Diana Ross: Diana’s Album Review

In the summer of 1979, Chic was both a colossal success and on the verge of becoming a benchmark in the history of music. Guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards released three skin-tight disco-funk albums in as many years with platinum records like “The Freak” and “Good Times” when clouds of smoke billowed from Comiskey Park in Chicago, where their records and so many others were destroyed by mostly white rock fanatics. The disco backlash came to a head, dampening both Chic’s mood and sales and dampening the duo’s momentum as it peaked.

Rodgers wasn’t exactly surprised by the apparent downfall of his group. In fact, due to the group’s sudden, triple platinum success, he thought it was almost predestined to happen at some point. Always chameleons, he and Edwards adapted to their times by doing new wave, dancing, sometimes even direct rock. Yet as the duo embarked on production work, creating the eternal and festive 1979 album We are a family for his label mates Sister Sledge, Rodgers kept three childhood idols on his bucket list he always wanted to work with: Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger and a Diana Ross. In a year, he would be writing and producing for one of them, as if he had enough self-confidence – and maybe a fair amount of cocaine – to get around the law of attraction at will.

The chance to work with Diana Ross did not come without her own professional risk. By the time Diane, Their formidable pop-disco collaboration, which arrived in the spring of 1980, the legendary singer of the Supremes had not had success in the Top 10 for four years. The new album would be Ross’ 11th LP, after the years 1979 The boss, a bouncy disco record produced by husband and wife duo Ashford & Simpson who performed well on the charts but couldn’t touch the crossover success of their biggest solo hits like the 1973 power ballad “Touch Me in the Morning “and the 1976 faint” Hangover Love. ” 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 new sound to present himself with again.

Ross had recently moved with his three children to an apartment in Manhattan to film the Sorcerer. She’s been wowed by the alluring hustle and bustle of New York City, whether she’s watching revelers from a private balcony at Studio 54 or being alone in the dark of a movie theater. “It was to be my initiation into taking responsibility for myself,” she wrote of the move to the city in her 1993 memoir, The secrets of a sparrow. Ross had good reason to claim a lost sense of authority: his most recent film, Mahogany, had been criticized and she often felt at the mercy of Motown boss 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 himself twice during his dual solo and film career. But as the 80s approached, it was dangerously close to looking old-fashioned.

Suzanne de Passe, Motown’s right-hand man and Gordy’s right-hand man, had come to the same idea. Having already revitalized Ross’s career in 1972 with the biopic Billie Holiday Lady sings the blues (for which de Passe became the first black woman to receive an Oscar nomination as a screenwriter), she now plans to do the same for the diva’s musical career. Chic’s cross-over appeal and spare pocket grooves fit perfectly; although they didn’t meet, de Passe used to be in the same circles as the band in the late 1960s, when she booked concerts for Midtown’s nightclub, the Cheetah. She brought Ross to one of Chic’s shows in Santa Monica, where Rodgers and Edwards struck up a friendship with the star behind the scenes even though they were both clearly upset by her presence. “There was something in the air that tied us together,” Rodgers recalls in his 2011 memoir, The monster. “She was almost like a sister.”

Chic approached Ross’ new album with the meticulous ambition of a passionate project. Determined not to distort her, Rodgers and Edwards met Ross in his apartment and asked him questions about his life, as if they were conducting interviews for a documentary. Song ideas emerged from these flowing conversations: Ross told them she wanted to turn her career upside down in the future (see: “Upside Down”). She had left the pain of her divorce behind and was ready to do it again (see: “Have fun (again)”). Even the tall baby sitting in his apartment has become a premise (“My Old Piano”) as if every detail of Ross’s life symbolizes something much bigger and more moving than at first glance.

The resulting vulnerability and know-how that Chic has brought to Diane remains its most enduring quality. The album relies on simple, engaging rhythmic patterns and unmistakable hooks, all featuring glamorous eyelash lift through Ross’s petal-like performance. They wrote polysyllabic lyrics and jerky vocals to emphasize its distinctive utterance, and introduced horns to complement the new sound with a pop-soul polish. Through it all, Ross fully invests in the songs’ underlying connections to his life, while respecting Chic’s arrangements with exquisite restraint. “Money won’t be enough / When the going gets tough, it’s hard,” she sings on “Have Fun (Again)” while strutting, her bitter soprano dancing upward, “Try cuddling yourself. with your business / And you will see that love is priceless.

Inspiration for Diane also came from Rodgers’ tireless nightlife at the time. He wrote “I’m Coming Out,” the album’s jubilant and immortal centerpiece, after a night out at the Gilded Grape, a Hell’s Kitchen nightclub he considered “the pinnacle of trendy dirt. “. 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 his authority within the gay community that he sought to honor in his surreptitiously. Ross interpreted the song as an indication of her eventual departure from Motown – she would sign with RCA for the 1981s. Why do fools fall in love– but in truth, it spoke clearly and openly to his entire queer fan base, a position statement in your truth that cemented his status as an LGBTQ + icon.

So it’s ironic that “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down”, two of Ross’ most enduring songs, caused an irreparable break in the album process. After Ross brought a raw mix of the album to popular radio DJ Frankie Crocker, she returned to Rodgers and Edwards with a different perspective. Following Disco Demolition Night, Crocker thought Chic was about to ruin his career with this new pop disco ensemble (it didn’t help that he also pointed out the subtext to “I’m Coming Out ”herself came out on the disc). Once Gordy also derided “Upside Down”, Motown demanded the return of the demos and stopped communicating with the band, succinctly bringing a rude awakening to a dream collaboration.

They didn’t get a response until Rodgers and Edwards received a new mix for the album in the mail, reworked by Ross and Motown engineer Russ Terrana. The songs were shortened and radio-primed; Ross’s voice was more direct in the mix and there were new vocal parts brought together. After devoting themselves so completely to the project, all of their work had been reduced to Frankenstein to appease as large and commercial an audience as possible. Rodgers and Edwards even asked a lawyer to remove their name from the case in a last ditch attempt to defend their position.

However, Diane was released with the new Motown mix in May 1980 and remains to this day Ross’s best-selling album, which lasted 52 weeks on the charts. The album is a masterpiece of pop and dance music, even without Chic’s more punchy mix (both versions of the record are available for cross-comparison, released as a deluxe edition in 2003). “Upside Down” topped the pop and R&B charts in September, and “I’m Coming Out” reached number 5, even after being called a gay anthem by critics upon release. The fact that the song wins today is a testament to Rodgers’ astute writing and Ross’s cheerful and contagious performance, conveying the ecstatic message over a demanding guitar line and bellowing trombones.

Listening to the album provides endless pleasures, from the deep, lounge cut “Now That You’re Gone” to the refined ballad “Friend to Friend”, written in homage to Ross and de Passe’s close relationship. Rodgers and Edwards figured out how to bring the pop star into their elegant arrangements, where she infused them with her oversized personality. Ross practically transcends time on the “Give Up” floating floor filler – you can imagine him swaying and spinning on the studio’s choppy bassline, bringing every breathless chorus to life.

Diane represents the union of two generations: the unfettered sophistication of Ross and the chic disco-funk of Chic, blended into an immediately pleasurable cocktail. “She represented the perfect blend of soul and style, whatever we wanted Chic to be,” Rodgers said of the diva. The resulting collaboration is still one of the most memorable of the group and the most guaranteed of Chic’s long career, a status assured once the Sugarhill Gang sampled “Good Times” for “Rapper’s Delight” and launched the hip-hop. “I’m Coming Out” was also sampled for a 1997 rap classic along with Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” further proof of the album’s great chemistry.

Ross eventually returned to Motown and teamed up with Rodgers again in 1989 Doing overtime, corn Diane endures like their rock-cold classic. The album both set a new bar for his music career and set a model for dance and pop music for the next decade, and the next decade, and the next. Diane stood out among her peers in the ’80s as it was supported by the intimate bond she formed with both Chic and her audience, delivered with indefatigable grace. Today, Ross still opens his live performances with “I’m Coming Out”, a timeless anthem that continues to resonate with precise and dazzling magic.

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