Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Diana Ross - Snapshot #2 - The Chemistry Behind A 'Chain Reaction'

The ‘first lady’ of the Supremes quickly assumed the mantle of the ‘first lady of Motown’ with her first string of singles in 1970.  With Ashford and Simpson still in the production booth, Ross released her official debut solo single in early 1970 with ‘Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ (US#20).  In September of ‘70, Diana Ross replaced Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ at US#1 with a cover of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ (#1 for 3 weeks/UK#6).  Her first solo #1 in the U.K. followed in 1971 with ‘I’m Still Waiting’ (#1 for 4 weeks).

Ross’ next few singles performed modestly, but the singer was turning her attention to a a television special, followed by her Oscar nominated performance playing blues legend Billie Holiday in 1972’s ‘Lady Sings The Blues’.  The title track from her 1973 album, ‘Touch Me In The Morning’, touched the top of the U.S. Hot 100 for one week in August of ‘73, replacing ‘The Morning After’ by Maureen McGovern, and in turn replaced by ‘Brother Louie’ by Stories.  The UK#9 ‘All Of My Life’ kept the name Diana Ross in the charts early in’74, followed up by ‘Last Time I Saw Him’ (US#14/ OZ#18/UK#35).  In 1975, Ross recorded an album of duets with Marvin Gaye, which yielded the UK#5 ‘You Are Everything’.  She then returned for her second major movie role in 1976’s ‘Mahogany’, the soundtrack to which yielded another #1 for Diana Ross the singer.  ‘Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)’ hit #5 in the UK, but knew where it was going to in the U.S., straight to #1 - replacing ‘I Write The Songs’ by Barry Manilow in early ‘76, and replaced after one week by ‘Love Rollercoaster’ by Ohio Players  - see future post).  Her second US#1 of the year followed in the guise of ‘Love Hangover’ (UK#10) which replaced ‘Silly Love Songs’ by Wings at #1 in April of ‘76, in turn being supplanted after two weeks by ‘Afternoon Delight’ by Starland Vocal Band - see separate posts).

Following a lead role as Dorothy in the Motown produced film flop ‘The Wiz’, Ross released two solo albums, 1977’s ‘Baby, It’s Me’, and 1978’s ‘Ross’ neither of which sold well or yielded any hit singles in the disco dominated charts.  The 1979 Ashford and Simpson produced album, ‘The Boss’, reclaimed some pop cache along with the US#19 title track.  But Diana Ross hadn’t scored a top ten hit in over three years.  Perhaps it was time for Ms. Ross to have a stylistic makeover.

Enter the Chic production/writing team of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (see separate post).  Comprising eight tracks, all written by Rodgers/Edwards, the US#2 album ‘Diana’, yielded three major hit singles, ‘My Old Piano’ (UK#5/OZ#25), ‘I’m Coming Out’ (US#5/ UK#13/OZ#40), and the funk edged dance number ‘Upside Down’.  The latter hit #2 in the UK, and became Ross’ biggest post Supremes hit.  ‘Upside Down’ hit #1 in Australia during September of 1980, replacing ‘Moscow’ by Genghis Khan - see separate post - and in turn was displaced after 4 weeks by Leo Sayer’s ‘More Than I Can Say’.  In the US, ‘Upside Down’ went upside the charts to #1 for 4 weeks, replacing ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross, and in turn shot down by Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.  ‘Upside Down’ was the fifth highest selling single in the U.S. for 1980, and holds the honour of being the #3 biggest selling Motown song of all time.  But an even bigger hit was just around the corner.

In 1981, Diana Ross released the album ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ (US#15).  The album yielded the top ten hits ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ (US#7/ UK#4/OZ#15), a cover of the old Frankie Lymon hit, ‘Mirror, Mirror’ (US#8), and ‘Work That Body’ (UK#7), the latter two hits during 1982.  But it was a Lionel Richie (see future post) penned ballad that would redefine the profile of Diana Ross’ solo career.  ‘Endless Love’ topped charts the world over, well apart from the UK (#7).  In Australia, the Ross/Richie duet hit #1 during October of ‘81, replacing ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ by Shakin’ Stevens, and in turn dislodged by Billy Field’s ‘You Weren’t In Love With Me’ - see separate posts.  In the U.S., ‘Endless Love’ set up an almost endless reign atop the charts from August of ‘81, displacing Rick Springfield’s ‘Jessie’s Girl’ (see future post), and nine weeks later being finally usurped at #1 by Christopher Cross’ ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’, Cross gaining revenge for ‘Upside Down’s pillaging of ‘Sailing’s #1 reign back in 1980.  ‘Endless Love’ set record after record.  It was the third highest selling single in the U.S. for the 1980s (behind ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newton-John, and ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ by Kim Carnes - see separate post).  It was the #1 duet of all time, and the #1 song of all time released on the Motown label.  Cue Ross departing from Motown and signing with a new label, RCA - go figure.

Over the next few years Diana Ross scored a handful of top ten singles, including ‘Muscles’ (US#10/ UK#15) in 1982, written, produced and with backing vocals by Michael Jackson, ‘Missing You’ (US#10) in 1984, and another duet, ‘All Of You’ (OZ#19/UK#43), this time with Julio Iglesias the same year.  Diana Ross would not return to the U.S. Top Ten again, but she had several more shots to fire at the UK and Australian charts, including one more foray into the #1 position.

During the early 80s, Bee Gee Barry Gibb had woven his writing and production management to revive the stalling careers of divas Barbra Streisand, and Dionne Warwick.  Since their halcyon days of the late 70s, the Bee Gees career had gone into decline, so it was understandable that they turn their hand to working with other artists.  It wasn’t that the Bee Gees had forgotten how to write and produce great music, but their brand had been tarnished somewhat by their association with the doomed disco movement - in time that tarnish would be buffed off and the Bee Gees would rightly return to the top of the charts with ‘You Win Again’ (1987) and ‘Alone’ (1989) - but that’s another tale to tell.

In 1985, Barry Gibb combined with brother Maurice to pen ten new songs for inclusion on the latest Diana Ross album, ‘Eaten Alive’.  The first single, and title track, bombed on the charts (UK#71), but the follow up single ‘Chain Reaction’ released early in ‘86, was to detonate on both the U.K. and Australian charts.  The song was a slice of Motown nostalgia meets classic 80s pop, with Barry Gibb’s trademark falsetto backing vocals, and was paired with a stunning promotional video, which inter-cut footage of a prowling seductive Diana Ross, with black and white footage of Ross portraying her ‘Motown era’ self.  ‘Chain Reaction’ exploded on to the British charts and hit ground zero, that’s #1, in the U.K. during March of ‘86, displacing Billy Ocean’s ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going’ (see separate post), and in turn having the pin pulled after 3 weeks by Cliff Richard & The Young Ones with ‘Living Doll’.  In Australia, ‘Chain Reaction’ went thermonuclear at #1 also for 3 weeks from April of ‘86, and in a remarkable coincidence, it was book ended by Billy Ocean and Cliff Richard & The Young Ones here as well as Britain.  In the U.K., it had been over 14 years between #1 hits for Diana Ross (1971’s ‘I’m Still Waiting’ - she certainly had been made to wait), a record gap to that time.  Just as surprising was the fact that neither of those #1 British hits had made much more than a ripple Stateside - ‘Chain Reaction’ bombed at #66 on the U.S. Hot 100, though it did garner some support on the dance floors  (#7 on the U.S. Dance charts).

For Diana Ross, the major hits era in the U.S. had come to a close.  She released four more albums from 1987’s ‘Red Hot Rhythm and Blues’, through to 1994’s ‘Forever Diana’, the latter being released on her new label EMI.  Though serious chart action continued to elude Ross at home, in the U.K. it was a different story with four major hits there over that period - ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ (UK#2); ‘One Shining Moment’ (UK#10); ‘Your Love’ (UK#14); and ‘Not Over You Yet’ (UK#9) - that last hit being in late ‘99.

Over the last decade Diana Ross has slipped into virtual retirement with 2007’s ‘I Love You’ her latest release.  But doubtless, her lasting legacy to popular music is assured for all time.)))

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