Monday, May 22, 2006
Disco Delivery #20:
Hott City - Ain't Love Grand (1979, Butterfly/MCA)
Hott City - Feelin' Love
Hott City - If All We're Gonna Do Is Dance
Hott City - Ain't Love Grand
Hott City - I Took His Money
Hott City - Peaks And Valleys
Another slab of disco from the Motor City this week.. Produced by the production team of Jeffrey Parsons and Jeffrey Steinberg and released on the LA-based Butterfly label, this album is probably one of my favourite disco gems. So far, the more I hear from the Butterfly label, the more interested I get in their output. For sure, one of the ultimate disco boutique labels. Some of you who have been following this blog since January probably remember me posting "Feelin' Love" for my third or fourth post back then. It was only this week that I finally obtained the full album, so forgive me for repeating myself a little bit. Ever since I received it, I've been listening to it like crazy, so I just had to put it up..
Four of the five tracks on the album (all except "Peaks and Valleys") were released on 12" singles. From what I gather though, the 12" versions were the same length as the album versions. All of the tracks were stellar, but the opening track "Feelin' Love" is probably the crème de la crème of this album. An exquisite blend of sexy, slow-burning, synth arrangements shooting, pulsing and surrounding those smooth, soaring vocals courtesy of Detroit singer Sherry Fox. It's probably the most atmospheric track on the album, the others being a little more forward lyrically and otherwise.
Speaking of forward, the next song on side A, also sung by Sherry Fox, "If All We're Gonna Do Is Dance" is probably one of the more ironic tracks on the album. In fact much of the album is almost dripping in a kind of defiant ironic, even sarcastic tone to it. With the same exquisite arrangement, although more melodic than synthesized, it's a song about a woman who's tired of dancing while waiting for her man to make his move. After being convinced that her man is finally going to "make it right," she goes to his place only to find more of the same.. To which she says "..If all we're gonna go is dance.. I'm going home.." I guess I don't have to have to point out the irony in this one. For me, it's really all in the juxtaposition between the theme and the delivery. It's not often you hear a woman sing so elegantly and beautifully yet so forwardly about her making the moves on her man. Even beyond that, it could even be a little *nudge nudge*, *wink wink* to the listener. Gotta wonder, if her man won't make a move, won't respond to hers and can't seem to stop dancing, perhaps he may not be all that into women.. Just a thought. In a way, it's all very Vanity 6 meets Karen Carpenter, if you know what I mean..
Opening side B is the title track, "Ain't Love Grand." This one has a more aggressive synth arrangement, faster tempo and colder vocals (by Bluejay, whoever she is). All of that, along with those lyrics, none of which seem to have anything loving in them.. "Hey.. Ain't love grand, one night stands, no demands.. Date me, rape me, crape(?) me, ain't love grand.. Bait me, mate me, hate me, ain't love grand.. Blind me, bind me, don't re-mind me, ain't love grand.."
Continuing in the same vein is "I Took His Money," this time with vocals by Ortheia Barnes and Mildred Vaney. A song that seems to be about a couple of women dabbling in and justifying a little bit desperate prostitution.. "I.. took his money.. he.. took my love... I needed money, he needed love.. " After which, one of the singers admits, "..sometimes you have to be dishonest, to make it through this life.." which seems put the ladies' whole idea of "love" under question. Kind of ironic, since really, exchanging money for sex pretty much cancels out any possibility or idea of "love". Which is perhaps one reason why the song wasn't called "He Took My Love" instead..
The next song, "Peaks and Valleys," is one that's slightly more positive and less sarcastic/ironic than the last few. Also with Ortheia and Mildred on vocals, the ladies document the ups and downs of their week, with the ever reliable relief of a Saturday night at the disco.. "Monday I got fired, Tuesday I got lucky, Wednesday someone broke in my car.. Thursday I got a new job, Friday I got evicted, Saturday night I dance like a star.." This song quite a fitting album closer and, in a way, sums up the ethos of disco quite nicely in the next lines: "..As long as I can dance, the valleys aren't so bad.. and when I'm old and grey there'll be good times, good times ahead..." Much like the Saturday nights at the end of a hard week, there's always the hope and the reminder of those good times to keep us going. That one day it'll all pay off and there'll be something better to look forward to.. "Up here.. down there.. peaks and valleys.. life is never smooth"..
One other thing that I love about this album is that decadent album cover, which looks glamorous, despite being shot either in someone's kitchen or greasy spoon cafe.. What looks like two lipstick lesbians, one standing up, the other up on the table, both sharing a drink. Right next to them, an elegantly dressed woman nonchalantly showing off her ring to what seems to be a bartender.. I wonder what, if anything, it's all supposed to say about the concept of the LP.
For whatever reason, this project was originally called Graffiti, with the first singles being released under that name. I guess the name change was done so as not to be confused with another group of the same name. The only other Parsons/Steinberg disco production that I know of were a couple of 12" singles they did (which I have yet to hear) for the 20th Century label under the moniker Cut Glass. The most well known of which was "Without Your Love" peaking in the top 20 of the disco charts in 1980. Overall, Hott City and Cut Glass aside, the two Jeffreys are something of an obscure duo. There's very little record of anything they did together or individually before (or at least in Parsons' case) after these two disco ventures. Although I have come across some information on a Jeff Steinberg who once worked for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Not sure if it is the same person as the one on this record, but his bio mentions that he has been in the industry for some thirty plus years and has worked in a variety of different genres. Unfortunately though, his official site (www.jeffsteinberg.com) says nothing of this record, so again, not 100% sure if it's the same guy.
One of the vocalists on the album, Sherry Fox seems to have been a fairly well known Detroit singer, most notably a part of the group RJ Fox. Fox would also appear as a backing vocalist on Aretha Franklin's rather dire 1991 album "What You See Is What You Sweat" among other things. Two of the other vocalists on this album, Ortheia Barnes and Mildred Vaney were also the vocalists on the Cut Glass project as well. Ortheia Barnes (now known as Ortheia Barnes-Kennedy), sister of soul singer J.J. Barnes is also a very well known singer in the Detroit area, having even been called one of the city's most beloved singers. Barnes would also appear as a vocalist on a few Aretha albums, namely "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" (1987, Arista) and her self-titled 1980 album. In 1985 she would release her one and only LP titled "Person to Person," (1985, Michigan Sattelite) with the single "Green-Eyed Monster." Later Barnes would establish her own non-denominational, non-traditional ministry in Detroit to help the homeless and those recovering from addiction. More recently in 2005 she would even make a run for Detroit City Council.
Prior to recording as Hott City and Cut Glass, Mildred Vaney, was most notably a member of a group called Quiet Elegance along with Lois Reeves (sister of Martha Reeves) and Yvonne Gearing. Quiet Elegance were quite an interesting group, recording for the Memphis Hi label and having been managed by The Temptations. Despite that though, their careers as recording artists never really took off like their performing careers. While they were active, they would tour with the likes of The Temptations, Al Green, and Tom Jones among others.. In the '80s after her disco work, Mildred Vaney would record as Millie Scott (sometimes credited as Mildred Scott) and would even do a couple of albums for the 4th & Broadway/Island label. Her first album, "Love Me Right" (1987, 4th & Broadway/Island) contained the top 20 R&B hit "Every Little Bit," which would be followed up three years later by a second LP "I Can Make It Good For You" (1990, Island). More recently she has also been one of Aretha Franklin's regular backup singers, both live and on her most recent record "So Damn Happy" (2003, Arista) as well as on some of the Four Tops' recent recordings.
Anyway, round of applause for you if you've still reading this.. In other things, I added three new music blog links: la Fin del Mundo, Plasticmusic and Rockcritics daily. Ender at la Fin del Mundo recently put up the Spanish version of Tantra's "Hills of Katmandu," which I hadn't heard until then.. So to any of you who liked the original and who haven't heard the Spanish version, go get it while it's hot!..
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
FROM 1979, WITH LOVE... (JANUARY 11, 2006)
HOTT CITY - AIN'T LOVE GRAND LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
HOTT CITY - FEELIN' LOVE 12" @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
HOTT CITY - I TOOK HIS MONEY 12" @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
HOTT CITY @ DISCOGS
CUT GLASS (MILDRED VANEY & ORTHEIA BARNES) @ DISCOMUSEUM.COM
ORTHEIA BARNES: DETROIT'S OTHER DIVA DETROIT FREE PRESS (APRIL 19, 1987)
CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES