May 20, 2013
All-night dance and rave marathons necessitated the idea of “chill,” music designed as an appropriate comedown after a long night’s groove. Not necessarily for slow dancing—although the idea wasn’t out of the question—but a slower, mellower and often steamier or spaced-out vibe that you could take away from the dance floor and back to yours. Chill as a genre originated with Chic’s magnificent “At Last I Am Free” and the slower boudoir jams of Barry White, Saint Tropez and others. Adult contemporary jazz artists like Silvetti and André Gagnon straddled the line between dance music and easy listening, and euro-synth techno wizards such as Giorgio Moroder and Space were equally adept at dance and trance.
Valley of the Dolls – Giorgio Moroder ’80 ʥ Grand Illusion – Donna Summer ’80 ʥ Still I Am Sad – Grand Tour ’77 ʥ Sesso Matto – Armando Trovaioli ’76 ʥ Summer Rain – Silvetti ’76 ʥ Holiday Feeling – André Gagnon ’77 ʥ Living in a Dream – Sea Level ’79 ʥ Slow Disco Dancing – L.A.X. ’79 ʥ Cruising – Prince Ellis ’79 ʥ Midnight Plane – Ronnie Foster ’78 ʥ Strawberry Letter 23 – Brothers Johnson ’77 ʥ Our Love Goes on Forever – Dennis Coffey ’77 ʥ Violation – Saint Tropez ’77 ʥ Closer – Gino Soccio ’81 ʥ Blue Tears – Space ’78 ʥ At Last I Am Free – Chic ’78
May 8, 2013
Funkateers faced a disco dilemma: how far should they go to assimilate? Funk tends to be slower (around 110 bpm while disco revs up to an average of 120) and relies on horns far more than strings. Also, funk rhythms are quirkier, while disco rarely strays from its four-on-the-floor whump-whump-whump-whump. Godfather of Funk James Brown’s attempts to go disco didn’t really spark until very late in the game, and only then when he brought in hired gun Brad Shapiro who also produced Millie Jackson’s “Do What Makes the World Go Round.” Is it just a coincidence that JB sings about how bad it stinks in the disco or that Cameo addresses rigor mortis? George Clinton’s Parliamentfunkadelic Thang espoused the Pinocchio Theory—“If you fake the funk, your nose will grow”—while their record labels issued 12" disco singles of their hits. Rufus Thomas put out a lone disco single on AVI; “I Got to Be Myself” is the b-side, but to my ears far superior. Chicago deep soul man Tyrone Davis sunk his teeth into a wicked disco groove and then held on monomaniacally for nine minutes with hardly a variation. (The floor is open to debate whether this is a bravura performance or just an extended vamp to fill out an album side.) Funk outfits such as the Ohio Players, Cameo and Kool & the Gang all received light disco make-overs (sometimes by merely inserting the word disco into a lyric or title). And even Smokey Robinson kicked up his laid back groove a notch. In the case of the Kay Gees, they crossed their funk with a more disco-friendly Latin feel and threw in some smokin’ breakdowns to seal the deal. Gloria Gaynor’s disco mix of “Anybody Wanna Party?” is a rare reverse funkification; no one was expecting this rough, funky throw down from the queen of well-oiled disco smoothness.
It’s Too Funky in Here – James Brown ’79 § Do What Makes the World Go Round – Millie Jackson ’76 § Rigor Mortis – Cameo ’77 § Get On Up (Disco) –Tyrone Davis ’78 § I Got to Be Myself – Rufus Thomas ’77 § Anybody Wanna Party? – Gloria Gaynor ’78 § Hangin’ Out – Kool & the Gang ’79 § Feel the Beat (Everybody Disco) – Ohio Players ’76 § Why You Wanna See My Bad Side? – Smokey Robinson ’78 § Out of the Ghetto – Isaac Hayes ’77 § Latican Funk – Kay Gees ’79 § A Little Funky Dance – Fatback Band ’76 § Theme From the Black Hole / The Big Bang Theory – Parliament ’79
April 24, 2013
The subcultures that made up the disco scene brought with them their favorite recreational medicines. Sixties radicals and bohemians invited Mary Jane to the party; the boys in the band introduced us to amyl nitrite (poppers); and the international party set blew in with their snow and other designer drugs. The disco difference was equating these altered states with love.
Note too that when the disco boom went bust, clubs welcomed emerging genres such as new wave and dance-oriented rock to the mix. I’m honoring that tradition here since it allows me to throw in the love/drug classics “Addicted to Love” and “Love Is the Drug,” as well as some cool obscurities such as “Emile (Night Rate)” (amyl nitrite, get it?), “Doctor, Doctor” and ABBA’s “Lovers (Live a Little Longer).”
Emile (Night Rate) – Aural Exciters ’79 Ѻ Doctor, Doctor – Labi Siffre ’75 Ѻ Lovers (Live a Little Longer) – ABBA ’79 Ѻ Love Hangover – 5th Dimension ’76 Ѻ I Got Protection – Chic ’80 Ѻ Overdose of Love – Lowrell ’78 Ѻ Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right) – Wild Magnolias ’74 Ѻ Stoned Out of My Mind – Maryann Farra & Satin Soul ’75 Ѻ The Medicine Song – Stephanie Mills ’84 Ѻ Mainline – Black Ivory ’79 Ѻ The Seven Year Itch – Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band ’79 Ѻ Love Exciter – El Coco ’79 Ѻ Love Is the Drug – Grace Jones ’80 Ѻ Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer ’85
April 16, 2013
Beg, steal or borrow: the likes of Led Zeppelin made bank by robbing the blues blind, but disco just fed off its own, routinely recycling riffs, bass lines, rhythmic patterns and even whole “sounds.” This podcast celebrates imitation as the sincerest form of flattery. I trace how the rhythmic pattern of the Temptations seminal “Law of the Land” morphed its way into both “I Feel Love” and “Contact.” Here, too, is Rod Stewart lifting the hook of his “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” from Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” as disco-fied by Eurodisco act Crystal Grass. Arthur Russell (working as Dinosaur) claimed that Desmond Child and Rouge’s “Our Love Is Insane” royally ripped off his “Kiss Me Again.” I’ll let you decide for yourself, but in Russell’s defense, his track came first and both share musicians and a vocalist. Finally, producers Rinder and Lewis (working as Le Pamplemousse) openly admit to a heavy swipe from Barry White’s “It’s Ecstasy….” The rest of the tracks are favorite sound-alikes. Is that the Bee Gees? No, it’s one-off Parisian disco act Partners. Cashmere’s bald-faced Michael Jackson kipe is absolutely shameless (and all the more delightful for it). Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band had mega-hits with “Cherchez La Femme / Hard Times / Sunshower,” all from their debut album. Two offbeat, quirky follow-up albums both disappointed, indicating that Buzzard masterminds August Darnell and Stony Browder had no intentions of repeating their dreamy big band ballroom disco formula. So, Buzzard lead singer Cory Daye joined with producer Sandy Linzer to lay claim to the sound as their own on Daye’s solo outting. “Rainy Day Boy” is a buried album track that sounds the most Buzzard-esque. I’ve already introduced you to George Duke masquerading as Bootsy Collins; I thought it should be repeated here, though. Finally, I could do a whole podcast of Chic imitators; in fact, Rhino records issued a couple of those in their 1990s “The Disco Years” series. (Actually, I could do a whole podcast of songs built around the signature riff from “Good Times” alone.) For this session, I decided to go with producer Jacques Fred Petrus who fashioned a very robust cottage industry churning out Chic forgeries under various aliases including Change, the BB&Q Band, Revanche and Macho. For me, however, the cream of this crop comes from his namesake group, the Peter Jacques Band. What I love about “Welcome Back” is that nothing directly quotes Chic, but the sum of the parts sounds like a track straight off Take It Off or Believer, both of which came after this track. So don’t call this an imitation; call it a prognostication.
Law of the Land – The Temptations ’73 ₪ Contact – Edwin Starr ’78 ₪ I Feel Love – Donna Summer ’77 ₪ Let the Music Turn You On – Cashmere ’83 ₪ Welcome Back – Peter Jacques Band ’80 ₪ Kiss Me Again – Dinosaur ’78 ₪ Our Love Is Insane – Desmond Child and Rouge ’78 ₪ Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Rod Stewart ’78 ₪ Taj Mahal – Crystal Grass ’76 ₪ Taj Mahal – Jorge Ben ’73 ₪ Rainy Day Boy – Cory Daye ’79 ₪ Green Eyes – Partners ’79 ₪ Le Spank – Le Pamplemousse ’77 ₪ It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me – Barry White ’77 ₪ Dukey Stick – George Duke ’78
April 10, 2013
More personal favorites:
Lowdown - Ray Conniff ’76 Ǘ You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine - Lou Rawls ’76 Ǘ It’s Over - Alma Faye ’79 Ǘ Housewives Are People, Too - David Oliver ’78 Ǘ Danger - Gregg Diamond ’79 Ǘ Dancing Is Dangerous – Nöel ’79 Ǘ Contact - Edwin Starr ’78 Ǘ The Runner - The Three Degrees ’78 Ǘ Turn Your Boogie Loose - Baby Washington ’79 Ǘ Play This One Last Record - The Sylvers ’78 Ǘ Always There - Side Effect ’76 Ǘ Use It Up and Wear It Out - Odyssey ’80 Ǘ For the Love of My Man - Celi Bee ’78
March 28, 2013
For this edition, The Lives They Led goes to the disco. Bringing together dance floor biographies makes for some interesting affinities: by my count more than half are fictional; two come courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber; there’s an even split between gunslingers and godheads; two are Bakers (Ma and Josephine); two are superstars (secular and sacred); and we examine a triptych of cultural icons whose places in history remain hot topics for debate. (I’m lumping JC in with Ms. Peron and the Russian Love Machine in case you were wondering.) Some quick notes on the artists: Festival is the project name for producer Boris Midney while Sphinx is the work of Alec R. Costandinos and Don Ray. Our Josephine Baker is best known by one of her married names—Phyilica Rashad or Clair Huxtable—the cut here was written and produced by Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, the team who brought us the Village People. I don’t know / can’t find anything about Thunder & Lightning; I suspect they’re Canadian.
Alvin Stone—Fantastic Four ’75 Ѻ Ma Baker—Boney M. ’77 Ѻ Deadeye Dick—C.J. & Co. ’78 Ѻ Rasputin—Michael Zager ’80 Ѻ Evita (Part 2)—Festival ’79 Ѻ Josephine, Superstar—Phylicia Allen ’78 Ѻ Jesus Christ, Superstar—Thunder & Lightning ’78 Ѻ Simon Peter—Sphinx ’77 Ѻ Reverend Lee—Paradise Express ’78 Ѻ Brother Dan—Alma Faye ’78 Ѻ Eleanor Rigby—Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps ’78
March 21, 2013
Musical visionaries love the dance floor. Both David Bowie and Lou Reed briefly flirted with disco, and progressive art rockers / sound sculptors Kraftwerk, Telex and Sparks now are revered for being dance floor pioneers—which wasn’t their primary raisons d'être. (Legend holds that the sound effects in Telex’s “Moskow Diskow” were so fiercely effective that blissed out tweakers often freaked out when it was played, convinced they were about to be hit by a train.) Prominent studio Svengalis also loved to practice their craft at the disco. Sixties tastemaker Bob Crewe is the BC of BCG while sunshine pop architects Bruce Johnson and Curt Boettcher were behind the contribution by Sailor. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham inherited the role of sun-dazed harmony pop guru, and he and the Mighty Mac contributed a handful of inventive 12" dance floor remixes. War of the Worlds impresario Jeff Wayne scored a surprise disco hit with “The Eve of the War.” Chromium introduced the world to upcoming ’80s super producer Trevor Horn. Other early ’80s sound architects represented here include Pet Shop Boys mentor Bobby “O” Orlando, Arthur Russell (Dinosaur L) and Man Parrish (who produced “Rock Your Body” as performed by legendary performance artist cum go-go boy meets hair product dump site John Sex). Last word goes to French dance music Übermensch Cerrone who often turned to science fiction as a concept. “Trippin’ on the Moon” as delivered by Claudja Barry seems to be about sneaking in one last good roll in the hay before being carted away by space aliens. Now that’s unique vision!
I Don’t Like Music – Telex ’82 Ƣ Disco Mystic – Lou Reed ’79 Ƣ Down by the Docks – Sailor ’77 Ƣ Menage À Trois – BCG ’76 Ƣ John, I’m Only Dancing (Again) – David Bowie ’75 Ƣ Rock Your Body – John Sex ’88 Ƣ Clean on Your Bean – Dinosaur L ’82 Ƣ Beat the Clock – Sparks ’79 Ƣ Big Love – Fleetwood Mac ’87 Ƣ Tour de France – Kraftwerk ’83 Ƣ The Eve of the War – Jeff Wayne ’78 Ƣ Forces of Light – Chromium ’79 Ƣ Giving Up – Bobby “O” ’83 Ƣ L’Amour Toujours – Telex ’82 Ƣ Trippin’ on the Moon – Claudja Barry ’84
March 14, 2013
Disco bred divas. It’s been theorized that it was a gay thing; tradition held that men couldn’t openly express love for other men in popular song, so gay men identified with powerfully voiced women who expressed a wide range of emotions about that man who got away or, better yet, had his way. Perhaps, or maybe a quick disco session was an easy record biz entry point for strong voices hoping to break out of choir lofts across the land. Fact is that there seems to be no end to the number of disco queens who showed up for often no more than one single and disappeared just as quickly. Opening act Fern Kinney had a smallish career delivering disco remakes of chitlin’ circuit hits. Zulema, Tamiko Jones and Kellee Patterson put out a handful of records each but never hit it big. (It wasn’t for lack of pedigree: Zulema worked with Aretha Franklin, Tamiko with Herbie Mann, and Kellee—a Gary, Indiana native with loose ties to the Jackson family—came to prominence as the first black Miss Indiana and had a jazz career as well). Ramona Brooks was a former member of Lady Flash, the back-up singers for Barry Manilow. The mysterious, uni-monikered Nöel was the canary for a one-shot disco outing written and produced by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks. I know next to nothing about Byanka other than she looks Eastern European and delivers a swell version of the Alec Costandinos/Dalida staple “Americano” as well as a credible cover of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.” I got her album—which was pressed in Mexico— for a quarter at a resale shop and it goes for a hell of a lot more than that on the internet. Suzi Lane was a one-off Giorgio Moroder protégé, Lucy Hawkins was a staffer at the recording studio who lucked into a singing session, and Brenda Gooch has the Best. Name. Ever.
I’ve Been Lonely for So Long – Fern Kinney ’81 ʍ Never Needed You Anyway – Dolores Hall ’79 ʍ You and I Together– Brenda Gooch ’80 ʍ I Don’t Want You Back – Ramona Brooks ’80 ʍ Can’t Live Without Your Love – Tamiko Jones ’81 ʍ Harmony – Suzi Lane ’79 ʍ Americano – Byanka ’87 ʍ Do It – Rena Mason ’79 ʍ Lady Scorpio – Laura Taylor ’78 ʍ Is There More to Life Than Dancing? – Nöel ʍ Love Is You – Carol Williams ’76 ʍ Now That You’re In, What Cha Gonna Do About It? – Sandy Mercer ’79 ʍ What’s In It for Me? – Zalmac featuring Zulema ’82 ʍ Turn On the Lights – Kellee Patterson ’77 ʍ Gotta Get Out of Here – Lucy Hawkins ’78 ʍ Serious, Sirius Space Party – Ednah Holt ’81
March 8, 2013
I discovered the groovy goodness that is Ray Conniff disco via a Japanese disco compilation that included (without a drop of irony, I believe) Ray and his singers doing Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” and a disco medley of “The Hustle / My Eyes Adored You,” as well as other bits of sleazy listening disco exotica by Japan’s Fantastic Sounds Orchestra and France’s Cavelli et Son Grand Orchestre. The Conniff medley was so utterly cheesy as to be irresistible (and begged the question “Why didn’t someone think of this before?”) while “Lowdown” struck me as funkier than it had any right to be, and, frankly more purely disco than the original. (I would discover I wasn’t alone in that assessment; it’s been a secret weapon for hipper-than-hip deejays for some time.) Once I decided to dig deeper into the oeuvre, I learned that the two cuts on the Japanese comp nicely summed up the Conniff disco dichotomy: effectively sleek funk-lite versus delightfully outré lounge lizard lusciousness. Who wouldn’t want more?
So here it is: a fairly comprehensive overview of Conniff disco culled from seven albums spanning as many years. (I didn’t include “Lowdown” and “Hustle / Eyes” since you can find them on other dsco Podcasts.) Funny thing is, Conniff wasn’t afraid to go discoballs-out on individual cuts, but he never delivered a full dance-oriented album. You’d think 1978’s Ray Conniff Plays the Bee Gees & Other Great Hits would be it (especially given the cover photos), but even here Ray keeps the disco-to-schlock ratio at 3:5, which is as good as it ever got. (If you only have fifty cents, the two Conniff disco albums to get are 1976’s After the Lovin’ and 1979’s I Will Survive.) I’ve rounded this out with other MOR disco adaptations, although I steered clear of “Sounds Like” cheapies that were plentiful during the day. And I couldn’t keep myself from serving a thin slice of Saturday Night Fiedler, which is universally recognized as the ne plus ultra of execrable disco. (Yes, even worse than Merman!)
It’s tempting to view Conniff disco and its ilk through the lens of the early days of rock’n’roll when Pat Boone and others sanitized the grittiness from “Tutti Frutti.” However, isn’t whitewashing the Bee Gees the ultimate redundancy? Conniff disco as gesture was more subversive than Bowdlerization: it recognized that housewives, grannies and the boys in those space-age bachelor pads loved them some disco, too. (So why in the hell did Columbia suppress the Chic–Johnny Mathis collaboration? We may never know!)
Anyway, if you ever wondered what the Carpenters covering “Theme from Shaft” might sound like (oh, the ghetto argot in choral harmony; oh, the crystal-clear enunciation!) or dreamed of how fabulous a mash-up of “Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Baby Elephant Walk” could be, then this is your podcast!
Theme from Shaft ’72 Ʉ Nights on Broadway–Glendale Symphony Orchestra ’79 Ʉ Love You Inside Out ’79 Ʉ Love’s Theme ’76 Ʉ Dance and Shake Your Tambourine–Salsa ’78 Orchestra Ʉ Night Fever / Stayin’ Alive ’78 Ʉ You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine ’76 Ʉ Native New Yorker–Midnight Strings Orchestra ’80 Ʉ Emotion / How Deep Is Your Love? ’78 Ʉ A Fifth of Tchaikovsky ’76 Ʉ I Just Want to Be Your Everything ’78 Ʉ Manhattan Skyline–Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops ’79 Ʉ Theme from S.W.A.T. ’76 Ʉ I Want Your Love ’79 Ʉ Quiet Village–Salsa ’78 Orchestra Ʉ I Will Survive ’79 Ʉ Freak Out–Irwin the Disco Duck with the Wibble Wabble Singers and Orchestra (year unlisted) Ʉ Chop Sticks–Ferrante & Teicher ’79 Ʉ Sky High–Fantastic Sounds Orchestra ’77 Ʉ Ma Baker–Caravelli et Son Grande Orchestre ’77 Ʉ Sunny–Caravelli et Son Grande Orchestre ’77 Ʉ Once Upon a Time–Fantastic Sounds Orchestra ’77 Ʉ Bah Bah Conniff Sprach (Zarathustra) ’73
All tracks are by Ray Conniff and His Singers unless otherwise noted.
March 4, 2013
This set came together in response to a call for "my greatest hits," which I took to mean a collection of tracks that I have either found or come to love because of the podcast. So, there's nothing new here and a few things that have shown up with some frequency. I decided to post this, however, because I rather like the mix. There's a second volume as well, and I may get it up here in the coming days.
Mellow, Mellow, Right On! - Lowrell; Love for the Sake of Love - Claudja Barry; I Think I’ll Do Some Steppin’ on My Own - Sandy Barber; Invisible Wind - Jackie Stoudemire; I Wanna Give You Tomorrow - Benny Troy; How Am I to Know the Things a Girl in Love Should Know - The Tymes; Mercy - Carol Jianni; Stony and Cory - Kid Creole and the Coconuts; I Just Can’t Help Myself - Sweet Daddy Floyd; Sunshine Hotel - Richard T. Bear; What Shall We Do When the Disco’s Over? - The Richard Hewson Orchestra; I Love My Lady - Johnny Mathis; Be Fair to Me - Jimmy and Vella Cameron; 24 Hours in a Disco - Kiki Gyan