Deep Discount

November 27, 2015


Crate diggers know the joy of the discount record bin, where under-loved oddities get sold for a quarter. Often relegated to the floor under the regular stacks—forcing diggers to get on their hands and knees—these crates are home to certain artists and genres:  anything smacking of adult contemporary or easy-listening (Mancini, Ferrante & Teicher, Conniff, Faith, 101 Strings, etc.) and yesterday’s flavors that are hopelessly uncool until they’re retro-chic again (Streisand, Styx, Newton-John, Manilow, etc.). Disco has its own special circle in this Purgatory, reserved for dance instruction records (New York Hustle Inc., the Hustle Factory), sound-a-like knock-offs (Dynamic Sound, Studio ’78, Mirror Image), kiddie records (Kids Stuff Repertory Co.) and vanity pressings (the Perfect Circle, Gino Dente & the Family and Chicago Blackhawks organist Frank Pellico). The aforementioned joy comes in discovering and/or reclaiming this stuff:  Kids Stuff Repertory “butching-up” Sylvester for the pre-teen crowd, the Perfect Circle deconstructing Vicki Sue Robinson like a doctoral thesis in lounge singing, Percy Faith treating an intentional sow’s ear as a symphonic silk purse, non-hipsters like Henry Mancini, Ferrante & Teicher, Peter Nero and Cy Coleman making it work against all odds….

American Hustle–New York Hustle Inc. ’76; Malaguena–Ferrante & Teicher ’79; From East to West–Les Reed Orchestra ’78; Dance Disco Heat–Kids Stuff Repertory Co. ’78; Turn the Beat Around–The Perfect Circle ’78; Abana–Olatunji ’62; Baretta’s Theme–Ray Conniff ’76; Do You Want the Real Thing?–Studio ’78; Sun Goddess–Henry Mancini ’75; Superstition–Peter Nero ’75; Which Way Is Up?–Dynamic Sound ’78; Love Is Blue–Myron Floren ’77; Peter Gunn–Deodato ’76; Pink Panther–Guy Delo & His Orchestra ’78; If I Were a Bell–Broadway Brass ’76; Non-Stop Disco Dancing ’75 [edit]–James Last; Dance, Dance, Dance–New 50 Guitars ’78; Positively Positive–the Hustle Factory ’76; El Bimbo–Percy Faith ’75; Supernature–Mirror Image ’79; The Party’s on Me–Cy Coleman ’76; Bubbling Brown Sugar–Shaw ’76; The Mad Russian–Enoch Light ’77; Get Down Tonight–Gino Dente & the Family ’76; Loves Theme–Frank Pellico ’76

Listen Now:

Rare Gems

November 17, 2015


Starting point: the story of disco kingpin Mel Cheren’s early days as a rep at NYC’s Wand records.  A 1972 Wand single by the Independents—the ballad “Leaving Me”—had fallen off the radio charts but was enjoying an inexplicable increase in sales nevertheless. A devoted nightclub habitué, Cheren uncovered the mystery:  disco deejays had flipped the disc to get the crowds moving to its b-side, “I Love You, Yes I Do.” It was the industry’s first indication that discotheque jocks could “make” a record as effectively as radio jocks. A year later, radio would make a super-smash of “Love’s Theme” via initial exposure on the dance floor, and the world would never be the same.

Disco enthusiasts still place a premium on rare gems—b-sides, buried album cuts, under-promoted/distributed artists and self-released vanity projects—as there’s a perceived purity to cuts discovered and/or made by the clubs, the jocks, and the dancers themselves. The selections in this podcast mostly fit this bill, to the extent that they received any floor action or airplay at all. 

A few notes: Nanette Workman is a Brooklyn-born singer who found steady gigs as a backup singer (she’s all over early/mid-70s Rolling Stones stuff) and made a name for herself in Quebec recording in French. She’s still revered there to this day.  Check out this 2009 concert footage of a surprise guest star duet on “Lady Marmalade.” You tell me who’s the star and who’s the back-up:

The Jim Gilstrap cut is from the 3 Days of the Condor soundtrack (never seen it—do Redford and Dunaway get down at a disco?). It was written by soundtrack composer Dave Grusin, and while it doesn’t boast the greatest set of hooks or lyrics, it is beautifully produced, and—as always—Gilstrap shines.  Gordon Grody had ties to Vicki Sue Robinson and was promoted in tandem with her. He failed to ignite, likely because he never had anything as strong as “Turn the Beat Around.”  That said, “Get Thru It” gets by quite nicely on a killer guitar lick. Sunny Gale scored a few modest jazz hits in the ’50s; in 1975 she worked with Vince Montana and musicians from the Salsoul Orchestra (one assumes) to cut the smokin’ “I Wanna Know.”  You won’t find it on many (or any?) discographies, but obviously it exists….

Lastly, our namesakes for this episode Rare Gems and Rare Gems Odyssey are one and the same.  They recorded their debut for Casablanca as RGO, but they dropped the last bit after the group Odyssey had a giant hit with “Native New Yorker.”  The band, in turn, was dropped by Casablanca, and released their next album (Million Dollar Disco) as Rare Gems on the tiny California Gold label.  The album cover—which appears to be hand scrawled—is among the cruddiest ever delivered; call it million-dollar disco in a ten-cent jacket. They never topped “What Is Funk?” which may, at first, seem like a throwaway, but careful listen reveals some interesting gender and racial politics going on.  The chanted refrain of “Hey fellas!” is called into paternalistic question by the group’s sole female member Debra Givings (sadly by citing her measurements).  On the next go-round, the band calls out to “Men, lady … and Johnny.” Group member Johnny Ross rises to the challenge and defines funk as that moment when you see your bride-to-be coming down the aisle and have “second  and third” thoughts, suggesting that Johnny is as bothered by a hetero-normative assumption as Debra is by gender dismissal.  In the next round, the lead voice calls out “Hey men … and boys” to which the group quickly shoots back with “ain’t no boys shinin’ shoes in this group,” clearly taking offense at “boy” as a racially pejorative term.

Now’s the Time (Give It Up) – Solar Source ’81; The Tease – G-String Orchestra ’74; Don’t You Have Any Love in Your Heart? – Margo Thunder ’75; Lady Marmalade – Nanette Workman ’75; What Is Funk? – Rare Gems Odyssey ’77; Get Thru It – Gordon Grody ’77; It Must Be Love – Alton McClain & Destiny ’78; I Love You, Yes I Do – the Independents ’72; Do It to the Music – Raw Silk ’82; I Got a Thing – Silver, Platinum & Gold ’76; I’ve Got You Where I Want You – Jim Gilstrap ’75; Bahia – Alice Street Gang ’76; Burning Alive – Tony Rallo & the Midnite Band ’79; Saturday Night Steppin’ Out – Webster Lewis & the Post-Pop Space-Rock Be-Bop Gospel Tabernacle Orchestra and Chorus ’76; Music Is for Dancing – Rare Gems ’78; I Wanna Know – Sunny Gale ’75; Don’t Hold Back – Chanson ’78

Listen Now:

Attitude Dancing

November 10, 2015


Home from our whirlwind world tour, it’s time for a thematic breather in the form of a collection of tracks from artists who have piqued my interest of late. A recent phone call from Drake reminded me of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 claim to fame, still as weird and wonderful as it ever was.  Dexter Wansel’s “Solutions” is an ills-du-jour time capsule precursor to Prince’s “Sign O the Times.”  Like Prince, Wansel still manages to sound fresh even if his concerns are dated; now it seems a nice reminder that time has a way of curing even the seemingly intractable. Also like Prince, Wansel wrote and produced for a stable of other artists including the Jones Girls and Jean Carn (featured here).  I finish my “Little Bit of Love” trifecta with a version by Gladys Knight and the Pips; I should point out that all three versions were produced and arranged by Van McCoy, making him the master of multiple variations.

From Larry Harris’ And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records: “Casablanca kept issuing product, so much of it bad, at full bore. It had become a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks operation. In the six months between August 1979 and February 1980, the company released 36 albums, most of which were just filler. The artists (ever heard of Platypus, Mike Heron, Bad News Travels Fast, or Loose Change?) should never have been signed in the first place.” I can’t speak for Mike Heron (who is a British folkie), but my podcast has featured cuts from Loose Change (a wonderful record) and BNTF (certainly accomplished and enjoyable if not essential). You’ll find Platypus on this episode. The website Popmatters describes them as “purveyors of funk-infused progressive rock and perhaps the first black band ever to inhabit the orbit of Yes and Genesis.” Okay…you certainly don’t hear that on their debut album for Casablanca, which sounds closer to the Ohio Players, the Gap Band or perhaps Parliament.

Why Can’t We Live Together? – Timmy Thomas ’72 % Solutions – Dexter Wansel ’78 % Zone – Rhythm Makers ’76 % Bump Me Baby – Dooley Silverspoon ’75 % Show and Tell – Elusion ’82 % Little Bit of Love – Gladys Knight and the Pips ’77 % The Queen – Nanette Workman ’76 % I Can’t Stop – James and Bobby Purify ’75 % Try Love – Tony Wilson ’79 % Attitude – Giants ’78 % Love Will Find a Way – Margaret Singana ’76 % Body and Soul – Platypus ’79 % Louri’s Theme – Sir Monti Rock III ’81 % Bodacious Woman Child – Rhetta Hughes ’80 % Communication – Duncan Sisters ’81 % Inside Out – Odyssey ’82 % Give It Up – Jean Carn ’79 % Weak at the Knees – Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame ’83 % Do What You Gotta Do – Eddie Drennon & B.B.S. Unlimited ’75 

Listen Now:

Whirled Music

October 27, 2015


Fitting to start and end the last installment in my travelogue disco series with tracks from Voyage who specialized in the genre for two very fine albums. I think their “Lady America” is one of the great pieces of patriotic pop; another fine gift from France. Odd man out here is Giants, a supergroup with participation from Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Lee Oskar, Neal Schon, Greg Rollie and Coke Escovedo to name a few.  I can’t find much on them as I don’t think their album really registered when it came out in 1978.  There’s a disco influence running throughout (no surprise, given the times), and from what I know about David Mancuso’s tastes, I should think the rather unconventional “Kilimanjaro” might have fit in nicely at the Loft. Perhaps it did.

Let’s Fly Away - Voyage ’78 (France) # The Blue Danube Hustle - Rice & Beans Orchestra ’76 (Puerto Rico) # Twist A Saint Tropez - Telex ’79 (Belgium) # Hop Scotch - Eli’s Second Coming ’77 (US) # Hidecki Disco Special - Hidecki Saijo ’79 (Japan) # Kung Fu’s Back Again - Roberta Kelly  ’74 (US/Germany) # Take Me to Chinatown - Ultimate ’78 (US) # Su-Ku-Leu / Mother Africa - Tantra ’80 (Italy) # Ali’s Funk - Orient Express ’78 (Canada) # Swahili Boogie - Van McCoy ’76 (US) # Nights Over Egypt - Jones Girls ’81 (US) # Kilimanjaro - Giants ’78 (US) # Lawrence of Arabia - Ritchie Family ’76 (US) # Open Sesame - Kool & the Gang  ’76 (US) # Aranjuez (Mon Amour) - Herb Alpert ’79 (US) # Lady America - Voyage ’77 (France)
Listen Now:

Around the World in a Daze

October 21, 2015


Leg two in our journey of ethnically muddled disco.  “Que Tal America” could be the poster child for this series as everything about it is a “lie.”  The artist, Two Man Sound, is a trio, and their nationality is Belgium. See also trends of Indians singing about Latin America (Biddu and Asha Puthli) and the French love for Carnival (Dalida). French Canadian trio Toulous is credited with being a pioneering bi-lingual disco act.  They released their 1976 album in a French version and an English version.

Lindbergh II - Toulous ’76 (Canada) 0 Voulez-Vous - ABBA ’79 (Sweden) 0 New York, New York - Patsy Gallant ’78 (Canada) 0 Que Tal America - Two Man Sound ’77 (Belgium) 0 Rio Do Brasil - Dalida ’80 (France) 0 Tico, Tico - The Average Disco Band  ’78 (US) 0 Mambo No. 5 - Samba Soul ’78 (Brazil) 0 Latin Lover - Asha Puthli ’79 (India) 0 Disco Mexico - Grupo Allegro ’80 (Puerto Rico) 0 Cuba - Gibson Brothers ’78 (West Indies) 0 Puerto Rico - Biddu ’77 (UK/India) 0 Jet Setting- Van McCoy ’76 (US)

Listen Now:

The Grand Tour

October 16, 2015


As often happens with my podcasts, this started out as something else; namely, I was intrigued by the political-correctness brouhaha over Kimono Wednesdays at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where patrons were encouraged to click selfies in front of Monet’s “La Japonaise” wearing a kimono similar to the one worn by the painter’s wife in the portrait. While quite a few degrees less tasteless than “yellow face,” this did strike me as rather gauche.  My partner, a painter, pointed out that it was no less outré than Monet dressing his wife up in Japanese drag for the portrait in the first place. Anyway, aren’t selfies—certainly ones taken in an art museum—vulgar by definition?

Questions of cultural appropriation taunt us in today’s clickbait (see Iggy Azalea and Chet Haze/Chester Hanks), but it’s nothing new—it was a core principle of disco (especially Eurodisco).  I started pulling together some of my favorite examples—Germans singing about Russia and South America, Brazilians singing about Italy, Parisians singing about Brazil, etc.—and I realized that A.) I had way too much for one podcast and B.) I would better serve the material by playing disco travel agent and pulling together some triptik tours of the fabulous awfulness of the disco culture club.

And so … pack your bags for the first of three legs in our journey. Note that the country listed after each act indicates the track’s country of origin.

The Grand Tour - The Grand Tour ’77 (Canada) @ Pastaciuta Symphony - Cosa Nostra Disco Band ’78 (Brazil) @ Disco Bouzouki - The Great Disco Bouzouki Band ’78 (Germany) @ Mandolay - La Flavor ’80 (US – Ohio to be exact) @ Qui Est “In,” Qui “Out” - Laurent Voulzy ’79 (France) @ China Girl - David Bowie/Club Bowie ’83 /’03 (UK) @ Eastern Journey - Biddu ’78 (India/UK) @ Back in the U.S.S.R. - The Average Disco Band ’77 (US) @ Kechak Fantasy - Voyage ’78 (France) @ Rasputin - Michael Zager Band ’80 (US); Moskau - Dschinghis Khan ’79 (Germany); Macumba - Titanic ’73 (Norway); Jungle - Kongas ’74 (France) @ African Symphony - Henry Mancini ’75 (US) @ Autumn Leaves - Grace Jones ’78 (US) @ Last Train to London - Electric Light Orchestra  ’79 (UK)

Listen Now:

Welcome to the Club

October 5, 2015


More mid-’70s dance-oriented Philly soul, although we’re reaching out to Detroit, Chicago, L.A. and elsewhere. Two artists are new to me here – the Boogieman Orchestra and Dooley Silverspoon. Both were independents who hit it big on the dance floor; common wisdom held that they would be picked up by major labels and take off.  Neither did.  Silverspoon had two more solid hits and developed a cult following in the UK, but a career never panned out.  Chicago’s Boogieman Orchestra disappeared without a trace. Too bad.  “Lady, Lady, Lady” is an over-the-top, melodramatic satin sheet scorcher.

“Hideaway” and “Hey…” are Tom Moulton productions.  Van McCoy’s “That’s My Philosophy” is a more disco-fied version of “To Each His Own;” since Van penned the song, he can call it what he pleases.  The Intruders up the disco factor (if not, sadly, the length) on William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful….”  I’ve heard Intruder front man Sam “Little Sonny” Brown’s vocals described as an acquired taste.  I love his salty-sweetness that is to pitch (a little under) what Billie Holiday was to the beat (a little behind). General Johnson was the front man for the Chairmen of the Board. Little known “Walk Away” has become my newest earworm and nearly absolves him for having written immortal ultra-ick sudser “Patches.”  The Detroit Emeralds “Too Smart” is another overlooked, album-buried gem.  Okay, perhaps a wee bit sexist….

Jim Gilstrap – need to learn more about him.  I do know this:  he owns two disco classics—“Take Your Mama for a Ride” and “I’m on Fire”—even though Lulu and 5000 Volts are the versions that get all the props. And I think he was first to the punch on both of these.

Final note:  I used to buy into the conventional wisdom on Zulema Cusseaux as a poor man’s Aretha, but I’m getting deeply into her of late.  “What Kind of Person” smokes.

Welcome to the Club – Blue Magic ’74 + Hideaway – the Fantastic Four ’76 + Hey, What’s That Dance You’re Doing? – the Choice Four ’76 + You Got the Stuff – Bill Withers ’78 + You’re Getting a Little Too Smart – the Detroit Emeralds ’73 + Don’t Walk Away – General Johnson ’76 + Lady, Lady, Lady – the Boogieman Orchestra ’75 + Let Me Be the No. 1 – Dooley Silverspoon ’75 + I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love – the Emotions ’76 + Let’s Groove – Archie Bell and the Drells ’75 + That’s My Philosophy – Van McCoy ’76 + Be Thankful for What You Got – the Intruders ’74 + What Kind of Person Are You? – Zulema ’75 + Streaking – Crown Heights Affair ’74 + Where Is the Love? – Betty Wright ’74 + I’m on Fire – Jim Gilstrap ’75

Listen Now:


September 23, 2015


If everything that rises must converge, it stands to reason that three prevailing mid-’70s pop genres—bubblegum, glam and glitter rock—would come together at the discotheque. All three favored the kind of thudding four-on-the floor beat that defined much disco, although B-G-G usually lacked a certain swing that club music brought to the party.  For glam and glitter, “stomp” and “thud” were key rhythmic strategies, as were liberal appropriations of tribal African drum patterns (the Burundi beat) and a familiar syncopated pattern (the Bo Diddley beat).

“Bubblegum” points to the genres’ intended demographic, although glitter and glam—hugely popular in the UK—got quickly adopted by “yobbish” hooligans who were more simple than childlike. The genres blended readily into UK disco, with danceable tracks by Kenny, Mud, the Glitter Band and Polly Brown (who sounds remarkably like mid-period Diana Ross, don’tcha think?) finding their place in the hit parade and on the dance floor.  “New York Groove” was a UK hit for glam group Hello, although I opted to spin Kiss-ter Ace Frehely’s cover as it’s glitzier and sounds much more at home in Noo Yawk.

Disco icon Giorgio Moroder did as much as anyone to bridge the B-G-G/D gap. His early works as a producer and solo artist were quintessential bubblegum and glam, paving the way for him to pioneer Eurodisco in the mid-’70s.  The Moroder contribution here—Smiley’s “Doctor Funk”—is a sterling example of a bubbleglam-disco fusion. And rock critic Chuck Eddy has pointed out that if disco hadn’t become a dance catch-all, acts like KC & the Sunshine Band and Disco Tex—who specialized in short-form, up-beat aural gewgaws—would have been regarded as a bubblegum pop; some hardcore disco cognoscenti still argue that they weren’t true disco.

Early ’80s group Until December brings us full circle. Their stated objective was to marry sleazy hard rock with disco to create a soundtrack for San Francisco’s leather scene. On “Free Again,” they joined with hometown hero/disco diva Sylvester who takes the song to a higher plane by playing Merry Clayton to Adam Sherburne’s Mick Jagger.

New York Groove – Ace Frehely ’78 O The Bump – Kenny ’74 O Keep It Comin’ Love – KC & the Sunshine Band ’76 O Makes You Blind – the Glitter Band ’75 O Shake It Down – Mud ’76 O I Was Made for Dancin’ – Leif Garrett ’76 O Yummy, Yummy, Yummy – Baccara ’78 O Wild Thing – X ’84 O Black Betty – Ram Jam ’77 O Free Again – Until December featuring Sylvester ’86 O The “In” Crowd – Bryan Ferry ’74 O Black Is Black – Belle Epoque ’76 O I’m on Fire  – 5000 Volts ’75 O Up in a Puff of Smoke – Polly Brown ’75 O Walkin’ in the Jungle – the Osmonds ’76 O Doctor Funk – Smiley ’76 O You Light My Fire – Sheila & B. Devotion ’78 O My Friend Jack – Boney M. ’80 O Walk Away Renee – Pink Lady’79

Listen Now:

Face the Music

September 11, 2015


As I watched the ridiculous human rights vs. religious fascism drama play out in Rowan County KY, Faith, Hope & Charity’s “To Each His Own” popped into my head. (Certainly not “Eye of the Tiger” – yeesh!)  Hard to believe the song is 40 years old!  Harder still to accept that what seemed like a simple platitude we could all get behind back then feels like a battle cry today.  Of note in our line-up of early-ish soul-based disco:  the Brenda & the Tabulations cut I mentioned a few podcasts back, an early cut from disco violinist Eddie Drennon who has become a bit of an obsession of late, and one from Motown group the Dynamic Superiors.  Their lead singer Tony Washington chose not to hide his sexual orientation, and many of the group’s songs have barely coded gay messages. (It’s hard to face the music when it ain’t your song … sho’nuff!)  Finally, special props to Archie Bell & the Drells whose “Everybody Have a Good Time” may be the most unrelenting disco cut I know. Its lethal 140 BPM is pushed to the limit by a screaming guitar break that never fails to tear the top off my head.

Get Down – Kay-Gees’74 J A Theme in Search – Eddie Drennon & B.B.S. Unlimited ’75 J Got That Feeling – People’s Choice ’78 J As – Sister Sledge ’77 J Face the Music – Dynamic Superiors ’75 J Where Do We Go From Here? – the Trammps ’75 J The Woman I’m Being True To – the Choice Four ’74 J Live and Learn – Ace Spectrum ’76 J Song to Sing – Impact ’77 J Little Bit of Love – Brenda & the Tabulations ’72 J To Each His Own – Faith, Hope & Charity ’75 J Who, What, When, Where, Why – the Tymes ’77 J Half of Your Heart – Zulema ’75 J Let Me Down Easy – Rare Pleasure ’76 J Everybody Have a Good Time – Archie Bell & the Drells ’76 J Midnight Flight to Your Love – the Pips ’77 J Janice (Don’t Be So Blind to Love) – Skip Mahoney ’80

Listen Now:

Thoroughly Modern Mirrorball

September 2, 2015


Johnnies come lately:  new disco as remix, cover and homage.

 Wicked Game – Paul Parker ’92 = Perfect Couples – Belle & Sebastian ’15 = Why Don’t You Love Me? – David Byrne & Fat Boy Slim featuring Tori Amos & Cyndi Lauper ’10 = Supernature – Beth Ditto ’15 = I Try to Talk to You – Hercules & Love Affair featuring John Grant ’15 = What Are You Wearing? – Momus ’98 = Dancing Queen – CoCo Lee ’96 = Young Hearts Run Free (K-Klass mix) – Candi Staton ’99 = Tempted – Giorgio Moroder featuring Matthew Koma ’15 = Strong Enough – Jimmy Somerville ’15 = Use It Up and Wear It Out – Pat & Mick ’90= Arigato We Love You – Pizzicato Five ’97 = Dangerous – Rumer ’14 = Smells Like Teen Spirit – Abigail ’94 = Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Sheena Easton  ’00 = Call Me – Until December ’86 = Love to Love You Baby – Tom Tom Club  ’00


Listen Now: