35 Years Ago: Diana Ross Releases Her Biggest-Selling Album ‘Diana’
Ten years after leaving the Supremes, Diana Ross had enjoyed a pretty good decade. She'd become one of the biggest singers in the world, with a bunch of pop smashes and hit albums to her credit, not to mention she was an Academy Award-nominated actress for her role in 1972's Lady Sings the Blues. But, as the '80s were about to dawn, Ross wanted to do something to freshen up her sound.
Inspired by the music she was hearing at New York's Studio 54, the Motown star decided to work with new collaborators. For her next album -- her 10th solo studio release -- she wanted to partner with Chic masterminds Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The boys behind "Good Times" jumped at the opportunity to work with a music icon.
Rodgers later explained that he and Edwards took their role as writers and producers quite seriously, and held hours of interviews with Ross in order to achieve an album that would be meaningful for all involved. "This was the first time in her life somebody cared about who she was; what she was," Rodgers said in 2011. "Everyone previously had treated her the way we had treated Sister Sledge -- they got her in and said 'Sing this.'"
Many of the song titles and lyrics that the Chic fellows created for what would become Diana were taken straight from their conversations with Ross (she had talked about turning her music "Upside Down," for instance). In one instance, a song came into being after Nile saw three different drag queens dressed as Diana Ross. The tune would become the future LGBT anthem "I'm Coming Out."
Listen to Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out"
Yet, by the time Ross heard the finished product from her collaborators (who wrote, played and produced everything on the record), she wasn't so sure about the album's commercial prospects. During the creative process, music had undergone an anti-disco backlash and Diana was concerned that these Chic-like tracks would sound instantly out of date in the spring of 1980. So, without the permission of Rodgers and Edwards, Ross had Motown engineer Russ Terrana remix the entire LP with new vocals from the singer. Although the producer and writers protested (and later unsuccessfully sued Motown), the remixed version is the album that was released to stores on May 22, 1980, with an iconic black and white image of Ross by Francesco Scavullo on the cover.
Despite the behind-the-scenes fireworks, Diana turned out to be a huge hit, scoring massive singles with "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out." The former not only became Ross's newest No. 1 hit in the U.S., it proved to be her biggest smash all around the world -- from Europe to Asia to Australia. The hits rocketed the album all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard charts and helped make Diana the singer's biggest-selling solo album ever, with more than 9 million copies sold worldwide.
Ross' new level of stardom caused her to leave Motown, which had been her home since the beginning of her career. When she was offered a $20 million contract by RCA Records, she gave Motown founder Berry Gordy the opportunity to match the deal. He said he couldn't manage that, then encouraged her to go with RCA and sign the most lucrative recording contract ever offered (up to that time).
Meanwhile, Rodgers and Edwards and Ross were able to settle their differences (although the Chic musicians weren't happy with how everything was handled, they were pleased with how popular their songs had become). There were even plans for the three to reunite on the next record, although that fell apart when Ross left Motown in 1981. Still, Edwards worked with the singer again in 1984, and Rodgers did the same in 1989. Plus, years later, the original version of the entire album was heard when a deluxe edition of Diana was released.
Watch Diana Ross' "Upside Down" Video
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