Workin’ Overtime (1989)

“One idea can last forever…”

When Diana Ross left Motown Records in 1981 for a new, multi-million dollar contract with RCA, the music industry was stunned; Ross was the undisputed Queen of Motown, and it seemed inconceivable that she could exist without the guidance of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.  But the singer’s thirst for independence and creative freedom led her to a new era in her solo career, one which brought some major ups and downs in terms of both commercial and artistic success.  After scoring eight Top 40 pop singles and nine Top 20 R&B hits with RCA Records between 1981 and 1987, Miss Ross began to feel it was time to move on again, especially after the commercial failure and lack of promotion of her final album for the label, Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.  As she told Billboard in 1993,  “My contract was up, but they had changed manpower there.  [Former RCA President] Bob Summer was no longer there, new people had come in, and the truth is, they didn’t value me.  It really felt like they were into this new, young crop, whoever was coming up at the time.  I remember thinking I need to be somewhere where people would be happy to have me.”

And so, Miss Ross ended her relationship with RCA, and next made a move that she likely never could have predicted at the beginning of the decade:  “MCA was interested in me, and I never thought I was going to go back to Motown,” she told Billboard.  “Somewhere, in the meantime, Berry [Gordy, Jr.] sold the company to MCA, and they were buying it with the thought that some of the artists on MCA would move to Motown.  I’d already made the deal when they approached me.”  And so Diana Ross ended the 1980s exactly as she had begun them, as an artist on Motown Records; her only proper MCA release was the 1988 theme some to animated film The Land Before Time, a lovely ballad called “If We Hold On Together,” which hit #23 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the United States and was a massive #1 hit in Japan.  The rest of that year, however, was a quiet one musically for Miss Ross, who took a hiatus to give birth to her two sons.  During this break, Diana says she began watching more and more videos on the BET (Black Entertainment Television) Network, which would strongly influence her next project.

For her first new Motown album, Diana Ross turned to one of the men who’d produced her last major studio album for the label, musician Nile Rodgers.  Along with his Chic partner Bernard Edwards, Rodgers had written and produced 1980’s diana, which remains the singer’s most successful studio album and gave her a pair of iconic Top 5 hits in “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.”  Since then, Rodgers had established himself as a major producer on his own, turning in hit albums for David Bowie (1983’s Let’s Dance) and Madonna (1984’s Like A Virgin), along with composing the music for the hit 1988 film Coming To America.  Together, Ross and Rodgers aimed to make a solidly contemporary album, working up a batch of songs in the “new jack swing” style then-popularized by artists including Bobby Brown, Jacket Jackson, and R&B group Guy.  According to writer J. Randy Taraborrelli, Motown pushed for a song called “Bottom Line” to be released as the album’s first single, but Diana wanted the album’s beat-heavy title track released instead.  Miss Ross got her way, and “Workin’ Overtime” hit the airwaves in April of 1989.

As much as Ross and Rodgers might have hoped, and as hard as they might have worked, lightning did not strike twice.  Workin’ Overtime was not a commercial nor much of a critical success, with most people focused on the fact that the music (and her image on the album cover) did not fit Diana Ross at all.  The biggest issue with the album is that it’s so narrow in focus; there’s almost no variety here, which means if a listener isn’t a fan of one song, they probably won’t be a fan of any of them.  As UK music magazine Blues & Soul wrote at the time of the album’s release, “She’s taken a giant determined step to shrug off her ‘comfortable’ music that we’ve come to love so much. That’s a shame; she could have combined the ‘new’ and ‘old’ to cater for everyone.”  And it doesn’t help that the material doesn’t generally fit Diana’s vocal style well; although she does have some powerful moments here, the limited melodies make poor use of her singular voice.  Ross certainly gets credit for throwing herself into each song with gusto, and bringing undeniable energy to each track; it’s just too bad it wasn’t on a better collection of songs.

***

Jet: June 19, 1989

1.  Workin’ Overtime:  Speaking to interviewer Barbara Walters in 1989, Diana Ross spoke of her connection to the message of her new album’s title track: “This is really about me and the people that I sing for, it’s dedicated to you, I hope you don’t disapprove, but I’m working overtime for you, I have something I wanna say to you,” she said, echoing the song’s lyrics.  This explains, then, why Miss Ross reportedly stood her ground to have the song released as the album’s first single, rather than Motown’s choice (“Bottom Line”); when Ross got her way, “Workin’ Overtime” became the singer’s first new Motown single since “Endless Love” back in 1981.  In terms of the production, this may be the “hardest” song on the album; it’s an angular, tough piece of work that’s light on melody and heavy on beat.  That poses an immediate problem, as Miss Ross is a great melody singer; she’s a vocalist that generally sticks close to the notes as written, letting her voice glide along as the songwriter intended, interpreting the lyrics with subtlety and intelligence.  In the case of a song like “Workin’ Overtime,” there’s not much “gliding” to be done; she’s required to really punch through the noisy and dense instrumental, which is made up of loud, electronic percussion and keyboards.  This “punching” results in her voice sounding fairly raw and worn; those who prefer the velvety vocals of a song like “Touch Me In The Morning” probably won’t find much to like about the performance here.  Despite not sounding particularly pretty on the song, there is an energy and determination in Diana’s performance that’s compelling; she’s certainly not coasting here, and she hits every single note she reaches for.  Considering the song’s reputation today, it’s important to remember that it became one of her biggest hits on the R&B charts ever; peaking at #3 in July of 1989, it actually outperformed Ross classics including “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “The Boss.”  The song also did well in dance clubs at the time, reaching #11 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart in late June (just a few months after the singer had reached #3 on the same chart with “Love Hangover ’89,” a newly remixed version of her #1 hit from 1976).  The problem, of course, is that pop radio completely ignored the song, and it joined previous R&B hits “Dirty Looks” and “Telephone” in missing the Billboard Hot 100 completely.  This wasn’t terribly unusual at the time, but considering Diana Ross had then scored more pop #1 hits than any other female (18 total, counting her work with The Supremes), she was being judged against her own impossibly high standards of success; thus, “Workin’ Overtime” is largely considered a failure, despite the fact that it was a hit with some audiences.  In the end, Motown was probably right in wanting the more melodic and subtle “Bottom Line” released first, but there’s a grit to Diana’s work on this song that remains admirable nearly thirty years later.

2.  Say We Can:  This is one of the tracks from Workin’ Overtime which Diana performed while promoting the album on tour; it was included on her September 1989 HBO special World Tour ’89: Workin’ Overtime, although it ended up being left off the accompanying Greatest Hits Live disc, released internationally.  Written by Nile Rodgers with music educator Cathy Block, this is another hard-edged house number, opening with Diana ordering, “Hey now, put up the horns!” followed by the blaring replication of brass performed on a synthesizer.  As with the album’s title track, this is a song that emphasizes beat over melody; this means Miss Ross is forced to nearly shout at times in order to break through the clutter of the production.  She does this very well on the refrain, which requires her to belt toward the top of her range; she also holds some sustained notes, which reveal a significant power in her voice.  The singer delivers the verses, however, with a breathy vocal that’s easily lost in the industrial noises banging around her (even when her voice is doubled), something that never would have happened to Janet Jackson in her Jimmy Jam-Terry Lewis productions of the same era.  To be fair, this kind of house music is first and foremost intended to make people dance, therefore the beat has to be the most important element in the production; but the best of these kinds of recordings never sacrifice a great vocal for a great beat.  Think back to 1980’s “I’m Coming Out,” also co-written and produced by Mr. Rodgers; although the intent of the song is to get people moving, Diana’s performance is front and center and kept so crystal-clear in the mix that her message is impossible to miss.  In the end, while “Say We Can” does an admirable job replicating other popular recordings of the time and also coaxing some real energy and power out of Diana Ross, it doesn’t make the best use of her talent.

3.  Take The Bitter With The Sweet:  At the same time that “Workin’ Overtime” was climbing the R&B charts, so was “Miss You Like Crazy,” a powerful ballad sung by Natalie Cole which would eventually hit #1 (and go Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100).  Coincidentally, Cole’s ballad was written by the trio of Michael Masser, Gerry Goffin, and Preston Glass, all of whom had also worked with Diana Ross.  Glass is a credited co-writer here on “Take The Bitter With The Sweet,” along with Steven Ray and Steve Birch; although Nile Rodgers didn’t write the tune, he produces it with the same house beat and industrial edge as the previous two tracks, forming a kind of trilogy that opens the album.  In a strange way, the three songs also follow the arc of a live performance; Diana sounds better and more “warmed up” as they progress, and “Take The Bitter With The Sweet” finds her in the groove and in full voice.  Although the melody again comes second to the beat, Ross confidently goes for the notes here, and she manages to cut through the clanging instrumental track more easily than she had on “Say We Can.”  That melody takes Ross to the highest end of her range, forcing her to belt notes she hadn’t hit on record for quite some time; she’s certainly straining, but she gives an impressive and energetic performance nonetheless.  Ross is joined by a thick wall of background vocals on the refrain; among those credited on the album is singer Fonzi Thornton, who’d sung on Chic albums Risqué and Real People, and whether or not he’s singing on this particular tune, the backgrounds do seem to be a modern take on the classic Chic sound.  Although fans at the time (and still today) no doubt wished Diana was singing “Miss You Like Crazy” instead of this song, it’s certainly one of the better tracks on the album; true, while Natalie Cole was digging into the kind of sophisticated soul ballad that Ross had practically invented, Diana was trying to fit her smooth sound into an angular jungle gym of sounds, but at least in this case she sounds good doing it.  Does the song date particularly well?  No.  But it does offer a gutsy vocal take and a strong melody than much of the surrounding material.

4.  Bottom Line:  “The album has a few bright spots, including one that shines very bright indeed: ‘Bottom Line,’ a stylish, melodic pop song that deserves to be the album’s next single, following the funky but generic title track,” wrote Paul D. Grein in his review of the album in the Los Angeles Times, keying in on what is clearly the album’s best inclusion.  Preston Glass, aforementioned co-writer of Natalie Cole’s “Miss You Like Crazy” and Aretha Franklin’s 1985 hit “Who’s Zoomin’ Who,” is the sole credited writer on this track, which finally breaks the album’s pattern of songs informed by the beat and is instead built upon the foundation of a solid melody.  Although Nile Rodgers again produces the track with layers upon layers of staccato sounds and a hard-edged beat, it can’t drown out the well-constructed melody line, and this finally gives Diana Ross a chance to display what she does best.  The most immediately noticeable change on “Bottom Line” is that Miss Ross is allowed to sing in a lower key; not only does this relieve her from straining to hit high notes, it also reveals a mature, sexy tone which has been missing thus far from the album.  Listen at about 1:15 in, as the singer’s voices settles deeper to deliver the lyrics, “No imitations, give me the real thing/Sugar-coated promises are not enough for me” —  her velvety voice sounds worlds away from some of the raw, thin moments heard in the previous trio of tracks.  Producer Rodgers makes terrific use of the background vocals here, which act as a cushion between Ross and the instrumental track; Diana glides along on top of the backgrounds, which round out the edges a bit and give the song just enough softness that it would have appealed to both young listeners and longtime fans of the singer.  But perhaps most important to the success of “Bottom Line” as a recording is the fact that there’s some depth here; while everything that comes before it seems fairly calculated to appeal to young record buyers, there’s some subtlety and maturity here, which make it a far better fit for Diana Ross.  Executives at Motown apparently knew this, and wanted this song to be released as the album’s first single; instead, it was given a remix and released third, at which point record buyers and radio had completely given up on Workin’ Overtime; the song didn’t even make the R&B chart, let along the Billboard Hot 100.  Talk about a major missed opportunity; had the song been released first, it almost certainly would have picked up strong R&B airplay, and probably stood a better chance at getting some pop recognition than the album’s title track ever did. As it stands, “Bottom Line” is the standout of the album, and proves that Ross could successfully tackle contemporary, new jack swing-style music in the right situation.

5.  This House:  Nile Rodgers both wrote and produced this track, the album’s first ballad and the first song that seems completely geared toward Diana’s artistic sensibilities.  The main lyrical theme of the song, “This house is built/On a foundation of love,” is quintessential Diana Ross, and the singer expectedly delivers, her voice full of feeling and dreamy in a way that harkens back to her work on 1987’s superb “Summertime” (from Red Hot Rhythm & Blues).  That said, if “This House” really echoes any song in the Diana Ross canon, it’s actually 1984’s “Telephone,” produced by Bernard Edwards, former musical partner of Nile Rodgers; both are true “slow jams,” setting Diana’s high soprano against sharp beats and synthesizers.  To be honest, “Telephone” worked better; on that earlier recording, Diana’s stylized performance, striking in its clarity and pitch, sliced through the instrumental track like a hot knife, while her incredibly breathy performance here is hampered by the busy surroundings, so synth-heavy that they sound like something off of 1985’s Eaten Alive.  Had Rogers scaled back the track even further, muting it to perhaps just strings and guitar, it would have enhanced the vocal and the overall production, rather than distracting from its central voice at times.  The proof of this is in Diana’s live performance of the song while promoting Workin’ Overtime on Terry Wogan’s chat show in the UK; with her strong, full vocals front and center and a much quieter instrumental backing, the song really comes alive in a new way (skip the singer’s performance on international disc Greatest Hits Live, however, which is quite wobbly).  Diana Ross clearly loved the song, telling the crowd at Wembley Arena while taping her World Tour ’89: Workin’ Overtime special, “This song has a lot of feeling, a lot of meaning for me,” and Motown ended up releasing it as the album’s second single as a double a-side with “Paradise.”  That song was promoted in the dance market, while “This House” was pushed R&B; it ended up charting at just #64 on the R&B Singles listing.

6.  Paradise:  Released as the album’s second single (as a double a-side with “This House”), “Paradise” equaled the dance success of “Workin’ Overtime,” peaking at #11 on the Dance Club Play chart in September of 1989, although it did remain on that chart two weeks longer than the first single.  But make no mistake; whatever success “Paradise” found in the clubs was due solely to the thumping beat of its Shep Pettibone remix, because the song contains what is probably Diana’s weakest performance on the album.  Written by Nile Rodgers and Greg Smith, the composition here consists of only a handful of notes, giving Miss Ross two musical motifs to sing over and over again.  Not only are the music and lyrics repetitive, but Ross delivers them in a weak, breathy tone which robs her of any individuality or charm.  Think back to the biggest and best dance hits of Diana’s career, songs like “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Swept Away,” among others; those songs didn’t sacrifice melody or vocals for the beat, instead ingeniously allowing powerful rhythm sections to buoy the singer, infusing her performances with power and energy.  Hearing Miss Ross really let loose on “The Boss” and “I’m Coming Out” is half the reason those songs are so much fun to dance to; there’s a joy within her that translates to the listener.  Here, she might as well not be singing at all; she sounds totally uninspired, not that the weak melody line ever gives her much to work with.  Still, one can never underestimate the power of a banging beat; watch Diana’s performance of “Paradise” on her HBO special World Tour ’89: Workin’ Overtime, recorded at Wembley Area, and you’ll see how enraptured the crowd becomes during the song (and perhaps Diana’s dynamic performances of the song overseas helped its performance there, as it ended up charting at #61 in the United Kingdom).

7.  Keep On (Dancin’):  There’s a subtle cleverness in following a heavy dance track with a song called “Keep On (Dancin’),” as though the song title is a direct order to listeners; indeed, Nile Rodgers and Greg Smith again craft a beat-heavy, repetitive song that seems designed for the sole purpose of becoming a hit for club-goers.  This one’s a bit more challenging than “Paradise,” both in terms of musical structure and production; it certainly requires more range and power from Diana Ross.  Once again, for whatever reason, Rodgers cuts the song in a very high key, forcing Diana to audibly work to hit the right notes; the good news is that she does hit them, and at times she really sounds powerful doing it.  Listen to the bridge, beginning at 3:20, as Diana sings, “Sky above and earth below/You can’t hide, there’s no place you can go” — there’s a soulful brassiness to her voice that recalls her best work from the pervious decade.  Still, at the end of the day, “Keep On (Dancin’)” just isn’t a particularly memorable song; it’s fairly typical of dance cuts from the era, but lacks the punch of the best club hits of 1989, songs like “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic and “Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)” by Soul II Soul.  In his review of Workin’ Overtime for music magazine Spin, Frank Kogan gave the album a lackluster assessment, but did like this track, noting its “touchingly pseudo-intellectual lyrics.”  But the lyrics aren’t enough to make this a standout track, nor is Diana’s full-bodied vocal performance.

8.  What Can One Person Do:  This is the third Nile Rodgers-Greg Smith composition in a row, and if “Keep On (Dancin’)” forced Diana to sing at the top of her range, this song takes her way past it, stretching her to a place where her voice almost sounds unrecognizable.  Unlike the previous two tracks, this is a soulful mid-tempo number with inspirational lyrics; it’s no surprise that Diana Ross would want to record the song, considering lines like “The faithful can sometimes move mountains” sound like they come straight from one of the singer’s interviews.  She liked it enough to perform it live while promoting the album; a version of the song appears on Greatest Hits Live, released later in 1989 internationally.  It’s remarkable that she’s able to sing it live as well as she does on that recording; the song is cut so high that Ross strains through the entire thing, and the studio version here borders on painful.  She’s not helped by the decidedly un-melodic melody, which trades in a real hook for a staccato, punchy refrain; in his album review for Spin, Frank Kogan described this and other songs as “rhythm hard and loose and pushed up front along with the hooks and melody.  So where are the hooks and melodies — the things that make Paula Abdul and Karyn White so mildly likable?”  Diana Ross is one of the best melody singers in music history; her ability to infuse a lyric with emotional honesty while never resorting to unnecessary vocal gymnastics or oversinging is what made her such a unique pop presence in the first place.  So pairing her with a song that forces her to wail in such an unflattering way, even if it does feature some uplifting lyrics, feels like a waste.

9.  Goin’ Through The Motions:  Workin’ Overtime‘s penultimate track was penned by the trio of writers behind the earlier “Take The Bitter With The Sweet” — Preston Glass, Steve Birch, and Steven Ray.  Because that song and “Bottom Line, ” written by Mr. Glass, are two of the standout tracks on the album, it’s a relief to see their names appear again in the credits, and although “Goin’ Through The Motions” isn’t nearly as strong as either of those two recordings, it does at least offer some variety here and give Diana a break from screaming at the top of her lungs.  The instrumental track here is far more understated than on most of the album’s inclusions, built on a low-key groove that’s not quite so cluttered; this already gives Miss Ross a vocal advantage, as she’s not forced to work so hard to stand out.  Her work on the verses is especially strong, as she rests comfortably within her range and sounds relaxed and confident; although the refrain pushes her higher, she’s joined by smooth background vocals which helps cover any strain.  “Goin’ Through The Motions” doesn’t have a strong hook, however, which hurts; at the end of the day, it’s one of the least-memorable songs on the album, although it’s a higher-quality recording than most.

10.  We Stand Together:  The album comes to a close with an uplifting ballad written by Nile Rodgers and Greg Smith, who seemingly channel Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson in giving Diana Ross a lyrics that bears more than a passing resemblance to her 1979 recording “All For One” from The Boss.  As with the earlier “This House,” this song immediately sounds like it was written specifically for Diana Ross, possibly with her input; this is the artist, after all, who fought for “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” to be released as her first solo single, and who eventually turned it into an anthem of world peace.  Unfortunately, “We Stand Together” is no “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and it’s not another “All For One,” either; it’s actually a frustrating way to end the album, in that it seems to encompass every one of the project’s faults.  First off is a song that, to be fair, just isn’t terrible memorable; again, the same kind of thing had been done many times before, and infinitely better.  It also features an extremely inconsistent vocal from its singer; she’s dreamy and effortless on the verses, but she progresses to a ghastly bridge during which she pushes so hard and high on the words “called love” and “called trust” that it’s just plain painful to hear.  Frankly, this is about as bad as she’d ever sounded on record, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same singer who’d crooned out one of the best soul ballad performances of the decade just a few years earlier, on 1984’s “Missing You.”  Anyone worried about the quality of the singer’s voice would need only to listen to the previous year’s “If We Hold On Together” to know that she still possessed a tone as pure and unique as any in popular music; this song demonstrates what can happen when an artist tries way too hard to move in a different musical directions, rather than allowing it to happen organically.

***

Released in May of 1989, Workin’ Overtime peaked at a dismal #116 in July, and spent a startlingly short six weeks on the chart; it did, however, climb to #34 on the R&B Albums chart, thanks to the R&B success of the first single.  Assessing the album’s release, Diana Ross told Billboard in 1993, “It did not do that well and probably could have done well if it had been promoted better.  Even with Motown’s name, it was still like a brand new company, a baby company, and a lot of things had to be worked out.  Some business things seemed to interfere with marketing and promotion and getting the material out there and distributing it.”  There’s certainly some validity to her point; ads for the album and its singles are conspicuously missing from several notable publications of the day, magazines that typically promoted the singer’s new releases.  Still, the issue of quality cannot be denied; as hard as Diana Ross and Nile Rodgers tried to generate excitement with this new, youthful sound, the result is one of the least-exciting releases of the singer’s career, and none of the tracks hold up today as vital or important Ross recordings.

But even if the album had been genuinely exciting, there was another factor working against Ross at the time, one summed up by UK music magazine Blues & Soul in its 1989 review of Workin’ Overtime: “If this album doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean the music isn’t what the public en masse wants, it means the public don’t want a forty-five year old Diana singing it!”  The fact is, the marketplace was then-filled with exciting up-and-coming R&B stars, and they simply squeezed Diana out.  As Paul D. Grein wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The problem with her new album…is that she seems to be trying too hard to sound contemporary and relevant, to beat Janet Jackson and Jody Watley at their own game.”  Perhaps the most important result of Workin’ Overtime is that its lack of success pushed Diana back to basics with her next few albums.  Rather than take such drastic risks, her Motown albums of the following decade would remain closer to the tried-and-true Diana Ross formula of songs with strong melodies on which her voice could really shine.  Considering her next two studio albums for Motown, 1991’s  The Force Behind The Power and 1995’s Take Me Higherreally do feature some of the singer’s finest vocal work ever, perhaps the experimentation of Workin’ Overtime deserves at least a little appreciation.

Final Analysis: 2/5 (Diana’s “Works'” Too Hard)

Paul’s Picks:  “Bottom Line,” “Workin’ Overtime,” “Take The Bitter With The Sweet”

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Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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76 Responses to Workin’ Overtime (1989)

  1. markus says:

    Paul…wow. I’ve enjoyed every review thus far, but i think this may be the best yet…because you really made me rethink some long-held opinions. This MADE me want to listen to Workin’ Overtime again. Don’t get me wrong, I still gotta disagree on much of it. But considering my previous feelings about this album- i left it a two star review on Amazon a while back- this was definitely a challenging, worthwhile review you’ve written. The funny thing, while i don’t think this is necessarily a good album, it is kind of momentous for me, as i was entering my teens and actualy buying music at the mall and all that. I had the Workin Overtime single and then bought the album. There was a very impressive pop music universe at that moment, in my formative years, and i so much wanted Diana to be part of it.

    so you can see my prior feelings, here’s that review i mentioned:

    I first bought this album not long after it was released in 1989. I was a teenager at the time, loved Diana…and while I wasn’t a big fan of the song, I was thrilled to see the title track getting heavy rotation on BET and attention from R&B radio.

    I bought the album and was VERY disappointed. It came across as overproduced, a somewhat cheesy production (even in 1989!) that sounded like faux Hip Hop, and amateurish songwriting- some of it downright embarrassing. The R&B/dance female stars of this point were the likes of Jody Watley, Karyn White, Vanessa Williams. And played alongside their recent albums, WORKIN’ OVERTIME suffered in comparison.

    20 years forward, I bought the album again (trying to complete my Diana collection), and gave it another chance. And try as I may, I still don’t like it.

    The album opens with the title track, an R&B Top 10 hit that failed to crossover. It IS one of the best tracks on the album, even if the lyrics are a bit on the vapid side and the cheese still permeates. It’s catchy and harmless fun.

    As it fades out, you suddenly hear Diana exclaim “Hey Nile, put up the horns!” The shrill sound of (synthesized) horns chimes in, and you know you’re in trouble when you hear Diana declare “right on” and “it’s happening”. I don’t know where Diana or Nile Rodgers were spending time in 1989, but NO ONE was using that terminology by that point. Okay, it might’ve sounded contrived to have her say “it’s dope” or “fly”, but this just makes her sound stuck in a time warp. The song is “Say We Can”, which actually isn’t a bad number once you get past that intro. The production (faux horns notwithstanding) is lively, the lyrics are inoffensive and the melody simple and clear.

    It goes downhill on the next track, “Take the Bitter With the Sweet”, where a fairly decent production is ruined by some lousy lyrics (are those backup singers really saying “take the bitter with the sweet, TWEET”!? What’s the TWEET for?) and Diana’s voice straining to get through parts of it, screaming uncomfortably high at the bridge.

    This is a problem throughout the album- her vocals are really high at points. More often than not she can pull it off, but this is just too close for comfort.

    Next is actually one of the best tracks of the album, “Bottom Line”. Infectious, sly and sexy, the song has a great commercial production (reminiscent of Jody Watley’s “Real Love”, slowed down a bit), decent lyrics and a great hook. It’s also doubtless one of (if not THE) most commercial numbers on the album. Diana sounds comfortable and at ease (probably moreso than any of the other uptempo tracks).

    What’s shocking is, Motown wanted THIS to be the leadoff single. Diana fought for the title track and ultimately won. One can only imagine what the project’s fate may have been had “Bottom Line”- which had the potential to cross over- been the single to introduce the album.

    Side A closes with “This House”, one of the better Nile Rodgers lyrics here, a tender moment that, by this point, is sorely needed. I don’t think it was a good choice for 2nd single, but, for a singer who made as much of a name with ballads as with dance songs, this is a welcome respite.

    Side B commences with another agreeable dance song, “Paradise”. Although the Shep Pettibone remix is better, this is enjoyable and spacious, with a clear, simple lyric. None of these superlatives can be given to “Keep On (Dancin)'”, easily the worst song on the entire album. The melody is nearly non-existent, the lyrics are so sophmoric, cliched and poorly grouped it sounds like poetry from an 11 year old, and Diana is once again straining to hit ridiculously high notes. The song is, quite honestly, painful in parts.

    “What Can One Person Do” is only marginally better than it’s predecessor. The lyrics are (once again) trite and vapid, and Diana is straining to hit notes again. At least the song has more structure and melody than the last one.

    “Goin’ Through the Motions” is closer to “Say We Can” and “Bottom Line”- it’s uptempo, but Diana is in a more comfortable zone vocally and, while still mediocre, it’s a vast improvement over the last two songs. Unfortunately, the ballad and album closer “We Stand Together” returns us to the same issues we’ve had throughout. The lyrics are soooooo contrived and clumsy (“in the words of a playright, ‘one is not enough to experience the act called love’…” HUH?), and Diana is straining more than she has on any of the preceding songs, ESPECIALLY as she finishes the above-quoted line. It’s really, really bad.

    20 years on, it hasnt aged well, at all.

    Aside from a couple of all-too-brief standouts, this is probably the worst studio album of Diana’s 40 year solo career.
    ——————————-

    I still have many of the same reservations, but the funny thing is, perhaps context does account for something. I listened to the album again- I still think “Paradise” is one of the best songs included, and “We Stand Together” one of the worst- but i found myself much less unforgiving of its flaws as I had been. I do hear the blood, sweat and tears that went into its making. I had regrets about the outcome- i still do- but in the grand scheme of things i have to take it on its own merits, for its own plusses and minuses. 🙂
    I’m SO glad you gave “Bottom Line” the credit you did. Great song. And “Say We Can” is enjoyable once I get past the lingo.
    But you can’t make me like that “tweet” in “Take the Bitter With the Sweet”. What is that all about, anyway!?!? 😉

    • Paul says:

      Markus,
      This was a hard post for me to write — “Workin’ Overtime” is an album that I spent a lot of time really disliking — after buying it, I really didn’t listen to it for many years. However, about two years ago I revisited it and suddenly felt I’d always been too hard on it. The production is so dated and soooo harsh (“tweet” 🙂 ) that it’s hard to get past. But I’ve tried to really just focus on Diana Ross and her performances here, and I think in many cases, she sounds really strong, energetic, and youthful. (I also, about 2 years ago, played it for my mom, who LOVED the album, strangely enough!)

      “Bottom Line” — as you say in your great write-up — is clearly the winner here — I just don’t know what anyone was thinking in not allowing it to be the first single. It’s by far the more accomplished song and vocal here, and I wish it had become a hit for Diana, because I really believe it could have.

      Now YOU have me wanting to give “Paradise” some more thought — it’s just a song that has always felt way too slight to me, and been hard to listen to. But maybe I need to lower my expectations and accept it for what it is — a dance song.

      I’m sure my opinion on this album will continue to go up and down over the years — the next few Motown albums will be a lot easier to write about, since I really, really do love them!!!!

      • markus says:

        It’s funny you mention your Mom…my Mom- who admittedly wasnt a big Diana fan- actually liked this album when it came out!
        I guess Workin’ Overtime lets me down because the whole seems so much less the sum of its parts. It’s not like Nile Rodgers had been inactive and fallen out of touch during the 80’s- think about the hits he crafted for Madonna and others. But for some reason this album sounded sooo…contrived and forced, especially in the songwriting. I guess thats why I would give Eaten Alive a 3 and Workin’ Overtime a 2.5- that set’s saving grace, for me, is that the songs are just plain better written. The songwriting here seems so incredibly OFF at times! I would think about what hot writers/producers like Jam & Lewis, Babyface & LA Reid, Full Force, etc. were doing at the time…and then hearing this. It would just let me down all over again. 😦

        Well, I have a feeling my thoughts on The Force Behind the Power will probably be in the minority next week. When I bought the album i did like it, although even then I felt she had gone too far in the other direction- she went from this manic Hip Hop/New Jack Swing opus to a VERY light A/C collection that didnt find much love from her R&B fanbase (of which, being an urban kid I was definitely a part). It wasn’t until 1995 that she would finally strike an even balance between the two.

        Question- will you be doing a write-up on the new songs from the Forever and Voice of Love collections?

    • Paul says:

      I do agree, Markus, that “Force…” goes a little TOO far the other direction, and is a bit vanilla — there’s no question “Take Me Higher” is the collection that finally got it “right” for her at her second Motown-run!

      As far as including new songs on collections like “Voice Of Love” — I think once I finish going through her full-length CDs (including Greatest Hits Live and A Very Special Season, since they are full-length words, even though they didn’t make it to the US), I’m going to go back and write about the tracks from those collections as well as “import” tracks (for us in the states!) like the Japanese “When You Dream” songs and songs from “Force..” and “Take Me Higher” and others albums that didn’t make US versions. What do you think — good idea?

      • spookyelectric says:

        So glad you’re planning to review all the albums Paul! One request/suggestion – why not just include all the tracks from ‘Force’ etc – it’s only a couple of differences I think? – then everyone gets a review of the album they’re familiar with?

  2. Tony says:

    Paul, you are an excellent writer. In this case extremely diplomatic and sensitive to your subject. I waited to reply. I listened to the album. I pondered and really tried to hear it. Sadly , I just can not like this album. There is not one song – not one note that even reaches me. A complete and utter disaster for me.

    I believe Donna summer released an album at the same time and I recall wishing the Diana album was as good as the Donna album. Donna released This time I know it’s for real and Diana released Workin Overtime.

    It was so hard to follow Diana. She went from the vanilla RHRB to the acidic Workin Overtime. Strange that Diana moved away from the melody when songs with a strong melody were coming back into vogue. She once again missed the mark.

    The next Motown albums are amazing. I too just love them. All Diana needed to do was to learn to trust and listen to the experts a little more and …..presto we have her last few stunning albums!

    • Paul says:

      Tony,

      A very fair response. Trust me — I knew I’d be in the VERY small minority of people who would (somewhat) defend this album. In the same way that you say you just can’t make yourself like it…I just can’t make myself DISlike it!

      I think I feel about this album the way many feel about “Eaten Alive.” Do I think it’s a timeless Diana Ross album? No way. Is it one of her best? No. But for some reason, I just “hear” what she was going for here. Generally, the Diana Ross songs/albums I like the least are the ones where she just seems to be totally “coasting” or “Going through the motions” (ha ha). When I listen to this album, I hear the effort and the heart — even if, a lot of the times, the end result isn’t what I personally would like to hear from Diana.

      Some of it probably just has to do with my personal taste and the era of music I was growing up in — this album came out when I was really starting to develop my own tastes in music. As we’ve said time and time again here, sometimes a Diana Ross song/LP “touches” you…and sometimes it doesn’t! But I have a feeling a lot of fans are so “un-touched” by this one that they don’t even want to discuss it — so I’m glad you did, Tony! 🙂

    • markus says:

      @Tony- I remember being a closet fan of “This Time I Know it’s For Real”- R&B radio but that time wasn’t playing anything by Stock Aitken and Waterman (indeed, that became Donna’s first pop hit that didnt even chart on R&B). However, when I did buy the album Another Place and Time, I remember getting this sinking feeling in my stomach as i realized most of the tracks sounded like substandard variations of the hit. Thats a big problem with SAW productions, and my main reason for being happy Diana never did a full album with them.
      Unfortunately, that doesnt solve the problems that lie in Workin’ Overtime. 😦

      PS- Donna did do an album two years later with Keith Diamond called Mistaken Identity that gets compared a lot to Wokin’ Overtime. And that one disappeared even faster!

      Of course, her 60’s contemporaries were trying to keep up at the time, too. Gladys Knight had just finished her long association with the Pips with an uptempo #1 smash(“Love Overboard”) that was a hit on pop radio as well, Patti LaBelle was in the R&B Top 10 in early 1989 with “Yo Mister”, another uptempo tune that didnt get much love on Pop radio (Patti would continue to mine this sound with her next album and had another hit with 1991’s “Feels Like Another One”). Late in 1989 Dusty Springfield- fresh from her Pet Shop Boys comeback- would have another hit with the Euro-pop of “In Private”. But unfortunately, the voices of classic soul were slowly but surely being phased out. Time marches on.

      • Paul says:

        Good point here — Diana was not the only artist of her generation trying to sound more modern by going the New Jack/hip-hop route — others were also trying to sound more youthful by going for upbeat R&B. In most cases, pop radio ignored them. This, of course, was more damaging to Diana’s career since she’d had far more major successes on the pop charts than contemporaries like Patti, Dionne, Donna, and even Aretha. Having an “R&B-only” hit wasn’t as big a deal for a lot of other artists who hadn’t had so many pop top 20s in the first place.

    • Lawrence says:

      Tony – good point about Donna Summer’s album being released at the same time. “Another Place and Time” was amazing and I remember many of the songs getting tons of airplay on the radio and in clubs. I too wished that Diana had done songs with this much melody, spirit, and great production values. Even today, I just can’t get very excited about “Workin’ Overtime”, although I do remember the title track getting tons of airplay on urban radio at the time…

      • Paul says:

        I’m not familiar with the Donna album — gonna have to find it and start listening, I guess!!

      • Michael says:

        I, too, wanted to like Workin’ Overtime. I will have to lusten to it again, as it has been a long time. However, Another Place abd Time by Donna is/was one of my favorite albums at that time. I still listen to it occasionally.

  3. wayne2710 says:

    On the basis that if it is impossible to say something nice, then it is better to say nothing at all, I will strive to say something nice. Paradise is a good track. There, I’ve said something nice !
    Seriously though I don’t think the likes of me was the intended audience for this album back in 1989, and 23 years on I’m still not the best person to judge this. I’ll be perfectly honest with you all, I haven’t a clue what Bottom Line sounds like, not a clue ! I’ll have to force myself to give it a listen and try and understand just what it is that makes you all say it’s the standout track on this collection.
    Next !….

    • markus says:

      Here you are, Wayne:

      It’s not that i think this is really a stellar composition (“Chain Reaction”, for example, is a much better song), but it was the most straightforward, palatable song for radio at the time. The lyrics and melody are simple and clear, the hook is catchy, and Diana sounds great. It still may not have been everyone’s taste, but it does seem to be so much closer to where Diana was aiming.

      • wayne2710 says:

        Thanks Markus, that saved me the bother of having to get the cd out – and I instantly remembered why I don’t remember this track – it’s awful ! But each to his own I guess. The really sad thing about Workin Overtime is how she allowed Nile Rogers to produce an entire album on her, yet denied Luther Vandross the same honour.

    • Lawrence says:

      Wayne, I agree with you. Although I do remember “Bottom Line”, the title track, and “This House”, I never really play this album anymore. I always thought that if she had come back to Motown with “Force Behind the Power” instead, she would have had a much bigger comeback story to tell on the charts in the US…

      • wayne2710 says:

        I quite like the title track too Lawrence, as a ‘one off’ single it wasn’t bad, much better when performed live, and as I mentioned earlier I really did enjoy Paradise, the one saving grace from this whole sorry mess. Even Herb Ritts’ photography was awful, it was airbrushed to death.

      • Paul says:

        Lawrence — I wonder what it would have taken for Diana to come out of the gate with a major hit at Motown in 1989. Unless Motown had really gone full-force in the promotional department, I’m not sure anything would have been a smash for her at this point. As good as many songs on “Force…” are — she needed a big push behind her, and Motown doens’t seem to have been capable of that at all.

    • Paul says:

      Tell us how you really feel, Wayne…lol 🙂

      • Tony Agro says:

        Actually – I am with Wayne on this. I really did like Paradise. I think it was the best on the album as well. It was the nearest thing to cool – at the time. I especially like the remix – with the screams from the Boss on it !! i do remember when it was mixed with the boss – people dancing in the clubs went nuts for it !!

      • spookyelectric says:

        I’d forgotten about that mix Tony – it was Shep Pettibone’s ‘Paradise Island Dub’. The samples from ‘The Boss’ are really exciting. No wonder they mixed it into the original cause once you hear those teasers you really want the full track. The House Mix of ‘Workin Overtime’ was pretty good too with some nice extra piano bits. Apparently there were remixes of ‘Bottom Line’ too – has anyone ever heard them I wonder?

  4. chris meklis says:

    Hi Paul,
    I am impressed with your review, that you managed such an interesting written piece on an album that I don’t think I could have gotten into the same amount of detail on!
    That said…
    I bought this album on cassette first, and was completely unmoved by it. I never listened to it again until years later when I bought the CD to complete my DR CD collections, and thus gave it a spin in the player, and rather like Silk Electric, and Ross 83- I found an appreciation for it on CD.

    I do not find it the shockingly bad album that Wayne talks about, but realize how upset many fans were/are with this release as an attempt to be hip and happening.
    The pressure must have indeed been on, and yes you can hear it in the production and performances…whereas Miss. Ross may have felt ‘safe and secure’ enough as a bankable chart artists to ‘relax’ on albums like Silk or Ross (she was in the midst of major popularity without the threats of Whitney or Madonna laying siege to her throne), by this time, the hits were not happening at all in the US- only on R n B radio- ironically the kind of listernership that always knocked her for ‘selling out’ to vanilla pop!

    Now it was 1989, post 2 major Whitney Houston smashes and Madonna, and Janet and and and- plus those biographies- a challenging time for Diana Ross to find momentum again on the charts.

    The choice of what music to do must have all but driven her crazy! She had near done it all with her pushing the envelopes with mixed results at RCA.
    Who knows what went on behind the scenes between her, Motown and Rogers, but it must have been frantic- because that’s the end result here- a FRANTIC attempt- albeit a very strong one to stay relevant to the younger buying public (admittedly a whole world away from her usual fan base)….she really was working overtime!

    No album of hers is such a blatant and complete change in direction like this one. Silk Electric, Ross, Eaten Alive all still had music the legion of middle of the road fans could find comfort in amid the experiments and new sounds, but this- the main fan base had nowhere to run- even the ballads here are not DR ballads. There is no middle ground which was a pity, because Diana Ross has a huge fan base of people who look to the music that has made her famous, and have mostly proved that even during the 80’s when it they became exasperated at times as to what to make of the experimental stuff- they came round and made these collections hit gold!

    Now she was mostly on her own this time- they simply were not prepared to go THIS far, and to solely rely on a newer market of listeners was a little too presumptuous at a time where the music industry had changed and where she knew (esp in the US) older artists were not being heard as they should have been.
    But she dove into the music head-on and you can hear her commitment to making the style sound as authentic as possible- and just for that- she wins!

    Of course the ‘win’ will not stand the test of time as one of her most memorable artistic achievements- but it should prove what has been proven time and time again- this woman is underrated in her capacity to change and move with new styles and come close if not excel at them!
    Take Working Overtime for what it is and I think it can be more appreciated. Was it a mistake to do an album like this- hell yeah! But I am taken aback at the lengths Diana Ross has been prepared to go to bring fresh sounds to her listeners.

    I like this album. It’s not bad, when you are in the mood for a bit of frivolous fun. The vocals I think are some really strong efforts and Wayne I am sorry but I disagree with you on your take on Stand Together- I think it’s one of her most commercially sounding soul. Diana seldom does riffs- but when she does, they can be great and in this song she plays nicely with her voice, even though it’s the top of her range, she proves she can (if she feels like it) do a commercial soul sound.
    I don’t know if I’m making sense lol.
    I do love her live rendering of What Can One Person Do- much stronger than the lp version, and Paradise has a really interesting sound to it which I find quite infectious.

    Bottom Line is without a doubt the missed HIT here- the most authentic sounding of all these new jack swing styled songs!

    Great Review by the way 😉

    • Paul says:

      “…to solely rely on a newer market of listeners was a little too presumptuous at a time where the music industry had changed and where she knew (esp in the US) older artists were not being heard as they should have been.”

      Beautifully said, Chris. Diana definitely miscalculated in thinking that young listeners would snap up this album and make it a hit, and unfortunately it was just too far off from what longtime fans were looking for.

  5. spookyelectric says:

    Got to say I’m pretty much with you all the way on your comments on this one Markus. I don’t think Diana doing a very fresh modern record for the times was a bad idea at all – it’s just the execution, songwriting, production and artwork that lets it down!

    Diana obviously (once again) had a lot to prove on this record – with it being her first as Motown’s returning superstar and now co-owner – and I can imagine where the excitement in doing something ‘for the kids’ and reuniting with Nile Rodgers would have come from (they even resurrected the old ‘diana’ logo from their first collaboration which is a neat little detail). Must say though, I think Nile was totally the wrong producer for this record – yes he’d had successes through the 80s – Madonna, Duran Duran, the B52s etc – but nothing along the lines of the R&B/swingbeat route they decided to head in here. (In fact he made an even worst stab at new jack swing the same year with ‘Workin’ Overtime’ co-writer Christopher Max on his one solo album ‘More Than Physical’). So it’s not a huge surprise the most successful tracks on the record are one of the few he didn’t write (‘Bottom Line’) and the one that strays furthest from the angular funk of the rest of the album (‘This House’). (By the way I always wondered if that was conscious reference to ‘It’s My House’ or just a coincidence?)

    I’m sure with the right songs and production Diana could have been up there with the Paulas, Jodys and Janets of the era. She would have killed a slinky swing number like ‘Looking For A New Love’. If you think about the kind of productions LA & Babyface were making around this time for acts like Karyn White and Sheena Easton (and even Whitney a few years later) it makes me think they would have been a far better choice – combining contemporary production with a classic melodic sensibility far more suited for Diana.

    Still that’s all ifs and maybes. You certainly can’t fault Diana for effort on this one, so I kind of see where you’re coming from Paul (although I must admit it bamboozles me how you can rate this above ‘Eaten Alive’!) though I think that effort certainly felt strained and misdirected. I’m thinking about the TV appearances she did at the time talking about ‘how the kids love hip hop etc’, the ripped-jean photo shoots etc. Motown even sent the media promotional workmen’s lunch boxes at the time I seem to remember to promote ‘Workin’ Overtime’ (a song that I must admit I play so much at the time I think I forced myself into loving a bit more than it may have warranted!) and Diana did surprise appearances at certain nightclubs around the States and certain European capitols.

    So yes there was a load of effort put into this project, no doubt. Sad thing is, I think it actually made Diana (for the first time maybe) seem old and out of touch. See the clip below for instance – I remember seeing this interview on UK TV at the time (below) coming out with lines like ‘it’s got the beat!’ and cringing and thinking ‘oh no, she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about!’

    Even in her mid-40s Diana could – with the right choices – and really should have given her younger rivals a run for their money and easily trumped her contemporaries like Gladys and Patti (as Markus mentioned) in the charts. Sad fact is on ‘Workin’ Overtime’ she was so way off mark it actually hurt.

    • Paul says:

      “although I must admit it bamboozles me how you can rate this above ‘Eaten Alive’” — Ha ha ha ha ha…as I said before in a comment, I think this is MY “Eaten Alive” — for some reason I just hear what she was going for…and while I don’t love any of the songs here, there is something in the sound I can appreciate. I’d never want Diana to do another album like it, but I think there’s some strength in the vocals here and some interesting songs. I just think it’s VERY narrow in focus…so if you hate the sound of one song, you’ll pretty much hate them all.

      Anyway, cut me some slack, you all — I never promised good taste all the way through here!! 🙂

  6. Lawrence says:

    I agree Paul – at this point, Motown might not have been able to get a big hit for her. However, this certainly wasn’t the right direction for her at the time. If only she had kept working with Michael Masser in the 1980s – once they went their separate ways, he gave all his amazing ballads to Whitney. The rest is history 🙂

    • Paul says:

      And funny enough — in 1990, just after Diana released this, Whitney released a “hipper” and more urban-oriented album herself, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” — and while it was a hit, it was nowhere near the huge success her first two more pop and ballad-focused albums had been!

    • spookyelectric says:

      Lawrence – it’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if Masser and Diana had continued working together – but I honesty don’t think it would have resulted in Whitney style success. Think about those last tracks they recorded in the early 80s on ‘To Love Again- – that wasn’t the stuff on international radio smashes. And the very last Masser song she recorded (‘In Your Arms’ on ‘Silk Electric’) was on of the worst recordings she ever made! Ironically it was rerecorded a few years later as a duet with Teddy Pendergrass as ‘Hold Me’ and became Whitney’s debut smash. What Whitney was doing vocally on record was something totally different from Diana and really changed the perceptions of pop singing I think.

      Plus I don’t think Diana and Masser would even have wanted to work together. From what I’ve read about their working relationship it was somewhat fraught to say the least. I imagine he would have been seen by Diana as part of the controlling grip Berry once had on her that she spent the decade distancing herself from. Of course by the end of the decade, she was back at Motown – by Berry was gone. And as a major stockholder, she was (if you like) The Boss. Shame she didn’t have a proper hit album to complete the personal triumph that moment might have been!

      • Tony Agro says:

        This is where I think peoples tastes had changed. People wanted that full robust voice of Houston and the Ross voice was considered inferior. The public no longer “heard” or became fatigued of Diana’s voice. So even if she did do the lush ballads of Masser – the public didn’t want to hear her sing them. Her P.R at the time was brutal. She was vilified beyond belief.

      • spookyelectric says:

        I think you’re right Tony, something had definitely changed – I’m not sure how much it was the public’s tastes and how much radio programmers and the media’s taste denying Diana exposure – either way the end result was the same.

        It did seem to be specific to the US though – the same year ‘Workin’ Overtime’ came out Diana had a giant Japanese hit single with the Masser-lite ballad ‘If We Hold Together’ (12 weeks at number one!) and of course a couple of years earlier she had her biggest selling RCA single with ‘Chain Reaction’ (3 weeks at UK no 1).

        She may have been out of fashion in America but that didn’t stop her selling records everywhere else in the world. Which explains why around this time her US labels didn’t even bother releasing some of her records!

  7. Lawrence says:

    good point! but I was thinking more around 1985 – when Masser and Whitney were on top. by the way, did you get my email about the Facebook page?

    • Paul says:

      Oh, I know what you meant! I just pointed it out to show another case of career similarities between the two women! Like Diana, Whitney had had so much success on the pop charts that when one of her singles did well R&B but not on pop, it was considered a “failure” becuase it was being judged against her other big pop hits.

      I just checked my gmail account yesterday and got it — I’ll write back to you soon to discuss more! 🙂

  8. ejluther says:

    Great review and discussion, as always! While I must admit to liking this album at the time – it has not aged well at all. The song that still works the best for me is “This House” and I’ll always have a soft spot for “Workin’ Overtime”. The problems with the project can best be summed up in the cover photo – Diana Ross with dreadlocks is all you really need to know (see better on the “Work This” release: http://eil.com/Gallery/101164b.jpg)

  9. Paul says:

    Oh yes — the cover. It would be an interesting poll — which do fans likes less, the cover shot for this album, or that of “Ross”? 🙂

    • markus says:

      Irony of ironies…i know i’ve been a champion for the Eaten Alive album, but i HATE the Eaten Alive album cover. I think that is my least favorite of Diana’s entire solo career (okay, maybe after Everything is Everything, with Every Day is a New Day not far behind). The Workin’ Overtime cover is not all that offensive to me (maybe it’s a case of the album cover being the least of the album’s problems…lol)

      I am NOT a fan of the Ross album (I would’ve given it a 2.5, certainly not a 4), but I actually like the album cover! Very high fashion.

    • dishy says:

      I actually love the cover of ROSS! It’s certainly better than Workin’ Overtime or her WORST COVER: EATEN ALIVE! How silly!

      • Paul says:

        I’m with you — I’ve always liked the cover — to me, it’s very “high fashion” and fits the mood of the LP!!

  10. spookyelectric says:

    Between those two, ‘Workin’ Overtime’ is way way worse. I’d never seen the dreadlocks in their full glory – thanks ejluther! – definitely a ‘sack the stylist’ moment for Miss Ross.

    ‘Ross’ I think freaked fans at the time more because the attitude of the shot was so far removed from the Diana they wanted (why they chose the frame with that haughty expression is bizarre) but I think shoot itself is very couture as Markus says.

    Worst ever though: ‘A Very Special Season’ (Diana bacofoil frock with terrible fake smile) with ‘Everyday Is A New Day’ a close second (Diana as extra in ‘The Walking Dead’).

    • chris meklis says:

      Spooky!!!! I’m finished- you made my day- ‘the Walking Dead’!! lol
      I like the Ross cover-it adds to the mystique of the album. Goes well with some of the artsy songs.
      Hate Diana Ross ’70, Everything is Everything covers and worst is the Force’s cover…I never ever got the splish/splash mess around the stunning gold lame cover shot. It’s like she allowed Evan or Ross to use their Crayola Caddy all over her album cover lol

      • markus says:

        oh no, Chris! I LOVE The Force Behind the Power album cover!!! I totally got what she was going for and I thought the young artist did a great job.

    • markus says:

      “‘A Very Special Season’ (Diana bacofoil frock with terrible fake smile) with ‘Everyday Is A New Day’ a close second (Diana as extra in ‘The Walking Dead’).”

      I 100% AGREE on both! Especially EDIAND. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking “oh God, NO.”

      • Paul says:

        Awww, c’mon…I kinda like the “Special Season” picture — although the overall design is so cheap-looking — very “bargain bin” in the overal graphics. The photo on the inside of “Season…” with the gold body paint is a really odd one — she seems to be channeling her “snake woman” character from the “Pieces Of Ice” video!

  11. Billy says:

    Hi guys! Following the review for “Workin’ Overtime,” I’ve been listening to it lately again. It certainly comes across as awkward at several instances (see “it’s happening”!) yet it has a flow. It has a very specific sound like other cds from that era. The thing is it doesn’t really work for Diana. I saw Donna’s “Mistaken Identity” was brought up in earlier messages. That album is also new jack swing-influenced but it works better with Donna’s voice, while it contains better songs overall.

    Paul you make a great point saying that Diana is a melodic singer. She has said that herself actually, but apart from the fact that most of the songs are beat-driven, they are also not very successful compositions.

    Still, I think “This House” is the best song on the album and my personal favorite, and one of my faves by Diana ever in fact. Classy video too!

    Although we are past the RCA years, I just wanted to add that another reason why people did not like 1980s Diana as much as they did like 1970s Diana is maybe the fact that she became more overtly sexual during this time, yet “not in your face” (as Mariah has said!).

    • spookyelectric says:

      I didn’t even know there was a video shot for ‘This House’ – I just found a really poor quality version on youtube. I like how they’ve turned it into a little Motown homage (maybe they were thinking ‘it worked for ‘Missing You’!). Very timely. Did Motown drum up a lot of publicity around her return to the label at the time? I don’t remember much.

      Shame her labels don’t get it together a finally release a nice dvd package of all her videos – reckon it’s highly unlikely now though.

    • spookyelectric says:

      Hey Billy, I finally dug out my cd of Donna Summer’s ‘Mistaken Identity’ cause of the comments here. Glad I did – it’s not as entirely dreadful as I remembered: there’s some stunning ballads on there and yes, Donna’s vocals are great throughout. I think she has a lot more to work with that Diana on ‘Overtime’ to be fair – the bulk of the contemporary tracks are either house based or very Soul II Soul influenced productions with strong melody lines for Donna to play with – quite different – but just as of-the-moment – as the jagged swingbeat of ‘Overtime’.

      I think the main comparison between the two albums is the very similar styling of the artwork – Donna in leather jacket with shocking blonde wig actually beats Diana’s dreadlocks and leather look in the bad hair day department. I think it’s written somewhere that the only divas that ever should be allowed to wear leather are Tina and Cher.

      I’m struggling to think if there are any of Diana’s contemporaries who threw themselves into new jack swing as foolishly and whole heartedly as Diana – Patti LaBelle included a couple of swing-influenced Full Force & Prince productions on her ‘Be Yourself’ album of the period that she ‘slammed’ as they say/said/maybe never said and Aretha had a few moments on her best-forgotten ‘Through The Storm’ set – but no one else actually attempted a whole aggressively swingbeat album, did they?

  12. Billy says:

    And something about the album covers: the “Eaten Alive” cover is really the ‘wrong’ one for me. I think she was going for something “Thriller”-esque, since it has the tiger, albeit a stuffed one (only Michael had a rea lbaby tiger in the full version of the “Thriller” cover)! Still, it is very…RCA at the same time! I mean, it’s part of the image Diana (re)created for herself in the 1980s, and I truly love this phase of her career. I feel these years ‘speak’ Diana Ross, in the sense that they are more indicative of her own creativity, and I love when artistic expression meets the personality of their creators.

    The “Ross” cover doesn’t bother me, In fact, I also recognize the mystique that other people mentioned, and I have to say I love the hair on that cover! It is one of those instances where image and sound do really complement each other. The “Everyday…” is sort of weird, color-wise at least, while “Workin’ Overtime” is, well, awkward. It doesn’t come across as convincing.

    Still, the one I like the least has to be “Everything Is Everything.” Although the body suit is great, it’s just not good.

    “Silk Electric” is a really cool one by the way! Very artsy!

    • Paul says:

      You all are cracking me up with this cover discussions — pretty much because you’re all so DEAD ON with your descriptions! “Every Day Is A New Day” is pretty bad — Diana doesn’t at all look like Diana on it, and there were much better photos in the booklet that could’ve been used. But…for me…the award for the most disappointing cover goes to……”I Love You.” A 20-year-old photo…and a not-very-good-one at that?!?

    • chris meklis says:

      I loved Swept Away’s cover out of all the ’80’s covers the most….just so damn svelte and cheeky- the Diana Ross CAN and IS doing it on her own show lol

  13. Vicky says:

    I just remember feeling that Diana was blacklisted in the US after those books came out; nobody played her music regardless of how good ( TMH, TFBTP ) or unfortunate( WO) her cds were. All struggled to get play, but Diana got none even when she made music tailor made for the AC pop and r&b markets where her music would have fit in quite nicely. As for album covers, they fine.She’s a beautiful woman, so it would be difficult for her to take a bad picture.

  14. Pingback: Forever Diana: Musical Memoirs (1993) « The Diana Ross Project

  15. Waldo says:

    It’s funny how different we all are.. i don’t know if the UK version had an alternate mix to the main US edition of this album – i know the superb diana-web discography lists some editions having alternate mixes of some some cuts.. but i absolutely ADORE Goin’ Through The Motions… and play it often! i think it even deserves to be included on compilations. the rest however probably like most of you i can and do skip.

    may i suggest a little something for this site.. please you could clearly detail and review cuts that made international editions of albums under their respective album pages.. for instance Mr. Lee and Tell Mama from Red Hot Rhythm And Blues. i just think it would be helpful.

    i’ve been reading this blog for a while now.. from the first album upwards.. but this is my first comment. amazing blog..very addictive actually!

    have you reviewed Baby I Love Your Way on here?..

    i don’t think you’ve mentioned it. apologies if i missed it.

  16. Carlton L Saunders says:

    Nile’s production on most of his 80’s work appears complex. Bowie’s Let’s Dance is a masterpiece as well as Madge’s Like A Virgin and Duran Duran’s Notorious. I think the idea of making Workin’ Overtime a Hip Hop/House/Dance album put Diana Ross in a box that America didn’t want from a Diana Ross album let alone a “so called” comeback album. Nile Rodgers definitely used a different sound when he produced Black artists than White artists in the mid to late 80’s. Either Diana or Nile must have thought it was time to make a Black album lol. Personally, I think Diana Ross would’ve faired much better from Nile’s Pop flavored production ALA his work with Cathy Dennis, Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes, Bryan Ferry & Thompson Twins. You can always funk out a remix for said genre. Mariah Carey mastered that concept beautifully lol. I mean even Nile’s Al Jarreau’s ’86 L Is For Lovers album had some nice pop diddies and a Jazz track that’s amazing! Ditto for the Grace Jones masterpiece “Inside Story”!!! Now Sister Sledge’s When The Boys Meet The Girls album went double plastic lol for being too Pop! Once again Nile tried to recreate something fresh and different for a group he had previous success with like Diana but America wasn’t buying it (literally). Nile totally crafted a Black album for Diana Ross just like he did for Christopher Max (who also wrote songs for Workin’ Overtime), Philip Bailey, Carole Davis (who’s white lol) & Eddie Murphy. I can see why the masses didn’t take to Workin’ Overtime. By this point (’89), Diana Ross was more known as a Pop/R&B song stress. “diana” was basically her last full fledge R&B album and even that had some Pop influences to it but it was pretty much considered a Black album. Workin’ Overtime with the rip jeans, white T, dread twists, leather jacket & studded boots just didn’t seem like our Diana Ross!!! Now I know I’m in the minority but I totally love the Workin’ Overtime album!!! I like that Diana threw something different @ us. I caught it but many didn’t lol. I was just trying to see it from a average Diana Ross fan or good music consumers point of view.

  17. I’m part of the minority, too. Dare I say it, “Workin’ Overtime” is my second favorite Diana album (After “The Boss”, of course!). Unlike many of Diana’s albums, WO sounded like something. It was consistent and seamless. You can listen to the whole album and it has an ongoing beat and attitude. I listened to it constantly for years. I think “Say We Can” is the best song of the album and stands out for me as among her best in total. She sang in live during the tour, altho it is not on the GH Live recording and it was a highlight of that odd-sounding concert. Paul. I am surprised that you did not mention that Diana sings an impressively high note at the end of “This House”. She did not make it live, tho!

  18. Carlton L Saunders says:

    Hi Peter (@pnyc1969), I actually love the Workin’ Overtime album too. I love everything it was intended to be. It was quite different but I totally bought into it from the day she showed a clip of it on that Barbra Walters interview about her return to Motown right down to the “Hey Nile…Put Up The Horns”. However, I must say that I WAS totally surprised that Nile Rodgers was her choice for producer! Now I love me sum Nile but I just think she should’ve pulled out the BIG guns like Jam & Lewis or Narada Michael Walden who had connections and #1 hits for Motown in the late 80’s (Johnny Gill, Shanice). But it’s been rumored for years that Nile (Chic) had a 2 album deal with Motown when he wrote & produced “diana” but Ross left the company shortly afterwards. So maybe that contract was still in effect hence Nile Rodgers producing her return to Motown album. Definitely 1 of those things that make you say hmmmmmm.

    • That’s an interesting consideration. 1989 was such a different landscape than 1980 in all ways. It’s very provocative to think that an album production contract would be fulfilled all those years later. Yes, Nile Rodgers was not really hot by the end of the decade but would Jam and Lewis have worked with her? I can’t imagine Janet enjoying that. Also, I’ve often wondered if there is any significance to the fact that Diana wore jeans and a tee shirt on both Nile Rodgers albums. Was that look hoped to be a good luck charm? Unfortunately, the 1980 Levis–a loan from Gia Carangi!–were cool but the ripped, high waist 1989 pair was not! (Another thought on long overdue contracts–Laura Nyro took her sweet ol’ time delivering the last of a 5-album deal almost 20 years after signing!)

  19. Carlton L Saunders says:

    I JUS HAD TO COMMENT ABOUT THIS…“Take the Bitter With the Sweet”, where a fairly decent production is ruined by some lousy lyrics (are those backup singers really saying “take the bitter with the sweet, TWEET”!? What’s the TWEET for?)……. That is so not what the backgrounds are singing. The word SWEET is what’s being repeated not TWEET lol.

    • markus says:

      I just saw your comment Carlton- it prompted me to dig WO out and listen again…and I’m sorry. It still sounds like TWEET.
      Listen to the intro- the singers have just sung the word “sweet”- and it SOUNDED like “sweet”, then they immediately follow it with a word that does NOT sound like the one they just sang- I’ve listened multiple times and it still sounds like a T at the beginning. If it’s SUPPOSED to be “sweet”, I’ll blame Nile for not catching that.

      Here’s the song- i just listened AGAIN, and they are saying TWEET. LOL

  20. Carlton says:

    Well my friend, this definitely sounds like 1 of those times where you hear what you hear and I hear what I hear lol. I guess the great Nile Rodgers is the only 1 who can clarify this lyrical dispute. We need to write him on FB. On a common sense level, TWEET doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Workin’ Overtime was released in ’89 and TWEETING/TWEET wasn’t even thought of as a means of communicating yet. Plus the song has nothing to do with tweeting birds or communicating lol. I play the WO album quite often and “Take The Bitter With The Sweet” is a fav of mine and I hear a S as in SWEET loud and clear. I even listened with the mindset of hearing the T as in TWEET and I don’t hear it. Sorry :o(

  21. TouchMe says:

    Everyone is talking about how Madonna is doing music now that waaaay too young for her (B*tch I’m Madonna) and how she’s fighting ageism..yet I think Ms. Ross did music that..was..way..too..young..for..her…..first?

    I mean come on. This album reminds me of Hard Candy by Madonna so much. It’s not a horrible album, just the image and it’s intentions are way off.

    • Hi TouchMe, what’s even crazier is MaDonna is even older than Diana was when she recorded WO. Ross was 45 and Madge is 56 but like I’ve had discussions before for whatever reason age-ism affects our Black singers much more than it does their white counter parts. Babs or Bette could have released WO and it would’ve been the best thing since sliced bread. I just don’t get it and guess I never will. Bottom Line (wink) is that I love it and I guess Nile, Diana or both felt is was time to take it back to the street (I guess lol). However, I do think the wrong songs were released as singles. I always thought double A-sided singles were just a cheap way out of production cost and promotion. “Workin’ Overtime” worked as a 1st single for me. Apparently it worked for the Billboard Black Singles (#15). I hate how making Top Ten on ANY Billboard Chart isn’t major. Why does the Pop Charts have to be the end of all ends??? That bothers me so much and the music industry never makes any noise about some of Diana’s singles making it to Top Ten or 20 on Billboard Black singles Charts. 2nd Single should have been “Say We Can”, 3rd single “This House”, 4th single should have been “Paradise” which would’ve bought them back to the dance floor in droves. And if possible, 5th single “Keep On (Dancin’) with a smokin’ hot remix which would’ve kept ’em there!!! Poor Motown…smhh

      • Paul says:

        “Bottom Line” was Motown’s choice for a first single, and Diana fought for the title track instead. I think, in this case, Diana made a mistake. “Bottom Line” is easily the strongest song on the album, and could have been a solid hit on multiple formats. That said — “Workin’ Overtime” did better than #15 on the R&B chart — it peaked at #3. That’s a significant achievement, no doubt about it. Unfortunately for Miss Ross, her career is often judged against her massive pop success in the 60s and 70s. She also hit the top 5 with Al B. Sure! on “No Matter What You Do” in the early 90s — something few people aside from die-hard fans realize.

    • Paul says:

      I think there’s a pretty significant difference between WORKIN’ OVERTIME and latter-day albums by Madonna — and it has everything to do with subject matter. Although Diana was attempting a far more youthful, harder-edged sound, the lyrical content of her music remained age-appropriate. Make no mistake — WORKIN’ OVERTIME isn’t a particularly successful album, but I think the primary reasons are the lack of melody in the songs and the high key in which they are cut, forcing Diana to really strain her voice. Diana was not using blatant sexuality to remain relevant or youthful.

  22. david wilson says:

    Paul, A very honest appraisal of this album. I remember thinking at the time what on earth was she trying to achieve. She was targeting the wrong demographic and the entire project had no authenticity. It all seemed a bit forced, contrived and “hey let’s get down with the kids”. No one was fooled. I saw her in Glasgow during her tour to promote this album. Her live performance of tracks from this album weren’t very well received- it sounded very much “by the numbers”. It was another of those poor career choices she made from 81 onwards. I always think of the 80’s as her “lost” decade. She suffered from poor choices, 3rd rate material- apart from Chain Reaction and Missing You. I never listen to this album, even bottom line is only the best of a bad bunch. Luckily Force was just around the corner as we moved into a new decade…

  23. Pingback: Workin’ Overtime (1989): EXTENDED POST! | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  24. fredk3fredk3 kensington says:

    Ugh! I hate to say it but I NEVER listen to this album by my Goddess Diana. The title track and first single is so (produced – not sung) off key that I reject it’s existence. Ladi Di rebounded after this so I am okay.

  25. Toby France says:

    How funny- I just bought this album yesterday and here is the new (excellent) review on the DR project. I don’t understand why people don’t like this album. Granted it’s not her best but it’s better than Silk electric and it did quite well on the charts here in the UK. Long live Diana 😂!

  26. How I wish “Take me Higher” or “Force Behind the Power” had been her official return to Motown – I think she could’ve had some huge hits in the US again.

  27. Pingback: The Force Behind The Power (1991) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  28. Pingback: Take Me Higher (1995) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  29. Pingback: Every Day Is A New Day (1999) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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