Diana Ross - Diana Music Album Reviews

Diana Ross - Diana Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a landmark disco and pop album, a dazzling and fabulous collaboration between Chic and Diana Ross.

In the summer of 1979, Chic were simultaneously a colossal success and on the precipice of becoming a footnote in music history. Guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards put out three slinky, disco-funk albums in as many years with platinum records like “Le Freak” and “Good Times” when clouds of smoke billowed out of Comiskey Park in Chicago, where their records and so many others were being destroyed by mostly white rock fanatics. The disco backlash hit full stride, dampening both Chic’s mood and sales and curbing the duo’s momentum as it reached an apex.

Rodgers wasn’t exactly surprised by his group’s seeming downfall. In fact, owing to the group’s sudden, triple-platinum success, he thought it was all but preordained to happen at some point. Always the chameleons, he and Edwards adjusted to the times by making new wave, dance, sometimes even straightforward rock. Yet as the duo segued into production work, crafting the everlasting, celebratory 1979 album We Are Family for labelmates Sister Sledge, Rodgers held on to three childhood idols on his bucket list he still wanted to work with: Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger, and one Diana Ross. Within a year, he would be writing and producing for one of them, as though with enough confidence—and perhaps a fair amount of cocaine—he could bend the law of attraction at whim.

The chance to work with Diana Ross didn’t come without its own professional risk. By the time diana, their sterling pop-disco collaboration, arrived in the spring of 1980, the legendary Supremes singer hadn’t had a Top 10 hit in four years. The new album would be Ross’ 11th LP, following 1979’s The Boss, a peppy disco record produced by husband-and-wife duo Ashford & Simpson that performed decently on the charts but couldn’t touch the crossover success of her biggest solo hits like 1973’s power ballad “Touch Me in the Morning” and 1976’s swooning “Love Hangover.” Now, on the other side of a divorce from talent manager Bob Ellis and embarking on a fledgling acting career, Ross was determined to find a fresh sound with which to reintroduce herself.

Ross had recently moved with her three children into an apartment in Manhattan to film The Wiz. She grew beguiled by New York’s seductive commotion, whether watching revelers from a private balcony at Studio 54 or ensconced in the darkness of a movie theater by herself. “This was to be my initiation into taking responsibility for myself,” she wrote of the move to the city in her 1993 memoir, Secrets of a Sparrow. Ross had good reason for reclaiming a lost sense of authority: Her most recent film, Mahogany, had been critically panned, and she often felt at the mercy of Motown head Berry Gordy when it came to her music. Ross had already lived many musical lives—auditioning for Gordy and joining the Supremes as a teenager, then reinventing herself twice through her dual solo and film careers. But as the ’80s loomed, she was dangerously close to appearing old-fashioned.

Suzanne de Passe, Motown brass and Gordy’s right hand, had come to the same realization. Having already revitalized Ross’ career in 1972 with the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (for which de Passe became the first Black woman to receive a screenwriting nomination at the Oscars), she was now intent on doing the same for the diva’s musical career. Chic’s crossover appeal and spare, in-the-pocket grooves neatly fit the bill; though they hadn’t met, de Passe used to run in the same circles as the band in the late 1960s, when she booked acts for Midtown nightclub the Cheetah. She brought Ross to one of Chic’s shows in Santa Monica, where Rodgers and Edwards forged a friendship with the star backstage even as they were both clearly bowled over by her presence. “There was something in the air that bonded us,” Rodgers recalled in his 2011 memoir, Le Freak. “She was almost like a sister.”

Chic approached Ross’ new album with the meticulous ambition of a passion project. Determined not to misrepresent her, Rodgers and Edwards met with Ross in her apartment and asked questions about her life, as though conducting interviews for a documentary. Song ideas bloomed out of these free-flowing conversations: Ross told them she wanted to turn her career upside down going forward (see: “Upside Down”). She had left behind the pain of her divorce and was ready to start anew (see: “Have Fun (Again)”). Even the baby grand sitting in her apartment became a premise (“My Old Piano”) as though each detail of Ross’ life were a symbol of something far greater and more emotional than at first glance.

The resulting vulnerability and craftsmanship Chic brought to diana remains its most enduring quality. The album coasts on simple, engaging rhythmic patterns and undeniable hooks, all given a glamorous lash lift by Ross’ petal-soft performance. They wrote polysyllabic lyrics and staccato chants to emphasize her distinctive enunciation, and introduced horns to round out the new sound with a pop-soul burnish. Through it all, Ross fully invests in the songs’ underlying connections to her life, while meeting Chic’s arrangements with exquisite restraint. “Money won’t be enough/When the going gets tough, it’s rough,” she sings on the strutting “Have Fun (Again),” her gossamer soprano dancing upward, “Try to cuddle with your business/And you’ll see that love is priceless.”

Inspiration for diana came from Rodgers’ tireless nightlife at the time, too. He wrote “I’m Coming Out,” the album’s jubilant, immortal centerpiece, after a night out at the Gilded Grape, a Hell’s Kitchen nightclub he deemed “the pinnacle of trendy sleaze.” While in the bathroom, he noticed a group of drag queens dressed as Ross on either side of him at the urinals—a manifestation of her authority among the gay community that he sought to honor in his own surreptitious way. Ross interpreted the song as an indication of eventually leaving Motown—she would sign to RCA for 1981’s Why Do Fools Fall in Love—but in truth it spoke plainly and openly to her entire queer fan base, a declaration of standing in your truth that cemented her status as an LGBTQ+ icon.

It’s ironic, then, that both “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” two of Ross’ most enduring songs, caused an irreparable rift in the album’s process. After Ross brought a rough mix of the album to the popular radio DJ Frankie Crocker, she came back to Rodgers and Edwards with a changed outlook. In the wake of Disco Demolition Night, Crocker thought Chic was set on ruining her career with this new set of disco pop (it didn’t help that he’d also pointed out the subtext of “I’m Coming Out,” assuming Ross was coming out on the record herself). Once Gordy also derided “Upside Down,” Motown demanded the demos back and ceased communication with the group, succinctly bringing a rude awakening to a dream collaboration.

They didn’t hear back until Rodgers and Edwards received a new mix of the album in the mail, reworked by Ross and Motown engineer Russ Terrana. The songs were shortened and radio-primed; Ross’ voice was more up-front in the mix and there were new vocal parts spliced together. After devoting themselves so completely to the project, all of their work had been Frankensteined into something slimmed down to appease as broad and commercial an audience as possible. Rodgers and Edwards even sought out an attorney to remove their name from the record in a last-ditch attempt to stand their ground.

Nonetheless, diana was released with the new Motown mix in May 1980 and remains Ross’ best-selling album to this day, lasting on the charts for 52 weeks. The album is a masterpiece of pop and dance music, even without Chic’s punchier mix (both versions of the record are available to cross-compare, released as a deluxe edition in 2003). “Upside Down” topped the pop and R&B charts by September, and “I’m Coming Out” reached No. 5, even after it was clocked as a gay anthem by critics as soon as it was released. That the song prevails today is testament to Rodgers’ canny songwriting and Ross’ infectiously joyous performance, carrying out the ecstatic message over an exacting guitar line and bellowing trombones.

Listening to the album provides endless pleasures, from the loungey deep cut “Now That You’re Gone” to the refined ballad “Friend to Friend,” written as a tribute to the close relationship between Ross and de Passe. Rodgers and Edwards understood how to bring the pop star into their elegant arrangements, where she infused them with her outsize personality. Ross practically transcends time on the buoyant floor-filler “Give Up”—you can picture her swaying and gyrating to the restless bassline in the studio, giving it life with each breathless chorus.

diana represents a union of two generations: Ross’ unfettered sophistication and Chic’s uptown disco-funk, stirred into an instantly enjoyable cocktail. “She represented the perfect blend of soul and style, everything we wanted Chic to be,” Rodgers said of the diva. Their resulting collaboration is still one of the band’s most memorable and all but guaranteed Chic’s long-standing career, a status ensured once Sugarhill Gang sampled “Good Times” for “Rapper’s Delight” and jump-started hip-hop. “I’m Coming Out,” too, was later sampled for a rap classic in 1997 with Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems,” further proof of the album’s far-reaching alchemy.

Ross eventually returned to Motown and teamed up with Rodgers again on 1989’s Workin’ Overtime, but diana persists as their stone-cold classic. The album both set a new bar for her musical career and established a template for the dance and pop music of the next decade, and the next decade, and the next. diana stands out among its peers in the ’80s because it comes underpinned by the intimate bond she formed with both Chic and her audience, delivered with indefatigable grace. Today, Ross still reliably opens her live performances with “I’m Coming Out,” a timeless anthem that continues to resonate with precise, dazzling magic.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Diana Ross - Diana Music Album Reviews Diana Ross - Diana Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 05, 2021 Rating: 5


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