[10 February 2004]
No replacement exists for the original Diana LP. Sitting on a record store’s shelf back in 1980, the customer would see a lovely black & white photo—an upper body profile—of the supreme Supreme, looking like she’s just popped out of the shower, her hair down and damp, a white T-shirt quickly thrown on, sleeve rolled up, Diana meeting your glance-turned-stare head on. Tough. Sexy. Flip the cover over and lo’ and behold the photo keeps going and you realize it’s a full on body shot, her white t-shirt tucked into casually tight blue jeans, her left hand tucked into a place you could only dream about: her back pocket. Where I grew up, we’d say she’s “hella fine” and indeed we did, over and over and over, a bunch of curious 10-year-olds wondering if she really wasn’t wearing a bra. But wait, buy the record, take it home, open it up and after gawking at the outside shot again there was much more Diana to be had. The inside spread was just as tantalizing, a fold out color close-up shot of her, again holding your gaze, though now that you’d taken her home a bit more intimately, this 36-year-old mother of three all made up and dressed in see-through red and maroon (was it bed-wear or just elegant dinner attire?), her red lipstick and diamond earring adding to the luster before you. And in the lower right hand corner “friend to friend” inscribed in her handwriting, just above her signature. Enough to make one gasp. And we did, brother, we did. And that was before putting the needle to vinyl.
So anytime I see this record sitting in a bin (and there are plenty of them) in some thrift store I pick it up, just for the sleeve. Glorious wallpaper it does make. Which, if you want to experience the full effect of Francesco Scavullo (outside) and Douglas Kirkland’s (inside) photography I suggest you do the same. Otherwise, you can get a minimized though aesthetically similar version, as well as a much better sonic experience, by picking up the recent two CD Diana [Deluxe Edition]. Yes, these deluxe/expanded/bonus/broken promise editions are hit and miss, and one should approach them with a skeptical eye. Knowing record companies have tons of precious unreleased material sitting in the vaults, I always want to believe the extra frosting that they’re about to charge you for is the real deal. Often, it ain’t. However, I will put my measly reputation on the line now and say this Diana is a must have, for curios and connoisseurs alike.
Like its vinyl compatriot, this double CD’s encasement unfolds into the two glorious Diana shots, so you sort of get the same flavor, just minimized. Press “play”, however, and you couldn’t ask for a bigger taste. The momentary guitar scratch followed by that unforgettable bass and piano groove of the #1 smash “Upside Down” shoots into your head, ten seconds later that unforgettable chorus, then just Diana: “Up-side down / Boy you’re turnin’ me / In-side out and… / Round and round”. Forget all else. Diana’s voice floats like never before, every layer of the song floating, caressing, grooving over each other, a perfect ensemble of sounds (the vibes expand from the speaker like nothing I’ve ever heard). And then when that funky-ass guitar pluck hits you at the 2:45 mark—oh damn!—you can’t help but be floating in that groove, completely turned way the fuck upside down. Really, try it. Then go to track #9 and you will hear the song again, differently, the way the Chic boys wanted you to hear it. Then pull out your vinyl copy and fully geek out…
I’ve never been a Diana Ross groupie, though after hearing this remastered Diana I’m thinking about it. Written and produced by the uber-successful duo Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, Diana’s seventeenth solo album since leaving the Supremes in 1970 would become her biggest selling and be considered a comeback like no other. Her albums had been doing just so-so with the masses (though always popular in the clubs), so Motown, thirsting for an overdue smash from their diva, swung for the fences. B&E inc. were at the top of their game, having just made stars of Chic, Sister Sledge, and the Sugarhill Gang. Mrs. Ross would receive their full attention. The public wouldn’t get to hear the original mix they delivered to the Motown studios, however. Motown master mixer Russ Terrana, displeased with the “dynamics” of the original mix remixed all of the masters. As he says in the liner notes: “It seemed like a Chic album with a Diana Ross voice. It wasn’t a Diana Ross album.”
After hearing each song twice, each in its respective mix, I have to agree with him. Throughout his mix, each instrument is more clarified, pronounced, with Diana’s vocals surfing atop it all. Whereas the original B&E mix (Nile says in the liner notes, “I was devastated on first hearing Motown’s mix”) sounds like a Chic record (albeit a damn good one) with Diana the lead singer. Makes one appreciate that invisible hand even more.
Which is the point of this release. You get to hear both mixes; CD one contains each song twice. “Have Fun (Again)” and “My Old Piano” further demonstrate Bernard and Nile’s brilliant penchant for blending funk and disco into perfect pop. Not to mention what a badass bassist and guitarist they are, respectively, with Chic drummer Tony Thompson tightly in the pocket. And then there’s the other top five monster, “I’m Coming Out”, which we learn was inspired by Nile running into three 6’5” transvestite Diana Ross look-alikes one night in a NYC club bathroom. He tells us that he didn’t intend the song to be a gay anthem, just wanted to produce something akin to a modern Cabaret.
Disc two rounds out the deluxe package beautifully, as it contains mostly unreleased (save for DJs’ copies) singles given birth between 1977-80. “Love Hangover” is probably the best known of these extended 12” remixes (most of which were penned by teams Ashford/Simpson and Holland/Dozier/Holland), and most hovered on the top of the “Disco Club Play” charts. Coupled with the original Diana numbers, these tunes really give the listener an amazing chance to hear what would have been blaring in many a club during the period, as disco both peaked and ebbed. Diana was truly at her solo artist pinnacle. She hadn’t tasted so much success in a decade, yet would still crest a few years later with her eternal “Endless Love” duet with Lionel Ritchie.
So go pick this up. Then go to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army and plop down that quarter for that used vinyl copy and begin wallpapering.