“I Will Survive” Billboard Article (2/17/96)

U.S. MUST WAIT FOR DIANA ROSS CLIP read a headline in the February 17, 1996 issue of Billboard magazine, and the accompanying article provides a telling insight into the obstacles facing Diana Ross in the 1990s.

Diana Ross I Will Survive Article 2-17-96The “clip” being referred to is the music video for “I Will Survive,” a song from Diana’s 1995 album Take Me Higher.  Miss Ross shot the video in West Hollywood, dancing on a gay pride parade float with drag superstar RuPaul and a bevy of Ross impersonators and fans; she even famously crowd dives at the end, something I’ve heard she decided to do on the spot.  The video was daring enough that it began to gain attention in the media, as noted in the Billboard article; Ross also started promoting the song, performing it on the Super Bowl halftime show and in a hilarious and well-received skit on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”  Certainly, with this kind of attention (the song would even later be included on the soundtrack to the 1997 film In & Out), “I Will Survive” seemed poised to bring Diana back onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in nearly a decade.

Diana’s international record label EMI released the song and video, and “I Will Survive” climbed into the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart (becoming her best-performing single from the album there).  But in America, Ross was signed to Motown, which had just issued a double-sided single of “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” and “Voice Of The Heart.”  Instead of striking while the iron was hot (or, at least, heating up), Motown decided to stay the course; product manager Thornell Jones is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s not that we don’t recognize that there is interest in this clip, but we are concentrating on positioning other songs by her to radio right now.”

Of course, we know how the story ends; neither “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” nor “Voice Of The Heart” even got music video releases, and the songs only charted modestly on the R&B and Adult Contemporary listings, respectively.  The “I Will Survive” music video did eventually make it to the U.S. airwaves, but a single was never released and it was never really promoted (aside from Diana’s handful of televised performances), therefore killing any chance for the song to make a significant impact.  For Ross fans in the United States, it was another frustrating case of a missed opportunity, something that seemed all-too-common in the 1990s.  Even if the song hadn’t been a huge hit, it likely would have charted higher than her other singles of the decade; a readily-available video and maxi-single could have also lifted the song to the top of the dance chart, as the success of “Take Me Higher” proved DJs had no problem spinning Diana’s records.

The biggest bummer of all us that more people stateside didn’t get to see the video, and it was really something special to see such a celebration of the LGBT audience twenty years ago.  Diana Ross has been fairly apolitical throughout her career, rarely speaking in-depth about her personal beliefs and choosing instead to let her music speak for her.  But the “I Will Survive” music video speaks volumes, even today.

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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21 Responses to “I Will Survive” Billboard Article (2/17/96)

  1. Ross Ross says:

    Diana filmed a video for if you’re not gonna live me right similar to
    Heart don’t change your mind but Motown rejected it

    • Paul says:

      Thus killing any chance it had for success. BET played the “Take Me Higher” video a lot — and would have probably done the same for IYNGLMR. Motown also botched the single release, mis-labeling the mixes on the back.

  2. Chris Munro says:

    Sounds like a little homophobia killed that songs chance of success.

    • Paul says:

      It’s interesting to ponder if the video’s content had anything to do with the decision to hold it. VH1 ended up playing it when it was finally released, and RuPaul had a show on the network at that time, so at least that network didn’t seem to have an issue with the content.

  3. David Wilson says:

    The video was great- loved the Diana drag queen’s. Pity about the song choice. I Will Survive will always be Gloria Gaynor’s- no one else will ever come close. Diana’s take was a poor 2rd rate remake. The song needs a big full voice- Diana’s voice just hasn’t the power to belt out that anthem. Each vocalist should know their limits- what best suits their range and vocal style in my opinion anothe poor song choice that happened all to often in the 80s & 90s. It is one of my least favourite of Diana singles. I just cannot listen to it without cringing and everyone I know felt the same way. At the time we all asked the same question “Why even go there? Why attempt such an iconic song”? The most annoying thing is that she insists on including it in her live shows at the expense of other bigger hits. She has in my opinion (and friends) ruined the show by using it as her encore

    • Paul says:

      Diana’s “I Will Survive” is certainly not the strongest song on the TAKE ME HIGHER album — in fact, it might be one of the weakest, in terms of vocals — but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you clearly do. Diana is audibly having fun with the song, and I think her energy is quite engaging — with such a unique video and a well-produced track, I do think it had the potential to bring Diana back onto the Billboard Hot 100, even if it was in the fairly lower reaches of the chart.

      I know many people dislike her inclusion of the song in live shows — my feelings are that she clearly loves the song, and it resonates with her, and so it’s her right to keep it in the show. It always gets a big reception from her audiences, simply because it’s such a well-known song — casual fans are probably more familiar with “I Will Survive” than even some of Diana’s own hits.

  4. michael says:

    I’MO,, if it was released as a single here in the US, it would have been a major hit. It was a well known and liked song that did not stray far from the original version, yet it sounded “”updated” and fresh. Shame on Motown, once again. Not to take away from IYNGLMR and Voice of the Heart, which are two of my favorite Diana tracks, IWS could have been the track to launch Diana back
    Into the Top 10 on the charts.

    • Paul says:

      I’m not sure if it couldn’t made top 10 or not — but it should have been given the chance. I think it would have easily topped the dance charts, and probably had the best chance of making the Hot 100 of any song on the album. As you say, it’s a well-liked song that sounded fresh again.

  5. I remember reading Billboard at the time and it had said because Chantay Savage had released her version (which I honestly never heard!), Diana’s wouldn’t be a single – same label. Just one of MANY times the new Motown dropped the ball with Diana’s later output. While I have to admit I wish she’d retire I Will Survive from her show now, in 1995-1996, I agree this could’ve put her back on the charts in a big way. But frankly, this was before iTunes – so if Take me Higher couldn’t chart as the smash it deserved to be, who knows – I often wonder if Diana had been on Epic Records or Arista if things would’ve been different for her with Force, Take me Higher, and EDIAND – three stellar albums!

    • Paul says:

      I remember Chantay Savage’s “I Will Survive” quite well, and bought the single when it was out — it got quite a bit of play on BET at the time. It was so different from Diana’s that I don’t think there was any competition between then two — in fact, I think they could have helped each other out a little on the R&B charts, given the novelty of two such vastly different interpretations.

      In retrospect, it is strange that “Take Me Higher” didn’t do at least a little better; it was such a club hit and the video did get played on BET and VH1. The lack of radio play must have been what killed the single — I do remember calling and requesting it at a few stations, and being told they didn’t have it.

      • michael says:

        Funny you brought that up, Paul. I called every radio station in NYC and on Long Island requesting TMH a couple times a week. Most blew me off, a few said Diana Ross is not “happening”, one went so far to tell me it was “too dancey” ! I even requested to talk to the program directors, got few of them on the phone, but, needless to say, it got me nowhere.

        Contrary to the consensus of a few comments I have been reading here, I really don’t think Diana’s version of IWS is as bad as most think. She had fun with it, and like it has been said, the audience has a great time when she closes her show with it. Do I think she should stop performing it now, I would not be against it, but it truly does not bother me at all, seeing how much she apparently likes the song and the message it conveys.

        Michael

  6. Jaap Kooijman says:

    The first time I heard Diana Ross sing I Will Survive live was in 1995 at the Wolf Trap in Washington DC. Take Me Higher was not out yet, so the song took everybody by surprise — the audience went crazy! But in retrospect, it is indeed not a very good cover. Ross must really connect to the song to keep performing it, but with some many great songs in her back catalog, there must be better alternatives. The music video is fun.

    • Paul says:

      Same for me, Jaap — I saw her in Indianapolis before TAKE ME HIGHER was out, and she performed almost the entire album. Every song went over well, and her “I Will Survive” finale was very well-received. I don’t think it’s the strongest vocal on the album — not even close — but I do think it’s a well-produced and arranged cover that could have gained at least a little traction at radio and retail.

      Just a sidenote — I’ll never forget her “I Thought That We Were Still In Love” on that tour — the entire crowd was dead silent. It was an incredible performance.

      • Luis Boki says:

        It was the same at the Universal Ampitheater. She was simply mesmerizing. From the first time I saw “An Evening with…”, to opening night and Atlanta show of “The Force Behind the Power Tour” to “Return to Love” in Detroit, and the Pantages. The Universal Ampitheater “Take Me Higher Tour” those were incredible shows. At The Universal Ampitheater date Berry was in the audience and she spoke for quite a while about how she wished she had a chance to thank Berry in front of what sounded like the Academy Awards. She seemed to forget all the awards she has won.

    • michael says:

      TMH, that tour is probably my favorite Diana concert ever. I saw it at Radio City Music Hall here in NY sitting in the 9third row of the orchestra. I had better seats than RuPaul, Luther Vandross and Montell Williams, all of which were behind me in the audience…lol
      The album did not come out for a month or two after the tour here as well. I remember leaving that concert mesmerized by all the new tracks she did from the album. I had grand illusions that this was the album that would send her soaring up the charts. I could not get TMH out of my head! That should have been Diana’s comeback to the Billboard singles charts. So sad that it wasn’t the the case, album or single.
      ITTWWSIL and VOTH were show stoppers, and yes the crowd went crazy for IWS at the end. Damn, I bought Billboard every week after that album came out to watch it move up the charts. Well, we all know how that turned out.
      Nonetheless, still my favorite Diana album!

  7. northcarolinafan says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think it would have made any difference. By this time Diana’s work was being ignored by radio. I really believe that the great albums/songs that she recorded in the 90’s would have gotten more play if they had been recorded by one of her peers. To this day I can play songs from TMH and EIAND for friends who are shocked that it is Diana Ross!

    • Paul says:

      I agree — it’s not likely “I Will Survive” would have been a big hit — but I do think it could have charted higher than anything else she’d released in the 90s, and probably could have made at least the lower reaches of the Hot 100. It’s a shame that radio was basically ignoring Diana at this point; TAKE ME HIGHER was as polished and well-produced as anything else being released at the time. I remember watching the “Take Me Higher” video on BET alongside videos by Faith Evans, Mariah Carey, Xscape, and other contemporary female vocalists, and it fit in seamlessly.

  8. Luis Boki says:

    This is a tough one because I have always disliked “I Will Survive”. So much so, I was ready and willing to relinquish my proud LGBTQ card. That said, there were random nights under the headphones that I could sense Narada Michael Walden trying to update the music track. Diana’s vocals are and would remain very pedestrian especially live. However, the video did add a fun luxtre to it. I wish it would have supplanted Gloria Gaynor equally tired vocals. Like say as it is in the great scene in “In & Out”. If only Motown and Paramount were more in sync to make it an essential element to the movie, it could have won new converts.
    Once again, EMI International made Motown look amateurish as it glided to the ends of the Top 10@#14. It reactivated the “Take Me Higher” album across Europe for one more flight up the charts.
    What I totally hate how she uses it as a cheap audience pleaser. I’m usually in transit home at an inkling of the first note. I truly despise this song and Diana’s laziness live makes me hate it all the more.
    “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” and “Voice of the Heart” are excellent 2nd and 3rd smashes for a label up to the task. Once again, Motown of the 90s reminded us that this was no longer Berry Gordy’s Motown.

  9. I remember attending the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (here Down Under) and ‘I Will Survive’ was played a couple of times by the DJs in extended version and a big dance floor filler. I had the CD single so it had good play here. I just think at that 2nd generation Motown had very little understanding of what to do with their legacy artists. They were much too focused on new artists. Both those latter day records from Miss Ross’ time at Motown remain two of my favourites. A lost opportunity definitely.

  10. greg jones says:

    Paul, Thanx for posting this article from Billboard. I didn’t see it when it was 1st published. I picked up Billboard most of the time, but didn’t have a subscription.

    Part of the reason that I was so thrilled to see this article is that I was one of the “extras” in the crowd that caught Miss Ross that night of the video shoot. Miss Ross’ production company made arrangements with the city of West Hollywood for the shoot. A work colleague of mine was friends with the West Hollywood Major and made arrangements for us to be in the front section of the shoot. Miss Ross’ swan dive into the crowd was NOT something that was originally planned for the shoot. It was something that Miss Ross decided to do on her own and just did it without telling ANYONE, practically giving her co-producer, Steve Binder and the Director a heart attack. After things settled down from the 1st take, all decided they wanted to get some better shots and allowed Miss Ross to do it about 3 more times, with us in the crowd catching her.

    This was an all nite shoot on a Sunday nite in February from about 7pm that lasted until almost 4am in the morning. At the end of the shoot, Steve Binder, her co-producer, came out on the float and asked all of us in the private front section to remain as the rest of the crowd was leaving. I was pleased to see Mr. Binder there as he had been one of my Professor’s at USC some 16 years earlier. The reason that Steve asked us all to stay was that Miss Ross wanted to come out after changing and personally Thank all of us for doing what we did to help the video production and how doing something on the spur of the moment was really going to enhance the video. That was really unexpected and very nice touch.

    A few days later on Wednesday, if memory serves, I got a call from my Mother in San Diego to quick turn on Regis Philbin’s morning program as Miss Ross was on and they were showing video clips from the shoot that wasn’t even edited yet.

    So all of this brings back many wonderful memories as we walked back and forth with the float on Santa Monica Blvd from La Cienega Blvd to Doheny, more times than I could count that nite.

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