Songwriter is a word rarely applied to Diana Ross. Of her dozens of memorable hits, none bear her name in the writing credits; the singer has been open about her place as an “interpreter” of lyrics, finding meaning in the words of others. That said, during the 1980s — under an exciting, lucrative deal with RCA Records — Ross was enjoying unprecedented creative control in her career. Expanding her musical horizons, the singer began executive producing her own albums, and even began co-writing some of her own songs. Most of these were album tracks, but a few (“So Close,” “Work That Body”) were lifted as singles to moderate success. Though these songs aren’t found on “Best Of…” collections, nor are the ever performed live by the singer, they do compose a fascinating corner of her discography and a peek into her wildly-varied musical tastes.
“Ladies Hot Line” then deserves a place of mention in this ongoing discussion of the diva’s discography, although it’s not a song that features her voice. Released on the 1983 LP Paul Jabara And Friends and performed by The Weather Girls, the track was written by Diana Ross and Paul Jabara, the singer and songwriter best known for penning Donna Summer’s massive hit “Last Dance” (which won him a Grammy and an Academy Award in 1979). Ross and Jabara had previously collaborated on her 1981 single “Work That Body,” an aerobics-themed disco tune released as the third single from Diana’s RCA debut, Why Do Fools Fall In Love. That song — a kitschy, beat-driven mix of spoken and sung lyrics — provides a veritable blueprint for “Ladies Hot Line,” though for whatever reason, Ross herself never recorded this latter tune herself.
Paul Jabara And Friends is a notable LP for several reasons. Along with featuring this rare Diana Ross co-write, it also contains one of the most famous dance songs ever, “It’s Raining Men.” It’s been rumored for years that Diana herself turned down this track, which ended up becoming a massive club hit for The Weather Girls (it was also placed on the group’s own LP, Success). Perhaps even more significantly, Paul Jabara And Friends includes a song called “Eternal Love” with a lead vocal performance by then-mainly unknown Whitney Houston. This was two years before Houston’s record-smashing debut album, and it’s a rare chance for fans of the singer to hear her pre-stardom. It’s also, perhaps, the first real “career crossover” between Diana and Whitney, two women who were often linked (perhaps unfairly) by the media in years to come.
Back to the song; “Ladies Hot Line” is a far funkier song than either “It’s Raining Men” or “Work That Body” — the popping bass line is fantastic, and there are some great horn riffs, too (which are, at times, reminiscent of those in Diana’s 1981 hit “Mirror Mirror”). The Weather Girls — Izora Armstead and Martha Wash — have plenty of personality to carry the lyrics, which are admittedly gimmicky; the song begins with a ringing telephone and the spoken words, “Ladies Hot Line…hello?” and continues through some calls for advice from “Mrs. Jones” and “Ms. Smith” — both of whom are having problems with their men. The concept of The Weather Girls doling out romantic assistance over a phone line is actually pretty smart; again, the women are strong, soulful singers and full of energy, and inject the beginning of the song with a lot of life. That said, there’s no real “hook” or chorus here, which means the tune falls apart a bit in the second half, as the women sing various repetitive lyrics including “Just call Ladies Hot Line…” and “Find me a man who understands.” As a disco song, the real strength lies in the instrumental track, which boasts a strong groove that is immediately danceable. This probably could have garnered some decent play in clubs at the time; perhaps it did. It does sound tailor-made for The Weather Girls; if there was ever the possibility of Diana Ross recording the song herself, it’s probably best that it never happened. Though she could have had some fun with the spoken lines, it’s doubtful there would have been enough actual material here for Miss Ross to really make the piece memorable.
As for the album, the Allmusic.com review probably sums it up best: “Jabara deserves credit for promoting aspiring talents, but Paul Jabara And Friends is more of a hodgepodge than a comprehensive album. As such, it remains most interesting for fans of the ‘friends’ rather than the titular headliner.” Jabara sadly passed away in 1992; he surely had so much more to offer (he also wrote songs for artists like Bette Midler and Julio Iglesias) and it would have been interesting to hear him speak in detail about his collaborations with Miss Ross. In the end, though it’s not necessarily a “lost gem” or even particularly noteworthy addition to Diana’s career, “Ladies Hot Line” is another unique glimpse into her capabilities as more than just a vocalist.