“Let’s Go Up” (Live on The Tonight Show, 1983)

Let's Go Up Diana Ross

On August 4, 1983 — just weeks after her historic pair of concerts in New York’s Central Park — Diana Ross appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”  This was just the latest in a series of guest spots on the popular talk show, including an important 1968 appearance with The Supremes the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  Her August ’83 stop by the show was the perfect opportunity to talk about the Central Park concerts, which had garnered the singer massive amounts of publicity; Carson even made her “feel at home” by turning on some sprinklers over his backdrop to make it rain in the studio.  But it also gave Ross a further chance to promote her then-current RCA LP, Ross.

Ross was Diana’s third release under her RCA contract; the majority of the album was produced by Gary Katz, known for producing the albums of Steely Dan.  This resulted in a major change for the singer, whose previous two albums were self-produced and featured disco-ready pop and R&B dance tunes.  The sound on Ross was cool and synthesizer-heavy; it’s turned off many fans and critics over the years (the All Music Guide’s review of the album notes “…that precise, icy sound those guys always get, not a sound that meshes well with Ross”).  None of the album’s three singles did particularly well; first single “Pieces Of Ice” hit #31 on the Billboard Hot 100, but “Up Front” and “Let’s Go Up” barely charted.  It would take the next RCA release by Diana Ross  — 1984’s Swept Away — to put the singer back on top.

All that said, Ross is a stunning album, and “Let’s Go Up” remains one of Diana’s best singles of the decade; the song is a classy, shimmering mid-tempo number with a powerful lead vocal.  For those who love the song, it’s the one that got away; perhaps had it been the lead single from the LP (or, as Diana had apparently hoped, even the second) it would have found an audience.  The song requires a gutsy, punchy vocal, and not only did Diana more than deliver in the studio, she also replicated it during live performances.  She offered up exciting renditions during both nights of her Central Park shows, and especially on her “Tonight Show” appearance.

Running onto the stage with her trademark mane of hair flowing behind her, Diana immediately launches into the song, her warm lower range carrying the first verse with strength and ease.  She looks fantastic; though her beige draped-blouse-and-skirt ensemble is unusual, it’s feels appropriate to both the occasion and her image as a businesswoman.  The singer’s energy is immediately apparent; she shimmies and skips her way through the entire performance, completely filling the large stage and creating a visual spectacle without the assistance of a band, dancers, or backing vocalists.  About 45 seconds into the performance, Diana begins the first chorus, and her voice shoots up an octave as she belts out the lyrics, “…love is the great pleasure, Let’s Go Up!”  The singer’s vocal is incredibly powerful here; she is pitch-perfect and there’s a real strength in her upper register.  Though she’s not a vocalist normally associated with belting, listen to her “Oh, yeah!” ad-lib at around 1:10; this is as good as she’d sounded since her late-70s recordings with Ashford & Simpson and on The Wiz soundtrack.  During the truncated song’s instrumental break, Miss Ross ad-libs some more and shouts out to the audience, bouncing up and down with a giddiness reminiscent of her performances from the 1960s.  As she brings the song to a close, her powerful pipes continue to soar; she deviates from her recorded performance by throwing in the line, “…is up to us, each and every one…go up!” and her voice is at the top of her register until the very final notes.  The entire performance truly is a flurry of energy; the notoriously cool Carson can be heard instantly yelling, “Yeah!” before welcoming the singer over to his desk for a few minutes of chat time.

Though it’s a short performance, “Let’s Go Up” is one of the best television appearances Diana would make during the 1980s, and perhaps during her entire career.  Her appearance is a real lesson in star-power; with nothing more than a microphone to keep her company on the stage, the singer creates a real excitement and offers up a spirited vocal demonstrating her too-often overlooked vocal range.  Had “Let’s Go Up” been released as the first single from Ross — and been promoted with a few more televised performances like this one — it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t have become a pop hit for the singer.  It certainly deserved to be; it’s a standout in a long career filled with musical highlights.

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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12 Responses to “Let’s Go Up” (Live on The Tonight Show, 1983)

  1. topher says:

    it took me about 15 years to finally watch this performance and it was worth.
    Let’s go up is my favorite song on my favorite and first bought LP by Miss Ross.
    Like on her Central Parl concerts she is full of energy for this number.
    My only concern is that she did not sing the song as written. I still don’t know why she skips ” the treasure of your pleasure cannot be measure out” and “i can free a person from their chain but i tell you this for sure”
    The voice goes really high here and it’s impressive .
    Another concern is that the dress is to long, above the knees is more flattering LOL

    the way she leaves is pure Dina Ross, pure Diva style.

    • Paul says:

      Topher — this was one of the first Ross LP’s I had, too — in fact, I had it on a cassette tape! “Let’s Go Up” is definitely my favorite song on the album — she seemed to love singing it and her energy always showed on it. It is unfortunate that we didn’t get the full song on this performance — I assume the show’s time constraints are the reason it was so short and the song was chopped up.

    • This was the typical length for skirts at that time. Notice the shirt she wore at Motown 25. Pretty much the same.

  2. Tony says:

    I have made it clear for some time that I was never a huge 8O’s RCA Ross fan. But back in the day I recall being so impressed with this appearance , her voice , her energy, the song and her sheer magnetism was spectacular. I recall….having my adoration reignited after seeing and hearing this presentation. It is my favourite on the RCA Ross album as well.

    I must also say that since my insistence that Diana was not who I wanted her to be in the 80’s …….I have changed my views and impressions. (Are you sitting down Paul)……. Since this Diana RossProject, I have re -listened to the RCA hits and rarities ……and Wow….I “hear” her again. It is like I have begun to open my mind and ears to her 80’s voice and I love it! I can’t get enough of the songs recorded on RCA! Thank you Paul!

    By the way ….when Diana guest hosted the Tonight show, did she sing the Boss or am I imagining it. I recall watching it and running out to buy the Boss album …..but I am not sure if it was on that show!

    Thanks for a great post Paul!

    Tony

    • Paul says:

      Consider my mind BLOWN Tony — you’ve come to appreciate 80s Ross!!!!! I’m so proud! 🙂 It is pretty cool to go back and suddenly “hear” something you didn’t hear before — that’s been the case for me with several Diana Ross songs and albums, especially “The Force Behind The Power” — a CD I never really appreciated before writing about it here.

      I’m not positive that Diana performed “The Boss” when she guest hosted but I believe she did — I found an episode synopsis online that mentions her performing the song. She did open the show with a song called “Ridin’ High” and BLEW IT OUT OF THE WATER. I haven’t seen the clip in a long time, but I remember her nailing a crazy high note at the end.

      • Paul–

        Posts on individual song performances is a great direction for the site, as you have already covered every album and every major concert appearance. And for some of us this may be the most tempting part of the project yet. I, for one, am fixated on certain one-off performances of favorites–hits and otherwise–as they tend to really show where Diana was professionally at different moments in time. “Let’s Go Up” on the Tonight Show is a particular weakness of mine. I could watch this forever! Her stage presence and energy are as good as at Central Park but the outfit delivers an entirely different attitude. I’ve researched this ensemble and the draping and sleeves, sort of a cross between a giant cuff and a leg o’mutton sleeve, leave me to believe it is Norma Kamali, who designed outfits like this at that time. The beige color shows a lot of restraint for Diana. This is a woman who wore both a purple sequined catsuit and a tangerine body stocking two weeks prior. This is one of her most interesting stage costumes to date. (I’d love to see a designer reinterpret it today, maybe in hot pink or coral.) Diana’s vocals are a marvel here. She maintains the fast pace and power of the Ceasar’s Palace show and gives a rare example of sustained belting. She gives the impression of looking for more and more and doesn’t let go of the frenzied pitch until it’s over. Diana must have really felt the jazzy looseness of this song because every performance deviates from the record a bit, and always to great effect. (In Central Park Day 2 she changes the lyric, sings against the melody and pushes up a key towards the end.) But interestingly, this song presents not only Diana’s affinity for improvisation but also her unexpected adeptness for rock. I wonder if Diana has much recollection of this song. I can imagine a terrific reworking of it for today’s concerts. While her voice is in no shape for the belting, the swinging melody is perfect for her. Lose the synthesizers, let the backup singers come in strong on the refrain and I think it would be a highlight. Maybe do it as a medley with “Take My Higher” for an “altitude” segment? What do you think?

      • Tony says:

        I really do owe that to you! Thanks for helping me hear her “again”

      • Paul says:

        Thanks, Peter — I think you’ll be seeing more of this kind of post in the future. I wonder about Diana’s feelings about this song, too — I wonder if she has much of a memory of it or would ever consider re-examining it. I doubt it; aside from a few hit singles, she doesn’t seem to place much focus on her RCA work anymore. That said, she did resurrect “It’s Hard For Me To Say” for recent shows…so who knows?

  3. Tony says:

    Wow! Sounds like a great mix! That could really work for me! ” from our lips to her ears” !!!!!
    Excellent idea!

  4. Jaap says:

    “Let’s Go Up” was also recorded by Helen Reddy (1983, the same year as Ross, so don’t know which one was earlier… wouldn’t surprise if it was first done by Reddy, the album Ross also features a cover of Sheena’s Easton’s “You Do It”). One year later, the song was covered by Dennis Edwards on his Motown(!) album Don’t Look Any Further…

    Reddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFjs3JX_jXI&noredirect=1
    Edwards: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vBnYGuVD-s&noredirect=1
    Easton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rud6R0y4Tq8&noredirect=1

    Jaap

    • Paul says:

      Hey Jaap!
      I remember some debate about these other versions of “Let’s Go Up” on my original post of the ROSS LP — thanks for the links! I like the Dennis Edwards recording — there’s a nice, cool R&B feel to it and his voice is always a fascinating listen. I don’t love Helen’s version — I’m not sure the song is a great fit for her voice. I always try to be objective when comparing Diana’s recordings vs. other artists doing the same song — in this case, I truly think that Diana’s is the strongest. I think the melody is a great fit for her vocal range and her overall sound — and she did a great job when performing it live.

  5. It’s true that in recent years Diana has become very vocal about the importance of the Motown legacy and her pride in being a part of it. She certainly didn’t ignore Motown during the RCA years but I guess she couldn’t really expound upon it when she was signed to another company. But Diana’s embrace of Motown is more evidence that she is not aloof or indifferent to her heritage as so many accuse her of.

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