Saturday, January 27, 2007

Disco Delivery #33:
James Brown - The Original Disco Man (1979, Polydor)



James Brown - It's Too Funky In Here
James Brown - Star Generation
James Brown - The Original Disco Man

James Brown - Women Are Something Else

As promised in Part One, here is "Original Disco Man, Part Two." I've been itching to get this album posted for a little while now. After two posts on James Brown at around the beginning of this year/end of last, I thought three in a row would have been a bit much, especially considering the whole media frenzy surrounding him at the time. Although it still lingers somewhat, that frenzy seems to have died down considerably, so I figured this was as good a time as any..

Given how of some of his mid-late 1970's efforts were received, putting 'James Brown' and 'disco' in a sentence together probably won't elicit too many positive adjectives from music critics or many of James' fans. There is an interesting quote in his 2003 Autobiography "I Feel Good" (page 179) about disco: "There was a new sound in the air, and it was just about the opposite of everything I had come to stand for in music. It was called disco." Now, he doesn't really specify exactly how it was the opposite of everything he stood for, but nevertheless disco seemed to mark the beginning of the end of that golden era where James Brown seemed to be right at the forefront of things. While I suppose he never ceased to be relevant in the way that someone as groundbreaking like him was, disco seemed to mark the end of that period of particularly vital cultural relevance where someone like James Brown commanded the full attention (eyes, ears and minds) of the public. Essentially, after being at the forefront for years, disco seemed to have him struggling to keep up.

Given the uneasy place that disco has within James Brown's legacy, I suppose it's easy to understand why he might have had mixed feelings about it. While he said that it was the "opposite of everything I had come to stand for..," more recently, he had no bones of acknowledging his place in it, saying in a 2003 interview that "Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown...you hear all the rappers, 90% of their music is me.." as well as acknowledging in his book (page 180) that "Sex Machine" was arguably one of the first disco songs. In his book (page 180), he also summed up his situation this way: "Because disco was taking over, Polydor tried to get me to record something in that style with the hopes we might capture a share of the market... Although I wasn't particularly into the sound, the truth was that I had recorded every one of those rhythms in my own music, without the disco label attached.." Judging from that quote and his records at the time, it seems like he felt would still be able to make his mark in disco by sticking to his guns as much and for as long as possible, making only minor adaptations in his sound. Despite the occasional reference to disco in the grooves and on the covers of his records, it wasn't until 1979, and his "Original Disco Man" (1979, Polydor) LP where he would make a full-on disco album, according to his record label's wishes.

Judging from the album, by 1979, things must have been in pretty desperate shape for him. Not only did he give in to his label's demands, but instead of running the show himself so to speak, as he had usually done, the production duties were completely turned over to Brad Shapiro along with a team outside writers. I believe this may have been the very first time James Brown has reliquished this much control on one of his own albums. Somehow, Mr. Brown himself doesn't seem to have a single writing or production credit on the entire album. Not to discredit Shapiro's excellent production on the record, but I wonder why the heads at Polydor or perhaps Brown himself chose Shapiro as the man to bring James Brown to the disco, since as Robert Christgau's review says, Shapiro was "no disco man himself." Shapiro is perhaps best associated with the signature country-soul sound of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, much more so than disco. Some of the artists Shapiro has produced include the likes of Millie Jackson as well as Joe Simon, Wilson Pickett, Jackie Moore and Betty (AKA Bettye) LaVette among others. Out of all those though, I'm only familiar with his work on Millie Jackson's albums, and as much as I love his work with the fabulous Millie J., I don't think he was particularly well known for ushering his artists to the dancefloor.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his diminished input and the widespread disrepute of anything "disco," Brown would later completely disown this album and it's Shapiro-produced follow-up, "People" (1980, Polydor) as some of the worst material he's ever recorded. Personally speaking, I definitely wouldn't go that far. In fact, I'd say as far as his disco-era efforts go, some of the tracks on this album are among his best from the time. Surprisingly, some of the critics don't completely write the album off either. Now, I'm only going by the two that I've come across so far, but for one thing, Robert Christgau gives the LP a generous A- rating, while Jason Elias at the All Music Guide gives an especially positive review, complete with a generous four-star rating. Not too shabby for the Godfather of Soul's disowned disco effort.

Perhaps one of the reasons why some of the album's straight-ahead disco efforts are so satisfying is that while Shapiro's production considerably changes and adapts Brown's well-honed signature sound to the times, it still retains a great deal of reference to it. Particularly in those meaty rhythm and horn arrangements, not to mention the notable absence of a string section, as a result, the sound still retains a signature James Brown edge to the whole thing. Additionally, the production leaves enough room for Brown to do his thing, vocally, instead of overpowering him and relegating him to the sidelines. It at least gives the impression that, whatever he may have said later on, he seemed to have at least enjoyed the sessions. At the very least, he infused the proceedings with enough of his personality that he managed to keep things enjoyable and engaging, whatever the circumstances may have been. In other words, while he may not have been in full control behind the scenes, in this case, it was still James Brown, not Shapiro's production that was the star of the show. In my estimation, it seemed Shapiro's role was in taking key elements of the James Brown sound and simply translating them into disco, if you will; incorporating (as opposed to erasing) them within his own sparkling clean, ordered, classy production style.

"It's Too Funky In Here" was the first single off the LP, which reached a respectable #15 on Billboard R&B, but seemed to stall at #65 on the Billboard Disco Charts. Despite that, overall, it's perhaps the most satisfying James Brown disco track, with that meaty bassline (which sounds very similar to the bassline on Mary Wilson's "Red Hot," believe it or not), those blaring horns right up front and that excellent guitar work, particularly in that break two-thirds of the way in. Those horn arrangements in particular infuse a good deal of the classic James Brown while, for the first time it seems, that bass drum reins in Brown's sound with a steady disco beat. It certainly wasn't the lack of tight kickin' basslines, nor lack of strings or anything else that kept his earlier disco-styled records on the sidelines. It was, however that steady and prominent four-on-the floor beat, which is present on "..Too Funky In Here," but was probably the key element missing in many of his previous "disco" productions. It was that anchor, that steadiness, or rather, the lack thereof, that probably kept most of Brown's self-branded "disco" work, as enjoyable as some of it was, from really gaining a foothold in the disco scene.

Even though "..Too Funky In Here" was the lead single, "Star Generation," is probably the most out there, unabashedly slick, show-bizzy disco track on the album. Taking the tempo up a little, there's no mistake about it with the beat and bass out front, right out of the box. Just to bring the point home, there's that "star of the disco" lyric and those synths, especially in that electronic Gino Soccio/Giorgio Moroder-esque breakdown, with more "disco laser" sound effects than you can shake a stick at. It's precisely the sort of thing that would make a hard-core funkster/rockist shake their head and cringe. And really, they probably overdid it a little with those sound effects, but that infectious, albeit jarring breakdown is for me, one of the major highlights of this track. Seemingly out of nowhere, The Godfather of Soul was thrown into electro-disco territory, for at least a couple of minutes or so, for what is probably the first time. It's enjoyable in a gimmicky, over-the-top sort of way, but hell, I can't deny it, myself..

The album closer, and the 'cherry on top' so to speak, is the title track "The Original Disco Man," with sole writing credits to Brad Shapiro himself. His lyrics really seem to sum things up, with the back up ladies, right from the beginning, lavishing Shapiro's lyrical praise all over the man himself: "He's the original disco man.. with the original disco band... he's the original disco man.. his groove is.. where it all began.." Which is followed up by Mr. Brown reminding everyone: "In nineteen-hundred and fifty-five.. you were dancing to all kinds a' jive.. in nineteen-hundred and sixty-six.. you all got down with my funky licks uh-huh!" That pretty much sets the tone for things, with the sweet background harmonies alternating with Brown's gruff vocals, and with those horns right up front. The horn arrangements are especially captivating here, like nowhere else on the album, especally towards the end when they're put to work with a shifted, escalated tempo.. For the most part, the track picks up where "It's Too Funky In Here" and "Star Generation" left off, albeit with more sweetening, especially with those backing vocals.

With that, I've got to give credit to those ladies on back up. Those sweet voices behind James Brown were a female trio known as Brandye, who had done backup vocals on this and quite a few other Shapiro productions (i.e. Millie Jackson) around that time. The ladies, whom I believe were Donna Davis, Cynthia Douglas and Pam Vincent, had also released an excellent album (their first and only one) called "Crossover To Brandye" (1978, Kayvette/TK), also produced by Shapiro, which featured a disco single called "Rhythm of Love." Listening to these ladies, I'd say that they were perhaps one of the most underrated female groups at the time, with some of the sweetest, most angelic harmonies that I've ever heard..

While the album title and the three tracks posted might lead one to believe this is an entirely disco album, there are also some slow to mid-tempo tracks on the album like, "Let The Boogie Do The Rest," which contrary to it's title is not a disco song. There's also "Still," which is the dullest moment on the album, and finally, "Women Are Something Else," which is probably the most notable. Essentially a renouncement of "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World," amid all of it's pleasant sentiment of women's equality, I thought there were some particularly telling, ad-libbed (I believe, anyway) verses in which he says: "they're hard sometimes.. you know they can be a.. bitch! ..But they're sweet.."

Well, so much for renouncing the past, I guess.. Although he does counter himself, a few verses later when he quips "sometimes they say..I'm a bitch, too.." Even still, pretty telling though, wouldn't you say?

Admittedly, this album is hardly among Brown's more revolutionary or influential works. That said, it's not an entirely bad, disappointing effort either. Although much more slickly produced than his self-produced material, on it's own terms it's actually a rather enjoyable, engaging album. Though at this point, perhaps it was too little, too late for James Brown to be proclaiming himself "The Original Disco Man," especially with disco about to bottom-out and really, everyone and their dog releasing disco records at the time. While I can only speculate on this, given the timing and the legacy it was attached to, it would have had to have been nothing short of an amazing, blow-you-away kind of record to really leave a mark. Though solid and competent, it however, was not that. Additionally, "..Disco Man," seemed to be an album which also, given his dimished input, seemed to solidify his diminished status. I'd say that is probably one of the main reasons why some don't look upon it too favourably, the album being symbolic of his struggles in keeping up with the musical landscape. That said, it certainly wouldn't be his last attempt at getting outside help in doing just that. While he may have resisted working with an outside producer for this album, it would be something he would end up doing quite frequently into the 1980's, case in point: "Living in America," his comeback, co-written and produced by Dan Hartman, and later on, "I'm Real," produced by Full Force..

While I don't really base any of my enjoyment on the critics' opinions, the fact that this album is not quite as universally maligned like other disco 'bandwagon efforts' from the time (see Aretha Franklin's "La Diva," for example), seems to speak, in large part, to Brad Shapiro's commendable production values. Although, again, hardly groundbreaking, or perhaps even anywhere near some of his greatest works; on it's own terms, regardless of timing or anything else, it's a record that is seriously solid and enjoyable. And that is probably more than can be said for other similar efforts of the time.

Anyway, round of applause for you if you're still reading this, but just one more note about the CD release.. The "Original Disco Man" CD reissue was put out in (I believe) late 2003 by Polydor/Universal in Germany. However, it seems it's already out of print, but some sellers on Amazon.de might still have some copies available if anyone's interested..

Some additional trivia: The cover shots for the album were taken in the New York, New York discotheque in, well, where else?

LINKS:
JAMES BROWN - THE ORIGINAL DISCO MAN LP @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
JAMES BROWN - THE ORIGINAL DISCO MAN LP @ DISCOGS
JAMES BROWN - THE ORIGINAL DISCO MAN LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
JAMES BROWN - IT'S TOO FUNKY IN HERE 12'' @ DISCOGS
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: JAMES BROWN ALBUM REVIEWS
JAMES BROWN @ WIKIPEDIA
JAMES BROWN @ EVERYTHING2

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
ORIGINAL DISCO MAN, PART ONE. (JANUARY 1, 2007)
GOODBYE TO THE GODFATHER.. (DECEMBER 25, 2006)

PURCHASE:
JAMES BROWN - THE ORIGINAL DISCO MAN CD | AMAZON.DE


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, PAST REISSUES

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Once I've been there..



Norman Connors - Once I've Been There (feat. Phillip Mitchell)

Norman Connors - Stella
Norman Connors - Wouldn't You Like To See (feat. Eleanore Mills)
Norman Connors - This Is Your Life (feat. Eleanore Mills)

A few weeks back, when buymusicbymail.com was selling a bunch of deleted Unidisc CDs, I took the opportunity to buy some of their out-of-print Norman Connors CDs.. Connors is one producer whose work I've been starting to explore a bit more lately. I'm mostly familiar with him through his Aquarian Dream project, where it seems a great deal of his more disco-styled productions went. The two tracks of theirs which I'm most familiar are "Phoenix" and "You're A Star" (hear both on Myspace), the latter being, in my opinion, nothing short of discofied genius..

That said, some of his own albums, at least the two that I've listened to from his years at Buddah have some excellent material as well. I guess, like his bio at the All Music Guide says, you can put Connors alongside George Benson, Roy Ayers and Patrice Rushen, all artists with backgrounds in Jazz, who've also made names for themselves in the R&B and/or Disco fields. Connors, having produced and/or featured, among others, the likes of Jean Carn, the late Phyllis Hyman, Eleanore Mills, Reggie Lucas and Wah-Wah Watson on his albums, it's no wonder why he is also well known, aside from being a musician and producer, as an excellent assembler of talent.

I'd say his "Romantic Journey" (1977, Buddah) LP is probably a good example of that. Surprisingly enough, Connors was not the producer of this album. Judging from the credits, his role, aside from being the assembler-of-talent, was in arranging, and playing drums, tympani and other percussion with the main production being handled by Skip Drinkwater. "Romantic Journey," for the most part runs between mostly Jazz and R&B, with the slight exception of "Once I've Been There," which also had some disco traction, making it up to #30 on the Billboard Disco Charts. The promo 12" single of that track also seems to be highly sought after, having apparently gone for some 400 or so US dollars on eBay a little while back (and currently going for over $100 US). Personally speaking, no matter how rare, I don't think I could ever pay $400 for a 12'' single, especially one which is identical to the album version and well represented on CD, but hey, that's just me..

Anyway, about the song itself, one of the things I love about it are those soft, classy strings and, if I'm correct in my terminology, those wonderful chord progressions on the strings, which are pretty much the backbone of the whole thing. Notably also, the song goes through a lot more changes than one would probably expect in a disco song. Not just chord changes, but also those brief but bold drum fluorishes right before the chorus, ably complimented and interplayed with those impressive and, in that instance, dynamic strings. It probably doesn't do much, as far as giving the track those four-on-the-floor disco credentials, but it's totally arresting nonetheless..

Having been written and sung by Phillip Mitchell (AKA Prince Phillip Mitchell), the song itself is perhaps more of a Phillip Mitchell track than a Norman Connors track. In a 2001 interview with Soul Brother's Soul Cellar, Mitchell talks about how his involvement with Connors came about:

"It was around 1977 and I was performing locally, at the Access Theatre in Louisville. Aki Aleong, who was Norman's manager at the time, actually came through with a cousin of mine and she introduced me to him - I think he might have been here for the Derby. He needed songs for Norman Connors and I said I've got some.... We began to talk and I played him some stuff and he liked it. Michael Henderson had just split from Norman's band to go solo, so I was asked to record my songs, 'Once I've Been There' and 'Destination Moon', so it was a pretty good deal for me. It turned out to be a big record and we toured and travelled throughout the country. I also recorded a duet with Eleanor Mills for the album. 'For You Everything.' That began a relationship with Norman.."

Now, the next three tracks are not disco, but are just some other favourites of mine from Norman's "This Is Your Life" LP (1977, Buddah/Arista) that I just had to share. Unlike "Romantic Journey," the entire "This Is Your Life" album was produced by Connors himself and would probably be my favourite of the two.. Aside from "Stella" (a groove which can't be denied), the other two tracks feature Eleanore Mills on vocals. Now I don't really know much about her, but she's just got one of those voices, so smooth and dynamic, yet so full of feeling and warmth, you can't help but be melted by it.. Her rendition of Jimmy Webb's "This Is Your Life," is nothing less than sublimely soulful and, my personal favourite, "Wouldn't You Like To See," combines both the soul and feeling of "This Is Your Life" with a sunny groove, all adding up to what is just one joyful performance.

The CD reissues of "Romantic Journey" and "This Is Your Life" are, as mentioned earlier, both out of print, however Buy Music By Mail might still have copies available. Please note though that the deleted CDs aren't advertised on their main site, so you'll have to email them for details. However, "Once I've Been There" is currently available on "The Best Of Norman Connors" (2001, Sequel) CD, as well as on the forthcoming compilation "Discotheque, Vol.2 : The Paradise Garage" (2007, Gut), which should be released in the UK on the 22nd.

LINKS:
NORMAN CONNORS - ONCE I'VE BEEN THERE (PROMO 12'') @ DISCOGS
NORMAN CONNORS - ROMANTIC JOURNEY LP @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
NORMAN CONNORS - ROMANTIC JOURNEY LP @ DISCOGS
SOUL BROTHER'S SOUL CELLAR - PHILLIP MITCHELL INTERVIEW
NORMAN CONNORS - THIS IS YOUR LIFE LP @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
NORMAN CONNORS - THIS IS YOUR LIFE LP @ DISCOGS
DISCOMUSIC.COM FORUMS - NORMAN CONNORS - ONCE I'VE BEEN THERE 12-INCH
DISCOMUSIC.COM FORUMS - NORMAN CONNORS "YOU ARE MY STARSHIP" LP

PURCHASE:
NORMAN CONNORS - THE BEST OF NORMAN CONNORS CD (INCLUDES "ONCE I'VE BEEN THERE") | CDUNIVERSE.COM | AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CO.UK
VARIOUS - DISCOTHEQUE, VOL. 2: THE PARADISE GARAGE 2 CD (INCLUDES "ONCE I'VE BEEN THERE") | AMAZON.CO.UK | AMAZON.COM | CDUNIVERSE.COM | DUSTY GROOVE


CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, PAST REISSUES

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Updates to reissue lists

(1/19/07): I know this is going quite a few months back, but I just updated a couple of things on the reissue list from April/May '06. Added some additional details about the French version of the Sheila & B. Devotion CD reissue as well as the Salsoul Disco Trance & Cosmic Flavas release.

(1/17/07): Just updated the reissues list with the recent N.Y.C. Peech Boys CD reissue as well as added/cleaned up some links on the post..

See the list here: Reissues & Releases (Chic and more!): (December 1, 2006 - January 22, 2007)

Also, does anyone know what happened to the Music Is My Boyfriend (http://musicmyboyfriend.blogspot.com) blog? Was it hijacked? Taken down? I removed the link, since either clicking the link or typing the URL only seems to lead to some ad for straight porn..

CATEGORIES: MISCELLANEOUS

Monday, January 15, 2007

Disco Delivery #32:
French Kiss - Panic! (1979, Harem/Polydor)



French Kiss - Mischief
French Kiss - Panic/Save Me (Suite)

Last week I got a great email from a reader named Mark, who wanted some help identifying a track he heard on a mix at the Bootleg DJ Cafe. The track in question was on part three of the excellent mix from August '04 (go to 'News,' scroll down to Monday 30.08.04).. Unfortunately I was completely clueless about it myself and after hearing it, I too wanted to know what that great instrumental track was. Well he eventually found out soon after, no thanks to me, and it turned out that it was "Mischief" by the Simon Soussan production French Kiss. With that information, I had an excuse to do a little record shopping the next day and of course, ended up picking up a copy of the LP..

I'll have to admit that Simon Soussan's productions haven't exactly been high on my wants list.. One of my first purchases back when I had started buying disco albums was Shalamar's first album "Uptown Festival" (1977, Soul Train), half of which was produced by Soussan. The Soussan-produced title track, a disco medley of Motown classics, was apparently a huge disco hit, yet it was never really a favourite of mine. To be honest, neither was the rest of the album ("Inky Dinky Wang Dang Doo" anyone?). Although I do enjoy quite a bit of Shalamar's later work when they became a real group, until now, I never really took the opportunity to investigate any more of Soussan's work. In hindsight, I was probably a bit hasty in writing him off, after all he did produce Pattie Brooks' excellent single "After Dark," a favourite of mine off the "Thank God It's Friday" soundtrack. In my opinion, it was one of the best things she's ever released, a glorious, sexy, slightly dark disco classic. For me, it more than makes up for the rather dire "Uptown Festival."

Simon Soussan also has something of a reputation if nothing else, which was another thing that sort of put me off of his work. Whenever his name popped up on internet pages I searched or forum threads I'd come across, people often didn't have too many good things to say about him. If anything, Soussan was a very interesting, if not somewhat shady character in the world of Northern Soul. Aside from the very basic facts, I'm no expert on Northern Soul, so I won't even begin to dive into it too deeply. But to sum it up for the uninitiated (and at the risk of oversimplifying things), the scene was one which celebrated, in almost cult-like fashion it seems, rare American R&B records. Records which were largely unsuccessful and long forgotten at home, but were highly celebrated by DJ's and dancers in places like the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca among others. Often times the artists themselves, long faded into obscurity, had no idea how coveted their records were. From what I've come across, Soussan's notoriety came from being something of a record dealer/bootlegger in this scene. A paragraph on the martinsbox site partly describes his notoriety:

"Oh, the seventies was such a wild and wacky decade for the Northern Soul scene. Forget the 60's. You had to be there to appreciate what was going on; and there was always something going on. Take these four records for instance; all played at the same time; all new vocals to popular instrumentals; all hammered to death by Russ Winstanley at Wigan Casino. Well glory be! Had some intrepid collector unearthed a batch of obscure soul records on a trip to the USA and brought them back here to share with his soul brothers and sisters? Sadly, no..... Enter Mr Simon Soussan, sometime DJ and bootlegger who was one of the first ex-scene personnel to make it to the States. Old Simie wandered into a US recording studio accompanied by some anonymous girlies and copies of 'Afternoon of the rhino', 'My little girl', 'Double cooking' and 'Crying over you'. A good fifteen minutes later he had written some 'new' vocals to these tunes and the aforementioned ladies of the nighter had dubbed their dulcet tones over the popular stomping instrumentals. Before you could say 'Here's an exclusive, Russ' the acetates were revolving around the decks of Wigan Casino and filling the floor with gay abandon. Hey, that Russ Winstanley, he certainly knows how to find those rare dancers! Surprisingly enough the bootlegs were in the shops within 3 months of their debut spin at the home of soul music. -Dave McCadden"

Ian Levine, another disco producer and prominent figure in the Northern Soul scene explained it further in a recent interview at DJ History:

"Simon Soussan had a scam. He put a record list out. Bob Relf had this huge record, Blow My Mind to Pieces. And he put this list out: ‘Bob Relf Reaching For The Best - even better than Blow My Mind To Pieces. Only one copy. £35.’ At the bottom of the list it said, ‘You must state alternatives because there are no refunds if your first choice is not available.’ So everybody wanted the Bob Relf record. But it didn’t exist. He made the title up. It was a scam just to get people to send the money in and he’d give them any old rubbish he had. So I thought Fuck you, and I called my first record Reaching For The Best by the Exciters.... He damaged the scene and people have still not forgotten him after 25 years. He’s still a figure of contempt. But he did discover a lot of great records. He went on to become a successful disco producer. He re-wrote northern soul songs: Love And Desire by Arpeggio was Stronger Than Her Love by the Flirtations."

If anyone's curious to see, a user on the discomusic.com forums posted a scan of an old sales list, allegedly sent by Simon's company, on a thread from last April..

Anyway, just a part of the story, but I'm sure you get the picture.. As mentioned in the Ian Levine quote, by the late '70s, in addition to being a sometime DJ and dealer/bootlegger, Soussan was also branching out into record production. According to the Discopia interview with Laurin Rinder, who played on some of his sessions, he was apparently quite wealthy already from his involvement in the clothing business and didn't seem to have too much trouble financing his sessions. He would come to make quite a name for himself in the disco world by producing artists and studio groups like Pattie Brooks, Shalamar and Arpeggio as mentioned earlier, as well as Jessica Williams, The Simon Orchestra, Charisma, and Romance to name a few.

I must thank Mark for pointing me to this one, since as far as I'm concerned, on this French Kiss project, nothing quite tops "Mischief." Driven by those handclaps, swirling strings and above all, those haunting, layered synth arrangements, it's a pity that this wasn't extended and released as a single. That chirping synth in the background is particularly alluring, as is that melody line played with that dark, shiny synth sound which just completely stands out, cutting through all the other layers. Placed right at the end of the album, the track is like a light at the end of a tunnel, a reward for enduring some of the other rather plodding tracks on the album. Admittedly, "Mischief" is hardly the most representative track on the album. For the most part, I would describe the sound on the album to be kind of like Cellarful-of-Motown meets Eurodisco. I know that might sound like a winning combination, though in my opinion, the actual results mostly range from the pleasant, to the rather nondesript and unremarkable. Tracks like "All Out Of Tears," "We're The Right Combination," and "You Got Me Groovin' " are flowery and pleasant enough, and on paper seem to have all the elements in place, but they just seem to lack a certain something. A ballsiness perhaps, or maybe just that same forward-looking sound that "Mischief" had. Some of the tracks, like "You Got Me Groovin'," for example, seem to start off with good ideas that either don't seem to be developed to their full effect, or that appear somewhat marred by their vocal arrangements. Anyway, that's just my assessment..

Whatever the case, to me, the only other track on the album that rises above the pack is the single and title track "Panic/Save Me (Suite)." Apparently a partial cover of an older song, it's got, once again, those great handclaps, disco laser sound effects (always a winner in my books), and of course above all, those dynamic strings. In between the disco chants, those staccato, Costandinos-esque strings, interplayed with those rhythmic handclaps are what really make this track worthwhile.

The "group" of French Kiss judging from the back cover consisted of Yvette Johnson, Lamarr Stevens, who appears on at least one other Soussan production, and Muffi Durham, an actress whose credits seem to drop off after around 1980. Aside from Stevens, I'm not sure who sang on what, but their picture and their names on the back cover are the closest thing to musician credits on the album. The rest of the album's music is credited, rather anonymously, to "The Simon Orchestra." However, the credits for "Disco Mix Consultants" are quite plentiful in contrast, with each track on the album being credited to a different mixer. Among the 'mix consultants' credited, Gary Blair, who appears on the first Arpeggio LP, is credited for mixing the title track, and Will Crocker, a much more prolific name having been involved in quite a few Disconet mixes, is credited for the mix of "Mischief"..

I also have to mention that album cover, which is undoubtedly one of the best things about the album. That delightfully cheeky photo was taken by Gary Heery, who seems to have done quite a few album covers in the late '70s. Heery is still active today, and has his own website, where you could see some of his other work.

Also, in case anyone wishes to purchase the album, "Panic!" was recently reissued on CD by Unidisc. Unidisc has also put out CD reissues for some of the other projects that Soussan produced like Arpeggio, Simon Orchestra and Jessica Williams.. This is actually the second CD reissue for French Kiss and the aforementioned Soussan productions, the first being by the now defunct Hot Productions label in the mid 90's. I don't have the Unidisc reissue yet, but judging from the quality of some of the Hot Productions CD reissues I have, I'm sure the Unidisc releases are of better quality..

Anyway, reputation notwithstanding, I hope to find some more worthwhile Simon Soussan productions in my searches. At the same time that I bought this LP, I also picked up the Charisma - Out Of Time (1978, Barclay) LP which he produced, so I hope to give that a good listen soon.. In the mean time, enjoy the files..

LINKS:
FRENCH KISS - PANIC! LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
FRENCH KISS - PANIC! LP @ DISCOGS
FRENCH KISS - PANIC/SAVE ME (SUITE) 12'' @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
FRENCH KISS @ DISCOMUSEUM
HOTDISCOMIX: DISCONET NEWSLETTER: VOLUME 2, PROGRAM 10
SIMON SOUSSAN @ DISCOGS
SOULFUL DETROIT FORUMS: SIMON SOUSSAN - NORTHERN SOUL AMBASSADOR?
DJ HISTORY FORUMS: SIMON SOUSSAN
THE 'FRANK WILSON - DO I LOVE YOU' STORY

PURCHASE:
FRENCH KISS - PANIC CD | CAIMAN.COM | AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CO.UK


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, PAST REISSUES

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunshine on my mind...



Aura - L.A. Sunshine (1978, Change/MCA)

I picked up this 12" recently, but I have to admit, when I first listened to it at the used record shop, my first thought was "what...the... fuck.. is THIS!?" Deciding that my selective previewing wasn't piecing anything together on this song, I started over and dropped the needle right at the beginning. After giving it a good listening to, it didn't take me too long to get seduced.

This single has to be one of the most intriguing, and certainly interesting disco tracks I've come across so far. Anchored by that understated, percolating percussion and bass; those dreamy strings and of course that absolutely insane vocal. For me, the vocals are notable, not just because of their delivery, but because the way it seems to have been recorded, sounding slightly canned and processed but most likely without actually being so. It's like one of those records that, on paper, shouldn't work (kind of like Loose Joints' "Is It All Over My Face"), but somehow comes together into something that, while a little off-beat, is completely and oddly captivating. Perhaps the most sublime moment comes right after that verse where she goes "I'll be back soon." Believe me, it's not as plain as it sounds when you actually hear it; just when you think those vocals couldn't climb any higher, they end up soaring right above your head, completely beyond what one would expect. An eccentric, spaced out, mellow disco adaptation of the whole "California Dreaming" theme; it comes across like a kind of love letter to L.A. in the midst of a cold, dreary winter. If you look at it that way, it's probably no wonder this record came from Canada.

Not much seems to be known about Aura, the artist, or the main producer Jeff Smith, aside from one page which mentions Aura as one of "Canada's top jazz vocalists" of the time. The writer, Jim Mancel appears to have had a brief career as an artist in his own right, releasing a few singles, perhaps the most notable being "Just Be Yourself" and "Terry's Theme." However, a search on Robert Ouimet, the co-producer and the man behind the disco mix, yields the most fruitful results. Ouimet apears to have been one of the big players in the Canadian disco scene at the time. According to the liner notes of the "Disco Box" (1999, Rhino) compilation, Ouimet was the resident DJ at Montreal's Limelight discotheque from 1972-1980 and someone who, according to his bio, helped break many disco records in Canada. In addition he was an A&R man for RFC Records in the US as well as an occasional producer for the likes of Karen Silver, Mighty Pope and Francine McGee (of the cult disco classic, "Delirium") among others. Ouimet would be active in the music business well into the 1990's and is actually still around DJing today.

Perhaps I haven't come across enough information yet, but it seems like the disco scene in Montreal remains rather overlooked and underrepresented these days. Especially when compared to that of New York which has been well documented and rightfully so. Being that it was the home of some of the biggest, most influential nightclubs and disco indie labels, it is well justified. However, Montreal having been rated by Billboard once as the second most important disco market in North America has to count for something. It's unique cultural context, as well as it's contributions and innovations surely seem deserving of some kind of solid, cohesive documentation at some point in the future. To quote Ouimet, himself: "We have a half-American, half-European feel to this city, so I could play the European imports, like Silvetti's 'Spring Rain,' a year-and-a-half before Salsoul picked it up in America. Everything came together in Montreal at the right time. People were hungry for the new music. They wanted stuff they were used to, but they also wanted something else--just like me."

Anyway, when I got this record, I thought I had come across a genuine cheap, one of a kind rare find, and I still feel like I have. However, a quick internet search reveals that Joey Negro and Sean P. seem to have got to it first. This track is available on CD on their first "Soul of Disco" (2005, Z Records) compilation, which I don't have yet, but probably should.

LINKS:
AURA - L.A. SUNSHINE 12'' @ DISCOGS
DISCOGS - ROBERT OUIMET
DISCOGS - ROB OUIMET (SEPARATE LISTING)
DEEPSOUND PROMOTIONS - ROBERT OUIMET
RHINO RECORDS - THE DISCO BOX LINERS
DJ HISTORY FORUMS: MONTREAL'S DISCO HERITAGE
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MUSIC IN CANADA - DISCO

PURCHASE:
JOEY NEGRO & SEAN P. - THE SOUL OF DISCO (2 CD - INCLUDES "L.A. SUNSHINE") | CDUNIVERSE.COM | AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CO.UK


CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, CAN-CON DISCO

Saturday, January 06, 2007

BBC Radio 2 - The Record Producers: Nile Rodgers


BBC Radio 2’s hour-long documentary on Nile Rodgers, originally broadcast last Monday January 1st is now (finally) available online.

This last show is the latest installment in their ‘Record Producers’ series, hosted by Richard Allinson and Steve Levine. I’ve been listening to it for the last couple of days and for anyone else out there who's a Chic fan, like myself, it's well worth a listen or two, or three..

For this program, Nile Rodgers had given the BBC exclusive access to some of his multitrack masters here, most notably for Chic’s “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” They then proceeded to deconstruct the masters, analyzing and isolating some of those small, but key elements which made those records as classic as they are.



BBC Radio 2 - The Record Producers: Nile Rodgers


Just being able to hear them isolate the drums and bass of “Le Freak” alone was worth the price of admission (which in this case is free, but certainly feels much more exclusive). Listening to Nile talk about the concept behind “Good Times” while hearing it's string, guitar and bass parts by themselves only affirms why "Good Times" is one of their most, if not one of the most iconic records of that time.

If I'm not mistaken, this is possibly the first time the Chic sound has been taken apart, analyzed and put back together in this way. After 1979/1980, being one of the biggest victims of the disco backlash, hearing a program like this certainly speaks to the respect and credibility they’ve gained over the past 30 years or so.

Although I’m focusing on Chic, Nile Rodgers’ career, of course, went well beyond; recovering from the disco backlash to become one of the hottest producers of the 1980s. The last part of the program goes past his 'Chic Organization' work with Bernard Edwards and into many of those landmark solo productions, like David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” and naturally, Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.”

Music aside, hearing Nile’s commentary and his many personal anecdotes was the other major highlight of the program. Hearing him tell his tales of working on the Sheila & B. Devotion album as well as his own personal interactions with Diana Ross and David Bowie is just about as entertaining as the songs themselves.

For anyone wants to hear more, Nile Rodgers was previously interviewed by BBC in January 2005, for Radio 4’s “Front Row.” On this particular show, they touched on some other elements of “Good Times” and the Chic sound which weren’t discussed on this latest ‘Record Producers’ program. The Front Row broadcast is still available for listening on the Front Row website (fast forward to 13.10 on the Real Media file).

LINKS:
BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (JANUARY 1, 2007)
BBC RADIO 4 - FRONT ROW: INTERVIEW WITH NILE RODGERS (JANUARY 6, 2005)
WIKIPEDIA - NILE RODGERS
DISCOGS - NILE RODGERS
ALL MUSIC GUIDE - NILE RODGERS
ALL MUSIC GUIDE - CHIC THE CHIC TRIBUTE
 WIKIPEDIA - CHIC
CHIC INTRODUCTION AND PICKS

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #2 - NORMA JEAN WRIGHT - NORMA JEAN (1978, BEARSVILLE)
UPCOMING RELEASES & REISSUES (CHIC AND MORE!): (DECEMBER 1, 2006 - JANUARY 22, 2007)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (APRIL 25-MAY 30)


CATEGORIES: INTERVIEWS, DISCO NEWS

Monday, January 01, 2007

Disco Delivery #31:
Original Disco Man, Part One.



James Brown - Give It Up or Turnit a Loose (1970, King)
James Brown - Eyesight (1978, Polydor)
James Brown - For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes (1978, Polydor)
James Brown - Medley: Get Up Offa That Thing/Release The Pressure (1976, Polydor)
James Brown - Bodyheat (1976, Polydor)

Before I do a little something on his "Original Disco Man" (1979, Polydor) LP, I figure there's no better time than now to showcase some of James Brown's other disco-era efforts..

It was sort of ironic in a way, that James Brown had to struggle to find a place within disco, a genre which he had, in large part, laid the foundations for. Despite efforts to re-brand his sound as the "James Brown New Disco Sound" (see "Jam 1980's"), it seems he never really managed to establish a firm place within disco itself. Much of the criticism of his material at the time, that he was at times repeating himself, at times copying others, and just generally losing steam are probably well-founded given the circumstances he was in at the time (financial problems, record label friction, shifting musical landscape etc..). While I can't speak for too many of the albums he released during that time and how even or uneven they were, or some of his outside productions for the JB's or Martha High, I should say that he still made some generally good records under his own name, good dance records at that, whether or not they were in the generally accepted mold of disco. They were records that seemed like they were essentially James Brown doing or at least trying to do disco, his way..

"Get Up Offa That Thing" is probably the most prominent and successful example of that. His last big US hit until "Living In America," it's no coincidence that it's refrain: "get up offa that thing, and try to release that pressure" goes straight to the essence of disco. "Eyesight" off his "Jam 1980's" (1978, Polydor) album would probably be another example. One of my personal favourites from his late '70s output; relentlessly funky with a hot, tight, blistering bass right up front complete with JB himself exclaiming "disco!" between verses. Doesn't overstay it's welcome, yet goes on long enough to satisfy.

Another one that I had to put up was, "For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes," which is, so far, one of the craziest things I've ever heard from him. When I first heard this song several months back, I thought it represented everything that went wrong with James Brown during the disco era.. An equal parts ridiculous, embarassing and hilarious ("for goodness sakes, Stevie Wonder, would you look at those cakes!") JB-style ode to booty, it felt like a kind of musical trainwreck: completely messy, slightly vulgar, but on the other hand completely, totally irresistable. No matter what I thought of it and for whatever reason, I just couldn't stop listening to it. So much so that it's become one of those James Brown tracks that I enjoy quite often now. The epitome of a guilty pleasure, if there ever was one.. I guess you can put all that craziness over some wild percussion, a tight, meaty bassline with a frantic beat and I'm sold.

Similar to "Get Up Offa That Thing" is "Bodyheat," both are around 8/9 minute extended jams, and both tracks as well, to quote a review off the All Music Guide, pretty much find their groove and work it to death. Particularly in the case of "Body Heat," which perhaps goes on for a little longer than necessary, but still leaves it's mark with an unmistakably funky, engaging guitar/bass combo and that refrain: "What's that!? (body heat!)."

Lastly, I don't think I could put a post like this up and omit another one of my personal favourites, the superior live version of "Get On Up or Turnit a Loose" from his "Sex Machine" (1970, King) LP.. Not one of his disco-era efforts, but in my opinion one of the funkiest, most danceable things he ever did. An undeniably dynamic performance which picks up the tempo and effectively leaves the original in the dust. In fact I'd even say that it probably overshadows anything he did in the disco era for that matter. James Brown and the JB's right at the top of their game.

Aside from "..Turn it a Loose," most of the selections above came from the double CD compilation "Dead On The Heavy Funk (1975-1983)" (1998, Polydor), which I had downloaded a little while back. Possibly the best summary of his much maligned late '70s material. Unfortunately it's now out of print and going for around $100 on Amazon.com and elsewhere, although still (mostly) available for purchase/download on the US iTunes store.

In closing, I hope to have a post for "The Original Disco Man" LP up soon. While I can't promise it will be the last James Brown-related post (I'm waiting for the Martha High disco LP that I bought a few weeks back), it will be the third and last in this latest series. In the mean time, enjoy the files (and happy new year!)..

LINKS:
JAMES BROWN @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
JAMES BROWN @ DISCOGS
ROBERT CHRISTGAU REVIEWS JAMES BROWN

CNN.COM - HOMETOWN SAYS GOODBYE TO JAMES BROWN (DECEMBER 31, 2006)
WRDW TV AUGUSTA - HIGHLIGHTS OF JAMES BROWN'S 'HOMEGOING CELEBRATION' (DECEMBER 31, 2006)

BOSTON PHOENIX - HEAVY FUNK: DEAD ON JAMES BROWN (JULY 13, 1998)
EYE WEEKLY - GET ON THE GOOD FOOT: JAMES BROWN REISSUES (DECEMBER 24, 1998)
GENERAL SMITH'S RECORD REVIEWS - DEAD ON THE HEAVY FUNK

PURCHASE:
JAMES BROWN - DEAD ON THE HEAVY FUNK (1975-1983) 2 CD | iTUNES US | AMAZON.COM
JAMES BROWN - SEX MACHINE (INCLUDES LIVE VERSION OF "GET ON UP OR TURNIT A LOOSE") | CDUNIVERSE.COM | AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CA | AMAZON.CO.UK | AMAZON.DE | AMAZON.FR

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
GOODBYE TO THE GODFATHER..


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, IN MEMORIAM.., ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS

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