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

images

 

Native New Yorker: Disco Classics (Camden 1997)

nnydisco

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.

nnydisco2

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.

nnydisco4.

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?

nnydisco5

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!

nnydisco6

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!

nnydisco7

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.

Advertisements

100 Essential CDs – Number 28- Funk Soul Anthems

images

Funk Soul Anthems (Sony/BMG 2005)

funksoulanthems

To be honest, this 44 track 2005 double CD set from the mighty Sony/BMG conglomerate is sloppily put together with errors in spelling, partial song titles, no sleeve notes, incorrect running order and one track which appears which is not even listed on the back cover. I’m not sure if they got round to putting it right on later pressings but I think it might have been the reason why I picked this up cheaply not long after its first issue and when it comes down to it it’s what in the grooves that count and here things are very impressive indeed with some real funk and soul classics. Most of the tracks date from the 80’s, five of the mainly earlier tracks do overlap with another of my essential recommendations “Disco Classics” but there’s plenty here which still sounds fresh 30+ years on. Spanning from 1972 to 1986 it contains four US chart-toppers, an impressive 25 UK Top 10 singles as well as some which have become funk/soul standards without breaking through commercially at the time.
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

CD 1

1.One Nation Under A Groove – Funkadelic (1978) (UK#9, US#28)
“So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it” is one of the many hooks in this sole hit from George Clinton’s Funkadelic. Clinton’s main group was Parliament, which went from being soul/doowop journeymen The Parliaments and by dropping that  “S” became the prime exponents of 1970’s space-age funk. They produced some great tracks (and some bonkers ones too) and were apparently incredible memorable live. There were US successes but over here they did not make the commercial breakthrough. Clinton was the mastermind behind other acts such as Parlet, The Brides Of Funkenstein and one of his proteges Bootsy Collins is also featured on this CD with a track which has become a funk classic without charting, Funkadelic were a more rock orientated, less commercial outfit than Parliament yet they were the act that made the showing in the UK Top 10 with this track. Albums such as “Maggot Brain”, “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow” and “America Eats Its Young” would not have screamed radio airplay in the 1970’s but this track proved irresistible and was the title track of an album many claim is the best all-time funk album. However, it is no surprise that album track “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)” did not follow it to the upper reaches of the pop charts. I always felt that if George Clinton, a maverick if ever there was one was able to rein in slightly the more hallucinogenic, cartoon and scatological elements in his output that Parliament and Funkadelic could have become absolutely massive.

funksoul1

2. Can You Feel It – The Jacksons (1981) (UK#6)
3. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1)

Perhaps the best use of handclaps ever in this song. The introduction made it instantly familiar and it’s no surprise that this debut hit made it to the top of the US pop charts in 1976 and began a great career for Rose Royce (a group, not a person). The title track of a small but charming film ex Motown producer Norman Whitfield proved there was life after The Temptations with his work with this group. I loved also the aching ballads which appeared on the “Carwash” soundtrack “I Wanna Get Next To You” and “I’m Goin’ Down” and although primarily a funk group Rose Royce did become known for their ballads with tracks like “Wishing On A Star” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” but that was because not many funk bands at the time were blessed with a vocalist as pure as Gwen Dickey.

funksoul2
4. Rockit- Herbie Hancock (1983) (UK#8)
5. Let The Music Play – Shannon (1983) (UK#14, US#8)

“He tried pretending a dance is just a dance but I see/He’s dancing his way back to me”.  Brenda Shannon Greene’s electro track, an early example of what came to be called freestyle,  sounded like a breath of fresh air in 1983 with its sinuating groove and lyrically it’s a cracker of a track.  There’s a really effective personification of love here who is resorted to for advice in a manner which would not have been out of place in a Shakespearean comedy.  Universal themes over a cooking arrangement and a good enough vocal performance looked like Shannon would be here to stay.  This was her only US hit but it did begin a run of three more UK hits in the 80’s which were not a patch on this and she had a revival in the 90’s when DJ’s looked for diva voices to front their tracks and scored chart hits with both Todd Terry and Sash!

funksoul3.jpg
6. I Can Make You Feel Good – Shalamar (1982) (UK#7) – Also on “Disco Classics
7. Word Up – Cameo (1986) (UK#3, US#6)

Cameo had been around some time before they made the commercial breakthrough which had been expected from them.  Larry Blackmon was the codpiece wearing mastermind behind this group which formed in the mid 70’s with 14 members.  Obviously, it was going to prove difficult to pay the bills., there was a lot of coming and going over the years, Wikipedia lists 33 members.  They should have made their big impression with “Find My Way” a great dance track which was included on the 1978 “Thank God It’s Friday” soundtrack.  By 1986 they had shrunk down to a trio and found themselves with UK chart success with “She’s Strange”.  “Word Up” with its spaghetti western funk feel and Blackmon’s snarling vocal performance gave them their first US hit and is probably their best ever track, certainly their most successful.  Bizarrely, in 1999 Mel B covered this song and got to number 14 in the charts without matching the joyfulness in the original’s performance and production.

funksoul4
8. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Indeep (1983) (UK#13)
9. Going Back To My Roots – Odyssey (1981) (UK#4)

In 1981 Odyssey decided to zip up their boots and score their fourth UK Top 10 hit.  This song which was written and originally recorded by Motown legend Lamont Dozier tapped into the fascination in black ancestry triggered by Alex Haley’s book and TV series “Roots” and this combined a thrilling disco track with African chants.  In the US at this time Disco had been officially declared dead which meant that many missed out on great tracks like this.  The trio which consisted of two sisters from the Virgin Islands Lillian and Louise Lopez (Lillian having a great distinct lead voice) and by this time Bill McEachern were one hit wonders in the US (but what a one hit, the sublime “Native New Yorker) but we certainly took to them in the UK.  A version of Odyssey still exists today based in the UK and led by the deceased Lillian’s son Steven Collazo and I’m sure this track would still go down a storm.

funksoul5
10. T.S.O.P – MFSB ft The Three Degrees (1974) (UK #22, US#1) – Also on “Disco Classics”
11. It’s Just Begun – Jimmy Castor Bunch (1972)
12. Oops Upside Your Head – The Gap Band (1980) (UK#6) – Also on “Disco Classics”
13. Stretchin’ Out (In A Rubber Band) – Bootsy Collins (1976)
14. Walking In Rhythm – Blackbyrds (1975) (UK#20, US#6)
15. Hi, How Ya Doin’ ? – Kenny G ft Kashif (1983)
16. Lowdown – Boz Scaggs (1976) (UK#28, US#3)
17. The Groove Line – Heatwave (1978) (UK#12, US#7)
18. Zoom – Fat Larry’s Band (1982) (UK#2)
19. Let’s Groove – Earth Wind & Fire (1981) (UK#3, US#3)
20. I Found Lovin’- The Fatback Band (1984) (UK#7)
21. Get Down On It – Kool & The Gang (1981) (UK#3, US#10)
22. Theme From “Shaft”- Isaac Hayes (1971) (UK#4, US#1) – Also on “Disco Classics”

CD2

1.Love Train – O’ Jays (1973) (UK#9,US#1)
2. Somebody Else’s Guy- Jocelyn Brown (1984) (UK#13)
3. Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn (1979) (US#12) – Also on “Disco Classics”
4. All Night Long – Mary Jane Girls (1983)(UK#13)
5. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye (1982) (UK#4, US#3)
6.Give Me The Reason – Luther Vandross (1986) (UK#24)

It always seemed to me that Luther Vandross never really in life or music moved too far out of his comfort zone.  There was a tendency to play it safe unlike the great male R&B singers of the past who were prepared to take risks.  But there was no denying that what Luther did he was amongst the very best at.  He knew the right formula for the big soul ballads, the party jams and the uptempo dance numbers.  He was an acknowledged soul legend before he broke through in any consistent way commercially and it was really his 1986 album from which this was the title track which pushed him into the superstar bracket.  This was the track the Epic label did not want to give up on and it was issued three times before it made #24 in the UK.  There were bigger hits from this album but I’ve always had a fondness for this song.  My ultimate favourite of his tracks is from his time as lead vocalist for the group Change with a song which was lyrically and musically edgier than much of his material “Searching”  but it is always good to hear this one.

funksoul6
7. Hold Me Tighter In The Rain – Billy Griffin (1983) (UK#17)

Billy came to prominence aged 20 when he took over lead vocals after Smokey Robinson left The Miracles and was the voice on one of their biggest hits “Love Machine”.  By 1983 he was going it alone and this was his only Top 40 hit.  It’s a great piece of pop disco with a great vocal performance.  Billy struggled to make much headway with his solo career after this, he relocated to the UK and became the first artist to be released on the Motorcity label which began a long-lasting connection with producer and songwriter Ian Levine who was instrumental in bringing ex-Motown stars back into the studio.  Griffin worked with Levine on early hits for The Pasadenas and Bad Boys Inc and was a co-producer on the first album by Take That.

funksoul7
8. Running Away – Roy Ayers (1977)
9. Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent – Gwen Guthrie (1986) (UK#5)
10. Twilight- Maze (1985)
11.I.O.U- Freeez (1982) (UK#2)
12. Lessons In Love – Level 42 (1986) (UK#3,US#12)
13. Make My Dreams A Reality– GQ (1979)
14. Expansions – Lonnie Liston Smith (1975)
15. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester (1978) (UK#8,US#36)*

This is the track which is not even listed on the back of the CD and it is always a surprise when Sylvester makes his flamboyant entrance.  US vocalist Sylvester James was probably a decade before his time.  An openly gay, gospel-voiced, high octane diva who was a real one off and this relentless tour-de-force of an electro track was arguably his best and his biggest UK hit.  In the US they preferred the almost equally excellent “Dance (Disco Heat) which was more of an ensemble piece with his back-up duo Two Tons O’Fun who went on to become The Weather Girls.  Sylvester made another couple of visits to the UK Top 40 and was the vocalist of choice for pioneer electro/Hi NRG producer Patrick Cowley.  There hasn’t been a definitive career retrospective of Sylvester’s music which shows his ease as a gospel-drenched disco performer and a great vocal artist on less frenetic material.  He did a great version of the pop standard “I (Who Have Nothing)”

funksoul8
16.Harvest For The World – Isley Brothers (1976) (UK#10)

Seventeen years after their first hit “Shout” the Isleys were back in the UK Top 10 with this message track which deals with global hunger the title track of their 4th studio album.  This is such a cool track with great vocals and real chunky use of percussion which gives this track a depth.  A higher chart placing was scored by The Christians with their cover version twelve years later but the Isleys’ original is certainly the one to seek out.

funksoul9
17. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell (1984)(UK#6, US#2)

If you’re the son of Motown supremo Berry Gordy surely chart success would seem inevitable, especially if you sign to your father’s record label.  But how about if you do this without your father even knowing, changing your name from Kenneth to Rockwell.  At least there would be no charges of nepotism there but how are you going to get a hit?  Well, Rockwell’s answer was to enlist Michael Jackson to help out with the vocals on this tale of 80’s paranoia, the lyrics of which seem very appropriate coming out of Jackson’s mouth.  That way you can score a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and much publicity when the ruse is uncovered.  But can you get a long-lasting career out of that? In Rockwell’s answer it was no.  He obviously liked dark themes as his only further Top 40 appearance in his homeland was with the #36 follow-up “Obscene Phone Caller” which I can say I’ve never heard.  This debut was made memorable by Jackson’s contribution as it his hook-lines which stay in the mind.
funksoul10
18. Solid- Ashford & Simpson (1985) (UK#3, US#12)
19. Mama Used To Say – Junior (1982) (UK#7, US#30)
20. Love Come Down – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1982) (UK#7, US#17)
21. Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen (1982) (UK#8, US#23)
22. What A Fool Believes – Aretha Franklin (1980) (UK#46)

The majority of these tracks certainly do deserve the anthemic status given to them by this release.  25 of them were bigger hits in the UK than in the US, which is unusual for an album which features predominantly American artists.  The UK never had that backlash against club music which happened in the US following the much publicised Death of Disco (Peter Shapiro is good on this) but by the early 80’s there were so many great radio-friendly club orientated tracks being produced that the US could no longer ignore its artists who were recording them.  Even British R&B influenced acts like Junior, Heatwave and Level 42 were making waves on the US charts.  This double CD is always a joy to listen to and even within the field of Soul and Funk showed what great variety of sounds was available to the listener.

Funk Soul Anthems is currently available from Amazon in the UK used from £2.72