20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Diana Ross.
What: The first full-length album written and produced for the singer by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson since 1971’s Diana Ross, which contained her first Number One hit as a solo artist, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The Boss reached the Top 20 of the Billboard pop charts, and the peak of the magazine’s dance music charts. It was the first RIAA-certified gold LP of her career.
When: The title track was issued May 19, 1979 as a single, climbing into the Top 20 of the pop and R&B charts that summer. The album, released May 22, also reached the Top 20, becoming the superstar’s highest-charting LP since 1976’s Greatest Hits. In July 1979, Ross sang “The Boss” on The Tonight Show when she was a guest host; featured “I Ain’t Been Licked” in her 1980 HBO special, Standing Room Only; and performed “All For One” to close her historic concert (over two nights) at New York’s Central Park in July 1983. The film of that event was recently shown in cinemas at home and abroad as part of the “Diamond Diana” birthday celebrations; Ross turned 75 March 26, 2019.
Where: The star recorded The Boss with Ashford and Simpson in early 1979 at New York’s Sigma Sound studios. Simpson played piano on the sessions, and (with Ashford) also provided background vocals. Other musicians included guitarist Eric Gale, bassists Anthony Jackson and Francisco Centeno, drummer John Sussewell, and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Among the album’s arrangers was Paul Riser, who had previously worked with Ashford, Simpson and Ross.
Why: “When we did The Boss, Diana was stepping away from Berry,” Valerie Simpson recently told Pop Matters. “She said, ‘I really want to be more in charge of this. I want songs that reflect what I’m going through.’ It was it very easy to do a song like ‘The Boss’ because that’s what she had become in her own life. She’s her own person now.” (For more on Diana Ross, read here.)
What else: A new edition of the album’s title track, “The Boss 2019,” mixed by Eric Kupper, reached Number One on the Billboard Dance Club chart in April, marking the seventh time that Ross has topped that particular countdown. The song has also occupied the summit of that chart in versions by the Braxtons in 1997 and Kristine W in 2008.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?