Friday, March 17, 2006

Disco Delivery #11:
Phylicia Allen - Josephine Superstar (1978, Casablanca)

Side One Medley: St Louis, Broadway, Star Of Paris
Around The World
Side Two Medley: J'ai deux amours, Josephine Superstar

If you have an aversion to all things camp, you might want to skip today's entry. Then again if you did, you probably wouldn't be looking at a disco music blog..

In case you're wondering, yes that is in fact Mrs. Huxtable AKA Tony Award winner Phylicia Allen Bowles Willis Rashad imitating one of Josephine Baker's iconic images on the cover. Essentially this album - "Josephine Superstar" (a play on "Jesus Christ Superstar" perhaps?) is a kind of truly over-the-top, broadway style, discofied musical tribute to Josephine Baker herself.. Was Ms. Baker turning in her grave? I'll let you be the judge..

Mind you, I'm not sure what they were thinking when they decided to do this album. Looking at it now, I don't think something like this would stand a chance of being released today. It's about as likely as, say, a hip-hop tribute to Nat 'King' Cole, if you will. Perhaps they were trying to pitch this as an actual musical but decided to make an album first, similar to how Evita came about (thanks to JungleRed for this tidbit).. Whatever the case, it was a moment of camp genius from the mind of Jacques Morali. Equating Morali with camp is perhaps a tad redundant, but this is easily the campiest thing he's ever produced, and that's really saying a lot.

Jacques Morali, as you may already know, was the producer and brainchild behind such groups as the Village People and The Ritchie Family. Phylicia was married to Village People member Victor Willis at the time this album was made, which was perhaps what brought her to Morali's attention. The album starts off quite dignified, with Allen speaking softly and sincerely about the honor of paying tribute to "the first black female international star," within a few seconds it all descends into some serious fromage.. Instead of covering Josephine's songs disco style, which is perhaps what one might expect, they decided to throw any pretense out the window and do an original narrative of her life sung mostly in first person.. Starting with side one chronicling her life in disco medley style, from her beginnings in "St. Louis," to "Broadway" to becoming the "Star of Paris." Side one ends with the rousing "Around The World," which is, you guessed it, a discofied chronicle and travelogue of her international fame.. They do manage to cover at least one of Josephine's original hits though; side two begins with an excellent disco version of her hit "J'ai deux amours," followed by the title track "Josephine Superstar," which mostly consists of the backup vocalists chanting "Josephine.. Superstar! She's the star of the stars!" At one point Phylicia replies, in true 70's fashion "She's a mighty mighty mighty foxy lady!" Yes, indeed she was Phylicia, indeed she was... The story draws to a close with the Diana Ross-esque "Colors" and "Don't Cry Mommy," complete with fake sobbing and a children's choir.

Just in case the lyrics themselves weren't literal enough, on the back cover they even wrote a little bit about the songs and what they mean.. Check it out for yourselves.

Gotta thank Chicago Sexbox for prompting me to pull this album out again. To be honest I really do enjoy this album, for sure one of my (very) guilty pleasures. I'm not sure how this compares to, say, the Ethel Merman Disco Album, but I'm guessing it's pretty damn close. I remember reading recently on the message boards about an interviewer who once asked Ms. Rashad about this album. You'd probably expect her to be a bit embarrassed and to maybe shrug it off, but instead she outright denied it's existence (or at least denied that she'd actually done it) and promptly ended the interview. Can you say "diva"? Somehow I imagine this album won't be on Ms. Rashad's CV anytime soon..

A little bit of trivia: both the Village People and the Ritchie Family do the backing vocals on this album..




Eric Henderson said...

omg, those eyes on the front cover will be in my nightmares tonight!

Tommy said...

lol yeah those eyes on the front cover are freaky! I guess It only adds to the outrageousness of this whole LP..

Anonymous said...

This album is fabulous, although my opinion of depends on how inebriated I am at the time of assessment. :0)

The first 30 seconds of "Two Loves Have I" alone are worth the price of admission.

Tommy said...

"This album is fabulous, although my opinion of depends on how inebriated I am at the time of assessment. :0)"


I love that buildup at the beginning of "Two Loves Have I" as well.. I also love the way she seems to growl through "St. Louis".. "the place where I was borrrrrrn a little girrrrrl.. haaaaaaaaaaahh!" :D

Anonymous said...

The woman has always come off as an insufferable, pompous twit in real life, so I'm not surprised she denies ever making this ablum (if I were her, I'd try to deny being Debbie Allen's sister instead).

In theory, this project wasn't such a daft idea - Evita had a similar genesis - and she definitely throws herself into it. Someone like Grace Jones though could've taken it to another level of fabulousness.

Tommy said...

I didn't know that about Evita! You're right, it probably did seem like a good idea in light of that.. It's too bad she has no desire to revisit this album. It would be nice to hear her take about how and why the album came about..

With how amazing her take on "La vie en rose" was, I totally agree about Grace! Which reminds me, I need to add her new compilation to the releases list..

DJ Fruit Loops said...

i would agree about Grace except for one lil thing
that really really bad browdway medley on her first album

Kosher Kate said...

Hey guys,

Any idea where I can order a CD recording of Josephine Superstar?

Any websites offering recordings of music which never made it to CDs from '70s?

From London UK here :)

OdDio said...

FYI, the hip hop tribute to Nat King Cole has arrived.

A Man and A Mouse said...

Diana Ross was doing Josephine Baker before Can't Stop The Music time period. Check out An Evening With Diana Ross from 1977. It was also a TV special; she portrayed Baker, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. My guess though is that Ross would have NOTHING to do with Josephine Superstar. She wanted another Lady Sings The Blues - not another Mahogany (not that there's anything wrong with it).

Saint Louis sounds like San Francisco from VP album

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