(March 26, 2024).  Diana Ross turns 80 today (March 26).

I commemorated by playing my favorite tune by her, 1980’s sublime “Upside Down,” written and produced by Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, who were then members of my favorite group, Chic (Rodgers still fronts the band, btw).  (The song is arguably also my favorite jam of all time, by any artist, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

All the members of Chic also played on “Upside Down,” essentially making it a Chic song with Diana Ross being featured on lead vocals.  In today’s world, it might have been billed on the label as “Diana Ross featuring Chic” or the other way around.

But there was something else about “the other way around” that I just noticed about the song’s structure, something I’d never considered in the 44 years since its original release.

“Upside Down” is essentially a palindrome.

Not by song title or lyrically, but in its basic structure.

That is to say, taken forwards and backwards, the song is arranged the same way. Whether right-side-up, or upside down, the appropriately titled classic is a true representation of its name.

To explain this, one has to consider the song’s five basic elements: a chant, a chorus, two distinct verses, and its instrumental breaks.

The song begins with a short instrumental intro, then goes into an abbreviated chant (Diana and members of Chic singing in Chic’s trademark staccato form): “Upside down you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively.  Round and round you’re turning me!”

Diana then sings the chorus solo, “Upside down, boy you turn me… inside out and… round and round.”  She repeats it once more before going into the first verse.

The first verse is next.  In it, Ross — again solo — sings the lines “Instinctively, you give to me, the love that I need.  I cherish the moments with you.”  She continues, “Respectfully, I say to thee, I’m aware that you’re cheating, but no one makes me feel like you do.”  (Who knew that big adverbs and old-English terms like “thee” could sound so sweet and funky at the same time?)

Now it’s back to the chorus, which Diana sings in her lower, more seductive register and which we soon figure out isn’t the song’s real hook after all (“Upside down, boy you turn me…”).

Next, Ms. Ross takes it back up a notch with Verse 2: “I know you’ve got charm and appeal, you always play the field. I’m crazy to think you’re all mine.” Her concession to this philandering man continues, “As long as the sun, continues to shine, there’s a place in my heart for you, that’s the bottom line.”

Then it’s back to the chorus again, a reminder of why she finds herself in this inescapable predicament in the first place: “Upside down, boy you turn me… inside out and round and round….”  And repeat.  

It’s at this point that Diana returns to the first verse, almost as if she’s run out of ideas for paying tribute to the man whose clutches she finds herself under.

“Instinctively, you give to me the love that I need…”

Another chorus follows (this time repeated four times, but we’ll ignore the number for the sake of making this palindromic argument).

Afterwards, Chic’s vocal team returns to join The Boss on the song’s final chant — the same urgently delivered one that started the song, except extended as if to drive home the point.

”Upside down you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively. Round and round you’re turning me, I say to thee respectfully!”

It’s this chant, repeated four times here, that essentially serves as the song’s main hook, without which it might not have been nearly the big hit it turned out to be.

Then, finally, Chic’s rhythm section (Rodgers, Edwards and the late drummer Tony Thompson) takes us out with an extended instrumental coda… a jam session featuring Rodgers’ unmistakable rhythm guitar as the main element.

So, the structure of “Upside Down” is basically this:

Instrumental – Chant – Chorus – Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Verse 1 – Chorus – Chant – Instrumental

Forwards and backwards, it reads the same way.

Rarely, if ever, has a song with so many different elements been structured in a way that one could truly call it a palindrome.  In this case, “Upside Down” was helped by several factors, including the decision to open and close the song, vocally at least, with the same chant, to begin and end the song with instrumental breaks, and to repeat the first verse as a stand-in for Verse 3.

Of course, the main factor was a Chic trademark: to get straight to the point with the main chorus preceding any verses.  Absent that, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

It’s also worth noting that, while all Chic tracks began (and usually ended) with the chorus, none of their other big hits qualified as a palindrome for various structural reasons.

Still, I wonder if Rodgers and Edwards had this palindrome in mind when they composed “Upside Down,” or if it just took a math/grammar/Chic/Diana nerd (and future blogger) to figure it out many decades later.

Either way, the song — a million-selling No. 1 smash that has the distinction of making the highest top-40 entry (No. 10) of the entire ‘80s decade on the Billboard Hot 100 — still stands as Diana Ross’ biggest solo hit (and second most successful song of all — with or without the Supremes — behind “Endless Love” with Lionel Richie).

For that reason, and for giving me an excuse to write about palindromes in music (ABBA eat your heart out), I celebrate “Upside Down” today and wish Diana Ross the happiest of birthdays… her 80th!


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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One thought on “I just realized my favorite song by Diana Ross is a palindrome (btw, happy 80th, Diana).”
  1. Hmmm, I’ve always wondered lyrically who this song was about given her marital status at that time? Berry Gordy perhaps. It’s time to share the story of that love affair and solid friendship. My favorite Diana Ross song has always been the love letter Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. It’s very sentimental in its delivery. HB Ms. Ross 🎉

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