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 96– Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life

 

Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (Motown 1976)

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position – 1

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 There was a huge amount of anticipation surrounding the release of this album.  It had been two years since his US chart-topping “Fulfillingness First Finale” and the leaks emanating from his record label was that this was going to be an extremely special follow-up.  Potential release dates came and went and there was actually a mini-fashion explosion in “Stevie’s Almost Ready” t-shirts.  In September 1976 the album appeared and it was a biggie in very sense.  A double album and a bonus extended play seven inch single made it an expensive proposition.  I know that I couldn’t afford to buy it until I found it much cheaper after it had been out a few years.  On its CD release the 21 tracks fitted easily onto 2 discs.

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Despite the tongue-twisting title Stevie’s previous album had topped the US Charts and been a Top 5 success in the UK in 1974.

I do acknowledge the common perception that this is one of the greatest Soul albums of all time.  I do feel, however, that it could have benefited from a little editing, in the length of a couple of the tracks and I think there’s another couple that could have been dropped together without compromising this album’s status or reputation.  It is not the highest ranking Stevie Wonder album on my list but it is still an essential purchase.  The list of the Greatest Soul Albums of the 1970’s voted for by thousands on the Soultracks.com website has it at number 3 behind Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way Of The World” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.  It was very much Stevie Wonder’s statement on the mid 70’s which came exploding through the speakers like a torrent.

It contained two UK Top 5 singles and 1 Top 30, two US number 1’s and two Top 40 singles and a handful of tracks which although never released as singles are all-time classics and rank amongst the best of Stevie’s output.

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For an album which had such a big fanfare it has a rather muted beginning and does take a while to get into its stride.  Album opener “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” is certainly a pleasant enough track but is an early example of a track which would have benefited from having a minute or so lopped off the end as it all gets a bit rambly and noodly.  I didn’t think it stands out especially amongst other tracks really until George Michael (who said “Songs In The Key Of Life” was his all-time favourite album) began  performing it on tour and as a B-side to his chart-topping “Father Figure” single.  Michael’s version seemed to me to breathe a bit of new life into this original and I think as a track it has dated quite well.  The insidious funk-lite of “Have A Talk With God” has not weathered the passing of time and sounded better on release than it does now.  Lyrically rather heavy-handed “He’s the only free psychiatrist that’s known throughout the world” this has never been one of my favourite tracks on the album.

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It’s the third track where things really crank up a gear when Stevie takes on his social commentator role on “Village Ghetto Land”.  One thing Stevie Wonder always does well is to dress up protest into something that sounds really good.  He’d done this before on tracks like “Living For The City” and here again.  There’s a majestic synthesized neo-classical orchestral opening, courtesy of the Yamaha- GX1and this is counterposed with some pretty hard-hitting lyrics of poverty and crime; “Families buying dog food now/Starvation roams the streets”.  It works superbly.

Next up is the bruising, funk instrumental “Contusion” (contusion/bruising see what I did there?) which is not exactly vital to the existence of the album.  It leads the way to the second US chart-topping single from the album (it reached #2 in the UK, his highest chart position for over 6 years) and is perhaps one of his most commercial tracks ever.  Stevie could sometimes veer towards a fine edge of the annoyingly poppy or cheesy but because of that little dash of Wonder magic he is able to sprinkle over he ends up triumphant.  This was certainly the case with his biggest UK hit “I Just Called To Say I Love You”, but also “My Cherie Amour”, with “Isn’t She Lovely” on this album and also “Sir Duke.”  This joyous blast of nostalgia serves very much as a history lesson for a new generation.  When I first heard this track as a young teenager I did not really know who Duke Ellington was nor his importance in the history of black music and here we also find out that “There’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo and the King of all, Sir Duke/And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out there’s no way the band can lose.”  This is all-time classic pop name dropping alongside Madonna’s rap in “Vogue” and the fashion designers in “He’s The Greatest Dancer”.  This is a lovely tribute track from its infuriatingly catchy brass introduction to singalong chorus.  It’s the musical equivalent to eating marshmallows but knowing just when to stop before they make you feel queasy.

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The second side on the vinyl version kicks off with the first single release which also topped the US charts and went Top 5 in the UK.  This is a track which I think has got even better with time and now ranks up amongst Stevie’s best.  “I Wish” reminisces on childhood and the passing of time in a storm of commercial funk.  The childhood depicted is not one of cosy innocence as its about sneaking out, hanging with hoodlums and playing doctor but whatever was going on Stevie wishes those simpler times would come round again.

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There’s a charming simplicity to “Knocks Me Off My Feet” as well as a strong melody which ensures this is a highspot.  And like all Wonder songs with strong melodies this has led to a number of cover versions over the year perhaps most strongly by Luther Vandross on his 1996 “Your Secret Love” album.  “Pastime Paradise” has a Hare Krishna choir on back-up and what I have always felt of as an African feel as Wonder dons the mantle of social commentator once again attacking those who view the world through rose-coloured glasses when the reality is; “Dissipation/Race relations/ consolation/ segregation/ dispensation/ isolation/ exploitation/ mutilation/ miscreation/ confirmation to the evils of the world.”  It’s a song which has been very much absorbed into hip-hop culture.  A sample took on a life of its own when it was used by Coolio on his “Gangsta’s Paradise” in 1995 where it was the biggest selling single of the year in the US, Australia and New Zealand and the second biggest selling (behind Robson and Jerome’s “Unchained Melody”!)  “Summer Soft” starts off as another pretty ballad, surges upwards for the chorus but is another track which ultimately goes on a little too long.  The first CD closes with “Ordinary Pain”, a song in two parts which has a first half which is a nifty little soul ballad which chugs along very effectively with Stevie very much in charge until it winds down almost to a stop before taking a funkier edge with a response from Shirley Brewer, aided by an impressive back-up group which features amongst others Minnie Riperton, Syreeta Wright, one-time Supreme Linda Laurence and Deniece Williams.  At over 6 minutes it is another track which could have benefited from fading earlier.

 

Luther and Coolio – two artists inspired by the tracks on this album

The second CD opens with the album’s high-spot and possibly Stevie’s best ever track.  “Isn’t She Lovely” a father’s song to his baby daughter could really have gone either way and versions of it being used in beauty pageants have pushed it well over the edge but taken here in its original full-length version it’s a powerful piece.  Stevie knew this and refused to allow Motown to release it as an edited single, which would have watered down its potency and its surprising funkiness.  In the UK, in particular, there was a great demand for a single release and there is no doubt that it would have topped a chart.  A limp cover by white session singer David Parton almost did but eventually stalled at number 4 and even the ignominy of this did not get the original out as a single.  The Parton release seemed to be the latest (and perhaps one of the last) of a long line of tracks where a white artist would water down a black artist’s vision and achieve great success, a situation which had been occurring regularly since the dawn of popular music.  I’ve said elsewhere that editing could have done a lot for this album but I would not edit one single section of this track, there’s brilliant use of harmonica and even daughter Aisha playing in the bath.

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After the bluster and grandeur of “Isn’t She Lovely”, “Joy Inside My Tears” feels understated, a mature, graceful, atmospheric ballad which sort of creeps up on you.  “Black Man” is another history lesson as Stevie aims to redress the balance of traditional American history lessons by stressing the importance of the role of people of colour in the development of the USA.  “It’s time we learned the world was made for all men.”  Musically, the first section is a good paced funky track but however worthy the second half call and response catechism section where Stevie uses 43 voices of the Al Fann Theatrical Ensemble of Harlem to question and answer landmarks in the history of ethnic groups it does begin to grate on the listener.  Stevie is not usually as didactic as this and has been much better at getting a message across without compromising the musicality of the piece but this is more questionable here.

The simplicity of “Ngicuelela-Es Un Historia-I Am Singing” feels even more effective after the last track.  This is a quite lovely track sung in Zulu, Spanish and English and the high quality is maintained with “If It’s Magic” which beautifully and quite chillingly features just Stevie on vocals and harmonica and Dorothy Ashby on harp in probably the best ever use of this instrument in a pop song.  Extraordinary.

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“As”, the 4th single release brought out after the album had been around for a year unsurprisingly underperformed reaching number 36 in the US Top 40.  It is another one of those tracks that you get the message clearly long before it ends.  It’s a good track but for me had a new lease of life when turned into a 1999 duet between George Michael and Mary J Blige.  This is one of those rare occasions when a Wonder cover is better than the original.  Both turn out performances that rank up there amongst the best in their career and got a UK#4 hit.  Stevie’s version at over 7 minutes long pushes the song to the extreme.  This is also the case with the 8 minute plus track “Another Star” which in a slightly more edited form would have been one of the album’s highlights.  As it is, it starts to get on your nerves.  Motown did put out an edited version of this track as a single which got to #29 UK, 32 US.  In the edited version it is a thrilling salsa-influenced track with George Benson on guitar and backing vocals.  The whole thing gallops along at a fair old crack, but on the album version the repetition of the “la la la” chorus once again overeggs things.

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This is where the original double album ended and you had to fish around in the packaging to get to the bonus seven inch record.  I didn’t bother that often because it felt like these were tracks not considered to be good enough to be included on the album but here on the CD their importance has been reinstated.  In the mid 70’s we were all a little obsessed with things spacey, and Stevie ventures onto Earth Wind & Fire territory with “Saturn”.  This is a good quality pop track with fairly trite lyrics of a Saturnite returning to his planet because of disillusionment with the way the Earth is going.  It’s all rather grandiose, which because of that Wonder magic again escapes being pretentious and ends up being rather good.  Following that “Ebony Eyes” is a fun novelty-type song which reminds me a little of “Your Kiss Is Sweet” which Wonder co-wrote and produced for ex-wife Syreeta.  “All Day Sucker” has never really done it for me and is probably the weakest track on display and the whole thing is rounded off by “Easy Going Evening (My Mama’s Call) quite a mournful little harmonica-led instrumental.

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There is no doubt that this album represents Stevie Wonder at his creative peak and these 21 tracks have influenced many artists who followed Stevie into the charts at least over the next decade.  Prince said it was his all-time favourite album and artists such as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston have also been keen to stress its importance for them and much of the solo career of George Michael derives musically from this recording.  It is a great album but I did come to it a little late and this might be the reason why it is not actually my favourite of Stevie Wonder’s studio albums.  That would come a few years later.  It is an unrestrained slab of big dollops of genius which must have delighted the record company and re-established Stevie Wonder as one of the most important artist of the 1970s.

The video chosen comes from a 2009 concert in London where Stevie sung a medley of “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely”.  One of the backing singers is daughter Aisha, to whom the song is dedicated and who was making those baby gurgling noises on the track all those years ago.

 

Songs In The Key Of Life is currently available in the UK from Amazon for £6.99 and used from £2.66.  In the US it is available for $11.85 and used from $4.36.  In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify.

 

 

SS-GB – Len Deighton (1978) – A Running Man Review

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ssgb

It struck me whilst reading Deighton’s 1978 thriller how little British fiction I have read from the 1970’s.  Even for the (very small) part of the decade when I had moved on to adult fiction it was thrillers from an earlier era and American blockbusters that were fuelling my reading habit.  For some reason, contemporary British fiction did not appeal to me as a youngster and I haven’t really revisited the era to any great deal since.

I think this is largely due to the style of writing in vogue then.   Deighton’s 12th of the 26 novels he has published to date (the last being “Charity” in 1996) is admittedly a brilliantly realised alternative history.  Victory for the Nazis was an idea which cropped up from time to time in film and fiction since the end of the War.  Philip K Dick’s “Man In The High Castle” appeared in 1962 but the very British feel of Deighton’s novel would certainly have caused a stir on publication.  Small details have been thought out and worked through as if Deighton really inhabited this nightmarish world.  In his introduction he states;

“Using (the) German data I drew a chain of command showing the connections between the civilians and the puppet government, black-marketeers and quislings, and the occupying power with its security forces and bitterly competitive army and Waffen SS elements.”

This level of detail, research and projection as to what might have been is very effective.  I think, however, Deighton’s style of writing, typical for the time, has dated and led to me feeling somewhat let down by the reading experiences.  It’s all strangely clipped, like a lot of the fiction of the day geared towards a male audience I feel it should be read out of the corner of the mouth with a cigarette on.  I feel this way about, amongst others, Ian Fleming and Alastair Maclean so Deighton is in good company.  This style, developed from American “hard-boiled” crime writers and film noir doesn’t allow for the characters to really connect emotionally and that for me is one of the real joys of reading.  Main character Douglas Archer, a Scotland Yard Detective having to solve crimes in the new Nazi regime apparently has had a strong bond with colleague Harry Woods since Archer was a child when Woods was a father figure.  Now his mentor’s senior this relationship just seemed like it should really sizzle, but I didn’t feel any real connection between them.

When Archer decides he has fallen in love it was one of the biggest surprises of the novel as from the scenes with his loved one there didn’t seem to be anywhere near enough of a spark for this to happen.  What jars now is how understated it is all is.  There’s a big action centrepiece which crept up on me and I found myself having to re-read to see what happened.  In fact I did quite a lot of re-reading and what I missed what this real sense of feeling and emotions.  It was no doubt a sign of the times (of the 70’s as well as the 40’s).

I think we’ve just got used to brasher, noisier, more emotional adventure novels.  So I’m interested to see how this relates to the big-budget BBC five part adaptation which would have started by the time you are reading this.  That was the reason I wanted to get this book read first.  I’ll let you know what I think………………

threestars

SS-GB was published in 1978.  It is currently available as a Harper Collins paperback