Kat's Korner: Diana Ross's diana and the RCA Years
The added bonus was that you could hear not just the hits you know and the album you love but also the album as two men intended it to be originally.
In the original mixes by Bernard-Edwards and Nile Rogers, there are no big hits. "Upside Down," for example, might have hit the top forty but that would have been solely due to the beat. There was nothing that would have made it stand out from anything else on the radio -- let alone make it unique enough to hit number one.
Diana Ross knew what she was doing when she said the album wasn't ready to be released and she knew what she was doing when she took charge.
She did a complete overhaul and, in the process, created a classic album.
Her work on diana cannot be over praised because the difference on every track is so huge.
She was coming off a string of hits: "Upside Down," "I'm Coming Out," "It's My Turn" and "Endless Love."
She would end up releasing six studio albums (and one best of) with RCA. Of the studio albums, she'd have one gold album and two platinum albums. She'd have eight hit singles on the top forty charts alone.
But the notion would be that by leaving Motown and taking control in the studio, Diana had bitten off more than she could chew.
"Hold Me (In Your Arms)," features one of Diana's bravest vocal performances. She's not just singing the song, she is living it at the microphone. It's raw and naked -- like her Academy Award nominated performance in LADY SINGS THE BLUES.
Even on the throw away track "Turn Me Over," she's experimenting.
In 1983, she should have ruled the charts -- from the Central Park concerts publicity alone -- but instead repeatedly misfired.
No, you don't.
Where the zebra lightning strikes the room
But no one called it a reason to rush and get the album.
The lead single killed the enthusiasm for the album.
Which is too bad because "Let's Go Up" is delightful and has some of the best arrangements since "I'm Coming Out."
"Love or Loneliness" was a great song on the album and Diana’s co-written "Girls" was another stand out.
"All of You" was a hit ballad before the album was released and this duet with Julio Iglesias helped create interest.
In fact, Diana appeared to work on one strong record (single) for each album and she succeeded with "Swept Away."
But it does have a beautiful simplicity.
I think Diana knew what she was going for here and succeeded.
Simplicity is also found in her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (featuring amazing guitar work by Jeff Beck). The recording, yes, is a thing of beauty and Diana delivers the definitive version of the song.
September 1986, EATEN ALIVE was released.
I didn't buy it at a record store.
I bought it at a grocery store.
Didn't know Diana even had a new album out -- RCA did a very poor job promoting Diana's albums.
The young lady checking me out mentioned Diana's new album and I said I'd have to get it. She said they had it over in their cassette section -- which they did. But this really is representative of RCA. Diana's coming off a hit album -- gold, and later platinum -- that featured 3 huge hits on multiple charts and 1 soul hit. She's performed live selling out Radio City Music Hall throughout her performances (while dealing off stage during this with the death of her mother) and she's been all over the television singing and hosting (and in 1986 will host The American Music Awards) but RCA, in September of 1985 can't even promote the album?
This is my least favorite track on the album. I don't feel like it belongs.
But -- regardless of whatever it's saying -- this should have been a hit.
RCA made it the first track because it was written by and featured vocals from the hottest musical act of the 80s: Michael Jackson.
On a greatest hits collection (or on the radio), it's a good song.
But it does not belong on the album.
"Chain Reaction" is a better representation of what Diana and her main producer Barry Gibb (Bee Gees fame) were going for.
It's a great song.
And it didn't crack the top forty.
The song was huge.
A number one hit.
It was among many songs that prevented Whitney Houston from topping the UK charts with "How Will I Know."
Every track is a classic -- "Love on the Line," "Crime of Passion," etc -- and they flow perfectly.
1986 was the year Diana got pregnant and a year where she didn't release an album.
1987, while four months pregnant, she released her final RCA album RED HOT RHYTHM BLUES and did an Emmy nominated ABC special featuring Etta James (among others) to promote the album.
"Dirty Looks" was the lead single.
It should have been the gorgeous "Summertime."
Or even the upbeat "Shine."
I'd give it a solid B.
And that's her final RCA studio album.
The weakest, for me, is WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE. I wish the non-single tracks were more than they are. But SWEPT AWAY and EATEN ALIVE qualify as real classics.
On another level, she was with RCA for six years only -- so that album record is even more impressive.
And she had hits: "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," "Mirror Mirror," "Muscles," "So Close," "Pieces of Ice," "All of You," "Swept Away" and "Missing You." That's eight top forty hits.
She rocked the dance charts.
She also had a soul hit with "Telephone."
That's very impressive.
Especially when you realize she did it at RCA.
It was the worst label to be on.
Even given the hit factory that was Eurythmics, for example, RCA couldn't deliver.
What if she had stayed at Motown?
Lionel Richie left Motown in the mid-80s. Stevie Wonder was the last big star on the label.
The same time Diana was releasing her last RCA album, Stevie was releasing his SKELTONS album. It was complex and still stands as a work of art. And the title track was his final top forty hit (thus far). They destroyed Stevie's career, they didn't nurture it. Berry Gordy had lost interest in music and in the label around 1981 (Martha Reeves might argue it was about a decade earlier that he lost interest).
RCA is a lousy label to this day.
And that's part of the reason Diana's RCA work has gotten such a bad rep.
Unlike most labels, RCA wasn't interested in selling discs in the 90s and 00s.
So you couldn't find SWEPT AWAY except via Ebay or overseas websites.
Same with EATEN ALIVE and all of her catalogue except for WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE which surfaced at a bargain price in the late 90s.
Fortunately, Funky Town Grooves has remixed and expanded the RCA albums and maybe that will help jump start a long overdue critical reappraisal of that period.