Onetime Supreme and all-time pop and R&B diva Diana Ross was born March 26, 1944 in the Motor City, Detroit. She would, under the tutelage of Motown Records president Berry Gordy and using the resources of his label, perform some of the great hit singles of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together” with The Supremes, and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," “Touch Me in the Morning” and “Love Hangover” as a solo artist.
At the dawn of the ‘80s, Ross had endured a bit of a down period; while still a strong concert draw, her most recent records had not sold well, and her involvement with the largely panned 1978 film musical The Wiz had not helped matters at all. She left Motown in 1980, but before she did, she made possibly the best album of her solo career, the classic Diana.
Do you remember this record? On it, Ross hooked up with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (who both produced the record and brought eight cracking songs); they brought the band’s drummer, Tony Thompson, and string section. Essentially, Diana was a Chic record fronted by Ross - dance music royalty joining forces on a single platter.
From the first seconds of the album, you know you’re in for something special, because those first seconds introduce “Upside Down,” the lead single, which went to No. 1 on the pop, dance and R&B charts - pure platinum perfection.
That sound - Rodgers’ chunky rhythm guitar, Thompson’s rock-solid beat and Edwards’ melodic low-end playing - had powered a string of great disco tunes, and was now being employed to bring one of Motown’s greatest voices into a new era. If “Upside Down” didn’t convince you of that, then “I’m Coming Out” certainly bolstered the case.
Seven of the album’s eight songs were similarly built. The one track that wasn’t, was the beautiful ballad “Friend to Friend,” which would sound of a piece with virtually any era in Ross’ long career. Whenever she wraps her voice around a slow song, it’s something special.
In spite of what critics and audiences alike came to regard as a terrific album, Ross was unsatisfied with the final mixes, and took them to Motown’s studios to have them tweaked. Rodgers and Edwards’ original mix of the record finally saw the light of day on a 2003 deluxe edition of the record, and to be honest, it’s hard to see what Ross objected to so strongly. Take the original mix of “I’m Coming Out” - it’s brighter and thumps harder, with a more detailed instrumental arrangement.
Regardless, Diana stands as a dance music classic and as distinctive a collaboration as Ross would have in her solo career.