If you thought our last number one owed a debt to Motown, well here comes an actual living Motown legend for one last spin around the chart-topping block.
Chain Reaction, by Diana Ross (her 2nd and final solo #1)
3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd March 1986
And in a sixties throwback double-whammy: it’s only written and produced by the Brothers Gibb AKA The Bee Gees. (They also provide some fairly prominent backing vocals throughout.) Diana Ross sounds much huskier than when we last heard from her, fifteen years ago on ‘I’m Still Waiting’. She was approaching forty-three when this reached top-spot, putting her firmly among some of the oldest chart-topping female acts.
I want to love this – I thought I did love this – and, yes, parts of it are great. The song is one constant key-change, ascending and descending through each verse and chorus, and it’s crammed full of hooks. The lyrics are pretty steamy too: my personal favourite being the hand moves lower… swallow slower couplet. But it’s a little slower than I remembered, and the heavy synths are a bit lumbering, especially at the start. The ingredients are there, it just takes a while for them to settle.
Worryingly, my take on ‘Chain Reaction’ may be clouded by the fact that I’m more familiar with Steps’ Hi-NRG, early ‘00s cover. (I will happily say ‘sorry’ for many misdemeanours, but I will never, ever apologise over my love for Steps…) This record may have united two titans of popular music, but for me H, Claire and the gang just gave it more welly. Sue me!
In the original, things do finally reach boiling point during the final chorus and the fade-out, as Ross’s voice goes up an octave or ten and she really goes for it. Yes, Diana! If only her voice and the production had matched this tempo from the start then ‘Chain Reaction’ would be a stone-cold classic for the ages. As it is, it’s a very respectable slice of throwback pop – slightly out of place in March 1986, but all the more welcome for that.
Apparently, the Gibb brothers were nervous about approaching Diana Ross with this song, as it sounded so retro. (I imagine most people are nervous about approaching Ms Ross for just about anything, but that’s another story…) She was into it, though, and the video especially leans into the record’s sixties roots. You do wonder – and I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out – if a song about ‘chain reactions’ and ‘instant radiation’ would have been such a big hit later in 1986, given events in the USSR… It’s lucky they didn’t hold on for another few months!
This was Diana Ross’s final chart-topper, but she would continue scoring hits throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium – an impressive feat for a lady of her vintage. Her last Top 10 hit came in 2005, with Westlife of all things (she should have given Steps a call…) Meanwhile, away from the recording studio, here she is taking possibly the most iconic penalty kick in football history.