Disco Classics (Sony 2005)
Now, you’ve seen what has come before so it can be no surprise that there is going to be more than a little smattering of disco compilations in my Essential CD List. The uplift I get from listening to disco music hasn’t dampened any since these tracks featured in the charts. I’ve gone here for a double CD 34 tracker which has a mixture of the obvious and expected to the more unusual which makes it a great choice as far as I am concerned. It’s a pretty broad collection featuring four UK and 6 US chart-toppers and chronologically spans from well before the disco era with 1968 uptempo funk by the pioneering Sly & The Family Stone to a Megamix of Earth Wind and Fire’s greatest which dated from 1989 and features a whistle-stop tour through “September”, “Let’s Groove”, “Rock That”, and a twice-featured “Boogie Wonderland” with as much conviction as a late 80’s megamix could have. Mid 80’s sophisticated uptempo groove “Midas Touch” is hardly disco but would work well in a club setting and The Buggles UK chart-topper is an odd way to round off the selection but there are enough tracks here that fulfil the brief very nicely and can be considered “disco classics”. This CD was released in Germany and has the look of a Hed Kandi compilation which would have been popular at the time. I have no idea how I acquired it but it has been played regularly since I did so. On Amazon some reviewers have attacked this for being “live re-recordings” but it’s not, it’s the original tracks.
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
1.No Doubt About It – Hot Chocolate (1980) (UK#2)
Throughout the 70’s it seemed like the voice of Errol Brown was always on the radio notching up a string of UK hits. The RAK label they recorded on wasn’t the coolest around but was one of the most successful UK labels with Mud, Suzi Quatro, Kenny and Smokie all doing very well for label owner Mickie Most. As a result Hot Chocolate were seen as a more pop band than they actually were and perhaps were not always given the credit they deserved. 1975 hit “Emma” was an anguished soul track about a suicide, “You Sexy Thing” gave them a Top 3 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1975 at the midst of Disco Fever, but best of all is this 1980 track which became their 18th Top 40 hit in 1980 which dealt with UFOs and had a great singalong chorus.
2. Let The Music Play – Barry White (1975) (UK#5, US#32)
3. Rock Your Baby – George McCrae (1974) (UK#1, US#1)
And this arguably, was where the Disco Era began during the summer of 1974 when debut hitmaker George McCrae topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s rather sparse, almost minimalistic compared to what would come after but it introduced the shuffling Miami sound which would go on to feature in many more hits. McCrae himself, blessed with a thrilling falsetto only had one more US Top 40 hit but we rather took to him in the UK giving him another 6 Top 40 hits over the next couple of years, my favourite of which “It’s Been So Long” made it to number 4. George also featured his voice to great effect in 1974 in the debut hit “Queen Of Clubs” the first hit for label-mates KC & The Sunshine Band (who also features on this CD with their late in the day 1983 UK#1) who wrote and produce George’s chart-topper and who themselves would go on to have a more successful career than George. Now aged 74, George is still going strong and in good voice. And all this happened because his then wife, Gwen, who “Rock Your Baby” was written for was late for the recording session!
4. Boogie Wonderland –Earth Wind & Fire with The Emotions (1979) (UK#4,US#6)
5. Pick Up The Pieces – Average White Band (1975) (UK#6, US#1)
6. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry (1976) (UK#7, US#1)
7. Vertigo/Relight My Fire – Dan Hartman & Loleatta Holloway (1978)
One of the few tracks on the album that was not a hit although a cover version in 1993 topped the chart for Take That and Lulu. This is a real epic of a track presented here, thankfully, in its 9 minute version with it’s brilliant orchestral build-up “Vertigo” into Dan’s light voice singing “Relight My Fire” then bam! it’s only Loleatta Holloway tearing into the track. Nine minutes and not a second feels wasted (hard to say that about a lot of extended disco tracks). Dan is also on this compilation with his better known but not as good “Instant Replay”, which with his mammoth “Countdown/This Is It” represented three classic disco tracks. As a song-writer he penned one of James Browns’ biggest hits “Living In America” and for Loleatta, who features here, “Love Sensation” which became the blueprint for one of the biggest tracks of the 80s, “Ride On Time”.
8.Last Train To London – Electric Light Orchestra (1979) (UK#8, US#39)
This is a track that I didn’t especially appreciate at the time. I did quite like ELO, especially “Mr Blue Sky” and “The Diary Of Horace Wimp” which seemed to be pointing back to the 1960’s. This, however, saw them embracing disco and at the time it felt a little like bandwagon-jumping. However, the passing of the decades has been very good to this and it sounds like the creative tour-de-force that it is. There’s a sense of urgency about this last train which is very appealing.
9. T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia)– MFSB ft The Three Degrees (1974) (UK#22,US#1)
10. Boogie Nights- Heatwave (1977) (UK#2, US#2)
11. Blame It On The Boogie – Jacksons (1978) (UK#8)
12. Midas Touch – Midnight Star (1986) (UK#8)
13. I Can Make You Feel Good – Shalamar (1982) (UK#7)
14. Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn (1979) (US#12)
Truly a disco classic and I knew it was back in 1979 when it was one of the first twelve-inch singles that I purchased. It feels like an Earth Wind and Fire/Emotions track with its spiky touches. This is another track which has stood the test of time, kicks off with a great intro and never lets up. Cheryl puts in a great vocal here but she was actually an exceptional vocalist with a huge range as tracks like “Star Love”, which became a follow-up single and “Come In From The Rain” from the debut album attested. In later years the material was not as strong and she faded from view without reaching the Top 40 again.
15. Give It Up – KC & The Sunshine Band (1983) (UK#1, US#18)
16. Theme From “Shaft”- Isaac Hayes (1971) (UK#4, US#1)
1.I Feel Love – Donna Summer (1977) (UK#1, US#6)
2. Nights (Feel Like Getting’ Down) – Billy Ocean (1981)
3. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel –Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15)
The five piece Tavares brothers are up there with the all-time great family groups as far as I am concerned. They had been making inroads in the US singles chart for three years before this grandiose slab of pop disco including a US Top 10 placing for “It Only Takes A Minute” (later covered by Take That in the UK). On single release it was split into two parts but the full album version is what is on offer here and it is great. The lyrics may be cheesy (but not as cheesy as they would get with “Whodunnit”) but it’s all done with such conviction from producer Freddie Perren that it turns out a gem. Also on their album “Sky High” produced by Perren was the almost as good “Don’t Take Away The Music”. The Tavares’ association with disco was permanently cemented by the inclusion of the Bee Gees’ song “More Than A Woman” on “Saturday Night Fever” but their music encompassed slick R&B and commercial soul music. A remixed version by Ben Liebrand took this song back to the UK charts in 1985 when it reached number 12.
4. Dance To The Music – Sly & The Family Stone (1968) (UK#7, US#8)
5. Best Of My Love – The Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1)
6. Instant Replay – Dan Hartman (1978) (UK#8, US#29)
7. Oops Upside Your Head – The Gap Band (1980) (UK#6)
8. Lady Marmalade – Labelle (1975) (UK#17, US#1)*
In 1975 futuristic space-age funk hit the mainstream. True it was more in the visuals and image than the sound as girl group Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles made the transition on the advice of Dusty Springfield’s manager Vicki Wickham to don elaborate costumes using what looks now like vast amounts of tin foil. The music was a kind of dirty gospel with the girls giving absolutely everything (sometimes too much!). It worked best of all on this tale of a New Orleans prostitute encouraging men to abandon “their grey flannel life” with the song’s hook “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi”. How our knowledge of French improved overnight in 1975! The US were impressed as it topped the charts, as it did in Canada and the Netherlands. The song, written by Bob Crewe (best known for his work with The Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan has been covered many times, including a version in 2001 from “The Moulin Rogue” Soundtrack which wasn’t a patch on the original but topped both the US and UK charts for Christina Aguliera, Lil Kim, Mya and Pink.
9. I’m On Fire – 5000 Volts (1975) (UK#4, US#26) *
Sounding like Los Bravos’ “Black Is Black” this introduced us to the (uncredited) voice of Tina Charles, who would become one of the leading lights of the British Disco Scene with her worldwide hit and UK#1 “I Love To Love”. Here, she was a session singer brought in to front the track whilst another girl Luan Peters was used promotionally. Tina’s vocal is appropriately blistering and it unsurprisingly became a UK Top 5 hit and made the US Top 30. The success of this probably led to the more explicit discofication of “Black Is Black” by French girl group La Belle Epoque which became a huge European hit in 1977 (and a UK#2) and French disco legend Cerrone including a version on his 1976 debut album. 5000 Volts carried on without Tina Charles and scored another very worthwhile hit with the slightly menacing disco track “Dr Kiss Kiss”.
10. Can You Feel The Force – The Real Thing (1979) (UK#5)
11. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Santa Esmeralda (1977) (UK#41, US#15)
12. One For You One For Me – La Bionda (1979)
13. Megamix – Earth Wind & Fire (1989)
14. Queen Of Chinatown – Amanda Lear (1977)
You couldn’t make Amanda Lear up. Statuesque blonde model of questionable age and heritage (Wikipedia places her date of birth as sometime between 1939 and 1950!), muse to Salvador Dali, girlfriend of Brian Ferry which led to her appearance on iconic Roxy Music album covers. She ditched Ferry for David Bowie whilst rumours of her emerged that she was a vampire from Transylvania and actually a man called Alain Tap. She posed naked in “Playboy” to dispel such stories and launched a pop career with her drawling Marlene Dietrich style vocals. Sounds like a fame-hungry flash-in-the-pan right? Well, her singing was an acquired taste but Europe lapped it up and to date there have been 27 albums, the last released in 2016, with her not altering her style a great deal. No Madonna like reinvention for her- she had all the reinvention one could need at the beginning of her career. Amanda Lear has just drawled her way sales of over 27 million. Still a big star of European television, in the US and UK we might just wonder why. A real-one off, in the way that Grace Jones is a one-off who lit up the discos and gossip columns. Lear’s most critically acclaimed recording was the album “Sweet Revenge” from 1978 which Jussi Kantonen and Alan Jones in their survey of disco “Saturday Night Forever” (1999) describe as “a Faustian fable enlivened by one of the most fabulous orchestral disco productions the entire era had to offer.” I personally have always preferred her vampire tale “Blood and Honey”. The track here is some nonsense about a woman running an opium den which was a very big hit in Germany and like all of Amanda Lear tracks need to be heard to be believed.
15. Love Really Hurts Without You – Billy Ocean (1976) (UK#2, US#22)
A hugely likeable slab of pop soul which launched Billy’s career becoming his debut hit on both sides of the Atlantic. There were a run of similar tracks including my favourite of all of his songs “Red Light Spells Danger” and then a commercially lean period of some seven years (the other Ocean track on this CD is from this era and is fairly forgettable) before hitting big and re-emerging as one of the biggest stars of the mid 80’s off the back of his Grammy award winning “Caribbean Queen”. This track will always be a huge crowd-pleaser every time Ocean performs live.
16. Video Killed The Radio Star – Buggles (1979) (UK#1, US#40)
Disco Classics is currently available from Amazon in the UK from £9.97 and used from £3.98. Make sure that it is this version you are purchasing as some reviewers seem confused and seem to be reviewing a different CD. Most of these tracks can be found on other disco compilations.