Diana Ross, Upside Down (1980)


Artist: Diana Ross
Title: Upside Down
Description: single; album track, Diana
Label: Motown
Release date: 1980
First heard: 1980

Respectfully I say to thee …

Because life isn’t perfect, I sold my entire vinyl record collection to a voluble sounds-trader called Rob in 2005. Hundreds of circles went in the back of his truck bound for Newcastle and what was then a shopless mail-order service (he’s since reopened the shop, which I would love one day to visit). I hope those records that have been subsequently re-sold went to happy homes. They certainly came from one.

Of course I’m tinged with sentimental hoarder’s regret, but the back-breaking collection had come with us twice when moving house and with another move on the horizon, we made the Big Decision to set the LPs and 12-inch singles free, and clear some physical and psychological space. Every significant LP had been replaced on CD in any case, and that supposedly “compact” collection in itself was arduous enough to lift. Of course I was sad to see a few items of sentimental value go, but I squared it with myself by keeping back all of my seven-inch singles. Every single one. These now occupy a hefty flight case in the eaves and act as as a musical photo album. Flick through the 600 or so singles and each produces a Proustian memory.

And so to the seven-inch of Upside Down by Diana Ross. This, I can tell you with total confidence, I purchased in St Helier in Jersey in the Channel Islands while on a family holiday in July 1980. Staying in a hotel called the Merton, it was the Collins family’s first ever catered holiday after years in North Wales farmhouses and bungalows, and our first across a body of water. The quick-witted will have already deduced that this seven-inch single in its monochrome paper sleeve was a useless item. I couldn’t play it until we got home a week later. So why did I buy it?

I bought it because I was 15 and at that enraptured time measured out my life in seven-inch singles. These were affordable with saved pocket money and fitted snugly into the handled record box we all carried. I bought Upside Down as a trophy, because even though I was on holiday, the accumulation of seven-inch singles need not be put on hold. With limited funds, the choice of a single was no quick decision made lightly. Planning was involved. The selection process was complex. You didn’t want to waste your next turn.

I suspect we had extra spending money that fortnight because we were on holiday. I asked Twitter how much a seven-inch single retailed for in 1980 and the hive mind reckons between 99p and £1.29. It would have been a chart single as it went to number 2 and I suspect the record shop I bought it in would have been a Woolies and nothing too specialist? (Residents of Jersey at that time will be able to confirm this.) So let’s assume I set aside a pound which might otherwise have gone on a paperback or a miniature bottle of spirits (which I’d convinced my parents were collectable) and spent it on a piece of black extruded polyvinyl that I could only look at.

Such was the heady power of pop music. Now, Upside Down – a fastidiously produced nugget of disco funk from the Chic Organisation used to flag up the May-released Diana album – was not my usual poison, musically speaking. In 1980 I was all about angular post-punk and way more likely to be getting a penny change from a pound note at the record shop for Totally Wired, Holiday In Cambodia or Feeling Alright With The Crew.

That said, I was going to youth club discos at the time, because that’s where the girls were at, and among my immediate circle of friends, both Craig McKenna and Andy Bonner had begun to invest in disco 12-inches, which had piqued my interest with their executive-length and predominantly beat-driven mixes. If I didn’t hear Upside Down at a disco, I’d be surprised. I fell for it instantly and for reasons visceral not intellectual or even social. That it didn’t quite fit into my handled record box, as it were, was possibly part of its appeal. And at least it had a picture sleeve, which wasn’t a prerequisite of disco singles.

But I feel I appreciate its artistry more keenly now. I gamely attempted to copy Tony Thompson’s immaculately fluid drum fills at the time with rulers on a stool without even knowing his name, or fully appreciating that the people who made Le Freak, which I was also dancing to at discos, had made Upside Down. There is much I didn’t know then that I know now; crucially, that Miss Ross got into a funk with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards as she didn’t like their final cut of the LP, going so far as to remix it herself with an in-house producer. Motown put out her version and inflamed the wrath of Chic’s learned friends. It all got a bit nasty. Which is a shame, as the album – whose subsequent hit singles the declamatory I’m Coming Out and jaunty My Old Piano are also spectacular – does not sound of acrimony or post-rationalisation.

The lyric may not be Shakespeare – “Upside down you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively” – but the use of “thee” in “respectfully I say to thee” is cute and in any case, Ross’s voice, high in the mix (maybe higher than intended), is light, sexy and seamlessly authoritative throughout, aware of its space and reflected off the mirrored architecture of the Chic sound: Rodgers’ much-copied masturbatory guitar (the song is counted in by a jitter), Edwards’ spare bass and Thompson’s airtight beat, while the Chic Strings punctuate skywards. The single edit runs some 30 seconds shorter than the album version and gives Rodgers the elbow room to freak out a bit, but even in the fade, Thompson’s tactile curlicues are memorable, each concentrated splash of Zildjian a graphic marker flag. I’ve attempted in adult life to “learn” the drums on this track, and the sequence is beyond my capabilities. We may never see the late Mr Thompson’s like again.

Maybe I should have saved up the extra 50p and purchased the 12-inch in St Helier, although it would only have been the four-minute album track. With singles, the selection process was complex. But I didn’t waste my next turn.


6 thoughts on “Diana Ross, Upside Down (1980)

  1. I feel your pain. But also your practicality. I had all the Beatles moons, Stones’ on original UK mono Decca, all the early Metallica, Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost etc as a mid 80s metalhead, which now is sooo coveted, and much much more… All for a block of cash to buy (pah!) groceries….
    The Diana Ross single is, to me, one of those bolts out of the blue from a person that became a caricature of herself not many years later..
    Thanks for post as always. Brightened up my miserable Monday day at work!


  2. I’m really not a vinyl fetishist – adopted CDs then downloads without too much hesitation, and I’ll take convenience and flexibility over scratches any day.

    But I’m convinced that one of the reasons those of us of a certain age no longer pay too much attention to “the charts” (if the kids still call them that, or even care) is that, as you vividly recount here, when you bought a record in our day you had to leave the house, go to a real shop, and buy it with real money. As you say, the effort involved meant that you didn’t buy anything you weren’t sure about. And, in consequence, even getting to number 2 back then meant that tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of us had individually taken that decision. It meant quite a lot.

    I decided to play ‘Upside Down’ on my computer on reading this. Noted to my surprise that I didn’t have it. Click. Done.


  3. It’s strangely comforting to realise that remorse for getting rid of a vinyl collection in one fell (‘foul’ is more apt here!) swoop is something shared. Having let most of mine go for around 50 quid a few years back, delegating the ugly deed to my sister living in the UK, they probably now mean more to me than they did when they got regularly spun, scratched, dropped and beer-stained 25 years ago.

    ‘Upside Down’ I also remember hearing incessantly on a family caravan holiday in Scotland, along with Hazel O’Connor’s ‘Will You’, picked up on the car radio I’d insisted dad put into his Comma van. All I wanted then was the Beat’s first album (highlight of a day trip to Oban was buying it there) and Bowie’s Scary Monsters. Couldn’t get it out of my head at the time though and I vividly remember it jingling along as I was careering ahead of dad to be the first down Ben Nevis, nearly ending up as in the song title along the way.


  4. Andrew – like you, I had a visceral reaction to Upside Down, and just as much to My Old Piano, so as a fresh faced student in Manchester I sought out the Diana album from Piccadilly Records and played it over and over despite it not being terribly cool among my indie friends or at the Manchester venues I was going to at the time. I had no idea until years later that Chic were behind it and when I found out I was pretty chuffed with my “blindfold” good taste. I now own the “deluxe reissue” of the CD which has the Chic mixes as well as the Motown mixes and frankly love both of them. One point though, I get the impression that it was Motown much more that Diana Ross herself that didn’t like the album – they accused Nile and Bernard of “turning her into Chic”. The sleeve notes on the deluxe cd are pretty good and I like to think that a confused Diana sought reassurance from Motown and when she didn’t get it she got nervous and agreed to a remix. Could be wrong but it helps my enjoyment of the record!


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