Nights In Heaven (Sony 1995)
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.