Friday, February 24, 2006

Disco Delivery #8:
Cissy Houston - Think It Over (1978, Private Stock)

Cissy Houston - Think It Over
Cissy Houston - Somebody Should Have Told Me
Cissy Houston - Warning-Danger

In case anyone hasn't heard of Whitney Houston's latest fiasco, you can get all the lurid details at fourfour.. I thought things couldn't get any worse for her after those tabloid photos of her looking high-as-a kite at an Atlanta gas station; four in the morning, lopsided wig and everything. It looked like one of those MAD TV Debra Wilson-as-Whitney sketches come to life.. But alas, they just did. After hearing some audio of her latest "performance," my reaction was, to quote Nippy herself, "Hell-to-the no!"

While Mrs. Bobby Brown seems to be close to squandering her gift, this is probably no better time than any to put a little spotlight back on the original diva in the Houston houshold, her mother Cissy.. While her daughter's fame and recognition have since far eclipsed her own, she was and still is a highly respected name in the music industry. In a nutshell, as part of The Sweet Inspirations aside from releasing their own albums, had provided backing vocals for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke (among many others, mostly on the Atlantic label).. Cissy later went solo in the '70s and most notably cut the original version of "Midnight Train To Georgia" on the small Commonwealth United label. She'd recorded an album and subsequent singles for Janus Records (which took over the Commonwealth United label), but as excellent as many were, none of them would really make much impact. Meanwhile she had continued as a successful, prolific session singer during much of the '70s and in 1976 would cut an album with Jazz flutist Herbie Mann. Around this time she would come in contact with future producer Michael Zager. At the time Zager was part of a band called Ten Wheel Drive, for which Cissy was doing the vocal arrangements...

Zager, best known for his disco hit "Let's All Chant" by his Michael Zager Band project would later produce three albums for Cissy, two on the New York indie label Private Stock Records. The first album they did was 1977's self-titled "Cissy Houston" which was a straight, tear-jerking, heart-wrenching soul album, and a highly underrated one at that. The next album - "Think It Over" (1978, Private Stock) while, in my opinion, not as great as the previous, would be much more disco-oriented. "Think It Over," the title track and lead-off single was soulful disco at it's best. Whenever I hear someone equate "disco" with "soulless," this to me is one of those songs you can throw right back in their face. Personally speaking, "Think It Over" was probably one of the first disco songs that I loved. I remember first hearing it on one of my parents' 8-track (yes, those horrible things) disco compilations and wondering whether the "Cissy Houston" in the credits was, by chance, related to the Whitney Houston. The moment I heard that voice, I knew it. I remember really digging those punchy, sharp, dramatic horns; that commanding vocal presence with the sassiness and confidence of a strong woman that wasn't about to go quietly (sound familiar?).. There are those singers who cry when the man leaves, who cry after the man leaves, and then there are those who dare him to; it's those last women who, to me, usually make the best disco divas. There's just a real sense of drama and strength with that whole theme, the "you can go on and leave if you want to, but baby, you're gonna miss my lovin and I bet you will never find another woman like me" "love" song. Perhaps a theme that's been used up quite a bit now, but one when done right, can be so effective; just ask Gloria Gaynor...

Michael Zager had this to say, years later when talking about Cissy: "When she sings... she doesn't do too many takes in the studio. She never sings a song the same way twice, so getting a comp vocal [a full performance 'comped' from two or more vocal takes] can be difficult. [But] it's the way she feels the music. It comes from singing gospel. It's so emotional, and it translates. It's why every singer looks up to Cissy and idolizes her." (source) I think he sums it up pretty well when he talks about the emotion in her voice and it's effect.. While the family resemblance is there vocally, to me Cissy had a more subtle, but no less powerful style. I have to say these days, I enjoy many of Cissy's recordings because they were, in comparison to many today, unpretentiously soulful. Maybe one of these days Whitney should take the cue, if she still has it in her and go back to her roots and just do straight up, pure soul album, she's probably got nothing to lose at this point..

The songs I included here are the original versions from the first release of her "Think It Over" album, released on Private Stock. After the company went belly-up the album was reissued on Columbia with a different cover, and retitled "Warning-Danger." In addition, most of the songs were remixed and extended for the Columbia version; "Think It Over" went from six minutes to eight, "Somebody Should Have Told Me" from four to eight minutes, and "Warning-Danger" from over five minutes to over ten. She would also do a follow-up album in 1980 for Columbia, called "Step Aside for a Lady," which I haven't heard yet, but which seems to have picked up where this one left off, continuing in a similar disco direction. Unfortunately, as far as I know, none of those Columbia releases have made it to CD yet..





Anonymous said...

sorry this is annon again...i need to get a blog name. i was the one who asked you about the supremes and dallas cowboys cheerleader song...anyways..i love your blog. i was wondering if maybe we might see a "the emotions" post on here soon..they had some great stuff!

Tommy said...

Thanks anon..

The Emotions are now on my list! :)

mf said...

I love your blog. Great job ! Can't wait to see more....... (-_-)

Paul said...

Thanks for this post. While I always knew who Cissy was I had never heard any of her music. The production is tight on these three tracks. Her vocals are powerful and husky. I listened to all three tracks all weekend long! Thanks!

Tommy said...

Thanks mf! :)

Glad you liked 'em Paul! :)
In the future, for one of my non-disco posts, I'm going to post some of her soul efforts..

JMG said...

Another gem of a post, Tommy!

I remember hearing that Cissy had a daughter who was also going to be a singer and thinking: Oh, this might be interesting.

How little did I know.

Tommy said...

Thanks Joe! :)

lol, it's definitely gone beyond interesting lately...

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Whitney (as a young'un) sang back-up on this album. I could be wrong, but I seem to recall that...

Tommy said...

You're probably right, Enrique.. I've seen budget reissues of this album that give Whitney equal billing, so I'm sure she's on there somewhere..

Either way, I probably wouldn't be able to pick her out even if I listened closely.. Her voice is almost unrecognizable through the years. I recently heard her lead vocal on the Michael Zager Band's "Life Is A Party" and I was shocked to hear how nearly unrecognizable her voice was to me..

Anonymous said...

reupload, please :'(

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