100 Essential Books – The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai (2018)

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I’ve got round to another of the books I highlighted in my 2019 What I Should Have Read Post. This is a major prize-winner picking up the Carnegie Medal for Outstanding Adult Fiction, also the Stonewall Prize and gained prestigious shortlist nods for the Pulitzer Prize and US National Book Award. In the UK it has remained fairly under the radar, the paperback (which I read) was published in 2019 but that still didn’t lift this book to the commercial recognition it deserves. (Amazon currently has it as #2727 in Literary Fiction with a 4.4 rating from 509 reviews).

Two parallel narratives with one set in mid/late 1980’s Chicago and the other in Paris in 2015 with a handful of characters who feature in both. In the Chicago section the Boystown area is being decimated by the AIDS virus and Fiona is losing those she loved. The novel begins with the memorial for her brother Nico whose lifestyle was rejected by his family causing an irreparable rift between Fiona and her parents as she cannot cope with his lover and friends being excluded from saying goodbye.

In 2015, Fiona, now a mother herself, is searching for her missing daughter last known to be a member of a religious cult in the US before a sighting of her is flagged up in Paris. The Fiona in the later narrative is still clinging to the events of thirty years before which has affected her ability to parent. She is a flawed yet very real character.

In the eighties narrative it is her friend Yale who is central. In a relationship with activist and magazine publisher Charlie. Yale is far more conservative, working in funding for art and following a tip off from Fiona regarding her great-aunt’s collection seeks the acquisition which would make both Yale and the gallery he works for names.

I really enjoyed both plot lines (with a preference for the earlier narrative) which are superbly handled but the strength is really the relationships between the characters. The AIDS crisis is pushing them together as much as it is tearing them apart and the repercussions of this are ever-present in the later narrative and that is why this is such an excellent work.

You will find yourself invested in these characters, you will laugh with them, be totally frustrated by their actions as well as egging them on and will cry with them and for them and for all that to happen convincingly as far as I am concerned everything needs to be top-notch and here it is. Expect me to be recalling this book in my end of the year round-ups. I thoroughly recommend it.

Rebecca Makkai is a straight woman and there could have been potential criticism in this current climate of her immersing herself in a story which is not hers to tell, which should be the province of a gay male writer, especially with so much talk about appropriation but the fact that this has won a major LGBTQ literary award with The Stonewall Prize shows that this is not an issue. This is a novel for everyone, for those whose lives were touched by the events of the time where they will be brought back with chilling clarity, for those aware of them in some degree and perhaps even more importantly for those who were not even born then. It wasn’t easy reading about a killer virus whilst in lockdown due to another killer virus and I really did feel quite purged by the end but with the sense that I had received a tremendous reading experience. Rebecca Makkai has published three novels before this. I would certainly imagine this to be her masterwork to date but I will definitely be looking out for her other titles.

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The Great Believers was published in the UK by Fleet in 2018. I read the 2019 paperback edition.

Top 10 Books Of The Year 2019 – The Top 5

Right, let’s crack on with this.  Here is the rest of the countdown.

5. The Meaning Of Night – Michael Cox (2006) (Read and reviewed in July)

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Amazingly the only book I re-read this year, just a couple of years ago I had read enough re-reads to give them their own separate Top 10 but I cannot ignore this book and so my Book Of The Year from 2007 makes it into the Top 5 for this year.  It is a strange one, I read it and totally love it but after I finished it the events in the novel seem to rapidly fade from my memory and I struggle to remember what it was about even when I can remember books I enjoyed much less in greater detail.  This has happened twice which makes me think there is some kind of ethereal quality to this which causes it to dissipate once finished.  It’s a great Victorian revenge novel and I said of it “On completion the feeling was of total satisfaction for a high quality reading experience. This novel does seem to have faded from public consciousness but I can’t help feeling that a sensitive tv or film adaptation could bring it back to the top of bestsellers lists.” Maybe that will happen in 2020.

4. Shadowplay – Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker 2019) (Read in December not yet reviewed)

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I highlighted this in my earlier 2019- What I Should Have Read post and managed to squeeze it in before the end of the year.  A full review of this will follow but this is a splendid historical novel, shortlisted for Best Novel at the Costas, with Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula the main character and here part of a long-lasting love triangle with actress Ellen Terry and actor and theatre impresario Sir Henry Irving.

3. Sanditon – Jane Austen and Another Lady (Corgi 1975) (Read and reviewed in December)

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I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to read a novel which has been finished by someone else after the original author had died before completion, particularly one that was completed 150 years later.  This was all changed by the ITV adaptation which was one of this year’s television highlights as far as I was concerned and a recommendation from my friend and colleague Louise who felt I should read how it should have ended (well how “another lady” wanted it to end anyway).  I always thought the joins between the two authors would be obvious but I thought this was done seamlessly and ended up enjoying this more than when I re-read “Pride And Prejudice” a couple of years back.

2. Little – Edward Carey (Gallic 2018) (Read and Reviewed in June)

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Another splendid historical novel with that added bit of quirkiness which I so often find appealing.  This is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud.  Punctuated throughout with little pencil drawings which adds much to the experience.  I said of this “Through a first-person narrative Carey has created an enthralling character I will probably remember forever.  Written with gusto and an eccentric energy “Little” will not be beaten down however bad circumstances get.  There’s a naivety and optimism which fuels this novel- she is certainly no “Little Nell” yet the skill of storytelling here will suggest comparisons to Charles Dickens.”

1.Swan Song – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (Hutchinson 2018) (Read and reviewed in April)

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This sublime account of the later years of Truman Capote and an act of literary betrayal towards his friends was always going to be in with a strong shot of being at the summit this year.  Debut author Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s position was further cemented when I went to see her talk about this book at this year’s Isle Of Wight Literary Festival following its publication in paperback.  I said of it “I was hooked from the moment I saw printed on the back cover; “They told him everything.  He told everybody else.”  It is a novel fuelled by gossip which makes it sound tacky but it is so beautifully written and every word seems considered and measured.”  I can’t remember ever falling for a book written in the third person (by a chorus of the betrayed women) but here it worked just brilliantly.

So Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott joins my Hall Of Fame for producing the book which has given me the most pleasure this year.  She becomes the first American author to do since 2014.   Here is my list of my favourite books going back to 2008.

2019 – Swan Song – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (2018) (USA)

2018- The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1845) (France)

2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)

2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)

2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)

2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)

2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)

2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)

2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)

2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)

2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)

2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)

Happy New Year and let’s hope there’s lots of great reading in 2020!

Top 10 Books Of The Year – 2019- Part One (10-6)

Even though we’re not quite at the end of the year I now know that I am unlikely to finish the book I am currently reading so it’s time to look back again to the 10 books which made the most impression on me during the year.  These are not necessarily published this year (just 3 out of the 10 were) if I read it this year then it was up for inclusion.  The total number of books I finished in 2019 is 56, which is down on previous years where I usually hit the mid to late 60’s mark, apart from the golden year of 2016 when I read 80.  I’m not sure why this figure is down so this year probably due to a change of commitments.  Out of those 56 nine of them I classed as five star reads which nicely fills up most of my Top 10 places, the spread of the other star ratings is 28 at 4*,15 3* and 4 at 2* (didn’t have any two star reads last year where the spread was (12/32/22)- I must have been feeling a bit stingier this year.

It does seem like quite a bit of my reading has been books which I missed out in 2018, obviously a bit of a vintage year as 50% of the titles were published then.  Gender wise the men have pushed ahead with a 60-40 split putting an end to last year’s perfect balance.  Nobody makes the list more than once this year and there are two authors who are no strangers to my end of year Top 10.  It does seem, however, and perhaps it is no surprise given the state of the world currently, that for much of 2018 I have been rooted in the past as all of the fiction choices are set in earlier times with a significant chunk (4) being set in the Victorian era or earlier.  Right, let’s get on with the list.  The full reviews for each title can be found be clicking on the link.

10. The Library Book -Susan Orlean (Atlantic 2019)  (Read and reviewed in August)

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My non-fiction pick of the year is this extremely memorable book which works both as a love letter towards libraries and their continued importance and as a true crime work where the author explores the fire which destroyed the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986.  It wasn’t just because I work in libraries that I found this work so inspirational although it was one of the reasons behind me applying for (and getting) a promotion.  Susan Orlean reinforces everything I believe about libraries although the systems in place in the UK seem decidedly impoverished compared to the USA.  I said “The book itself was inspired by Orlean’s memories of going to a public library with her mother when she was a child and them bonding over their piles of chosen books. This seems to me a valuable inspiration for a fascinating work.”

9.Things In Jars – Jess Kidd (Canongate 2019) (Read and reviewed in March)

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I’m up to date with Jess Kidd having read all three of her novels and this marks her first time in my end of year Top 10 with her best book yet.  This built on the supernatural elements which have been present in all her works yet with its nineteenth century setting it seemed to work better here than it has in the past.  I said of this “Here we have the Victorian love of the unusual and freakish and the developments in medicine which attracted the honourable and the disreputable sitting beautifully in with what becomes a gripping mystery peopled with characters about whom I wanted to know so much more.”

8. Bridge Of Clay – Markus Zusak (Doubleday 2018) (Read and reviewed in July)

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We had to wait years for it to arrive but Australian author Zusak manages to get his follow up publication to my 2008 Book of The Year, “The Book Thief” into my Top 10.  I would have thought that a publication from an author of a modern classic after a lengthy wait would have been a major literary event but it seemed to creep under the radar somewhat when it arrived in hardback last year and this year in paperback.  That made me initially a little anxious but I needn’t have been.  I said “Its chatty, scattered narrative actually masks the emotional depth of the content.  It was only looking back as I neared the end that I realised how much I knew about the characters’ lives and how involved I had become, a testament to a great novel.” I read a library copy and then had to go out and buy it to have it readily on hand for a re-read.

7.The House Of Impossible Beauties – Joseph Cassara (Oneworld 2018) (Read in July, reviewed in August)

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2018 was the year when the New York Drag Balls of the late 70’s and 80’s went mainstream in the UK thanks to TV series such as “Pose” and “Rupaul’s Drag Race” and at least a couple of novels of which this was the best.  In my review I compared it to what else was out there (as well as the documentary “Paris Is Burning”, available on Netflix, from where Cassara’s characterisations are developed) and concluded “Perhaps more than “Pose” it shows the struggles in terms of coping with discrimination, poverty, prostitution and mortality but like the television series it is all done with great humanity and compassion and more than a fair share of glitter.”

6. Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale  (Tinder 2018) (Read in February, reviewed in March)

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This marks British author Patrick Gale’s fourth appearance in my end of year Top 10’s out of the nine books of his I have read which must mean that he has settled into being one of my most favourite authors.  Previous end of year positions have been 4th for “Facts Of Life” (1995) in 1996, 9th for “Rough Music” (2000) in 2001 and 6th for “A Perfectly Good Man” (2012) in 2013.  His latest matches this position and I can’t help but note that the books of his I really like I miss out on at the time and catch up with in the following year.  This has the most modern setting of any of the books on this year’s list with one narrative strand actually being set in the present (gulp!) with the main character contemplating his past whilst receiving treatment for cancer, but it was the past that Gale really drew me into with his story of Eustace, the young gifted cellist.  I said “I fell in love with the boy growing up in his parents’ old people’s home in Weston-Super-Mare in the 1970s with ambitions to be a musical great if only his mother and father and society will let him realise his dreams. It is haunting, nostalgic and sensitive and has all the qualities to make it an essential read.”

Find out the Top 5 in my next post.

100 Essential CDs – Number 8 – Motown Chartbusters Volume 10

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Motown Chartbusters Volume 10 (Spectrum 1998)

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The development of the Motown label is one of the most important cultural aspects of the second half of the twentieth century.  I never tire of hearing how Berry Gordy crammed young talented artists into the little Hitsville studio in Detroit and through hard work, determination and drive to succeed turned a significant number of these artists into household names and maintained success throughout the 1960s and into the 70s.  The seventies side of things tends to be overlooked.  Gordy decided to up sticks and move out of Detroit and relocate in LA, a decision which rankled with many fans and was seen as selling out for the glamour of Hollywood and the general feeling was that Motown was never the same again.  Not so, the 16 tracks on this CD which first appeared on vinyl in 1979 are of a quality so high that this is probably my favourite compilation album of all time.  The recordings date over a period of four years which does show that the pace of hits had slowed down from the time when they could put out two of these hits compilations a year and it had been five years since the preceding volume which I also have on my Essential CDs list.   Not everyone who was entitled to have tracks on this album has done so, there’s no Stevie Wonder for the first time ever on a Chartbusters recording and he was probably at his commercial peak at this period, there’s no David Ruffin, who had made a strong comeback with tracks produced by Van McCoy.  Some of the old guard are represented, especially Diana Ross with three tracks, the three track award is also given to newer act The Commodores who had featured on Chartbusters 9 with their debut instrumental hit but had in the intervening years gone on to become a supergroup.  There’s also newer names such as Rick James, Teena Marie and Tata Vega who were paving the way for Motown’s continued success.  Statistically, the tracks look impressive with 9 of the 16 being Top 10 UK hits and six US number 1’s.  There was no way that Motown was a spent force, a great number of these tracks are amongst my all-time favourites.  However, this was the last essential Motown Chartbuster CD as far as I am concerned.  Volume 11 was released just a year later and despite highlighting Diana Ross’ work with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic and having big hits from the likes of Teena Marie, The Commodores and Billy Preston & Syreeta a lot of the magic and creative inspiration which fills Volume 10 had gone.

Once again with these essential CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

1.Three Times A Lady – The Commodores (1978) (UK#1,US#1)

2. Love Hangover –Diana Ross (1976) (UK#10, US#1)

3. The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (1975) (UK#7)

When I focused on the essential 20 Greatest Hits by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons I lamented the absence of this particular track. In the early 70’s the band signed to Motown with fairly disastrous commercial results. Berry Gordy put them on his subsidiary Mo-West label which was set up to branch out with more rock orientated acts when the band, with their brand of blue-eyed soul could have been very much at home on the main Motown label. Mo-West wasn’t such a great priority and the albums recorded for them (although history has seen them critically well-received) did not sell. “The Night” however found its way to the UK charts via the Northern Soul clubs who pounced on its rarity and forced a commercial release. This is a superb, driving  track which is a great British favourite for the group which almost certainly would not have appeared on any US hits compilations.  The Chartbuster series was an innovation from the UK arm of the label which is why we are treated with gems like this.

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4. Got To Give It Up (Part 1) – Marvin Gaye (1977) (UK#7,US#1)

5. Get It Up For Love – Tata Vega (1979) (UK#52)

6. The Boss – Diana Ross (1979) (UK#40, US#19)

Another track which was left off another of my Essential CD’s which got me moaning when I reviewed it.  On 40 Motown Greats by Diana Ross & The Supremes there was no room for this solo classic from Ross. I’d even specified the track I would have sacrificed for this superb Ashford and Simpson song which behind the disco gloss tells the story of a woman claiming to be totally in control and not prepared to be sideswiped by love.  There’s some lovely touches in the lyrics and a great performance from Ms. Ross.  At the time we might have expected this to be a bigger hit, certainly in the UK, where it just scraped the Top 40 but time has been very good to this track.  I did buy a considerable number of Motown singles at the time this was released but I never bought this and it was only hearing it in a nightclub probably 15 years later and the response it got that I realised I had missed out on how good this sounds.  Its continued popularity tempted girl group (and sisters of Toni) The Braxtons to revisit it which performed nine places better than the original in 1997 and topped the US Dance charts but which isn’t a patch on Ross’ version.  The production and songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson is still under-rated and this is one of their finest efforts.

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7. Theme From “Big Time”- Smokey Robinson (1977)

8. Your Kiss Is Sweet – Syreeta (1975) (UK#12)

9. Theme From “Mahogany” – Diana Ross (1975) (UK#5, US#1)

10. Easy – The Commodores (1977) (UK#9,US#4)

11. I’m A Sucker For Your Love – Teena Marie (1979) (UK#43)

An influential artist who was not as big as she should have been.  When I first heard Madonna I thought she was somebody who wanted to be another Teena Marie.  I’m sure there would not have been a Madonna without Teena Marie to pave the way.  This was her debut hit for the artist born Mary Brockert signed to Motown and recording material that was being left unreleased by them until Rick James, the label’s new hot act, passed on producing Diana Ross and asked to work with Teena instead.  This first single was actually a duet with an uncredited James which would have gained it radio play but the title was open to misinterpretation which might have caused some anxiety to radio programmers.  There was also the difficulty of how to market the artist, it was assumed she was black and she became the first white artist to perform on “Soul Train” showcasing this track.  In the late 70’s with the restrictions from American radio Teena probably suffered but she was largely embraced as a soul act getting more play from R&B radio because of her voice and obvious love of black music.  Her biggest hit in the UK would come a year later with “Behind The Groove” and she put out some excellent material for the label.  Ironically, her biggest US hit would have to wait until 1985’s “Lovergirl” made it into the Top 5 three years after becoming dismayed by the handling of her career by Motown which saw her move to the Epic label.  Incidentally, mentor Rick James’ best track, his debut hit “You And I” is also on this CD.

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12. Love Machine – The Miracles (1976) (UK#3, US#1)

Containing members of the first group to make serious money for Motown with 1960’s “Shop Around”, by 1976 lead singer Smokey had gone solo but by the time this album was released he was struggling to find material.  The track by him here the theme to some long forgotten film was an attempt to make himself relevant in the way Ross and Marvin Gaye had done, by embracing disco, it’s a fair enough result which the label had high hopes for but is the only track on this album not to have pop success on either side of the Atlantic.  His old band-mates The Miracles were having a completely different experience in the mid 70’s with this classic chart-topping track with Smokey’s replacement Billy Griffin as lead vocalist.   It’s a joyful piece of music which combines 70’s disco with a feel of the doowop type song The Miracles would have begun their career with.  It was a great comeback for the group, but unfortunately, the Motown of the 70’s would struggle with consistency and couldn’t come up with the goods for this group to continue this success.  No longer having the cream of song writing and production teams on staff to build on this great commercial sound this was the last time this incarnation of the group would make the charts.

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13. It Should Have Been Me – Yvonne Fair (1976) (UK#5)

The history of Motown is peppered with extremely talented artists that the label did not really know what to do with and Yvonne Fair is another of these.  She’d been around long enough on the label to have had a small part in the game-changing “Lady Sings The Blues” movie and had already proved her musical worth as part of the James Brown Revue before coming to Motown.  Working with Norman Whitfield they came up with the idea to reinvent a song that Whitfield together with Mickey Stevenson had penned for Gladys Knight & The Pips and as in a previous reinvention of a Gladys song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which was reworked for Marvin Gaye the end result was extraordinary.  It’s no easy feat to outdo Knight’s vocal but Yvonne turned this into a blistering soul shouter which begins menacingly quiet set in a church where Yvonne’s love is about to get married to somebody else.  Well, not if she has anything to do with it.  Knowing this song it’s impossible to attend a wedding ceremony and get to the bit where the celebrant begins “if any objection to this wedding” without Yvonne’s response coming to mind.  The UK loved this song giving her a Top 5 hit, extraordinary for a raw soul performance but it was seen as somewhat as a novelty which meant that Fair’s continued success was probably doomed. This was a tragedy because follow-up single was even better, there were few emotional tour-de-forces out there as “It’s Bad For Me To See You” which I think is an all-time Classic Motown track which did get radio play but didn’t make any inroads in the pop charts.  It took 34 years for Motown to put Yvonne’s only album “The Bitch Is Black” out on CD which showed someone as at home with raw funk as the deep soul which made her name.  Yvonne Fair was also another of the Motown artists who passed away too soon, of cancer at the age of 51 in 1994.

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14. You And I – Rick James (1978) (UK#46, US#13)

15. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston (1977) (UK#13, US#1) (also on “Nights In Heaven“)

16. Sail On – The Commodores (1979) (UK#8,US#4)

This review is the final piece of the puzzle of my 100 Essential CDs which is now complete.  It’s taken almost five years to run through these which means my list is now already five years out of date.  Even though there’s been good music over the last five years these 100 CDs are so entrenched in my psyche that it might be hard for me to move one out of the list to put something else in so it’s going to stay exactly as it is.  I  hope you enjoy reading my CD selections and that it might have prompted you to rediscover some of the artists I have written about.  A quick word count suggests something in the region of 187,000 words have been written in this section so many thanks if you have read all, some or any of them.  I’m going to be leaving writing about music for a little while but no doubt a new thread will be back soon.  In the meantime if you have just stumbled across this review there are another 99 to go!

Happy New Year!

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 10- Lady Love: Sweet Love Grooves

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Lady Love: Sweet Love Grooves (Laserlight 1993)

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I bought this German import CD in a set of three not long after it was released.  It was freely available in the UK and also seems to have been available separately if my research is right.  This is by far the strongest of the three which features tracks licensed from the Philadelphia International label.  The other two were also named after Philly hits “Let Em In” which was a hit for Billy Paul and “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto”, a socially aware track by supergroup Philadelphia International All-Stars.  The other two tend to feature more uptempo tracks but here the emphasis is very much on the love ballad side of the label.  It features a mix of tracks from the glory days of the mid 70’s and a fair selection from the early 80’s when Philadelphia International were still putting out quality tracks by artists such as The Stylistics and Patti Labelle which were scoring big R&B hits but not crossing over to the pop charts.  The highest US chart placing for any of these is #24 for the title track and for the UK three places higher for a 1978 hit from the O’Jays.  None of the tracks managed both a UK and US Top 40 placing and there is no overlap from any of my other Essential  compilation CDs.  This does not in any way reflect the quality of these tracks many of which are Gamble and Huff compositions and productions.  Unfortunately, I’m not able to glean that much information from the sleevenotes as I don’t speak German but I think the info is all a little sparse anyway as might be expected on this kind of budget compilation. With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

1.Your Song- Billy Paul (1976) (UK#37)

2. Hurry Up This Way Again – Stylistics (1980)

3. I Just Love The Man – The Jones Girls (1983)

4. Turn Off The Lights – Teddy Pendergrass (1979)

5. The Sweetest Pain – Dexter Wansel (1979)

6. Love, Need And Want You – Patti Labelle (1983)

Three years before her big commercial breakthrough as a solo artist with  the essential  “The Winner In You” album Patti was signed to Philadelphia International and began working with Leon Gamble and Kenny Huff which seemed like it would pay huge commercial dividends.  Taken from the album “I’m In Love Again” it was a Top 10 single on the US R&B charts but despite becoming a bit of a “quiet storm” 80’s classic it did not make the pop charts on either side of the Atlantic.  It’s Patti at her vocal best, perhaps more understated and tender than she could be and this together with the other track included here, the more successful R&B chart-topper “If Only You Knew” and a sublime cover of the Dolly Parton song “Here You Come Again” represents the cream of her three albums for the label.  This particular track became very well known in the mid 90’s when it formed the central part of the worldwide chart-topper from Nelly, “Dilemma”, in which Kelly Rowlands sang the chorus and Patti was present in the part of Kelly’s mum in the video which gave Patti welcome exposure and would have hopefully had interested listeners seeking out the original version.

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7. Brandy – The O’Jays (1978) (UK#21)

8. Let Me Be Good To You – Lou Rawls (1978)

9. I Love You Anyway – Dee Dee Sharp Gamble (1983)

Dee Dee Sharp who also has a fabulous real name Dione LaRue began her music career when she was barely in her teens and by the age of 17 had notched up a sequence of four Top 10 US pop hits on the legendary Cameo-Parkway label .  Her biggest was “Mashed Potato Time” which like a number of her hits focused on and attempted to build on a dance craze.  She fits nicely into that Little Eva bracket and by the time Beatlemania of 1964 took hold her pop singles career chart like many artists of this ilk was finished.  Fast forward a couple of decades and Dee Dee, now married to label boss Kenny Gamble had reinvented herself as a sophisticated and convincing soul singer.  Signed to the Philadelphia International label for three albums which took her into the 1980’s.  (In 2010 Demon put out all three albums on a double CD set which demonstrates how under-rated this performer was in this second phase of her career).  This track which comes from the third of these albums “Dee Dee” is just beautiful and about a million miles away from the pop froth of her dance craze days.  A calm, sophisticated love song written by husband Kenny alongside label mate Dexter Wansel  (who has a track on his own on this album) and  Dexter’s  favoured lyricist Cynthia Biggs and produced and arranged by Wansel and Huff this is a real 1980’s Philadelphia highlight.

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10. Toast Of Love – The Three Degrees (1976)(UK#36)

11. Don’t Let It Go To Your Head- Jean Carn (1976)

12. The Best Love I Ever Had – Jerry Butler (1980)

13. Lady Love – Lou Rawls (1978) (US#24)

Jazz crooner Lou Rawls had been recording from the mid 50’s replacing Sam Cooke in an early group the Highway QCs.  In 1958 he was pronounced dead after a horrific car crash when touring with Cooke, but amazingly eventually recovered and like Sam he made the move from gospel to popular music, providing backing vocals on a number of Cooke’s big hits and recording albums which straddled Jazz, Pop and R&B genres.  Vocally we might consider Rawls a crooner who built a reputation through the quality of his life performances and label-hopped recording wise until he hooked up with Philadelphia International when he was in his early 40’s and scored big time with his amalgamation of the classic singer meets disco on “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”  Perhaps the biggest test to his credibility and relevance as a recording artist came with this track which lyrically borders on the cheesy but it’s done with such conviction that Rawls certainly gets away with it.  He also didn’t stick with this route as his output included socially conscious tracks and uptempo recordings which sounded more contemporary but here he kicks off the shoes and snuggles into a smooth love ballad which I loved almost as much as his signature hit back when I was a teenager and which still wins me over all these years later.  It’s always been a guilty pleasure, in the days when we used to take our own singles to parties I would sneak this one out of the record box and leave it home  in favour of the latest and much cooler Blondie or Donna Summer track but at home this was a regular on the hi-fi.

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14. The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me – Teddy Pendergrass (1977) (UK#44) 

When Teddy Pendergrass began his solo career in 1977 many people did not know who he was thinking that the distinctive voice on many Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes soul classics was Harold himself.  Just a few seconds into this outstanding single taken from his debut album was enough to put things right.  A masterful, self-effacing track which brings out the best of Teddy vocally on a really good song written by Sherman Marshall and Ted Wortham.  I really like Teddy in this understated  put- upon role, his very best track is also in this vein, the pleading “Can’t We Try” which incidentally appears on one of the companion CDs to this collection “Let Em In”.  Teddy’s image, however,  became more cemented as full of bravado and swagger, a love god, lampooned by Lenny Henry is his Theophilus P. Wildebeest character, which came from the more seduction based part of his repertoire from songs such as “Turn Off The Lights” but I far prefer him portraying a less confident role and this is certainly the case with this track.

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15. If Only You Knew – Patti Labelle (1984) (US#46)

16. Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby – O’Jays (1977) (UK#24)

Not the biggest O’Jays track on the album, that would be the too schmaltzy for me “Brandy” which recalls the queasiness of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” too much for my liking but this despite lyrics such as “you should have everything/ a queen fit for the throne should have” is a great example of this group in their chugging mid-tempo mode.  A Gamble and Huff composition and production it is just a gentle love song.  O’ Jays tracks such as “I Love Music”, “Backstabbers”, “Message In Our Music” and “Love Train” made more of a statement but there was something about the tender honesty of this track which won us over particularly in the UK which made it their 4th out of 8 Top 40 hits.

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100 Essential CDs – Number 14 – 60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s

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60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s (Connoisseur Collection 1991)

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This three CD compilation was one of the first CD box sets I ever bought, thrilled to replace my 7″ and 12″ vinyl collection of many of these classic tracks.  I continually regret my decision to chuck away the vinyl but this has been a purchase which I have played consistently over the years.  I also bought its companion release, the inevitably titled 60 Classic Dance Hits in this new indestructible format – but it rotted.  In the early days of CD there was a chemical reaction which occurred between the CD in its case and the paper inserts and it went a horribly browny-gold colour on both sides and became unplayable.  This fate did not totally escape this collection but it has just gone the funny colour of the front of the discs which hasn’t, thankfully, effected its playability.  There are, true, a number of tracks which I have on other CDs, but a number which I only have on this collection.  I think twenty-eight years on the damage would have been done by now so I think I’m fairly safe.

I think this is a little different from many dance/disco collections as it has a very British bias.  The sleeve notes contain the UK chart positions (that saved me a bit of time) and a number of them were hits only in the UK and were by UK artists.  There’s a fair share of the big American names with songs that we might expect to see on disco compilations but these were probably more evident on the earlier collection.  Here, we dig a little deeper to include reggae, northern soul, slow dances as well as the more obviously disco tracks which do span the decade but with the greater majority coming from the mid/latter years.  With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD1

1.Rock Your Baby – George McRae (1974) (UK#1, US#2) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2” and  “Disco Classics

2. Disco Nights (Rock Freak) – G.Q (1979) (UK#42, US#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

3. He’s The Greatest Dancer – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#6,US#9)

4.  Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – The Jacksons (1979) (UK#4, US#7) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

5. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems” and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

6. Whodunnit- Tavares (1977) (UK#5, US#22)

7. You See The Trouble With Me – Barry White (1976) (UK#2)

8. Is This A Love Thing – Raydio (1978) (UK#27)

9. Boogie Nights- Heatwave (1977) (UK#2, US#2) (also on “Disco Classics“)

10.Disco Inferno – Trammps (1977) (UK#16, US#11) (also on “Nights In Heaven“)

11.Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey (1978) (UK#3, US#1)(also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

12. You’re My Everything – Lee Garrett (1976) (UK#15)

13. Yum Yum (Gimmee Some) – Fatback Band (1975) (UK#40)

A delicious squelchy bassline on this highly likeable slab of street funk.  The lyrics are absolute nonsense about liking ice cream and cornflakes yet the rhythm and feel of the track makes it cool and just a little startling when we heard it first back in 1975.  The first of their 6 UK Top 40 hits they perhaps were never as hard-hitting as this again, softening the sound and upping the commercial feel on bigger hits such as “Do The Spanish Hustle” and “I Found Lovin'”.  The Fatback Band always had potential for me to be a funk supergroup but were unable to find pop chart success in the US.  They had quite a few fine moments and this is one of them.

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14. Blame It On The Boogie – Jacksons (1978) (UK#8) (also on “Disco Classics“)

15. We Are Family – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#8, US#2)

16. Good Times – Chic (1979) (UK#5, US#1)

17. Young Hearts Run Free – Candi Staton (1976) (UK#2, US#20)

Up there amongst the greatest disco tracks of all time, this combines southern soul and subtle country and western influences (especially in the lyrics) with disco music and a sheer uplifting danceability which is nothing short of genius.  Candi puts in a great vocal on this track which was produced for her by Dave Crawford who propelled her into the big time.  It’s a great song of independence and empowerment.  Lyrically, I always smile at the couplet “Encourage the babies every time they say/self-preservation is what’s really going on today“.  Candi knows some very articulate babies!  Not even “I Will Survive” deals with a toxic relationship, which was the source of this song, in such an uplifting way.  Further collaborations between Candi and Crawford were equally positive but did not have the depth of this song and did tend to sound like “Young Hearts.”  It has scored chart placings for Candi on the UK on two separate occasions in 1986 as a re-mix and most successfully in 1999 as a re-recording when it got to number 29 when Candi was hot again thanks to her participation on the club classic that will never fade away “You Got The Love”. In 2018 Candi released her 30th album, appropriately titled “Unstoppable”.

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18. Take That To The Bank- Shalamar (1978) (UK#20)

A pair of dancers from the US TV show “Soul Train” put together by the producers after session singers of the same name scored first time off with a so-so Motown medley “Uptown Festival”.  Jeffrey Daniel and Jody Hewitt joined forces with vocalist Gerald Brown on an extended financial metaphor of a song which despite their much greater success worldwide in the 80’s for me ranks alongside “A Night To Remember” as my favourite of theirs.  There have been personnel changes over the years with Brown being replaced by Howard Hewitt in their golden period and  Daniel and Hewitt still perform alongside Carolyn Griffey, daughter of the man instrumental in putting the group together in the first place.  Co-written and produced by Leon Sylvers, it would have been a great track for his already established family act The Sylvers who had scored a US#1 in 1976 with their track “Boogie Fever”.  Instead it became the second of 11 UK Top 40 hits for Shalamar.

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19. Galaxy Of Love –Crown Heights Affair (1978) (UK#24)

20. Do What You Wanna Do – T. Connection (1977) (UK#11)

The biggest and best track from this group from the Bahamas who got big local success and moved to Miami and TK records to join the sunshine sounds of  labelmates KC and George McCrae.  This is a track which has improved with age and still sounds like a relevant piece of disco funk.  This was the big hit of their debut album “Magic” and they recorded three more albums for the label before moving to Capitol in the early 80’s where unfortunately their commercial sales continued to dwindle.

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CD2

1.Now That We’ve Found Love – Third World (1978) (UK#10)

2. Can You Feel The Force – The Real Thing (1979) (UK#5) (also on “Disco Classics“)

3. Disco Music (I Like It) – J.A.L.N Band (1976) (UK#21)

4. Hi Tension – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#13)

The Brit-funk movement kicked into action in 1978 with this extremely likeable funky track which put lie to the perception that British soul and funk music was inferior.  This North London band added a bit of a Caribbean feel to the mix with a hint of steel drums over an explosive ear-worm of a chant.  The group at times consisted of Phil Fearon who would go on to have hits in the 80’s leading pop-soul combo Galaxy and Courtney Pine joined them on tour.  Their one album was released on Island Records and I actually thought they were going to be huge.  I bought this single and played just as much the ballad B-side “Girl I Betcha” which had an Earth Wind and Fire feel and was confirmation to me that there was talent in this group.  Both their UK hits, this name-checking opener and the follow-up are included on this CD.  Follow-up “The British Hustle” was a little late in cashing in with the original dance craze which gave hits for the standard, the Spanish and Latin variations but reinforced the Britishness of the enterprise and gave them a higher chart position reaching number 8.  Both tracks were as good as one another and I think there was a considerable amount of untapped potential to this group which perhaps should have demanded a longer term investment from their record company.

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5. Dancing In The City – Marshall Hain (1978) (UK#3)

6. Silly Games- Janet Kay (1979) (UK#2)

7. Reggae For It Now – Bill Lovelady (1979) (UK#12)

8. Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna (1977) (UK#1)

9. I Love To Love- Tina Charles (1976) (UK#1)

We knew Tina’s voice from the 5000 Volts hit “I’m On Fire” and from those cheapie Top Of The Pops cover versions where she was used as a session singer before making her big breakthrough with this Biddu composition and production.  I thought Tina Charles was great in 1976, a worthy successor to the girl stars of the 60’s and when this topped the charts you’d have to go back to 1968 and Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were The Days” to find the previous British solo female chart-topper.  Biddu had scored a chart-topper with Carl Douglas and the Kung-Fu craze and some hits with his own orchestra but with Tina he had his muse and began a couple of years of a run of hits which sold well worldwide but couldn’t crack the US.  This was her biggest and best track, the slight gender shift of the man who only wanted to dance whilst the girl wanted to canoodle made it appealing and the song itself is so catchy and performed superbly.  I’ve seen Tina perform this and her other hits a few times over the years reminding me of the girl in the floppy cap I always had a bit of a crush on when I saw her on “Top Of The Pops” in 1976.

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10. Queen Of Clubs – KC & Sunshine Band (1974) (UK#7)

Their five US pop number 1’s would have to wait to begin clocking up until the following year but we Brits lapped up this debut hit in 1974 and I could argue the case for this being their best ever track.  Stabbing staccato brass gives it a real urgency, KC’s vocal is convincing and it also contains the (uncredited) magnificent falsetto of George McCrae hot on the heels of his own debut chart-topper.  Maybe not as sunshiny as some of their biggest hits but this really helped establish the Miami sound.  In the US they really were one of the big singles group in the second half of the decade, in the UK they had to wait until 1983 for their sole number 1 “Give It Up” which sounded lacklustre compared to their big 70’s hits.

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11. You Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate (1975) (UK#2, US#3)

12. Get Up And Boogie – Silver Convention (1976) (UK#7, US#2)

13. It Only Takes A Minute – 100 Tons & A Feather (1976) (UK#9)

14. British Hustle – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#8)

15. Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – Gloria Gaynor (1975) (UK#14)

16. Dance (Disco Heat) – Sylvester (1978) (UK#29, US#19)

17. From New York To LA – Patsy Gallant (1977) (UK#6)

At one time nicknamed the “Canadian Disco Queen” Patsy is a one-hit wonder in the UK known really only for this delightful slab of very pop influenced disco.  This always reminds me of a stand-up comedy act Pam Ann who is still going strong but who used to be a regular crowd puller in Brighton and London in the 1990’s.  As might be guessed by her name Pam’s comedy was cabin crew based, she wears a stewardess’ uniform and mercilessly rips apart the many airport staff who flock to see her show.  As a finale she would perform to this song in roller boots, which sounds odd, but was something I always found really quite affecting, actually, the hairs are sticking up on the back of my neck thinking about it.  I always liked this song anyway but now every time I hear it I can’t get the vision of a trolley dolly in uniform twirling around the stage and dance floor of whatever venue she was performing in.

From NY to LA.  From Patsy to Pam Ann

18. Love Really Hurts Without You – Billy Ocean (1976) (UK#2, US#22) (also on “Disco Classics“)

19. Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few (1975) (UK#9)

20. Reaching For The Best – The Exciters (1975) (UK#31)

CD3

1. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel –Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15) (also on “Disco Classics” and “Rhythm Divine 2

2. Baby Don’t Change Your Mind – Gladys Knight & Pips  (1977) (UK#4)

3. Here I Go Again – Archie Bell & The Drells (1972) (UK#11)

4.Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Three Degrees (1978) (UK#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

After the first surge of success with the Philadelphia International label it would seem a bold move for the Three Degrees to change direction from that smooth Philly sound.  The fact that they were always credited in the UK press of being a favourite of Prince Charles kept them in the headlines and a move to the European Ariola label saw them pairing up with Giorgio Moroder which relaunched the group and gave them another four UK Top 40 hits to add to the 7 from their first phase of their career.  Their biggest hit “When Will I See You Again” was full of the warmth of Sheila Ferguson’s vocal but this feels chilly and even slightly tempestuous as Sheila unleashes the powerful blast of her vocal, sweetened not by Moroder’s icy production but by Valerie and Helen’s backing.  The girls had gone uptempo before with their contribution of their US #1 with MFSB but with this disco track they had become once again relevant and contemporary.

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5. Win Place Or Show (She’s A Winner) – The Intruders (1974) (UK#14)

6. Come On Over (To My Place) – The Drifters (1972) (UK#9)

7. Girls – The Moments & Whatnauts (1975) (UK#3)

8. Feel The Need In Me – Detroit Emeralds (1973) (UK#4)

9. That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

10. Funky Nassau- The Beginning Of The End (1971) (UK#31, US#15)

11. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry (1976) (UK#7, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics“)

12. Disco Stomp- Hamilton Bohannon (1975) (UK#6)

This is a track I have never seen on any other compilation.  I even had a best of Hamilton Bohannon CD where it didn’t even feature, amazingly as this was his biggest UK hit.  Bohannon is a noted percussionist and the drums feature heavily on this thuddingly funky track.  Vocally he does little more than mention the places where everyone is doing the disco stomp but the whole thing feels hypnotic and certainly unlike anything that was in the charts at that time.

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13. I Love Music – O’ Jays (1976) (UK#13, US#5)

14. If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) – Staple Singers (1974) (UK#34, US#9)

15. If You Don’t Know Me By Now – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1972) (UK#9, US#3)

16. I’ve Been Lonely So Long – Frederick Knight (1972) (UK#22, US#27)

17. I Wanna Get Next To You – Rose Royce (1977) (UK#14, US#10)

Those of you who still, after all these years, think that Rose Royce was a female artist rather than a group need to take a listen to this achingly beautiful ballad.  Gwen Dickey, who had powered her way through tracks such as “Carwash”, “Wishing On A Star” and “Is It Love You’re After” is relegated to the background here as Kenny Copeland excels with an Eddie Kendricks inspired vocal.  Producer Norman Whitfield, best known for his work with The Temptations, wrote this for a love scene in the movie “Carwash”.  Lyrically, it touches on the same delusional male approach of “Just My Imagination” and it ranks among Rose Royce’s very best and one of Whitfield’s best compositions and productions.

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18. Best Of My Love – The Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

19. This Will Be – Natalie Cole (1975) (UK#32, US#6)

An incredible debut single, this is sheer joy from the very first notes and introduced a vocalist who was exuberant and ready to make her mark from the off.  I loved it from the very first time I heard it, not even knowing it was by the daughter of my Dad’s favourite singer whose work I knew very well.  Comparisons were made to Aretha, but I actually never heard Aretha with this much verve and optimism.  If it resembles anything it is Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes A Woman” but this is so much more infectious.  I bought the single and pretty much wore it out.  I was given the debut album for Christmas and did much the same thing to that (weirdly I have never bought that album “Inseparable” on CD to replace that vinyl copy). The call and response ending gives it a real gospel feel with Natalie the lead singer doing battle with Natalie on background vocals  but it is the song’s swinging love for life which always hits home.  You could tell that hers was going to be a significant career, in no way at this stage following in her father’s footsteps but obviously having learned so much from him in terms of vocals, phrasing and a jazz sensibility which could all be put to use on this very contemporary debut.

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20. Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale (1977) (UK#8, US# 2)

 

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 16- The Wings Of Love

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The Wings Of Love (Music Collection International 1993)

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Subtitled “18 Soulful Love Songs” you pretty much get what was being advertised in this compilation which I’m sure was available at a budget price in 1993.  The tracks date from 1975-88 but mainly fall into the middle 80’s brackets where big soul ballads became very popular and artists who may have been struggling for years had a taste of big commercial success. This was especially the case in the UK where 8 of 14 of the charting tracks scored bigger than they did in the US, with another two matching the American chart position.

With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

1.On The Wings Of Love- Jeffrey Osborne (1984) (UK#11, US#29)*

Jeffrey began his hit career as lead vocalist for popular R&B band LTD who scored a couple of US Top 20 pop hits during the time he was with the group, the highest charting being their 1977 number 4 hit “(Every Time I Turn Around”) Back In Love Again.  Their other hit “Love Ballad” was better known over here via a 1979 hit cover version by George Benson, whose voice Jeffrey’s resembles.  By the mid 80’s Benson was a huge international star which may have prompted Jeffrey’s decision to leave LTD.  This track penned by Osborne alongside Peter Schless was from the debut solo album and became his second US Top 40 solo hit  but actually hung around a couple of years before it began to climb up the UK charts.  It’s an almost perfect example of a mid 80’s solo power-ballad with its gentle piano intro into a dramatic refrain, a soaring chorus (appropriately given the title), key changes and a switch in tempos.  I bought his debut album off the back of this but really nothing else on it particularly excited me.  This was his biggest European hit and the track he would be best known for internationally, in the US he scored best with his 1987 duet with Dionne Warwick “Love Power”.

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2. Joanna – Kool & The Gang (1984) (UK#2, US#2)

3. Friends – Amii Stewart (1984) (UK#12)

Amii had her most shining moments commercially in the disco era of the late 70’s when she scored a US number 1 with a version of the Atlantic Soul Classic “Knock On Wood”.  A one hit wonder in her homeland, the UK loved even more what she did with the Doors’ “Light My Fire” which, when it reached number 5 in 1979 had got one place higher than its predecessor.  I think Amii’s finest hour came with this more subtle, sophisticated mid-tempo shuffler which gave her a 5th Top 40 hit.  I had this on vinyl 12″ and used to have a thing about playing it at 33 speed for some reason but I also loved it at its normal pace.  Amii is part of a disco dynasty, her half-sister is high-energy star Miquel Brown whose daughter is Sinitta.  Amii fell in love with Europe and moved to Italy around the time “Friends” was released where she became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.  A remixed medley of her two most famous songs saw her back in the UK Top 10 in 1985.

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4. For Ever, For Always, For Love – Luther Vandross (1982)

5. Do What You Do – Jermaine Jackson (1985) (UK#6, US#13)

6. Weekend Girl – S.O.S Band (1984)

7. I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much – Bobby Womack (1985)

8. Reasons – Earth, Wind & Fire (1975)

9. If You’re Looking For A Way Out – Odyssey (1980) (UK#6)

Odyssey seem to be a star turn on my essential compilation albums.  We’ve already had their all time classic as the title track on “Native New Yorker“; “Use It Up And Wear It Out” on “Rhythm Divine 2” and “Going Back To My Roots” on “Funk Soul Anthems” but this is a very different track.  Leaving the disco floor well behind this really showcases the quality of the very under-rated distinctive voice of Lillian Lopez in a track which is in many ways uncommercial and unshowy but which draws the listener in and shows a versatility from the group which may have been a surprise to the American audience who really only knew them for the disco sass of “Native New Yorker”.  Having said that about Lillian’s voice this still very much feels like an ensemble piece.  They still had a couple of excellent tracks in them which also reflected the gentler side of the group in “Inside Out” (I love this one) and the surprisingly melancholic “Joy (I Know It)” from 1982 and 1985.

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10. You Make Me Feel Brand New – Stylistics (1974) (UK#2, US#2)

11. I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More – Barry White (1973) (UK#23, US#3)

12. (They Long To Be) Close To You – Gwen Guthrie (1986) (UK#25)

Gwen began in song-writing scoring hit tracks for Ben E King, Sister Sledge and the lovely “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter” a great female soul ballad which I’m familiar with in versions by Martha Reeves, Marlena Shaw, Roberta Flack, Angela Bofill and a great cover by Linda Lewis which featured Gwen on back-up.  Her solo singing career saw her working with Sly & Robbie and Larry Levan but she scored big time with a self-produced club track, the girl-power, straight talking “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent”, one of the coolest tracks of 1986 and a UK Top 5 hit.  Therefore, it was a strange decision to follow that up with a cover of a Bacharach and David pop standard which was associated with a overly sweet version by The Carpenters and countless filling-rotting versions which followed in that track’s wake.  And yet, it works, there’s a rejigging with the melody which feels fresh and Gwen puts in a great vocal which gave her consecutive UK hits.  Gwen sadly passed away at the early age of 48 in 1999.

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13. New York Eyes – Nicole & Timmy Thomas (1985) (UK#41)

14. And I’m Telling You That I’m Not Going – Jennifer Holliday (1982) (UK#32, US#22)

The ultimate power song.  Taken from the Broadway show “Dreamgirls” this is a real tour de force.  It has unfortunately become a staple of TV talent shows but I think you’ve really got to think you are a great singer if you’re going to take this on because Holliday has put such a stamp on it.  Another Jennifer, Ms. Hudson got an Oscar for playing the same role of Effie in the movie version (the part Holliday played on stage for almost four years) and her version is also excellent but Holliday’s  is exceptional. It was one of those tracks which didn’t get that many plays on radio when it was first released because it ends with a “follow-that!” moment and just slipping on a Phil Collins record after it would just not have cut it.  In the late 80’s there used to be a drag performer called Tzarday (sadly no longer with us) who would lip-synch to this song as the highlight of her act where she would tear off beads and a fur coat, do a lot of reaching out pleadingly with quivering hands and end up on the floor in an emotional heap and every time I hear this song I am reminded of that.  Jennifer Holliday herself is an under-rated performer who I thought would make a huge commercial breakthrough when she released her excellent second album “Say You Love Me” which seemed full of potential hit singles which didn’t happen. Her 8th studio album “Fresh Takes”, a gospel release came out in 2018.

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15. Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr (1986) (UK#10, US#3)

16. Let’s Make A Baby – Billy Paul (1976) (UK#30)

17. Gonna Get You Home With Me Tonight – Eugene Wilde (1984) (UK#18)

18. Piano In The Dark – Brenda Russell (1988) (UK#23, US#6)

100 Essential CDs – Number 19- Nights In Heaven

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Nights In Heaven (Sony 1995)

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Heaven nightclub opened at the end of 1979 in a very unpromising location underneath Charing Cross arches.  It very quickly established itself as Britain’s foremost gay nightclub and helped pushed gay visibility into the mainstream, attracting much publicity and column inches.  By 1982, such was its business potential that it was purchased from Jeremy Norman, the original owner by Richard Branson and Virgin.  It became known for hosting a diverse range of club nights especially during the week and attracting big star names at weekends.  It provided a launch-pad for DJs such as Ian Levine and Mark Moore both of whom became significant players in the mainstream music business.  The club responded to the AIDS crisis in the UK swiftly and brilliantly raising funds and promoting education.  In 1995 it joined forces with Sony records and The Terence Higgins Trust, the leading charity for AIDS research in the UK to put together a double CD of twenty six tracks with the agreement that a minimum of £10,000 would be donated to the charity.  I was at this time still visiting Heaven occasionally, it was never my favourite club in Central London (I was more of a North London regular)  I preferred the smaller venues such as The Phoenix which used to be in Cavendish Square and the out and out cheesiness of G-A-Y (incidentally the founder of G-A-Y, Jeremy Joseph, is now the owner of Heaven, following the financial collapse of previous stakeholders HMV. )

Now, I can’t say that I ever heard that many of these tracks in Heaven although I am sure they would have been played, particularly around the time of the release of this CD.  Subtitled “The Party Anthems” they definitely are a mixed bunch ranging from camp pop, disco classics, Stock Aitken & Waterman productions, the odd lesser known track and rounding it off with Tammy Wynette’s country classic “Stand By Your Man”.  I seem to recall this was included as it was the track which used to be played at the club when the lights went up (I had gone home by this time, nightclubs are never at their best when the lights go up, neither is most of the clientele!) So even thought some of the tracks might initially appear that they have been selected at random by the people who put this together it actually all works very well and although not exactly representative of how I remember the club it can certainly turn your living room into a nightclub for its duration (with not as much dry ice!)

With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD1

1.It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls (1983) (UK#2)

Up there with “YMCA” and “Dancing Queen” as the three most stereotypical tracks that gay men are supposed to love (actually I do love all three of them), this was a surprise big UK hit in 1983 as even then it didn’t sound current.  Written for Donna Summer by Paul Jabara who had penned the Oscar winning “Last Dance” for her, it was soundly rejected and picked up by Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, two in-demand session singers who had worked separately and recorded and performed together as Two Tons O’ Fun, backing singers for Sylvester.  They changed their name for this single, probably not expecting that much success, but it became a huge hit and the name stuck.  One hit wonders they may be but they recorded five albums together and Izora later re-formed the group with her daughter who carried on with new members following the death of her mother in 2004.  Their longevity would have been very much based around this track.  Fuelled by powerful gospel vocals this has also become a hen night karaoke staple and is a great way to kick off this album.  The accompanying video was so cheesy with alarmingly poor special effects that it borders on the distasteful but is one of those things you can’t take your eyes off .

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2. We Are Family (Sure Is Pure Remix) – Sister Sledge (1979/1993) (UK#5)

With Chic one of the biggest groups on the planet Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had acts clamouring to produce them to recreate their unique hit sound.  They decided to go with an act hidden amongst the depths of their label’s roster, the family group Sister Sledge who had scored a British hit in 1975 sounding like the female Jackson 5 but whose early potential had waned in their homeland where they had not crossed over to the pop charts.  Their collaboration on the “We Are Family” album made them just as viable a name as Chic spawning two US Top 10 hits and four UK hit singles.  In the 80’s when Chic had faded into the background the UK was still loving these same  Sister Sledge tracks with remixes of “Thinking Of You” and “Lost In Music” eclipsing their original chart positions.  The girls cemented this success by topping the charts with the non-Chic produced gentle doowop sound of “Frankie”.  In 1993 these tracks were back again with this Sure Is Pure remix giving “We Are Family” its third shot in the charts reaching its highest position of number 5.  (The original 1979 release had reached #8 in the UK and #2 Stateside).  Remixes of “Lost In Music” and “Thinking Of You” also became Top 20 hits in 1993 all over again.  This is the most anthemic of their songs and maybe now best known over here in this re-mixed form.

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3.Your Love Still Brings Me To My Knees – Marcia Hines (1981)

The most obscure track on the album is a little gem of a track from 1981  from Australian citizen Marcia.  Born in Boston she found commercial success in Australia from the late 70’s, where she was the biggest Australian recording act in 1977-78.  In 1981 she scored a hit both in her homeland and around Europe with this cover of a song which had originally been recorded without much success by Dusty Springfield.  Marcia made a comeback to recording after some years of inactivity with an album in 1984 which contained a re-recording of this track which re-established her as a significant Australian artist.  Since then she has maintained her high profile by being a judge on Australian Idol.  Her daughter Deni also scored a series of hits in the late 90’s which included two UK top 40 hits, the biggest of which was her Australian #4 hit “It’s Alright”.  If I hadn’t done this research I would have known nothing about this singer of what I’d always considered to be an obscure recording.

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4.Can You Feel It – The Jacksons (1981) (UK#6) Also on “Funk Soul Anthems

5.Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn (1979) (US#12) – Also on “Disco Classics” and “Funk Soul Anthems”

6.Relight My Fire – Dan Hartman (1980)-Also on “Disco Classics

7.You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)- Sylvester (1978) (UK#8,US#36) – Also on “Funk Soul Anthems”

8.Disco Inferno – Trammps (1977) (UK#16, US#11)

“Burn Baby Burn!” This monumental disco track is well known for its inclusion on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack but it had been a British hit by then and was the very first twelve inch single I ever bought.  Here we get the full-length version, which just narrowly avoids the feeling that it has gone on a bit too long.  It didn’t hit the US charts until the movie came out when a UK re-issue also crept back into the Top 50.  This was Trammps’ fifth UK Top 40 hit and they had shown a big of variety with a cover of the standard “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart”, a contemporary take on Doo-wop of “Sixty Minute Man” and the Northern Soul gem “Hold Back The Night” which had given them their biggest Top 5 hit.  By the mid 70’s they were really established as a disco act and both this and their “That’s Where The Happy People Go” are club classics.  They suffered from the disco backlash and “Disco Inferno” was their last hit, amazingly for a group with such a great sense of the commercial and the lead voice of Jimmy Ellis which suggested they could have been for the 70’s and beyond what The Four Tops were for the 60’s.  This is one of the most intense disco tracks which also worked well in a 1993 cover version by Tina Turner which went four places higher in the UK than the original.

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9.Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston (1977) (UK#13, US#1)

10.Pilot Error – Stephanie Mills (1983)

11. This Time I Know It’s For Real – Donna Summer (1989) (UK#3, US#7)

12. I Want Your Sex – George Michael (1987) (UK#3, US#2)

In which George Michael sounds like Prince on racy lyrics which we would have been more likely to associate with His Purple Highness than mid 80’s George Michael.  Accompanied by what was considered at the time to be a steamy video this certainly removed the traces of the Wham! boy teeny-bop star.  George had first gone it alone in 1984 with “Careless Whisper” which topped the charts both side of the Atlantic (in the US it was credited to Wham! ft George Michael), a duet with Aretha had done the same but this was the second single to be released from the multi-million selling “Faith” album, which ensured by the end of 1987 that everyone knew who George Michael was.  This edit from a nine minute plus album track wasn’t an obvious choice for a single but then George would never be one to shy away from controversy.  Helped by its inclusion, especially in the US, on the big selling Beverley Hills Cop II soundtrack it made top three both sides of the Atlantic.  In the US the four singles released from “Faith”  after this topped the charts ensuring his position as a superstar.  This track still sounds fresh and funky but is unlikely to be too many people’s favourite George Michael track.

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CD2
 

1.Smalltown Boy – Bronksi Beat (1984) (UK#3)

2. Could It Be Magic – Take That (1992) (UK#3)

I actually saw Take That perform at Heaven.  It would have been earlier on in 1992 before the release of this single when they were working with producer Ian Levine, who had made his name as one of the club’s early DJs.  Before going on to stage they filed past me and I can remember them seeming very young and very small.  They soon won the crowd over and I can remember them turning out a good performance so it was no surprise that by the end of the year they had become so big.  It was around the time they weren’t wearing all that many clothes to perform, a situation I bet Gary Barlow for one, would probably like to forget.  This cover of a great Barry Manilow song had also been turned into something even more special by Donna Summer for her 1976 Love Trilogy album and Take That’ version is probably closer to Donna than Barry and I think it might just very well be the best of the lot and is my favourite of all their singles.  There’s a driving energy which really turns a strong song into a pop classic.

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3. Take A Chance On Me – Erasure (1992) (UK#1)

4. Venus – Bananarama (1986) (UK#8,US#1)

Look at the chart positions here.  It’s easy to forget that Bananarama took this Stock-Aitken-Waterman produced cover of the song by Shocking Blue to the very top of the US charts.  By this time they’d been notching up hits in the UK for some four years since they linked up with Fun Boy Three and this was the 9th of their to date 25 UK Top 40 hits.  The statistics in the US are not quite so impressive three top 10 hits of which this was their second but it did something they couldn’t do over here where three of their biggest hits stalled at number 3 and topped the US charts.  Bananarama are still going strong as a duo releasing their 11th studio album in April 2019.  They did do a few better songs than this but this is always a crowd-pleasing anthem and you can’t begrudge its inclusion on this CD.

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5. Relax (New York Mix) – Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1983) (UK#1)

6.The Only Way Is Up – Yazz & The Plastic Population (1988) (UK#1)

This song, Yazz’s only UK chart-topper always reminds me of another venue – The Black Cap which used to be in Camden High Street and of which I was quite a regular at the time this song was packing the dancefloor.  The Black Cap was a more mixed club than Heaven and the statuesque Yazz’s appearance and image made her a big hit with the lesbians and with everyone boogieing away to this there was a real sense of community which I had never really exprienced before especially as we were all sticking to the dancefloor.  Something I didn’t know whilst I was loving this track, the second biggest selling single of the year in 1988, was that it was actually a cover version of a 1980 track by soul singer Otis Clay.  At the time I loved Yazz and played her “Wanted” album almost non-stop.  I once queued behind her in at the check-outs in Sainsburys at Muswell Hill and was star-struck.  She now lives in Spain and her most recent material can best be classed as Christian music.

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7. What Do I Have To Do – Kylie Minogue (1991) (UK#6)

8. Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) – Rozalla (1991) (UK#6)

9. I Love The Nightlife – Alicia Bridges (1978) (UK#32, US#5)

Ak-shun! Alicia’s interesting phrasing made this disco hit memorable and became better known in the UK after its inclusion in the 1994 film “The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” and the subsequent stage musical show.  Alicia did not wish to be classed as a disco singer despite the subtitle (Disco Round) of this her only hit.  Her later recordings showed rock, R&B and blues influences but albums did not match the sales of her debut which featured this track.  As one of the few out lesbian singers of the times Alicia certainly merits her place on this album and this is a song which has got even better with age.

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10. Supermodel – Rupaul (1993) (UK#39, US#45)

Rupaul Charles launched onto the music scene a fully fledged superstar with this debut.  Instantly recognisable and once seen never forgotten Rupaul exploded from the New York nightclub drag scene to cable TV to a recording contract with macho rap label Tommy Boy and this debut single which set out the stall perfectly with its combination of contemporary dance with old Motown, Harlem drag balls and the early 90’s obsession with those women who wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.  Full of hooks, including a “Linda, Naomi……” name-check rap this track certainly got attention but should have been much bigger than it was.  It remains Rupaul’s biggest US hit but over here he is best known for his collaboration with Elton John on a club version of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” which was the star track on Elton’s Top 5 1993 album “Duets” where Rupaul took the place of Kiki Dee and they recorded an excellent promo video which helped it get to number 7 in the charts.  Rupaul later scored further chart success when he teamed up with one of the women who kicked this CD off, Martha Wash, in a re-recording of, guess what, “It’s Raining Men”.  Entitled “It’s Raining Men – The Sequel” this got to number 21 in the charts in 1998.  Despite not having mainstream US chart success Rupaul has maintained his recording career for over twenty-five years.  This has much to do with his continued high profile as the brains behind “Rupaul’s Drag Race“.  He consistently features in the most influential people in TV listings and is one of the most inspirational of LGBTQ+ artists in the world.  Naturally he deserves a place on this album.

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11. Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun) – Cyndi Lauper (1994) (UK#4) – Remixed version of her debut hit which scored highly again ten years on.

12. Little Bird – Annie Lennox (1993) (UK#3, US#49)

13. Losing My Mind – Liza Minelli (1989) (UK#6)

14. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette (1975/1968) (UK#1,US#19)

Nights  In Heaven: The Party Anthems is currently available new from Amazon for £6.99 in the UK and used from £0.20.

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 20- Rhythm Divine 2

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Rhythm Divine 2 (Dino 1991)

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I did own this CD compilation’s predecessor, the unsurprisingly named Rhythm Divine on vinyl.  There were quite a lot of tracks squeezed on over four sides and that compression and the fact that it was in the latter days of vinyl when the industry wanted everyone to purchase CDs meant that the sound was a little flat compared to the original singles and it wasn’t an album I played too often.  The follow-up I purchased on CD and because it was the second in the series the selections were less obvious, the sound was beefed up for the CD format and it became an album I played a lot.  We are back again on the dance floor with tracks dating from 1968-84 with the emphasis on the funkier, more soulful side of disco.  There are tracks which overlap with other of my Essential CDs compilation choices, eight of the 34 on show here spread out between Disco Classics, Funk Soul Anthems and Native New Yorker but there is plenty new here to provide a joyful couple of hours revisiting tracks from my youth.  With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD 1

1.Dance To The Music – Sly & The Family Stone (1968) (UK#7, US#8) (also on “Disco Classics”)

2. Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – The Jacksons (1979) (UK#4, US#7)

3. That Lady – Isley Brothers (1973) (UK#14, US#6)

4. Best Of My Love – Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics)

5. Backstabbers – The O’ Jays (1972) (UK#14, US#3)

This features one of the greatest introductions in soul music, a melodic swirling, menacing yet absolutely lovely example of the Philadelphia International house orchestra MFSB before the O’Jays make their entrance with their emphatic “what’re they saying”.  This was the first hit for soul trio Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell and as far as I am concerned  it was never bettered, a musical warning about those who will talk about you behind your back.  This year Levert, Williams and Eric Nolan Grant released what they say will be their final recording entitled “The Last Word” which was a great way to round-up the group after 61 years together for the two originals and which felt like a tribute to the quality of the music of the past with enough of a contemporary feel to make it a relevant soul music release.

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6. Rock Your Baby – George McRae (1974) (UK#1, US#2) (also on “Disco Classics)

7. That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) (UK#4, US#1)

8. Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey (1978) (UK#3, US#1)

I had a friend who worked in the record department of WH Smith and in those days they used to put out the Top 20 charts on a peg board using plastic letters.  There were obviously a lot of “o’s” both in this song title and in the charts one week and she found that they had run out so had to put this up on the board as “Bogie Ogie Ogie” which she got her a telling off from the shop manager (bogie being an unacceptable word for WH Smith to have on display in the 70’s) but it is how I have always thought of this song since.  A Taste Of Honey featured a unique double of female vocalists and guitarists Carlita Dorhan and bass player Janice Marie-Johnson.  In 1978 it was still unusual to see female artists playing and performing which made A Taste Of Honey seem like the sound of the future and this first single release was a huge seller and gained the group a Grammy.  Sadly, they struggled with follow-up material and the group dwindled down to a duo.  In the UK they are officially one-hit wonders but Dorhan and Johnson managed three years later to get back into the US Top 3 with a ballad cover of the Kyu Sakamoto hit “Sukiyaki”.  They will always be remembered for this hook laden, funky slab of disco which had the feel of Chic with the girls emulating the guitar-rich sound of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards.

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9. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems”)

10. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1979) (UK#1, US#1)

11. When Will I See You Again – Three Degrees (1974) (UK#1, US#2)

12. Contact – Edwin Starr (1979) (UK#6)

Ex Motown artist Edwin Starr re-emerged in the late 70’s on the 20th Century label and scored a big European hit.    His US hits had dried up not long after his chart-topping “War” in 1970 and within a couple of years he decided to relocate to the UK, where he would stay until his death in 2003.  Amazingly, this did not cross over to the pop charts in any big way in his homeland despite topping Billboard’s US Disco chart.  It’s a big, chunky production which suits the stridency of the great Starr’s vocals.  His Motown hits were great but I have always loved this reinvention of his sound on this track.

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13. This Is It- Melba Moore (1976) (UK#9)

Songwriter/producer Van McCoy’s work always really succeeded when there was a strong voice which could cut through the natural sweetness of his productions.  There was no way his string laden orchestra could dominate Melba Moore (nor David Ruffin who he also worked with around the same time).  Melba’s voice had the experience of both gospel and Broadway and fitted perfectly into this joyous number.  Music was in Melba’s genes, her mother was R&B singer Bonnie Davis who had topped the R&B charts and her father sax player and band leader Teddy Hill. The always critically acclaimed Moore has never had a pop hit in the US.  In the UK chart success continued in the early 80’s when she scored another couple of Top 40 hits “Love’s Coming At Ya” (#15 in 1982) and “Mind Up Tonight” (#22 in 1983) and became one of the leading lights in the “Quiet Storm” soul ballad revival in the early/mid 80’s which saw a duet with Freddie Jackson top the R&B charts.  Melba is still going strong today but there is no doubting this is her finest moment.  Dannii Minogue’s 1993 revival of the track introduced the joyfulness of this to a new generation and saw the song back in the UK Top 10.

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14. More More More – Andrea True Connection (1976) (UK#5, US# 4)

By the mid 70’s in the US porn had gone mainstream and its stars, especially Linda Lovelace had become household names.  The overlap between sex and disco which found success in tracks such as Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” tempted some adult movie actresses into the recording studio.  The most successful of these was Andrea True.  The story goes that Andrea found herself in Jamaica after an attempted coup which meant that money could not be taken out of the country.  True had to spend her earnings and decided to fly in producer Gregg Diamond to make a record with her.  Remixed by Tom Moulton and sporting an unforgettable “pop pop” sound “More More More” became a huge hit worldwide.  It’s lyrics “keep the action going/keep the cameras rolling” reference her alternative career in a way which would not cause offence and would see the song covered successfully in later years by Rachel Stevens (#3 2004) and Bananarama (#24 1993).  Andrea True was not a great singer but she did have some great songs in the early years of her career and is very under-rated as a music artist.  I love the almost relentless latin flavours of “NY, You Got Me Dancing” and the disco pick-up of “What’s Your Name What’s Your Number” which gave her a second UK Top 40 hit two years later.  Also tracks such as “Keep It Up Longer” and “Party Line” are certainly worth seeking out.  Of her former film career I know nothing!

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15. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel – Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15) (also on “Disco Classics)

16. Rock The Boat – Hues Corporation (1974) (UK#6, US#1) (also on “Native New Yorker”)

17. Hang On In There Baby – Johnny Bristol (1974) (UK# 3, US#8)

Here’s a man who should have become a household name.  A Motown songwriter and producer (often with Harvey Fuqua) Bristol worked on all time classic tracks by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, David Ruffin and Jnr Walker and the All Stars and as a vocalist is the male voice featured on Diana Ross and The Supremes’ swansong “Someday We’ll Be Together” which he also produced and co-wrote.  By 1974 he had signed a solo contract with MGM and the success of bedroom based songs by male R&B stars such as Marvin Gaye and Barry White led to this recording which combines some fairly cheesy lyrics which turns love-making into a life or death situation with thunder roaring and lightning striking as Bristol gets it on with his “sweet virgin of the world” with a great production and a real hook laden song which is just irresistible.  UK cool boys Curiosity Killed The Cat dropped most of their name for a comeback single in 1992 (as “Curiosity”) and matched their highest ever chart placing (as well as the UK chart position of Bristol’s original) with a cover of this.  Bristol, maybe because of difficulties at the MGM label struggled to get his follow-up compositions  to chart, although one of these “Love Me For A Reason” became a UK#1 when covered by The Osmonds.  There were glimmers of potential success, a duet with Amii Stewart in 1980, a stint working with Ian Levine in the UK in the late 80’s but he just couldn’t follow up his classic hit.  He  passed away in 2004.

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18. Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale (1975) (UK#8, US#2)

 

CD 2

 

1.Celebration – Kool & The Gang (1980) (UK#7, US#1)

2. Don’t Stop The Music – Yarborough & Peoples (1980) (UK#7, US#19) 

Although they sound like a firm of solicitors Texans Cavin Yarborough and Alisa Peoples were childhood sweethearts who signed with the Total Experience label and this was their debut hit which is both funky and wacky with speeded up voices for which they would often use puppets when performing “You don’t really want to stop! No!“.  Maybe this shifted them into the novelty act category in their homeland where this was their only Top 40  hit.  In the UK they had another three singles which made  the Top 75 over the next 6  years, one of which (“Don’t Waste Your Time”) reached 48 in the US coming closest to giving them a follow-up hit in 1983.  They eventually tied the knot in 1987 after which they set up their own music production company.

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3. Use It Up And Wear It Out – Odyssey (1980) (UK#1)

4. Shame – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978) (UK#39, US#9) (also on “Native New Yorker”)

5. Don’t Take Away The Music – Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#34)

Two of the very best Tavares track on these CDs.  This was another Freddie Perren production which closed their most successful album “Sky High” which had also featured “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.” and “The Mighty Power Of Love”.  This is their Tavares at their most singalong, which is no way a criticism, as anyone who has heard me belting this in the shower would be able to testify.  Great track which matched the success of “Heaven” in the UK but which fell a bit short in their homeland.

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6. Swing Your Daddy – Jim Gilstrap (1975) (UK#4)

7. Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William De Vaughan (1974) (UK#31, US#4)

8. Respect Yourself – The Staple Singers (1971) (US#12)

9. And The Beat Goes On – The Whispers (1980) (UK#2, US#19)

10. Love Town – Booker Newbury III (1983) (UK#6)

11. Somebody Else’s Guy- Jocelyn Brown (1984) (UK#13) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems”)

12. Change Of Heart – Change (1984) (UK#17)

13. Burn Rubber On Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) – The Gap Band (1980) (UK#22)

14. You Gave Me Love – Crown Heights Affair (1980) (UK#10)

A veteran group by the time they notched up this UK Top 10 hit Brooklyn based group Crown Heights Affair had been around since the late 60’s and were one of the early leading lights of Disco  in the mid 70’s with tracks such as “Dreaming A Dream” and “Dancin'” lengthy workouts which became club classics without making the commercial breakthrough the band would have hoped for.  This came in 1978 with their excellent space-flight track “Galaxy Of Love” (UK#24). Their 1980 commercial peak was with this track which was not as good but does have a very memorable driving vocal hook “do doo doo doo doo doo” which lifted them into the Top 10 for the only time in their career.

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15. The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982) (UK#8)

Look at the chart placings.  This seminal slab of hip-hop which took the to this point recent phenomenon of rap music to a new level was not even a US hit.  The US charts have been full of rappers for years and Grandmaster Flash is arguably the Grandaddy of them all.  Up until this point rap music had the hint of novelty about it stemming from labelmates The Sugarhill Gang and “Rapper’s Delight” with its one-upmanship which sounded fresh but a little trivial but here in the charts and on the radio was as the title rightly termed a “Message”.  What we were being told about here was injustice and prejudice and  R&B music shifted from this point onwards things would never be the same again.  It’s up there with my favourite hip-hop records joined near that pole position by a track a year later when Grandmaster Flash joined forces with Melle Mel for the anti-drug epic “White Lines” which got to number 7 and hung around the UK charts for almost a year, although the power of this track was diluted by a pointless 1995 cover by Duran Duran.

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16. I Found Lovin’ – The Fatback Band (1984) (UK#7)

Rhythm Divine 2 can currently be purchased on Amazon in the UK for £4.07 new and used from £1.54.

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 25- Native New Yorker: Disco Classics

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Native New Yorker: Disco Classics (Camden 1997)

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This twenty track CD appeared on the budget Camden label in 1997 and according to the sleeve notes written by one Michael Dunnington references a time “when Jason King ruled the TV air-waves and men’s trousers “flared” like no tomorrow.”  For a one disc collection of 70’s music it is spot on and there is no overlap with any of the tracks featured on the other compilation CDs I have so far considered to be essential.  What it isn’t really, despite its subtitle, is an album of “disco classics” unless we are counting a school disco where tracks by artists such as Sweet and Barry Blue would have got played.  That disco would have also had to have a closing “slow dance” section to incorporate ballad tracks from the Delfonics and the country-tinged soul of the Pointer Sisters doing Bruce Springsteen, but okay, I’ll let it go because this is a CD which gets the memories flowing and brings me a lot of pleasure.  True, some of that pleasure might be guilty as the majority of the tracks are from the more poppy side of dance than those that appear on the “Disco Classics”, “Chilled Disco” and “Funk Soul Anthems” sets with its mix of American tracks, Eurodisco and British pop soul.  There are three UK number 1s and 1 US chart-topper and 13 out of the 20 tracks performed better in the UK and Europe than they did in the USA.

 With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD 1

1.Native New Yorker – Odyssey (1977) (UK#5, US#21)

What a track to open with, important enough to give the whole compilation its name and one of my all time favourites.  Odyssey’s later UK chart-topper featured on “Funk Soul Anthems” but this is their debut hit which was their only success in the US.  It’s a beautifully performed song by the Lopez sisters with Tony Reynolds which drips with sophistication and a classy glamour which makes it stand out as a song compared to so much repetitive disco. It sounds like something from the Great American Songbook (it for me is reminiscent of the Rodgers and Hart song “Manhattan” as made famous by Ella Fitzgerald).  The writers of this 70’s gem are Sandy Linzer and Denny Randall who wrote it as a track for a Frankie Valli solo album.  These two had been responsible for some classy pop songs prior to this such as “A Lover’s Concerto”, “Opus 17” and “Working My Way Back To You” for the Four Seasons .  Linzer  has made a previous significant appearance on my Essential CD listings for his production work on the innovative first album from “Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band” one of the great disco albums of all time.  Esther Phillips also did a great version of this song but this is definitely the definitive version.

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2. Yes Sir I Can Boogie – Baccara (1977) (UK#1)

The ultimate guilty pleasure?  This surprise UK chart-topper still delights me every time I hear it. I’m not sure whether it’s the Eurodisco production with its out-of-place heavy-breathing intro giving it a touch of the Donna Summers, the English as a second language phrasing, the “boogie-voogie” or the song which turns back in on itself and contains lines such as “I  already told you in the first verse/ and in the chorus”.  Spanish female duo Baccara were certainly one of a kind.  I saw them perform at “G-A-Y” in the 1990s and they still had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands by swirling scarves as they eased through their repertoire which also contained their equally bizarrely lyrics of “Sorry I’m A Lady” and their 1978 Eurovision entry “Parlez Vous  Francais (strangely enough representing Luxembourg) where they were robbed finishing in a lowly 7th  place losing to Israel’s nonsensical “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” which lyrically made the Baccara song seem more like Bacharach.  Sophie Ellis-Bextor had a go at making this song her own but that just isn’t possible it just has to be Mayte Mateos and Maria Mendiola in their quizzical Spanglish.

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3. Disco Nights (Rock Freak) – G.Q (1979) (UK#42, US#12)

4. Ms. Grace – Tymes (1974) (UK#1)

5. Shame – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978) (UK#39, US#9)

6. Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely – The Main Ingredient (1974) (UK#27, US#10)

7. Sunny- Boney M (1977) (UK#3)

Euro-disco’s biggest stars actually heralded from the West Indies but with this their second UK hit cemented their association with Germany’s Frank Farian on what is head and shoulders their best track.  The song is a cover version of a 1966 hit by Bobby Hebb, having much of its warmth stripped out to produce an almost icy slab of Munich  disco-funk.  It’s a near-perfect reconstruction of a song.  That said, I’m not sure what we are listening to here because the vocal arrangement sounds a tad different from my old 7 inch single.  I’m wondering whether it is a different mix or the album version.  I’m pretty sure its not a re-recording (a peril of the budget CD) as I’m sure this would have been highlighted in the info.  It’s in no way bad, just ever so slightly different and if I hadn’t listened to this song so many times over the years I probably would never have noticed.  What I have noticed also, however, is that this song is given the wrong title on the inner sleeve of the CD.  Doesn’t anybody proof read these things before they are printed?

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8. I Can’t Stand The Rain – Eruption (1978) (UK#5)

9. Jack And Jill – Raydio (1978) (UK#11, US#8)

The late 70’s group Raydio could not for long contain Ray Parker Jnr who for a time in the next decade looked like he could be one of the biggest solo acts.  A gifted guitarist, vocalist, song writer and producer with a great pop sensibility, Parker’s career was both made by his theme song to the movie “Ghostbusters” and hampered by it, as the spectre of the term “novelty artist” hung over him.  He was no novelty he just had an excellent sense of what was commercial.  This was evident on his debut hit which is one of two nursery themed tunes on this album, but this tale of the couple who went up the hill is nowhere as twee as the Moments’ “Jack In The Box” which appears later.  In fact, nursery rhyme referencing was not as out of place as it may seem in 70’s R&B, think The Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head” and even Earth Wind and Fire did it on “Saturday Night” . This is a good piece of pop-flavoured mid-tempo funk made memorable by the echoing vocals of the names of the two main characters.  I’ve always had a soft spot for both this and their UK hit follow-up “Is This A Love Thing?”  Back in 1978 I won a copy of “Jack And Jill” in a competition in “Blues And Soul” magazine which for someone who relied on saving up pocket money for music purchases was quite a big thing!

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10. Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Three Degrees (1978) (UK#12)

11. Rock The Boat – Hues Corporation (1974) (UK#6, US#1)

12. La La Means I Love You – Delfonics (1971) (UK#19, US#4)

13. There Goes My First Love – Drifters (1973) (UK#3)

14. Blockbuster – Sweet (1973) (UK#1)

15. It’s In His Kiss – Linda Lewis (1975) (UK#6)

I can’t miss an opportunity to herald this singer, not until she is recognised as one of the great British female artists.  A singer who may have been too versatile for her own good is here on her biggest hit which like its follow-up “Baby I’m Yours” which I highlighted on the “After The Dance” CD is a cover version of 60’s girl pop.  (I was young enough not to know this when this first came out). Here the pace is ramped up to fever pitch and it sounds like Linda has had a blast of helium before letting rip into this song which is just brilliant in giving the innocence of girl-group pop a 70’s glam makeover.  Notes are hit that zoom off into the stratosphere.  If you want to hear a vocalist putting 100% into a recording this is a prime example .  It certainly, for me, puts Cher’s 1991 chart-topping version into the shade.  It’s not even Lewis’ best recording.  That would be a stunning version of a song based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” from “The Mikado”, “The Moon and I” which I love so much I had it played at my wedding ensuring there would not be a dry eye in the house!

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16. Fire – Pointer Sisters (1979) (UK#34, US#2)

17. Can’t Get By Without You – The Real Thing (1976) (UK#2)

18. Dancing On A Saturday Night – Barry Blue (1973) (UK#2)

19. Jack In The Box – The Moments (1977) (UK#7)

20. Get Dancin’ – Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes (1974) (UK#8, US#10)

Native New Yorker: Disco Classics is currently available to buy from Amazon in the UK for £14.98 and used from £0.90.