11
Nov 09

DIANA ROSS – “Chain Reaction”

FT + Popular41 comments • 4,223 views

#566, 8th March 1986, video

There’s something grotesque about “Chain Reaction” – Miss Ross, voice as slender and cut-crystal as ever, strapped into the musical equivalent of an Iron Man battlesuit, a chrome-plated machine that turns human reflexes into battlefield ordnance. Those drums! They’re a multi-kiloton version of the convulsive tattoos that gave Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” lift-off, and that song in its original was a harder take on the addictive, hardly subtle beat that made Motown its fortunes. A study in musical escalation, leading up to this.

Another singer might have done more with the beat’s unyielding strictness, fought against it or put it to dominatrix use – but with Ross it brings out her tendency to neatness. There’s a schoolmarmish precision about the lead vocal in “Chain Reaction”, unfortunate since it’s a song about the unstoppable throes of orgasm. (Not that anyone could do much with a line as coy as “Nature has a way of yielding treasure.”)

It’s a flawed, preposterous thing but for all that I can’t help enjoying it. It was one of those records that you knew would be Number One as soon as you heard it – in an era of bloat its particular style of big still muscled through, marked itself as an event. Wholly down to the brothers Gibb, I think – their lyrics may be utter nonsense but having written such a mighty chorus they work it with unrestrained glee, joining in themselves as the song rises through its key changes towards its treblesome meltdown, when “Chain Reaction” finally earns its atomic metaphor and convinces you it’s as huge as it wants to be.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    thefatgit on 11 Nov 2009 #

    Is this the longest gap between 2 #1′s by one artist? “I’m Still Waiting” was 1971.

  2. 27
    Jungman Jansson on 11 Nov 2009 #

    Meh. I was going to use that “mechanised warfare” metaphor too. Diana’s singing really is at odds with the incessant, militaristic drums, but I like the effect. This is not at all bad, actually – I didn’t recognise the title and was expecting something really torpid, but I was pleasantly surprised. It does sound somewhat familiar as well; emerging from some nameless primordial childhood soup of songs.

    The key changes are great and the climax certainly feels like a good way to end the song. Ross gets gradually more lost in the noise as the song progresses, but it works together with the rising intensity – if individual words go unheard, it’s no big deal.

    Am I entirely out on a limb when I think it sounds rather contemporary? Tweak the production slightly and you have something that would fit in pretty well with the trends of the last few years – that mechanical stomping feels like a typical 00′s thing. (Which is more or less what the Steps version did; I don’t know whether that proves my point or not).

    I’d go for a 7 here.

    SwedenWatch: Didn’t chart, nor did it appear on the Tracks chart. So I’m not sure why I think it sounds familiar; Steps’ version didn’t chart here either.

  3. 28
    swanstep on 11 Nov 2009 #

    that mechanical stomping feels like a typical 00’s thing
    @JJ. I was thinking (roughly) the same thing. On the one hand, the bass drum sounds like a washing-machine – tweak it a bit and you can get the Double Speed Mayhem bass drum from the clubbing scene in _Morvern Callar_. In general, you could easily toughen up CR, make the inhuman source of the, um, chain reaction a bit clearer!
    On the other hand, the vid. reminded me of Hey Ya’s, and, rounded shoulders notwithstanding, doesn’t Ross look amazing in the B&W bits? Free associating, one could imagine Outkast producing this song in a warmer but equally million-selling direction.

    Not in the same league as Love Hangover (the full 8 minute mix please), Upside Side, or I’m Coming Out (three of the most fantastic records I’ve ever heard, 10s the lot in my view), and the underlying song here does seem to want to do something horrible to Where did our love go? without ever coming out and just *doing* it a la Soft Cell. I guess Tom’s score of 6 does feel about right to me, but there are so many louche mash-up and remix targets in this track, I’m tempted to go higher. Alas, sanity must prevail. This vid, which keeps most of the good CR video stuff is worth a look.

  4. 29
    lonepilgrim on 12 Nov 2009 #

    I like this enough to hum along with it if it’s on the radio but wouldn’t feel compelled to pay money for it. Ross’s girlish tones always seem more adaptable to changing fashions in music over the decades than more conventional/authentic ‘soul’ singers such as Billy Ocean (for instance). 6 seems fair to me.

  5. 30
    wichita lineman on 12 Nov 2009 #

    Re 22: “The UK pop audience being more receptive to slightly “dated” R&B sounds”… that’s yr northern soul right there. Been happening since around 1967!

    Anyone else feel like ranking this with the Gibbs’ other 80s collaborations? I’d go:

    1. Dionne Warwick
    2. Kenny & Dolly
    3. Babs Streisand
    4. Miss Ross
    5. Jimmy Ruffin (Hold On To My Love? meh)

    might have forgotten one or two there… but this is no way better than Heartbreaker, or Guilty, or Islands In The Stream.

  6. 31
    Rory on 12 Nov 2009 #

    I remember dismissing this at the time as an attempt to dress up a past-it star in contemporary chart clothing (“Upside Down” was better), but it’s actually a bit stronger than that; the chorus is certainly memorable. Can’t say the same for the lyrics – I’d never noticed the ones Tom and punctum have cited – and the production does sound thin (“big and thin” is a good call) – but it all makes for a tolerable enough concoction. I’m in the middle of a tolerable concoction… 5 from me.

    Three weeks at number one in Australia, from 21 April 1986.

  7. 32
    Conrad on 12 Nov 2009 #

    #26, I can think of one longer gap between bona fide* Number 1 singles – Blondie, Tide Is High 1980 and ***** in 1999, so a gap of 19 years.

    *not counting re-releases (eg Elvis in 2005)

  8. 33
    LondonLee on 12 Nov 2009 #

    #30 – I’d put Babs top if only for ‘Guilty’

  9. 34
    MikeMCSG on 13 Nov 2009 #

    #32 Conrad, that probably is the biggest if you discount appearances on charity ensembles.

  10. 35
    JonnyB on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I’d never noticed the lyrics before. Thanks punctum – sort of – for filling me in.

    I’d also never noticed, until I listened to the YouTube clip, that Diana’s voice sounds – almost deliberately so – like Barry Gibb’s. At least at the song’s start, anyway. Or is this just me and my speakers?

    It’s great stuff. I love the way that the writers just KNOW that the chorus is so strong that they can get away with that key-change after key-change.

  11. 36
    mary w. on 13 Nov 2009 #

    I love this record……..and i love diana ross…this record went to number 1 all over the world…except for in the usa…seems the world knows a great song when they hear it. and for those of you that dont like the song…there is one simple solution…DONT LISTEN TO IT AND DONT SPOIL IT FOR THE REST THAT LOVE THE SONG. Reviews here of the song seem to be written by some deaf tone idiots!

  12. 37
    Izzy on 14 Nov 2009 #

    You tell ‘em, Mary. Those idiots aren’t actually stopping you from listening to or enjoying the song though, and they do seem to have more interesting things to say about it than you do. Would you care to tell us why you like it exactly?

  13. 38
    Moarie on 3 Jun 2012 #

    This is truly Diana Ross’ Pulp Fiction, which shows incredibly acute studies on the Gibbs’ part. Hallmarks of Supremes melodies landing on crisp production that evokes a simultaneous old-new feel. The lyrics aren’t so much Bad Sex as Naughty (in that non-sequiturs fool the brain enough to escape some Parental Discretion label), and must’ve come from Robin who assayed similar “straight talk” in Whisper Whisper 17 year prior.
    The fact you can’t insert yourself into the scheming is the main objective: this is Bee Gees’ ode to the Diana Ross sex kitten persona, the safe yet provocative mix mainstream America can love Skin So Darkly:P An embalming of her timelessness based on her most definitive, hope springs eternal phase. As such it’s a kitten free for all, belongs to no-one, so please no individual insertions anywhere:P
    A manufactured song repainting a manufactured persona isn’t necessarily a crime against artistry, unless you really believe the David Statue didn’t take liberties in any of its depictions.
    This is the reconsideration of a sensual icon, against a backdrop of ever-increasing nudity from new standard-bearers like Madonna. A lady talks but doesn’t show.
    For the “buttering toast” comment about Gibbs’ Pop Gibberish prowess, check out Walking on Air (2001) by Maurice (Gibb #3 and the ego-less popular fave.) Truly pastiche, rubric work that should still drop jaws over its improbable mash-up of 60s Beach Boys and 80s pop — it’s like FLUID CARTILAGES injected into a Frankenstein. Realistic enough to take home to mom n’pop.

  14. 39
    DanH on 26 Jan 2013 #

    Yeah I never heard this here in the States, and I remember hearing a lot of stuff on the radio in the late 80s, as a pre-K lad who went with Mom on all of her errands. It does sound like the Gibbs jumping out of their skin to write a Supremes soundalike song, through an ’80s filter

  15. 40
    Kinga Stinton on 21 Sep 2013 #

    @Elsa This sounds exactly like the period it was written in – 1985! The keyboards, bass and drums confirm that perfectly. If it sounded like 1966 it wouldn’t have even dented the charts. And the fact that this stalled at #66 in the US charts proved how agist and pathetic the American industry was at the time, no one played it for political reasons to do with the so called “disco backlash”. The rest of the world love it though and it swiftly became a million seller. It’s a classic pop song and it doesn’t get better than this.

    @Izzy Nobody else had your opinion. In fact that’s the first time I’ve heard it. And thanks for the boring Paul McCartney story.

  16. 41
    Izzy on 21 Sep 2013 #

    You read it, sucker, the joke’s on you.

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