today than “The Boss.” I totally agree with you “Upside Down” — from the first few seconds, there’s an energy and vibrany that screams “HIT!”

  6. Tony says:

    Bang on Lawrence! I agree. I love the Diana who sings the melody out of a song! Paul – you I agree with – -there is something about the Chic – Mix of “I’m Coming out” that really is special – It sounds more like how she sings it live! She almost sounds excited to be singing it ! Almost like she sang it for the first time and is thrilled with herself for singing it !!! The final mix almost sounds reserved by comparison. Also — must say — just listened to Now that You’re Gone, and wow – nice groove. It almost needs to be longer – to give the listener a chance to get into the groove. By the time I got into it – the song was over!

    • Paul says:

      YES — you’re right — it sounds live! It’s kind of like she had no idea what she was singing while she was singing it — and I love that!

      • ejluther says:

        “it sounds live! It’s kind of like she had no idea what she was singing while she was singing it — and I love that!”

        That’s exactly what was happening – R&E had Diana come in and sing the songs “cold” without rehearsal or even knowing the words and wanted to use those first takes. Nile Rodgers is quoted in the “diana” remaster booklet: “We had our singers record in the dark with just a light to see the words, and we didn’t let the artists learn the songs before the session, because we wanted “live” performances. Diana had never worked that way before. You hear how reckless her performances are, and that’s we love about the record.” But that kind of recording approach made the professional and rehearsed side of Diana nervous and, perhaps quite understandably, she wanted another chance at them resulting in the re-recorded lead vocals and the remixing…cue the drama. Whichever versions you like, diana is still a great record and one that stands the test of time in my book…

      • Paul says:

        Personally, I think either version would’ve been a hit — I love the album that ended up being released, but I think the original mixes would’ve been hits, too — the songs are so strong and Diana sounds great on both!

  7. Lawrence says:

    Hi Paul and Tony,
    Great reading your replies 🙂 Now, when will we ever get a new CD from Miss Ross?? Best, Lawrence

    • Paul says:

      NO KIDDING!!! I’m hoping that once I get through to “I Love You” on this site…there will be something new for us to listen to!!!

  8. markus says:

    Hello Paul-
    compliments on this endeavor- I’ve been reading since you started and absoutely loving every bit of it. Nice to see someone in my age group celebrating and discussing Diana’s work on this level. I actually meant to comment after your review of Baby It’s Me (I first bought that album on cassette when I was in my teens, and pre-internet I kept telling myself, “there MUST be other people out there who think this is some of the best stuff Diana ever did”- now I know…lol). You’ve been fair and objective and I’ve agreed with 98-99% of it!

    Onto diana: I like the R&E mixes, but overall I think the Diana/Terrana alterations were for the best. The original mix and vocals on “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” are fun, but a bit too lose. Especially “Upside Down”- the original mix doesn’t have the same punch. The most striking improvement (for me, at least) is on “My Old Piano”- Diana’s vocal is SOOO much better on the final album version (listen to the way she sings “your heart dissolves…” during the final verse, repeated- her tone at that moment sums up a lot of what I love about Diana’s voice).

    I gotta say I prefer R&E’s mix of “Friend to Friend” (I’m recalling from memory, but i think that’s one of the vocals Diana left intact on the released album). I thought the hazy guitar effect gave the song some gravity, some meat. When I downloaded the album for my phone I actually stuck that mix in place of the Diana/Terrana one.

    I never understood why Tarraborelli was dismissive of the album- sure, it’s far from the most vocally challenging of Diana Ross’ career, but there are other factors that determine a great album. The production- ambitious, adventurous (even in its’ rigidity) and clever- calls for vocal understatement, and Diana delivers it with personality and conviction- assertive or playful, tender or sexy, she is everything the material requires and quite a bit more. She takes what could essentially be a Chic album and manages to put a definitive Diana Ross stamp on it.

    Thanks again and looking forward to the 80’s!
    markus

    PS and what about in the 2nd verse of “Give Up”, when she says “I’ll keep your night surrrrounded, with chains of love so strong, that you can’t break through them”? YES!

    • Paul says:

      Hey Markus! Thanks for the comments! You are right on about this album — it’s not one that calls for explosive vocals, but it does require skill to sing each song and Diana proves she has it in spades. And yes…I love that part of “Give Up” too! 🙂 It’s a great song and a great performance by her!

      I love that you had “Baby It’s Me” on casette tape — I also “discovered” that album in my late teens, and dubbed it from LP to tape and listened to it repeatedly in my car! I vividely remember hearing “Top Of The World” and “All Night Lover” for the first times and thinking they were the greatest Diana songs I’d ever heard!

  9. BabyLuv says:

    J. Randy is foolish to describe this album as her least exciting and interesting. Did he hear the same record? I think this album is one of the most flawless recordings in her discography.

    • Paul says:

      BabyLuv — I definitely don’t get it, either. The music is nothing if not exciting and interesting! I agree that it’s one of her best!

  10. chris meklis says:

    I am sorry for upsetting the lovers of this admittedly ‘tight’ album, but for me, it’s not an album I play often (although, your writing here has made me take it out and listen and appreciate it more)…
    I found this a boring album with the obvious exception of I’m Coming Out (which funnily enough I can’t listen to anymore- but still enjoy her singing it live), and Give Up which really does pack a punch, but far too late for me.

    I do agree to an extent with Tarraborrelli…it’s like the least amount of work garnered the most sales, reminding me a bit of our confection of pop cinderella’s today (Spears tops the list) where sales do not necessarily reflect true artistic input with regard to material or vocals.

    Rogers and Edwards stuck to their brief from Diana and the material which far more simple, with good hooks and tight instrumentals, I suppose therefore accessible to many who perhaps deemed Diana’s recordings to slick or over the top/ dramatic at times…

    I mean this pales in comparison in energy and high octane of to Baby It’s Me and The Boss, and Surrender, but if one considers what youngsters were listening to in the late 70’s early 80’s, the simpler unobtrusive diana album was an easier option for buyers, than Baby It’s Me or The Boss?
    I cannot understand that Baby it’s Me or The Boss did not become for the 70’s what Diana became sales wise for the 80’s…but that’s how it works, one just never knows.

    This certainly was a different sound, and it was embraced madly, but I do not think this is a great Diana Ross album, an uncomplicated and listenable one from start to finish, yes, but not her best album for me, it did it’s job perhaps in that it brough new younger fans to Diana Ross.. 😉

    • Paul says:

      Chris — I totally understand everything you’re saying — obviously I think the album is satisfying and challenging, but it’s a VERY different work from something like “Baby It’s Me,” which is my favorite of her albums. But for what it is, I think “diana” is really a great album and deserved its success!

  11. chris meklis says:

    Just to add to my comment…Besides the two big hits, I do love the intimate rendering of Friend To Friend…it sounds like she could be whisper singing it right into a lover’s ear in bed…and gives a taste of things to come in the stunning More and More from 1985.
    Tenderness and Give Up are enjoyable for me and Now That You’re Gone is hauntingly alluring…nice sound on that one.

  12. Rick says:

    There is also the same distincion between friend to friend and more to more on the eaten alive cd..i love both songs but they do have some similarities………anyone notice that?

  13. Listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 as a kid I remember the excitement caused by a song debuting in the top ten. And then I heard UPSIDE DOWN. WOW. That song got me into Diana Ross, Motown and 60s/70s R&B in a big way, but that’s another story. Back to UPSIDE DOWN. For me the song is ridiculously full of hooks: Nile Rodgers’ itchy guitar licks, Bernard Edwards’ rolling bass and Ross’ cool, relaxed vocal set against the “chic” strings and the wall of backing vocals of Alfa Anderson, Fonzi Thornton, Luci Martin & Michelle Cobbs. I agree Paul, totally hypnotic. I was hooked. And in a big way. Getting the LP was another thing. I had no real idea who Ross was so I came to it unencumbered. 32 years after I got my paws on “diana” it still holds up as one of her best, along with Diana Ross (70) , Diana Ross (76), Baby it’s Me (77) & The Boss (79). What “diana” had was cohesion. And Tony, on the question of Ross’ remixing the album – I reckon she was on the money. The remixes totally punched up the album overall especially on a couple of tracks – UPSIDE DOWN and MY OLD PIANO being great examples – making it more immediate and exciting. But I’m with Paul, the remixes toned some of her vocals down. On the original I’M COMING OUT she’s exuberant and unbridled. Also check out her jazzy adlibbing half way through the original mix of GIVE UP. Totally cool. That said, I get her wisdom on remixing, and I guess the albums’ commercial success vindicated that decision.
    At the time I didn’t respond much to HAVE FUN (AGAIN) – there was a certain coldness to it and like you, I was unconvinced. It’s interesting listening to the original mixes again on the “diana” reissue: unfortunately HAVE FUN AGAIN still didn’t work for me. There’s just no grunt in the engine in either version.
    TENDERNESS, MY OLD PIANO and GIVE UP easily could have been big hits in the US as well. I recall the video of MY OLD PIANO, but imagine what a commercial powerhouse this could have been had it coincided with the MTV era……

    • Paul says:

      I’m totally with you — Diana was on the money with her remixed — though I enjoy hearing the original Chic mixes, I think the remixes were more urgent and immediate and thus sounded better on radio. And by the way, “itchy guitar licks” is maybe the BEST way I’ve ever heard someone descibe the sound of “Upside Down” — I wish I’d thought of that!! 🙂

  14. Cool Nile Rodgers interview about working with Diana – especially about ‘I’m Coming Out’…

  15. Paul says:

    This is great! There’s another great clip of him floating around where he’s really jamming “I’m Coming Out” on his acoustic guitar — he is an AMAZING musician. His music has been so popular and is so closely identified with a certain era in music that I think he’s often overlooked as one of the great songwriters and producers. I rank “I’m Coming Out” as one of Diana’s top 3 songs ever (along with “Ain’t No Mountain…” and “Missing You”) — there is an energy captured in this record that is rare and electric!

  16. spookyelectric says:

    Totally agree Paul. You can’t go wrong with Nile’s golden period from late 70s to mid 80s in my opinion. The Chic and Sister Sledge classics everyone knows of course, but also the stuff with Carly Simon, Odyssey, Debbie Harry and loads more. There’s a whole album he did with Johnny Mathis after ‘diana’ that was never released as (similar I suppose to how Motown were nervous about the Chic/Ross collab) Columbia were worried it would alienate his more conservative fans… and it’s all brilliant!

    • Paul says:

      I had never hard about the unreleased Johnny Mathis sessions, and thanks to you I’ve been listening to the few available songs online. The song “I Love My Lady” is amazing. Wow. Too bad Columbia backed out — this could have been HUGE for Johnny.

  17. spookyelectric says:

    Really shows how mistaken record boardroom decisions can be! You would think Chic at their commercial peak and Mathis together was a no-brainer, especially as Mathis had dipped his toe into more ‘disco-fied’ waters with ‘Gone Gone Gone’ to great results, but I suppose they got cold feet. Fans have been petitioning online for years to get the album finally released (‘I Love My Lady’ is actually the title track) and over the last couple of years a handful of tracks have finally seen the light of day (mainly on a great Chic multi-disc box set).

    You can find the whole thing online if you hunt long enough!

  18. Luke says:

    I wouldn’t put “Diana” among her masterpiece albums. In my personal opinion it was just a good and catchy project, nothing more than that. Diana’s vocals were too plain, most of the songs didn’t demand strong vocal abillities. “Upside down”…ok, it was a commercial track, but it;s not the song of the century. “Baby love” for example was a similarly catchy track, but it can’t be called a music masterpiece, just because it was a succees. From the “Diana” album, “Now that you ‘re gone” is the best song, maybe because it didn’t sound like the rest of the chic material. Some years ago i bought the deluxe collection which contained the unreleased version of the album. I can say that it was a slightly better than the released version, it was more energetic and “rich”. But for me, either way, it remains a good commercial entertaining album, with no great artistic importance.

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  20. I put the record back on after reading an interview with Nile Rodgers in one of the weekend papers. I started with the CHIC mixes just give me a “new” listening experience. It reminded me how much of an acolyte I am of the official release. I find the CHIC mix too raw & very much demo like with all the ad-libs and without Miss Ross highly polished & front & center. I really feel Diana had the right idea when getting involved with final result. I have had the record on loop over the last couple of days…it was the first LP I ever owned. And it really is that good.

  21. dalastyme says:

    I was jus 13 when “Upside Down” was released and I HATED it!!! Couldn’t get with the beat and silly lyrics. Thank God for maturity and musical growth because I love “Upside Down” and the whole album! I play it like it was jus released this past Tues. lol. Believe it or not but I’m hearing instruments I’ve never heard before that are wearing me OUT! Heard the strings on “Upside Down” doing something so fresh the other day during the chorus that blowing my mind!!! LOVEEEEEEE the Chic mix of “Friend To Friend”. Sounds way more intimate and they turned up Diana’s haughting background vocals that you can barely hear on the Russ/Ross remix. I envy anyone who had the pleasure of seeing Diana Ross Live with The Supremes thru to the late 80’s. Would’ve love to have heard Its My Turn, The Boss, Muscles, So Close, Swept Away, Telephone, Eaten Alive, Dirty Looks etc.

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