After a two-year dry spell on the charts, Motown superstar Diana Ross bounced back big time in 1976 with the highly successful self-titled album, Diana Ross. This was the second album Ross recorded which used only her full name as the album’s title.
Released on February 10, 1976, Diana Ross was Ross’ biggest-selling album since 1973’s Touch Me in the Morning, and the first of Ross’ albums since her 1970 debut solo album to yield more than four hit singles.
The album starts off with the poignant and reflective “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To).” The song was already a part of the Mahogany film soundtrack and had been released as a single in September 1975—becoming a #1 pop hit for Ross in January 1976, and was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category.
Next on the album is the beautiful “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love),” which was released a week after the album came out and remains a favorite of Ross’ fans. It got off to a good start on the charts and there was every indication that it would be a top 10 or top 20 hit for Ross. However, its pop chart life was circumvented due to Motown rush releasing a third single from the album, the outstanding disco smash “Love Hangover,” which the Fifth Dimension recorded after hearing a demo of Ross’ version. Motown’s strategy worked, because Ross’ version obliterated Fifth Dimension’s remake and went to #1 on the soul, pop, and dance singles charts in May 1976. “Love Hangover” starts off slowly with a mid-tempo beat as Ross sings in a seductive and sexy tone, influenced by Donna Summer’s vocal styling in “Love to Love You Baby,” before it segues into a dance floor jam. One can only fully truly appreciate this fantastic song by hearing the extended version on the album as opposed to the edited single.
Side one of the album ends with “Kiss Me Now,” a foray into big band and Dixieland blues which Ross handled wonderfully.
Side two opens with the groovy piano- and organ-driven “You’re Good My Child,” followed by the funky “One Love In My Lifetime.” Another fan favorite, the song went to #25 on the pop singles chart and #10 on the soul singles chart when it was released as a single in August 1976.
Next is Ross’ great rendition of “Ain’t Nothing But a Maybe,” which was previously recorded by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan on their 1974 album Rags to Rufus. “After You,” the following track, is a lovely ballad done in Ross’ traditional style. The album ends with Ross’ superb rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”
Diana Ross was a smash and went to #4 on both the soul album chart and the pop album chart, selling over 700,000 copies and putting the Motown diva back on the musical map.
Around the time of the album’s release, some thought there would be a backlash against Ross, who, along with Berry Gordy Jr., chairman of Motown Records, was booed at ex-Supremes member Florence Ballard’s funeral. Many felt Ross and Gordy turned their backs on Ballard, who became an alcoholic and was living on public assistance after being let go from the Supremes. However, both Ross and Gordy and even fellow Supremes member Mary Wilson tried to help Ballard and offered assistance. Nevertheless, the controversy didn’t stop the new album or its singles from becoming successful.
The iconic album cover, showing an extreme black and white close up of Ross’s face, was brilliantly photographed by Victor Skrebeneski and signaled a new direction for Ross.
In a year in which other female singers such as Natalie Cole, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan (as part of Rufus), and a great comeback by Aretha Franklin dominated the charts, Motown’s queen held her own alongside all of the other soulful divas.
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Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.