On this day in music history: September 19, 1970 – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on October 3, 1970. Written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it is the first solo chart topper for the former lead singer of The Supremes. Originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967, Ashford and Simpson dramatically revamp the song for the Motown diva, punctuated by sections of spoken dialogue by Ross. The basic track is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit on March 13, 1970, with members of The Funk Brothers including James Jamerson (bass), Johnny Griffith (celeste), Earl Van Dyke (clavinet), Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina (guitars), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas), Jack Ashford (tambourine), Uriel Jones and Andrew Smith (drums). Valerie Simpson also plays piano on the session. Ross records her vocal the following day on March 14, 1970, and background vocals sung by Ashford & Simpson and Jo Armstead. The orchestral accompaniment arranged by Paul Riser is recorded in New York City four days later on March 18, 1970. The completed version of the song runs nearly six and a half minutes, far too long to release as a single. Motown founder and chairman Berry Gordy, Jr. is also not fond of the new arrangement at first, feeling that it takes too long to “get to the point”. However, the song quickly finds favor with fans, and radio stations respond by making their own edits and putting it in heavy rotation. Motown reacts quickly by editing it down to three minutes and fifteen seconds, rush releasing it as a single on July 16, 1970. Entering the Hot 100 at #46 on August 8, 1970, it rockets to the top of the chart six weeks later. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sells over a million copies in the US, earning Diana Ross a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1971. One of Ashford & Simpson’s most beloved songs, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is covered by many other artists including Hugh Masekela, Inner Life Featuring Jocelyn Brown, Howard Hewett & Stacy Lattisaw, Human Nature, Michael McDonald, and also recorded live by Ashford & Simpson in 1981. In 2004, an instrumental mix of Ross’ version appears on the Deluxe Edition of the “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” soundtrack.
On this day in music history: September 17, 1982 – “Silk Electric”, the eighteenth album by Diana Ross is released. Produced by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, it is recorded at The Power Station in New York City and Hollywood Sound Recorders in Hollywood, CA from April – July 1982. Following the Platinum selling success of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, Diana Ross’ first album for her new album RCA Records, she returns to the studio while that album is still riding the charts to record the follow up. Once again sitting in the producer’s chair, Ross will use many of the same musicians that had played on the previous album including Ray Chew (keyboards, associate producer), Jeff Mironov, Eric Gale (guitar), Neil Jason (bass), and Rob Mounsey (horn and string arrangements). As recording nears its end in the Summer of 1982, RCA hears the work in progress and feel that the project is missing a sure fire hit. Ross calls on her old friend Michael Jackson to contribute to the album. Michael responds with the song “Muscles” (#4 R&B, #10 Pop, #36 AC), named after his pet boa constrictor, with the sexy, slinky track being filled with lyrical double entendres. Jackson writes the song while flying on the Concorde from London to New York, returning from working with Paul McCartney (on the tracks “Say, Say, Say” and “The Man”). The song features many of Jackson’s favored musicians including Wonderlove bassist Nathan Watts, David Williams (guitar), Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett (drums), Bill Wolfer, Ed Walsh, Greg Smith and Michael Boddicker (synthesizers). The song is a smash, earning Ross a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female in 1983. The albums striking cover artwork features a silkscreen portrait of the singer by famed pop artist Andy Warhol, on the front and back covers of the LP as well as the custom record labels. It spins off two singles including “So Close” (#40 Pop, #76 R&B, #13 AC), featuring Luther Vandross on background vocals. The album is reissued on CD in September of 2014 with four bonus tracks by Funky Town Grooves Records. “Silk Electric” peaks at number five on the Billboard R&B album chart, number twenty seven on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 14, 1981 – “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, the twelfth studio album by Diana Ross is released. Produced by Diana Ross, it is recorded at The Power Station in New York City from May – July 1981. Riding high on the huge success of the album “diana”, it is cresting on the charts just as the R&B and pop superstar is about to become a free agent. The last album on her contract with Motown Records, label founder Berry Gordy, Jr. believes that Diana will renew her contract with the label that has been her home for over twenty years. However, when other major record labels come calling, Ross begins to field offers from the competition. She ultimately decides to sign a highly lucrative contract with RCA Records worth over $20 million dollars, at the time one of the largest record deals offered to a solo artist. Also guaranteeing her full creative control, that seals the deal, with Ross also signing a separate international contract with Capitol/EMI. Initially planning to reunite with Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, the producers decline the offer to work with Diana again, busy working on various projects including an album for themselves, Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry and one for pop vocal legend Johnny Mathis. With RCA wanting to release her first album for them by the Fall of 1981, Ross decides to produce the project herself. Enlisting the assistance of musicians Rob Mounsey and Ray Chew (keyboards), and reaching out to various music industry friends for songs, work gets underway in the Spring. Ross is supported in the studio by a group of top session players including Leon Pendarvis, Ed Walsh (keyboards), Eric Gale, Bob Kulick, Jeff Mironov (guitars), Neil Jason, Francisco Centeno (bass), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Michael Brecker, George Young (saxophones) and Yogi Horton (drums). Delivering the album right on schedule, it’s led by a vibrant and infectious remake of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers’ doo wop classic “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (#6 R&B, #7 Pop, #2 AC). The song is supported by a music video filmed on Fremont Street (“The Old Vegas Strip”) in Las Vegas. It spins off two more singles including “Mirror, Mirror” (#2 R&B, #8 Pop) (co-written by Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky) and “Work That Body” (#34 R&B, #44 Pop) (written by Ross, Chew and Paul Jabara). A solid commercial success, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” kicks off Diana Ross’ post-Motown era with a bang. Originally released on CD in 1983, it is remastered and reissued by Funky Town Grooves Records in 2014, with six additional bonus tracks. “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” peaks at number four on the Billboard R&B album chart, number fifteen on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 13, 1984 – “Swept Away”, the fourteenth studio album by Diana Ross is released. Produced by Diana Ross, Arthur Baker, Daryl Hall, Lionel Richie, James Anthony Carmichael, Bernard Edwards, Richard Perry and Ramón Arcusa, it is recorded at The Power Station in New York City, Studio 55 and Ocean Way Recording Studios in Los Angeles, CA from Early – Mid 1984. Largely self-producing her first three RCA albums, Diana Ross decides to bring in additional assistance when her 1983 album “Ross” is a disappointment. The superstar works with top producers including Bernard Edwards, Lionel Richie and Richard Perry. With dance music having returned to its full commercial zenith during the 80’s, Ross seeks out one of the innovators of the genre, hiring DJ and producer Arthur Baker. Producing and remixing a string of classic club and hip hop records, Baker gives the diva’s fourth RCA album an immediate jolt. Also working with label mates Daryl Hall & John Oates on their album “Big Bam Boom” at the same time, he asks Hall to write a song for Diana. Co-written with girlfriend Sara Allen (with a dramatic spoken intro written by Ross), Daryl comes back with the scintillating “Swept Away” (#3 R&B, #19 Pop, #1 Club Play). The track which also features Daryl Hall on backing vocals, becomes a break out smash. It is given another electrifying twist, when Baker remixes it for release as a 12" single. The dance mix of “Swept Away” features edits by Albert Cabrera and Tony Moran, better known as “The Latin Rascals”. Originally mix show DJ’s on New York radio stations WKTU and 98.7 Kiss-FM, the pair create cutting edge mega mixes, accented with their trademark “bullet editing”. Prior to sampling and Pro-tools technology, they painstakingly cut up drum beats and vocal phrases into ¼, 1/8, and 1/16 notes on tape with a razor blade and editing block. Having employed this technique on records for artists like Shannon, Afrika Bambataa and others, it turns Ross’ track into a cutting edge dance floor epic. The album also features a duet with Latin pop star Julio Iglesias on the single “All Of You” (#2 AC, #19 Pop, #38 R&B), and the ballad “Missing You” (#1 R&B, #10 Pop, #4 AC) written and co-produced by Lionel Richie. It spins off a fourth and final single with “Telephone” (#13 R&B) in the Spring of 1985. “Swept Away” restores Ross to the airwaves, marking the peak of her commercial success in the 80’s. Released on CD, at the time of its original release, the album is remastered and reissued as an expanded two disc deluxe edition by Funky Town Grooves Records in 2014. The first disc contains the original ten track album, with the second featuring nine additional tracks, including the 7" edits and 12" dance mixes of the singles. “Swept Away” peaks at number seven on the Billboard R&B album chart, number twenty six on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 6, 1980 – “Upside Down” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 4 weeks on August 16, 1980. Written and produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it is the fifth solo chart topper for the Motown superstar. When producers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers sign on to work with Diana Ross, they meet the singer at her apartment in New York City. During the several hours they talk to her, she speaks of wanting her record to sound like nothing she’s done before, wanting to make a break with her past both musically and personally. Edwards and Rodgers leave the meeting inspired, and quickly write an entire albums’ worth of material for Ross. Originally titled “The Work Song”, “Upside Down” is inspired by their conversation, being about a woman who is deeply in love with a man who she’s aware isn’t faithful to her, but can’t let go of him. The song is rumored to be about either actor Ryan O’Neal or musician Gene Simmons of the band KISS, both of whom Ross had dated during this period. One of the first tracks recorded for the “diana” album, the basic track and vocals for “Upside Down” are recorded in November of 1979. When the album is released in May of 1980, initially “I’m Coming Out” (#5 Pop, #6 R&B) is chosen to be the first single, but Motown abruptly cancels its release (issuing it as the second single on August 22, 1980) and issues “Upside Down” instead on June 25, 1980. Entering the Hot 100 at #82 on July 12, 1980, the record at first struggles up the chart, taking a month to crack the Top 50. Then on August 9, 1980, the record suddenly pole vaults from #49 to #10 in a single week. Four weeks after that, it makes its final ascent to the top the chart. The funky, groove laden “Upside Down” becomes one of Diana Ross’ biggest and most enduring hits, earning her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female in 1981. In 1997, the song is sampled as the basis for the remix version of MC Lyte’s hit “Cold Rock A Party”. “Upside Down” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 18, 1973 – “Touch Me In The Morning” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 1 week on July 28, 1973, and peaking at #5 on the R&B singles chart on August 4, 1973. Written by Ron Miller and Michael Masser, is the the second solo chart topper (fourteenth overall) for the singer and actress from Detroit, MI. Following her Academy Award nominated performance as Billie Holiday in the biopic “Lady Sings The Blues”, Diana Ross shifts her attention back to her music career in the Spring of 1973. Looking to give his biggest star artist a boost after her Oscar loss, Berry Gordy looks to put Ross back on the top of the charts. Gordy and Motown A&R chief Suzanne dePasse puts together a team to write a big hit for the Motown superstar. Songwriter and producer Ron Miller, best known for writing classics like “For Once In My Life” and “Heaven Help Us All” for Stevie Wonder, is given the assignment to work with Ross. At this time, Gordy and dePasse discovers a former stockbroker turned songwriter named Michael Masser to collaborate with Miller. The pair hit it off instantly and write the sultry “Touch Me In The Morning” for Ross. The recording session are rough going when Ross has a difficult time with the complexly structured song. Running through twelve takes of the song, the singer still feels unsatisfied with her performance after working on her vocals all night. Miller and Masser spend 300 hours in the recording studio editing Diana Ross’ final vocal performance together on “Touch Me In The Morning” from those takes. Released as a single on May 3, 1973, the single does not initially have an easy climb up the charts, actually losing its bullet as it climbs the pop singles chart. Entering the Hot 100 at #89 on June 2, 1973, it climbs to the top of the chart eleven weeks later. The huge success of “Touch Me In Morning” not only restores Diana Ross back on the top of the pop chart for the first time in nearly two years, it marks the beginning of Michael Masser’s hugely successful career as a songwriter and producer. Masser and Ross collaborate several more times over the years scoring another number one hit with “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” and the top ten film theme “It’s My Turn”.