“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.
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.
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 Me, and 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.
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.)
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”