The Force Behind The Power (1991)

“When the moment comes I’ll be your dancer, I’ll be your singer and your song…”

“America’s pop firmament may be crowded with competing divas, but none plays the role of a benevolent goddess with the conviction of Diana Ross,” wrote Stephen Holden in The New York Times, reviewing the singer’s opening night at Radio City Music Hall on September 19, 1991.  Ross was promoting her latest release, The Force Behind The Power, which Holden opined “should do much to salvage a recording career that had all but evaporated. Wisely turning away from anonymous dance music, she has made a record that concentrates on adult contemporary ballads by Stevie Wonder and others.”  To say the 30-year career of one of music’s all-time bestselling artists had “all but evaporated” is certainly harsh and unfounded, but it was true that at the dawn of the 1990s, Diana’s career was in a very different place than it had been at the beginning of the previous two decades.  Though she’d enjoyed success in the R&B and dance markets with 1989’s “Workin’ Overtime” (from the album of the same name), Ross hadn’t had a significant pop hit since 1985, an eternity for an artist who’d scored an astounding 18 #1 singles between 1964 and 1981, as both lead singer of The Supremes and a solo artist.

Instrumental in crafting Diana’s follow-up to Workin’ Overtime was a man whose musical path had crossed with Diana’s way back in 1964.  During the 1960s, Peter Asher was one-half of the British rock duo Peter and Gordon; their biggest hit was the song “A World Without Love,” which was covered by Diana and The Supremes on the British Invasion tribute album A Bit Of Liverpool.  Asher subsequently became a hugely successful music producer, crafting hit albums for James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt among other notable artists; in 1988, he produced Diana’s “If We Hold On Together,” the theme song to the animated film The Land Before Time.  That song was resurrected for the new album, placed alongside five others produced by Asher.  Meanwhile, Ross also entered the studio with producers James Anthony Carmichael and Lloyd Tolbert, who contributed a quartet of songs to the album; a longtime collaborator with Lionel Richie, Carmichael had previously worked with Diana Ross on the Richie-penned ballads “Endless Love” and “Missing You,” both of which were huge hits for Miss Ross.  In interviews, Ross had given most of the credit for the success of “Endless Love” — her biggest hit ever — to Carmichael.

With those tracks in the can, the album was finished and ready for release in the United States; the first single was slated to be “Change Of Heart,” one of the Carmichael-Tolbert tracks.  Then, suddenly, something happened for which Diana had been waiting several decades.  “I’ve been actually begging for Stevie to write me a song since he was 14 years old,” Ross told television host Arsenio Hall on May 20, 1991, speaking of her longtime friend and Motown labelmate Stevie Wonder; although Wonder was busy working on the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever, he finally delivered an uplifting spiritual song called “The Force Behind The Power,” producing the song from France and thus delaying the release of Diana’s album by a month.  “He promised me, so I’ve been holding the album up waiting for my song,” Ross told Hall just after singing the song for the first time to his studio audience.  This last-minute addition ended up drastically changing plans for the album; the entire project was named after the song, and it seemed a likely candidate for single release, especially given the positive buzz following Diana’s appearance on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Strangely, Motown then waited until September to release The Force Behind The Power, and ended up choosing the ballad “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” as first official single; although Ross offered up a stunning performance of the song on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Ross and Motown just weren’t able to drum up momentum in the United States, and the album struggled.  Overseas, however, with Diana’s international record label EMI behind the wheel, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” was a major hit in several countries, including the United Kingdom, where it peaked at #2.  This led The Force Behind The Power to huge international success for Diana Ross, mirroring the way the singer’s 1985 album Eaten Alive and its single “Chain Reaction” suffered very different fates stateside and abroad.  The big difference, however, is that unlike that earlier album, The Force Behind The Power is an extremely strong, polished effort that deserved much more recognition and acclaim than it garnered in Diana’s home country.  Although a few of the tracks lack some fire, the collection is a seamless and sophisticated one, showcasing strong vocal work throughout by Miss Ross.

***

Billboard: October 12, 1991

1.  Change Of Heart:  As perfect a pop record as anything Diana Ross had recorded in years, “Change Of Heart” sets the tone for The Force Behind The Power with a classy production and sterling vocal performance by the singer.  It’s no surprise that the composition is a brilliant slice of easygoing adult pop, considering it was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, the men behind Tina Turner’s Grammy-winning 1984 comeback single, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” a song that defines easygoing adult pop; Diana likely hoped “Change Of Heart” could achieve a similar kind of success, and certainly had every reason to be optimistic given the final result.  “Change Of Heart” is a swinging mid-tempo number with a shimmering instrumental track; the beat here is reminiscent of Donald Fagen’s 1982 hit “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)” in the way it pleasantly snaps along from beginning to end, paired with a fairly simple and memorable lyric.  Diana’s vocal performance is superb; she sounds completely engaged and in command here, and she manages to show off some range and power without ever oversinging or murdering the song’s melody.  It’s a thrill to hear her go for — and nail — the repeated high notes at the end of the song, starting around 3:22; her ad-libbing here is reminiscent of her work at the end of “Love Child” from way back in 1968.  The rest of the performance is subtle and playful; the song makes full use of her smooth and sexy lower register, allowing her to add in some nice, soulful flourishes during the verses, and shows off her crisp, clear soprano on the chorus.  If any song on the singer’s new album stood a chance at garnering Top 40 play, this one was it; it feels radio-ready in a way much of Diana’s 1980s output hadn’t, even some of the material that did eventually win over radio programmers.  And according to Ross biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, “Change Of Heart” was indeed sent to radio stations and reports at the time actually suggest Change Of Heart was to be the new album’s title; the late addition of Stevie Wonder’s “The Force Behind The Power” and Diana’s extreme enthusiasm for that song, however, killed promotional plans for “Change Of Heart” and it became a hit-that-should-have-been.  Had Diana and Motown focused attention on “Change Of Heart” and given it a well-executed promotional campaign, it could have given the singer her biggest release in years; certainly the vocal work was worthy of a Grammy nomination for Pop Vocal Performance, Female.  The song at least became a standout during Diana’s successful Here And Now World Tour; a few video clips exist of Ross performing the song, and she sounds as good live as she does on the recording.

Billboard: July 11, 1992

2.  When You Tell Me That You Love Me:  It’s a strange pattern that the biggest Diana Ross hits in the United Kingdom all flopped in the United States; it happened first when “I’m Still Waiting” hit #1 overseas but stalled at #63 at home, and it happened again when “Chain Reaction” soared to the top spot in the U.K. while struggling to #66 in the states.  Unfortunately, the third time was not the charm for Diana Ross in 1991; released by EMI internationally, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” was a major hit in several countries, topping out at #2 in the United Kingdom and becoming one of the singer’s signature songs there; in America, however, the ballad didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at a disappointing #37 on the R&B chart and #26 Adult Contemporary.  There’s no doubt that in choosing “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” as the album’s eventual first single, Motown was hoping to remind record buyers that before Whitney Houston, Diana Ross was pop music’s preeminent ballad vocalist; it’s likely not a coincidence that writers Albert Hammond and John Bettis also penned “One Moment In Time,” a Top 5 hit for Houston in 1988.  As with Houston’s hit, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” is a slick, carefully crafted ballad that’s clearly produced with an intent to tug at the heartstrings while also serving as an inspiration to those who like their music to come with obvious messages; lyrics like “I’m shining like a candle in the dark/When you tell me that you love me” are lovely, but leave little room for subtlety.  Produced by Peter Asher with a saccharine edge, the recording is pop balladry at its most romantic, complete with tentative piano, swirling strings, and a big, arena-ready guitar solo.  Diana Ross can sing this kind of song in her sleep, and it’s to her credit that she sounds emotionally invested throughout; the song requires range and power, and Miss Ross certainly delivers, especially during the final chorus, when the song changes key and Diana really starts belting.  While it’s not her strongest ballad performance ever (there are moments where she sounds like she’s pushing a little too hard), it’s an impactful one, and it’s obvious why audiences around the world responded the way they did to the song; it’s easily as good as many of the pop ballads that were topping the charts in the Unites States at the time, driving home the point that in America, radio programmers just weren’t interested in giving a seasoned veteran the chance to compete with younger stars like Houston, Mariah Carey, and Paula Abdul, all of whom hit #1 with pop ballads in 1991.  That said, Diana did perform an effortless live version of the song on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1991 and it became part of her live repertoire for a while; it’s remained so popular for Diana overseas that she re-recorded the song in 2005 with British group Westlife and took it right back to #2 again!

3.  Battlefield:  A superb Motown-inspired track, this is another standout of the Force sessions, a song which had already been recorded but certainly sounds tailor-made for Diana Ross based on her storied history as the Queen of Motown.  “Battlefield” was written by Paul Carrack and Nick Lowe, and had been recorded by Carrack for his 1989 collection Groove Approved (on which he titled the song “I Live On A Battlefield”); Lowe & The Impossible Birds also eventually recorded the song, releasing it on a 2003 anthology, and other artists including “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks have covered it over the years.  Diana’s version is produced similarly to Carrack’s original recording, meaning it’s got a Holland-Dozier-Holland-inspired beat (notice the similarity to “You Can’t Hurry Love”) to go along with its harmonica-sweetened track; it’s easy to imagine a 1960s Diana Ross popping her fingers to the song while singing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  The singer’s voice is in outstanding shape on the track; she sounds like she’s 20 years old again, her sharp, urgent tone cutting through the instrumental and her breathy desperation while singing lines including “Everything that can/Has gone wrong” reminiscent of her work on 1967’s “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone.”  Much credit goes to Peter Asher for producing the track with an exciting mix of swirling strings, driving percussion, and that howling harmonica, not to mention a wash of female singers behind Diana that embody modern-day Supremes.  Although it wasn’t widely released as a single, EMI did service the song to a few European markets, and it reached to Top 40 on the Polish music charts.  As with “Change Of Heart,” the song is catchy and contemporary enough that it probably could have at least gained some play on Adult Contemporary stations in the United States; as it stands, “Battlefield” is an extremely solid piece of album filler, and certainly remains one of the most compulsively listenable tracks on The Force Behind The Power.

4.  Blame It On The Sun:  While she waited for Stevie Wonder to write her a song, Diana recorded this chestnut, a heartbreak ballad written by Wonder and his then-wife Syreeta Wright which first showed up on Wonder’s seminal 1972 LP Talking Book.  Ross, of course, had been covering Wonder for years, reaching all the way back to the 1965 Supremes album The Supremes Sing Country, Western & Pop, which featured two songs co-written by Wonder; more recently, she’d recorded his “Too Shy To Say” on 1977’s Baby It’s Meand performed “Ribbon In The Sky” during the second day of her highly publicized Central Park concerts in 1983.  As Miss Ross told Arsenio Hall in 1991, “I will do [Wonder] remakes because I love them so,” and it is obvious listening to the aforementioned songs that she really does feel a deep connection to Stevie’s words and music; “Too Shy To Say” is one of her great ballad performances of the 1970s, and “Ribbon In The Sky” is a stunning live performance in the midst of a wildly uneven concert.  “Blame It On The Sun” is another perfect match for Diana, and she turns in a tender, heartfelt performance; her smooth, velvety instrument sides up and down the musical scale effortlessly as she interprets a story of lost love.  Listen particularly to her work at the three-minute mark, as she heavily sighs and really digs into the lyrics; this is classic Diana Ross, a reminder of the uniqueness of her tone and her ability to cut straight to the heart of a song.  Unfortunately, Diana is let down just a little bit by the production, which is super synth-heavy; it ends up dating the recording, something that could have been avoided with a simpler piano line accompanying the singer.  Still, Diana’s performance is too good to deny, and the dreaminess in her voice brings to mind the masterful “Summertime” from Red Hot Rhythm & Blues, easily one of her best ballad performance of all-time; at times here, Ross sounds lost in the lyric, which results in the listener losing his or herself, too.  Though it ultimately gets less attention than the other Wonder song on The Force Behind The Power (the title track), this one merits rediscovery; Miss Ross also nailed it live over and over again while performing the song during her Here And Now World Tour, using it as a chance to walk into the audience and interact with her fans.

5.  Heavy Weather:  This song is (pardon the pun) a real high-water mark on The Force Behind The Power, a smooth jazz number with a lyric revolving around climate change that’s even more relevant today than it was back in 1991.  The writer behind “Heavy Weather” is Michael Sembello, an artist best known for his 1983 #1 hit “Maniac” and who’d experienced great success as a songwriter with Miss Ross before, penning her Top 10 hit “Mirror, Mirror” from 1981’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Sembello had also played guitar for Stevie Wonder, providing another Wonder connection to this project).  The earlier “Mirror, Mirror” was a driving, hard-edged funk track, something that couldn’t be further from the quiet storm of “Heavy Weather” — certainly this demonstrates Sembello’s versatility as a songwriter, not to mention Diana’s versatility as an interpreter of lyrics.  Speaking of, the lyrics here are a superb musing on changing weather as a result of global warming, asking, “How come Decembers are hotter than June?/And how come the flowers don’t know when to bloom?/Something’s wrong, people/Something’s happening, happening where we live.”  Produced by James Carmichael and Lloyd Tolbert, “Heavy Weather” exists in the same universe then-dominated by Anita Baker and Sade, a cool and soothing musical landscape of shimmering keyboards and soulful vocals; had the song been released to smooth jazz and Quiet Storm radio stations in 1991, it certainly could have gained strong airplay and probably would still garner spins today thanks to the ahead-of-its-time subject matter.  The instrumental here is an intelligent one, opening with storm sound effects and clips of weather forecasts before melting into a mesmerizing groove made up of a bouncy bassline and “falling rain” keyboards.  Diana’s vocal performance here is far superior to most of her work through the 1980s and would stand as one of her best of the 1990s, too; she is relaxed and completely on-point with her interpretation of the lyrics, which echo those of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” a connection that further strengthens this album’s ties to Miss Ross’s classic Motown days.  She even gets to do a little scatting at the 4:00 mark; it’s nice to hear her be loose and inventive in front of the microphone.  It’s not really surprising that Diana Ross would be successful with a song like this, given her history with jazz music dating back to 1972’s Lady Sings The Blues; what’s really surprising is that she didn’t record more like it.  The sound she creates on this track really is magic.  (NOTE: Sembello also recorded his own version of “Heavy Weather,” including it on 1992’s Caravan Of Dreams.)

6.  The Force Behind The Power:  When Diana Ross debuted this song on “The Arsenio Hall Show” on May 20, 1991, it was so new that the singer barely knew the words; she admitted during her chat with Hall that “I wasn’t sure that I could be ready, ’cause the band hadn’t really rehearsed it, I didn’t know the words, and you guys, the audience, made it work!”  Indeed, it was a terrific performance, during which the singer looked and sounded great; unfortunately, the buzz generated by the Hall appearance was lost by the time the album finally became available four months later.  During her interview segment with Mr. Hall, Diana discussed at length her determination to record an original song by Stevie Wonder, so great that she held up her entire album to allow Wonder time to finish it; at the time, Stevie was working with director Spike Lee on the film Jungle Fever, and he produced the song long-distance for Diana from France.  The singer openly compared the finished recording to her early hits “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” due to its inspirational message; the lyrics here speak of “love, pure love” being the true force behind everything good in the world.  The words are lovely, but are set to a hard-edged and sparse track consisting mainly of programmed percussion and an explosive gospel backgrounds produced by the Andrae Crouch Choir; it is, admittedly, an arrangement better suited to Wonder than to Ross, who generally works better surrounded by a lush and fuller musical accompaniment.  The song itself really doesn’t play to Diana’s strengths, either; the rapid-fire pace of some of the lyrics and the quickness of the note-jumping are techniques Wonder is a master at, whereas Diana can sometimes get a bit tripped up, and in a few instances her voice sounds a bit wobbly as she leaps to the required notes.  That said, “The Force Behind The Power” certainly does a better job of marrying Diana’s voice to a Hip hop beat than most of the songs from the singer’s previous album, 1989’s Workin’ Overtime, and it’s one that worked very well live during Diana’s successful tour promoting the album.  Had the song been serviced to R&B radio directly following the Arsenio Hall performance, it almost certainly would have gained strong soul airplay in the United States; unfortunately, Motown’s disorganization messed up any chance of that happening.  “The Force Behind The Power” was, however, released as a single internationally, and peaked #27 in the United Kingdom.

Jet: June 10, 1991

7.  Heart (Don’t Change My Mind):  Considering they’ve both been pop stars since the 1960s, it’s somewhat surprising how little crossover there’s been between the careers of Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand; although Ross recorded the songs from Streisand’s big Broadway and film hit Funny Girl in 1968 and both have worked with several of the same producers (Richard Perry, Barry Gibb, etc.), the two stars rarely enter the same corner of the music stratosphere.  This song is an unusual case of the women recording the same song; “Heart Don’t Change My Mind” (without the parentheses) was first recorded by Streisand for her 1984 Emotion LP, and was produced by Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White.  Interestingly, when the song was released by Streisand, songwriter Diane Warren was barely known; the following year, Warren would score a major hit with “Rhythm Of The Night,” recorded by DeBarge, and would then go on to unprecedented success with artists including Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, and LeAnn Rimes.  Warren co-wrote this tune with Robbie Buchanan, and it’s the kind of bittersweet pop ballad for which Warren would later become famous; the lyrics here seem to be a tentative take on Diana’s own 1980 hit “It’s My Turn,” written from the perspective of a woman who knows she must leave her lover, no matter how much her heart says otherwise.  Diana’s version, produced by Peter Asher, is almost identical to Streisand’s earlier recording; both are pure pop ballads featuring keyboards, big instrumental breaks, and tender lead vocals.  Frankly, both also happen to be a little slow and plodding; in the case of Diana’s version, there’s a plastic sheen to the production that keeps it from truly connecting in the way that the singer’s best ballads do.  What “Heart (Don’t Change My Mind)” lacks is a soulful edge; even in something as big and glossy as “It’s My Turn,” there’s a grit around the edges that helps ground the ballad and keep it from becoming too syrupy and sweet.  It’s not a bad recording by any means, but it’s one of the least memorable on the album; thankfully, Diana would team up with Diane Warren later in the decade with better results (on 1999’s Every Day Is A New Day). The song did gain fans internationally, however; released as a single by EMI, it peaked at #31 in the United Kingdom, adding to Diana’s striking tally of five Top 40 hits from the album.

8.  Waiting In The Wings:  This song would be released as the third and final single from the album in the United States; in a bizarre move, Motown remixed the song, then released it commercially only as a cassette single, although promo copies do exist on CD and vinyl.  The new version didn’t even chart, marking a sad end to Motown’s push (or lack thereof) for The Force Behind The Power in Diana’s home country.  The strange thing is that the song didn’t need a remix; the album version of “Waiting In The Wings” is a pleasant, shuffling R&B tune that’s another nice example of Diana giving the kind of classy, adult performance that was largely lacking on her previous studio album.  Her voice sounds as good here as it does on any other track on the album; her clear, bell-like tone is front and center and she delivers the performance of a confident and seasoned vocalist.  The track itself is fairly low-key; written by prolific musicians Andy Hill and Pete Sinfield, it’s set to gently swaying beat and boasts some terrific lyrics (“When your heart is weary/When you want a love with no strings/I will be here waiting/Waiting in the wings”).  Diana is backed by a warm choir of soulful voices, which nicely enhance her own relaxed performance, and there’s a great guitar solo which helps lend the recording a little extra shot of energy.  Back to the lead vocal, Diana adds in some really fresh vocal flourishes and reaches up to some high notes, which she nails; “Waiting In The Wings” is another song that Diana performed live during her Here And Now World Tour, and it translated to her live act extremely well, particularly with the addition of an a cappella breakdown toward the end.  “Waiting In The Wings” is a great addition to the album and is perfect as it is, but is probably too low-key to have been a successful single.  Unfortunately, the released single remix in 1992 didn’t help; it gives the song a more pronounced groove, and robs it of any warmth or charm.  (NOTE: Danish singer Hanne Boel covered the song on her 1994 album Misty Paradise with a really nice pop-rock arrangement; it’s worth checking out.)

Billboard: July 11, 1992

9.  One Shining Moment:  If Motown was determined to score a hit ballad on Diana Ross in the vein of then-current releases by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, this is the song it should have pushed; not only is it the best love ballad on the disc, it’s also one of the great vocal performances of Diana’s solo career.  A more focused and accessible ballad than “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” it might have gained some pop traction in America had it followed an organized campaign for a strong opening single (like “Change Of Heart”).  Written by singer-songwriter Vaneese Thomas, “One Shining Moment” is extremely catchy and relatable; the words of the chorus (“You’re my one shining moment/You are all my dreams come true”) are a natural soundtrack for weddings and anniversary parties, and the melody is memorable and an easy one with which to sing along.  But the real reason for the recording’s success is Diana’s sterling vocal performance; her voice is warm and appealing on the verses and her phrasing on the choruses is genius, as she punches the words just a touch, keeping them simple and sweet, precisely what the lyrics call for.  Of course, the song’s greatest thrill comes as Miss Ross hits the bridge, right at the three-minute mark; her voice soars as she sings, “I wake up with you on my mind/You light up my day,” and continues to build until the climactic moment when she remarkably stretches up an entire octave during the word “say.”  It’s a great moment, and a demonstration of range and power that most casual fans and critics are completely unaware of.  There are those who will forever compare Diana to singers like Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, soulful ladies with a completely different approach to singing when compared to Miss Ross; this, however, is a case of Diana unleashing her voice in exactly the same way that Aretha or Patti would, and doing it just as well.  Had this song been released as a single in the United States and been at least somewhat of a hit, it might have gotten her a Grammy nomination; it certainly should have.  At least it became another international hit for the singer; released overseas by EMI, it peaked at #10 in the United Kingdom over the summer of 1992, and reached the Top 20 in Ireland.  For those who still mistakenly believe that Diana’s voice “limited” in range and ability, this song is definitive proof that when it comes to really connecting to a lyric and giving the song what it required in terms of vocal performance, there is nobody better than Diana Ross.

10.  You’re Gonna Love It:  This song was lifted as the album’s second single in the United States and given several remixes; although it didn’t gain any significant pop or R&B airplay, it did peak at #24 on the Dance Club Play listing in February of 1992, spending a total of eight weeks on that chart.  Written by producer Lloyd Tolbert and singer Cydney Davis, this is a beat-heavy slice of New Jack swing that sounds much closer in spirit to the material of Diana’s 1989 LP Workin’ Overtime than anything on this album; the fact that it’s tacked on toward the end makes it feel even more out-of-place on The Force Behind The Power.  Chances are Motown and/or Diana worried about the abundance of Adult Contemporary material recorded for the album and wanted something a bit more youth-oriented and harder-edged to balance it out; in that respect, “You’re Gonna Love It” is fairly successful.  As with the material from Diana’s previous album, the track emphasizes beat over melody, which means it doesn’t require much of Miss Ross; she does, however, sound great, offering up a sexy and breathy performance with some nice moments of power.  During live performances of the song, Diana’s band lent the track a nice funky edge, giving “You’re Gonna Love It” a bit more life; that said, its limited melody is even more apparent when Diana is joined by a jamming live group of musicians.  In the end, the song works fine as a piece of album filler, even if it doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the material, but Motown had much better options for single release; Workin’ Overtime had already proved that radio wasn’t particularly interested in Diana Ross imitating the sound of younger acts.

11.  If We Hold On Together:  Listed as a “bonus track” on the American CD release of The Force Behind The Power, “If We Hold On Together” had actually been recorded back in 1988 as the theme song to the animated feature film The Land Before Time.  Released as a single, it inexplicably failed to gain pop airplay, although it did peak at #23 on the Adult Contemporary chart in January of 1989.  The song did, however, become a massive #1 hit in Japan, and when it was re-released in the United Kingdom in 1992, riding the wave of  The Force Behind The Power‘s success, it reached #11 there, one of the album’s five Top 40 singles.  Although the song pre-dated the rest of the songs on the album by several years, it’s a good fit here; written by James Horner and Will Jennings (the men who would go on to write the theme to James Cameron’s box office smash Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On”), this is a lovely pop ballad seemingly tailor-made for Diana Ross.  As on the album’s other ballads, Diana sounds completely in command here, offering up a warm and well-rounded performance, her voice particularly crisp and bell-like on the opening verse; the instrumental track, meanwhile, is appropriately cinematic, surrounding the singer with a swirling orchestra.  Considering The Land Before Time was a hit at the box office, opening at #1 in its first weekend in theatres, it’s strange that “If We Hold On Together” didn’t perform better in the United States; reviews for the song were also strong, with Peter Fawthrop calling it “a soaring, splendid ballad” in his AllMusic review.  Still, it’s a song that’s fondly remembered all over the world, and it’s one that Miss Ross has included in her live shows off-and-on over the years; some of those performances are among the best of her career.  At the top of the list is her performance of “If We Hold On Together” at the Tokyo Dome in 1998, as part of a Motown 40th Anniversary Festival.  After finishing a superb rendition of the song, Miss Ross begins singing it again a cappella, holding her hand to the band behind her, halting their playing so that just her voice echoes through the dome.  She then commands the audience to begin singing with her, and it does; suddenly, the soft voices of the crowd are carrying the song through to its end, breathtaking in beauty and delicacy.  It’s a masterful moment that reveals once again what a skillful live performer Diana Ross really is, and also reveals the true power of the song; any piece of music that can drive that kind of magical moment must be a powerful one, regardless of chart statistics or sales figures.

You And I:  This song was only included on the international EMI release of The Force Behind The Power; it’s a pretty, meandering ballad that allows Miss Ross to demonstrate her skill at gliding up and down a melody.  The song was written by Joe Galdo, Lawrence Dermer, and Rafael Vigil; known as “the Three Jerks,” the trio wrote and produced most of the material on the albums Primitive Love and Let It Loose by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.  There’s not really a strong hook here, nor much of a refrain, but the recording works as something loose and free-flowing; it’s not far removed from some of the quiet ballads released by Janet Jackson around that time, and there are even shades of Sade’s cool and unforced vibe.  It’s a great song for Diana’s voice, which sounds as smooth and commanding as ever; as the song switches between major and minor keys, the singer effortlessly moves along with it, showcasing warm and strength.  It’s likely that “You And I” was left off of the American release of Diana’s album because it was already so ballad-heavy; certainly the deletion of the song doesn’t hurt the overall project.  But as part of the extended overseas release, it’s a pleasant addition that showcases the singer in fine voice.

No Matter What You Do:  This song was also left off of the American release of The Force Behind The Power, although fans in the United States were able to hear it on the radio in early 1991.  A duet with popular singer Al B. Sure!, the song was the second single released from his album Private Times…And The Whole 9! (the first single, “Misunderstanding,” topped the R&B chart in late 1990).  A stirring Quiet Storm ballad, “No Matter What You Do” was a solid follow-up, and it peaked at #4 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, spending a total of 14 weeks on the listing and becoming Diana’s 11th most successful song on that chart as a solo artist.  The fact that the song missed the Billboard Hot 100 might seem disappointing in retrospect, but it’s not a big surprise; Al B. Sure! had always enjoyed far stronger success on the R&B side than he ever did at pop radio, and Ross had unfairly “aged out” of the pop market by the time, as proven by her past several releases.  Thankfully, R&B radio programmers weren’t turning their backs on seasoned entertainers, meaning “No Matter What You Do” still gained plenty of fans.  The song is slow and sensual, its sound described at the time by People magazine as “pure aural aphrodisia,” and it gives Diana the chance to really sink into the material with a simmering performance that ranks among her sexiest ever.  Al B. Sure! also sounds fantastic, his smooth voice generating real heat and perfectly complementing Diana’s soulful vocal; although many likely viewed the pairing as an unlikely one (rumor has it Diana’s daughters were big fans of the male singer), it works beautifully thanks to a shared approach to the material.  If there’s an issue here, it’s that the song isn’t a terribly memorable one; it lacks a strong hook, and the lyrics are meaningless (“If we take our time/I know you’ll be mine/If we were to share/Our love would always be there”).  Still, the chemistry between Sure! and Ross make this a worthy addition to Diana’s list of previous duets; she sounds as impassioned here as she did on “All Of You” (with Julio Iglesias) and far more engaged than on almost anything she recorded with Marvin Gaye.  It’s a song that deserves a little more attention than it generally gets amongst Ross fans, and it certainly deserved a spot on all releases of The Force Behind The Power.

***

Finally released in September of 1991, The Force Behind The Power became another commercial disappointment for Diana Ross in her home country; it peaked at #102 on the Billboard 200, spending only three short weeks on the chart, and managed a dismal peak of #66 on the R&B Albums chart.  Despite a successful tour and high-profile appearances on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” a disorganized marketing campaign by Motown and the album’s endless delays killed any chance it had of reversing the singer’s post-RCA chart fortunes.  But the question remains, had Motown given the album a clear and focused across-the-board push, could The Force Behind The Power really have become a major hit for Diana Ross?  The sad reality is that American radio programmers had long been reluctant to support new releases from seasoned entertainers; it’s the rare exception when an artist remains commercially viable over several decades, and rarer still when that artist is female and/or African-American.  In other countries, where this isn’t the case, the high quality of The Force Behind The Power was recognized and celebrated, resulting in several hit singles.

The good news is that The Force Behind The Power has aged extremely well; it’s an album that still sounds good today, and is a good record of what Miss Ross was still capable of 30 years into her recording career.  Though the album plays it a little too safe at times, and a few songs lack some needed edge, Diana always sounds engaged and well-suited to the material.  Only those with a strong bias against Diana Ross could listen to songs like “Change Of Heart” and “One Shining Moment” and not admit that there’s a huge amount of skill and talent evident there; these songs are among the best of her solo output, and are as good as anything hitting radio in 1991.  Of course, that skill and talent would be on even better display with Diana’s next studio album for Motown, 1995’s Take Me Higher, which would be the crowning achievement of her second stint with Motown; until then, The Force Behind The Power would serve as a huge improvement over much of what Miss Ross had been recording over the past several years.

Final Analysis:  4.5 /5 (A “Shining Moment” For Diana)

Paul’s Picks:  “Change Of Heart,” “One Shining Moment,” “Heavy Weather”

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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69 Responses to The Force Behind The Power (1991)

  1. Tony says:

    Yes ! Diana begins to shine for me at this time! I really liked the album. I felt like she was being true to herself and her voice again. Do you recall when your folks start to struggle with being cool ,and go off and do things they think will keep them hip? Well that is what Diana was like to me through the last few albums. Diana has returned home on this album ….. not just to the label (Motown), but to her true “voice.” Just like when your folks — realize its time to act their age!!!!!

    I love how she sounds on this album- her voice is rich with emotion and she sounds authentic and pure. I think the lack of energy – i seem to be detecting is merely her lack of confidence. It has been years — since she had received “rave reviews” for pretty much anything. Her image in the U.S and in Canada was a complete and utter mess- portrayed as a silly “Diva.” I think this took a real toll on her and how she projected.

    LOVE — Change of Heart and One Shinning Moment (especially the live version). Blame it on the Sun – is stunning for me ( yet I agree the intro is weak). I actually mix this version with the George Michael version and they sound stunning together!! The rich instrumentals of his version — match Diana voice amazingly well. Yet her phrasing is superb – over his !

    When YouTell Me …feels campy to me … a little to sugary and over gushy. All be it , she sounds excellent and the arrangement is elegant. I say her preform this song live – here in Toronto. She sang it outdoors—- and the audience jumped to their feet when she hit the climax of this song !! it was breath taking!

    With out a doubt….. this album was a salute to her older fan base …. a sort of ‘reach out’ as if to say she missed us as well. The older fans …. also began to “come home!”

    • Paul says:

      Intersting idea that the lack of energy at times could be releated to Miss Ross’s confidence. If that’s true, it’s sad, since a woman of her talents and amazing career should never have a crisis of confidence!

      • Tony says:

        I think she was taking a real beating. Even as a strong talented woman, she was not immune to the harsh character assignation she received. I really feel that her bad press – clogged the ears of many – who refused to “hear” her gifts!!! I think her lack of mega hits also weighed on her heavily. Staying on top can be very stressful for a persons ego.

  2. Dominic says:

    I’m really excited to read this review, because I’ve never listened to this album before! I have only heard the title track. Now I know I have something great to look forward to. You are a terrific and very natural music critic!

    • Paul says:

      Oh my gosh! In a way, I’m jealous — how great to get to discover this music all over again 🙂 Let us know your thoughts when you listen to it — I think you’ll be very happy with a lot the songs and performances here!

  3. Lawrence says:

    I still remember when this album came out – record stores had it displayed in their windows and it was such a relief to see such a pretty cover photo of Diana after that unfortunate Workin’ Overtime shot.

    It’s too bad that Motown didn’t seem to have the influence it used to at this time, since there were indeed plenty of hit singles on this album (if marketed correctly). I am not sure I agree that “Change of Heart” would have been the pop smash; it certainly could have done well on AC. I believe part of the problem here was that there wasn’t a clear first single at all.

    I remember reading that “When you tell me that you Love Me” was the first single, but then Diana performed the title track instead on Arsenio, which was confusing. Perhaps, if she has done the previous song on all her TV appearances, the public would have requested it more?

    Frankly, “One Shining Moment”, “Heavy Weather, and “Battlefield” are my favorite tracks on this album and all could have been very successful on radio at the time….if Arista had released this album, I bet Diana would have enjoyed top ten singles again.

    • Paul says:

      I don’t know — I can just “hear” the hit in “Change Of Heart” — I really believe with the right campaign, it could have been THE song to push this album stateside. I’m glad you like “Heavy Weather,” too — it really is a great, underappreciated song and performance.

      • Tony says:

        Totally with you on “Change of Heart.” It is so relatable – catchy and- sticks in your head when you hear it . If it had been put out there— that song would have hit ! FOR SURE!

  4. spookyelectric says:

    I’ve got to say I never liked this album. Yes, Diana sounds comfortable. Yes, it was a huge ‘comeback’ hit. But it’s all just kind of dull.

    I totally understand why they went in this smooth MOR direction. Commercially it makes sense – her biggest hits since originally leaving Motown were the retro pastiche ‘Chain Reaction’ and the twinkly saccharine ballad ‘If We Hold On Together’ – pretty much the blue prints for this album. And it works very successfully on that level. You can’t argue with the sales – it’s actually her most successful solo (non-compilation) album ever in the UK (platinum plus). I just feel there’s no fire here. I’d much rather listen to ‘Eaten Alive’ or ‘Red Hot Rhythm & Blues’ or any number of her 80s albums. They may have generally been more uneven (you can’t fault ‘Force’ for consistency) but the peaks beat everything on here I think.

    I don’t mean to slam the record. Actually I really like ‘Heavy Weather’ and ‘You & I’ a lot. But generally there’s passion missing from this project – or maybe more precisely – soul. Diana had done smooth and slick before (say the brilliant ‘Baby It’s Me’) but she’d always been soulful. That’s what’s missing here.

    Take ‘Blame It On The Sun’. I really feel I ought to love this – after all it’s a masterclass in songwriting – but the production and performance somehow leave me a little cold. This should have been a ‘Summertime’ moment for Diana but it falls a little flat. (By the way, if you want to hear a great version of that song look for Syreeta’s version).

    And the title track. Finally Stevie is producing Diana! This should be wonderful – one of the landmark recordings of her career. But let’s face it, it isn’t. Yes there are things to admire (the backing vocal arrangements are fantastic) but it’s not a top drawer Wonder song and Diana actually sound strained at times as the melody runs away from her.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was pleased for Diana’s success with this album. It was great to see her have hit after hit single off it (four UK top 40s – her most ever from one album). ‘One Shining Moment’ is very pleasant in a swaying, lighters-in-the-air way and of course she looks amazing in the video. But that’s really sums it up for me – pleasant – but no passion.

    • Paul says:

      I get what you’re saying — I think the “dull” you’re hearing is the “lack of fire” I’m feeling on certain songs. For me, though, this doesn’t sink the album — the songs and performances are strong enough that I think they carry this proejct. Of course, “Take Me Higher” in 1995 would achieve the perfect balance of classy, adult productions and relevant material that she’d been going for…in a way, this album is like a “trial run” for that superior one to come.

  5. wayne2710 says:

    I sort of understand where you’re coming from Spooky, but I have to be totally honest, I LOVE this album ! I think playing safe was probably her best option,and it certainly paid off. Her voice entered a new phase – warmer, richer and her singing sounds effortless on these songs- and that is what they are – SONGS, with great lyrics and melody. I believe almost every track could have been a hit single, with the possible exception of You and I, and I just loved her concerts around this period too. BTW there were 5 UK top 40 hits on this not 4.
    Paul I believe this album was the one that made it possible for her to extend her career to infinity with it no longer being an issue whether her homeland were buying her or not. If We Hold On and When You Tell Me are two of the biggest selling singles of her career on a global scale, and , just like Chain Reaction, they never made the US top 40, and somehow it didn’t seem to matter any more. She belonged to the world, and her career was no longer defined by her success in the States. Sure it would be wonderful if she could have one more US top 10 hit, and it must be frustrating for her, but the fact is she remains a successful selling artist all over western Europe to Japan and the far east.
    My own personal favourites are One Shining Moment and Waiting in the Wings, but really I don’t believe there to be a single bad note on the whole album (Well okay , that bum piano at the start of If We Hold On is kind of strange !!)

    • Paul says:

      Wayne — I think you’re absolutely right — with this work, Ross’s career far transcended the states, and her global success ensured that she would always have places to perform and fans to buy her albums. Her amazing success around the world has allowed her to escape ever being thought of as an “oldies” artist.

      • Tony says:

        Exactly… as harsh as I am with her experimenting and her 80’s albums(RCA) … it is what kept her fresh and controversial enough to reach other successes around the world! It also gave her another “act.” a sound which returns to her roots. No where more evident than on the next album TMH!!!! The ultimate album for me !!!!

    • spookyelectric says:

      Hi Lawrence – agree with you about considering Diana’s career on a global level. After the mid-80s her pop career was steadily on the decline in the US while in the rest of the world she was still seen as a huge superstar – with a huge hit single every now and again to prove it.

      What I don’t understand – is exactly what was going on in the US charts and why. At this stage, although she hadn’t had a pop hit for years she still was scoring top 5 R&B hits (the Al B Sure duet followed ‘Workin’ Overtime’ from a few years previous). A lot of people have put it down to bad song choices, poor promotion, her ‘image’ problem, the rise of new voices like Whitney etc. I wonder if the perception of Diana with R&B audiences in the US was different perhaps, or if she was promoted differently in that market or what?

      I actually prefer ‘No Matter What You Do’ to most of the tracks on the album – Diana sounds current, sexy, engaged. No sure how appropriate it was her singing with a young R&B guy half her age but what the hell. I’m surprised she didn’t do more hook-ups with hot artists of the day afterwards – especially as she was part of the Motown stable again and acts like Boyz II Men and Johnny Gill were exploding at the time.

      • Tony says:

        I think what was going on is exactly ….. “bad song choices, poor promotion, her ‘image’ problem, the rise of new voices like Whitney etc. ” coupled with Diana not always being easy to manage in the 80’s and early 90’s. What I do celebrate now is ….those songs choices now sound quit good, where are those “new” voices today and her image of late has been much better thanks to Opra and Barbra Walters. Diana,s done amazingly well. What a legend. I too Ike NMWYD. Very sexy in a cougarish kinda way!

      • Paul says:

        lol Tony — I’d never though of “No Matter…” as a “Cougar anthem” before 🙂 Spooky — it is strange that Diana was never teamed with Boyz II Men on Motown. In the mid 90s, pretty much everything they released went to #1, and their collaboration with Mariah Carey became the longest-running #1 in history. Diana Ross seems a natural to have recorded with the group, and I think their voices would have blended well.

  6. spookyelectric says:

    You would have thought it was an obvious direction to go in – considering the R&B market was the one area she was still having decent size US hits. Pairing Diana with some of the young hot Motown acts of the day could have introduced her to a whole new audience. Maybe the idea was suggested by Diana wasn’t interested. Plus of course she was doing better than she had for years everywhere else with her new MOR sound.

  7. markus says:

    I’ve been traveling the last 24 hours on business ( just got to Dallas, a long way from home) and all Ive been thinking about is this album!!! lol glad I have a moment finally to reply.
    I gotta say, my feelings run about halfway between Spooky’s and everyone else’s. I bought it not long after it came out, was initially disappointed, grew to love it…but it really hasn’t aged well with me. I see everyone loves it, but it’s so…pedestrian. And much of that is due to the antiseptic-doesn’t-describe-it production. It saps most of the songs of any edge they might’ve had. Its downright nauseating at times!
    I like “Change of Heart” and I think Diana is dynamite on it but I don’t hear “hit single” (outside of AC radio) because of that dull-as-dishwater production. It’s inoffensively tasteful to a fault. Them woodwinds on the hook? Sorry Paul, I dont hear this setting the charts on fire. MAYBE with a remix.
    “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”. Such a huge hit overseas. I loved this song as a 15 year old and now I rarely listen to it. Again the production (that guitar solo!) but honestly, Diana’s vocal is kind of all over the place. I don’t think she ever sang this better than she did on Top of the Pops. That vocal is truly mesmerizing. So much better than the record.
    My iphone is getting on my nerves ( and I don’t have my laptop) so i’ll cut this short. Dont get me wrong- the song selection on this album is impeccable and Diana for the most part sounds phenomenal. But the production sinks this. It’s generic adult contemporary mush at its most unimaginative.

    • spookyelectric says:

      I’ve listened to this album a few times this week just to check if I was missing something. Or at least to pinpoint more clearly what is it I find so uninspiring about the thing. (Though I actually can’t get through ‘Change Of Heart’ or ‘When You Tell Me’ without skipping to be honest). I think you’ve nailed it Marcus. It’s not the songwriting – generally that’s really good. It’s that damn limp production. Especially the Peter Asher tracks. Those sappy backing vocals and the suffocating politeness of everything.

      Take ‘Battlefield’. Of all the retro pastiches Diana recorded post ‘Chain Reaction’ it’s probably the best song in terms of lyric and interesting melody. But that production. Diana’s singing about ‘a love torn apart’ while the production has zero angst or drama. It drains all the blood out of it. She might as well be singing about having her nails done.

      And it’s not that I think Peter Asher is a bad producer. Not at all. He’s done great stuff with load of acts – 10,000 Maniacs, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor. Actually the Ronstadt ‘Cry Like A Rainstorm’ album – released just a couple of years before this – was absolutely one of my favourites of the era. But here the sheer beigeness of the production kills the record for me.

      The Al B Sure duet aside, which was never part of these sessions, the only tracks I really enjoy are ‘Heavy Weather’ and especially ‘You And I’ – though ‘Weather’ would be even better with a more dynamic production (and without those awful programmed drums and twinkly synths). ‘You And I’ has such an unusual meandering melody it’s actually quite unique in Diana’s catalogue.

      ‘You’re Gonna Love It’ is fun. It brings some much needed energy to the record (and works much better sequenced earlier as on the international CD version). It’s slight but cute – suits her better than most tracks on ‘Workin’ Overtime’ as you say Paul.

      And then the title track – that’s one of the ones I just keep going back to. It’s not one of Stevie’s classic compositions – obviously, given his unsurpassable track record – and again it’s mired by bad production. Not sappy AOR in Wonder’s case, but that clunky, over produced mechanical thing he was doing in the late 80s thru 90s. BUT the genius is there. That staccato backing vocal arrangement from the Andrae Crouch Choir is quite amazing. And Diana sounds more engaged (those ad-libs on the outro) here than any other track on the record. It’s a rare spark of soul on otherwise probably the most vanilla flavoured album of her career.

      • markus says:

        Oh, I’m totally with you Spooky! (love that username btw, as it conjures an image of my two favorite female singers, Dusty and Diana). I like Battlefield, Heavy Weather and One Shining Moment- because they’re actually very well written songs and Diana’s giving her all. The production keeps me from loving them. The bridge on Waiting in the Wings (“this time around i wont push for an answer…”) saves the song from being a total waste. I love the production on the remix- and the bridge sounds great on that version- but that version reinforces what was clear on the original- it just doesn’t have a strong chorus. I like You’re Gonna Love It! I could’ve done without the silly “doo-doo” refrain, but the rest is great, even the guy saying “so what you want me to do?” very cool. 😉
        I never associate If We Hold On Together or No Matter What You Do with the album, not only because they’re not on the US release but because they’re not even from the same sessions. It feels like they were tacked on (even if the former was also produced by Asher- it was over 3 years old at the time). You and I is such an unusually structured song, I can’t help but have a soft spot for it.
        I wonder what this album wouldve sounded like with a slightly more Quiet Storm edge instead of MOR mundaneness (is that a word?) with Babyface or early Nick Martinelli producing it (even Nick fell prey to adult contemporary excess as the decade wore on…)

  8. Billy says:

    Very interesting points brought up so far. I agree both with those who love the album, as well as with those who are more critical towards it, altough I lean more on the side of those who love it.

    Regarding the MOR sound and that sound being the main factor bringing down the whole project, I think it is half-way true since that was the premise of the album. It targets a whole different audience from, say, “Workin’ Overtime,” while it was a natural evolution for Diana as she was entering the fourth decade of her career. I don’t really mind the ‘predictability’ of the sound (or the more cheesy parts, like the guitar solos on “When You Tell Me” and “Blame It…”), as I think it is Diana at her best MOR, something that I can’t say about some of the new tracks on the “Forever Diana” box set. Those songs were too much in my opinion, since “Let’s Make Every Moment Count” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” clearly showed that Diana exhausted the AC vibe on “The Force Behind the Power” and should look for a new direction (which she did on “Take Me Higher”).

    That said, I LOVE “Waiting in the Wings”! Could be my favorite song on the album actually and definitely one my faves of hers. It is one of those songs that ‘titilate’ me in a way that I feel really emotional after listening to it, similar to “After You.” Also, “No Matter What You Do” is one sexy piece of work and easily puts me in ‘that’ mood! Those sighs, those harmonies, the pulsating R&B rhythm…makes me close my eyes and daydream.

    The title track is really one of the most untypical Diana and Stevie songs, yet maybe that’s why it works! I love it and though the production is dated, there is something unique about it. Again, I’m suprised that people love “One Shining Moment” so much! I like it, but not going crazy over it. There is a very elegant quality to it, but I can’t totally connect, altough I’ve grown to like more as years pass by. On the other hand, I could listen to “Change of Heart” over and over! Perfect song.

    Overall, this album is Diana Ross at her most accessible and was a great way to kick the 1990s. I have to say that I love 1990s music as I grew up with it, so even the more “1990s moments” don’t make me cringe. i think all of her 1990s albums are equally great and it is hard for me to choose one as her best of the decade.

    • spookyelectric says:

      I’m sure there were some anxious meetings at Motown with Diana’s management when this album was being conceived. It must have been frustrating that Diana hadn’t had a US pop hit for years – but she was still having sporadic but huge hits abroad. I’m sure there were a few questions around the boardroom table when she had the biggest selling pop single of all-time in Japan with MCA’s ‘If We Hold On Together’ while her Motown comeback album was bombing big time everywhere. I’d imagine the words ‘get that guy who did the Dinosaur song’ may have been uttered at some point!

      And of course it was a big hit commercially. Ironically everywhere except America. Like you say Billy, once that AC sound started selling they stuck with it with Diana’s releases – especially of course with the international-only releases that followed over the next few years.

      But personally I’m totally with you Marcus on imagining the possibility of what could have been if they’d gone in a more ‘quiet storm’ direction. As discussed before, the Al B Sure duet had been a big R&B hit in the US so I’m sure the option of pursuing this direction would have been considered. Maybe Motown weren’t convinced it had the necessary pop crossover potential they were aiming for. It is telling though that once that album campaign tanked in the US, Motown had Diana back in the studio recording an R&B remix of ‘Waiting In The Wings’ for a last ditch single release to save the project. I”m with you again on this one Marcus – it’s a big improvement on the album version. Diana’s vocals are so much better – sexy and a soulful in a way missing from the album.

      The potential to push things in that direction was all over this album – that’s what I find most frustrating about this album. It would have been great to hear ‘Heavy Weather’ break free of its AC clothing and get the jazz-inflected soul production it’s crying out for. This was the era after all when hot production teams like Jam & Lewis and LA & Babyface were at the top of their game, bringing a freshness and excitement to pop-R&B in a way that had been missing for years. Actually either of those teams no doubt could have handled a ‘Workin’ Overtime’ type project brilliant and reinvigorated Diana’s appeal to a whole new generation. But equally there an an opportunity at this point to mine that sultry slow jam side of their sound that was delivering success for the likes of Alexander O’Neal, Janet Jackson and Motown’s own Boyz II Men. Remember that debut Toni Braxton album LA & Babyface produced? How great would Diana have been in that kind of setting?

  9. chris meklis says:

    Spooky Diana WAS in ‘that kind of setting’ for her next album TMH and still the US didn’t buy it. By this stage- she could do no right- damned if you do damned if you don’t…even where her fans are concerned- like we’ve learned this through how divided we all can be over her varying styles and albums and releases…
    she just happens to be the kind of star that does the whole myriad of genres and depending on our mood and how well executed as well as the timing of a particular release (esp. Stateside) it either bombed or was a critical and commercial success.
    Unfortunately it must be brought up again that US radio were simply not at all interested- and nor was Motown- I doubt there were ever any decent boardroom meetings as someone earlier wrote, and if there were, then what the hell were they talking about, because promotional plans were all over the place (instead of focused ala EMI’s style), and shoddy at best!
    I really blame Motown- it was not the same company by the time Diana came back. What she wanted to go back to them for I cannot fathom (unless there were no other offers)- They have all but trashed her sales career in America- the very company she helped build.

    Whenever there was a surefire sign that Diana’s popularity was increasing due to a major appearance (think Superbowl for TMH), think (Arsenio Hall or Johnny Carson for this album) they were caught dropping the ball- nowhere to be found was the single version of I will Survive or Take me higher after Superbowl and as for this album- it was not available after either of her promotional TV appearances!

    The same thing happened with Working Overtime- Her post Oscar interview with Barbara Waters (where she spoke of the new album and new Motown contract) was so highly publicized and received top ratings on the tv network, but next day or during that week following the appearance- NO album available!!!

    This poor woman by the time this album came out in 91 probably was so exasperated she really didn’t know what to do or what styles to pursue and probably briefed the producers to play it safe here…
    Of course internationally, whether fans liked it or not, the music and the star were properly and respectfully (as should have been in States) publicized by EMI and UK radio and the hits that this and the next album churned churned out are proof thereof.

    Sorry for my rant- but I get so frustrated.
    As for my opinion of this album…well it’s all the previous takes on it by other members here mashed together.
    It is safe and MOR enough not to offend or be a difficult listen, and when I’m in the mood- I really enjoy it.

    Her live readings of WYTMTYLM are superior to the record itself as she injects a reserved tenderness.
    It’s the kind of album that rarely appears on fans’ top five album list…too pedestrian to stay etched in our minds when we vote? Maybe 🙂

    • markus says:

      Chris- I totally get what you’re saying…but I think we have to keep in mind timing. Yes, TMH was “that kind of album”. But it was 4 whole years later, an eternity in the music world. Had an album of the same caliber as TMH came out in 1989 (instead of WO), the story may be very different now. That was the last time Motown put its full promotional muscle behind a Diana release, and the last time one of her releases garnered her heavy publicity. Yes, she suffered from bad press from Mary and J. Randy’s books, but with a substantial release AT THAT POINT, she may have possibly counteracted it all. That didn’t happen. R&B radio was still playing her, but this album (TFBTP) did nothing to help her with R&B audiences. And after this release the live jazz album (no singles) and the boxed set (one US single which was DOA). By the time TMH finally arrived, it was just too late. Everyone except her hardcore fans had moved on. It’s all very regrettable, but that’s the way it unfolded.

  10. Tony says:

    Wow – EXCELLENT points Chris. Thank you. i agree with much and especially that she was in the “can do No right ” stage at this point of her career. She really mis -managed her image which translated into a a lack of respect for her as a person. I recall thinking Diana took the high road when the Mary Wilson book came out. BUT looking back … I think Diana should have come out swinging and fought back—- I think her image after that book really suffered. And people buy music from people they like !!!!!

    I do think at this stage Diana needed safe …. she could not afford any more experiments and trend setting initiatives. People needed to hear “DIANA ROSS” again.

    • Paul says:

      Tony — I’m with you — Diana needed to do classic Diana again, and she did it well here. It’s not a perfect album, and she would FAR surpass it with her next studio effort for Motown, but this was a solid way to kick off the ’90s and prove that she still had the pipes to sell R&B/pop music well.

    • markus says:

      I agree with you and Paul, Tony. Diana did need to get back to basics. and while this album is certainly a step in the right direction, she would’ve benefited from a producer who could strike a balance between Diana’s soul/jazz side and pop side (a balance she hadn’t really captured well since Baby It’s Me and The Boss, to be honest). This album just comes off as too much of one side. For those who love Diana just doing sedate pop ballads, this is great. But for anyone wanting some spice with it, theyre left out in the cold.

      I think we’re all waiting for the TMH review… Then most of us will likely be in agreement again! 😉

      • Paul says:

        Actually, “Take Me Higher” will only be getting a 1/5 — I think it’s her worst album ever.

        Kidding 🙂

    • chris meklis says:

      Thanks Tony!
      I however don’t think she mid-managed her image as much as the bad press from the books. I don’t know what do you think?

  11. markus says:

    I’ve been wanting to post this for days!!! I heard this performance of WYTMTYLM from TOTP and was completely floored. Listen to the way she wraps her voice around the lyrics in the chorus, the phrasing, and how she handles the big “In a world without you…” change. It’s gorgeous, and if they ever release a DVD of her live solo performances, this is a must to include.

    • Paul says:

      WOOOOOOW! Never seen this before. She is amazing. When she is “on” and feeling it, man…there is nobody better. Once again, proof of her power and skill as a vocalist. People who write her off have no idea what she is capable of.

  12. Tony says:

    Stunning ! Love it !!! – she nails it…. and she knows it. I can see her pride ! THANK YOU for sharing.

  13. spookyelectric says:

    Another thought on this album – does it strike anyone odd that Diana would cover a song strongly associated with Barbra Streisand?

    Commercially the song makes sense of course – Diane Warren was firmly established as a pretty bankable hit maker by this point and ‘Heart Don’t Change My Mind’ was a solid radio-friendly power ballad of the type Whitney, Natalie, you name it, were having major hits with at the time.

    But given the supposed history of Streisand/Ross rivalry it seems strange that she would choose that particular Warren song. Maybe she wasn’t aware of its history or not as bothered as certain parties would have led us to believe. According to Randy Tambourine – although to be fair, he’s been known to take, let’s say, a little dramatic licence with the truth when it stands in the way of a juicier read – Diana wouldn’t even allow Barbra’s name to be spoken around her at a certain point. The supposed rivalry ran way back to Berry Gordy’s desire in mould Diana into ‘the Black Streisand’ – the ultimate crossover star and I’m pretty sure Diana hadn’t been anywhere near Streisand material since the Supremes’ Funny Girl tribute album in the late 60s.

    • Paul says:

      Spooky– perhaps she just didn’t realize who’d previously recorded the song?? Who knows. If there really is a weird “rivalry” it’s a shame. Diana’s work on “Funny Girl,” by the way, is breathtaking — the album may have been taken as a joke by the public, but Diana’s vocal work is some of her best ever on it!

      • wayne2710 says:

        Agree with you there Paul, Funny Girl is one of Diana’s best vocal performances.

      • Tony says:

        Paul! I would listen to the Diana Funny Girl album over and over. It was magic to me. Her voice blew me away. The tone and suppleness of her voice on that album help shape ans sophisticate my tastes an a young boy. One of her best albums- without a doubt.

      • Julius Maloney says:

        I was so excited to find the vinyl of Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing & Perform Funny Girl. Even then I knew it was a rare find. Being a massive Barbra fan I was very wary of the record but as I’d loved the GIT on Broadway Leading Lady medley from the TV special I was pretty positive that Miss Ross would do the show justice, which she absolutely does!

      • Paul says:

        Julius — can’t wait until the day we get “Funny Girl” in a beautifully-packaged CD — I hope it’s coming!!!

    • wayne2710 says:

      I wasn’t aware of Babs’ version of Heart until after Diana’s, in fact the only version I’d ever heard previously was by Elaine Paige. I doubt if Diana really cared who had recorded it previously to her, it was just a ‘good song’ to her. Your comments about Randy Terriblenelli are spot on, I doubt if he ever let the truth get in the way of his gossip ! I remember when Diana had her BBC radio 2 show around the time of Every Day, she played Streisand and praised her to the heavens on it, which she wouldn’t have done if she genuinely didn’t like her.

      • markus says:

        I agree, Wayne- while I have no doubt Diana had Streisandesque ambitions (and with Diana’s talent, why not?) during their very formative years (60’s and 70’s), I doubt by this time it mattered much to Diana that it was a cover. The production on “Heart (Don’t Change My Mind)” is actually one of the better ones on the album, so i’m glad she included it.

        Of course if it was a song people REALLY associate with Streisand (like Evergreen or The Way We Were) then she might’ve been more apprehensive.

        As for the Funny Girl album, i think it does highlight Diana’s youthful ambition; at the same time, that ambition pushes her to do some of the best vocal work of the first phase of her career. Certainly the most underrated.

      • spookyelectric says:

        I wasn’t aware of the radio show. That’s very telling, I think – and definitely more reliable than the pages of a Randy Tortellini book! Do you remember what else she played Wayne? I’m intrigued.

        Of course there was another song that shares history with both Barbra and Diana – ‘Stoney End’. I’m pretty Diana recorded her version of the Laura Nyro classic several months before Barbra – it was part of producer Bone Howes’ sessions for her 1970 solo debut that were shelved at the time (and wisely replaced by Ashford & Simpson). Diana’s version is actually quite lovely.

        Barbra recorded it months later with Richard Perry (who of course later helmed ‘Baby It’s Me’ for Diana) and it became a huge pop hit for her in 1971 – much younger and hipper than the sound she’d been associated with in the 60s.

        With getting all Randy T about it, I wouldn’t blame her if she was a little peeved about that!

      • wayne2710 says:

        I was thinking of Stoney End too Spooky, and yes pretty certain Diana recorded it first, could have even been written for her- especially with the line about ‘lovelight in his eyes’ a direct reference to the Supremes first top 40 hit. As for the radio shows there were six hour long shows broadcast in 1999 around the release of Every Day is a New Day. I taped them but passed them on long ago. They were interesting though. I remember her talking at length as to how disappointed she was that she couldn’t get permission to release a duet with Brandy (Love is all that matters ??) and she played most of the usual suspects from her life, Marvin , Smokey etc etc. One cute moment was right at the start of the first show when she introduced herself and said “You may call me Miss Ross !” then started laughing and quickly said ” Oh No ! Call me Diana, PLEASE call me Diana !” Referring to Babs she played something, can’t remember what now, and went on to talk about her being one of her favourite singers and how she is so unfairly criticised about her work as a film producer/director, saying words to the effect that the ‘business’ doesn’t like it when women take control of their careers and how they can’t get support the way men do. Which I guess she wasn’t just talking about Barbra but about her own experiences too. But of course back in the world we live in none of these type of Diana moments get repeated, her humour, her real thoughts, because it is so much easier for media types to keep on repeating crap about her, whether it be true or total fabrication.

  14. spookyelectric says:

    Thanks for that Wayne – sounds brilliant. Love that jokey ‘You may call me Miss Ross’ line! Wish I’d heard about it at the time.

  15. Julius Maloney says:

    What I find really interesting reading through the latter album entries here is that outside the US each of these discs had pretty significant successes through Europe or on the R&B and Dance charts.

    Perhaps being an Australian fan and a kid of the Eighties maybe my take on these more recent releases is a bit different. It was those RCA and second round Motown releases that resonated with me as a fan. Especially ‘The Force Behind the Power’ I always thought of Miss Ross as the big balladeer & those two songs ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ & ‘If We Hold On Together’ were iconic tracks forever identified with her.

    It is a big world (as someone previously stated) and I think the lack of big hits in the white bread US pop charts is more a reflection of its narrow field of vision rather than a reflection of the product. The fact that Diana still had Top 10 hits with most of her LP releases across R&B/Hip Hop (with ‘I Love You’ most recently charting at #16 in 2007, or ‘Blue’ charting at #6 on the Jazz charts in 2006), Dance or World charts. It seems that because each of these charts reflects the taste of ‘marginal’ listeners (black, gay or foreign respectivly) it is easy to dismiss success in these markets. Markets known to remain more loyal to artists that continually deliver (as is the case with Diana). Maybe because Diana never figured mammothly on the Oz charts (outside of Chain Reaction) maybe I’m happy to take wins wherever I find them…?

    As I learn more about those albums I have loved forever, or those that I am trying to better know. I am continually surprised & pleased to learn how successful & well recieved much of The Boss’ output has been. Most often by those folks I respect the most!

    Forgive the diatribe so early in our acquaintance… 😉

    • Paul says:

      lol…I totally get what you’re saying. I think because Miss Ross had such a hugely successful career on the pop charts from 1964-1984, everything that came after was unfaily judged in the United States, and held against that high standard. I also appreciate that Diana’s albums were still charting on multiple formats and doing well on charts like jazz/R&B/dance — it proves what a versatile artist she is!

      • Julius Maloney says:

        And this is sought of my point, what standard are we holding Miss Ross to other than her own. It’s phenomenal that her run of chart hits was a staggering as they were. But her career hardly stopped cold at 1984 with a slow down in top ten hits (as your fabulous blog is testemant).

        I cannot think of one major female artist that has had the consistent run of commercial hits across the decades as Miss Ross (this is seperate from legacy or overall sales although Diana holds both in spades). across as you rightly stated multiple platforms.

        Streisand as an example is not a singles artist, having I think two or three top 10 chart toppers through her entire career, but whose legacy as a recording artist is pretty much set in stone.

        Cher who has been lauded for holding #1 hits across every decade 60s-90s still doesn’t touch Miss Ross for product consistency.

        Aretha, Patti, Gladys, Tina artists we look to as torch bearers have neither had consistent successes with their work. Patti Labelle laments her lack of cross over success, Aretha’s most recent self produced CD hardly resonated with buyers, Tina hadn’t released a pop record in almost 10 years (8 for Miss Patti).

        Diana’s last record also self produced hit #16 R&B and #34 on the Billboard charts, her most recent tour 2010-2012 is in the top 20 of money spinners (where her competition is Britney Spears for example).

        My point and I promise I have one is, that I am unsure where this tone (through press or even that self professed haigographer Randy J Tamborelli) that Miss Ross’ career post Motown (Gen1) or inclusive of a handful RCA hits is pretty much a bust is both ludicrous & dismissive of what I feel remains a pretty impressive list of ongoing achievements.

        Much like Whitney Houston when it seems too easy or an exceptional talent has been taken for granted, that it is when we don’t have it to hand that we realize what we lost.

        Let’s not wait that long to applaud each & every one of Miss Ross’ successes.

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  17. Mike says:

    Battlefield is one the best up-tunes Ross has done since going solo. And it is perhaps the only post-Supremes song to actually capture that sound. Production on all songs in this collection is sleek.

  18. Piotr says:

    When I first saw the cover art of “The Force Behind The Power” at the end of the booklet of “One Woman-Collection” I wanted so badly to get my hands on this album. Considering that I adored all three grand ballads from that album that found their way to “One Woman” I knew that it would be great purchase. Of course in Poland certain things take time and I had to wait about two years for this album to appear in my private collection. But better late than never…I see this album as Diana’s response to Linda Ronstadt’s successful, Peter Asher-produced 1989’s “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind”-which at times was overblown and overproduced yet immensely enjoyable. That’s why it’s such a surprise that the album didn’t produce any US hits. “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” should have become a kind of AC staple just like Ronstadt’s “Adios”. Asher as a producer is known for his bombastic tricks but they work in Miss Ross favour. Just listen to her performance on “Blame It On The Sun”. Her voice is so subtle and elegant. And the latter word is, at least in my mind, the perfect description of “The Force Behind The Power”. The album personifies elegance in every second of every song. Even “You’re Gonna Love It” displays Diana Ross’ ability to find perfect balance between Jody Watley-like New jack Swing inspired hard beats and her well known sophistication. In my opinion, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” should have been recorded as a duet (maybe with Aaron Neville???) to push the sales of the album in US…It’s such a sad thing that this album was so overlooked in US.

    • Paul says:

      I totally agree with you that having Diana duet on the original version of “When You Tell Me…” would have been a good move, especially had it been with a popular male artist who could have helped push the single commercially. I’d never thought of that, but it could have been a great way to get Diana back in pop radio’s good graces!

  19. Luke says:

    One of her best solo albums, “The force behind the power” was Diana’s better produced album since the early 80s. “Change of heart” is one of my all time favorite Diana songs. “If we hold on together” was actually the fisrt song I ever heard by Miss Ross, as a little child in the late 80s, in the Spielberg’s animated film for dinosaurs, and after that I loved her. The rest of the album is also very strong and competitive! What we should focus on, is not the great album itself, but the disability of Motown to promote a project like this and their unwilliness to spend some money on marketing! They made 4 videos for the album, all of them were low budget and cheap productions which showed nothing more than Diana in her top fashion gowns singing her songs. During those years, other music companies spent huge money on making good and interesting music videos for their artists to show on MTv and other tv stations. I’m not talking about the 5 million budget MJ’s music videos, but they could at least come up with something less cheap than the “Heart(don’t change my mind), filmed in the recording studio and showing Diana with her sunglasses…What a pity for an album like this to be released by a dead record label like Motown…

  20. pnyc1969 says:

    I enjoyed this when it came out but right away I knew something was wrong with it. Except for “When You Tell Me”, “Force” and “You’re Gonna Love It”, it’s bland. Now let’s not forget that in 1991 Adult Contemporary music was perversely hot. (I used to play a game with a friend at this time. We would turn the radio off for five minutes and then try to guess who would be playing when we turned it back on. The only choices were Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Phil Collins and Michael Bolton.) But really, there’s nothing going on here. It could be anyone. The electric guitar instrumental in “When You Tell Me” is awful. Why didn’t they go with violins or horns? That’s what makes the concerts from this album so interesting. She sounds so much better on this boring material when she can work her live magic, sounding her crisp phrases. No one will agree with me on this but I think “Workin’ Overtime” was a lot better.

  21. Eric says:

    A bit too AC for me. TMH is light years better but this is not a bad record! Change of heart is amazing -almost songs like a supremes song for the 90s!
    I actually like you’re gonna love it on here. It’s new jack swing without being super cheese like some stuff on WO! Though it’s lyrical content of honeymoon sex is a bit–off putting. I mean it’s almost a song for Promise Ring holders!

    What I think this album lacks that TMH and EDIAND have is soul! Lots of vanilla ballads and not enough urban sounds!

  22. Eric says:

    Btw ! I love your reference to the “living single” theme song! One of my fav tv theme songs of all time!

  23. topher says:

    Actually the No matter what you do version on the EMI FBTP is different from the All B Sure single. different mix and ad lib

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  25. Luis Boki says:

    As it enters its 25th Anniversary since release, “The Force Behind the Power” still touches, moves and inspires me. Personally, it has been tied with “The Boss” as my #1 favorite album. I still get thrills when I hear the opening chords of “Change of Heart” where she sounds as cool as a breeze over Malta. She delivers a simply elegant and divine performance with lyrics that can reinforce how dedicated she is to a lover or how she is not a Fairweather fan that abandons her when things are not going as well as they once were. That could be about some of her American fans who hasn’t stuck around because Motown so carelessly fumbled her excellent 90s releases, whereas, EMI gave her no less than 7 multi-platinum global successes beginning with this double platinum plus masterpiece.
    The album still reads autobiographical with “Battlefield” reflecting the fallen Motown artists to the near spiritual title cut that still begs for a thrilling extended mix as her version of “Heart (Don’t Change My Mind)” reads like a certain confused former ex or ex former Supreme unable to let go of the past to the back to back, though very different rhythmically sonnets to her fans in the glorious Top 10 smash, “One Shining Moment” to the smoking “You’re Gonna Love It” still in search of the right remix, but, stands alone as nearly 5 minutes of hot club spinner.
    The quality of the songs are best captured in how “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” became a penultimate #1 not once, but, twice in 1991 and as a duet with Westlife in 2005. Both Diana and Barbara recorded “Heart (Don’t Change My Mind)”, while Taylor Hicks, the American Idol winner recorded “Battlefield” and “If We Hold on Together” is still the most successful international single in Japan to date ranking #24 on the All Time successful Japan singles ever too and finally became a European hit 3 years later after her wildly successful “Christmas in Vienna” project. Diana grew by leaps and bounds as an Executive Producer. This should have been a multi nominated album. But Motown had no pull and thoroughly misunderstood the single. When Diana was chosen the Capitol Radio/London Legend Artist, she humbly said that EMI and Motown had multiple first single choices. That was a near understatement. No less than 10 of the 12 tracks became singles in various international markets. A truly highly superb album….only rivaled by “The Boss” and “The Force Behind the Power”‘s studio follow up, the equally brilliant “Take Me Higher”. With platinum plaques from England to Japan to Australia to The Netherlands, “The Force Behind the Power” has proven to be a critical and commercial milestone for me and millions of other fans.

  26. Pingback: Diana’s Duets (1981) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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  31. Vance says:

    I’ve always suspected that Ms. Ross’s recording “Heavy Weather” may have resulted from a personal connection to Deep Ecology philosopher Arne Naess Sr. (uncle to her husband Arne Naess Jr.). In Naess’ 2009 obituary the Guardian newspaper wrote, “he urged the green movement to ‘not only protect the planet for the sake of humans, but also, for the sake of the planet itself.’ ”

    Prior to 1991, Diana professed a longing for green spaces and chose to raise her daughters in Connecticut away from urban life, so her interest had always been there. But I wonder, did she ask Michael Sembello to write the song based on actual conversations she’d had with Naess? Did the song reflect issues she’d learned about from him? He was in the vanguard of environmentalism and ahead of his time. Thanks to Sembello, the content of this song was too.

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

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