Happy 35th Anniversary to Diana Ross’ fourteenth studio album Ross, originally released June 9, 1983.
“It took me a lifetime to get here, I'm not going anywhere!”
Diana Ross' proclamation rang out to roughly 450,000 fans crowding The Great Lawn expanse of New York City's Central Park on July 21, 1983. The gratis one-off performance had been staged by Ross and the City of New York to fund a children's playground in Central Park which would take its namesake from the soul-pop songstress herself.
Cutting the ambitious afternoon show short was a violent, early summer storm that rolled in unexpectedly. Stunningly, Ross remained on the stage in the midst of the downpour to entertain and soothe the audience, ensuring their safe evacuation. The following day Ross returned to the stage to finish the gig. The event has gone on to become the stuff of legend for Ross. What has since been forgotten is that the same Central Park show pulled double duty as promotion for her fourteenth studio album Ross (1983), released one month beforehand on June 9th.
Ross was the third long player to be sponsored by RCA Records, the label that wooed the soul-pop chanteuse away from Motown Records with a then jaw-dropping $20 million-dollar offer. But, more attractive than any monetary sum granted to her was the promise of absolute career autonomy. Enticed, Ross departed the Motown fold after two decades of hits and history. The affairs antecedent to Ross—Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1981) and Silk Electric (1982)—were commercially viable vehicles, but creatively, they were somewhat uneven. Likely flush with a new degree of control she had heretofore not experienced, her first two sets for RCA were felled by a slightly garish undercurrent.
And it is within that context that Ross became such an important recording for the singer at that junction. Stung from some of the critical blowback in relation to Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Silk Electric, Ross wanted to temper—not undermine—her experimental drive with her more classic soul-pop accents. She enlisted the production assistance of Gary Katz and Ray Parker Jr. to ensure the achievement of this lofty goal. Katz, known at that time for his dynamic work with Steely Dan, brought his art-rock gravitas to the Ross sessions. Having impacted the American R&B charts consistently from 1977 to 1981 with his own band Raydio, Parker Jr.'s involvement promised to keep the singer's rhythm and blues instincts intact. Far from clashing, Katz and Parker Jr.'s approaches complemented each other and made for a fantastic field for Ross to operate in.
Eight tracks comprise Ross, each entry compelling and designed to bridge the white (pop) and black (R&B) radio formats of the day. The album opens in high spirits with “That's How You Start Over,” a cool and confident track with gospel flourishes, jazz swing and rhythmic muscle. It's indicative of the record's overall breezy temperament, musically, that favors melody (“Love Will Make It Right”) and groove in equal measure (“Love or Loneliness”).
Further, Ross realizes her objective in forging an alliance between the conventional and the radical. The former can be heard in “You Do It,” a composition that had been originally rendered by Scottish vocalist Sheena Eastern on her junior affair, Madness, Money & Music (1982). Ross' cover returns the songbird to the glory of her own ‘70s output at Motown with its warm, bubbly bass rhythms and organ patterns. The latter facet shows itself on “Pieces of Ice,” the inventive urban synth-rock centerpiece of the record that is all at once sensual and strange. Notably, Ross concludes with a steamy funk romp, “Girls,” which Ross herself masterfully co-wrote and co-produced.
The quality and character of Ross' contents were right on time, but the record struggled to bring in any major commercial profits or critical adulation. Two singles—“Pieces of Ice” and “Let's Go Up”—were put forward to promote Ross only to meet the same fate that greeted their parent album.
Ross wouldn't be away from the charts for too long, however. Just one year later, Swept Away (1984) had her back on top, though the material was not nearly as excellent as what had been contained on Ross. The remainder of Ross' RCA tenure continued this way, culminating with Red Hot Rhythm and Blues in 1987 before her eventual return to Motown in 1988. Red Hot Rhythm and Blues flirted with the good taste of Ross, but not its energy and pace.
As both a Supreme and a solo recording act, Diana Ross' discography has touched five decades and is not short of substance to be venerated or rediscovered. Ross assuredly falls into the latter category, an album that encapsulates Ross' patented romantic zest and gaiety in both traditional and exploratory musical methods.