I might have danced to Diana Ross’ Upside Down at many a wedding in the 1980s, unaware that forty years later I would come back to it as a lost funk gem. It’s been my jam of the year, all through lockdown, ever since I discovered that there was a mix that leaned more into Nile Rodgers’ guitar and Bernard Edwards’ bass.
Released in 1980, Diana was the tenth solo studio album by Ross, and the first big name act produced by the Chic Organization Ltd., effectively an umbrella term to encompass Rodgers and Edwards’ production skills. By this point they had produced the first three Chic records, Chic vocalist Norma Jean Wright’s self-titled solo debut, and third studio album by Sister Sledge, We Are Family, which Rodgers regards as the production duo’s greatest achievement.
Diana Ross, aware of Rodgers’ work through the disco scene at legendary New York nightclub Studio 54, approached him to develop a fresh new sound for her next project. The result is a buoyant thirty-five minutes of disco pop, the perfect material to introduce her to a younger, hipper audience.
The recording of the album, came six months after the day disco died at the Disco Demolition Night at a Chicago baseball stadium. Local radio DJs convinced disgruntled rock fans to bring disco records to the game to be destroyed in a controlled explosion. The ensuing riot led to fires inside the ground, with many arrests made, and a field so damaged by the explosion the home side had to forfeit the game.
Frankie Crocker, an influential New York City DJ, warned Ross about releasing an album that was steeped so heavily in disco. She then enlisted Motown engineer Russ Terrana, the man behind her Supremes hits and subsequent solo work, to remix the album at the eleventh hour. Terrana brought up her vocals in the mix, sped up the tempos and removed any longer instrumental sections, effectively de-Chic-ing the album. Rodgers and Edwards unsuccessfully sued Motown, but by that time the horse had bolted and the album was out in store, reaching #5 on the Billboard album chart and providing Ross with her fifth #1 single in Upside Down.
2017’s Record Store Day finally saw the release of the original Chic mix of the album, on lovely pink double vinyl. It sounds more like a Chic record, and stands alongside the second Chic record and We Are Family as perhaps the duo’s top three albums. There’s a fantastic live version of Upside Down available on YouTube, in which she brings Michael Jackson to sing and dance during the end of the song. The performance perfect encapsulates the joy and exuberance captured on the record, and in some way, represents the passing of the flame between the two Motown artists.
Hit: Upside Down
Hidden Gem: My Old Piano