Thursday, February 08, 2007

Disco Delivery #34:
Unyque - Makes Me Higher... (1979, DJM)

Unyque - Keep On Making Me High
Unyque - Party Down
Unyque - It's Hot
Unyque - Disco Lullaby
Unyque - Grand Slam

A little something on the lighter side this week courtesy of producers Freida Nerangis and Britt Britton (AKA Vernon Britton).

Nerangis and Britton were, most notably, behind most of the albums by the Crown Heights Affair (as their producers, and apparently their managers). Aside from Crown Heights Affair, Nerangis and Britton were also behind a couple of one-off projects, namely Made in U.S.A. and this album.

Released 1979 on the American arm of big-time music publisher Dick James' DJM Records label, the sound on this project is, quite appropriately, significantly different from their work with Crown Heights Affair and on the Made in U.S.A. album.. Taking the essence of their style and kicking up the disco quotient a few notches, "Makes Me Higher..." is nothing more and nothing less than a straightforward, richly produced, high-energy disco album. That's not to say that it necessarily bears a direct resemblance to the sharp, electronic pulse of early '80s Hi-NRG, yet pretty much all the tracks, compared to their previous work, have a faster, heavier, propulsive, dare-you-not-to-dance groove to it. All of the elements on the album seemingly working together in beat-by-beat unison towards a single goal: to get you up on the dancefloor, partying down, getting high on the music (and perhaps other things as well). In that way it differs somewhat from the big-band disco-funk groove of, say, their production on Crown Heights Affair's "Dreaming A Dream," or tracks like "Melodies" and "Never Gonna Let You Go," by Made in U.S.A., all of which seem to have a lighter, more easy-going groove to them. In addition to the tempo, and perhaps the more streamlined backing tracks, the lyrics on the album are never one to get in the way of the overall guiding purpose either. They are, to paraphrase Grace Jones, slaves to the rhythm, for the most part. It's that sort of thing which often makes the lyrics on this and other disco albums easy targets for rock critics. Take those countdown lyrics on "It's Hot," and "Grand Slam," which, particularly in the former, seem to resemble nursery rhymes put to a beat.. Less of a singers' showcase and more of a key layer of rhythmic vocal accompaniment, if nothing else. Putting aside any rockist tendencies however, that's not to say they are in any way awful. A bit on the clichéd side perhaps, but nevertheless, they serve their purpose well, doing their dancefloor duty like nothing else.

The most arresting track on the album is, quite appropriately, the opener "Keep On Making Me High," with those uplifting vocals, hypnotic handclaps lead by that irresistable piano-guitar-horn combo. Those vocals, along with the horns are probably the key uplifting element in all this, especially when the vocals hit that peak verse: "...and when I get it going...I'm gonna reach the sky.." Just the way the vocals gradually phase out after that verse, the best way I can describe the effect, is like a kind of hypnotic disco trance.. That relentless tempo, those sublime vocals, bright horns and sharp, spellbinding guitar all conspiring to seduce the listener to it's groove.. Literally taking the listener along, climbing high with the music. Topping it all off, there's also that great flamenco style break towards the end. The idea of it probably seems harsh and abrupt, but the result is actually beautifully surprising. It's like the tracks' culmination into a kind of lavish, twirling, exotic disco dream sequence, if you will..

The review of the album on mentions that "Keep On Making Me High" appears to be influenced a great deal by Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Shame" (minus the drama, of course). For whatever reason, I never really connected the dots until after listening to the two tracks back to back, but the combination of those piano chord progressions in certain places and that bold brass sound are probably the first things that strike me as similar.. It's most likely those similarities which might explain why, at first listen, "..Making Me High" manages to sound so appealing, yet so oddly familiar at the same time..

The other two tracks on side one pretty much pick up where "Keep On Making Me High" left off, never letting up on the groove, continuing that relentless dancefloor pace. "Party Down," is perhaps the other major standout on the A-side, especially with that sharp, infectious guitar work right up front, along with that galloping percussion and ever present horn section propelling things along. While "..Making Me High" was elevation, "Party Down" is just pure and simple, straight-ahead, full-tilt boogie.. The peak point is probably towards the end (or at least three-quarters of the way through) where one section starts off with that guitar refrain, followed by that wild synth effect (sounding like a kind of like a processed funk guitar), then followed by the horns and then all three together. A perfect breakdown if there ever was one..

"Disco Lullaby," the side two opener is, despite it's title, no snoozer. Highlighted by pretty male/female duet vocals and punctuated by a propulsive guitar/bass/drum combination, singlehandedly emphasizing the 'disco' element. The tempo is just as fast as the other tracks, yet it's perhaps the one song on the LP that comes closest to the more carefree 'fa-la-la-la' kind of groove Nerangis and Britton achieved on some of their earlier productions. It's allure is a little gentler, the vocals and lyrics given more detail and emphasis than on the other tracks. To be sure, a welcome change of pace; takes things down just enough to give a touch of variety, yet not so much that it breaks the mood and continuity of the whole thing..

The closer, "Grand Slam," with it's baseball metaphor for dancefloor cruising: "...when I'm through I'll get you all alone.. when I do I'm gonna drive it home.. ", takes things up a few notches again, working that background guitar for all it's worth... After the softer touch of "Disco Lullaby," this one takes things full circle in a way. That refrain as well as that tense, escalating guitar break/buildup towards the middle just totally get me going....

As far as the personnel on the album are concerned, interestingly no members of Crown Heights Affair or Made in U.S.A. are present. The most prolific contributor is Carlos Franzetti (mispelled as Carlos Frazetti on the album), credited for horn arrangements. After that, the only other contributor with traceable credits is one of the vocalists, Laurie Bogin, who had previously released an album in 1975 called "The Exceptional Laurie Bogin" (1975, Buddah).

So far, the Unyque LP is one of the last Nerangis/Britton productions that I've come across.. Into the 1980's, it would seem Nerangis and Britton would no longer be involved with the Crown Heights Affair, with Bert DeCoteaux producing their first album of the 1980's "Sure Shot" (1980, De-Lite) and later on group members Ray Reid and William Anderson taking production duties on their own albums and on other projects. Aside from this, one of the last productions by Nerangis/Britton (that I've come across anyway) were a couple of songs, "Brand New Key" and "Addicted To Your Love," by a singer named Jolina in 1980, also for the DJM label. Not sure if there was an album or any more singles for Jolina, but after that, there is pretty much no trace of any more productions by Nerangis and Britton. So far, the last thing I've seen Britt Britton involved in, was as the writer for a 1998 single by singer Anthony Moriah called "The Reality". Despite no longer being in the music business, a search on Freida Nerangis, however, had the most up-to-date information. Currently, Nerangis is the Executive Director for The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., a New York theatre comapny whose mission is, according to their website: " present live theatre performances by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience that is often underserved by the theatrical community..."

To sum up, overall, the Unyque album is probably not the most distinctive or ambitious disco album out there; no paeans to survival or lost love and thankfully, no uninspired insipid ballads for the sake of "versatility" either. That said, it's hardly a detraction in this case. In fact, there's probably something to be said for the album's consistency. It's grooves singlehandedly aim for the dancefloor and that's exactly where it hits. The focus was danceability, no more, no less; it's perhaps that very thing which makes this album as consistent and solidly satisfying as it is.

Unfortunately, this album isn't on CD, nor are any of the tracks off of it. So far, I have yet to find any compilation CDs with any of the Unyque tracks on it, but if anyone else has, feel free to let me know..

Also, just cleaned up and added a bunch of great links over on the right... Check 'em out if you haven't already.. Special mention goes out to The Message Is The Music, a great new disco presence on the blogosphere.. Updates a lot more frequently than I do too, I have to say.. So if you haven't already, check it out!




DannyBlue said...

You've done it again Tommy. More great music that I'd never heard of. Thank you thank you!

Kenneth H said...

I agree with the above. This is light and breezy disco. The first time I heard of Crown Heights Affair was with the album Sure Shot from 1980, an album which I really like. There are so many disco records I've personally never heard of (and I grew up during the 70's and started listening to disco in '77) so it's great fun to discover stuff even today which then is new to me, although the music itself is close to 30 years old. It's kind of hard to believe that for instance Donna Summer's I feel love has it's 30th anniversary this year!
Keep up the good work! The only Canadian disco album I know of is by The Raes. "A little lovin'" is a great song. Maybe you're planning on posting some canadian disco?

BoogieMan said...

Hey Tommy, thanks for the shout-out. Much appreciated. I have to agree with dannyblue and kenneth. You really do pull some rabbits outta that Disco hat of yours. I've been surprised on more than a few occassions. I think kenneth has an interesting idea, posting Canadian Disco Artists. When I post mine, I'll return the sout-out. Cheers to North American Disco Music.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tommy!

Nice one for my wish list :D


Tommy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

No problem at all dannyblue! :)

I can't believe it either, Kenneth.. Thanks for reminding me! I'm gonna have to do something special for that.. It's hard to believe just how many disco records were released in such a short period of time.. I've heard your sentiments echoed by others who were around then also, how many disco records they are discovering today that they never knew about when they were released.. BTW I love that Raes track too, but there's definitely more to Canadian disco than the Raes.. :) And yes, I'll definitely be posting more Canadian disco..

No problem at all DungeonDJ!.. I've been practically itching to put up some Canadian disco albums. Disco Delivery #35 will definitely be a Canadian album. So far, I've got several that I'm trying to decide between..

For some of the other Canadian disco that I've posted, go to the "Can-Con Disco" link under the categories menu. The most recent was Aura's L.A. Sunshine. I know there haven't been too many, but I hope to change that..

Glad you liked it FunkyChris! :)

Kenneth H said...

I looked at the Can-Con link, I must have been reading through your entries too quickly. I first visited your blog around the time of your Noel post and I've since then visited your blog regularely, so I have come across both the Claudja Barry and Aura posts. I didn't know Karen Silver also is canadian, I have her first album and it's the canadian print, so of course I should've guessed.

soulbrotha said...

Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!!!
You are KILLING me!

You know when you forget about a song you used to jam to in the clubs and then you hear it out of the blue and you freak out, and then all the memories start flooding in?! "Keep On Making Me High". 'Nuff said.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for GREAT disco music!


Tommy said...

Hey, no problem Kenneth! Glad you've seen some of the earlier archived entries :) I'll probably change that category name to "Canadian Disco" sometime.. 'Can-Con' (Canadian slang for the Canadian Content regulations on TV/Radio here) is probably not immediately familiar to many outside Canada.. So I'm sure you're not the only one to miss some of the earlier Canadian entries..

LOL.. No problem at all Soulpeeps.. Thank YOU for the comment! It certainly made my day :) Anyway, glad to know that song brought back some memories!

No problem 80spornstar, glad you liked it! :)

keepondancing said...

Love it, thanx man!! clap clap clapclap clap clap clapclap, hihi

ps, just for the record..hddweb is doing great, very fast downloads overhere;))

Tommy said...

No problem! :) Glad you enjoy it!

Also glad the download links are working well now.. Anyway, they better be, cause after all, I am paying them hehe..

Anonymous said...

Hey Tommy,

I would like to thank you for the vocal compliments on the Unyque Album!
I am the lead voice on Keep on Takin' Me High and Disco Lullaby. (The other songs as you know were all choral).
My name was 'curiously' mispelled on the back cover as Sussanne etc,etc.
I remain musically active and very in touch with the exceptional Laurie Bogin.

Su Wingate

Tommy said...

No problem at all, Su! Sorry that I'm late with this reply.. Though talk about a surprise, it's not often that one of the singers stops by and leaves a note on here, so thanks for the comment! :).

Anyway, I'm glad to finally put a name to those vocals! I just wonder why they gave you a different name on the credits. In fact I've wondered about most of the other credits on there too, why I could never find any background on most of them. I guess false names might explain it..

Glad to know you're still musically active and that Laurie is still around as well.. When I do these posts, I never expect to get feedback from any of the people behind the actual music. It's a rare privilege for me, so thanks again for posting a comment! :)

Anonymous said...

Great find. I just got this record as well.
You should post this podcast:

Anonymous said...

All the musicians on Keep On Takin Me Higher album were studio and back up musicians. All the musicians names are real, with the exception of a letter or two. I know, because I was one of the musicians. Also Jolina (Brand New Key, Addicted to Love) was actually Allison Williams who went on to record Just Call My Name, I'll Come Running.

Unknown said...

My brothers wife is Laurie Bogin! She is as wonderful as ever!!
Irene Bogin Black

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