Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bobby Viteritti - A Night at the Trocadero..



Bobby Viteritti - 1980 Salute to the Gay Men of S.F. Set (sample)
Bobby Viteritti - 1981 Trocadero - A Closing Party Set (sample)

San Francisco's Trocadero Transfer has got to be right up there with venues like The Paradise Garage and The Saint as perhaps one of the most highly revered disco scenes out there. The success of the annual Remember The Party events (next one coming up this October 7th) which I've heard so much about (but haven't actually been to yet), along with the websites and other testimonials devoted to it are practically living proof.

Several months ago I had come in contact with the Trocadero's legendary, award-winning DJ Bobby Viteritti, who had informed me about the opening of his new website at bobbyviteritti.com. While much of it has been up and running for the last little while, the website is now fully functional, with the recent opening of the highly anticipated Music Store section, where he has made a number of his own edits and DJ sets available for purchase. Before I get to anything else, I have to thank Bobby for being generous enough to let me put some samples from his sets up here.. So far there are over 14 different sets available for purchase including one of his own exclusive edits. The first excerpt here is from a great section (tinged with some choice electro/italo faves) of the awesome four-part 'Salute to the Gay Men of S.F.' set with a Cheryl Lynn live appearance part-way through (see his interviews where he recounts one of the more infamous stunts he once pulled on her). The other is a small section of a stellar 1981 'closing party' sleaze set from the Trocadero. What he does with the third track (One Way feat. Al Hudson's "Now That I Found You") on the latter set has got to be one of the most achingly beautiful, emotional things I've ever heard in a mix.. If that doesn't tug at your heart-strings, then I don't know what will..

The sets in his web shop are divided up into a series of high-quality mp3 downloads, each of them made to fit a single CD. Most of them are at reduced prices for the time being and as a bonus, signing up as a member of the webshop will also get you a free download of one of them..

While 'legendary' might be a gushy, overused adjective; after reading people wax poetic about Bobby's skills and his storied nights at the Trocadero on disco forums and websites for the last several years, it's really the only way to describe the effect his work has had on people and the memories that it holds.. For me personally, it was only after hearing one of the low quality live tapes floating through the internet - one of his classic morning music/sleaze sets (the 'Morning Magic' mix, to be exact), that I finally realized what everyone was talking about. Widely recognized as one of the most technically and stylistically proficient DJ's of his time, listening to his work while reading the excellent interview he recently did with disco-disco.com (also see the ones at discomusic.com and Disco Museum) was like a little lesson and glimpse into the artistry of the DJ.. While I'm not knowledgeable enough about DJing to really espound on the technical side of things, it's been said that his emphasis on the midrange of the song, as opposed to the bass was his hallmark. Listening to his mixes, his ability to make those smooth, graceful transitions, seamlessly weaving through different moods are completely indicative of that. It's an approach that seems to go past the beat, into a much higher plane of mood and feeling.. It's enough to make one wish they could have been there to experience it all.

To hear more of Bobby's work, go to the samples section of his website where there are generous samples of several different styles and moods in his work.. Also, in the 'Videos' section you can view a montage of clips from a little John Goss documentary from 1993 called "Wrecked For Life: The Trip and Magic of Trocadero Transfer". If you enjoy hearing people's real live back-in-the-day testimonials like I do, then you'll likely get a kick out of those too..

Anyway, in closing; if you, by any chance, haven't heard of him yet, or are only familiar in passing, then do check him out. Pardon me for using a tired old cliché, but as far as artists and DJ's go, Bobby's the real deal.

PURCHASE:
BOBBY VITERITTI OFFICIAL STORE

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
COCKTAILS AT THE DISCO LOUNGE.. (MONDAY JUNE 11, 2007)

LINKS:
BOBBY VITERITTI'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE
BOBBY VITERITTI'S MYSPACE
BOBBY VITERITTI @ DISCOGS
BOBBY VITERITTI INTERVIEW @ DISCO-DISCO.COM
BOBBY VITERITTI INTERVIEW @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
BOBBY VITERITTI INTERVIEW @ DISCOMUSEUM.COM
TROCADERO TRANSFER @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
TROCADERO TRANSFER @ WIKIPEDIA
REMEMBER THE PARTY

CATEGORIES: DISCO NEWS, MINI DELIVERIES

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Disco Delivery #45:
Midnight Wind (1980, AVI)



Midnight Wind - Rocket
Midnight Wind - Shoplifting My Love
Midnight Wind - Can't Hide It (I Came Here To Dance)

I recently obtained this awesome little Rinder & Lewis (well, mostly) production from 1980, and after hearing it for myself, I just knew I had to put it up on here. Before buying I had heard some samples of the music, but still, I was a little unsure about how this album would sound, largely due to the fact that I've read, shall we say, mixed reviews of their hard-to-find early 80's material on AVI. Apparently much of it was either experimental (see the Rinder & Lewis Cataclysm LP) or just sub par stuff they put out to fulfill remaining contractual obligations. One that has been cited as the latter was a curious 1981 LP they did under the guise Cheetah, which I have yet to find, but which is, I suppose, a rather appropriate name, considering all the tracks were apparently recycled El Coco tracks, put to new vocals and lyrics.. In this particular case, I shouldn't have worried. Clocking in close to 20 minutes, it's a very short album, even by disco standards; which likely explains why it's denoted as a Mini LP on the label (same thing as an EP, I suppose). Regardless of that, it's quality stuff all the way through. Although I later found out one of the tracks was recycled - "Can't Hide It (I Came Here To Dance)," which originally appeared under a different mix on a Le Pamplemousse LP, even that doesn't take away from the excellence of all three cuts on here..

To recap, for those who may not be familiar: Laurin Rinder and W. Michael Lewis would have to have been one of the most prolific, and even influential production duos in disco music. Based out of the Producer's Workshop studios in Hollywood, they were originally drafted by AVI to go to a nightclub and see about this 'new disco stuff' in case they would be able to do it. Despite having done so on record label suggestion, they would end up with what would have to one of the the more successful, highly regarded (and thus highly sampled) catalogues in disco. Working mostly with the AVI and Butterfly labels, much of their best known productions were drafted under guises such like El Coco, Le Pamplemousse, Rinder & Lewis (for AVI) along with Saint Tropez and Tuxedo Junction (for Butterfly). Aside from those, there were also some under lesser-known guises, like this record - Midnight Wind, Discognosis, Rinlew All-stars and the In Search Of.. Orchestra, to name just a few of the ones I know about. With their all-night coke-fuelled recording sessions (Laurin Rinder's infamous year-old Discopia interview quote about having to put inserts in his nose in order to keep doing coke still blows my mind) they managed to crank out some of the most exquisite disco music ever released (look no further than El Coco's "Dancing In Paradise"). If you factor in some of the scores they did (see the listing at the end of Laurin Rinder's discomusic.com interview) in addition to all of their disco work, it's enough to make your sinuses hurt.

Curiously though, the opening track of the record, "Shopliftin' My Love" is actually not a Rinder & Lewis production, but written and produced instead by frequent Rinder & Lewis collaborator Merria Ross and Troy Laws.. An elegant disco track that opens slow and sultry, but gently escalates into a piano driven groove, it's fronted by a great vocal (Merria Ross?) that's smooth, urgent and elegant all at the same time.. Despite not being produced by Rinder & Lewis, this track blends well with the others on the record, incorporating some of their elegant styling, albeit with more lyrics than the other two tracks combined and an engaging musical point with those piano chords, giving it a slightly more melodic feel..

The last track on the A-side is the remixed version of "Can't Hide It (I Came Here To Dance)," which originally appeared on the Le Pamplemousse "Sweet Magic" (1978, AVI) LP. Written by a one Ruben Banuelos (whose also a contributor on a few other Le Pamplemousse LPs), the remix on this record takes the track down about a minute from 4.28, to 3.28, keeping the original vocals but scissoring out some verses ("..thought I lost my inspiration..'til I made my destination..," "...don't want no idle conversation, following up by explanations..") from the original. Overall, I actually prefer the remixed version on this record. In a way it takes the song's own advice, cutting down on the explanations, getting to the destination - focusing more on the groove, with the emphasis that bass and excellent brass section making up for the 'lost' lyrics. With the big, horn-driven arrangements and lyrics like: "..make believe I'm Fred Astaire..dancing in a world of splendor, music only takes you there.. ", and "...doin' things like John Travolta, and a little bit more..," evidently Chic weren't the only disco act to connect swing era references to images of the freewheeling champagne-and-cocaine heights of disco decadence..

However, as good as the tracks are on Side A, the ultimate track on this record has got to be the one on Side B, the Merria Ross track "Rocket" (less about rockets and more about rocking, so to speak).. Propelled by a little killer bass riff, a driving beat and a lively chorus of vocals which manage to turn cute elementary wordplay into the stuff of irresistible disco charm; this one's right up there with some of the most infectious Rinder & Lewis stuff that I've heard. With W. Michael Lewis' signature warm, jazzy, and spacey synth stylings (anyone know what type of synthesizers those might be?) layered on top of the robotic beat, along with an exciting sax solo on the break, it's got enough musical variety to keep things interesting and arresting without taking away from the groove.. Goes on for some eight or so minutes; just long enough to keep one moving and listening, without wearing out it's welcome. Top-tier stuff, as far as I'm concerned..

As far as some of the other aspects of this 'Mini-LP' are concerned, when Laurin Rinder once said in an interview that AVI were a pretty "low-end label," he wasn't kidding.. The low quality paper glued over the cardboard makes the album look at least two decades older than it actually is. AVI had to have been one of the few remaining companies doing their LP jackets like that in 1980. Curiously, there aren't even any musician credits on the sleeve, which perhaps might have something to do with the Mini-LP/promo-only status of the record. And while on that note; so far, I have yet to find any evidence of a commercial release of this record or anything under the Midnight Wind name. Given that all records of this on the internet (the few that are available), like the entries on discomusic.com and Discogs happen to be promos as well, I'd venture to guess that this most likely never even went beyond promo-only (unless someone out there knows otherwise?). Not sure why it would have been, perhaps the promo didn't generate enough interest to warrant a commercial release of these and perhaps other Midnight Wind tracks at the time? Who knows?

Into the 1980's, while Rinder & Lewis would continue for a little while with releases under the El Coco, Saint Tropez guises among others, the two eventually settled more into movie scoring. So far the last thing I've seen them both credited together on was a score for a little 1987 movie called "Hot Child In The City" (some sources credit both Rinder & Lewis for the score, some only Lewis - which ones are right?). While Laurin Rinder has moved on from the music business into photography, he's done a couple of interviews about his disco work in recent years, little has been heard from W. Michael Lewis on the same subject. Recently, some later Google search results and a couple of posts on the discomusic.com forums (courtesy of users Paulo and FunkyChris) revealed a couple of things.. One of them being an interesting late '90s interview with W. Michael Lewis. Although he doesn't go in to much detail about his disco work, it's an interesting look at his immense musical background and one of the few interviews with him that have been published on the 'net. Another one was a link to a little record company called SnailWorx. Founded in 2003 by Lewis and AVI Records' co-founder Ray Harris, it seems Lewis is still quite active in the music business..

One of the Rinder & Lewis collaborators that I'd like to know more about would be Merria Ross, who seems to appear or otherwise contribute to a great deal of their disco work.. Outside of her work with Rinder & Lewis, she would also be the writer behind one of Donna Summer's biggest post-disco hits, the Quincy Jones produced "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)." She's also been described as a "traveling singer/actress," yet somehow IMDB lists no credits for a Merria Ross.. There is, however, a listing for a Merrie Lynn Ross (sometimes listed as Merrie Ross). Although nothing on Merrie Lynn Ross' credits lists songwriting, one website lists some outside projects, hinting at a versatility that could possibly include some musical involvement. That said, I'm not even sure if Merria and Merrie are one in the same, but I can't help but wonder if the similar names are more than coincidental.. Update (12/06/07): I recently got a nice email from Merria Ross herself, wherein she confirmed that she and Merrie Lynn Ross are not one in the same. She also shed some insight into her contributions to Rinder & Lewis' work and on the partnership itself, which was greatly appreciated. Thanks again to Merria for her kind contributions..

Anyway, all things considered; although not nearly as well-known as some of their other work, this record remains an enjoyable little sleeper from one of the most prolific studio teams in disco. Despite it's length, those who enjoy Rinder & Lewis' sophisticated disco style would especially enjoy this one. That said, anyone who comes across this in a record dig would be especially fortunate, since one should be prepared to pay, shall we say, somewhat more usual for this on eBay..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DANCING, DANCING IN PARADISE (MONDAY DECEMBER 18, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #25: RINDER & LEWIS - WARRIORS (1979, AVI/QUALITY) (SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 19, 2006)

LINKS:
MIDNIGHT WIND MINI LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
MIDNIGHT WIND MINI LP @ DISCOGS
W. MICHAEL LEWIS INTERVIEW (c. 1998)
LAURIN RINDER INTERVIEW (DISCOPIA #8)
LAURIN RINDER INTERVIEW @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
RINDER & LEWIS @ DISCOMUSEUM
W. MICHAEL LEWIS @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
LAURIN RINDER @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
MERRIA ROSS @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Twiggy does disco.. (with a little help from Donna)



This is just too fabulous.. Via the discomusic.com forums and the excellent Donna Summer Tribute site, comes news that supermodel Twiggy's 1979 disco album (entitled "Heaven In My Eyes") will soon be released. Shelved for nearly thirty years, word about this project has circulated among Donna die-hards, though until now, I had absolutely no clue about the existence of this project. If the fact that Twiggy did a disco album weren't notable enough, the fact that the record was produced by none other than Donna Summer herself along with Moroder associate/sound engineer, Jürgen Koppers (with contributions from Pete Bellotte, and Donna's husband, Bruce Sudano of Brooklyn Dreams), makes it that much more interesting.

Whether the one released track ("My Baby Understands" off "Bad Girls") from the Summer/Koppers partnership will reflect the sound on here is a little unclear, since apparently much of the work they produced together has gone unreleased thus far. Aside from the Twiggy album, another one of Summer/Koppers unreleased projects was a 1978 album (or at least most of one) called "Watchin' Daddy Dance" for Sunshine, a group made up of Donna Summer's sisters.. Hopefully Jürgen Koppers' own production efforts for the likes of Linda Clifford, Pattie Brooks and the group Persia to name a few, will provide a better glimpse into the possible sound of this record.

So far, the general release has been set for November 7th, via Sepia Records of the UK. From the looks of the label's website and the titles they specialize in, it looks like this might be their most contemporary release to date..Through Twiggy's official site, there's already a special microsite set up to promote it's release.. Although the general release is set for November, if you order through the official website, apparently those will ship on September 24th.. Elsewhere, CD Universe is so far the only retailer offering it for pre-order.

Unfortunately though, aside from the track list (the eight original album tracks plus some 2007 remixes) and cover art (I'm not so hot on that 'Confessions on a Dancefloor' lettering), there are no sound samples or details about the album on the official site yet.. The only details that have come out so far are from one of Twiggy's webmasters, who posted the following on the Donna Summer fan forum:

It's been great reading everyone's feedback on the forthcoming Twiggy release produced by Donna and Juergen Koppers. Also its great to feel the general enthusiasm in the messages. I thought maybe I'd provide a few more factual details about the recording.

Back in 1979 Twiggy had just moved to LA after living in London for the majority of the 1970s. Now in LA Twiggy became friendly with Donna and Bruce Sudano and now relinquished of her UK recording contract with Phonogram they decided to collaborate on a possible new album.

The sessions took place in autumn 1979 at Rusk Studios, Hollywood. Donna co-produced the tracks with Juergen Koppers. Donna and Juergen enlisted some of the finest session musicians to play on the tracks - most of whom played on Donna's tracks. This included Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer. The sessions were engineered by Elton Ahi. Also if you listen closely on the opening track 'You've Been Lying' you'll hear that the backing vocals are provided by none other than Michael Bolton! Apparently Bolton was a popular session singer back in the late 70s.

The sessions produced eight new songs. Twiggy brought a few country songs to the session - 'Dorothy' and 'Carries On' (she had already had two hit albums in the UK with country material) the rest of the material was more up tempo disco orientated tracks. Bruce Sudano penned two songs specially for Twiggy - these are 'Lover Boy' - a real rock track with heavy guitar riffs and a soft ballad 'Sugar Daddy'.

The final and probably the stand out track of the set is 'My Baby Don't Call Me Baby' written by Pete Bellotte and Thor Baldursson for Twiggy. Donna probably would have done a super job if she had recorded the track as a solo. Twiggy duets with un an unknown male vocalist at the end of the track - it is presumed the singer is Bruce Sudano.

The title track 'Heaven In My Eyes' is a quite explicit song about promiscuity - in the style of 'Bad Girls' which was a clear depature from anything Twiggy had recorded before or really since!

Sadly the album was never released as Twiggy returned to the UK to work on a film of 'Pygmalion' before returning to the US to star in 'My One And Only' on Broadway.

The album is then accompanied by four 2007 dance remixes of the uptempo tracks. The remixes have been produced by the OUTpsiDER - a popular Australian DJ who had a radio hit with a 2004 remix of Petula Clark's 'Downtown' that was used in a New York advertising campaign.

We really hope Donna's fans enjoy this release, the songs are fantastic and thank you for all the positive feedback and support for this album.

Tim

Given the time when it was recorded, I can only speculate that this record might have been one of the many casualties of the whole disco crash. Hopefully they'll include some detailed liner notes with the CD to tell the story behind the album and give it a little context.

Although I probably shouldn't get too excited about a release which doesn't even have any sound samples up yet, I'm hopeful that even if the album itself isn't that good, with the choice players and personnel involved, hopefully there'd be at least something worthwhile on it.. Hell, even I thought the much maligned Elton John album Pete Bellotte produced had a bright moment or two (just my opinion, mind you), so I've got my fingers crossed for this one..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #40: MUNICH MACHINE - A WHITER SHADE OF PALE (1978, CASABLANCA) (SUNDAY APRIL 29, 2007)
NEW DEAL FOR DONNA (THURSDAY AUGUST 3, 2006)
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)
DONNA SUMMER - I GOT YOUR LOVE (MONDAY JANUARY 16, 2006)

PURCHASE:
TWIGGY - HEAVEN IN MY EYES - DISCOTHEQUE CD
OFFICIAL WEBSITE | CD UNIVERSE

LINKS:
TWIGGY - "HEAVEN IN MY EYES" THE OFFICIAL SITE
THE DONNA SUMMER TRIBUTE SITE
ENDLESS SUMMER FORUM - TWIGGY (AND DONNA)
TWIGGY @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
TWIGGY @ DISCOGS
TWIGGY @ IMDB
TWIGGY @ WIKIPEDIA
JÜRGEN KOPPERS @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: REISSUES & RELEASES, DISCO NEWS

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Disco Delivery #44:
Cook County - Pinball Playboy (Playboy Theme) (1979, Motown)



Cook County - Pinball Playboy (Playboy Theme) | LINK TWO
Cook County - Comin' To Getcha | LINK TWO
Cook County - Olympiad '84 | LINK TWO
Cook County - Funky Get It | LINK TWO
Cook County - State Street Samba | LINK TWO
Cook County - Little Girls & Ladies | LINK TWO

First of all, I have to thank Disco Delivery reader Enrique (Happy Birthday!) for tipping me off on to this record.. I found it a few months ago on eBay, and finally received it last month. It took a little bit of prodding on my part to get the seller to send it to me, but thankfully it's finally here. Anyway, eBay issues notwithstanding; so far, this is one of the more odd and obscure Motown releases that I've found. Looking at the credits, it's quite possibly the only record to thank both Berry Gordy and Hugh Hefner in the same sentence. With the album credited to an anonymous studio group complete with blatant promotional-tie in; on the surface, it might come across as a fairly insubstantial disco novelty. Getting down to the grooves, however, the record doesn't disappoint. If anything, certainly more musically satisfying than it's appearances might suggest..

Vic Caesar, the producer behind Cook County was himself a rather unlikely Motown alumnus. A singer, actor, music producer, and it seems, all-around renaissance man, Caesar was something of a lounge legend.. A friend of Hugh Hefner's (which perhaps partly explains this project), he had apparently lived in the Playboy Mansion at one point (staying for some ten years) and had also, among other things, wrote the theme to Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, "Nixon's The One." Although there isn't a whole lot on him on the internet, from what I have read, Vic Caesar sounded like one of those interesting old Hollywood characters who, despite not achieving the same sort recognition that many of his contemporaries did, apparently had a million entertaining "done it all," "seen it all" stories to tell from all the notables he rubbed elbows with. A 1997 article from the Phoenix New Times has a brief tribute:

How about Mr. Vic Caesar, king of the lounge singers? Vic had stories about every celebrity that has walked the face of the Earth since talkies were introduced. I'll refresh your memory: Vic played piano for Marilyn Monroe. Vic said he smoked dope with Bobby Kennedy and Sammy Davis Jr. Vic lived at the Playboy Mansion. Vic hugged Dick Nixon. Vic! My man! Phoenix doesn't deserve you, baby!

Peter Gilstrap, the same writer who wrote the above quote wrote an affectionate bio/tribute article on Caesar the year before entitled "Hail, Caesar," which not only traces his life story but also many of his interesting, entertaining encounters.. Well worth reading if you want to know more..

In a nutshell though, Vic Caesar, born Vittorio Cesario in Chicago would have a childhood immersed in music. During the Korean War, Caesar would end up serving with the US Army as a Dental Technologist. While in the army, his musical abilities would lead to a chance encounter with Marilyn Monroe, who while performing for the troops, needed someone to back her up. Coming home, the encounter would leave enough of an impression that he ended up leaving his Army profession behind to continue in music. Playing drums and piano professionally, another chance encounter with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas would eventually led him into singing:

"He says, 'Are you Italian?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He says, 'You don't have to call me sir. You sing good; get the fuck off the drums, and get yourself a little group, and get out there.'"

Caesar would go on to release at least one or two albums under his name, one of them called "Vic Caesar Sings." Along with that, he would also be involved in a club in Phoenix, Arizona; an apparently swinging joint in it's time called "Caesar's Forum." Around that time, in 1968, Caesar would be approached to perform at an event for Richard Nixon. Although as time went on, he, like many others, would sour on the Nixon Administration, that gig nonetheless led to one of his best remembered works:
"Setting aside his staunch Democratic loyalties, Vic wrote the simple, seven-word tune in 20 minutes, and when Nixon heard it at the rally (after some idiot came on before Vic and sang "The Impossible Dream"), he loved it. Life went on, Nixon won, and just days before the Inaugural, Vic got a telegram demanding his performing presence at an Inaugural ball. A Nehru-jacketed Vic and band made the scene, drove the crowd wild with "Nixon's The One."

Caesar's Nixon theme was most recently used in one of Lasse Hallstrom's latest films, "The Hoax." About his encounter with Nixon, Caesar would later say this:

"When you become president," the composer urged, "please do for the young men in Vietnam what you and the General did for me in Korea, end it!" You'll never guess how Nixon answered. "He looked me straight in the eyes," Caesar remembers, "and without as much as one blink said in a flash, 'I will do the very best I can to end it Vic, I believe it to be an unjust war.'" Unfortunately, that didn't happen any time soon after that -- and history records that public opposition soon spread far beyond Arizona bandleaders.

Politics aside, in the 1970's, he had also tried his hand at acting. One of the films he appeared in was the cult Godfather-esque grindhouse film "Massacre, Mafia Style" (AKA "The Executioner") which has been described as a "ragged, low budget exercise in vanity" with "ludicrous excesses," among other things (see the trailer on YouTube). In addition to his acting roles, he would also score a few of them, including a 1974 sex comedy "Gosh" (AKA "Alice Goodbody") (which he also had acting role in) and perhaps most notably a 1977 blaxploitation film called "Bare Knuckles" to name just a couple. The disco-funk soundtrack for "Bare Knuckles" (like many films of it's genre, I suppose), has evidently held up much better than the picture itself, having become highly regarded and sought after over the years. These days, original pressings are pretty hard to come by, athough bootleg "reissues" are practically everywhere..

As far as this project is concerned, how it came up and how it ended up on Motown, no less, is probably another story in itself. Unfortunately, none of sources that I've found on Vic Caesar go into any depth about this record, much less even mention it. Peter Gilstrap's "Hail, Caesar" article does mention some of the work he would do for the Playboy enterprise while resident in Hef's mansion, like directing the Singing Playmates, for example. Perhaps this was yet another one of those.

The title-track and selling-point of this record is basically a disco remake of Cy Coleman ("Hey, Big Spender") & Carolyn Leigh's classic "Playboy's Theme." Originally written for Hugh Hefner's "Playboy's Penthouse TV Party" (clearly, before Guccione came along) it's re-worked here as a kind of discofied promo vehicle for Bally's then new Playboy pinball machines, complete with additional quirky game machine sound-effects and some choice jingle-y double-entendres: "pinball playboy, light the night.. pinball playboy, tonight is the night, pinball playboy, make my number rise, let this bunny know she's gonna fly..." Of course, the album's cover shot pretty much makes the intent obvious, with the pinball machine sharing centre stage with February '79 Playmate, Lee Ann Michelle - face to the camera, legs spread out over the machine... That said though, as far as the track itself is concerned, it's not surprisingly the standout on the album. A brilliantly swinging, lounge-meets-disco concoction that's ultimately and totally irresistible. Even those crazy sound effects which might come across as silly and gimmicky at the beginning, end up becoming a major part of it's charm. Generously used as to be catchy, yet not overdone as to be annoying..

Complete with a breathless chorus of cooing females (courtesy of Jody, Amy & Lauri Taylor), those awesome strings, and of course, that great sax - a major part of the jazzy, swinging vibe on the track, "Pinball Playboy" is perhaps the most enjoyable disco novelty track I've yet to hear. It's so well done, it feels almost unjust to call it a mere novelty, yet evidently the label probably didn't see it as anything more. For one thing, the track clocks in at a relatively modest (at least in disco standards) 5.44 on the album. Usually, the standout track on an anonymous disco production album such as this one would cover most, if not all of an entire side. In hindsight, it's too bad nobody did an extended 12'' mix of the track, since the funky swinging groove of the track practically cries out for it. They could have possibly done two mixes, a regular extended version and a kind of instrumental mix, taking out the sound-effects and pinball references, for those who might not have cared for the novelty stuff.. Perhaps it wasn't the sort of sound that was burning up dancefloors at the time, yet one still can't help but feel more could have been done with it.

Regardless of that, thankfully the rest of the album doesn't disappoint. The rest of the record is made up of six more Vic Caesar originals, who, to his credit, instead of making the rest of the record into a glorified 12'' single, used the it as a kind of creative playground of sorts, going from lite disco funk, grandiose theme music, MOR balladry, soft jazz mood music, and even a samba, of sorts.. Despite there not being any sort of unifying concept between the rest of the record, the songs (aside, maybe from the MOR ballad - "Reach Out For Love") are all quality. The more disco flavoured tracks, "Comin' To Getcha" and "Funky Get It" have become particular favourites of mine.. The latter track, "Comin' To Getcha," basically continues in the sort of swinging disco mode as the title track. Anchored by a great horn section and those airy female vocals (courtesy of Trish Turner and Terri Fischer) which make the most of the minimal lyrics, culminating in a hypnotic harmony with the refrain: "comin' to getcha, getcha, getcha." The vocals and horns are used to especially great effect on here, particularly at the three minute mark, when the vocals are punctuated by those deep horn stabs.

The other swingin' disco track on side two, "Funky Get It," opens with an unexpected, luxuriously dark, moody intro; the sort of thing one might have expected in a 70's blaxploitation films or as a opening TV theme or something (perhaps not surprising given his movie scoring background). The track later settles into a faster, harder disco groove carried by some heavy, rattling percussion and the ubiquitous chorus of females (once again courtesy of Turner and Fischer) that, with the help of those handclaps towards the end, practically drill that refrain into your head: "funky groove..funky get it.."

The side two opener, "Olympiad '84" continues with a bit of a disco vibe, albeit in a different way than the other tracks. If the title didn't make it obvious, this one fills in the "grandiose theme music" section of the album. The last sort of thing one might have expected on an album like this, it sounded as if Caesar had been inspired by John Williams and/or Meco when he did this. Seemingly referencing both, yet not quite reaching the heights of either, it's the sort of thing that sounds grand and pleasant enough to get one's attention, but perhaps becuase of it's brief duration, never quite goes beyond pleasant background music..

"State Street Samba" later brings the album to a close with a pleasantly classy groove, bringing back some of the swinging disco along with a bit of a latin flavour and some nice jazzy riffs towards the end. The song and album end rather nicely with a fittingly classy piano solo.

One other track I just had to include here as well is the soft, atmospheric instrumental "Little Girls & Ladies." Written by Vic Caesar and beloved poet, musician and author Shel Silverstein, the mood of this particular track is especially beautiful, carried by an outstanding tenor sax solo (courtesy of Sly and the Family Stone's Pat Rizzo). It's soothing, uplifting and engaging all at the same time. Though not disco in any way, it's undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album and ultimately, one of the hidden surprises on this record.

That being said, while this album likely won't be on too many disco essentials lists, it nonetheless remains an intriguing release, musically and otherwise. At it's best, the album flawlessly combines a disco sensibility with a slightly jazz-influenced lounge style. In other words, a quintessential "Playboy disco" record.. Also, given Caesar's background, the length of much of the album's tracks, and the mood and vibe that runs through it, it's almost as if some of the tracks on the record might have possibly been created for a soundtrack that never was. Although not a perfect record, and probably not the sort of thing that might have been hitting the discos hard in 1979, the soundtrack aesthetic is perhaps one of those things which gives this record it's listenable quality, along with it's share of irresistible charms and pleasant surprises. That being said, while the album itself may not be anyone's disco essential, "Pinball Playboy" would, in my opinion, be one of the ultimate disco novelty records. A little bit cheesy, perhaps, yet not to the point where the fromage overshadows the excellent musicality of the record. It's the type of thing that's charming, well-executed and musically solid enough to keep one coming back for more..

Sadly, the man behind the music, Vic Caesar, passed away in 2000 of a stroke. He spent his last years in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was involved in the local jazz scene, was on local radio for a time and still dabbled in music and recording, cutting an album with pianist Jessica Williams (no relation to the Simon Soussan-produced disco diva of the same name) among other things. Vibist Monty Stark's website has some more info on that record as well as a lot of great background on Vic Caesar himself. Despite being relegated to the minor leagues of fame, no one could ever say the man didn't have a full, exciting life and career. Here's to you, Vic!

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #39: PENTHOUSE PRESENTS THE LOVE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (1978, TALPRO) (TUESDAY APRIL 10, 2007)

LINKS:
COOK COUNTY - PINBALL PLAYBOY (PLAYBOY THEME) LP @ DISCOGS
THE PHOENIX NEW TIMES - HAIL, CAESAR! (BY PETER GILSTRAP) (SEPTEMBER 5, 1996)
VIC CAESAR @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
VIC CAESAR @ IMDB
VIC CAESAR @ DISCOGS
CY COLEMAN OBITUARY @ PLAYBILL (NOVEMBER 19, 2004)
PLAYBOY PLAYMATE DIRECTORY - LEE ANN MICHELLE (MISS FEBRUARY 1979)
REC.GAMES.PINBALL - PINBALL PLAYBOY BY COOK COUNTY (NOVEMBER 17, 1995)
INTERNET PINBALL DATABASE PRESENTS - PLAYBOY PINBALL
PINBALL REBEL - PLAYBOY PINBALL BY BALLY

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO.., IN MEMORIAM..

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