“I saw your light on the horizon, and I knew that I was blown away again…”
After a major hot streak lasting from 1979’s top 20 hit “The Boss” through 1982’s top 10 “Muscles,” Diana Ross had a brief cooling-off period music-wise in 1983. Her LP Ross wasn’t really a hit, and featured only one top 40 single, “Pieces Of Ice.” Though the year was high-profile for Ross due to her Central Park concerts, which enjoyed tremendous publicity, it’s likely she was already looking for her next big hit. It came via an unlikely source — Julio Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer. Julio and Diana teamed up on the love ballad “All Of You,” for his album 1100 Bel Air Place; produced by Richard Perry (who’d helmed Diana’s masterpiece, Baby It’s Me), the single leapt to the top 20 of the pop charts, hit #2 Adult Contemporary, and was a smash in many other countries around the world.
The song set her up for a nice return to churning out hits, and 1984’s Swept Away didn’t disappoint. Along with including “All Of You,” the album featured the energetic and slightly dark title track, produced by Daryl Hall, which also went top 20 (and hit #1 on the dance charts). This, then, was Diana’s first album since 1981’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love to contain two top 20 hits. But Swept Away went one better, when the Lionel Richie-written ballad “Missing You” was pulled for release in late 1984; it shot to #1 on the R&B charts, her first since “Endless Love” (also written by Richie), and the top 10 on the pop charts. This then, incredibly, became the first Diana Ross solo album ever to contain three top 20 pop hits, a major achievement for a woman who’d been a star for 20 years.
“Missing You” is the undoubted highlight of the set, and remains a career highlight for Miss Ross; however, Swept Away is a somewhat uneven album. Though the hits are strong and there are some nice album tracks, the misses are big misses; “We Are The Children Of The World” and “Nobody Makes Me Crazy Like You Do” are two of the most unlistenable songs Diana would ever release. In this way, Swept Away is kind of the 80s equivalent of 1976’s Diana Ross; that earlier album contained two of Diana’s biggest hits (the #1’s “Theme From Mahogany” and “Love Hangover”), but also featured “Smile” and “Kiss Me Now” among other very weak efforts. Though the really great material on both albums helps elevate the works as a whole, it doesn’t quite balance out the really poor songs, either, making both albums interesting but at times challenging listening experiences.
1. Missing You: Though Diana Ross now has a lifetime achievement Grammy award, there are at least two competitive awards that deserve to be hers. The first is a Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” for which she was nominated but lost to Dionne Warwick (who won for “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”) The second is a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy for “Missing You.” Diana had no chance of winning this one — because she wasn’t even nominated — and this is one of the great Grammy mysteries of all time, given that the song was a solid hit (#1 for three weeks on the R&B singles chart) and is, I believe, the best ballad performance of Diana Ross’s entire career. The genesis of “Missing You” came soon after the death of Marvin Gaye in 1984; Diana is quoted in The Billboard Book Of Number One R&B Hits as saying, “It actually came out of a conversation that Smokey Robinson and I had one evening about how we were missing Marvin…and what he meant to us, as well as to music. Then Lionel and I got to talking about how we need to tell people that we love them while they’re still alive. Lionel used all this to write that beautiful and special song” (340-341). Certainly Lionel Richie knew a thing or two about Diana’s gifts in singing ballads, given that he’d teamed up with her on the massive hit “Endless Love” in 1981. This song takes the best aspects of that previous hit — a touching simplicity and relatable, meaningful lyric — and adds to it an emotional depth and power that highlight the best qualities of Diana’s voice. Her performance here is absolutely masterful; there’s a sorrow and somber quality to her voice that never becomes overdramatic or schmaltzy — the yearning in her voice as she sings questions like “Where did you run to?” and “What were you going through?” is completely authentic. The real thrill of the song comes during the bridge, though, during which Diana unleashes a rare power in her voice; starting around 2:30 into the song, as she wails “I cried so many tears,” she’s pushing her voice in a way she really hadn’t since 1979 and her The Boss album. The production is also beautifully done; never once do producers Richie and James Carmichael allow the instrumental to compete with Ross or become too overbearing. This is, simply, one of the great R&B ballads of the decade; again, that it garnered no Grammy nominations at all seems baffling now, especially given that the song which followed it at #1 on the charts, “Nightshift” by the Commodores (coincidentally also dedicated to the late Marvin Gaye) won one for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Still, it gets my vote for the best ballad performance of Miss Ross’s career, and remains definitive proof that she’s among the very best pop and soul singers of all time.
2. Touch By Touch: The mood lightens considerably for Swept Away‘s second track, a bouncy, upbeat Island-flavored pop song that sounds like it could have served as a nice counterpart to Lionel Richie’s massive hit from the year before, “All Night Long.” This track was released as a single internationally but not in the United States; had it been sent to radio and given some push by RCA, I think it could have been a major pop hit for Diana, likely even bigger than “Swept Away.” The song has a fresh, vibrant feel even today, and Diana’s soprano is clear and confident, nailing all the notes with a crisp precision that matches the staccato feel of the instrumental track. The song itself (co-written by Joe Esposito, writer of hits like “Flashdance…What A Feeling”) is extremely catchy; the “Touch…by…touch…” chorus is a great hook, and would have played nicely on radio (the instrumental break, by the way, is identical to the opening of the “Magnum, P.I.” television series theme song, a show that I loved as a kid, which made this song a favorite of mine!). Certainly the heavily featured synthesizers sound dated today, but not to the point of distraction; they’re used effectively enough that, again, there’s still a freshness about the song more than 20 years later. In terms of Diana’s RCA output, this is one of the better album tracks and is a nice way to follow the mastery of “Missing You;” Diana also performed it live several times, notably on the American Music Awards during a hosting stint in the late 80s, and she sounded great singing the energetic song in front of an audience.
3. Rescue Me: As she seemed fond of doing in the 1980s, Diana reaches back to the past for the LP’s next track, “Rescue Me.” This is a remake of the 1965 Fontella Bass song, which had hit #1 on the R&B charts (coincidentally just a few months after Diana and the Supremes had scored their first #1 on the R&B chart, “Back In My Arms Again”). While Diana had scored with a successful cover of the R&B classic “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” a few years earlier, and would turn in a nice version of “Selfish One” a few years later, this particular track is not one of her strongest efforts. The biggest problem here is her vocal; she’s singing in a high key (as she had on “Touch By Touch”), but sounds to be straining at times; rather than really pushing her vocal to the higher register and giving it some power, she doesn’t inject much fire into the performance, which ends up making her sound a little shrill when singing so high. The instrumental track isn’t particularly strong, either; though there’s some nice guitar work (sounding very Chic-like on the solo), the track overall seems to be a little too sterile for a song that features such passionate lyrics. This song isn’t terrible, and it’s not unlistenable, but after the one-two punch of “Missing You” and “Touch By Touch,” it does feel like a weak effort.
4. It’s Your Move: An interesting 80s pop song that, like “Touch By Touch,” still sounds good today despite featuring a dated instrumental track. This is one of the strongest album tracks on Swept Away, thanks to the fact that it’s both a well-written song and features a nice, relaxed performance by Miss Ross. Though it’s heavy on the electronic instruments, the actual melody line of the verses is written in the vein of the hits Diana was singing in the 1960s; just listen as she sings the opening words, “I don’t understand it ’cause you won’t say ‘yes,’ but you don’t say ‘no’…” — it could have come straight from a Supremes single. The background vocals are also arranged in an almost vintage way that nods toward Diana’s Motown heritage while still sounding contemporary and youthful. What really sets this track apart from several other weaker ones on the album, however, is that while it sounds youthful, it also sounds appropriate for Diana Ross to be singing. Miss Ross turned 40 the year this album came out, and this song never once comes off as a case of the singer trying to sound younger; it’s modern and exciting while still allowing her to sound confident and seasoned while singing it. I’m not sure that “It’s Your Move” could have been a big radio hit, given the fact that it doesn’t have the immediate excitement of “Swept Away” and “Touch By Touch” or the poignancy of “Missing You” and “All Of You,” but this is a well-chosen addition to the album.
5. Swept Away: Since signing with RCA earlier in the decade, Diana Ross had shown a real fondness for rock music; the harder sound hinted at in her 1981 hit “Mirror Mirror” led to the full-on rocker “Fool For Your Love” on Silk Electric and the electric guitar-driven “Up Front” on Ross. That penchant for edgier music continues with this album’s title track, a rock/pop/dance track that features a powerhouse vocal from Diana. The song was penned by Darryl Hall and Sara Allen — Hall, of course, is half of the pop/R&B due Hall & Oates, who’d owned the decade thus far with major hits like “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Maneater” — and Ross herself contributed the opening spoken verse. The rock tone is set immediately with the urgent drum beat; from there instruments begin to layer in, creating a swirling musical environment that becomes an almost literal translation of the title, “Swept Away.” Most notable are the electric guitar (the solo is played by Hall) and shimmering, bell-like synthesizers, not to mention the superb background vocals. Diana’s lead vocal, meanwhile, is her most urgent, frenetic performance in years; she’s completely committed to the lyrics, and really lets loose with her ad-libs, soaring to the top of her range and even growling out some lines here and there. This is a perfect example of Diana’s talent in crossing genre lines; her performance could be categorized as pop, soul, dance, or rock, which is why the song charted all over the place. Along with topping the dance chart (it was knocked out of the #1 spot by Chaka Kahn’s “I Feel For You” — and would be Diana’s last #1 on the dance chart until 1995’s “Take Me Higher”), it was a top 20 pop hit and also reached #3 on the R&B chart. That success still seems deserved today; “Swept Away” may not be as timeless as “Missing You” or as focused as “Mirror Mirror,” but it’s a dynamic addition to Diana Ross’s long list of hits.
6. Telephone: This is sort of the “forgotten single” of Swept Away; the trio of pop top 20 hits get most of the attention, but “Telephone” was pulled as the album’s fourth single and reached the top 20 of the R&B chart. What’s really interesting is that the song reunites Diana with one of the men responsible for her biggest album ever, diana (which featured the hits “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out”). Bernard Edwards — who along with Nile Rodgers had written and produced diana in 1981 — wrote and produced this tune, which could be considered Diana’s first foray into hip-hop territory (something she’d explore further with, coincidentally, Nile Rodgers…on 1989’s Workin’ Overtime). This is a sparse, beat-heavy chunk of soul with an extremely unusual vocal by Diana Ross; rarely since her early days with the Supremes had she sung in such a high register, and some of the notes she hits are pretty amazing, especially her run on the word “need” at around 3:30. That said, Diana’s performance on “Telephone” is a little limited; though her voice has a striking clarity and pitch, the song doesn’t allow her to do much, and thus it’s not a song that reveals new layers with repeated listens, as “Missing You” and “Swept Away” do. Interestingly, I think “Telephone” may have been a little ahead of its time for R&B radio — had it been released a year or two later, with artists like Janet Jackson and Pebbles scoring hits with songs built on strong, harder beats, perhaps it would have charted even higher than it did.
7. Nobody Makes Me Crazy Like You Do: This is one of the most jaw-dropping songs of the entire Diana Ross discography; it is so completely wild and bizarre that it makes earlier oddities like “Work That Body” and “Fool For Your Love” sound conservative by comparison. Thus far the songs on “Swept Away” have ranged from really good to a little bland…but nothing could have prepared listeners for this manic, cartoon-like pop song that sounds like it was created on another planet. Consisting of strange, electronic sound effects…a frantic, almost Europop beat…and Diana Ross sounding like she just sucked in a helium balloon, the song is certainly a novelty, and is impossible to take seriously after the tremendously grown-up tone set by the LP’s opening track. The song’s bridge, during which Diana sings “Say…it’s alright…say it’s alright…say we’ll spend some time together…” has a campy horror-movie feel that makes you wonder if Diana wasn’t looking for her own “Thriller” here. Of course, this song is no “Thriller,” and could never be…because Diana Ross was, at this point, a seasoned superstar who was just too good for one-note recordings like this one. Is it an entertaining first listen? Of course…it’s so weird that it’s totally entertaining. Is it a song that sounds good with repeated listens? I don’t know…because I can’t stand to keep listening to it.
8. All Of You: The album’s first single, this was a big adult contemporary hit that still gets play today (I hear it in grocery stores all the time), even though it’s almost never featured on Diana’s “Greatest Hits” collections and seems to have been totally forgotten by the singer herself. It’s a very strong song, though, which isn’t surprising; Richard Perry, who produced it, was a master and certainly knew how to get a great performance out of Miss Ross, and Diana herself almost always acquits herself well during duets (minus several tracks on Diana & Marvin), knowing just how to showcase herself while allowing her partner to shine as well. In this case, I think Diana turns in a far stronger performance than Julio Iglesias; he sounds fine, but she is really emoting here, and her sensitive performance allows her to display tenderness as well as some satisfying strength. Listen, for example, to her sing “As long as you live!” at around 3:30, her voice soaring above the track and background singers; it’s a great moment of belting that sounds worlds away from her high-pitched performance on the previous track. If there’s any issue for the song, it’s that it does sound a little dated, thanks to the high-gloss, echoey production, although the vocals are strong enough that I don’t think that detracts from the quality much. The real problem the song probably faced is that each artist followed it up with a much bigger hit; Diana with “Missing You” and Julio with “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” a duet with Willie Nelson that shot to the top 5 of the pop charts. Thus, attention on “All Of You” probably faded a little faster than it would have otherwise. Still, this is among the better singles Diana Ross released while signed to RCA, and it deserves more attention in her discography.
9. We Are The Children Of The World: A spirited performance by Diana Ross is about the only reason to recommend this song, which is basically a collection of some of the lamest cliches in pop music. Sadly, this song boasts her name as a co-writer; of the tunes she helped write during her stint with RCA, I’d say this is the bottom of the barrel. The psuedo-rock instrumental track, with electric guitars, power drums, and popping bass, lacks any kind of excitement or edge, and the chorus of children that sings along with Miss Ross takes the song down to the level of a Saturday morning kids’ TV show theme. Diana sounds strong during much of the song, but her vocal during the bridge borders on painful; to my ears, she doesn’t quite hit the right note on the word “lose” at around 2:50. Most disappointing is that there is another Ross-written song that was left off Swept Away that would have been a much stronger addition than this one; “Fight For It” was the b-side to the “Swept Away” single, but never appeared on an album. A slow-burning, funky rocker, it may be the best song Diana co-wrote in the 80s (she apparently produced it, too), and would have really elevated the quality of the second half of this LP. What was she thinking?
10. Forever Young: Diana Ross ends the album with this famous Bob Dylan tune, which has been covered many times by many different artists. After some very questionable choices over the second half of Swept Away, this song at least takes Miss Ross back to basics; she keeps her performance mature and simple, and at times almost sounds choked with emotion. That said, the song has such a sad, somber quality that it’s almost tough to listen to. While the lyrics of “Missing You” are far more morose, there’s a crispness to that production that allowed it (and the listener) to breathe. This song is almost oppressively heavy; Diana really sounds like she’s singing it to someone who’s in the process of dying, and thus the song becomes almost too depressing to really enjoy, although the quality of her performance certainly can be appreciated.
Note: For information on bonus tracks from this album, click HERE.
Swept Away certainly did what it needed to do, which was to give Diana Ross some new hits and keep her on the charts. Beyond that, it gave her a classic, “Missing You,” on which she offered one of the great performances of her career; as noted before, that she didn’t win that elusive competitive Grammy for this song — that she wasn’t even nominated for it! — is just a travesty. The album itself holds up pretty well, although it’s bogged down by some very poor choices, especially during the underwhelming (and, at times, just plain bad) second side. Had a few of those songs been replaced, this album could have easily been Diana’s best at RCA; instead, it features some sparkling highlights but lacks the consistent quality and cohesiveness of its predecessor, Ross.
Final Analysis: 3.5/5 (Some Great Tracks, But “Missing” More)
Choice Cuts: “Missing You,” “All Of You,” “Swept Away”