Sunday, April 29, 2007

Disco Delivery #40:
Munich Machine - A Whiter Shade of Pale (1978, Casablanca)



Munich Machine - A Whiter Shade of Pale
Munich Machine - It's For You
Munich Machine - It's All Wrong (But It's Alright)
Munich Machine - La Nuit Blanche
Munich Machine - Love Fever
Munich Machine - In Love With Love

It's been a while since I've put some Giorgio Moroder up here and since this album has been a favourite of mine for a little while now and a frequent listen lately, I figure why not now?

Munich Machine was, for the most part, a moniker for the fairly regular cast of studio musicians on many of Giorgio Moroder's productions with Pete Bellotte (and others) which, at least on this album included the likes of Keith Forsey, Geoff Bastow, Mats Björklund, Dino Solera and singers Lucy Neale, Gitta Walther (AKA Jackie Robinson), and Claudia Schwarz among others. Aside from the three albums released as the Munich Machine, the "Machine" would also be anonymously credited for the "accompaniment" on a few of Donna Summer's albums, Roberta Kelly's "Trouble Maker" album and given top billing on the single Moroder produced for his sax player Dino Solera to name a few...

As well, the "Munich Machine" was not just a group of musicians, but also something of a brand for their distinct sound. In a 1978 interview with NME, Moroder branded the distinct sound of his productions and musicians as the "Munich Machine Sound" which the article characterized as their own disco-era, European equivalent of the Motown Sound. Evidently one of the common criticisms of the "Munich Machine Sound" was it's defined, formularized sound, a criticism which as the article points out, doesn't hold up quite as well when compared to the similar assembly-line, organized industrial quality of the Classic Motown sound, for example. Evidently the cover concepts on the first two Munich Machine albums with the dancing robots and the curious credit listings on this LP (musicians credited as the "Shop Floor," singers as the "Secretaries," engineer as the "Shop Steward" etc..) were, at least in part, a reply to that criticism (evidently Rinder & Lewis weren't the only disco producers with a sense of humour). Moroder himself explains it further in some key excerpts from that interview:

"Myself, I liked very much the sound of Motown in the early times, up to seven or eight years ago, but now they do not have such a recognisable feel. Mind you, the actual quality of their first recordings was not good. You know, they recorded in a little building and so on. But the music was good, so very good - and that is why they succeeded."

And quite why Moroder's work should be so disparagingly referred to in some circles as 'product' (as in production line, etc.) when Tamla (Motown) themselves formularised their songwriting - Holland, Dozier, Holland et al - and sound with similar success and without risking culpability is beyond this pair of ears. Tamla even worked out of a similarly and supposedly 'industrial' environment in Detroit.

All of which I put to Moroder, asking more specifically about the relevance of the credit listing on the 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' Munich Machine release (cf. 'shop floor, electronics foreman, mechanics foreman, shop steward, apprentice, time and motion study').

"This, you know, this is just another joke. We know people think this about what we do, so we play up to them. It is the same with the dancing robots on the covers of both Munich Machine records.

"All this talk of machines and industry make me laugh. Even if you use synthesisers and sequencers and drum machines, you have to set them up, to choose exactly what you are going to make them do. It is nonsense to say that we make all our music automatically.

"I know for myself how difficult or how easy it was to get a certain sound. Sometimes it's easy, sure, but as often as not it is at least ten times more difficult to get a good synthesiser sound than on an acoustic instrument. And of course we organise things - who does not? We have to be professional about this. There is nothing wrong with this, surely?"

Looking back today given their success and influence, the Motown comparison rings even more true. Much like Motown had been at it's height, at the time Moroder and company were at the helm of what was undoubtedly one of the most identifiable, defining sounds of the disco era.

As far as 'Munich Machine,' the recording project goes, the best known Munich Machine single would probably be the slick and sexy 15 minute disco workout "Get On The Funk Train" (which reached #7 on the Billboard Disco charts in 1977) off the first and excellent Munich Machine album. Although all three Munich Machine albums are worthwhile (the first two perhaps more so than the last, "Body Shine"), I'd say out of all three, this one has to be my personal favourite. The first album was essentially made up of sped-up, largely instrumental remakes of the so-called "soft-disco" productions from the albums he and Bellotte did for Donna Summer ("Love To Love You Baby," "Try Me I Know We Can Make It"), Roberta Kelly ("Trouble Maker"), as well as from Giorgio's own "Knights In White Satin" LP ("I Wanna Funk With You Tonite") which were all augmented with some heavy, loopy synths here and there for good measure.. This particular album, however, bears less resemblance to that earlier Munich euro-disco sound and a great deal more of the cooler, sharper and decidedly progressive electronic stamp of "I Feel Love" and "Chase" that would eventually become Moroder's most enduring trademark.

Looking back at his output, 1977 and 1978 especially seemed like banner years for Moroder and company. Between "I Feel Love," the first Donna Summer double-album "Once Upon A Time," "From Here To Eternity," the Midnight Express soundtrack and his Battlestar Galactica album which spawned the extended electro symphony that is "Evolution," Moroder seemed to be at the height of an extraordinarily fruitful period, both creatively and commercially.

In addition to all of that, last but certainly not least, I'd also include the "Whiter Shade of Pale" album in that list of notable Moroder productions from that time. Written (aside from the title track, of course) and produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, this album is perhaps not as well-known as some of the other Moroder-produced works from the time, yet it's not only an excellent, cohesive album but one which seemed to perfectly bridge elements of his more conventional euro-disco/pop leanings with his more adventurous electronic ones ("Evolution," "From Here To Eternity")..

Additionally, this album also seemed like something of a springboard from which to launch vocalist and Moroder protégé, Chris Bennett, who appears beautifully and artfully photographed (along with Shusei Nagaoka's amazing dancing robot artwork, reprised from the first Munich Machine album) on both the front and back covers. Despite that and the album's subtitle ('Introducing Chris Bennett'), this wouldn't be her first release with Moroder. Prior to this, Moroder's earliest collaboration with Chris Bennett was a little-known 7'' single from 1976 called "Disco Man" produced by Giorgio & Pete and released in the UK on a label called Bradley's Records. Although this may not have been her first showcase and, in my opinion, her best vocal performances would come later on the Giorgio & Chris album and Midnight Express soundtrack; nevertheless, this album still represented the first true and full introduction to both her image and her crystal clear voice..

As far as the music goes, moreso than any of the other Munich Machine albums, this one also displayed, perhaps most boldly and beautifully, a flawless combination between that cool, forward-looking, hypnotic electro pulse and the exquisite orchestration and instrumental arrangements, which seem somewhat overlooked these days given Moroder's reputation as a pioneer in electronic music. Putting that aside for a moment, it was not just the electronics, but often the combination between the orchestral and electronic which not only set him apart as a producer, but also, generally speaking, disco as a genre.

One track which displays that combination especially well would be the second track on the album, "It's For You." The combination is evident right from the beginning, which starts off captivating the listener with a heavy robotic pulse and spacey synth, which is then quickly augmented by what sounds like a flute along with those gracefully sublime string arrangements. The beautiful juxtaposition between the two elements practically define this track, with the dreamy elegance of those strings both complimenting and contrasting the mechanical synth sounds, making this track both gentle and intense all at once.. Bennett's vocals exhibit a similar sort of juxtaposition, alternating between a calculated cool on the verses, and an almost pleading intensity on the title refrain with those echoed, multiplied vocal effects..

The title track, a cover of the Procul Harum classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale," with it's brilliant melody and elaborate lyrics (which no one really seems to understand), is perhaps the best display of Bennett's graceful vocals on the album.. Out of all the others, her vocals on this one seem to be more dynamic, expressing a greater range and seemingly hinting at things to come on future efforts.. Granted, the thought of a disco version of this track might seem a little far-fetched at first, but somehow everything seems to gel and the whole thing just seems to work (quite beautifully, I might add). Beyond their jaunty pulse on the surface, the synths, especially further down in the mix seem to have this certain airy, albeit robotic elegance to them that manages to marry elements of the original's misty ambience with the crisp energy of this electronic remake. That, combined with the classic melody of the track; Bennett's clear, unpretentious vocal affectations and the colouring from the sax and strings also give a definite warmth to this track, despite it's energetic electronic sheen. While electronic sounds are often associated with being cold and detached, the kind of electronic warmth found on this track was one especially unique quality that other excellent Moroder productions seemed to have as well (ie. Suzi Lane's "Harmony" to name one). "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was apparently released as a single in both the US and the UK, making the lower reaches of the UK charts as well as the top 30 of the Billboard Disco Charts..

While the tracks on side one showcased a more conventional vocal style along with a more balanced electronic approach, side two on the other hand (with the exception of "Love Fever") seemed to take things to another level altogether. Opening with "La Nuit Blanche," Moroder's propulsive electronic interpretation of (part of) Richard Strauss'' "Also sprach Zarathustra" (as popularized by "2001: A Space Odyssey") and ending with "In Love With Love," which appears to have been a vinyl-era equivalent of a hidden bonus track (not listed on the back sleeve, but very much in the grooves and printed on the label), side two on the other hand seemed to be more of a showcase for Giorgio's more ambitious, electronic instrumentals.. Overall for me, "In Love With Love" with it's heavily vocodered vocals and beautiful, entrancing variety of shiny synth sounds and changes is the definite standout on side two. One of the things I love is how the track builds in the beginning with those beautiful, blissful synth textures and later seamlessly segues into this intense trance towards the end, with those darker synth sounds replacing the electro-sparkles of the first part. The sounds that they used along with the vocodered vocals on the track seemed to foreshadow (among other things) the direction he would take on both "Chase" and his own "E=mc²" (1979, Casablanca) album, not to mention a certain synth passage (at around 2.11) which bears an uncanny resemblance to something I've heard on a Eurythmics record at some point. Either way, the intricate electronics of "In Love With Love" certainly made a great ending for the album, almost like a kind of musical cliff-hanger ending things on a high point, leaving the listener with an expectation, an exciting glimpse of the future..

Despite the fact that Moroder gets a great deal of credit as an innovator these days (and rightfully so), some of his close collaborators like Pete Bellotte for example, seem to get lost in the shuffle, so to speak. Judging from interviews and the division of credits on his productions, Moroder seems to fall into that category of producers with a 'hands-off' production style, those who prefer to work with a team, leaving some of the details of their vision to an able, ensemble cast of musicians. As opposed to a hands-on producer putting their hands in practically every aspect of the recording, Moroder, judging in part from a 1996 interview with Future Music admitted: "I`ve rarely done a whole recording by myself." Despite the hands-off style, it certainly seems to speak to his ideas and his abilities as a producer that the sound of most of his productions still clearly bear his stamp more than anything else. Although as a result, it may be difficult at times to know just where Moroder's input ended and his co-producers' came in, it at least seems to explain the equal credit given to his co producers (usually Pete Bellotte or Harold Faltermeyer) on albums like this one and others.

Aside from the lyrics where Bellotte's contribution is much more clear, judging from Bellotte's style on his own solo productions (ie. Melba Moore's "Burn" LP, Marsha Hunt, Trax etc..), I can only speculate that his input also seemed to be pretty strong on the more acoustic, instrumental elements when it came to his productions with Moroder. Given that, Bellotte's stamp on this record is perhaps most evident on the two most instrumentally elaborate tracks on the album: "It's All Wrong (But It's Alright)" on side one with it's lyrical narrative and dramatic Spanish-inspired horn section, and "Love Fever" on side two. Although perhaps debatable on "It's All Wrong..," "Love Fever" seems to bear the closest resemblance to his solo productions with the quick intricacy of those background guitars and the dynamic, prominent horn arrangements, all of which seem to bear Bellotte's signature style.

This album would probably the last actual Munich Machine album that could be considered a guise for Moroder's backup band. The final Munich Machine album "Body Shine" (1979, Casablanca) seemed to move away from the original more anonymous concept of the first two albums and and into more of a conventional "band" formula. By that point, the 'band' officially consisted of Günter Moll, Stefan Wissnet along with singers Judith Jones and Yolande Howard with all four actually pictured on the back cover. With Moll and Wissnet also having production credit alongside Moroder, that record also had a significantly different sound to this one as well as to many of the other things Moroder was putting out at the time. In 1996, all the tracks from the first Munich Machine album along with this one were released on a CD compilation called "Get On The Funk Train," (1996, Oasis/Bud Music). Long out of print, it's not one which shows up often, in fact I've only ever seen the CD once on eBay. Needless to say, it was completely out of my price range at the time but I did manage to save a picture of it, in case anyone's curious about what it looks like. Luckily, I'd also acquired a CD rip of the compilation later on which is the next best thing, I suppose (and is where all the tracks up here come from)..

On future albums Chris Bennett would go on to be one of Moroder's most frequent collaborators, not only as a singer but as a songwriter, contributing lyrics and vocals for quite a few of his projects, most notably the Midnight Express soundtrack for which she'd share in it's Academy Award nomination. Another notable collaboration would be the duet album they'd do together as Giorgio & Chris, "Love's In You, Love's In Me" (1978, Casablanca), which given the romantic tone of much of it, makes me wonder if they were more than just creative collaborators at the time.. Based in Los Angeles these days, Bennett had reinvented herself as a contemporary jazz chanteuse in the 1990's, having recorded some seven albums since then in addition to her disco work. If anything, I'd say that the lady still looks and sounds great today. You can see and hear for yourself on her Myspace page and on her official website.

Given not only Moroder's legacy but the excellence of much of his disco output, hopefully this along with the other Munich Machine albums (and other out of print Moroder-produced records) will be revisited for future reissue at some point. Although like many disco producers at the time, Moroder seemed to be putting out records with such frequency, it seems inevitable that a few would have gotten lost in the shuffle, which probably explains why this one doesn't seem to be talked about or cited too often these days. While this album may not be among his more iconic productions, it was nonetheless an excellent record showing one of disco's greatest producers and production teams at the top of their game.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #14: SUZI LANE - OOH LA LA (1979, ELEKTRA) (SATURDAY APRIL 8, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #5: GIORGIO MORODER - FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1977, OASIS/CASABLANCA) (FRIDAY FEBRUARY 3, 2006)

LINKS:
MUNICH MACHINE @ DISCOGS
MUNICH MACHINE - A WHITER SHADE OF PALE LP (REVIEW) @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
MUNICH MACHINE - A WHITER SHADE OF PALE LP @ DISCOGS
MUNICH MACHINE - A WHITER SHADE OF PALE LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
GIORGIO MORODER @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
GIORGIO MORODER @ DISCOGS
GIORGIO MORODER @ WIKIPEDIA
GIORGIO MORODER @ JAHSONIC
MORODER'S MUSIC
GIORGIO MORODER: FATHER OF COMPUTER DISCO
MORODER-SUMMER TRIBUTE
GIORGIO MORODER COVER GALLERY
GIORGIO MORODER INTERVIEW WITH FUTURE MUSIC (1996)
MORODER'S MUSIC: GIORGIO MORODER INTERVIEW WITH NME (DECEMBER 9, 1978)
PETE BELLOTTE @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
PETE BELLOTTE @ DISCOGS
BBC NEWS: IN TUNE WITH BRITAIN'S DISCO KING (PETE BELLOTTE INTERVIEW) (SEPTEMBER 19, 2004)
CHRIS BENNETT @ DISCOGS
CHRIS BENNETT @ WIKIPEDIA
CHRIS BENNETT @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
CHRIS BENNETT'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE
CHRIS BENNETT'S OFFICIAL MYSPACE

PROCUL HARUM - BEYOND THE PALE: MEANINGS IN "A WHITER SHADE OF PALE"
PROCUL HARUM - BEYOND THE PALE: COVER VERSIONS OF "A WHITER SHADE OF PALE"
SONGFACTS: A WHITER SHADE OF PALE BY PROCUL HARUM
BBC NEWS: WHAT IS THE LIGHT FANDANGO? (NOVEMBER 14, 2006)
"A WHITER SHADE OF PALE" @ WIKIPEDIA
SHUSEI NAGAOKA GALLERY


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Codebreaker: Are You Ready 2 Love?



Codebreaker - Are You Ready 2 Love? (2007, Codebreaker)

*purchase links corrected

Just a little weekend detour here.. Lately, I've been hearing a lot new music that I've been particularly excited about and these guys are at the top of my list. Shortly after posting about Ultra Naté's new stuff, I got turned on to the up-and coming Milwaukee duo Codebreaker. About a week ago, one of the guys in Codebreaker, Steven Hawley was kind enough to send me a copy of their latest CD "Exiled!". The duo (Steven Hawley and Sage Schwarm) have been generating a lot of buzz in the blogosphere lately, and after listening to the CD, I knew I had to do my part.. These past few days, ever since getting it, I've been totally digging that unabashedly infectious electro space-disco funk-rock groove that they've got going on. Chunky guitars, infectious grooves, electronic beats, dreamy synths and their own brand of space-funk quirkiness on top of it all. It's like Nile Rodgers in his 'land of the good groove' meeting the polished electronics of Hysteria-era Cerrone. Either way, whatever frame of reference you may choose, these guys have put out some of the most original, exciting stuff that I've heard lately.

One of my personal favourites off the CD has got to be "Are You Ready 2 Love" a mostly instrumental track with those hyper electro beats, infectious guitars, Moroder-esque vocoder effects and a bit of elegant, 21st century disco-funkiness. If this doesn't get you up, you might need to get your boogie-senses checked. Other choice tracks include the outstanding "Dream Lover," "Exiled!" (which you can download from their Myspace), "Here Come Cowboys" and "Riviera On The Moon".. I could go on but to put it plainly, the whole CD is excellent. If you're curious to hear more of them, check their Myspace. Better yet, go and buy their CD* (seven tracks, all of 'em quality) at CD Baby..

Also, just for the record: their CD is almost entirely DIY, self-produced and marketed. Given that, it's quite a testament to their abilities that their record sounds as good as it does. It's hard to believe these guys haven't been snapped up by a label yet, but when you're this good, I suppose it's only a matter of time. In the mean time, God bless Myspace.

PURCHASE:

CODEBREAKER - EXILED! CD
CD BABY*

LINKS:
CODEBREAKER'S OFFICIAL MYSPACE
CODEBREAKERMUSIC.COM
BRIGHTEST YOUNG THINGS: CODEBREAKER (APRIL 18, 2007)
ONMILWAUKEE.COM: CODEBREAKER IS EXILED! (MARCH 14, 2007)
MKEONLINE.COM: CODEBREAKER DECRYPTED (NOVEMBER 24, 2005)
CODEBREAKER VIDEO INTERVIEW PART ONE | PART TWO


CATEGORIES: NUDISCO

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Deep Cuts



Cut Glass - Without Your Love (1980, 20th Century Fox)
Cut Glass - Alive With Love (1980, 20th Century Fox)

Cut Glass - Without Your Love (Hot Tracks Remix)

Updated and re-uploaded 1/15/09

If there's anything that fits the bill of an 'undergound disco classic' it's got to be this single.. Although I'm sure it was popular in quite a few clubs back in the day, this single was evidently an iconic staple in the playlist of New York's legendary (some might also say infamous) gay nightclub The Saint. As a result, this record, particularly the A-Side "Without Your Love" became quite an anthem and something of a cult disco classic in quite a few disco circles. I can only go by second-hand knowledge here, but DJ, record producer and apparent 'Saint' devotee Ian Levine, in an interview with the DJ History website partially explained the hysteria:

The music at the Saint was so spot on. I can remember so many records: Souvenirs by Voyage, Sentimentally It’s You by Theo Vaness. Everywhere else went for the pounding of the beat. The Saint went for the beauty in the music. Rattling their tambourines, these guys with their shirts off with these huge fans. And it was packed. There was 4,000 people in there. I never saw it, even in the summer, with less than 2,000 there...... Just as northern soul discovered the records of the sixties and played them in the seventies, so the Saint discovered the records of the seventies and played them in the eighties. They made Gods out of the cult disco records of the seventies. Cut Glass Without Your Love. $200 a copy for the 12-inch on 20th Century. Charlie Grappone, of Vinylmania in New York, used to have them on the wall; these priceless 12-inch things. There was no bigger record in the Saint than Cut Glass.

Whether it was the biggest or just one of the biggest at The Saint (another one that comes up often is Marlena Shaw's version of "Touch Me In The Morning"), evidently the record was so popular at one point that someone even put out a bootleg 12" (on an apparently fictitious label called Earhole Records) in order to satisfy demand..

Cut Glass was essentially a guise for Detroit based producers Jeffrey Steinberg and Jeffrey Parsons, the same guys behind the excellent Hott City - Ain't Love Grand (1979, Butterfly/MCA) album. The voices behind Cut Glass were also none other than singers Ortheia Barnes and Mildred Vaney (AKA Millie Scott), both of whom had also sang on a good portion of the Hott City record (see Disco Delivery #20 for more on them and Hott City). As far as I know, Hott City and Cut Glass are the only two projects released by Steinberg and Parsons (certainly the only ones I've ever found) and this single definitely has their indelible stamp on it. Generally speaking, the sound of Cut Glass, for the most part, picks up where Hott City left off, albeit with less irony and more sincerity this time around..

As great as both tracks on the single are, the A-Side "Without Your Love" would probably be the standout here. After I first heard it, I don't know how many times I had caught myself humming that melody, singing that refrain to myself.. However, needless to say, it's not just that melody or those full, uplifting straight-to-church vocal harmonies, but the combination of those elements along with those cool, sharp and impeccable synth arrangements that make this record the ultimate combination of gospel exaltation and chemical trance. I suppose given the distinctly clean, sharp, glossy quality of the synths on this record (as well as on the Hott City LP), it's probably no wonder why this project was coined 'Cut Glass.' The crisp synth sounds and the warm, heavenly vocals of Barnes and Vaney combine to not only make this one killer record but one which exemplifes what disco did quite like nothing else.

Although these days there is much less, if hardly any gulf between R&B and elements of electronic music with the likes of Timbaland and Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins (among others) combining elements of both in their work (and having the lucrative hit making careers to reward them for it), yet some 20-30 years before them this single (albeit in a different context) similarly combined elements of both and perhaps went even further. Combining both a European-inspired (read: white) electronic, synthesized, melodic element with those distinctly American (read: black) soulful, gospel-inspired vocals in such uncompromising purity, this record achieved what was probably one of disco's greatest legacies: that bringing together of diverse, even disparate elements together into what was a beautifully distinctive sound and experience.

If the original 12'' version of "Without Your Love" doesn't display that contrast clearly enough, the Hot Tracks mix drives it home like a sucker-punch.. The remix by Hot Tracks founder Steve Algozino doubles the length of the original (among other things), taking it all the way up to some twelve or so minutes. I'm not too well versed on the output of remix services like Disconet, Hot Tracks etc., but so far, along with the Disconet mix of ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" this has got to be one of the best mixes that I've heard from either outfit. The highlight of the Steve Algozino remix has got to be that Patrick Cowley-inspired trance-inducing, out-of-this-world, spaced out synth break right in the middle. Easily taking up half of the mix, it takes that contrast, that juxtaposition between the cool electronic sheen and warm uplifting vocals to a whole new level altogether. Once choice moment in that break would be right around the 7.30 mark; just when you wonder if things are going to come back down to earth, an additional layer of piercing, knock-out electronic hypnosis kicks in, taking things higher and farther than you expect it to.. When the melody comes in again, on that major key with those great vocals on top, it comes in at such a perfectly timed moment it becomes less of a reluctant come-down and more like a warm, affirming ray of sunshine..

To digress for a moment, looking at the elements of this record, it reminded me of an article in Seattle Weekly that I came across not too long ago. The article quoted Mel Cheren of West End Records in some choice passages from his book "Keep On Dancin': My Life And The Paradise Garage" (which I still have to get) in which he described The Saint:

"The dance floor was circular and huge, and above it rose the planetarium dome, diaphanous and semi-transparent, high overhead. When lights were projected onto it the effect was unlike anything you ever saw. Up there you were in a completely other world, a world without angles and walls and restrictions, a circular world where you could whirl like a drugged dervish and swim in sound and light and beauty.......The balcony was essentially a big orgy room.......Virtually everybody up there was looking for sex, and most were finding it. Then, after trysting up there in heaven, and smoking a dusted joint or snorting some coke, you'd come back down to the dance floor for another round."

Judging from that alone, I couldn't think of a more perfect soundtrack to that than this record, particularly the remix.. The vocals and melody with their 'light and beauty', complimenting that almost spiritual high of the communal dancefloor along with those icy synth-scapes bringing to mind those darker, more illicit pleasures. I'm not even sure whether the remix version was given any significant play there, but those contrasting elements in the mix seemed to mirror the same sort of things that might have been experienced at The Saint. If anything, it certainly seems to compliment the sheer intensity that such a place must have embodied.

While "Without Your Love" may have been the prominent track here, the B-side, "Alive With Love" is an excellent record as well.. Although "Alive With Love" may not reach the same heights that "Without Your Love" does, it also has a similarly strong, full vocal; a memorable melody and refrain and that same beautiful combination of synths (so cool, they're hot) and fiery, uplifting vocals.. The Hot Tracks remix aside, out of the two tracks on the original 12" single, I have to say this one probably has the more satisfying synth break, starting out cool and sparse coloured with those light guitars and then gradually culminating into a beautifully layered, glistening soundscape.. Both tracks on the single are listed together as peaking at #16 on the Billboard club charts, so I'm sure both got ample play regardless of which was on the A-side. With it's passionate vocal, peppered with just the right amount of grit and glory along with it's slightly slower tempo and seductive sleaze-appeal this one is perhaps less bold than the A-side, but sublime and equally satisfying nonetheless..

Just to further cement the status of these two tracks, both tracks would be covered later into the 1980s. The best of the bunch would probably be Tina Fabrique's cover, "Alive With Love (A Love Letter)" (1984, Prism). Produced by John Morales and Sergio Munzibai, Tina Fabrique's version ably updates the track to the Hi-NRG sound of the time, while putting her own stamp on it with her own excellent vocals (thanks to qdearl for offering and to DungeonDJ for letting me hear this).

In addition to that, in 1985 San Francisco Hi-NRG idol Paul Parker would also cover Cut Glass with his own decent version of "Without Your Love" produced by Ian Anthony Stephens (who had also worked with Madleen Kane and Hazell Dean). Later on in 1989, Ian Levine himself would also produce a cover of "Without Your Love" as part of his ill-fated Motorcity project with one of the original vocalists, Ortheia Barnes reprising her role. Although I'm not really a fan of the recordings that came out of his ambitious Motorcity project (which are a mixed bag to say the least), he accomplished quite a feat in getting a virtual constellation of former Motown stars back in the studio, some well known (The Marvelettes, Syreeta, Mary Wilson, Former Ladies of The Supremes) others not as much (The Sisters Love, Chris Clark, The Elgins). Although never signed to (or at least never recorded for) Motown as far as I know, Ortheia Barnes, a prominent figure in the Detroit music scene was also included in the Motorcity project. Although the 1989 remake doesn't even come close to eclipsing or standing out from the original, Ian Levine has very recently put many of the tracks and videos from his Motorcity project up on YouTube, this one included (click here to view the video).. The production values of the video are quite amateur to say the least, largely consisting of Ortheia doing her thing in the studio, nevertheless it's a treat to at least see one of the faces behind these tracks..

More recently the UK club mix factory, Almighty Records had done a remix of the song in 2003 which I haven't heard yet, although given that it's on a CD single with Evelyn Thomas' "High Energy," I'm assuming the remix is most likely based on Ian Levine's '89 remake, as opposed to the original...

Although Parsons and Steinberg were far from prolific disco producers, their few disco releases under the guises of Hott City and Cut Glass (at least the ones that I've heard so far) displayed such a distinctive sound and style that it seems rather unfortunate that they weren't more prolific. Although these tracks came fairly late in the game as far as disco is concerned, both sides are great examples of not only the diversity within disco, but as one of the best things to come out of that musically odd transition period just after it's height.. Personally, I see this single as musically notable not just on it's own terms, but with it's elegantly synthesized style replacing what would probably have been a sweeping string section on an earlier disco record, it also seems to represent a kind of bridge between the classic disco sound that preceded it and the Hi-NRG dance music that would replace it in the '80s.. That transition period at the dawn of the '80s saw some, if not many disco acts and producers experimenting and often times putting out sub-par, uninspired records to distance themselves from disco's tainted shadow. However, there were inspired moments like this that, even to this day, not only sound unusually fresh and distinctive but which also realized the best of what disco had to offer..

Parsons and Steinberg would produce one more single under the Cut Glass guise, a cover of the Grey & Hanks tune "Rising Cost Of Love." From Millie Jackson, to the Supremes' Jean Terrell, to the Tom Moulton project Loose Change and others I'm sure, "Rising Cost of Love" was one song which really seemed to make the rounds in the late '70s. Unfortunately, it's one single that I don't have yet, but certainly something I'd be curious to hear one day.

Just to note: both tracks from the original 12" were ripped from my vinyl copy, however the Hot Tracks remix was a file that I had downloaded elsewhere a while back.. I believe the Steve Algozino remix was released on the 5 CD "Hot Classics Box Set" that Hot Tracks put out in the early 90s. Long out of print and produced in limited quantities, it's pretty hard to come by but given the quantity of mixes on it, it's evidently highly sought after these days.. Although I don't have this next set either, former Saint DJ Michael Fierman included "Without Your Love" on his double-CD mix compilation "Fire Island Classics, Vol. 2" (1999, Centaur), which I believe is the only place where any of the original Cut Glass recordings have been officially put on CD..

Another side note: Given that I've invoked it quite a bit on here, for more insight on The Saint, see former Saint DJ Robbie Leslie's interview with DJ History as well as some of the others in the second section of links, below..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #28: HOTT CITY - AIN'T LOVE GRAND (1979, BUTTERFLY/MCA) (MAY 22, 2006)

LINKS:
CUT GLASS - WITHOUT YOUR LOVE/ALIVE WITH LOVE 12'' @ DISCOGS
CUT GLASS - WITHOUT YOUR LOVE 12'' @ DISCO MUSIC.COM
JEFFREY STEINBERG @ DISCOGS
JEFFREY PARSONS @ DISCOGS
ORTHEIA BARNES & MILDRED VANEY @ DISCOMUSEUM
ORTHEIA BARNES @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
MILLIE SCOTT (AKA MILDRED VANEY) @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
HOT TRACKS @ DISCOGS
STEVE ALGOZINO @ WIKIPEDIA
STEVE ALGOZINO @ DISCOMUSIC.COM

SEATTLE WEEKLY - TWO EARS AND A TALE: IN PRAISE OF THE SAINT (BY KURT B. REIGHLEY) (JUNE 14, 2000)
DJ HISTORY INTERVIEWS ROBBIE LESLIE
DJ HISTORY INTERVIEWS IAN LEVINE
JOE.MY.GOD: JMG CHATS WITH DJ MICHAEL FIERMAN
ROBBIELESLIE.COM
AT THE SAINT
HISTORY OF THE SAINT - THE LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE
THE SAINT @ WIKIPEDIA

PURCHASE

DJ MICHAEL FIERMAN - FIRE ISLAND CLASSICS (2 CD MIX)
AMAZON.COM | PERFECT BEAT


CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES

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).

LINKS:
THE LOVE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA @ DISCOGS
PENTHOUSE PRESENTS THE LOVE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA LP @ DISCOGS
PENTHOUSE PRESENTS THE LOVE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
THE LOVE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - LET ME BE YOUR FANTASY/LET'S MAKE LOVE IN PUBLIC PLACES 12'' @ DISCOGS
MITCH FARBER @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
DIVA GRAY @ DISCO MUSEUM
DIVA GRAY @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
DIVA GRAY @ DISCOGS
PENTHOUSE MAGAZINE @ WIKIPEDIA
PENTHOUSE RECORDS

PURCHASE:

DISCO SPECTRUM 2 (2 CD)
CD UNIVERSE | AMAZON.CO.UK | AMAZON.COM


CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The return of Ultra Naté: Grime, Silk & Thunder



Okay, I know this is a bit of a detour from what I usually post (there will be more classic disco very very soon, I promise) but I have to say right now that I'm totally in love with some of Ultra Naté's latest stuff. Ever since I was turned on to her "Situation: Critical" (1998, Strictly Rhythm) album six years back, she's been one of my favourite and certainly one of the most consistently satisfying artists working in dance music today. In between now and her last album, she's given birth to a son, added 'house DJ' to her resumé and put together a new album, which is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of the year.. One of the things that I loved about her past work is how quite a bit of it beautifully referenced classic disco, often with Chic-inspired guitarwork and elegant string arrangements capturing the feel of disco in the most classy, genuine sort of way without sounding the least bit dated.. "Incredibly You" off "One Woman's Insanity" (1993, Warner Bros.), "New Kind of Medicine" off "Situation: Critical" as well as "Pretender" and "Dear John" (which featured an El Coco sample) from her last one, "Stranger Than Fiction" (2000, Strictly Rhythm) are a few that come to mind. Though judging from "Love's The Only Drug," the first single (produced by Eric Kupper, Brian Pope and Ultra herself) off her upcoming album, she'll be taking things to a whole new level on the upcoming record.. The whole electro-disco vibe, especially that jagged, robotic Moroder-esque pulse totally sold me when I first heard it, not to mention the video as well..


Ultra Naté - Love's The Only Drug
Uploaded by becstupak

Love the retro touches with the glistening soft focus shots and those multiplying effects.. Much like the track, the video makes some choice disco/retro references, yet does it in such a way that is fresh and visually stunning.. It's a long way from what was evidently the original cut of the video, which somehow reminded me of low-budget amateur porn.. Perhaps that was the aesthetic they were originally going for but either way, unlike this newer version, the original seemed totally mismatched for the track..

I also have to say, I thought that little reference in the lyrics: "you and me, high on ecstasy" was just perfect on this track..

Another track that's supposed to be on the album is "Freak On," her 2005 single with Stonebridge (who also mixed her upcoming record). This one originally appeared on his "Can't Get Enough" (2004, Hed Kandi) album and was one of a few excellent singles that came off that record. Love the glossy synths on this one..


Stonebridge (feat. Ultra Naté) - Freak On
Uploaded by goalgappa

Apparently the next single, a cover of the Pointer Sisters' classic "Automatic" has already hit the clubs and is currently climbing up the Billboard dance charts (see Wikipedia).. I just found the full video on YouTube, which for the life of me, I just can't stop playing.. I must admit, I was initially skeptical of this cover version, but both the track and the video (directed by Karl Giant) totally hit the mark. Harder, bolder, and sexier than the first single, it's almost if not just as good as the Pointers' original.

Just to be on the safe side and 'cause other bloggers have posted similar warnings, this video is probably NSFW... But whatever though, it's on YouTube so it's not like you'll actually be seeing any naughty bits or anything..


Ultra Naté - Automatic
Uploaded by karlGiant

If any of these tracks are anything to go by, and if the official press release is to be believed, and I quote: "from club bangers and soulful house, to electro-boogie to pop gems and hybrid-disco," this is gonna be like a musical wet dream come true.. The upcoming album, "Grime, Silk & Thunder" is due to be released May 22nd in the US on Tommy Boy's Silver Label imprint.. Can't wait!

LINKS:
ULTRA NATÉ'S OFFICIAL SITE
ULTRA NATÉ @ MYSPACE
ULTRA NATÉ @ PENETRATION INC. (PRESS RELEASE)
ULTRA NATÉ @ DISCOGS
ULTRA NATÉ @ WIKIPEDIA
ULTRA NATÉ @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
ULTRA NATÉ - LOVE'S THE ONLY DRUG 12'' @ DISCOGS
STONEBRIDGE vs. ULTRA NATÉ - FREAK ON (CD SINGLE) @ DISCOGS
ABOUT.COM: DANCE MUSIC/ELECTRONICA - INTERVIEW WITH ULTRA NATÉ
ULTRA NATÉ PRESENTS SUGAR

PURCHASE/PRE-ORDER:

ULTRA NATÉ - GRIME, SILK & THUNDER CD
CD UNIVERSE | AMAZON.COM


CATEGORIES: NUDISCO, VISUAL DISCO

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