Monday, May 15, 2006

Disco Delivery #19:
The Mike Theodore Orchestra - High On Mad Mountain (1979, Westbound/Atlantic)

High On Mad Mountain (front cover) High On Mad Mountain (back cover)

The Mike Theodore Orchestra - High On Mad Mountain | LINK TWO
The Mike Theodore Orchestra - Disco People | LINK TWO
The Mike Theodore Orchestra - Dragons Of Midnight | LINK TWO


Truth be told, I was planning to put up the Patrick Adams Presents Phreek album today, but when I played it, I realised my album was way too dirty and noisy to rip.. I really hope to put that one up some other time, just not until I find a way to give the record a good cleaning though..

With that little dilemma, I had to find something else that grabbed me enough to replace it, and this was it. So far this is my first orchestra posting and of all the disco orchestras I've come across, this one of my favourites. The Salsoul Orchestra was probably the most prominent and well known disco orchestra, but aside from them, studio groups calling themselves "orchestras" were a dime a dozen. Naming yourself an "orchestra" was at times an easy way to give an anonymous assemblage of studio musicians a level of grandeur, but there many during the disco era who were quite true to the term. While, in all cases, these "orchestras" were basically ensembles of studio musicians that rarely toured, many often had that characteristic "big" sound with large numbers of musicians (and specialized musicians) involved in the recording. This one in particular had at least fifty musicians involved, including a large string, horn and wind sections, not to mention the vocal chorus, percussion players and so on..

The producer behind this project, Mike Theodore was a Detroit-based producer/arranger who had worked quite frequently with another prominent Detroit musician, Dennis Coffey (best known for his classic track "Scorpio"). Together they would become one of the most prolific production teams out of Detroit during this time. Starting their partnership in the late '60s they would, among others, produce various acts largely for the Sussex and later the Westbound labels in the 70s. One of their biggest successes during the disco era was "Devil's Gun," (1978, Westbound) a classic disco hit for the group C.J. & Co. (of whom a couple of members appear on this record). Aside from that they would also produce records for the likes of King Errisson and the Tempest Trio during this time. In the late '70s, along with their work together they would branch out into their own solo productions. Coffey would release his own Dennis Coffey Band LP called "A Sweet Taste of Sin," (1978, Westbound) and Theodore would do two albums as The Mike Theodore Orchestra, the first being "Cosmic Wind" (1977, Westbound) spawning the disco hit "The Bull" and this album, "High On Mad Mountain" following in 1979.

True to the "orchestra" moniker, the album has that big, grand sound throughout. Full of funky, meaty guitars along with sweeping, graceful strings and punctuated drums and percussion. There are even some light synths in places to add that little bit of atmosphere. The incredible arrangements and musicianship involved in a record like this one is one of the things which astounds me about the disco era. Never again (or at least not since), at least in dance music, would there be productions with this level of careful detail and diversity. While there's something to be said for the emergence of electronic disco and some of the more laid-back, minimal productions from the likes of Chic, you can't help but admire the effort that went into orchestra-style productions such as this one. Alec R. Costandinos was one of those who championed the art of orchestral disco. While the European sensibility and conceptual works of Costandinos were completely different to the more American, rhythmic, even funk influenced sound of this album; his sound and that of this album could, in some ways, be put in a similar category. Both had high levels of musicianship for starters as well as grand, powerful, intricate orchestral production values/arrangements. In other words, both great examples, albeit in different ways, of an orchestral disco sound.

Aside from "Disco People," "Dragons of Midnight" and the title track both had a dark, ominous even aggressive sound to them, with deep punctuated horns and clouded, distorted vocal effects.. "High On Mad Mountain" is a particularly escapist track, with lyrics about "..freaky scenes of pure delight" and flying into "..a night of fantasy.." complete with blissful buildups and wild synth workouts. "Disco People" is slightly less dark than the other two, with somewhat livelier vocals and a somewhat playful arrangement to it. "Disco People" later segues into the album closer "Dragons of Midnight" with goes back into darker territory with those aggressive horns and a chanting, growling vocal chorus (which may either be menacing or somewhat hilarious, or both). All of the cuts on the album would end up peaking at #23 on the Billboard disco chart..

After the disco era, Mike Theodore would continue as a producer and also as an engineer on records such as Freeez's "Gonna Get You" LP (1983, Beggars Banquet) and the group Unlimited Touch as well as some other records like "Jungle Love" by Westside and "Hellfire" under his own name - both tracks mixed by Morales/Munzibai. This album along with the first Mike Theodore Orchestra album were put on a 2 LPs on 1 CD set by Ace Records (Westbound's UK licencees) in the '90s, which so far is still in print. I don't have that one quite yet, but I hope to soon. I'll probably review it on here when I do get it.

PURCHASE:
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - COSMIC WIND/HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN CD @ CDUNIVERSE.COM
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - COSMIC WIND/HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN CD @ AMAZON.COM

LINKS:
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - COSMIC WIND/HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN CD @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN/DISCO PEOPLE 12" @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
THE MIKE THEODORE & DENNIS COFFEY @ DISCOMUSEUM.COM
THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA @ DISCOGS
MIKE THEODORE @ DISCOGS


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, PAST REISSUES

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your post on Disco Orchestras. I've often seen the Mike Theodore album and wondered what it was like. Thanks for all the research and info

Tommy said...

Thanks anon :)

Robert Drake said...

the best element of disco orchestras was the female harmony ...which usually is done on sharp and flat notes ... just a bit off the norm to create that build up ... Mad Mountain has one of the best uses of that trick... love the post!!!

Joe.My.God. said...

Hey was this some sychronicity or what? I just did a post on Disco Orchestras! I need to check in here more frequently! :)

Tommy said...

Thanks Robert :) Good point about the sharp and flat notes.. I really need to brush up on my music theory one of these days..

Great seeing you here again Joe! :) Thanks for the heads up on your orchestra post! I totally missed it earlier.. Thanks for posting "The Bull." Love that track!

Anonymous said...

A bit late for this one, but this album was, and still is ,in some way, one of my top 10 albums of all time.

Johnny

JohnFisher said...

Mike Theodore's ventures from the 1970's had fascinating orchestration. It sounds similar to that of the THP Orchestra, with the brass-section swoops and note bending. Do you know if they shared many of the same musicians?

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