Decades before Beyonce rose to power as possibly the greatest entertainer since Michael Jackson, there was Diana Ross. The younger generation may be more familiar with the Ross family name due to the popularity of Diana's daughter, actress Tracie Ellis Ross, but those in the know are well aware of who wears the crown in the family.
Born in Detroit, on March 26, 1944, Ross enjoyed a structured childhood, with a school teacher for a mother and former Army soldier for a father. The singer's initial dream was to become a fashion designer, but she caught the music bug instead, joining a local group called the Primettes. It was her time with the Primettes where Diana Ross would catch her big break, an impromptu audition for Motown Records head honcho Berry Gordy. The group would be christened as the Supremes and Diana Ross would be designated as the lead singer of the group by Gordy.
The female R&B version of the Beatles, The Supremes gained worldwide acclaim and can be credited as the first black female group to penetrate the mainstream in a big way. Pursuing a solo career in 1970, Ross would continue her success without missing a beat, releasing a string of No. 1 hits and transitioning into a lucrative acting career. Splitting ties with Motown in 1980, Ross inked a $20 Million deal with RCA Records, the most generous contract in music history at the time.
RCA's alignment with Ross paid dividends immediately with her first release, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, on the label achieving platinum status. After her second RCA LP, Ross, went gold, the starlet suffered a dip in popularity. In 1985, she would release her fifth solo album, Eaten Alive, which would also fail to light the charts on fire domestically, but would prove to be a huge hit overseas, spawning the international smashes "Chain Reaction" and the title track, "Eaten Alive."
Eaten Alive was deemed a commercial failure since it sold less than 300,000 copies (a huge dip in sales for her) and marked Ross' decline as a dominant act. This would be one of her last memorable moments in the limelight as an artist. On its 30th anniversary, we take a trip down memory lane and revisit this underrated LP and its five best songs.
Eaten Alive truly hits its groove with "Love on the Line," which finds Diana Ross tapping into her woman's intuition in regards to the faithfulness of her lover. Co-written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, the song is beautifully composed and arranged and features a mid-tempo beat powered by steady drums, guitar riffs and synths. Lyrics like ,"When I don't see you and I don't know where you been / It gets to be a question in my mind / It hurts to love you and the knife goes through the heart of me / When you're gone, I lose a part of me, it's hard to find" speaks to Ross' suspicions her man is cheating and her heartache, which she conveys vocally in one of the more superior performances on the album.
"(I Love) Being in Love With You"
Ross gifts listeners with a tender ballad in the form of the Eaten Alive selection, "(I Love) Being in Love With You." Produced by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees fame, the beat contains keys, guitars and drums over which the singer softly croons, "I thought I already touched the sky / I got to know you and I don't know why / All of my wife wouldn't mean as much as just being touched by you / I never thought of me growing up, got my direction but the road was rough / It's only the dreams of a teenage queen, but somehow I made it through," while recounting her rode to fame and those who helped out along the way. One of the more heartfelt offerings on the album, this song is perfect for those misty-eyed trips down memory lane.
"Don't Give Up on Each Other"
The singer reminds you to give love a chance on the Eaten Alive finale cut, "Don't Give Up on Each Other," a song dedicated to everlasting love and companionship. "You said it's better to behave just like I never met ya / Why is it I can only cry and you can say goodbye in a minute / Don't remember I was your friend," she sings. Diana lays her heart on the line in an attempt to reclaim the heart of her significant other. Littered with tender piano keys, guitar riffs and steady drums, "Don't Give Up on Each Other" serves as an epic closeout track to the LP and serves as an enthralling reminder of Ross' greatness.
Known for her many uptempo songs, it's no surprise that Ross would include a few power cuts on Eaten Alive, one of them being "Chain Reaction," a standout ditty from the album that finds the R&B icon hitting on all cylinders. Written by the Bee Gees, who also appear on the record as backing vocalists, the song's soundscape is largely built on rollicking keys, guitar riffs and relentless drums, with synths serving as added reinforcement. Released as the second single from the album, "Chain Reaction" was deemed a commercial failure in the U.S., but was a hit overseas, particularly in England and Australia, where it peaked atop the country's music charts. Radio airplay and sales aside, looking back 30 years later, "Chain Reaction" is far from shabby and is worthy of a spin or two on any given day.
Diana Ross has the eye of the tiger on "Eaten Alive," the title track to the legendary diva's 1985 release. "Animal stalking you at night / I'm a sucker for someone and I that prey in sight / Lying on a bed of leaves / In the modern times, you forget and let your spirit breath," the former member of the Supremes sings, letting her yearnings and desires be known over the percussion-heavy soundscape. Featuring Michael Jackson -- who also has a production credit on the song -- on the backing vocals, "Eaten Alive" failed to become a smash on the pop charts, peaking at No. 77 on the Billboard Hot 100, but would move the needle for R&B lovers, landing within the Top 10 of the R&B Singles chart. This is certainly one of Diana Ross' more slept-on hits.