Ross (1983)

“Comin’ back on, comin’ back strong, turnin’ back on…”

1983 would bring Diana Ross some of the most widespread publicity of her career, although very little of it would have anything to do with her latest studio album.  First, on the evening of March 25, Ross joined many of her ex-labelmates at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for a concert celebrating Motown’s 25th anniversary; when it aired on television in May, it would be a major ratings success, with millions of viewers watching Diana’s climactic performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and her brief reunion with Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong.  At the same time, Ross was busy planning a major show of her own; way back in the fall of 1982, news had broken that Ross wanted to perform a free concert in New York’s Central Park, which was eventually set for July 21, 1983 and televised live on cable network Showtime.  Little could the singer have guessed that a massive rainstorm would sweep in the evening of the concert, resulting in headlines and news coverage around the world; Ross re-staged the show the following day, performing before an estimated crowd of 700-800,000 fans total over the two shows.

Although 1982’s Silk Electric went gold and produced a Top 10 hit with Michael Jackson’s “Muscles,” the album’s follow-up single (“So Close”) failed to generate much heat and Ross moved on fairly quickly; the artist probably realized that an event as big as a free concert in Central Park would be a brilliant way to promote a new album, likely a reason she returned to the studio so quickly.  After self-producing the bulk of her RCA work so far, Diana engaged Steely Dan producer Gary Katz to work on her upcoming project; Katz had recently scored with Steely Dan’s 1980 effort Gaucho and lead singer Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, released at the same time as Silk Electric.  Katz would later tell writer Dustin Fitzharris how the collaboration with Ross came about:  “I was mixing a record downtown in New York with a group called Eye II Eye. I remember it was the middle of the summer. It was like 105 degrees. It was just one of those days, and someone said, ‘You have a call; Diana Ross is on the phone’…She said, ‘I really like your work, and I’d like to talk to you about a record. I left the studio right then. She asked to meet me.'”

Though Katz would later say that choosing songs wasn’t his strongest suit, he ended up finding and producing at least five of them for Ross, including lead single “Pieces Of Ice.”  According to Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years by Brian Sweet, Katz also asked Donald Fagen to write a song for Miss Ross; the result was the synth-driven “Love Will Make It Right.”  Another of the Katz-produced numbers was co-written by Franne Gold, who’d written Diana’s superb 1977 single “Gettin’ Ready For Love.”  To round out the album, veteran artist and musician Ray Parker, Jr. turned in a pair of tracks, including second single “Up Front.”  Aside from experiencing his own success both solo and with the group Raydio, Parker had played as a session guitarist for many of Diana’s earlier releases; according to a 2015 interview with Michael P. Coleman, Parker said of producing Miss Ross, “She called me up and asked me to do it.  I used to play on all of her records in Detroit.  We had a lot of history.  She asked me to write her a song, and I thought those songs were the right messages for her at the time.”  The album’s eighth and final track would be co-written and produced by Ross herself.

RCA issued new single “Pieces Of Ice” to coincide with the Central Park concerts in June, then rushed out the singer’s album, simply titled Ross (the second bearing just her last name, after a 1978 LP for Motown), immediately after.  Unfortunately, the album was completely lost in the publicity surrounding the concerts; RCA didn’t seem to do much in terms of promotion, and the second and third singles sank without a trace.  The real surprise, then, is just how good the album actually is; in terms of the singer’s RCA output, it’s arguably the most seamless and cohesive collection Ross would release.  The poor vocal production which had married parts of the singer’s previous two projects certainly isn’t an issue here; Diana’s voice is crystal-clear and completely unfettered, and she’s never lost in the mix or competing with the instruments for attention,  The cool, synthesizer-heavy sound has turned off fans and critics over the years (the AllMusic review of the album notes the “precise, icy sound…not a sound that meshes well with Ross”), it actually ages quite well; more than three decades after its release, Ross stands as a fresh and unique entry into the Diana Ross discography, certainly better than its reputation would have you believe.

***

Billboard: January 23, 1982

1.  That’s How You Start Over:  Way back in January of 1982, Billboard magazine predicted that Diana Ross and Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald might be “the newest hot-shot songwriting ream,” reporting that the pair had met up to work on songs for Diana’s second album for RCA Records.  McDonald’s first solo album If That’s What It Takes showed up later that year, followed shortly thereafter by Diana’s Silk Electric, but neither project included any collaborations between the two; if the singers did ever pen any songs together, they’ve never surfaced (coincidentally, both albums contained a tune titled “Love Lies,” although they are not the same song).  Thus, “That’s How You Start Over” is the closest thing to a Ross-McDonald collaboration fans would ever get; McDonald wrote the song with Ed Sanford (of the Sanford-Townsend Band), and his unmistakable voice is quite audible in the background.  Although it’s not the strongest song on the album, “That’s How You Start Over” is a terrific way to open it; the song is a bouncy slice of pop-soul, with an extremely tasteful production by Gary Katz and classy vocal performance by Miss Ross.  Diana’s lead comes as a refreshing relief after the syrupy aftertaste from Silk Electric; it’s not her most engaging or full-bodied work, to be sure, but there’s a lightness and an effortlessness to her delivery that’s very appealing, and her voice is always front and center here, rather than becoming buried in the mix.  The instrumental track is really the star of the show; fine piano and horn work bring a joyousness to the track recalling Diana’s 1979 hit “The Boss,” and the soulful background vocals lend an undeniable energy to the production.  Katz’s work is slick, to be sure; there’s not a single rough edge to be found, and the result is a recording that leans further toward the pop spectrum than true soul, which may disappoint some Ross fans a bit.  But “That’s How You Start Over” emerges as one of the better Diana Ross album tracks in a long time, and certainly sets the tone for the collection to follow.

2.  Love Will Make It Right:  According to Brian Sweet in Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years, Donald Fagen was already working on songs for his second solo LP when Gary Katz asked him to write a song for Diana Ross.  Fagen’s first album away from Steely Dan, 1982’s The Nightfly, had been a major critical and commercial success, spawning the memorable hit “I.G.Y. (What A Wonderful World)” and receiving several Grammy nominations that year. Because Katz had produced both Fagen’s solo album and his work with Steely Dan, it makes sense that he’d ask the artist to write a song for Ross, and the result is perhaps the most striking entry found on Ross.  Described by Sweet as a “menage a trois song” that “boasted the customary thick, squeaky synth sounds and washes of keyboards of early-Eighties Fagen,” the song does indeed sound like a close cousin to the tracks released on The Nightfly; it’s a mellow, synth-heavy tune and features a repetitive chorus of voices chanting the song’s title in an eerie, staccato manner that becomes hypnotic.  Diana actually matches the tone well with her restrained vocal performance, and the song gives her a chance to sing in her lower range a little bit, which is nice to hear.  Though the synthesizers might be deemed dated by some modern listeners, the song overall has such a cold, remote feel that it seems to be beamed in from the future.  The jazzy harmonies that surround Diana’s voice periodically are classic Fagen and a nice touch, subtly nodding to Diana’s own past forays into jazz.  Interestingly, Brian Sweet writes in his book that the mix found on Ross is not the original worked up by the behind-the-scenes players:  “Fagen, Katz, and [engineer] Daniel Lazerus spent plenty of time on the song, working on some experimental drum sounds with Jeff Porcaro at Media Sound Studios, which used to be an old church….After all their diligent work they had a superb mix, but it was lost to the computer.  They worked on a second mix and that was also lost.  Finally a third mix survived to make it onto the album.  But Lazerus maintained that third mix in no way matched up to their original.”  It’s too bad we’ll never hear that original mix; still, “Love Will Make It Right” is unusual enough to be a standout on the album, and a unique entry into Diana’s vast catalog.

3.  You Do It:  The album’s third song is a terrific, feel-good pop song that plays directly to Diana’s strengths as a vocalist; it’s hard to believe RCA didn’t push this one as a single, as it arguably stood the strongest chance at giving Ross a solid pop hit.  Written by Deborah Allen, Eddie Struzick, and Rafe Van Hoy, “You Do It” would end up being recorded by several popular singers of the day; the song first surfaced on the 1982 Sheena Easton album Madness, Money & Music, and it would show up on the Rita Coolidge album Never Let You Go shortly following the release of Diana’s version.  Songwriter Deborah Allen, a successful country singer herself, also recorded her song, including it on her 1984 album Let Me Be The First.  It’s surprising that nobody turned the song into a major hit; there’s a pleasant simplicity to its lyric and structure, and the melody is engaging and memorable.  Katz delivers a sterling production here, led by Larry Carlton’s easygoing guitar and the warm undercurrent of Julian Marshall’s Hammond organ, and highlighted by the sparkling synthesizer playing of David Paich.  Miss Ross is backed by singers Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews, two women who sang on dozens of Motown albums including Diana’s own Touch Me In The Morning a decade earlier; the women lend the song just the right amount of softness to sweeten Diana’s crisp vocal.  Ross is at her breathy best here; her voice drifts over the melody, touching on each note with such lightness that she evokes a ballet dance in pointe shoes.  This sort of light, unfettered vocal performance is what made Diana Ross a star in the first place; it brings to mind her iconic work on early Supremes hits like “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.”  It’s a sound that always cut through the clutter of radio; again, had “You Do It” been serviced to radio and released as a single, it’s hard to imagine it being ignored.

Jet: August 22, 1983

4.  Pieces Of Ice:  “I wanna do my new record for you,” Diana Ross announced to the massive crowd gathered at Central Park on July 22, 1983, before launching into a lip-synched, intricately choreographed performance of “Pieces Of Ice.”  Just about a week later, on August 6, the single peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the singer another Top 40 hit but falling far below expectations as the album’s first single.  Although it’s far from her most successful single, it’s still surprising that the song has virtually disappeared from the Diana Ross discography, failing to gain a spot on her collection Greatest Hits: The RCA Years or her box set Forever Diana: Musical Memoirs or basically anywhere else aside from the original album.  Whether that’s because Diana doesn’t really like the song, or because someone else doesn’t, it’s too bad, because it’s a dazzling, moody piece which still sounds sophisticated and fresh today.  Considering the word “ice” is right there in the title, it makes sense that the track would be a chilly, sparse affair, evoking a barren landscape caught in the grasp of winter; the eerie solo organ chord is a brilliant way to open the recording, leading to drummer Jeff Porcaro’s driving beat and spare but effective synthesizer and electric guitar work.  Written by John Capek and Marc Jordan, “Pieces Of Ice” has been criticized over the years for its abstract lyrics, which don’t seem to mean anything.  It’s true that lines like “Nights are long entropic” are tough to decipher, but countless of popular songs feature puzzling lyrics, and this is one that clearly favors style over substance; the writers and producer Katz are concerned with creating an atmosphere here, one that tells as much of a story as any lyrics could, and they absolutely succeed.  Diana’s vocal, meanwhile, is incredibly focused; the singer skillfully projects a simultaneous somber and sexy vibe, rendering a far more mature and accomplished vocal than on her hit from the year before, “Muscles,” in which a similarly hushed vocal came off as one-note.  She also provides her own backing vocals on the chorus, and the layering of her voice adds to the strangely off-kilter vibe created by the musicians behind her.  All of this adds up to a cool, memorable production which, despite its quality, probably shouldn’t have been chosen as the album’s first single.  Something so muted and low-key didn’t lend itself to live performance well (Ross didn’t even sing it on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” when she appeared immediately following the Central Park concerts) and likely just wasn’t dynamic enough to generate the kind of interest needed to boost the album.  Although it performed respectably on the R&B (#15) and dance (#17) charts, “Pieces Of Ice” would have better served Miss Ross as a second or third single.  (NOTE: Miss Ross did film an expensive music video for the song, directed by Bob Giraldi and choreographed by Michael Peters, both of whom had worked with Michael Jackson on his “Beat It” video earlier that year.)

Jet: September 5, 1983
“Pieces Of Ice” hits #10 on the magazine’s Top 20 Singles chart

Diana Ross performing “Let’s Go Up” on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,”    August 4, 1983

5.  Let’s Go Up:  The fifth and final track on Ross selected and produced by Gary Katz is the album’s triumph, a sterling cut that ranks among the finest Diana Ross would record throughout the entire decade.  Written by Franne Golde and Peter Ivers, “Let’s Go Up” is a swinging slice of pop-soul with a generous side of light jazz; it’s not unlike an earlier Diana Ross single co-written by Golde, 1977’s “Gettin’ Ready For Love” from Baby It’s Me.  Both songs are shimmering, sophisticated recordings, with “Let’s Go Up” in particular featuring a gorgeous and powerful lead vocal; this is a case where producer Gary Katz’s lower-key, precise sound and Diana’s emotional interpretive abilities come together perfectly.  Interestingly, two other popular vocalists cut “Let’s Go Up” around the same time as Diana Ross; pop singer Helen Reddy released version on her 1983 LP Imagination, and Diana’s former labelmate Dennis Edwards included it on his 1984 Motown album Don’t Look Any Further.  As with “You Do It,” it’s surprising that the song never became a solid hit, given how enjoyable it is as a composition; both the melody and lyrics are memorable, particularly when delivered by a spirited Diana Ross.  Her performance here is easily one of her best of the decade, as the song makes full use of her range; she mines her lower register to sound wise and relaxed on the verses, but the choruses build to exciting heights in which she does some powerful singing on par with her late-1970s work with Ashford & Simpson.  Ross actually expands the melody a bit when compared to the Reddy and Edwards versions; she reaches higher on the big refrain, nailing each note with a full-bodied belt.  Better even than her thrilling performance on record is the fact that Diana sounded just as good on the song when she sang it live; when the vocalist appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” to promote Ross, this is the song she chose to perform, and she also sang it live at both her rain-shortened Central Park show and the follow-up concert the next day.  It’s clear that the singer intended for “Let’s Go Up” to be released as a single; unfortunately, RCA waited to do so until any momentum for the project was gone.  Lifted as the album’s third single, “Let’s Go Up” stalled on the charts, peaking in early 1984 at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #52 on the R&B side.  If ever RCA missed a chance to deliver Diana Ross a major hit, this was it; this should have been the first or second single from the album, and it should have been pushed hard.

6.  Love Or Loneliness:  After five very strong selections offered up by producer Gary Katz, Ross switches over into the hands of musician Ray Parker, Jr., who not only wrote and produced “Love Or Loneliness” but also plays almost every single instrument on the track. Parker’s lengthy list of credits stretches way back to the 1960s, when he played guitar with Hamilton Bohannon at Detroit’s 20 Grand club (watch my television interview with Bohannon here) and performed on tracks for many notable Motown artists; he then scored several successes with the group Raydio, including the singles “Jack and Jill” and “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do),” which hit #1 on the R&B charts in 1981.  Parker had recently scored his first solo hit with 1982’s “The Other Woman” when he got a call from Diana Ross asking him to produce some tracks; Parker would later tell Michael P. Coleman, “[Diana’s] always been nice to me.  I never had a bad day with her.  She’s always kind to me, very friendly.”  Of the two songs Parker contributed to Ross, this one sounds the most like something he would have recorded with Raydio; in fact, listeners can’t miss the striking similarities to “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” — the guitar line here is lifted almost directly from that earlier hit.  This isn’t a bad thing; one certainly can’t fault the writer for borrowing from himself, and he crafts an easygoing and sexy vibe for Diana Ross here, giving the singer rather frank lyrics about the dilemma faced by a woman in a “sometimes love affair.”  Diana’s vocal performance is warm and relaxed; as with the best of her work, she sings with an emotional connection to the lyrics, as though she’d written them herself.  Ross has always openly considered herself an “interpreter” of lyrics, and a song like this, which tells a very specific story, makes tremendous use of her gifts as an actress and storyteller.  It’s interesting to ponder what might have happened had “Love Or Loneliness” been released as a single (instead of as the b-side to “Up Front”); Ray Parker, Jr. was certainly experiencing great success at the time, and this is clearly recognizable as one of his productions.  It might not have been a huge pop hit, but it probably would have gained significant R&B and Easy Listening airplay.

7.  Up Front:  The second Ray Parker, Jr. production was released as the album’s second single; following the underwhelming performance of “Pieces Of Ice,” this one basically bombed, missing the Billboard Hot 100 completely (Diana’s first RCA single to do so) and only managing an R&B peak of #60.  It’s hard to believe that a Ross-Parker collaboration was so roundly ignored, especially given the popularity of both artists at the time and Diana’s near-constant publicity at the time; Parker would later chalk it up to Diana’s label, telling Michael P. Coleman, “For some reason, RCA really didn’t push that album for her, even though it had me and Gary Katz from Steely Dan on it.”  Then again, Miss Ross didn’t even sing the song during her Central Park concerts, nor did she perform it on television, choosing instead to promote what would become the album’s third single, “Let’s Go Up” — so perhaps part of the blame lies with the singer, too, who apparently wanted “Let’s Go Up” to be the album’s second single.  Although “Up Front” is a strong, in-your-face recording with a dynamic performance from Miss Ross, it does feel like an odd single choice in retrospect; the rock-themed tune isn’t the catchiest on the album, nor does it immediately sound like a Diana Ross or Ray Parker, Jr. song in the way that “Love Or Loneliness” does.  That said, “Up Front” is a terrific addition to the album; it’s led by Ray Parker. Jr.’s tangy guitar performance and a shimmering synthesizer, also performed by Parker.  That clean synthesizer work, aside from being very strong, also serves to tie the song to the earlier tracks by Gary Katz, lending the album a cohesion is might otherwise have been missing in the hands of multiple producers.  Diana is backed by a boisterous choir of voices, notably including J.D. Nicholas (of Heatwave and the Commodores) and Valorie Jones of Diana’s former backing group, The Jones Girls; Ross herself offers up an engaging, muscular performance, digging into the melody and demonstrating how powerful her pipes can be when a song calls for it.  Repeated listens reveal just how much Miss Ross was pushing herself here; listen to her belt out the words “Get it straight!” at around 1:55 and again at 2:55, and hear just how much she’s attacking the words.  Although “Up Front” was probably the wrong choice for single release, it is a welcome entry into the Diana Ross canon.

8.  Girls:  The album ends with a song both co-written and produced by Miss Ross herself, her first production on this album after handling just about every track on both Why Do Fools Fall In Love and Silk Electric.  The crew of musicians featured on “Girls” is basically the same as on Diana’s previous album; she wrote the song with Bill Wray (co-writer of song including “So Close” and “Fool For Your Love”) and frequent collaborators Ray Chew and Rob Mounsey are also featured on the track.  Also credited with co-writing the song is Marc Jordan, who co-wrote the fascinating “Pieces Of Ice” and likely contributed some of this song’s more abstract lyrics; Jordan’s writing partner John Capek would later tell Dustin Fitzharris, “The best way you can understand Marc’s lyrics is that he went to school to become a film guy. He thinks in pictures. Everything that he writes is related to visual images.”  This certainly relates to “Girls” in terms of lyrics like, “You want to taste the fast life/And fall in love through the camera’s eye” — in fact, the entire production really does evoke vivid images of powerful, sexually-liberated women in a big city, a kind of foreshadowing of “Sex In The City.”  In terms of Diana’s output as a record producer, “Girls” is one of her stronger efforts; the frantic, jazzy guitar line and the jamming percussion work are both as accomplished as anything else on the album, and Diana offers a confident vocal that once again allows her to display some range and power.  Certainly this song isn’t strong enough to have been pulled for single release, and is more dense than the clean-sounding tracks at the beginning of the album, but it’s a fine way to end the LP and stands as one of the more interesting Diana Ross contributions as a credited songwriter.  (NOTE: “Girls” was eventually released as the b-side of the album’s third and final single, “Let’s Go Up.”)

***

Lost in the hubbub surrounding “Motown 25” and the Central Park concerts, not to mention less-than-enthusiastic critical reviews, Ross became the singer’s first RCA album not to even go gold, let alone platinum; it peaked at a decent #32 on the Billboard 200 and #14 on the R&B Albums chart, but disappeared from the rankings far too quickly.   Though Diana did tour to support the project, she quickly shifted focus to her next album; clearly determined to come up with a major hit, she teamed up with a roster of big names including Daryl Hall, Lionel Richie, Bernard Edwards, and Julio Iglesias, with whom Ross would score a pop and Adult Contemporary hit just a few months after “Let’s Go Up” failed on the charts.  By the time her new album’s title track, “Swept Away,” was burning up the charts at the end of the summer of 1984, Ross and its singles seemed little more than a distant memory.

This is a shame, because Ross is arguably the singer’s single strongest collection released during her tenure with RCA Records, and certainly her most sonically cohesive set since 1980’s diana.  Love it or hate it, there’s a distinct feeling that carries through to every song on the album; it’s not a warm album like 1973’s Touch Me In The Morning or 1977’s Baby It’s Mebut it’s not supposed to be.  This isn’t an album to be judged against Diana’s other works, but rather a singular, daring bit of modernity for a singer who’d dominated the music industry for nearly two full decades.  There’s also an abundance of technical skill here to be appreciated the more the album is listened to; it certainly sounds far better and less-dated today than most of the other albums she worked on during the 1980s.  With better marketing and a different succession of singles, Ross probably would have enjoyed a stronger commercial performance; without that success, it’s a work that cries out for rediscovery by those who have written it off for decades (including, most likely, Diana Ross herself).

Final Analysis: 4.5/5 (Ross Is Just “Right”)

Paul’s Picks: “Let’s Go Up,” “You Do It,” “Pieces Of Ice”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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85 Responses to Ross (1983)

  1. Antje says:

    When I got to know this album about two years ago, it at once became one of my favorites (except for “Girls”, which I always skipped). I appreciated the clean, crispy production and used to play it a lot. But this appeal quickly wore off. I still feel like waiting for a kind of “take off”, the album to gain momentum – but it doesn’t work for me. The exception is “Upfront” – I enjoy listening to this one, especially when I am a bit testy or bad tempered … uuhhh.
    I know you guys are all well informed, but maybe you somehow missed
    http://dustinfitzharris.wordpress.com/diana-ross-the-central-park-interviews/
    to learn a little bit more about the makings of “Ross”.

    • spookyelectric says:

      Agree with you Paul – “Ross” is probably her most even album out of her RCA tenure with a consistent slick, AOR sound. Not sure it’s her most successful, but it’s certainly a fine, professional (sometimes too professional, a little soulless maybe) listen from start to finish.

      Something that’s always struck me about this album (especially true on the opening two tracks) is how Diana almost seems like a guest on her own album. It’s interesting that her instincts on what a ‘Diana Ross record’ should sound like were so spot on only a few years earlier with her insistence to remix the Chic record, but at this point seems to have slid a little. On the choruses of these two tunes she’s virtually absent which is odd.

      I agree ‘You Do It’ is a great, bouncy feel good radio tune – it was recorded around this time by several other big female artists including Rita Coolidge and Sheena Easton (Sheena’s version is actually a bit more nuanced and interesting than Diana’s). Sometimes though Diana’s vocals actually seem a little ‘phoned in’ on this album, a bit disengaged. It’s not necessarily a problem as the songs are generally of such a high standard. For instance, ‘Let’s Go Up’ is good but could be so much better (her live version at Central Park beats the studio version easily).

      When everything comes together on the album it’s quite brilliant – and to me that would be ‘Pieces Of Ice’, probably the essence of 80s Diana. I think props to Diana for trying to keep up with radio trends during these years. I think the reality is her old hardcore fans and radio just didn’t want ‘new wave’ Diana – maybe it was a step too far. Personally I’m with you – ‘Pieces of Ice’ has a chilly, mesmerising quality (best heard in the extended 12 inch mix) and to me is one of her most successful singles of the decade. (You can’t blame RCA either for its lack of success – that wild video must have cost a fortune – I’m sure director Bob ‘Beat It’ Giraldi didn’t come cheap either at the time).

      Whereas ‘Piece of Ice’ totally works and still feels to me very true to Diana, ‘Up Front’ is too aggressive and rock-edged to be a single. I’m not surprised it wasn’t a hit anywhere. Again, I admire the attempt to ride current radio trends (it’s sonically very similar to Michael Sembello’s ‘Maniac’, huge at the time) I think this one falls a little short. I’ve got to disagree with you Paul on the Ray Parker tunes – I think ‘Love Or Loneliness’ is the far more successful of the two. I’d go as far as to say it’s Diana’s best vocal on the record – full of sensuality and warmth, very old school Diana. Love it!

      It’s surprising how well the Katz and Parker productions blend together really (Diana’s ‘Girls’ is cute but not on the same level sadly). Interestingly Gary Katz went on to make one of the finest albums of the 80s with a female vocalist a couple of years later with Rosie Vela’s amazing ‘Zazu’ record (which isn’t a million miles away in sound from “Ross”) – goes to show you can have a great producer, great songs and top vocalist but it doesn’t necessarily always add up to more that the sum of its parts. And let’s not even start on that album cover!!

      • Tony says:

        Hello Spookyelectric,

        Basically well said on your part. some really excellent points made and received. Thank you . I do want to mention that the old hard core fans did want to embrace the new Diana , and trust me when I say — it were those old fans that gave her he opportunity to experiment, because there is no way an 80’s(RCA) fan base could have put Diana Ross on the map. There were far too few people embracing the new Diana wave. In other words , if Diana Ross was introduced to the world in the 80’s (RCA) and her first album was Why Do Fools…. she would have ceased to exist today and the Ross album would most likely have been her last. The old fan base were the ones still buying the records and begging for air play. The old fan base kept her alive … and relevant.

        Having said that , the 80’s fans kept Diana modern and allowed her to remain 3 dimensional, introducing her to another fan base thus extending her longevity, (Hence our discussion on the blog)

      • ejluther says:

        “And let’s not even start on that album cover!!”

        Ha! I know a lot of fans hate it and think she looks like she’s on drugs or something. I think it does fit the icy quality of “Pieces of Ice” as it’s certainly not a warm and welcoming cover and may have only fed into some public preception that Diana was a cold bitch and thought herself untouchable – she certainly is throwing us lots of shade and attitude. Looking back on it now, it strikes me as very “high-fashion” more than anything else…what do you all think of the cover?

    • ejluther says:

      Thanks for the great link!

      • Paul says:

        Ejluther — personally, I’ve always liked the cover, too! I agree with you that it’s got a “high fashion” feel — and the music inside has that feel, too. I think this album cover is far better than some of her other RCA cover shots!

      • Pearson says:

        Personally, the album cover is my favorite one from her…I think she looks amazing.

      • Her best album cover ever! I had it in my room on a wall when I was a teenager and 30 yeras later I still love that fascinating cover.

    • Paul says:

      Antije — in a way I agree with you about a “take off” — I think this is a very evenly-paced album, and while there is a nice lineup, there isn’t one major standout song — like a “Missing You” or an “Ain’t No Mountain…” or an “I’m Coming Out” — and thus, it never really hits an emotional climax.

    • Thanks for the great interview. “Ross” is one of my favourite Diana Ross’ albums: love the artwork, the songs, the atmosphere…

  2. Tony says:

    I really like this album. I like it more today than I did “yesterday”. It really has grown on me. I can still listen to it these days and it still feels relevant. I recall the album coming out. It was the first time I was NOT excited about a Diana Ross album. I didn’t even rush out to buy it. I had given up on her by this time. – Oh sure I still loved her and she was still my favorite – but – I couldn’t get excited about her music any more. I had no expectations for the Ross album. When I did get it, I recall being pleasantly surprised at how pretty and polished she sounded. I began to take note of this new Diana!

    It is funny how I am able to recall exactly what was going through my mind when these albums were released. I can recall the mood of the fans , the attitude toward her music and her persona. This was a very mixed time for Diana. I think the 80’s was when she was truly “solo”, no Motown, no Barry. You see, leaving the Supremes still left her still with the Motown machine behind her. The Motown machine was on on stage with her , but boy they managed her every move. The 80’s – Diana was truly by her self… exciting yes, scary yes, productive, creative, modern yes!!! yet also disastrous and misguided and unmanaged on some level. Her career and public persona never really repaired it self from the self indulgent freedom she experienced in the 8o’s. Just my little perspective as to how I recall them.

    I really liked Pieces of Ice. It was a great mood song and I found it artistic and a head of its time ( perhaps too much so). Really like – Thats How you Start Over, Love or Loneliness, Up – Front , You Do it, and of course- I LOVE – Let’s Go -UP! As for Girls, silly and another poor choice of which I am sure several experts advised her not to add it to the album, but Diana was never going to be “managed ” again, so she allowed that silly song to end the album ! Dumb!

    • Paul says:

      I’m with you — “Pieces Of Ice” was ahead of its time for sure! It sounds good today…it sounds better than many of her other 80s singles that did better on the charts, for sure.

  3. spookyelectric says:

    Interesting point you make Tony about Diana’s fanbase in the 80s. I guess when you have a career as long as Diana’s (let’s face it the number of vocalists that have managed to stay relevant and have international top 10s four decades in a row are few and far between!) you are going to amass a steady hardcore that stick with you through thick and thin – and keep adding to that base through the years.

    Loads of ‘new’ fans had come on board during ‘diana’ + ‘Fools’ – the peak years of her solo sales – and I’m sure some of them remained fascinated by her, just as some of her earlier Supremes fans and so on had. But I reckon for some of her older fans the 80s work in the main alienated them in droves (sadly). Maybe they’d buy a ticket to a concert but they weren’t interested in ‘Pieces of Ice’ for sure! I don’t think Diana was attracting too many new fans at this point either – which surely was her intention, to stay relevant and hip.

    Got to say I don’t think the ‘Ross’ sleeve helped it much. I like the drama and attitude of the pose and the art direction and hot pink they followed through in all the artwork was punchy, but that heavy-lidded scowl and the back-lit hair… ejluther you nail it on the head! There were loads of other shots for the session that are far less, er, alarming. I wonder what Diana was thinking choosing that shot? Again it says a lot about the gap between how Diana saw and heard herself at the time and what her fans wanted from her.

    • Tony says:

      I so agree with you- the cover was not what people wanted from Diana Ross. She seemed so out of touch with what people wanted from her.

    • Paul says:

      You know, the cover doesn’t bother me at all. Personally, I think it’s one of the better sleeves of her 80s years. I understand why people don’t like it, but I think it fits the album, and to me really isn’t any more “out of left field” than her 1970 debut album cover!

  4. chris meklis says:

    So, here we have arrived at what is arguably the most debated album of Diana Ross’s career.

    It seems to bring forth polarized opinions (not uncommon with a lot of her RCA- and some return to Motown output)…You either love this album and appreciate from where it hailed artistically or stylistically, or you hated it and thought this was going to mark the end to Diana’s recording career.

    The latter reaction was that the music was’ boring’, almost dull, as opposed to many people who took to Muscles no matter whether it was classic Ross or not- it still stood out as being different and imaginative, even creative.
    In fact, some people are of the opinion that Silk Electric with all the varying musical styles and experiments still at least showed Diana trying, where on Ross, people felt she was not even trying- even clearly great performances like Let’s Go Up seemed usurped by dull material.

    It is incredibly amazing how these contested efforts (esp. Silk Electric and Ross) are so much more appreciated today for what they stood for- Miss Ross modernizing her style, experimenting and moving with the times.
    Probably at the time, fans just were too worried that their star was going to disappear off the the charts with all this varying material- therefore clouding their ability to take it all in and see the material for what it was- avant garde and creative.

    Now in retrospect, those years remain some of the most interesting of Diana’s to debate and analyse because what went down, went down chart wise (good and disappointing) and creatively speaking, and it’s safer to plunge back into the collections and the varying styles today with more abandon and less reticence of being a defensive Diana Ross fan, trying to follow and figure out and defend the artist’s choices. Now people can sit back and listen to what the music was all about- what she was doing.

    The results now in retrospect see hard core fans now speaking highly of perhaps the two most confusing albums of that period – Silk Electric and Ross!
    Me included!
    I couldn’t get both albums (with the exception of the three standouts- Muscles, Pieces of Ice and Let’s Go Up), and this period was when I was first, as a ten year old found Diana through Central Park, Swept Away, Eaten Alive, Anthology and To Love Again…those were what I had to work on.

    Now I fully appreciate Silk Electric and to a slightly lesser extent, Ross.

    Paul, my opinion disagrees with yours about Ross feeling like a complete collection…whilst the song progression may be less jarring than the previous album, I have always (and continue to) felt that there are tracks missing and needed to conclude this album. You just getting into it and then the silly Girls brings it to a disappointing end.
    Silk Electric feels far more complete, and certainly all three albums after Ross all to me stand well as complete collections, especially Eaten Alive and RHRAB ( the latter’s Europe release).

    This said…the album fascinates and mystifies, from the perplexing cover which further highlights Miss Ross’s sometimes unaproachability and muffled experimented sound during these years.
    Both the Andy Warhol and this cover sum up Diana Ross of the early eighties: slightly unreachable- where mystique and artistry clash and lines blur!
    I love this cover!

    And so the music:
    That’s How You Start Over, immediately brings promise and a foot tapping finger clicking beat of easiness and jazz- a bit of teasing on the vocal and all round positivity…

    And then the darkness of the cover photograph comes to the fore in what is for me an impressively compelling song which sees Diana almost languishing to a point where it really works, and conveys the mood of the material.

    You do it, for me was always the most boring song, until recently that is, where it now is fun and cute and fresh sounding- very much like Think I’m in Love or even Two Can Make it from the first RCA collection.

    And then, like a thief in a “Tunisia night” comes the album’s ‘piece de resitance’ artistically, creatively and even commercially (the latter must be mentioned though it only made top 40- for such a different sound for Diana, the fact that it made Top forty speaks volumes!). Pieces Of Ice
    I so love this song more and more with each passing year and appreciate the visual the lyrics convey, Diana’s incredible performance which is on point with the songs ethereal feel and mood.

    I am even thinking of boycotting and NOT buying the new Central Park DVD release simply because of my anger that they left out this song- an excellent moment of day two’s concert a travesty in my opinion!
    Again, with Pieces of Ice- both mood in song and album cover are symbiotic.

    Let’s Go Up is a great song that should have been the first single off this album. Maybe things would have been a bit different for Ross on the album charts.
    That said this studio rendition, albeit strong, lacks the fire of both her live performances of this song- she really nailed and brought this number home on the Carson show and Central Park! Unreal- and people think Diana does not have powerful vocal chops??? Really???

    I like Love or Loneliness, but really like Upfront as it delivers a punch, not dissimilar to Mirror Mirror two years before. In fact I am taking a liberty at thinking the Mirror Mirror’esque sound of Upfront is precisely the reason why execs released this song as a single- because Mirror Mirror with its MOR/AOR sound was so well received.

    I hated Girls when I first heard this album, and was almost angry with Diana for leaving us listeners hanging on such a dull thread at the end of this album! There just needs to be one more song at least to round off the collection in my opinion.
    Of course in keeping with what I said before- years later, I don’t mind Girls and take it for what it is, but still feel the need to look for that last track they left off this album 🙂

    Cannot wait for your next review- it’s one of my best albums for many reasons 🙂

    Chris x

  5. chris meklis says:

    PS….I think the track left Fight For It would have have been a great addition to this album. Perhaps just before or just after Upfront…what do you think? (Though she probably had not even written that song yet)

    • Paul says:

      Personally, I think “Fight For It” needed to be on “Swept Away” — as you’ll see when we talk about it next week, there are a few songs that I really feel she should have left off that album, and “Fight For It” should have been there instead!

  6. markus says:

    Another great review, Paul…although I knew this one would be different for me. Reason being, I just don’t care very much for this album. I know I’m out of step with many Diana fans on that. Not a bad thing- I love the fact that we’re all able to gleam positive from different aspects of Diana’s work; that we’re able to appreciate different parts of the spectrum.

    I’ve spent the last week (anticipating this review) wondering why I have such a muted aversion to this album! I didn’t really appreciate Silk Electric or Eaten Alive the first time I heard them…but years later they grew on me, and I love both of them. I’ve given Ross multiple revisits in hopes of kindling some sort of fondness for it. It just doesn’t happen.
    The other day- anticipating this review- I dug out Ross for another spin.

    Before getting into the music I have to comment on the cover.
    Again I’m at odds with others because I happen to really like the album cover! More than Silk Electric’s Warhol art, or that lousy cover of Eaten Alive…even moreso than Swept Away. I remember reading Call Her Miss Ross- where Tarraborelli says the photo on the cover “killed” the album. A bit much, methinks.
    In all honesty, I’ve always felt the title of the album was more of a problem. If someone is having image and perception issues, perhaps naming the album “Ross” at that particular time wasn’t the best way to ward off accusations of narcissism or conceit. But I digress.

    This is not a terrible album by any measure. It is a fairly cohesive album (although I do think Eaten Alive is more of a complete work). None of the songs are particularly bad. Unfortunately, very little is of a compelling or inspiring nature. The album overall just comes off as really dull. I should preface this by saying that- in addition to absolutely loving Diana, I’m also a big Steely Dan fan, so it’s not that I’m put off by Katz’s production. I’m also a Ray Parker Jr fan as well. I guess I’m gonna have to go track-by-track here:

    -That’s How You Start Over: my boyfriend pointed out that the production on this sounds an awful lot like the background music in the movie Tootsie (look for the first scene where Dustin Hoffman is walking down the street in drag, and keep listening while he’s out shopping for clothes). It’s fun and bouncy…but why does it do nothing for me? Diana’s vocal is polished and professional but not really anything to write home about. The production on it pretty antisceptic. I love the crispness of the sound on Diana but everything sounds tasteful to a fault, creating a blandness i just can’t get past.

    -Love Will Make it Right: my favorite song on the album. Of all o the Katz produced tracks this is probably the closest to the Steely Dan sound- it’s not exactly a masterpiece but there’s a spark here that’s missing from much of the album. Love all the synths and crashes, especially during the instrumental break. A cool song.

    -You Do It: A pleasant, breezy midtempo number. Again, nice but nothing outstanding.

    -Pieces of Ice: an album highlight- not necessarily altogether successful, but at least it’s providing something more substantial, even if some folks are turned off by the abstract lyrics. Production is very much of its time but still enjoyable. And I get a kick out of watching the dancers in the video (look for the facial expressions on the white guy with the black and white striped hair!).

    -Let’s Go Up: Another one that I seem to be in the minority on. I couldn’t make it through this song back in the day because Diana’s voice on the chorus was painful for me. Even today, I still think it lands just this side of painful. The funny thing is, I’ve heard her reach higher notes that didnt sound as awkward or shrill, but for some reason on “Let’s Go Up” I get this uncomfortable feeling whenever she gets to the chorus, particularly when she says the word “down”. The production is also a bit too generic for me. Sorry. 😦

    -Love or Loneliness: You were on point comparing this to “A Woman Needs Love”, Paul. Unfortunately it comes off as a pleasant-but-unremarkable retread. It chugs away and it’s nice whuile it’s happening but it doesnt really linger. I should also say I find the lyrics to be a bit cloying and contrived.

    -Up Front: Oh, brother. I LOVE some of the stuff Ray Parker Jr did with the female artists he produced (“I Found Love” for Deniece Williams, “Shake it Up Tonight” for Cheryl Lynn, etc). What ON EARTH happened here? The lyrics (“I’m gonna do what the heck I please”), the melody (or lack thereof)…that insufferable echo after each verse line. Would I have been better off hearing this in 1983? I don’t know. It sounded awful a few years later when I did hear it for the first time, and it’s still one of my least favorite Diana singles. If someone were to force me to choose between this and “In Your Arms” from the last album, I’d seriously have to ponder it.

    -Girls: After “Up Front”, anything is an improvement for me. This is silly but bubbly fun. The lyrics (“you want to taste the fast life, and live your life through the cameras eyes”) are admittedly more profound than “Work That Body”. The production seems to be lacking something- at times it feels more like a demo than the finished product.

    I am so glad that this is one of the VERY few Diana albums I feel this way about. And I’m glad that it seems other fans really appreciate it. Maybe one day it will hit me. Until then, I’m still waiting… 😉

    And I’m really looking forward to next week’s review!!!

    • Paul says:

      Sounds like you and I agree on a lot, Markus, and I also like the album cover — I understand why people don’t like it, but I think it’s a striking cover and fits the feel of the music inside. As for “Let’s Go Up,” I don’t hear shrill at all — to me, she sounds extremely assured and powerful on the track, far better than her work on most of the RCA albums to come! Have you heard her live versions of the song? She sounded great on the Johnny Carson show, which is on YouTube!

      • markus says:

        Absolutely, I’ve seen the Carson performance. She’s singing her rear end off in that clip! However…the chorus still sounds…uncomfortable.
        I don’t know. It must be me…LOL
        Maybe if the vocals were arranged differently, and she wasnt in the rafters.
        Again, maybe someday it’ll hit me… 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Well, “Let’s Go Up” is an interesting arrangement in that the notes on the chorus don’t build, but actually start high and then decrease down the scale. This requires Diana to really “punch” the notes and go for them cold, rather than to let them build naturally, which may be why it sounds uncomfortable. I think it’ll hit you someday 🙂 …just like someday I’ll get into the “Eaten Alive” album (which, as you’ll soon see…I just don’t get at all!!!)

      • markus says:

        I’m really looking forward to the Eaten Alive review. I love the Brothers Gibb- and I really love the album- but I do think it’s probably one of the weirdest projects both they and Diana ever worked on.
        I gotta say this period is exciting for me because I’m recounting things firsthand now (young pup that I am…LOL). I was 9 years old and if you asked anyone in my family who my favorite singer was, it was Diana Ross. My first record purchase ever was the Missing You album, and I’m pretty sure Swept Away was the first Diana album I ever owned. At least I got to catch the tail end of her US chart prominence. 😦

      • Paul says:

        Markus — I am with you — I was born in thbe 80s, so this was “my” era of seeing Diana the star — I remember making my parents buy me “Swept Away” and “Eaten Alive” on casette tape when they came out! I got hooked at birth, when I first heard my mom’s copy of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” — by the time I was talking I was singing along with every Diana song I’d ever heard!

      • markus says:

        I meant Missing You SINGLE…not album, of course. LOL

    • spookyelectric says:

      I think there’s a fine line between smooth and bland with this kind of Adult Orientated Rock sound. To me, earlier 80s tracks like ‘Two Can Make It’ and ‘Love Lies’ had fallen too far on the bland side – the musicianship and production on “Ross” is on a whole other level, that superslick, consummate West Coast sound that sold millions of records for the likes of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. I totally get how it can cross that line for some people, but there’s certainly a difference in quality there. Listen to how comfortable Diana’s vocal sits on a track like ‘Love Or Loneliness’, how warm her tone is, and compare it to almost any track on her previous “Silk Electric” and it’s obvious.

      Thinking about it, I think one of the interesting things about “Ross” is that it was probably the ‘whitest’ sounding album Diana had ever made. She’d dipped her toe into this sound before, but never committed to an entire album. There was no way you could say tracks like ‘Sweet Surrender’ or certainly ‘Muscles’ on the last few albums weren’t R&B. (In fact ‘Muscles’ was her last top 5 on the US ‘Hot Black Singles’ chart at this time and her last Grammy nomination for ‘Best Female R&B Vocal’ to date).

      Though Diana was never purely an R&B singer like her contemporaries (and of course one of the joys of her catalogue is her ability to cross genres from pop to disco to big ballads and so on) maybe on “Ross”, for some listeners at least, she strayed a little too from her R&B roots. Something her next album certainly did it’s best to address. Look forward to your review Paul!

      • Paul says:

        Spooky,
        Interesting thoughts on the pop vs. R&B aspect of this album and Diana’s other RCA work. This album, to me, is so hard to define — at times if feels very pop…at times I hear some R&B…at times I’m not sure what genre I’d call it! “Pieces Of Ice” is rooted in so many genres — R&B/rock/pop/dance — perhaps radio just didn’t know what to do with it. It is interesting that for an artist so many accuse of “selling out” to white audiences, a good portion of Diana’s RCA work is very firmly rooted in soul/R&B and did quite well on those charts!

      • AnnaCaterina says:

        Actually, when you say “white sounding” or “black sounding” I doesn’t make any sense for people outside of the US. That idea that skin and voice can have “the same colour” can’t be serious. What about Mariah Carey, France Joli or Anita O’Day? And Diana Ross’s children: do they sound white or black? And I don’t even talk about opera singers like Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry or Shirley Verrett. Nobody would have said that those three singers “sounded black”!!

      • Paul says:

        I agree, Anna — race has nothing to do with musical sound — there are tons of examples aside from those you mentioned. I think the argument with Diana has to do with “pop” vs. “R&B” music — going back to the 1960s, there are those who felt Diana and the Supremes were purposely trying to attract white audiences by singing showtunes and standards, and they were accused of “selling out” — that seems to have followed Miss Ross through her entire career, as some feel she abondoned her R&B roots. Again, I don’t agree — for me, Diana is a talented vocalist capable of singing pretty much every genre, and I’m glad she constantly pushed boundaries through her career, as it makes her albums so much more interesting to listen to and discuss!

    • Tony says:

      Oh Boy! Am I ever looking forward to the next review. Eaten Alive is really sounding contentious. Do you notice, that since the RCA years – fans began to thin out. There is no real condensed fan base. Some like one style of album and some like another. The fans seem to have become dispersed between her ever emerging /searching for- style. There was much less friction with the Motown Diana. I can hear in the responses – they are much more emotionally charged.

      • Tony says:

        Oops, I got a little ahead of my Skies – we are doing Sept Away next – Sorry! its all getting so exciting !!!!!

      • Paul says:

        Tony — the RCA years definitely are more divisive! I think it’s exciting to hear the different opinions — for me, liking a Diana song or album always comes back down to the vocals — I try to focus on how she sounded on each song, and how she was using her voice for that particular work.

      • Tony says:

        I completely agree with you – in that it is about the voice. I can honestly say that there is no voice in the industry that moves me the way hers does. It is so unique and pure to me. I think thats why there was back lash when she experimented with it and played around with it on the RCA tunes. It’s almost like she lost confidence in her voice and focused on the songs and music. The beauty and purity of her voice took a back seat since “diana” and through the RCA years. People who fell in love with her voice – just could NOT bare to have her tamper with it – hence the tension between the camps!! Paul you do an amazing job- honouring her voice. I love the dialogue of the “pure” 80’s fans. They are opening up my ears to a whole new sound !!!!

      • markus says:

        Tony- I totally I agree, the RCA years tend to polarize the fans. Because the quality of the music naturally works into relation with the events surrounding the albums. I’m sure we all have our own thoughts about The progression of the RCA years. My feeling is the experimentation was cool for the first two albums. Unfortunately, while Ross isnt a terrible album, it is sorely missing having a standout hit. She rebounded with Swept Away but much of the reason for that was the tenacity of the label- Missing You lingered in the lower part of the Top 40 and dropped out of it before finally gaining momentum. From there it seemed there was one ill-advised move after another, at a critical point not just for Diana, but for popular music as well.
        Many of Diana’s fellow chart powerhouses of the 70’s and early 80’s were slowly disappearing from the radio and enjoyed their last major hits around 1984/1985/1986 (Olivia Newton John, the Pointer Sisters…even Stevie Wonder and Aretha had their final Pop smashes during this period).

        But I’m getting ahead of the story… 😉

  7. AnnaCaterina says:

    “Ross” is one of her best albums. I love “Pieces of ice”, “Love will make it right”, “Up front” and the feeling displayed in all the lp. Too bad it’s too short. I hope that some songs are still in the vaults and that maybe one day we would have an expanded version of this album. Besides, the cover of the album is fascinating.

    • Paul says:

      It would be interesting to hear “Ross” outtakes, if there are any…wonder what could have been added to the album? I agree that it’s feels about one or two songs too short!

  8. chris meklis says:

    Oh Paul, oh Paul…..you just leave Eaten Alive alone! Just Joking…cannot wait for one of my fav. albums of DR- Swept Away, where the eclecticism of the last few albums seems to fit more comfortably save one tune.
    See ya Sunday! 🙂 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Ha ha ha ha…I’m gonna have to put on my boxing gloves for “Eaten Alive” — I can already tell 🙂 I’m excited for next week, too, because “Swept Away” is an album very close to my heart…even if there are certain tracks I wish Diana had left off of it!!

  9. spookyelectric says:

    Hi AnnaC – yes the point I was making really was about how Diana’s music was marketed and received at the time in the US market. Historically ‘pop’ radio + ‘R&B’ radio were very distinct markets in the US – and of course Motown was pivotal in breaking down those colour lines and ‘crossing-over’. Throughout the 70s, Diana’s records were pretty much mirrored their performances in both markets – with big AC hit or Dance/Disco hits here and there too. Occasionally Motown would market a single more directly to R&B – say ‘Your Love Is So Good To Me’ from ‘Baby It’s Me’.

    The reason I brought it up in relation to “Ross” was because it seemed to me (‘Pieces Of Ice’ aside) the ‘soft rock’ direction of the album would have alienated the R&B radio of the day and impacted on its success and how it was perceived. It’s relevant I think because you can see throughout Diana’s career certain creative decisions being made to appeal to different markets (the emerging disco scene in the mid-70s for example). I think at Motown, Gordy was always very conscious of this with regard to his flag-ship star – to have tracks on each album that could be ‘worked’ to different markets and maximise sales. During the RCA years I think some of those decisions are a little off-target and sales suffer as a result.

  10. wayne2710 says:

    This was an album that took me a LONG time to appreciate. When it was released I have to admit to being disapppointed, the cover seemed weird, and the songs, well, they just didn’t sound like Diana Ross songs, except Love or Loneliness – which initially was the only track on the album I really cared for. By 1983 my life had changed completely, I’d grown up I suppose, moved on with my life, left my teenage years long, long behind, and suddenly I found I had many more important things going on in my life that somehow made my love for all things Supreme seem totally irrelevant. The girls had been gone for several years and Diana was moving in directions that I guess I neither liked nor cared about.
    It was probably ten years later that I really began to listen to this album and become to appreciate it in a way I that I still find hard to appreciate a lot of her output from the 1980s. I think that not having a bona fide ‘hit’ on this collection works in it’s favour. Okay, Pieces of Ice was a minor hit, so was Up Front, but neither tracks have endured in the minds of the fans,let alone the public, and I actually believe that because of that this album is all the stronger for it, not being associated with a particular ‘anthem’. All the tracks can be judged on their merit and to be honest, it may have taken me many, many years but I really do believe that this is one of her best albums ever.
    I can listen to the cd on a long car journey for hours on end without ever tiring of any track – yes, even ‘Girls’ ( which happens to be one of my personal faves !!).
    That’s How You Start Over, Love Will Make it Right, You Do It – all beautiful, strong recordings that somehow passed me by back in 1983. Pieces of Ice sounds contemporary today in a way that Workin Overtime could never possibly achieve. Let’s Go Up is one of her better ‘mislaid’ hits, one that she really should dust off and start performing again. Love or Loneliness, from being the only track I enjoyed in 1983, still sounds fresh today, and that brings me to Girls ! Why do people hate it so ?? It’s fun, musically exhilerating, and a great way to end the album.
    There is only one other album she recorded in the 1980s that I like as much as this, and you haven’t got to that one yet Paul.
    I still wish though that she had used another photo from this shoot to be on the cover – the one of her in profile maybe, even better a gatefold sleeve that opens up to the naked, save for the red chiffon, full length pose ! Ah well, guess we can’t have everything !

    • Tony says:

      Wow…. Very well said. I can fully agree. We were probably on parallel journeys at that time as I relate to what you were experiencing. Yes today I really enjoy the music of ” Ross ” the album. Wayne I think you really have a deep connection to her music. I can hear in it in your responses. Im so glad you contribute to this conversation.

      • wayne2710 says:

        Thanks Tony ! I’m enjoying this weekly retrospective of Diana’s work, and the way it’s making me look again and understand what it is about her work that I have enjoyed so much over the last 40 odd years – I was two when I started ! 😉

      • Tony says:

        Too funny! I use the same line! Only a true fan would know that line !!!

      • Paul says:

        Lol…love that!

    • chris meklis says:

      LOVE LOVE OVE your take on this album Wayne…and since this blog, I have started to take a re-listen to Girls, it’s not my favorite
      , but learning to like it more :_)

  11. Joe Quintana says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your review for “Let’s Go Up”. After re-watching the Central Park concert- I felt for sure if close to 800,000 people were watching her [give or take] and she performed this song with such joy and pitch perfect vocals- how could people not go out to buy this record? Such a travesty, because I believe with the 80s nostalgia on radio lately, especially with R&B artists, this could be a top 10 today. Side note- Beyonce’s “Love on Top” reminds me of this song, especially the way Beyonce goes up with her notes at the end of the song. In fact, when I played them one after the other, I really heard the similarities. It’s interesting that Beyonce didn’t list Miss Ross as one of her inspirations for her 4 Album.

    • Paul says:

      Joe — for some reason it seems like Beyonce is always a little hesistant to give Diana much credit — she’s done it, but not a lot — I think she just doesn’t want people to focus on the fact that their careers are SO similar. It’s pretty clear that Beyonce has modeled her career on Diana’s, though!

      • Joe Quintana says:

        Oh absolutely, I totally agree. There was one article I read and I believe it was for an award Diana received where Beyonce and her entourage very inappropriately walked out in the middle of it making noise. The writer actually approached Diana and said how it was wrong and disrespectful and Diana’s eyes welled up, and she just politely said thank you- without much fanfare or giving credit to the slight. It was a fascinating article to me because it went against all the Diva behavior that often seems linked to her, and I just found her to be this woman of an older generation where respect was of the utmost importance.

  12. david h says:

    2 songs (rumoured to be left off ) are MAYBE,a cover of an oldies girl group ,CHAntels? and SLEEP WITH ME TONIGHT,and the b side FIGHT FOR IT. and a few others. hope to get en expanded cd one day. never cared for the Ray Parker songs,sounded like a rip of the Supremes days to me .IMO thanks for your review,david

    • Paul says:

      Hey David! I’ve heard these claims of other songs recorded for the project, too — I wish someone could shed more light on it!!! I’d love some expanded editions of her RCA works, too — who knows if it’ll ever happen — but perhaps hearing alternate vocals and different mixes would increase appreciation for her 80s work.

  13. spookyelectric says:

    That’s interesting – I’ve never heard of those rumours. Patti LaBelle recorded a Bacharach/Bayer Sager ballad called ‘Sleep With Me Tonight’ a couple of years after ‘Ross’ came out, so it’s possible it was offered to Diana first (though I can’t imagine her wanting to sing that lyric!). ‘Fight For It’ could well have been recorded at the same session as ‘Girls’ – the credits are virtually the same. Not sure if it would have sat well on this album though – which is probably why it was left off.

    Diana doing ‘Maybe’ totally makes sense – would love to hear that one. She was really into her R&B ‘oldies’ at the time (‘Sweet Nothings’, ‘Rescue Me’). I don’t know the Chantels’ original but there was a killer version by the Three Degrees in the early 70s I believe, and a lovely super-smooth Patti Austin take on it more recently. Maybe one day we’ll hear ‘Maybe’…!

    • Paul says:

      I’ve heard these rumors before — but can’t find any written proof that she recorded “Sleep With Me…” and “Maybe.” I agree Spooky — I can’t imagine Diana wanting to record a sing with that title! The Chantels’ “Maybe” is a great song — and I can certainly hear Diana interpreting the lyric. I’ve heard there are a few other tunes left off of “Ross” as well — but again, never seen any proof of it. Who knows!

  14. david h says:

    Paul,
    from what i remember of it. the original concept of the album had the other tracks but it was reworked to include the Ray Parker songs. i also think there was at least one more song produced by Katz. i cant remember the title to save my life…old age now!
    there was a version of the original album up for sale on ebay a few years ago as a promo but i passed on it as it was expensive at the time. geez,sorry i did that.but ill try and look it up.great web site

  15. Mike says:

    Let’s Go Up is tuneless, and no amount of production or professionalism can compensate for that. Helen Reddy covered it on her Imagination album, and it does nothing for her nor she for it either. Publicity for this album in the UK was massive: billboards in all major city centers, on buses, on corner kiosks.

    • Paul says:

      For me it’s still a highlight — I believe the cool, technical skill displayed by Diana is incredibly impressive and song is one that lingers in the mind. I think it’s one of her best RCA singles — far better than many that charter higher than it did!

  16. Another belated fact about ‘Let’s Go Up’… it wasn’t just Diana and Helen Reddy that recorded it. The following year Dennis Edwards growled his way thru it on his ‘Don’t Look Any Further’ solo debut. I like it!!

    • Paul says:

      WOW! Who knew?? Interesting take from Dennis. I prefer Diana’s energetic take — but I like his version — there’s a similar “cool R&B” mood to both. Very cool!

      • spookyelectric says:

        Totally. It’s a great little song. Shame no one managed to have a bonafide ‘hit’ with it. 😦

  17. Waldo says:

    both ROSS albums 78 and 83 are my all time top two Diana favourites !

    and the best cut here has always been Love Will Make It Right .. it’s just superb!

  18. Piotrek says:

    This must be one of the top albums from Miss Ross. And even when I play this old gem for the people who are not aware of Ross’ excellence they literally stop and listen. It is short album that in my opinion has no drawbacks. “That’s How You Start Over” is funky stomper with brass section worthy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” era. “Love Will Make It Right” is soulful masterpiece of highest calibre and should have brought her at least Grammy nomination. “You Do It” is very catchy Pop song and Ross’ vocal performance overshadows Sheena Easton’s rendition. “Pieces of Ice” is unknown masterpiece that back in the day should have ruled the charts. The Side 2 begins with jazzy “Let’s Go Up”-another highlight of the album. “Love Or Lonliness” is guitar-laden track that shows Diana’s versatility. “Up Front” sounds like Pat Benatar’s arena-rock ready hit. And finally disco sounds of “Girls” bring everything back home. I guess nobody knew how to promote this album properly and that’s why it went largely unnoticed. Maybe remaster and expanded edition will help to rediscover this gem and present it to new public? Anyway, Poland loves this album 🙂

  19. Eric says:

    This is my album!! I’m not a huge fan of soft rock but this album is just amazing

    I love the cover -got the lp on display In myuving room- my buddies love it too

    How did this album not sell!?

    Also-why is it so ignored ? By everyone from critics to it seems ross herself ? I didn’t care much for silk electric but this album just experimental ross at her best! Then she went all safe again with swept away :-/

    Pieces of ice needs to be on at least one greatest hits! Just one! I don’t get why it’s not i love it!
    Also love:

    Love or loneliness
    Lets go up
    You do it
    Love will make it right
    That’s how you start over
    Up front

  20. davidh says:

    always liked side 1 but not side 2. to laid back 4 me

  21. theqhblend says:

    Does anyone know the specific street date of when this was released?-QH

  22. Pingback: Up Front: Diana Ross’ “Ross” Turns 30 | theqhblend

  23. Pingback: “Let’s Go Up” (Live on The Tonight Show, 1983) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  24. david hess says:

    there is another rout take from this album FULL MOON. ? there are deluxe versions coming in September but only one bonus track on the RED HOT/BLUE cd but they did say as they go thru the vaults if they find anything they will use it. ???strange, why wouldn’t they be there…?

  25. david hess says:

    I have found out that Diana owns all the rights to her RCA albums and the tracks from the vaults. up to this point Diana doesn’t want to release any of the vaulted tracks because she would have to pay royalties on such.?? but if we bought the albums( cds ) wouldn’t that make up for it.?? anyway, I hust found out that when the albums were recently released she declined the vaulted material.

  26. Wayne Hill says:

    Great review Paul. After owning this album on vinyl and cassette since the 80’s I finally purchase the re-issued CD to play in the car and I’m enjoying it so much. “Thats how you start over” is my new Friday after work go to song. I just love this track. The piano intro is superb, it has such a funky uplifting sound. Diana sounds great but as mentioned before it would be good to hear her let go and really go for some ad libs towards the end but Ashford and Simpson were always the ones who could get the very best from Diana vocally.

    The album has a great feel and direction throughout making it easy to listen from start to finish. It really feels like a complete project.

    Onlyone annoyance is the tempo of “Lets Go Up” I love this song but I’m just yearning for it to pick up to the same tempo she sang it in Central Park as it works so much better. I feel the same about Mirror Mirror which is also done in a faster tempo live and has way more impact.

    Ross is my second favourite RCA album after Red Hot Rhythm And Blues

  27. Erosa says:

    This is a great review and I agree with all your thoughts. This is my favorite Ross album, and the second I bought (the first being “Silk” an enormous disappointment). At that time I didn’t know the Supreme or her typical sound, so It doesn’t matter to me that it was “cold”, “distant”. I prefer “Mysterious” like the fantastic cover shot. I even like “girls” now.

  28. Luke says:

    I personally love That’s How You Start Over, it’s a real high point to start the album with and I think it should have been a single – it has a similar sentiment to I Aint Been Licked. I often play it in DJ sets and it goes down really well with younger Diana Ross fans. Love or Loneliness sounds just like Ashford & Simpson’s Aint Nothing But A Maybe – the choruses are almost note for not the same, I’m surprised they didn’t try to get a writing credit. I quite like the cover, but I don’t think it really looks like her, I think Miss Ross looks a bit like Phyllis Hyman in the photograph.

    • Paul says:

      Luke — I like the song, too, but I think there’s just a little energy lacking that could have really taken the song to the next level. It is a great way to open the album, however — I just finished revising my entire writeup on ROSS with some new research (it’ll be posted in a few weeks) and found that Diana and Michael McDonald (who wrote “That’s How You Start Over”) had actually met up in 1982 to write some songs together — nothing ever came of it, but it’s too bad a collaboration never happened. You’re right about there being some sonic similarities between “Love Or Loneliness” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Maybe,” which Diana had obviously produced a few years earlier — the chords are similar, although I don’t think they’re so much alike that it’s a copy. “Love Or Loneliness” is much closer in sound to Ray Parker Jr.’s earlier “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” — Parker basically just lifted his own guitar line!

  29. Pingback: Silk Electric (1982) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  30. Pingback: Ross (1983): EXTENDED POST! | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  31. Robert Gallagher says:

    Yes, she self-titled too many but any album that puts her in the vicinity of Steely Dan is essential. And what about that zonked-out cover?

    • Robert Gallagher says:

      Would love to know about Fagen’s process in writing “Love Will Make it Right”–did he study her voice or her keys or recent albums? Or did he know that voice well enough that he didn’t have to? Did they ever meet, then or after, and discuss the song? Did he like the recording?

      • Paul says:

        Robert — check out “Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years” by Brian Sweet — I got lots of info on the backstory of this song from this book. It doesn’t sound like Fagen and Ross met face-to-face — Diana laid down to her vocals for this album to tracks already produced by Gary Katz, and Fagen and Katz mixed this song with Jeff Porcaro while Fagen was hard at work on songs for his second album.

    • Paul says:

      I love the cover — I’ve never understood why people are so hard on it. I think it’s a far better album cover than either that of SWEPT AWAY or the dreadful EATEN LIVE “stuffed tiger” shot — and I think it’s perfectly matches the cool, icy tone of the music on the album.

      • Robert Gallagher says:

        Agree Paul, fantastic cover. Maybe if she’d called the album “Pieces of Ice,” it would have tied in and more people would have appreciated it. Maybe Diana’s album covers, pro and con, could be a separate section of the Project someday, they’re a study in themselves.

      • Paul says:

        Totally agree — calling the album ROSS just seems lazy, in retrospect. Almost any one of the song titles would have been a better choice — “Pieces Of Ice” or “Let’s Go Up” or “Up Front” all could have been album titles. Hell, even TUNISIA or something would have been stronger 🙂 That’s a good idea — I do love thinking about the album covers and what they mean in terms of “branding” the albums and setting a tone. Personally, I think the cover shots for DIANA ROSS (1970), SURRENDER (1971), DIANA (1980), and ROSS (1983) are some of her best and most striking. Wouldn’t it be interesting to actually hear from Diana about how she goes about choosing an image?

      • Robert Gallagher says:

        It would be interesting, especially from someone who’s been photographed so many times over so many years–what does she look for? I love the story about Diana showing the Scavullo “diana” cover shot to Cher because she was unsure about it and Cher saying “you never took a better picture in your life.” She was right. A glamorous shot, even like the inside sleeve of that album, would have been all wrong for the music. The sound was stripped down, so the photo should have been too. Apparently Diana ultimately agreed, asking to keep Gia’s jeans, which she borrowed for the shoot (Gia said no. Nobody messed with Gia.) I agree with your choices, also the DR 1976 Skrebneski cover (front and back) and “The Boss.”

  32. Pingback: Swept Away (1984) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  33. Pingback: Red Hot Rhythm & Blues (1987) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  34. Erosa says:

    This my very favorite RCA album and one of my all time fav. It seems fans are reluctant with the restrained performance, the coldness of the production.
    This is what I like. I see a path between this one and Take Me Higher, except the sophisticated sexiness inTMH is warmer.

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