One aspect of the 1980's that seems to have faded from memory is just how famous Diana Ross used to be. At the beginning of the 1980's she was considered to be at least as important as Michael Jackson, and before her defection to RCA in 1982, she was very much Motown's musical ambassador, an artist who connected the golden age of the Motown Sixties with a continuing ability to produce crisp up-to-the-minute pop music.
1980's "Upside Down" was particularly fabulous, a wonderfully compulsive piece of Chic-ery, that, like the best funk, seemed to have a certain crunchy quality - that indefinable rightness when every instument comes down on the beat.
The follow-up "I'm Coming Out" was every bit as good; just as compulsively funky, and with an even more explicit subtext. It's a reminder that Ross was once both an icon and someone very aware of her own iconic status. Fittingly, her records were always bigger hits in the US than in the UK; this was always the unacknowledged proof of a real star - she was big where it really mattered.
"Muscles" and "Work That Body" were her last adventurously funky UK hits, both cashing in on the early-80's exercise craze, before the effective finale of 1985's "Chain Reaction", a nod to her past that was pretty much an act of surrender before the terminator-ambition of Madonna. Despite her long-standing reputation for ruthless ambition, it's noteworthy that she appeared a fairly mild figure in comparison to the hit machines that were progressively destined to replace her.
Perhaps the air of forgetfulness that seems to have enveloped her has a certain cautionary quality. Maybe artists aren't really remembered for the modernist excellence of their output, but rather for their human ability to elicit empathy or sympathy. Perhaps the post-modern robo-divas of today, recipients of torrential Ballardian/Baudrillardian effusion, will disappear into the memory-hole even more precipitately than the genuine artistry of Ross, which, while being relentlessly inventive and modernist, was rarely at the time acknowledged as such.