Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Disco Delivery #39:
Penthouse Presents The Love Symphony Orchestra (1978, Talpro)

The Love Symphony Orchestra - Let's Make Love In Public Places
The Love Symphony Orchestra - Let Me Be Your Fantasy
The Love Symphony Orchestra - At The Football Stadium

I had originally come across "Let's Make Love In Public Places" some five years back, while searching for some of Alec R. Costandinos' material on WinMX (remember that?) where somehow, someone mislabeled ".. Love In Public Places" as a Costandinos track.. It was pretty obvious after hearing it, that it wasn't a Costandinos track. For one thing, the arrangments don't bear that much similarity to Costandinos' style nor was this anywhere to be found on any of his discographies. I confirmed shortly after that it wasn't one of Costandinos' projects, but from a lesser known disco project promoted by Penthouse Magazine. Anyway, after finally getting the album in the mail recently and listening to it, I just had to put this one up..

Sub-titled "pulsating disco and romantic moods for loving and dancing," I believe this was one of only a handful of albums Penthouse Magazine put out (or was associated with). I suppose if you were going to put the Penthouse brand on the cover, you might as well deliver the goods so to speak and with that sexy, quintessentially 70's vaseline-on-the-lens soft-focus cover, it certainly does on that front. Lavishly packaged in a tri-fold sleeve, the inside features a 12x24'' 'Penthouse Pet' (which one exactly, I'm not sure) plus some other soft-focused vintage porn titillations (last three links are NSFW, if you must know). If anything, the pictures and packaging certainly promise nothing less than a lavish, elegant soft-porn disco symphony (see the liner notes) and when it gets down to the grooves, it certainly doesn't break any them..

That said, despite the Penthouse branding, the bare breasts on the inside and the promises they all make, the likes of Cerrone's "Love In C Minor" and Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" still manage to out-do this one in terms of sheer heaviness. For one thing, unlike those records it actually doesn't sound like anyone actually had, pretended to have, or could have had an orgasm (or simulated anything close to it) while making this record, yet it hardly matters.. The A-side "Let's Make Love In Public Places" remains one of the most deliciously sexy, escapist disco fantasies that I've ever heard. While the B-side opener "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" seems to have gotten the most attention from disco enthusiasts in recent years, for me the former is the best track on the album. Perhaps made for loving as opposed to dancing and perhaps a little less of a heavy in-the-moment romp and more of a light, playful, adventurous one; despite it's racy theme, there's a certain characteristic innocence about this record that I absolutely love.

Although producer Mitch Farber's production credits in the disco field aren't many, the All Music Guide listing him primarily as an arranger and producer in the Jazz field (largely for the defunct Muse label), he seems to have appeared as a writer and/or arranger on at least a few disco productions that I've found, usually by or alongside Warren Schatz. The Brothers' excellent Don't Stop Now (1976, RCA) LP and the Inner City Symphony "Disco Magic" (1976, Midland International) LP are at least two that I've come across so far. Although this album appears to be one of the few actual disco production credits for Farber, his production and arrangements on this record are absolutely excellent and flawless. Those elegantly swirling, soaring, gloriously melodic strings perfectly capture that certain light, dreamy feeling of playful abandon which singlehandedly elevates this record. Along with the beautifully lush, atmospheric percussion touches with those bells and chirping whistles giving it a bit of an "in the jungle" feel, the whole thing sounds captivating in the most pure and innocent sort of way. For me, it's that very quality which makes this record not only a beautiful piece of music, but an exemplary reflection of it's time. One can't help but connect this record to the common hedonistic depiction of the disco era, especially in how it so beautifully makes a naughty, forbidden pleasure sound like the most innocent, natural thing in the world. It gives a kind of harmless, joyful childlike quality to this naughty, adult urban fantasy which by itself sets this record apart, making it both a little lighter than some of it's aforementioned peers, yet in it's own way, a bit racier and sexier at the same time..

The wonderful instrumental arrangements on the track are perfectly complimented by session singer Diva Gray's vocals and her back-up chorus (which includes other well-traveled New York session singers like Gwen Guthrie, Lani Groves and Yvonne Lewis). Gray not only gives a perfect, understated vocal performance here, but an exceptional acting performance as well. Every word, every gentle daring phrase uttered so convincingly, she practically brings those cleaned-up Penthouse Forum fantasy lyrics to life.. Her effortlessly airy, expressive vocals perflectly capture the playful mischeviousness of this mythical woman daring her man to make love to her in public, to take her "in a cafe, make it on a subway.. a restaurant." With the way she gently urges you to take her on, daring you to "take your love in public places, make your love in public places," her tender voice promises sweet, extatic thrills without even actually doing so. You can almost see her knowing, assuring little wink with her gentle assurances: "am I sure? of course I'm sure.. mmm, I can make you sure, too..."

"...Love in Public Places" goes on for some 12 minutes, yet it's one of those tracks that's so richly produced, none of those minutes is wasted. Whether led by a glorious string arrangement, or a 'spiral on the bass drum' (as described on the label), there's always something in the mix to keep the listener engaged.. A little trivia in case anyone's interested: the great lyrics on this track were written by Carlotta McKee who has also written for the Petrus/Malavasi project Zinc, in 1982 as well as for Irene Cara along with another disco artist/session singer, Gordon Grody. Also, aside from Gwen Guthrie, Diva Gray etc.. a few of the other notable, prolific musicians on the record include Randy Brecker on the Fluegelhorn, Andy Newmark on drums, along with Sam Figueroa and Ray Chew (both of whom I've seen on a bunch of albums that I have) on percussion. If anything, they certainly spared no expense on high calibre musicians..

"Let Me Be Your Fantasy," which opens the flip side, pretty much continues the "love in public places" theme.. Although with the drums and hi-hats further up front (along with a bit of a shuffle), this one would probably be the more danceable of the album's tracks. Lyrics are a bit more minimal on this one, with the bulk of them consisting of: "..let me be your fantasy, tell me 'bout it baby.. let me be your fantasy, I wanna love you baby.." until the man (played by Neil Shephard, also the co-writer) comes into the story, countering the woman's adventurous fantasies with his own, more vanilla versions: "...let's make love in private, no unfamiliar places.. put on your best dress, let's party in the closet.." The whole thing then culminates with a bit of playful tension with the "...Love In Public Places" melody reprised and the two vocalists trading verses: "let's make love in public places....let's make love alone in private..." The section that follows however is probably my favourite part, with the percussion out in full force, punctuated by that deep, elastic drum sound which totally makes this one for me..

While the previous has a bit of playful tension, the final (and shortest) track, "At The Football Stadium" wraps things up with our frisky couple deciding on a locale: "it's not the game we came here for... don't care who wins just as long as we score..". Just as the main melody gets reprised, we see the man finally give in to his ladies' fantasy: ".. let's do it your way, come on be my teacher, help me shake off my inhibitions.. we're on camera, network television.. making love.. ".. Too bad it doesn't show them getting arrested for indecent exposure afterwards, but I guess that would be another album altogether.. Compared to the others, it's perhaps a bit of a throwaway track, but it manages to end things quite nicely..

Recently, I found out that the versions on the 12" release with "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" on the A-side and "Let's Make Love In Public Places" on the B-side are actually different from the album version (contrary to what I actually thought), and were specially mixed by Savarese (thanks to discomusic.com user ashley_k for this info), so that's another something for me to track down. As far as I know producer Mitch Farber wouldn't produce any other disco projects, but would release an album under his own name in 1982 called Starclimber (1982, Muse). Singer Diva Gray's credits however, largely as a backing vocalist are extensive to say the least. The All Music Guide has the most complete run-down, but I'm sure even that's not fully complete. Aside from appearing, often times along with Luther Vandross during the disco era, on albums by Chic (and others produced by Rodgers/Edwards), the Kenny Lehman disco production, Lemon (1978, Prelude) and later on records by the likes of David Bowie, Celine Dion and the Talking Heads, she can also be heard as lead vocalist on a couple of tracks ("Paradise" and "Hold Tight") on Change's awesome "Miracles" (1981, RFC/Atlantic) album.. In addition, Gray would recieve top billing on a disco album called "Hotel Paradise" (1979, Columbia) produced by the relatively obscure Luigi Ojival, billed as Diva Gray feat. Oyster, which I have yet to hear.. I'd certainly love to know of more, but so far those are the only others that I've found with Gray as a featured lead vocalist. If her extensive discography is any indication though, Gray was undoubtedly (and perhaps, still is) one of the most prolific, hard-working session vocalists out there..

Overall, what I love about this record, especially "..Love In Public Places" is it's playfulness and that innocent freedom-without-consequence brand of disco-era sexuality which makes it such a quintessentially escapist disco record.. In other words, much like "Love In C Minor," "Love To Love You.." etc.. it's truly, through and through a product of it's time; the type of record that has rarely been duplicated or imitated since. After all, it's not too often that you come across any 10-minute orchestral odes to public naughtiness these days.. In any case though, this record is undoubtedly one of the most delightfully sexy disco indulgences that I've come across...

Some trivia: Aside from this album, another disco/dance music production credit for Mitch Farber (the only other one I've found so far) is on a 12'' by Koffie, a cover of the Dreamgirls showstopper, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from 1983. I haven't heard it yet, so I can't say if it's any good or not, although it's certainly something I'll be keeping an eye out for..

In case anyone's interested, so far the only track from the album to appear on CD is the LP version of "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" on the excellent disco rarities compilation Disco Spectrum 2 (2000, BBE).






Anonymous said...

Tommy. Though these tracks may not be as heavily sexy-fied as Love in C Minor, Love to Love You Baby, Try Me I Know We Can Make It (or even Love is the Ultimate/Touch Me Baby), they are quite dee-li-cious and v.v. camp-tastic! Making Love in Public Places makes me want to have a "key party" with lots of bourbon, illicit substances and a hot tub.

There were other men's magazines that tied into disco projects of the time. I've already told you about the Cook County album on Motown called Pinball Playboy. This album came out around the same time that Bally's introduced their Playboy-licensed pinball machine in 1978 or 79. The lead track Pinball Playboy was a discofied version of the Playboy theme that incorporated sound effects from the pinball machine. And it had such brilliant lyrics: "Pinball Playboy, Shoot your shot; Pinball Playboy, Give it all you got!"

Another stroke mag tie-in (if my memory serves correctly) was Saint Tropez's Belle De Jour album. I don't have the original gatefold album any longer, but I remember that Oui Magazine had photo credits for the album artwork. [Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken.]

At any rate, I highly recommend that you track down Cook County's Pinball Playboy. (And this Playboy tie-in was a good 20 years prior to Dimitri from Paris' A Night at the Playboy Mansion projects.)

Thanks again for tracking down these rarities and oddities. True gems.

Tommy said...

Thanks so much for the feedback, Enrique! :)

Glad you liked "Love In Public Places".. Delicious, Naughty and camptastic indeed.. And thanks to you, I just found out what a key party was.. :O lol

Thanks also for the tip on "Pinball Playboy".. Now that's one I rarely hear about, even on the disco sites.. After reading your description, it's definitely one that I gotta find!

Unfortunately, I don't have the Saint Tropez "Belle de jour" album yet, so I'm afraid I can't confirm anything regarding the photo. Although on a similar note, I remember the cover of Claudja Barry's "Trippin' On The Moon" 12" which was evidently taken from a German edition of Playboy.. Definitely want to put that up sometime..

Anyway, thanks again for the kind words and feedback :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent, well-researched and well-written blog you got there. I'll be back often.

BoogieMan said...

I'm listening to these, right now, as I comment. I love the point-blank, exploitive context of "Let's Make Love..." and the ample use of whistles, cowbells, etc. It's sooo Disco! There's no mistaking the use of actual, musical instruements on these tracks too (another big plus). There seems to be a subtle, vocal, approach despite the subject matter which, enhances the whole feminine aspect of these tracks. Wow, making love at a packed, football, stadium! Now that's taking the "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" concept to the extreme end and, it's a nice reprise of the opening track. Nice selections here.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great! Especially the lyrics. Nice break @ 8.25 in "Let's Make Love in Public Places".

Tommy said...

Thanks for kind words jam on revenge! :)

DDJ and Funky Chris - glad you liked 'em :) Yeah, love the bass drum in that break there! The beautiful instrumentation is definitely one of the best parts of the record - there's no messing with those strings and not to mention that great drummer they had. Checking the credits, the drummer on the record was Andy Newmark, whom I just found out played with none other than Sly Stone himself (I'll have to add Newmark's name to the entry somewhere)..

Thanks again for the comments!

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for a detailed look at this gem!!!
I still recall looking for this gem while in my teens at a central London record shop (Bluebird Records, I think). I'd heard the track "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" at a party and was desperate to obtain a copy...

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