“There’s a new me coming out…”
Diana Extended: The Remixes is an interesting and unique addition to Diana Ross’s discography; though it’s technically a compilation album of some of her biggest hits, they’re completely re-imagined by some of the most successful remixers of the 90s (David Morales and Frankie Knuckles were inescapable in that decade). Released in early 1994, it followed Diana’s 4-CD box set and the globally successful One Woman: The Ultimate Collection compilation, and thus seemed to be a way for Miss Ross to take all that attention on her past catalog and propel it to the present. “House” music was also hugely successful in the mid-90s; Morales’s remix of Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” had been a #1 dance hit the year before, and artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson were seeing massive success in clubs thanks to house mixes of their pop/R&B hits.
Still, remix albums can be tricky for artists; at worst, they are completely unnecessary and sound like time-fillers between new studio projects. At best, however, they can draw attention to aspects of songs that had earlier gone unnoticed; they also, of course, are most successful when they accomplish what they set out to do, which is make the listener want to dance. The latter is, thankfully, the case on much of this project; the beats here are, for the most part, terrific. But even better, the songs really serve to shine a spotlight Diana Ross’s vocal performances; hearing them in new surroundings allow them to stand out in a completely new way. The attention given to Miss Ross’s voice and the creativity of those involved make this a successful listen; the All Music Guide dubbed the album “one of the strongest remix albums of the 1990s.”
Despite the strong review, the CD wasn’t a major popular success for Miss Ross; it charted in the US on the R&B listings, at #68. A single release of “Someday We’ll Be Together,” remixed by Frankie Knuckles, did take Diana to the top 10 of the Dance/Club Play Charts (a place she’d return the next year with “Take Me Higher”). For longtime fans, however, the joy in Diana Extended is hearing some classics all dressed up in a new way; tracks like “The Boss” allow us to hear Diana’s spectacular vocal power clearer than ever, and “Love Hangover” features a sparkling spoken first verse that comes as a total surprise to those familiar with only the original 1976 release. Though this isn’t a “new” studio album, it is a full-length album of classics presented in a new way.
1. The Boss (David Morales Club Mix): It’s interesting to do a dance mix of a song that’s already a dance classic; the original 1979 release of “The Boss” was a major hit, Miss Ross’s first true dance smash since “Love Hangover” a few years earlier. That said, “The Boss” has remained a signature Diana Ross song for her spectacular vocal work as much as the great beat; this is one of the great Diana performances ever, as she wails and belts and jumps all over the scale. David Morales’s mix here smartly keeps those vocals up front, and for much of the song actually allows Miss Ross to sing with almost no musical accompaniment at all. This nearly a capella arrangement gives the song a haunting, darker feel than the joyous and upbeat original; it also gives listeners a chance to listen to the subtleties of the vocal performance, and that’s the real treat for fans here. Her work on the first verse is smooth and controlled, and becomes sexier and lively on the second verse (as Morales brings in more backgrounds), before erupting in the famous high-note vocal run. Listen closely starting at around 3:20 and close yours eyes; it almost feels like being in the studio with Miss Ross, hearing her push and go for notes with every bit of vocal power she possesses. This kind of new detail on an already-established hit is a highlight of this entire set.
2. Love Hangover (Frankie Knuckles Remix): Speaking of Diana’s dance smashes, this is a fascinating re-work of her #1 classic from 1976. The instrumental track sounds quite untouched at the beginning (other than a slightly extended, electronic intro), but as soon as Miss Ross begins the first verse, there’s a major difference. Knuckles uses an alternate take of Miss Ross speaking the famous lines, “If there’s a cure for this…I don’t want it,” instead of singing them as she did on the release. There’s no argument that if any artist in the history of popular music knows how to deliver spoken lines during a song, it’s Diana Ross (“And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about…” being my personal favorite, to say nothing of, “If you need me…call me…”). Here, she is sexy and playful with the lines, and it’s fun to hear them in a totally different way. At just over a minute in, Knuckles brings her singing in, though it’s again an alternate take; she sings the line “Try to chase you from my mind, tryin’ is a waste of time” instead of “Think about it all the time, never let it out of my mind.” Despite the different vocals, the original sizzling instrumental is kept pretty much intact, but as soon as the song hits its famous tempo change, Morales brings in a modern, funky sound that lifts the familiar 5-note vamp while surrounding it with new electronic beats. There’s a real coolness and eventually almost jazzy feel to the arrangement that works well with Diana’s original ad-libs; her vocal during this part still sounds fresh and exciting. As on the previous track, the remix doesn’t at all detract from the original, but does serve as an interesting and enjoyable counterpart.
3. Upside Down (Satoshi Tomie & David Morales Mix): Another dance classic, this is a re-working of Miss Ross’s 1980 smash from her diana album. The mix here is far more traditional House, or “90s club,” than either of the previous tunes. The airy, popping keyboards here are reminiscent of those from other club hits of the day, and the extracted words/phrases on loop and electronic manipulation of the vocal key are certainly trademarks of mid-90s DJs. Because much of the appeal of the original “Upside Down” was the complex, unusual instrumental — the work of producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic — that missing element leaves a big void here. Diana Ross’s vocal on “Upside Down” is crisp and punchy, with none of the adornments of something like “The Boss,” and that clean vocal worked against the original’s challenging instrumental track, creating a hypnotic tension. While her voice still sounds good here, and the track serves the purpose of being danceable, this isn’t a particularly interesting listen because it’s missing some of that tension.
4. Someday We’ll Be Together (Frankie Knuckles Mix): It’s interesting that this song became a top 10 dance hit for Diana, being that Janet Jackson had a #1 dance hit the year before with “If,” a song that sampled 1969’s original “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Perhaps the success of that Jackson song (it was also a top 5 pop and R&B hit), which lifted “Someday”‘s opening string riff, led to Frankie Knuckles also opening this mix with that riff, and sustaining it through the first two minutes of the piece. This is the only song from Diana’s Supremes days included on the set, and it’s interesting to hear how Knuckles manages to retain the vintage sound of the vocals while updating it in a modern dance surrounding. He does it brilliantly; there’s a real sense of excitement created right from the beginning, with those memorable strings sounding almost locomotive in moving the song along. Once the rest of the track kicks in, the vintage strings and background vocals are mixed with the dance beat and keyboards, and there’s a lovely, almost dreamy feel to the entire piece. Diana’s vocal is left alone, and her performance remains as beautiful and accomplished as ever; she’s relaxed and laid-back, which works well with the shimmering keyboards backing her up. The backgrounds by Maxine and Julia Waters are more noticeable in this new arrangement, and their full, gospel sound sounds like the inspiration for the hundreds of soulful, belting dancefloor divas in the years to come. Though the Janet Jackson connection might have led to this being released as a single, it was a deserved success in clubs; this is a great example of a remix bringing new life to a song while still respecting its origins.
5. Chain Reaction (Dewey B & Spike Remix): The only RCA track included, this was Diana’s massive UK #1 from 1985’s Eaten Alive. Of all the songs thus far, this one strays the furthest from the original, which had a Motown-esque feel in its swinging feel. Here, the song is kind of smashed into a more conventional dance beat and setting, and it often feels like an uncomfortable fit. Because the original so deftly changed keys, it really depended on its original arrangement and backing track; in this update, the key-jumping often clashes with the tones of the track, making the singers sound strangely out of tune. Perhaps this was the whole point; after all, the remixers were probably purposely thinking outside the box and re-imaginging the song. However, the end result is just oddly discordant and doesn’t feel as danceable as the other songs here. That said, the lead vocal by Diana still sounds great — her performance on “Chain Reaction” was easily the highlight of Eaten Alive, and it’s nice to hear her vibrant work again.
6. You’re Gonna Love It (E-Smoove & Steve Silk Mix): This is a reworking of a more recent song, which first appeared on 1991’s The Force Behind The Power. The original version was much more “New Jack” in style, almost a softer continuation of her work on Workin’ Overtime. It was, however, one of the weaker tracks on The Force…, despite Diana’s spirited vocal performance. Thus, the song getting a new arrangement seems like a chance to make it a little more interesting than it had been initially. Ultimately, it doesn’t emerge that much more exciting; this is one of the more layered dance tracks on this remix project, and the song ends up feeling a little cluttered. And though the original song wasn’t a bad one, there isn’t a particularly memorable melody here, so it’s hard to even focus that much on Miss Ross. Not a bad dance song, but surrounded by such stronger material, it doesn’t stand out.
7. I’m Coming Out (Maurice Joshua 4 Vibe Mix): Diana Extended closes out with a Diana Ross masterpiece, her top 5 smash from 1980. Like “The Boss” and “Love Hangover,” this one was a true dance classic to begin with, and so it’s fascinating to hear how it’s updated. In this case, Maurice Joshua retains the original’s sense of sheer joy and freedom, which was a very wise move; rather than give it a darker feel (as was the case on Morales’s “The Boss” mix), this one still feels like an anthem of love and self-expression. Joshua places a lot of emphasis on Diana’s shouts of “I’m Comin’!” and “Yes!” — and hearing them repeated so often during this eight-minute piece puts a magnifying glass on the strength in her voice, which is impressive. Her vocal work on the verses also sounds better than ever; taken out of the context of the original’s ridiculously funky track, Diana really sounds strong and self-assured; listen to her at around 2:00, during the lyrics, “I’ve got to show the world all that I wanna be…” — the vocal attack here is so much more apparent than it had been on the more familiar original version. Again, this is a mix that adds new life and dimension to an already-masterful song, but does it in an affectionate, reverent way.
Diana Extended: The Remixes, if nothing else, definitely primed Diana for a major return to the dance clubs, which would happen with 1995’s #1 “Take Me Higher” and her remake of “I Will Survive.” But beyond that, it’s a great chance for fans to revisit some of her singles in a new way. There are more than enough “Greatest Hits” compilations out there for both Diana Ross solo and with the Supremes, so this is at least something that offers a unique listening experience on older favorites. Because most of the songs chosen for inclusion are so strong, and because the remixers have done an outstanding job refreshing them, this emerges as an energetic and exciting tribute to Miss Ross and her 30-year (at the time of release) career. Some of the tracks are better than others, but there are enough high points here to make it a welcome addition to the Diana discography.
Choice Cuts: “Someday We’ll Be Together (Frankie Knuckles Mix),” “Love Hangover (Frankie Knuckles Remix),” “I’m Coming Out (Maurice Joshua 4 Vibe Mix)”