“It’s never too late to hold the power in your hands…”
The opening line of the November 1981 Ebony cover story on Diana Ross said it all: “Now that the unspeakable — no, unthinkable — has actually happened, now that Diana Ross has cut the umbilical cord which for 20 years has tied her to Berry Gordy’s Motown recording empire, fans of the 37-year-old superstar are debating the meaning and the pros and cons of her move.” Indeed, since signing her first contract with the label in January of 1961, Diana Ross had been so inextricably linked to Motown that it was nearly impossible to think of one without the other; founder Berry Gordy, Jr. had orchestrated a decades-long campaign to turn Miss Ross into an entertainment superstar, while the singer’s incredible talent and inexhaustible work ethic had likewise brought Motown a kind of commercial success afforded to few record labels throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
For Ross, the downside to this relationship was the long-standing assumption within the music industry that she was little more than a puppet, following orders without any creative input or ability to make her own decisions. As Rob Hoerburger wrote in Billboard, “…she always seemed to need someone else to put her voice in the right surroundings and tell her, ‘OK, Diana, time to be sensual,’ or ‘OK, Diana, let’s turn on the schmaltz.’ As such, the greatness of her records resulted for the most part because somebody behind the scenes pulled all the right strings” (November 14, 1981). In truth, Ross had been taking more and more control of her career, her confidence growing with the critical and commercial success of 1979’s The Boss and 1980’s diana. In the wake of the latter, a platinum smash, Ross was offered an irresistible seven-year contract with RCA Records for a reported $20 million, a record-breaking deal at the time. Best of all, Ross would gain a newfound artistic freedom, telling Ebony, “Actually, [Michael Jackson] inspired me to do this next album because he produced his own album. The one I’m working on now, I’m producing. I don’t know what the title will be.” According to engineer Larry Alexander, Diana’s decision to self-produce came after her previous collaborators, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, told her they were too busy to immediately return to the studio. “So she booked studio time to start the album,” Alexander told Tape Op in 2013. “We went into the studio and had so much fun. She had the best band and the best arrangers.”
For that all-important first album with RCA, Ross chose an eclectic batch of nine tracks, beginning with “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” originally a hit in 1956 for Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. “That’s one of the first songs I used to sing, before The Supremes even,” Ross explained during an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and the song ended up becoming the album’s title track and first single. Second single “Mirror, Mirror” was co-written by Michael Sembello, a session guitarist who would go on to score a major hit single on his own with 1983’s “Maniac,” and Diana herself helped write the album’s third single, the aerobic dance track “Work That Body.” Ross and RCA certainly weren’t about to miss a chance to capitalize off of “Endless Love,” the singer’s recent blockbuster duet with Lionel Richie (#1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks), so the singer re-recorded a solo version for her album, too. In the end, Diana produced every single track for her RCA debut, describing the experience to Ebony, “I would always compromise if I liked something and [my producers] didn’t like it. This time I get the chance to trust myself and believe in myself and do what I think, things that I like, and trust that, maybe, it’s going to be okay.”
Released in November of 1981, just in time for the holiday sales rush, Why Do Fools Fall In Love finally brought Diana Ross the kind of critical acceptance as an albums artist she’d long been denied. “For the first time on any Diana Ross album, she sounds like she’s doing what she wants, and the result is the most alluring album of her career,” raved Rob Hoerburger in Billboard, continuing, “No longer does she just supply the paint. Now she’s wielding the brush, and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.” Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone wrote that the album “scores handsomely” and that it “presents a clear case that Diana Ross is one of the most original and influential pop talents of our time.” Creatively, the album is largely a success for the singer, too; listened to nearly 40 years later, most of the songs certainly sound dated, but they do form a sonically cohesive set and seem to represent the artist’s vision in a way that many of her previous albums had not. The quality of the songs is variable; second single “Mirror, Mirror” is among the singer’s best, while the solo version of “Endless Love” is easily among her worst, but in the end the album accomplishes its goal, which is to prove that Diana Ross could be a viable artist outside of the Motown fold.
1. Why Do Fools Fall In Love: “Ross’ first single for RCA has her digging back to a song that was a hit before she even signed with Motown. It’s a giddy, lighthearted track which is a great change-of-pace from the solemn ballad ‘Endless Love,’ now in its ninth straight week at No. 1,” wrote Billboard in its October 10, 1981 issue, and the very next week, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #56. The song leapt into the Top 40 the following week, eventually peaking at #7, becoming Diana’s ninth top 10 hit as a solo artist (the single also peaked at #6 R&B and #2 Adult Contemporary). Long before it was a hit for Diana, however, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” had dominated the charts throughout much of 1956, thanks not only to its original version by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers but also competing cover versions by Gale Storm, Gloria Mann, and The Diamonds (all four versions charted simultaneously on Billboard’s Top 100 for the week ending March 31!). Lymon’s original was the biggest hit, of course, and remains an influential rock and roll classic; his group’s recording peaked at #6 on the Top 100 and #1 on the R&B Best Sellers in Stores chart. Diana Ross has long been vocal about her appreciation for Lymon’s voice and his impact on her own singing career; she told Jet in 1981, “I used to sing it on the streets. I’d walk through the backyard where I lived and there was an echo there and I’d sing ‘ahhh, ahhh’ like when he used to do the high part. It just used to echo. That was one of my favorite songs” (December 3). For her own updated “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” Miss Ross the producer enlisted Rob Mounsey as musical arranger; the prolific Mounsey had already contributed horn & string arrangements to several songs on the singer’s 1979 LP The Boss, which explains why the peppy feel of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” recalls that earlier album in terms of the pure joy inherent in its groove. The song is given a brassy, bouncy treatment here, with machine-gun drums, blaring horns, and a great guitar solo by Robert Kulick, known for his studio work with KISS (Diana happened to be dating KISS frontman Gene Simmons at the time). Diana’s vocal is superbly done; her crystal-clear delivery is perfect for the sing-song quality of the melody, and the choice to layer her voice and feature her as her own background singer adds an exciting complexity. This isn’t the most challenging song ever recorded by Diana Ross, and it certainly doesn’t stretch her much as a vocalist, but the vibrancy makes it a stand-out; she truly sounds happy and invigorated here, likely a reflection of her feelings about producing and being so creatively involved in the project. To help promote the single, Diana recorded a music video for it in which she dances and sings down the Las Vegas strip; the clip received airplay on television programs including “Soul Train” and would later be included on her 1985 video collection The Visions Of Diana Ross.
2. Sweet Surrender: According to Diana Ross, this song almost didn’t make it onto Why Do Fools Fall In Love; the singer told Johnny Carson during a 1981 appearance to promote the record, “[‘Sweet Surrender’] is a song that was sent to me by a writer, young writer, and I kept it for years. And finally when I did decide to do it, I couldn’t find the writers. And we almost didn’t use it because we couldn’t find them, but we did find them in the last minute.” It’s fortunate that Ross did track down writers Lenny Stack and Cheryl Christensen, as “Sweet Surrender” is a highlight of the album, perfectly described by Rob Hoerburger in Billboard: “The rhythm section creates a steamy atmosphere, taking the listener on a trip through the tropics on the muggiest day of the year. Ross’ voice then pours out the speakers like a cool, exotic thirst quencher.” (November 14, 1981). Indeed, the heat generated by “Sweet Surrender” is almost unparalleled in the Diana Ross discography; the singer had done sexy very well in previous recordings including “Once In The Morning” and especially “Love Hangover,” but she takes it to the next level in this piece, surrounded by a dark, sensual track that’s heavy on the bass and topped by swirling, hypnotic strings. This oil-smudged track was arranged by Ray Chew, who played for the “Saturday Night Live” Band at the time and would years later become musical director for the hit television show “American Idol.” Chew figures prominently on Diana’s first few RCA projects, and clearly was an indispensable figure in her early producing career; Chew would later tell Huffington Post, “…at 18 I started working with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson and they introduced me to the New York session scene as well as being their musical director for a very long time,” which explains the Ross connection. Diana’s vocal perfectly matches the instrumental track, as she murmurs lyrics like “It’s gotta be fate, ’cause I can’t deny you,” her voice hushed and eerily doubled to good effect; there’s a near-robotic quality to parts of her delivery which only heightens the mesmeric tone of the entire recording. If the album’s lead-off track is a sassy take on Diana’s past as a kid singing on a Detroit stoop, then “Sweet Surrender” is a peek at her present as a smart, sexy woman taking charge of her life.
3. Mirror, Mirror: Had songwriter Michael Sembello had his way, “Mirror, Mirror” might have been a major hit for a popular singing group instead of Diana Ross. According to The Billboard Book Of Number One Hits, “Sembello had originally given the tune to an associate of the Pointer Sisters, convinced it would be perfect for their intricate three-part harmonies. Much to his surprise, however, the song was rejected as ‘a hokey nursery rhyme.'” Speaking of surprise, imagine the shock of the Pointer Sisters and their producers when Diana’s recording of “Mirror, Mirror” came blasting out of radio speakers in early 1982; many words could be used to describe the song, but “hokey” sure isn’t one of them. Simply put, this song is the masterpiece of Why Do Fools Fall In Love and one of the best singles Ross would release during the 1980s; when critics wrote of the singer’s newfound confidence on her first self-produced album, it’s likely they were reacting to this cut. As produced by Miss Ross and arranged by Ray Chew, “Mirror, Mirror” is a slamming piece of funk-rock, easily the hardest-edged single of Diana’s career; the searing instrumental track is almost as good as the best work on 1980’s diana, which is saying a lot. As on the album’s title track, there’s a strong horn and guitar component here, but this time the instrumental is far more complex and haunting, and seamlessly combines a harder rock sound with the pop/R&B/dance vibe of the surrounding songs. Much credit goes to Grammy-winner Randy Brecker for the epic horn arrangement, Robert Kulick for another rocking guitar solo, and the great Ralph McDonald on percussion; the musicians here play with a tightness that elevates “Mirror, Mirror” far above most late-era disco-funk. Diana Ross also gets a chance to flex her vocal muscles here, the song offering her a more challenging continuation of her work on “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” She again layers her voice on this cut, providing her own background vocals, but this time puts far more emotion into them, portraying the agony of a woman “trapped in this mirror forever.” There’s also real power behind her vocals, and an appealing rawness that brings out Diana’s natural soul; Stephen Holden smartly recognized in Rolling Stone, “No matter how sophisticated she tries to be, there’s always something of the street singer in her,” and no track on Why Do Fools Fall In Love showcases that street singer better. “Mirror, Mirror” was the perfect choice for a second single, and after its release in January of 1982, the song followed the album’s first single right up the charts, topping out at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B side, held from the top spot by her old friend Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” (co-listed with “Work That Body,” the song also made it to #14 on the Disco chart). Along with giving Diana Ross yet another Top 10 record, “Mirror, Mirror” was also apparently responsible for another one of the major hits of the decade; according to writer Michael Sembello, the rejection from the Pointer Sisters led him to pursue a career as a solo artist, and the following year he scored a #1 hit on his own with “Maniac,” from the film Flashdance.
4. Endless Love: When Lionel Richie first met with producer Jon Peters and director Franco Zeffirelli to discuss writing some music for the upcoming film Endless Love, little did any of them know that the result would be one of the most successful singles in the history of popular music. According to The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Zeffirelli suggested Diana Ross as a possible candidate to sing with Richie on the title ballad, and although Miss Ross had just left Motown for RCA, the labels allowed the duo to go ahead and record together (Motown would release the single). Within just a few weeks of hitting the airwaves, “Endless Love” had climbed to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, where it would remain for a staggering nine weeks; the song went on to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, along with Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Duo of Group. Although the record’s success was unprecedented, it’s entirely justified; as schmaltzy as some might deem it to be, “Endless Love” is a perfect pop love ballad, simple in melody and lyric and delivered with tasteful power by its superstar vocalists. Certainly there’s no way Ross or RCA were going to miss out on a chance to share in some of the gold dust sprinkled by “Endless Love,” which is why Diana re-cut the song during sessions for Why Do Fools Fall In Love and included a solo, self-produced version on the album. To be fair, Ross gets some credit for not producing a carbon copy of the original recording; here, every element is cranked up several notches, from the glossy instrumental track embellished by a prominent flute to Diana’s showier and emotive vocal performance. Although Rolling Stone praised this “Endless Love,” calling it “much more impassioned” than the duet version and a Billboard Spotlight review dubbed it “marvelous and sensitive,” the truth is that Diana’s own version of the song is a perfect example of the old adage “less is more.” The simplicity of the original duet was a perfect counterpoint to the saccharine lyrics, something Richie probably instinctively knew; it’s easy for love ballads to fall into a syrupy trap, and he managed to walk the narrow line by keeping the performances fairly restrained and honest. Diana Ross, with this version, falls headfirst into that syrupy trap. There’s no denying her voice sounds very powerful in this solo version; she’s extremely committed to the performance, and her voice soars (even if she occasionally falls into her old Supremes bit of over-enunciating to the point of self-parody). However, the over-production really kills the song; the instrumental is so clouded and muddled and overdone that it sounds more like sappy elevator music than an appropriate track for Diana Ross. Though the original duet is an undeniable highlight of Ross’s career, the version on this LP is barely listenable; amazingly, RCA considered releasing this solo version as a single and edited it down for a promotional release before wisely deciding to go with another one of the album’s tracks.
“Diana said, ‘Get me the best band in New York!’ She had people picking songs for her. She had people doing arrangements. She assembled a really great crew, which is what producers do. We get along really well. I love Diana. She’s very creative, has a lot of ideas, and she doesn’t like to be told no…She wants to try her ideas. If they don’t work, she’s the first one to say so.” -Engineer Larry Alexander, Tape Op (May/June 2013)
5. It’s Never Too Late: Just a few months after Diana Ross hit #1 on the Disco charts with The Boss in 1979, singer-songwriter Dan Hartman followed her there with “Vertigo/Re-light My Fire,” which topped the Disco Top 100 for several weeks in early 1980. Along with experiencing success with his own recordings (including the big pop hit “I Can Dream About You” in 1984), Hartman also wrote and produced for other artists, giving James Brown a major hit in 1986 with “Living In America.” Hartman penned “It’s Never Too Late,” and it’s no surprise why Diana would have wanted to record the song for her debut RCA release; with lyrics like “It’s never too late/To try and reach for your desires” and “It’s never too late/To hold the power in your hands,” the song certainly described what the singer must have been feeling as she enjoyed her newfound creative freedom. “It’s Never Too Late” is the most traditional disco tune on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, with an upbeat production and repetitive melody tailor-made for the dancefloor; although it wasn’t released as a single, Diana did perform the song on an episode of “Soul Train” and it more than likely got at least a few spins in clubs across the country. Miss Ross the producer seems to be taking a few cues from Ashford and Simpson this time around, giving the song a bounce reminiscent of several cuts on The Boss; several of the players here (including arranger Ray Chew, guitarist Eric Gale, and horn & string arranger Paul Riser) also took part in sessions for that earlier 1979 album. Diana the producer also adds boisterous background vocals to the track, one of only two times on Why Do Fools Fall In Love in which she doesn’t handle all the vocals herself; noted session singers Margaret Dorn, Leata Galloway, and Millie Whiteside provide a bright, ringing counterpoint to Diana’s laid-back , confident performance. Even with the talented musicians and strong vocals, however, there’s a flatness to the production of “It’s Never Too Late” that’s hard to ignore; the song never quite explodes from the speakers in the way that earlier Ross cuts like “I’m Coming Out” or even “Mirror, Mirror” do. This may be the result of Diana’s inexperience as a producer; although technically the song is well-done, there are some dynamics lacking that could have really elevated the entire recording. As it stands, “It’s Never Too Late” is a pleasant, if just a bit bland, addition to the album.
6. Think I’m In Love: Singer-songwriter Laura Taylor experienced some disco success in the late 1970s with the infectious “Dancin’ In My Feet” and today records and releases terrific jazz music; several artists have covered Taylor’s songs, including Diana Ross with “Think I’m In Love.” In an exclusive conversation with THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT in 2018, Taylor remembers writing the song early in her career: “As with many of my songs this one started with a personal experience, and a ‘hook’ and a bass line that I found on the piano. I was performing in New York and Atlantic City and living in Miami. I honed it on the job with different groups and did a demo of it in Atlantic City.” Amazingly, Beatles producer George Martin ended up hearing Taylor’s demo, and told her he thought the song was a hit and would be a good fit for Olivia Newton-John; together, they crafted a new demo of the song, which Taylor sent to Martin in London. Meanwhile, Ms. Taylor recorded it again herself at The Hit Factory in New York, and through her attorney, it ended up with Diana’s team. Says Taylor, “I knew nothing about Diana Ross recording it until it was finished and they needed my permission to release it…they said if I gave my permission for [Diana] to release it, it would be the first single off the new album!” When it was decided that Diana’s recording of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” would be the first single instead, Taylor was given the option of having the song placed as the b-side, which she agreed to, which is how “Think I’m In Love” ended up on the flipside of the album’s first single and Top 10 hit. It’s interesting to ponder what might have happened had “Think I’m In Love” remained the album’s first official release; as a composition, it’s one of the strongest on the album, and Diana’s instrumental track is a kind of hybrid of “Sweet Surrender” and “It’s Never Too Late” in the way that it bridges pop and easy listening with a soft disco vibe. The most notable aspect of the production is the layering of the singer’s voice on the chorus, as she repeats the song’s title in a dreamy, almost staccato manner reminiscent of the Chic background vocals on her diana album. Her vocal performance on the verses is smooth and accomplished; she reaches a high note a few times on the word “love” which is a nice touch, although she doesn’t quite go for it with the gusto one might expect from Ross at this point in her career. Still, “Think I’m In Love” is a strong addition to the album; Laura Taylor performs the song live to this day, and online videos prove it works even better when sung by her with a stripped down, jazzier arrangement. The songwriter, by the way, also shared a lovely story about meeting Miss Ross backstage in Las Vegas, shortly after the release of Why Do Fools Fall In Love; she says, “I thanked [Diana] very much for recording my song and told her I appreciated her taking the time to meet me. She proceeded by saying ‘You know, your song was going to be the first single off this album.’ I said, ‘I know…it was very disappointing when you changed your mind.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I had a little trouble with the high note!'” (NOTE: Special thanks to Laura Taylor for sharing her memories with THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT! You can check out her website here.)
7. Sweet Nothings: Under the title “Sweet Nothin’s,” this song gave singer Brenda Lee a major hit in 1960; it was written by Ronnie Self, who also wrote Lee’s iconic “I’m Sorry.” Lee’s original recording would have been peaking on the charts at the same time The Primettes (consisting of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin) were stalking the halls of Motown, hanging out after school and waiting for the day when they’d be offered a record contract; thus, like “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” it’s most likely made an impact on the young Miss Ross and it’s easy to imagine the young singer crooning it with her friends on the front steps of Hitsville. This is probably the most spirited cut on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, more rollicking in nature than “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and certainly lighter in tone than “Mirror, Mirror” — it’s not disco, but it’s danceable funk with a rockabilly edge and a pleasant bounce. The arrangement here comes courtesy Leon Pendarvis, Jr., known best for leading the “Saturday Night Live” band (which gives him a connection to Diana’s frequent collaborator Ray Chew, who also played in the band), and notable musicians include the Grammy-winning Brecker Brothers, who provide the horn arrangement (Randy) and play tenor sax (Michael). As for her own performance on “Sweet Nothings,” Diana offers up her most playful vocal on the album; she’s sexy and breathy for most of the song, but throws in some nice guttural moments as a respectful nod to Brenda Lee’s rambunctious original. The only real drawback here is the vocal production; again, Diana turns in a fun and coy performance, but this song is another case of her voice sounding muddy. There are moments in which Diana almost seems to be singing into a tin can; the clarity of her voice on something like “Give Up” from diana is noticeably missing. This is a shame, because had her voice been cleanly brought to the forefront, like the saxophone is, this would have been an even stronger entry than it already is. In any case, considering how well “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” did at pop and R&B radio, this song might have been able to gain similar traction had it been released as a follow-up; instead, the song was placed on the b-side of the “Mirror, Mirror” single in the United States, which was a solid hit and ensured plenty of people heard “Sweet Nothings.”
8. Two Can Make It: This is a light, classy piece of pop music written by a pair of men experienced in writing classy pop music. Tom Snow had already given Miss Ross a moderate hit when he penned “Gettin’ Ready For Love,” the debut single from her 1977 LP Baby It’s Me; Snow also wrote that album’s superb cut “Top Of The World.” Dean Pitchford, meanwhile, won an Academy Award for writing the lyrics to the 1980 hit “Fame,” and would later write the screenplay and music for the hit film Footloose. Had Richard Perry produced “Two Can Make It,” it probably could have worked on Baby It’s Me; there’s a crisp, clean feel to the song that brings to mind that album’s “All Night Lover.” Thankfully, producer Ross also does right by the song, giving it a nice lilt; there’s a bit of an early-Motown-Supremes vibe in the way the piano bounces and the horns lend a sweet, melodic touch. Diana turns in one of her more enjoyable vocals here, wisely bringing her voice to the front of the recording; unlike the previous “Sweet Nothings,” there’s a brightness to the vocal production that brings out the best qualities in the singer’s voice. For whatever reason, when producing herself, Diana Ross would tend to bury her own voice, muddying her own sound in favor of the instrumental track (this is especially an issue on 1982’s Silk Electric), so it’s nice to hear her bell-like tone lead the way through this tune. Diana even throws in one of her patented “ooh” sounds, the kind she made famous way back on 1964’s “Baby Love,” at roughly 33 seconds in, and gets the chance to show off a bit of range as her voice slides down on the word “chances” at the 0:40 mark. Although it tends to be overlooked in favor of the album’s hit singles, “Two Can Make It” is a standout track that still sounds good today; it’s certainly evocative of the early 1980s, but the subtle nods to Diana’s own musical past help it feel timeless in a way other cuts here don’t. (NOTE: “Two Can Make It” was released as the b-side of Why Do Fools Fall In Love‘s third single, “Work That Body.”)
9. Work That Body: “Ross gets into physical on this zesty ode to dancercize. A natural for the morning drive, this could easily become Ross’ third top 10 single from ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love,'” wrote Billboard on April 10, 1982, as “Work That Body” was released as the album’s third and final single in the United States. The positive review is, of course, giving a nod to Olivia Newton-John’s massive “Physical,” which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1981 and stayed there for ten weeks, just beating out nine-week residency of Diana’s own “Endless Love” earlier that year. In the years since, “Work That Body” has sometimes been derided as a “Physical” knock-off, an attempt by Miss Ross to jump on the aerobics bandwagon in the aftermath of Newton-John’s success; in reality, the singers likely recorded their songs around the same time, and Why Do Fools Fall In Love had already been released by the time “Physical” hit the top spot on the charts. “Work That Body” is one of the undeniably great campy moments of Diana’s career, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with certain moments from Mahogany in terms of eye-popping, over-the-top ridiculousness; Diana’s own daughter Tracee Ellis Ross paid tribute with a hilarious recreation of the song’s music video in 2015. At the time of its release, however, critics took “Work That Body” seriously, with Rolling Stone calling it “an engaging piece of calisthenic dance music” and Billboard praising “one of the grittiest vocals of [Diana’s] career” and predicting “listeners will probably be burning a hole in through the floor with their feet.” Just after the album’s release, “Work That Body” did climb to #14 on Disco charts co-listed with “Mirror, Mirror,” and although it stalled at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#34 R&B), it was a big hit in the United Kingdom, topping out at #7. The song is particularly notable for being the first single ever co-written by Diana Ross; on a 1982 episode of “Soul Train,” Ross would remark, “This is really new for me, I’ve been trying to write songs for years. I came up with a concept for this song…just a few of the lyrics were really mine, the lyrics were written by Paul Jabara.” Jabara, of course, is the writer of classics including “Last Dance” and “It’s Raining Men,” and he and Diana would later co-write “Ladies Hot Line,” recorded by The Weather Girls; musician Ray Chew is also credited as a co-writer on “Work That Body.” Because Miss Ross co-wrote “Work That Body,” it will always hold a special place of interest for fans and those studying the singer’s career; it remains one of only a handful of Ross compositions. That said, the track is very much a product of its time, feeding into the aerobics craze of the ’80s and featuring a chunky, late-disco rhythm section. The song is also maddeningly catchy; Diana doesn’t so much sing as kind of speak along in a raspy voice, but she sounds like she’s having a great time in the studio. The lyrics, of course, are completely ridiculous, with the hilarious opening, “Every morning when we wake/To make up for that piece of cake/We ate last night…” representative of everything else to come. But, really, this isn’t supposed to be a serious song; it’s not exactly “It’s My Turn,” is it? This is a song about the joys of looking good, and it remains a completely entertaining listen, if only to sing along with Diana Ross about being the “hottest girl in town!” Certainly credit goes to Mr. Jabara, who clearly lent a gay sensibility which has helped the song (along with “It’s Raining Men”) outlive many others of the era. For example, 15 years after listeners first heard “Work That Body,” no less a diva than the fabulous RuPaul brought the song back for his 1996 album Foxy Lady.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love went on to become one of the most successful Diana Ross albums of all time; it peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the R&B Albums chart, and was the singer’s second studio album to be certified platinum, marking sales of at least one million albums. Certainly the flurry of publicity surrounding the album helped; Diana appeared on several television programs including “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Soul Train,” and was the subject of a “20/20” profile piece on ABC. On January 24, 1982, the singer also sang the National Anthem before Super Bowl XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome near her hometown of Detroit, one of the most-watched television events in history at the time. Not only was her performance superb and pitch-perfect (not to mention a capella!), but it was trailblazing, in a way; according to writer Lorenzo Arguello on the website Business Insider, “Early on, the NFL called on college marching bands like Grambling State University and the U.S. Air Force Academy to perform ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The league’s first foray into having pop artists sing the National Anthem came in 1982 when Diana Ross performed.”
But beyond the abundance of publicity and the general interest in a post-Motown Diana Ross, Why Do Fools Fall In Love does artfully capture the era in a way that the public clearly responded to. The energy, the genre-blurring productions, and certainly the heightened sensuality of the music are emblematic of the early 1980s, and even if they sound dated today, the songs do form a seamless collection. The high points here are the big hits; “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and especially “Mirror, Mirror” are vibrant, exciting recordings that sound still sound like hits today. Though some of the album tracks are pretty vanilla — “It’s Never Too Late,” for example, cries out for the harder edge of Diana’s work with Chic — they’re certainly not bad recordings (except for the dreadful “Endless Love”). Why Do Fools Fall In Love doesn’t really break any new ground for Diana Ross, but as her first full-length producing effort, it’s not the mess it could have been, given that her imagination was finally allowed to run wild. Clearly Diana Ross was looking to continue the success she’d found in The Boss and diana as a high-energy dance queen, and in that respect, this album works.
Final Analysis: 4/5 (A “Sweet” Success)
Paul’s Picks: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” “Two Can Make It”