The Very Best Of– Gloria Gaynor (Polydor 1993)
A compilation album from the lady who back in 1976 was officially crowned “Queen Of The Discos” and who is still with us today, probably performing one of her hit songs somewhere on this planet as I write this. Her “coronation” was performed at the nightclub “Club Des Jardins” in New York City and received a lot of publicity. Disco was then a hot, still evolving form of popular music which was just beginning to take the world by storm. Some may say that others who came after her eclipsed her reign but she was the original “Disco Queen”.
Gloira became one of the early protégés of American music mogul Clive Davis, then President for Columbia Records who has overseen the early career of so many superstars (Whitney Houston, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Alicia Keys –the list goes on and on). Her first single released on Columbia embraced the new disco craze and was a huge success in nightclubs but failed to set the pop charts alight. This was “Honey Bee” which appears on this CD in its full six minute glory. It’s a catchy enough track and garnered enough interest for Gloria to be hooked up with a production team to produce an album which changed the face of popular music. The production team was Meco Monardo (later to top charts in his own right with his disco-fied “Theme From Star Wars”), Tony Bongiovi and Jay Ellis. The decision was made to fill the first side with three songs which seamlessly moved from one to the other without any breaks providing 19 minutes of uninterrupted dancing. First up was the tried and tested “Honey Bee” but the second song of the three was the one that changed everything.
“Never Can Say Goodbye” was a song written by Motown song-writer Clifton Davis, originally for the newly Ross-less Supremes but actually given to the Jackson Five to record. As a dreamy mid-tempo track it became their 6th Top 3 single in a row in the US in 1971 (#2) although in the UK it was their least successful to date only reaching 33. Perhaps the fact that the song was less familiar in its original format for us Brits may have explained how well we received Gloria’s version. From its unforgettable swerling introduction to its outstanding production I just had to have a copy of the single and played it so much I virtually wore it out. Gloria’s debut hit got to number 2 in the UK (held off by the very likeable but surprise number 1 “Ms Grace” by veteran US Pop/Soul Group The Tymes) and number 9 in her homeland. The version on this CD is the one you really need to hear- the full length album version of over 6 minutes which follows on from “Honey Bee” just as it did on the original studio album (although not continuous as on that). The recording technology at the time meant that single releases had to be edited to fit the 7 inch single (and to be played on radio). The twelve inch single was some years away which allowed for longer tracks but placing a full version on an album side also did the business too. This allowed for what became the staple of disco music the instrumental “break”. I had an Uncle who we used to subject these records to and he’d always say of Ms. Gaynor “Oh, she’s gone off on her tea-break again” when the instrumental section kicks in and I always think of that every time I hear this.
This dance trilogy of tracks was completed with another Motown track . Much more familiar to us Brits was the Holland-Dozier-Holland Four Tops track “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. This had topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and unsurprisingly Gloria in her version beefed up the clip-clop beat. It’s not as good a track as “Never Can Say Goodbye” but sounded brilliant in the context of the album and here we get it in its full-length version (with the odd tea-break for Gloria in the middle). Somewhat hastily released as a single in the UK it reached number 14. Probably 99% of the people who bought Gloria’s debut album did so for the three tracks segued together. The second side was a less explosive selection of songs with a more traditional R&B feel. It was as if they were hedging their bets somewhat – one side the new-fangled disco tracks the other appealing to an older audience. The album made the Top 40 in both UK and US, which was at the time unusual for a debut African-American female artist. A further track from the album which was the lead track on Side 2 “All I Need Is Your Sweet Lovin’” sounded very much like a Motown track and just missed out on the Top 40 when released in the UK in the summer of 1975. This is also included on this “Best Of” CD.
Towards the end of 1975 Gloria was back again with a second album which, unsurprisingly, followed the pattern of the first. In my opinion, the first side of “Experience Gloria Gaynor” was better than its predecessor and contains three of Gloria’s greatest tracks. This album, released in time of Christmas, and at the very top of my Christmas list had two original tracks in its pack of three and one old standard which dated from 1940. What is unusual about these early disco tracks on the first two albums is that they are very much songs which tell a story. Within a short space of time the actual song part of a disco track took increasingly a back seat, often becoming chants over the disco beat (think “Le Freak” by Chic or “In The Bush”by Musique, both great disco tracks but not great songs). Gloria was always keen to tell a story. The story begins with “Casanova Brown” a super-cool dude who picks Gloria up against her better judgement when she is in a nightclub “sipping on some wine”. This is a great track with a feel of what girl groups like First Choice (“Armed And Extremely Dangerous/Smarty Pants”) had been hitting big with. There’s a great sax solo when things get a bit much for Gloria and her head is spinning all around by this charmer. I’ve seen other compilations which does not feature this track so it is great to have it hear in its full-length version. The second track is even better and features Gloria’s maxim for life because “this is what my Daddy used to say”. The message he gave her was “If You Want It (Do It Yourself)” and the instrumental section of this is an absolute dream. Both this and the track which comes after it are my two all-time favourite tracks. Gloria’s version of “How High The Moon” a song best known in its 1951 version by Les Paul and Mary Ford rattles along at a galloping pace. If I can remember the sleeve notes of the vinyl edition the string section (real orchestra, no synthesizers in these days) was the fabulously named Tony Posk Strings and the job they do is absolutely amazing as this has probably the best string work on any pop track (with perhaps Cilla Black’s “Love’s Just A Broken Heart” an exception). Tony Posk has his string players sawing away like mad to keep up with this track and the whole thing is quite sublime and very exciting. Once again Side 2 of this album featured a range of slower tracks which allows Gloria’s vocals to shine but ends up with a very good version of Bacharach and David’s “Walk On By” given the “Never Can Say Goodbye” treatment with a great “Stop!” hook.
This second album was not as successful. Only “How High The Moon” made any impression on the Top 40 (UK#33) and it did look like the writing was on the wall for Gloria’s brand of orchestral disco, especially when the electronic sounds of Donna Summer took over that Disco crown.
Gloria continued to record and in 1978 needed a b-side for her cover version of an unlikely UK chart-topper, the rather lumbering “Substitute” from South African girl-group one-hit-wonders, the attractively named Clout. Producers Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris (of Tavares and Peaches and Herb fame) quickly came up with a tune which might have been fitting as Gloria was in pain and wearing a back brace at the time of recording. That song “I Will Survive” was rumoured to have been written on the back of an envelope and recorded. Public demand got the record label to flip the single, making the B side the A side and the rest is history. Millions of copies sold, the most sung song in Karaoke history, this tale of female empowerment floored everyone. It became a gay anthem and has inspired so many people that Gloria herself has written a book about it. “We Will Survive: True Stories Of Encouragement, Inspiration and the Power Of Song” (2013) collects together the tales people have told Gloria over the years as to how this song has touched their lives. It’s a great song whose greatness has really grown over the years. When it was released it sounded a little old-fashioned, it had the crisp, clear orchestral sound which had largely by then gone out of vogue – it was far more of a song than disco tracks had become, there were none of the ubiquitous backing singers or changes in pitch and rhythm which were disco music staples. There are two versions of this song on this CD. It opens with the single version and closes with a 12” remix by Phil Kelsey which (showing the longevity of this song) reached number 5 in the UK Charts in 1993. I personally would have preferred a track from her “I Got You” album’s disco sequence, “Let’s Make A Deal”, which rarely appears on compilations but the 1993 remix is one of her biggest hits so probably deserves its place here.
“I Will Survive” topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic and became the first and only winner of the “Best Disco Recording” Grammy. By 1980 in the US there was a backlash against Disco – known as the “Disco Sucks” movement which was more motiviated by racisim and homophobia than anything else which led to Dance music going underground and ended the chart career of Gloria Gaynor and many others.
What a line-up! Sister Sledge, Gloria Gaynor, Grace Jones and Chaka Khan
For the UK and European market Gloria had more tricks up her sleeve. Embracing the gay fans who had supported her from the very beginning (although at times there has been reported tension with her religious beliefs) came “I Am What I Am”. Taken from the Drag Queen musical “La Cage Aux Folles” Gloria certainly knew what she was singing about when it was “time to open up your closet” although there have been the odd interview over the years when she has reportedly wanted to give it a broader spectrum. Gloria would have known better than to alienate her loyal gay following (Donna Summer’s career suffered from something she was reputed to have said) as fans wanted to hear those hit songs over and over again. In the early nineties I saw her perform in the early hours of the morning in a nightclub called “Paradise” in Islington where she went down a storm. She’s a hard worker. Perhaps she’s not the greatest performer on-stage but she knows how to sell her back catalogue and the voice is still in great shape.
This 14 track CD is a generous 78 minutes long and is essential because it features hard to find full length versions. Length is not always a good thing, however, in the case of the longest track (8min 21) “Let Me Know (I Have The Right). The cut-from-the-same-cloth follow-up to “Survive” (#32 in the UK) was perfectly good in its single release length but this version is too long and runs out of ideas some time before it finishes. There’s a couple of less than essential tracks towards the end which show there is more to Gloria than a disco beat – “Let’s Mend What’s Been Broken” from a 1981 album and “We Can Start All Over Again from 1977. Anyone wanting more Gloria Gaynor than this might well consider the eighteen tracker “The Collection” which has edited single versions of a lot of the above together with some more of her disco-fied cover versions “Going Out Of My Head”, “Substitute” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story”. A treat of a studio album was released in 2002 (her 17th!) “I Wish You Love” perfectly married the uptempo dance sound with contemporary R&B and if it had a hit single on it could have done very well for her indeed. It was well received and is certainly worth a listen but for Gloria in her glorious, glory days this “Very Best Of “ CD is a must.
In early 2016 Gloria Gaynor was chosen to open the British National Television Awards, proving she is still going strong. Her “I Will Survive” is mixed with Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” to good effect.
“The Very Best Of Gloria Gaynor” is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £6.40 and used from £1.21. In the US it can be purchased for $10.73 and used from $3.52.