Diana Ross Is Still The Boss: “The Boss” turns 40

The calendar says it’s 2019, but the cultural pulse is beating 1979. Not only is the disco era back in the spotlight thanks to the doc Studio 54, but Diana Ross’ “The Boss” has once again topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart.

A bouncy confection of soulful pop, the single allowed Ross to end the seventies on a high note: it was her first top 20 hit in three years, while the album of the same name peaked at #14 and was certified gold. And, just in time for her year-long Diamond Diana 75th birthday celebration, a new remix has captured the ears (and feet) of millennials, a testament to its enduring power.

The calendar says it’s 2019, but the cultural pulse is beating 1979. Not only is the disco era back in the spotlight thanks to the doc Studio 54, but Diana Ross’ “The Boss” has once again topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart.

A bouncy confection of soulful pop, the single allowed Ross to end the seventies on a high note: it was her first top 20 hit in three years, while the album of the same name peaked at #14 and was certified gold. And, just in time for her year-long Diamond Diana 75th birthday celebration, a new remix has captured the ears (and feet) of millennials, a testament to its enduring power.

That surprises the song’s co-writer, Valerie Simpson, one-half of Ashford & Simpson. “There must be hundreds of remixes [of “The Boss”]. It has had so many lives. So, for it to go to the top, again, 40 years later, is just wild.” She and her husband Nickolas (who passed in 2011) composed, arranged and produced all eight songs on The Boss. It was their third time at bat with Ross: they also helmed her self-titled solo debut in 1970 (which features the Ross signatures “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out and Touch ((Somebody’s Hand))”) and Surrender in 1971.

Simpson says they knew right away that this project would be much different than the previous two. “We [Nick and I] talked with Diana about the direction her career, her life was going in. The Boss was sort of her own coming out, getting from under the control of Motown and the influence of Berry Gordy. “It’s My House,” “I Ain’t Been Licked,” “All for One,” “I’m In the World”—all the songs spoke to that independence.”

But “The Boss,” as it turns out, wasn’t written for Ross, explains Simpson. “Actually, it was originally a ballad! Nick and I loved the title and the lyrical concept: ‘Who is the boss, you or love?’ When we were producing Diana, we realized it fit her perfectly, both as an artist and a woman. But we also knew it couldn’t stay a ballad. It’s so declarative, so we switched it up.”

Watching Ross record “The Boss” proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment. “There’s a point [after the second chorus] where she does the “Woo-hoo” [chant]. We didn’t write that, she came up with it. People love that part. She really made that song her own.”

So much so that, when Simpson and her husband performed it live, the legend balked. “She came backstage and said, ‘I’m never doing that song again!’” Simpson laughs. “But she knew we did it as a salute to her, including it in a medley with songs [“Clouds” and “Landlord”] by other female powerhouses [Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight] we worked with at the time.

“No way we could take it from her: she is the boss.”

By James Earl Hardy

@JamesEarlHardy is an award-winning feature writer, cultural critic, and author. His latest Amazon bestseller is Men of the House: A B-Boy Blues Novel

 
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