Check out this gorgeous 12″ single for Diana’s “Work That Body,” released in Holland in 1982. I picked this one up in an Atlanta record store called Wax n’ Facts today, lured in by the beautiful photo and packaging.
“Work That Body” occupies a unique spot in the discography of Diana Ross. It’s the final track on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, the singer’s debut LP under a blockbuster new contract at RCA Records. It was the Diana’s first self-produced album, and was heralded upon its release in the fall of 1981; Billboard magazine proclaimed, “Move over, Aretha and Dionne. There’s a new artist on the scene” and called the album “nothing short of a masterpiece” (11-14-81). Lead single “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” zoomed up the charts, peaking in the top 10, and was quickly followed there by the gloriously funky “Mirror, Mirror.” The entire album was eventually certified platinum.
“Work That Body” was named in reviews as a standout on the album; the Billboard write-up noted “listeners will probably be burning a hole in through the floor with their feet.” This must have been particularly gratifying to Diana Ross, because she co-wrote the song; when it was finally lifted as the album’s third single, it notably became the first self-penned release by the singer in her 20-year career. The song just missed the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was popular in the dance clubs (paired with “Mirror, Mirror”) and a UK top 10 hit; it also managed to break into the top 10 of the Jet Soul Brothers Top 20 Singles listing.
Today, “Work That Body” is derided by some as a rip-off of Olivia Newton-John’s massive hit “Physical,” which featured a similar aerobics-themed music video; to be honest, I’d always considered it a knock-off and nothing more. But upon closer look, “Physical” was released in September of 1981 (according to Wikipedia, at least), the same month as the Why Do Fools Fall In Love album; thus, Diana probably wrote and recorded “Work That Body” before she’d ever even heard Newton-John’s recording. In retrospect, “Work That Body” is more similar in tone to something like “It’s Raining Men,” the dance classic released by The Weather Girls in 1982; this makes sense, as both were co-written by Paul Jabara. Both are knowingly campy, and Jabara clearly lent a gay sensibility to the songs which has helped them outlive many others of the era. For example, 15 years after listeners first heard “Work That Body,” no less a diva than the fabulous RuPaul brought the song back for his 1996 album Foxy Lady. (NOTE: Ross and Jabara also co-wrote “Ladies Hot Line,” a song recorded by The Weather Girls and released in 1983. Click here to read more about that recording.)
Because Miss Ross co-wrote “Work That Body,” it will always hold a special place of interest for fans and those studying the singer’s career; it remains one of only a handful of Ross compositions. That said, the track is very much a product of its time, feeding into the aerobics craze of the ’80s and featuring a chunky, late-disco rhythm section. The song is undeniably catchy; Diana doesn’t so much sing as kind of speak along in a raspy voice, but she sounds like she’s having a great time in the studio. The lyrics, of course, are completely ridiculous, with the hilarious opening, “Every morning when we wake/To make up for that piece of cake/We ate last night…” representative of everything else to come. But, really, this isn’t supposed to be a serious song; it’s not exactly “It’s My Turn,” is it? This is a song about the joys of looking good, and it remains a completely entertaining listen, if only to sing along with Diana Ross about being the “hottest girl in town!”
The music video is one of Diana’s very first, and it’s deliriously campy, spotlighting Miss Ross shimmying in a serious of colorful leotards. And how about this? In 2015, “Work That Body” resurfaced yet again…this time, thanks to a tribute video put together by Diana’s daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross.
So, perhaps it’s time we give “Work That Body” a little more respect. It might not be a timeless classic on par with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but it’s managed to gain more traction than many other singles released by Diana Ross. And hell, at this point in history, maybe the fun of shouting “Eat your heart out!” along with her is exactly what we all need.