Monday, December 06, 2021

The Diana Ross Roundtable

Jim: Roundtable time again. .  Remember our e-mail address is  Participating in our roundtable are  The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava, and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz); Ruth of Ruth's Report; Trina of Trina's Kitchen; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends; Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub. This is The Diana Ross Roundtable.  


diana cover 2



Jim (Con't): Diana Ross released a new album this month. It is entitled THANK YOU and that's about all most outlets got right. Kat, you covered the album in "Kat's Korner: No, Diana Ross, Thank You" so why don't you explain that statement.

Kat: This is Diana's 26th solo studio album. At least 26. Most outlets went with 25 because they relied on CRAPAPAEDIA but CRAPAPEDIA has it wrong. They are not counting Diana's WIZ album DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS FROM THE WIZ. That is a studio album -- it notes that in the liner notes for the album -- I reviewed that album here. THE WIZ was hoped to be a big hit. It came out as did the soundrack. It was hoped it would be a big hit and so MOTOWN had Diana go into the studio and record every song on the soundtrack by herself. The plan was that this would be released when the film needed a second wind. The film did not do well and the album went into the vault. It was finally released. This was a studio album.

Ty: And Diana did a jazz album, BLUE, that was finally released in 2006. CRAPAPEDIA considers that a studio album.

Dona: They got it wrong and people don't pay attention so the lie takes hold.

Jim: So it's a studio album. She's had a lot of hits on the dance charts in the last two years. These have been remixes.

Wally: She has had number one dance chart hits. That's amazing. This is a career that saw her score hits in the 60, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 00s, the 10s and now the 2020s.

Ruth: That is a significant accomplishment. I was shocked when I read "" -- probably should not have been -- to learn that NPR elected to completely ignore THANK YOU. They did not do any reports on Diana Ross or any interviews with her and did not even include her album in their Friday roundtable. That woman is my age. I will not be opening a major festival in England next year. I never had a musical voice as lovely as she does but what I did have is long gone. She has been a pioneer for decades and it is a real slap in the face that they did not take the time to acknowledge her. I believe I am two or three years older than she is.

Elaine: ON that, I would like to point out that Johnny Cash doing his final albums was treated as world news and Diana is now older than Johnny was when he passed away. Is it her race? Is it her gender? Is it both? What reason, exactly, would NPR like to give for disrespecting her?

Isaiah: THANK YOU would be an amazing album for anyone to release -- Brandy, Demi Lovato, you name it.

Cedric: I really agree with that. We listen, Ann and I, to it constantly. Our oldest sings along with some of the songs and our youngest springs up and down trying to dance.

Ann: It is a joyful album.

Betty: You know, I think that might be the best tagline for it, "a joyful album." I really love it. I love all of Diana's work. But I really love this one. It has some of the crisp, tight and clean feel that Ashford & Simpson helped her achieve with THE BOSS. And I was thinking about that and thinking of how the 80s were a dramatic decade -- synths, big shoulder pads, etc. And Diana's albums reflected that decade. And I love them. SWEPT AWAY is an 80s classic. But this album's a bit more relaxed.

Ann: And, like Betty, I loved that drama -- "Mirror, Mirror," "Muscles," "Swept Away," "Eaten Alive," etc. Great songs. But this one was a bit of -- a little more peace, a little more introspection? A little -- well, hope. Hope for the world we're living in. It really did speak to me.

Jess: When I was a kid, I remember Diana Ross performing at the Superbowl half-time show. And we were not a TV family. But we did watch that. And I remember my folks being so excited. They were telling my sister and I and I think we were both like "Huh?" Then it came time for her to perform and we got it because we knew all the songs -- from the radio, from our parents playing the music in the house. Ava: What did you think of this album?

Jess: I like it. I like the energy and the attitude.

Ava: I like it too and I want to give Diana huge praise for putting out a real album, for doing so in the pandemic and for not trying the stunt so popular of late where you just do duets. I don't need to hear anybody redo their catalogue but as duets. Not that fond of Frank Sinatra's two albums at the end of his career and if he couldn't really pull it off, who can? But look at Elton John, Reba and all the rest serving up slop.

Rebecca: Or the bulk of Barbra Streisand's output over the last two decades. I agree with Ava. Some artists are releasing product that is nothing but a money grab. Diana made a real album. It's an artistic achievement and she should be proud of THANK YOU.

Betty: I love the album and I love every track. But my favorite? It would either be "If The World Just Danced" or "Beautiful Love." But it changes every week and I do love the whole album.

Marica: Betty, like me and a few others, you are a longterm Diana Ross fan. Where would you rank this album?

Betty: Good question. I'd ran it as one of her best -- I'd put it up there with THE BOSS, diana, SWEPT AWAY, EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY and EATEN ALIVE.

Marcia: I'd rank it alongside those five as well. I'm not sure, though, where I'd put it, you know, the order?

Betty: Yeah. For me, it often depends on the mood -- and the weather. Seriously, if it's raining, SWEPT AWAY is my go to.

Cedric: I feel that way too and it's weird because Diana Ross did her Central Park concerts -- the first one with the rain falling -- when she'd released ROSS. SWEPT AWAY is the album after. But it's a raining album to me too.

Isaiah: Did you like ROSS?

Cedric: It's okay but not one of my favorites.

Isaiah: I really do like it but I think side two is the better side. "Upfront," "Let's Go Up" and --

Ann: "Love or Loneliness!" Yes. That should have been a single. I loved that song.

Ty: What about some more of her deep cuts -- not just the singles but album tracks that we really loved?

Stan: I always loved her sassy vocal on "It's Your Move."

Mike: Good choice. I'll go with something like "Not Over You Yet." 

Elaine: I'll go with "No One Gets The Prize." Trina: Any track on THE BOSS stands out for me. 

Ruth: I loved her medley of "Save The Children" and "Brown Baby." And of all the "Imagine" covers, I think Diana did it best. 

Rebecca: And Barbra Streisand did the worst cover of John Lennon's "Imagine." The worst. As for a deep cut that's a cover, I always loved Diana's cover of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." She did it on album of Christmas songs and I was surprised at how well it worked among Christmas songs and how beautiful her phrasing was.       

Ty: For me, EATEN ALIVE is an album of wonderful deep cuts, songs that were never singles. You've got "More and More," "Love on the Line," "Crime of Passion," "I'm Watching You" -- I mean, the whole album is deep cut paradise. The only singles were "Eaten Alive" and "Chain Reaction." 

Betty: Do you think it was a mistake to release "Eaten Alive" first? Ty: I do. I think it buried the album here in the US. 


Ruth: I don't remember any real push on the album either. 

C.I.: RCA didn't do one.  Diana lined up some print interviews with women's magazines and, otherwise, there was really nothing.   RCA did not promote her very well and she has valid complaints there because RCA promoters tasked with getting her singles on the radio instead trashed her singles in pitch meetings. This is how Diana becomes an urban artist and no longer a pop artist. That would never have happened at MOTOWN. But RCA knew they could make money without promoting her. In the total picture, RCA failed every artist it had. They were supposed to get airplay and promotion and they didn't for any artists. That's Eurythmics, that's everyone. The most promoted song by Eurythmics was the duet with Aretha Franklin and that's because Clive Davis was the head of Aretha's label, ARISTA, and he picked up RCA's slack. RCA failed every artist. Rick Springfield was promoted via GENERAL HOSPTAL. RCA did nothing for him. Which is why his hits drop away as he moves away from appearing on TV daily, Monday through Friday.

Jim: So was it a mistake for her to leave MOTOWN.

C.I.: MOTOWN was constricting, for one thing. She was the queen of the label but that meant that, on the exec side, they thought they could control her. When she was fighting for more say and more artistic growth, they weren't happy about that. They intentionally poorly promoted THE BOSS. That was her journey and her statement and she left California, where MOTOWN had moved for recording, to be in New York with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. If you track "The Boss" -- the title track -- by city, you'll see Diana peaks in each city as she's on tour there. If MOTOWN had done a real national push promoting the song, it would have climbed much higher on the national charts. There is also the money aspect. MOTOWN didn't pay most people what they deserved. Smokey Robinson got what he deserved but he really was it. Stevie Wonder had to fight and fight and only got what he was worth once he was too big a star -- and over 18 -- for MOTOWN to lose. Diana had been recording and touring, doing TV specials and films and she was the mother of three with nothing really in the bank. With RCA, she finally had real financial security as a result of that deal. If Motown had kept her? I don't know. Berry lost interest in running MOTOWN and Suzanne de Passe was ready to move into the company's TV and film division. If she'd stayed at MOTOWN, hit wise, if likely would have been over. Stevie coasted on his own reputation. MOTOWN didn't promote him. And when he had a song in a hit film, he had a hit song. But they didn't promote him, the label didn't. Would Berry have stayed interested in the music division had Diana not left? Maybe. Maybe not. Financially, it was the right thing for her to do for herself and her family -- leaving MOTOWN. Artistically, it was the right thing to do. She was treated very poorly in the seventies -- disrespected by some of her producers and some big ego songwriters. They wanted Diana to be their wind-up doll and just do what she was told. They didn't recognize her own creativity. That's why she worked so often with Ashford & Simpson. They didn't see her as a part coming down an assembly line. They worked with her to develop themes and ideas she could identify with and craft the Diana who is a legend and a survivor. And she was able to do that even more so with RCA because they didn't care. They knew her name would sell X number of records and they didn't care. So she was allowed total control. Her RCA years have some real artistic highs.

Jess: Was it a mistake to, after leaving RCA, return to MOTOWN.

C.I.: Looking back, Diana should have engaged strong independent promoters to pitch her singles to radio. RCA did poorly. Returning to MOTOWN? It was MOTOWN in name only. They had no real plan but to try to repeat the past. So diana was a hit? Put her back with Nile Rogers. Okay, Nile's great but he's not Bernard Edwards and it was Nile and Bernard who worked on the diana album -- it was Diana who had the album remixed. WORKIN' OVERTIME is the only Diana album I rarely listen to. "This House" and the title track are good but the album has a sameness. It's trying to address the state of the world but to do within the framework of "Upside Down." That's a great song but it came about because Diana kept telling Niles and Bernard that she wanted a song that her young daughters could sing. In that framework, it's a little hard to handle the kind of themes they're attempting on that album.

Dona: Did MOTOWN push the album?

C.I.: They promoted it. Diana had a major story in VANITY FAIR and was on the cover, they got the video on all the various video programs that existed except for MTV. They could not get the lead single on pop radio.

Rebecca: Because RCA had done it's part to destroy the pathway to pop radio that Berry Gordy had created.  Diana's popularity kept her on urban radio.  And, after the RCA years, that's all she had.  Now in the UK, she continued to chart on their pop charts but she wasn't on RCA in the UK.  That's why "Chain Reaction" was a number one hit in England, for example.  

Betty: She got true freedom and true independence by leaving MOTOWN to begin with.  Looking at Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson's limited success in the second half of the 80s and in the 90s, staying at MOTOWN wouldn't have helped her.  

Jim: Alright then.  We urge you to check out Diana Ross' new album THANK YOU.  This is a rush transcript.





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