Silk Electric (1982)

“Right or wrong, I will stand up like a tree, happy or sad, good or bad, I Am Me…”

Diana Ross must have been in a really good place emotionally in 1982; she’d just scored the biggest single of her career (“Endless Love” with Lionel Richie) and her first album as an RCA Records artist — Why Do Fools Fall In Love — was a platinum-selling hit featuring two top 10 singles.  More importantly, she’d executive produced the album herself and co-written one of the songs, finally allowing herself the creative control that she’d clearly been craving for quite some time.  The fact that the album was a success had to be major validation for the singer, and probably inspired her to go even further in terms of artistic experimentation for her next album.

And that brings us to Silk Electric, which is again produced by Miss Ross and this time features her name as co-writer on four of the ten tracks.  Her second RCA album featured another top 10, Grammy-nominated hit in the song “Muscles,” famously written and produced for Diana by Michael Jackson (his Thriller would be released later in the year).  The second single, “So Close,” was one of Diana’s original compositions, and managed to make the lower reaches of the top 40.  The album, while not as massive a seller as Why Do Fools… or diana, ended up going gold, thus continuing Diana’s streak of solid-selling albums.

So does all this mean that Silk Electric is a good album?  Well…that depends on your definition of good.  There’s no doubt that it’s her most experimental album ever; artistically Diana was pushing boundaries all over the place.  “Muscles” is straight-up R&B, “Fool For Your Love” is hard rock, “In Your Arms” is a big pop ballad, and “I Am Me” features an unusual reggae beat; “Who,” meanwhile, is classic disco, and “So Close” is a 50s doo-wop throwback.  You get the picture — perhaps the only genre not touched upon here is country.  By this time, Diana Ross had been proving for 20 years that she could sing any kind of music, so hearing her branch out isn’t necessarily surprising.  Hearing it all smashed together into one album is another story, though, and listening to Silk Electric straight-through can be a bizarre and jarring experience.

But a far greater issue than the material is the overall sound quality of the album.  Much of the material here isn’t just produced…it’s over-produced.  Diana’s voice often sounds so lost in echo that she seems to be singing from the far end of a deep, dark cave.  There’d been a few cases of this less-than-clear vocal production on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, but here it’s every single track, and by the time the final song winds down, you might feel like you’ve been listening to the album through a pair of very old headphones.  Since Diana was behind the wheel on this project, there’s obviously a reason she made herself sound this way.  The excess echo and almost blurred sound make sense on some songs, but completely ruin others (most notably “So Close,” which was actually re-mixed before being released as a single), and that makes the LP a much more uneven experience than just the fact that it’s so stylistically varied.

***

1.  Muscles:  If “Work That Body,” the final single pulled from Why Do Fools Fall In Love, was Diana Ross dipping her toe into the pool of campy pop, “Muscles” is her jumping head-first into the deep end.  Ten years earlier, Miss Ross had tackled the mature, challenging themes of Billie Holiday’s music in Lady Sings The Blues…and here she is, a decade older, girlishly purring about her need for a man “I can hold on to.”  This ode to male beauty was actually written by a man — the one and only Michael Jackson — on his first collaboration with Diana Ross since 1978’s The Wiz.  “Muscles” was released in September of 1982, and ended up charting in the pop and R&B top 10.  The next month — October — Jackson’s debut single from Thriller would hit store shelves and music history would be made.  Alas, “Muscles” is not really an important part of that music history; though it was a hit and earned Diana a Grammy nomination, it’s still a pretty thin and ridiculous song.  The high-pitched, whispery vocal Diana turns in is certainly unique, but I wouldn’t exactly call it sexy (which is clearly the intention) — she sounded far sexier on early songs like “Baby It’s Love” and “I’m A Winner” on which she was just plain singing and not trying so hard.  The track, meanwhile, is also unusual for Ross; it’s got that slick, dark feel that a lot of Michael Jackson songs of the era have, as though it were being produced in an old haunted house (complete with pops that sound like claps of thunder).  All this said, “Muscles” is so weird that it’s kind of hard to dislike; there’s something about it’s weirdness that’s charming and compelling, especially knowing that Jackson was the mastermind behind the whole thing.  And the totally insane music video?  That’s another story!

2.  So Close:  The second single released from Silk Electric, this one wasn’t a big hit, although it did just make the pop top 40.  The song is a nice 1950s throwback; Diana Ross’s first RCA single, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” was a re-make of a doo-wop classic, but this song — an original — actually sounds much closer in spirit to songs of the era.  Co-written by Miss Ross, the lyric and melody are both strong; this is actually one of the best songs bearing Diana’s name as writer.  The problem with “So Close” is in the production; Diana’s vocal is echoed and doubled and buried under every other effect that could possible make it sound muddled.  The background vocals (led and arranged by Luther Vandross, who is clearly audible in the song’s great breakdown of the word “always”) sound great, and the track sounds fine…but the sound quality of the lead vocal is just maddeningly poor.  What’s worse is that this isn’t a reflection of Diana’s performance in the studio; she actually sounds strong and shows some range on this song, which was made evident when producer Richard Perry remixed it for single release.  This remixed single version is far, far superior, as Diana’s voice is cleaned up and brought to the forefront; the song also sounded much better when Diana performed it live during her famous Central Park concert in 1983 (and almost fell off the stage during the performance — giving a frightening double meaning to the title of the song!).  It’s a shame Richard Perry didn’t produce the song in the first place, as it would have been such a stronger addition to the album, and might have helped it become a better-known song.

3.  Still In Love:  One of the better Diana Ross album cuts of the decade, this is a classic 80s power-ballad, led by electric guitars that share center stage with the lead vocal and sharp drum work that nicely accentuates the dramatic high points of the song.  Melodically, this is easily the strongest song on the entire album; it’s a very well-written tune with a nice, simple lyric and a catchy chorus that’s hard not to sing along with (I can totally envision a crowd of people holding up lighters and chanting along “Still In Love…” during a concert!).  Though the production is mired in echo, it actually works on this song, helping to set a haunting tone which matches the words — Diana is singing about a lost love, and the almost distant sound of her vocal manages to enhance the mood.  And listening beyond that echo, this really is a classic Diana Ross ballad performance; her work on the verses is delicate and deliberate, and she sounds passionate and emotional on the chorus — especially at the end, when her voice is double-tracked and she sings along with herself.  Though there’s nothing classically R&B about this song, it is a great pop/rock ballad that, if marketed well, I think could have worked better as a single than “So Close.”  This is one of those songs that Diana could have killed in concert, too, and it’s a shame that it didn’t become a well-known cut for that reason alone.

4.  Fool For Your Love:  So did you ever wonder what Diana Ross would sound like singing hard rock?  Me neither…but she goes ahead and shows us anyway with “Fool For Your Love” — which, amazingly, is another song that features her name as a co-writer.  Though she’d treaded lightly into the rock sound with earlier work like “I Heard A Love Song (But You Never Made A Sound)” on Last Time I Saw Him, this song is full-on early 80s rock, with Diana throwing herself into the role of Alice Cooper like she did Billie Holiday a decade earlier.  Miss Ross actually performs the track with an impressive energy, turning in a gutteral, growling performance that doesn’t even remotely resemble her tender work on songs like “It’s My Turn” or “Touch Me In The Morning.”  I can’t think of a single comtemporary of Miss Ross’s who could have pulled this off to the level that she does; it’s impossible to imagine Dionne or Aretha attempting “Fool For Your Love,” let alone helping to write it.  That said…”Fool For Your Love” really isn’t a great song; it’s certainly one-note, and the lyrics are rather clunky (“I don’t want to be around, for that famous final scene, I just can’t help myself, I’m a Fool For You Love” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue).  This is another case of Diana Ross sounding as though she’s shouting through an air-conditioning vent — although the poor sound quality of her lead vocal isn’t that jarring since it’s such a different vocal performance for her anyway.  “Fool For Your Love” isn’t a highlight of the Ross discography, but — like “Muscles” — it’s kind of a fun listen just because it’s so weird.

5.  Turn Me Over:  This isn’t actually a song…this is a short, strange musical interlude with Diana’s Martian-like command to “Turn Me Over…” — cueing listeners to flip the LP to Side 2.  What can I say?  It’s kind of clever…and I like it.  Her imagination was certainly running wild.

6.  Who:  After a couple of very strange songs kicking off the LP, Diana Ross heads back to much more comfortable territory with “Who,” a bass-heavy disco song that sounds a lot like some of the songs she’d recorded for Why Do Fools Fall In Love the year before.  The track here is pretty typical of late 70s/early 80s dance; there are prominent, swirling strings, that regular pop of the bass, and and a robotic drum-beat.  Diana turns in a very cool, icy performance; there’s an almost startling pack of passion from her here, and the layering of her voice on the entire song only further makes her sound detatched.  In this case, Ross the producer may have had a reason for making Ross the singer sound like this; the lyric is about being left alone, and she repeatedly asks the question, “Who washed away the colors in my life?”  So maybe it makes sense that she sounds devoid of any emotional “color” herself.  Still, at this point in the album, there’s been a distinct lack of personality for too long (other than on “Still In Love”), and this song in particular feels a little too generic.  It’s not hard to imagine any other female singer of the era recording this tune and doing just as well if not beter, which is sad considering when Diana Ross is at her best (such as on “Love Hangover” or “I’m Coming Out”), it’s impossible to replace her.

7.  Love Lies:  This is the LP’s second rock power-ballad, and it’s produced and performed similarly to “Still In Love.”  It is not, however, as strong as song as that previous track, due to a less-catchy melody and the fact that Diana’s voice is pushed much further back into the mix.  She is nearly buried by the instrumental; the electric guitar mirrors her melody vocal closely, and overpowers her in many cases.  The best and most exciting part of the song comes at around 2:40 — which is the instrumental break, where at least there’s no competition for center stage.  The lyrics here portray a bitter woman realizing that love isn’t what she thought it would be; for such an emotional concept, the overall song is really lacking in fire, and Diana doesn’t inject a whole lot of passion into her performance.  This isn’t the worst song on the album, but it does emerge as perhaps the least memorable.

8.  In Your Arms:  This is what I’d consider to be the worst song on the album, which is completely surprising given that it’s a ballad written by Michael Masser, the man responsible for Diana Ross classics like “Touch Me In The Morning,” “Theme From Mahogany,” and “It’s My Turn.”  There is no doubt that the team of Masser and Ross were capable of creating magic, but there’s a key difference between the aforementioned singles and this track:  Michael Masser had always produced his songs on Diana Ross…and this time, Diana produced it herself.  According to writer J. Randy Taraborrelli in Diana Ross: A Biography, Diana decided to record the song but didn’t want to return to the studio with Masser because she’d found him difficult to work with.  This is unfortunate, because even on their less-than-stellar tracks (like some of those that appeared on To Love Again), Diana’s voice was always the center of attention.  Take, for example, a song like “To Love Again” (from 1978’s Ross), on which Miss Ross handles a challenging melody line with a delicate skill that becomes more and more apparent with repeated listens; though she never oversings the song, and while there’s a complex instrumentral line behind her, she’s still the star of the piece.  On “In Your Arms,” Diana Ross completely overdoes the lead vocal; she lays it on thick here, again layering her voice (practically duetting with herself) and blurring it with echo and making herself sound so syrupy and saccharine that she’s honestly a little hard to listen to.  In this way, “In Your Arms” is similar to her solo rendition of “Endless Love” on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, on which her normally effortless way with a ballad becomes laborious to listen to.  And the proof here, I think, is that two years later, this same song (re-titled “Hold Me”) became an R&B hit for Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston — it was actually Houston’s first single.  Their version is much cleaner, crisper, and less dramatic, and doesn’t sound nearly as dated as Diana’s, even though only a few years separated the two.  Had Mr. Masser been given the chance to cut this song on Diana, perhaps the results would have been much different.

9.  Anywhere You Run To:  This is an upbeat pop/dance tune, and comes as an enormous relief after the one-two punch of “Love Lies” and “In Your Arms,” both of which are slow and pretty morose.  “Anywhere You Run To” isn’t a great song, but it at least has a little personality and Diana’s voice sounds crisper on the verses than it does on most of the rest of the album.  The bouncy chorus and the fantastic instrumental break feature some nice horn work similar to that which was so predominant on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and the popping bass adds some spunk behind Diana’s vocal.  Miss Ross, of course, is a master of giving great upbeat, joyful performances; her first solo single, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” boasts a climax so uplifting that it’s practually a religious experience in and of itself, and works like “I’m Coming Out” and “The Boss” are master classes in emoting joy and energy through song.  It’s too bad that she couldn’t quite channel that energy for this song; had she pushed herself a little harder, it would have elevated the quality of the song exponentially.  As it stands, “Anywhere You Run To” does add some energy to Silk Electric, but certainly isn’t a standout Ross dance track.

10.  I Am Me:  There are an awful lot of strange songs on this LP, but it closes with one of the strangest, a reggae-styled piece bearing the amazing writing credits of Diana Ross, Janie Bradford, and Freddie Gorman.  Both Gorman and Bradford were big players in Diana’s early days at Motown; Bradford was a Motown staffer and songwriter and the woman credited with coming up with the list of names from which “Supremes” was chosen, and Gorman co-wrote the Supremes first single, “I Want A Guy,” and was part of the label’s group The Originals.  From what I’ve read, Bradford and Gorman submitted the song to Diana, who then re-tooled it and recorded it for this album (she also reportedly chose it as the b-side to the “Muscles” single purposefully, knowing that it would help make the pair a lot of money).  However it came to be recorded, it’s one of the most unusual songs of Diana’s career; there really isn’t another song in her entire catalogue that sounds like it.  The Jamaican-beat is extremely catchy, and though the lyrics aren’t particularly strong, they do almost serve as an unapologetic mission statement for the entire album:  “Should I fail and come to my ruin, or if I succeed it will be, be my doing…”  Diana Ross doubles her voice again here, and the song (as on “In My Arms”) almost becomes a duet with herself; the effect works pretty well, even though her vocal performance overall is lacking in fire — especially given the nature of the lyrics, which revolve around a self-empowerment theme that generally brings out superb work by the singer (as on “It’s My Turn,” “Home,” “I’m In The World,” and many others).  Still, “I Am Me” is a good way to close the album, as the cut is striking enough to be a cut above most of the others here.

***

Because Diana Ross had been on such a unprecedented hot streak in 1980 and 1981, it makes sense that she could finally really experiment and unleash her creativity on this album; she was selling millions of records, and there wasn’t as much pressure to play it safe and come up with a sure-fire hit.  Therefore, it’s a little hard to be really harsh when judging Silk Electric.  True, it’s nowhere near one of her best albums, and really is of a lesser quality than even some of her more mediocre work from her Motown days.  But there is some courage in releasing an album that is so deliberately diverse — perhaps a little too much courage.  Still, again, it’s not the material that ends up sinking the album, although there really aren’t any truly strong songs here, aside from maybe “Still In Love.”  The major issue remains the dated, muddled sound quality, which just becomes hard to listen to after awhile.  Though this was an issue on her previous album and is a big one here, it thankfully would stop with her next album, 1983’s Ross, which would return her to a crystal clear sound.  So while Silk Electric is a challenging and at times not very pleasant listen, it at least offers a little glimpse into the creative mind of Miss Diana Ross, and shows some new sides of her, whether that’s (as she sings in “I Am Me”) good or bad.

Final Analysis:  2.5/5 (Diana Flexes Her “Muscles,” But Misses The Knockout)

Choice Cuts:  “Still In Love,” “I Am Me,” “Muscles”

Trivia:
The Grammy nominees for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance that year were:
Jennifer Holliday, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Winner)
Aretha Franklin, “Jump To It”
Diana Ross, “Muscles”
Patrice Rushen, “Forget Me Nots”
Donna Summer, “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)”
Deniece Williams, “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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48 Responses to Silk Electric (1982)

  1. spookyelectric says:

    Another great summary, Paul – I think you’re totally on the money here. The decisions Diana made musically in this period make much more sense when put into proper context. I think you’re probably right about Diana being buoyed by her new ‘freedom’ and the successful streak she was on to let her creativity run wild – so what if it’s pretty much the worst album of her career, it’s definitely fun and no one could say it was dull.

    Personally I think ‘Muscles’ is a stroke of genius – absolutely one of her best of the 80s. I agree it has a certainly ‘novelty’ factor to it because of the lyric, but sonically Michael Jackson’s production is so ahead of his time – all those crashing drums and funky fingersnaps – it has so much space it in and a real R&B sensibility absent from much of her post-70s recordings. Diana’s vocal on the verse is warm and nuanced. And those backgrounds from Michael and Patti Austin have real soul to them. Shame Jackson didn’t produce the whole album really.

    The rest of the album really suffers from bad production you’re right. I’d never made the connection between her solo ‘Endless Love’ and ‘In Your Arms’ before but you’re spot on – it’s so telling about how Diana must have heard herself at the time. Relistening to the record now I’d forgotten how good ‘Still In Love’ and ‘Anywhere You Run To’ were – and how much better they would have been with better production. I always found her vocal on ‘So Close’ a little too shrill and thin – although I love the actual song and the cuteness of the doo-wop direction (and of course Luther’s backgrounds). Again this track could have been so much better. Ironic that RCA went with a Richard Perry remix for single release – a weird reversal of the behind-the-scenes dramas on the Chic album a few years earlier.

    I’m glad there’s a moment in Diana’s career where she had the boldness and power to make a record as ridiculously misconceived as ‘Fool For Your Love’ (apparently originally considered for lead single!) but relieved it didn’t happen again too often. Someone in a previous post alluded to the early 80s as her ‘arrogant’ period and listening to ‘Silk Electric’ certainly backs that up. Still as you say you take the good with the bad – it may have resulted in her worst album, but that Warhol sleeve is inspired (Aretha even copied the idea a couple of years later). It just screams ‘I’m a icon!’ Fabulous.

    • Paul says:

      I can’t believe ANYONE ever thought “Fool For Your Love” could have been a lead single!!!!!! Wow. Wouldn’t that have been nuts??

      Going through these albums chronologically has really helped me understand Diana Ross’s discography better — like you said, this album makes more sense when viewed in the context of where she was in her career — and because of that, it’s hard to really hate it during its worst moments, although it’s not always an easy listen!

  2. ejluther says:

    Another great review! Even when I don’t agree with you 100%, I enjoy reading your thoughts and always take any excuse to listen to the songs in questions again..

    “(most notably “So Close,” which was actually re-mixed before being released as a single),”

    Any one know where I can hear/get the “So Close” single remix?

  3. Tony says:

    WELL, where do I begin. It is true that tastes evolve as we mature. Certain artistic expressions are an “acquired taste.” I recall being very disappointed with he cover when it came out. Today, I appreciate it and think it is stunning in so many ways. Its also true that crass and poor taste delivered from even the most regal is still crass and poor taste. I think this album is crass.

    Paul again, because your writing is so excellent and bang on – its almost difficult to reply (thats a compliment). A lot of stuff is going here, going on in Diana’s head , the market, the music industry and even with her reputation as a person. Her success comes from listening to those greats who managed her. Her ability to push back at times and concede at other times created great work. In diana’s head this time — she called all the shots and you can tell. Her choices when unchecked and un challenged. Having said that – I feel she needed to to this. She needed to get lost — in order to know what the right directions would be moving forward. She was brave. I admire her risk taking.

    This album – completely lost me as a fan at the time. I recall feeling crushed when I listened to it. Today, I enjoy very much -Still in Love. This is lovely and classic Diana for me. I also really like “Who.” Perhaps with a little remixing – I think this one could have hit. i hated her “In You Arms.” “Muscles,” while I did think it was cool and new- I have trouble embracing it. I just can’t like the sound. All I really do like is the thunder claps and the finger snapping!!! I also really enjoy “Anywhere You Run To” although the lyric makes me think of a stocker singing it.

    I mentioned early – the industry was listening to other types of voices. Richer , thicker voices were in vogue. Diana almost seemed to move completely into the opposite direction. She sounded thin and breathy weak in her delivery. Maybe she could not compete with the thicker rich voices and thought she would go this direction as a contrast – or foil for what she did not believe she could deliver.

    Her reputation. This had a huge impact on her music. People were not willing to invest in her emotionally. They didn’t want to embrace the new sound because of her appearing arrogant. Her own fans began to turn on her. Rumours were flying around the books that would be written. Her P.R was a disaster. She was being vilified in the media right when she was trying to experiment with knew styles, writers , producers. There was a wave coming, the “I hate Diana Ross” wave. It seemed like the perfect storm, changes in the industry, a new style of voice and singing, total un checked control , poor P.R.

    Having said all this…. There is some beautiful music awaiting us- just around the corner!!!!

    • Paul says:

      Tony — thank you — and thanks for always adding so much that I can’t quite put into words!

      It does seem, in retrospect, that there was a wave of negativity beginning to form around the time of “Silk Electric” — Dreamgirls had opened on Broadway…soon after would come Central Park and Motown 25 (which I’ll mention in my next review)…and the albums were just not slick or strong enough to keep people in Diana’s corner, I guess. It seems this was the time when people started focusing much more on Diana Ross as a personality and not a singer.

  4. “The track, meanwhile, is also unusual for Ross; it’s got that slick, dark feel that a lot of Michael Jackson songs of the era have, as though it were being produced in an old haunted house (complete with pops that sound like claps of thunder).” Lol! I love that Paul!

    I agree, “Muscles” is a tune that Lily would have sung to Herman Monster! It might have been campy but it was a new sound for Diana. But this is the song that sold the album, without it I think it could have been a very different story. It’s Michael Jackson’s fantasy song (just like “Eating Alive”) and I think he later confessed that the song was about his pet snake called Muscles! Michael had a lot of fun writing these ridiculous songs but they sounded great. Does anyone remember “Centipede”?

    When I first saw the album cover it left me cold. It was pretentious, slick, cold and plastic. There is nothing warm and inviting, its almost extraterrestial. I feel she wanted to release the album with only Andy Warhol’s art but RCA convinced her to put a sticker with her name and title on it, and what a title! I really wished she would have used the Polaroid Andy took of her instead of the silk screen version. But the worse cover album would come the following year where Diana looks like she was channeling Sigourney Weaver being possessed by Zul in “Ghostbusters”.

    But everything changed, cover and music wise with “Swept Away”.

    • Paul says:

      Oh, I remember “Centipede” — another totally weird song — similar to “Muscles” in many ways, I think — especially with the low-key, hushed vocal.

      I LOVE your comparison of Diana-Sigourney on the “Ross” cover — you are DEAD ON!!!

  5. chris meklis says:

    Okay Okay…this is indeed the hard one…the turning point, clearly, for some, including myself when I first got it on LP in the early ’90’s…
    Bearing in mind we all have fallen into the world of Diana Ross at various times, mine was Central Park and Swept Away and then Eaten Alive all of which found Diana in strong voice and absolute command of her product- the music.
    I then bought the 1983 double LP Anthology, and found it interesting to listen to the 70’s Ross- sometimes actually finding that emotive, yearning vocal like on Do You Know, or Touch Me hard to reconcile with the Ross in the Swept Away video or the Missing You or Chain Reaction videos, even though that voice was incredibly beautiful.

    Like many artists, and a lot of music- many products offered out become ‘mellower’ with time and this is definitely the case of Silk Electric (and Ross there after), which I really got into once I got it on a remastered CD.
    I really do not think it was this album that turned fans, but rather the fact that it was not succeeded by a stronger effort, even though both Pieces of Ice and Lets Go Up are stand outs from Ross…

    We forget just how popular the hit Muscles actually was and that Rolling Stone hailed it as a Pop Masterpiece at that time!
    The song was a huge crowd- pleaser in Miss Ross’s concerts which by that stage had taken on a modern twist also, with her performing ‘in the round’ and really moving with the times.

    Silk Electric is indeed an experiment of experiments for Diana, that for some seem a mess, but for others, like me at this point in my life, is intriguing…
    It is hurled on the player when I’m in the mood for the ‘artsy’ Diana of the 80’s- one has to be in the mood for this album- it is not the kind of album of Diana’s that can simply be heard at leisure, but for the purpose of listening to that sound again, and appreciating it for what it is, an odd affair, but a curious one at the same time.

    I found it harder to get into Ross than I did Silk Electric…but this was my fault as based on the two songs featured at Central Park, I assumed it to be a strong project from beginning to end.

    I think Muscles as a whole with all the gadgetry and sound elements had to be that way, and whether or not the Diana Ross sound was being lost in these productions, remember, this seems to be on point with what Diana had in mind for herself at this point, and for the most part- especially Muscles- it worked temporarily.
    I love the sound of her on that bridge with the clever lyrics- as she coos “Muscleman, I want to love you…etc etc…Come to me and get my loving!”
    No it is not distinct Diana, but good or bad it rouses the senses and is timeous for those years.

    I also love So Close for its ridiculousness- all of it- especially the silly “aaaw” and hiccup “Supremes’esque” embellishments…it’s like some naive lovelorn teenage girl coming of age and really, not knowing how jaded one can become from being in love…there is a girly- whirly innocence, albeit melodramatic and desperate- maybe that’s why Diana left the production so scrappy…it’s NOT meant to be taken seriously.

    Still in Love should be dusted off and brought out as a stunning surprise for her audience in these current concerts she is doing (as should Surrender, Remember Me, Never Say I Don’t Love You, You Got It, and many more)!!!
    She emotes just enough to not over do it, but I disagree a little with your summing up of Love Lies- I think she is believable and the echo sound complicated with the electric guitar and her harmonising with herself here is necessary- she is being “Rock Chic” here…this seems to somehow be the concept at times of this album, and indeed, the tilte…SILK ELECTRIC “Silk”- her silky voice…and ‘Electric” layered upon the electric rock guitar…obviously the concept is not constant as the genre varies all the time.

    I always have to remember to quickly turn the volume down just as Still In Love comes to an end and the drum and guitar of Fool For Your Love starts- it is too loud- and yes jarring.
    This is my ‘lets joke about Miss Ross’ song with my friends who never can believe their ears when they hear this….
    It is too much in every way- very much a wall of sound (or cacophony)- those repeating screams of Leave Me Alone, Leave Me Alone, Leave Me Alone! Well, I never! 🙂
    But she SHOULD do a gimmick or parody now years later of this song in her concert- it would be so well received and hilarious, though when she wrote and recorded this song- I think she was dead bloody serious! lol

    The song Who is excellent and also, for me, somehow a stand out, and I can’t figure why. Perhaps the disco feel- maybe the feel of the almost mechanical sounding songs of most of the “diana” album make it so attractive and give us familiar territory to tread along again.
    Again, In Your Arms, could be used as an over the top, parody in a drag show today.
    If there were to be a music video for this piece, I envision a haunted castle, lots of tall buttressed hallways and Baroque furniture, and an ethereal Diana- half human- half ghost levitating in white robes that blow on behind her forever (kind of a Stevie Nicks Gold Dust Woman thing), and the subject/ lover (as in Eaten Alive) being scared to death, while intrigued and compelled to stay and accept his fate by loving the apparition before him!

    I am going on and on…sorry!

    Anywhere You Run To is good enough, save the corny intro which sounds like a TV show theme (much like you described the beginning of No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever), and I am Me, continues the sound of “aaws” and Oh’s from track two’s So Close….bringing home, if you will, the sound some hated on this album!

    Thanks for your work….I LOVE the RCA years for they bring so many varied opinions and really are the most fascinating of her career.

    Keep a writing,

    Chris xxx

  6. markus says:

    Another awesome review, Paul! Bravo…and i gotta say reading the followup comments are a big part of the fun.

    I was still a kid and hadn’t started buying records yet when Silk Electric came out (my first record purchase was two years later, and it was Diana…lol). But I do remember “Muscles” being worn out on radio. It was sort of the end to a heady time in Diana’s career- between the summer of 1980 and the end of 1982, she was almost CONSTANTLY on the radio and on the charts.

    Fast-forward to the early 90’s- i was a teenager and finally bought this album (on vinyl, i found it along with almost all of her RCA albums, exception being RHR&B). It was my least favorite of all of them. I spun it once and was completely disappointed. I enjoyed the Eaten Alive album MUCH more. I recall playing “Fool For Your Love” for friends, but mainly for the shock value. That was about it. I do remember there being two songs that I actually had to skip completely, “So Close” and “In Your Arms”.

    Fast -forward AGAIN to the 21st century.
    It’s amazing what a drought of new Diana releases can do. At the end of 2004 I caught Diana in Atlantic City, and she put on what is, to this day, the best concert I’ve ever been to. AMAZING. I was so amped up, but there was no new album. So I started re-listening to the older stuff. And to be honest, Silk Electric ended up being the most pleasant of surprises. How much different your appreciation of something can be at 28 years old, versus being 15. My opinion completely changed on three songs in particular (“Still in Love”, “Who” and “I Am Me”).

    -“Muscles”: let’s be honest, in late 1982/early 1983 MJ could’ve produced Diana reading from an issue of National Geographic and it would’ve reached the Top 10. It’s a bit of a bizarre listen but it’s never mundane, and it certainly stands out in her catalogue. This is one I’m surprised she hasnt dusted off for a recent tour, justfor fun.
    -“So Close”: I couldn’t stand this song in 1991 and, unfortunately, it doesnt do much for me now. The production is in that “mock-50’s doo wop meets synth-80’s” style that doesnt do much, and agreeing with another commenter Diana’s voice always struck me as shrill on it (although the Perry single mix does improve that a bit). Still a miss for me (sad considering the powerhouse voices in the background).
    -“Still in Love”: someone told me they loved this song back in the 90’s, and I was dismissive of it. Beautiful melody, nice lyrics, nice vocal and a performance that captures the sound of that time quite nicely, without overdoing it. Overall, gorgeous. What a fool I was…lol
    -“Fool For Your Love”: okay, it would have been madness to release this as a single; it comes off as little more than straight experiment, but what an experiment! It’s lively and Diana never sounded like that before or after. Not exactly a contender for best Diana song of any category, but it pumps some energy into a sometimes sedate album.
    -“Who”: I was really put-off by this when I first heard it.The exciting intro with the strings and the bass and all that…leading into what i thought was a dull paint by numbers disco song. Reassessing it, it’s one of the more mature songs on the album; Diana’s vocal is very measured but tense at the same time, almost as if she’s trying to maintain calm. The echo effect and lack of background vocals work to the son’g benefit. A favorite of mine.
    -“Love Lies”: Harmless but still kind of flat. I do like Diana on the verses but the hook just sits there.
    -“In Your Arms”: DREADFUL. I still cannot listen to it today.
    -“Anywhere You Run To”: it’s sweet and buoyant, but I totally agree if Diana pushed herself a bit more it would be a much greater pleasure to listen.
    -“I Am Me”: a song i initially didnt care for, it’s probably my favorite on the entire album now. Yes, it’s pseudo-reggae-lite. The lyrics are wacky at points. The message of self empowerment and individuality can easily be viewed as narcissistic. But somehow it all comes together. I thought the vocal arrangement on this (echo notwishstanding) was fabulous, almost hypnotic. Great way to close an admittedly uneven album.

    (Rolling Stone’s humorous closing line to their review of Silk Electric- in reference to “I Am Me”- is: “Diana, darling, we love you, but save it for your shrink.”)

    Looking forward to the next review (an album more consistent than this, but somehow I like it less).

    Keep up the great work, Paul!

    • Paul says:

      I agree — I LOVE the comments!! Thanks to everyone for chiming in! I was just a kid when “Muscles” hit, too, but I don’t remember it at all. I didn’t discover it until years later and it’s just never been a song I was able to appreciate fully — it’s just too gimmicky, though I certainly don’t hate it and am glad it was a hit for her. But I’m totally with you on “I Am Me” — what a great song that manages, against all odds, to work!!

    • Tony says:

      Hi Markus,
      I can really appreciate how you listen to a song years later and suddenly appreciate in a different way, much like you did with “Who.” Your analysis is very good – and actually I agree with much of it. I too have come to like many of the songs you did. The banter is excellent from everyone- so enjoyable. I so enjoy hearing how fans were relating to her as they came to discover her in the 80’s and how that compares to those of us who were feeling let down by her at the time. I have come to enjoy, understand the 80;s Diana, but it was a journey. Something tells me that I we journey through the 80’s – i will be saying “what a fool I was ” a lot !!!!

  7. chris meklis says:

    I loved that review Markus! On the button 🙂

    • markus says:

      thanks Chris, yours as well! Although i just looked through mine and found a bunch of grammatical errors. Ugh…lol
      interestingly, this project has almost turned into a bit of a book club, all of us considering a different album each week, and Paul’s observations spurring others on. I’m loving it. My only regret is not commenting sooner!

  8. chris meklis says:

    Yes, you will see I am going backwards trying to catch up with my comments on each each album. LOL on the grammar etc, I always make mistakes- just see my comments, as I don’t have the time to always read through it all due to time constraints- and I am a writer! Blush 🙂

    • Paul says:

      I keep going back and catching spelling/grammar error in my posts, too 🙂 I think we all just need to ignore each other’s mistakes!!!! 🙂

  9. Tony says:

    Mistakes? What mistakes???? Are people making mistakes??

  10. Antje says:

    It is so interesting to read your comments, guys – the 80s had lost me as a fan. I had to work my way through all her albums post “Why do fools …” and now the generation gap between us clearly shows. There are songs I like, but not too many of the RCA stuff (most of them on RHRB), plus no memories connected. And on this album? I was hesitant to admit, but I decided to give you a good laugh – “In your arms” :))

    • Tony says:

      I so relate to you on this. Well said ! I like her 8o,s music much today than I did when she put it out in the 8o’s. I recall being so embarrassed as people who knew I was her fan, laughed at her releases and compared her to Whitney. My sister would say “what the hell is your Diana” doing?

      • Paul says:

        Tony — I hope you told your sister “My Diana is just experimenting — leave her alone!!” 🙂

      • Lawrence says:

        I really enjoyed this review – especially since the 1980s RCA work is quite polarizing. I, like you Paul, really discovered her music in the 1980s — and then went back later, to learn her classic catalogue.

        I have to say that although “Silk Electric” is a bit dated and uneven, there are some gems. “Muscles”, MJ’s fantasy record, is such fun. “Still in Love” might have been a better second single, and been a hit. Plus, I really like “Who” and “Anywhere you Run to”.

        “So Close” and “In Your Arms” make me wonder. If Diana had continued to work with top producers (such as Michael Masser and Luther Vandross), would her 1980s recordings have been more successful on the radio? In any event, I do appreciate her willingness to take risks. and the 1980s was a strange time for music! Best, Lawrence

    • Paul says:

      Ha ha…I knew someone must like that song!

  11. chris meklis says:

    A bit late in the game- but she did eventually give props to the rightful one who paved the way…Miss Ross

  12. Billy says:

    Hi guys! Paul, I’ve been following your great “project” since the beginning but this is the first time I’m leaving a post, which is strange since I don’t even own a physical copy (cd) of “Silk Electric,” although I do have a used vinyl but have no record player to play it.

    Still, I have all the songs and have listened to the album as a whole several times, and I always thought it was judged rather harshly. I actually love the experimenation aspect of this phase of Diana’s career, especially the fact that she was in charge and was epxressing herself without hesitation or orders by record industry people (at least in a Motown way). That alone makes me approach “Silk Electric” differently and view it as a sound statement.

    “Who” has to be my favorite song. It’s highly sophosticated and moody, while “I Am Me” is absolutely addictive and captures Diana’s then state of being: being emancipated and in control

    Given my age (26), I first became acquainted with Diana rather late, in 1999 to be exact and the “Everyday…” album, so my take on her catalogue is “retrospective,” hence maybe more “unbiased.” Still, it’s really exciting and informative to read about the vibes that were going on around the release of each of the RCA albums, as those years really cemented a legend around Ross-the personality. Something similar I find happenned with Mariah Carey – another favorite diva of mine – during her Island/Def Jam years. It’s a point in their careers when rumors started to overtake the music and their artistic statements, althogh I found them equally of not more exciting than their “formative”/classic divas.

    Although I think we have different tastes and approaches in how we like and evaluate music, I find it intriguing to read your take on Diana’s records, something that has already been stated after all.

    Keep ’em coming!

    • Paul says:

      Billy — thanks for the comments! I love hearing the opinions of people who became Diana fans at different times — some readers were in the 60s and 70s…for me, it was the 80s…and we have you in the 90s. Can’t wait to hear your takes on her later CDs from the second-Motown era.

      Interesting what you said about Mariah Carey — I am a big Mariah fan, too, and I’m a much bigger fan of her Island/Def Jam work than her earlier stuff with Sony. I think “Emancipation Of Mimi” and “Memoirs…” are her two best complete works by far, although many prefer her mid-90s stuff. I think the more her celebrity became cemented, the better her music got — her early stuff, to me, often sounds artificial, like she was trying too hard.

  13. Billy says:

    Hi again! Very excited to see that you are also a Mariah fan! I was initially a bit apprehensive about mentioning her in a Diana Ross forum, but I always thought that Mariah and Diana fit perfectly together, something that was evident also back in Divas 2000. They had great chemistry together. Not to mention that I find quite a few similarities in their careers, while Mariah has often cited Diana as one of her favorites.

    Although I dearly love both “Emancipation” (for its full vocal showcase and live instruments) as well as “Memoirs” (for its ‘classic’/stripped R&B approach and multi-vocal layering), I have to say that nothing comes close to “Butterfly” as far as I’m concerned. I believe it’s her true masterpiece, yet at the same time I agree about your comment regarding her music improving as years pass by. For instance, the somewhat overlooked “E=MC2” is a stroke of genius in terms of the styles, melodies and hooks it displays. I guess whetner I prefer Sony Mariah or Island Mariah depends on the mood each time, something that is similar to whether I want to listen to Motown Diana or RCA Diana, and vice versa. I see these phases in their careers not as mutually exclusive but as completing each other. But I should probably stop talking about Mariah because I could go on forever!

    By the way, I just finished listening to “Swept Away”!

    • Paul says:

      Billy,
      I totally agree — there are similarities between Diana and Mariah and their careers, and Mariah Carey has always shows great respect for Miss Ross. Both women are also very divisive with audiences…people either love ’em or hate ’em!
      I’m like you — Sony vs. IDJ depends on the day, but overall I’m a much bigger fan of Mariah’s work post-2000. As a complete album, I don’t think she’ll ever top “Emancipation…” which is one of my favorite albums of all time! I do love much of “Butterfly” — but for me the songs tend to blend together a bit too much toward the end. I can’t wait to hear what Mariah turns out next!!

  14. I am shocked and appalled (not really but I like being dramatic on the internet) at all the hate for “In Your Arms”, yeah it was probably better off as a duet (“Hold Me” is pretty great) but I guess when I shut my eyes and picture 90 Diana’s singing this song in some sort of Sears-photography-studio-produced video I fall in love. I see where you guys are coming from with the production but I like the vocals way more than “Muscles”!

    Anyway, just got a copy of “Silk Electric” in the mail yesterday so I’m catching up and the songs I haven’t heard before are still setting in, I’ll be back 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Ha ha ha…love this!! I guess I can kind of see it in a Sears-light, too — but I just can’t stomach the song…maybe I’m too cynical and grumpy these days 🙂 Let me know more when you’ve listened to SILK ELECTRIC a few times!

  15. davidh says:

    Paul,hello.i must be the odd one out, as usually i agree with the posts. but it seems most fans prefer the WDFFIL album over this .but for me this is a better album than FOOLS .i did agree on some marks such as IN YOUR ARMS.over all,i like this album.thanks for your review,really enjoy your thoughts. now i have to go put this cd in and have a listen.

    • Paul says:

      Hey David! Interesting to hear you prefer this album. I think there are some strong moments here, but I just don’t think it’s as solid a complete album as WDFFIL. However, I really can understand how some people would like this one better — it’s certainly more varied and seems to show many more sides of Diana as an artist and a person.

  16. Mike says:

    Anywhere You Run To is jubilation. That horn bridge! I’ve always liked this album, especially for the variety of genres. There is not a thing wrong with Fool For Your Love.

  17. Luke says:

    I bought this album (cd format) in 1996 – I was 15 then – and as being obsessed with Diana, I loved it , partly because of the cover. Well, 15 years later, relistening to the project I still like it, despite its bizarre songs or blurish sound. It was an experiment for Diana who, after 20 years in the industry, wanted to be let alone to make art, her own artistic choices, and take risks too. The early-mid 80s era was crazy, as far as music, film, fashion are concerned and Diana should make her own choices during that frantic era. Should she get stuck to the old Motown-ish sound and pace, or should make new music? She did it the hard way, she took risks, some of which failed, some others not. Most of the songs of the album were good, better than those of the previous 1981 album. The only I still hate, is Muscles. Never understood why she did it or why MJ gave it to her. I think that during the Rca years, Diana’s major problem was choosing the best songs as lead/promote singles. She ruinned her 1985 album by giving the name “eaten alive” to it, and then releasing the track of the same name as a lead single. She did it again with her “Red hot” 1987 album. She also did it with the Silk Electric project. “Still in love” is for sure the finest song and should be released as a single, replacing the awful “muscles”. “Fool for your love” was Diana’s proof that she can sing anything, even hard rock. She overdid it, but it was ok!

  18. topher says:

    People talk about experimenting new fields ? Is it true ? the music she choosed to sing since WDFFIL was very MOR. The kind of songs that Ann Margret or Linda Carter performed on their TV specials.
    This is the first lp i brought, because of Muscles, because of the dramatic cover . I was so disapointed . I didn’t know her at the time , didn’t connect her with “upside down” but to me she was beautifull above all, dangerous, and sexy. So at first play , she was not that at all.
    Time has past and now i see it in a different way. She will never be a good producer, and i wonder what her real taste is, but song to song, it’s ok and fun, sometime very good.
    “Still in love”, “love lies”, “i am me” and “who” are my favorite , “muscle” being an ovni on this LP.
    “fool for your love” is fun but not serious .
    My main concern will always be that the tone of her voice is exceptional but it’s nowhere to be found in those LP.

  19. Eric says:

    This album does sound quite muddled!! Who approved the final release?? I love muscles and fool for your love and that’s it! Boring syrupy ballads and doo wop and a cheap disco song ! I am me is fun ill leave alone but this album def had her worst ballads ever. All of them!

    I like the cover ! I give it as gifts to ppl bc its candy Warhol -I claim it’s art!

  20. davidh says:

    hello, I am going thru a Diana faze again, geez, was i out of it ever? but I was listening to this album again ,and after reading your review I hear things differently or,is it my age now? I was never a big fan of Muscles… it was good but I suppose I thought of it as a womans song. but that’s me brain working or not working depending on yr point of view.i think had this album had anoterh big hit ,would people think differently? I also read somewhere there is a different mix, more rock version of FOOL FOR YOUR LOVE. I think Gene Simmons had something to do with it. not sure. but maybe the original mix was considered as a single? just thinking out loud. I hope one day these albums will get the deluxe treatment like the other albums.

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  23. vgalindo22@msn.com says:

    I love Silk Electric. It was one of my most favorite Diana Ross albums and I have them all. Different strokes for different folks.

  24. Matt says:

    Just some gossip 🙂

    When ‘Muscles’ was produced/released, Michael Jackson and Diana were rumored to be… um… how do I say this nicely… fuck buddies at the time. True story. Total cougar/boytoy relationship, complete with a down low secret affair that was kept away from the public. While Diana Ross was dating Gene Simmons and Michael was with Brooke Shields, they were sleeping with each other on the side (there was a source from Gene Simmons’ camp that said that Diana once called out Michael’s name during sex and Gene never got over it, hence why he’s still bitter with Michael to this day).

    And Michael was probably giving off major intentional innuendos when he said that Muscles was the name of his pet ‘snake’ if you know what I mean, lol.

    “I don’t care if he’s young or old, just make him beautiful…” and then writes a whole song about Diana wanting Michael’s ‘snake’ all over her body… suure Michael 😉

  25. I know this is super late in the game but I’ll add my 2 cents. This was the second record of Diana Ross’ I owned and I’m pretty sure my mum bought it for me along with Eaten Alive (my dad bought my first “diana”). I’m actually currently listening and it is remains an excersize in nostalgia and for all its crazy categories of music still remains a favorite, and weirdly pretty consistent (except for the hard rock track, which over time I can hear the musicality if still not a favorite). Still makes me sing along and I probably just listen and enjoy each track individually if not holistically.

    • Paul says:

      Julius — as Diana would say, “It’s Never Too Late” 😉 Yes — this is a crazy, crazy album — certainly not her worst, and an interesting glimpse into the creative mind of Diana Ross — but ultimately pretty wacky. I appreciate it for the wild experimentation, and Diana’s willingness to tackle songs that most of her peers wouldn’t have dared. I just wish the sound quality weren’t so fuzzy — I’m not sure why Diana seemed to insist on this mushy sound in the early 80s.

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