Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Look for an ascot, a big cigar..



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (1983, Able)
Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Instrumental) (1983, Able)

A little something before I get on with the final part of the Grace Jones post..

As anyone whose payed attention to the news lately must know, the legendary Eartha Kitt passed away this Christmas, at the age of 81. I just borrowed her 1989 autobiography "I'm Still Here" at the Public Library. So far, I'm still only at the beginning, but what a life she packed into those 81 years. Barring any requisite showbiz mythmaking, I don't doubt the obstacles and the desperate circumstances she had to claw out of to get to where she was. While all the tributes were pouring in all over the news, I couldn't help but pull out some of my records and take a listen to her mid-80's disco hits..

I had been introduced to them around three years ago, before YouTube really took off, after downloading a video of her performing "Where Is My Man." After that, I just had to have a copy for myself.. Prior to that, I had seen copies of the singles and her album "I Love Men" (1984, Able) in used shops many times before. It undoubtedly piqued my curiosity, but until that time though, I don't think I ever really had the nerve to pick any of them up..

Equal parts campy and catchy, "Where Is My Man," was the single which helmed her musical comeback at the time. Produced by Jacques Morali, top purveyor of disco camp and quality (see The Village People, The Ritchie Family, Phylicia Allen, Dennis Parker etc.) and credited to Morali, comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, and musician Fred Zarr, this seemed like a second moment for both Eartha and Jacques after their respective dry spells..

As an aside, although there isn't much mention of him, one of the song's co-writers, Fred Zarr, appears to have been one of Jacques Morali's main collaborators around this time, having been credit on almost everything he released around this time.. Given his credits and his apparent synth wizardry, I'd venture to guess that he was a large part of Morali's energized sound in the early/mid 80's. In a little bit of disco trivia, aside from his high profile gigs for Madonna, Whitney Houston, Debbie Gibson etc.. Zarr was also involved as a co-producer in a lot of the somewhat shady Began Cekic records of the early 1980's.

Back to the record though - a song that brings images of the Dallas/Dynasty 1980's and old Hollywood types (Zsa Zsa Gabor and her "love or money - why not both?" philosphy comes to mind), the meeting of Eartha, Vilanch and Morali couldn't have been a better recipe for instant camp. The combination of Vilanch's hilarious lyrics, the production combining old school disco finesse (those string highlights) with those catchy guitar hooks and of course Eartha's performance put it right over the top.. Complete with signature feline growl right at the beginning, she camps it up spectacularly, with a little wink or two, simultaneously paying tribute and poking fun at her image. I suppose they didn't call her the "original material girl" for nothing..

A big leopard printed 80's fantasy dripping with Diamonds and Champagne, the video is a classic, too.



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Official Video)
Uploaded by earthakitt


My favourite line in the song (not in the video, sadly), has to be in a little section toward the end. Her drawn out phrasing and the little dose of innuendo is classic: "I want.. a billionaire.. with a big, big.... big.. BIG......yacht!.. Who can take me to....Monte Carlo... Saint Tropez... and eventually..... Tiffany!"

Bruce Vilanch himself wrote a great little article in The Huffington Post about his meeting with Eartha and how "Where Is My Man" (and those lyrics, no less) came about:

"In another pocket of his existence, Jacques annually created a score for the Crazy Horse show in Paris. Spectacular showgirls lip-synched the English lyrics as well as spectacular showgirls could to an audience of non-English speakers who had about as much interest in the lyrics as Lorenz Hart might have had in the showgirls. Armed with this knowledge, Jacques asked me to write a lyric to one of his disco tunes. And he had another reason. 'The girrrrl will be lap-sinking to Eartha Kitt. And zo the lyrics need to be special.' Will she be doing an Eartha Kitt impression? 'Don't be bizarre. It is not a drag show. Eartha is sitting on a hill in Connecticut, not working. She will record this one thing.' The song was called 'Where is My Man?' It's about Eartha and her endless search for a soul-mate who never met Bernard Madoff.

I sent the lyrics to Eartha. A day later, she called. 'Brrrrruce, my love. Where have you been since 1952? This is so, so Eartha. But listen, I've never done this disco music before, so you must make a recording of this just the way you want me to phrase it so we get the maximum Eartha out of it.' If I didn't know that Ashton Kutcher had not yet been born, I would assume I was punked. Moi, teach Eartha Kitt how to phrase? Naturally, I fired off the cassette, which prompted another call from Eartha, threatening to sue me into the next world if I ever dressed up like Jim Bailey and did her act. She then went to New York and recorded the song with Jacques. During the session, they called. There was a long dance break on the record and Jacques felt she should cover it with something, something Eartha-esque. I dragged out my best trans-continental Eartha and purred, 'I want a man...with a big...big...big...big.....big....yacht.' Notice I resisted dinghy. And please enter it into the record. They loved the song at the Crazy Horse, Jacques and his business partner Henri Belolo released the song as a single, it became a gigantic dance record all over the world, I got to tip several people lavishly, and suddenly Eartha was Back.
"

Although it was largely a club hit in the US, it seems like it had hit the pop charts in parts of Europe (Number 5 in Sweden, apparently), judging from the TV appearances she made and from what others have said. Strangely, the single version of the song wasn't included (at least not on my pressing, or any of the ones I've found) of her "I Love Men" album from the following year. It was replaced, instead by a 10 minute Megamix version, which judging from the track timings, makes me wonder if it bears any relation to the Hot Tracks East-West Remix.

I skimmed through Eartha's autobiography for a little something more on this period in her career, and the few morsels that I did find were not exactly positive. As of the publishing of her book, she claimed, in an all too common music industry grievance, that she never got paid properly for the records she made under the auspices of Morali & Belolo:

"...At the end of Timbuktu I found myself scrounging again. An offer here, an offer there - Australia, England, or a few places in America. And no recording contract could be obtained anywhere.

Jacques Morali came along and offered me a contract to make a disco record. He and Bruce Vilanch wrote "Where Is My Man" which became a gold record in Sweden. (I did not know this until I walked into the office of Scorpio Records in Paris where I saw it hanging on the wall of Henri Belolo's office.) The album, I am told, especially 'Where Is My Man?' was a huge success, but no royalties were paid to me in the four years we worked together. I didn't enjoy making the record, but at least I was in the charts again, riding back into popularity, which I am extremely grateful for..
" (pgs 345-6)

I suppose, for her, it was a career opportunity she couldn't really refuse at the time.. Whatever her misgivings, "Where Is My Man" and the singles and album that followed have gone down as dance classics, especially within the gay community. For many, "Where Is My Man" will comfortably sit alongside the likes of "Santa Baby" or " C'est Si Bon" as emblematic of her style and appeal as anything else she'd ever done..

To end things off, I had to include this video - the same one that I had downloaded three years ago. Eartha performing "Where Is My Man" on the German program Musikladen, teasing the poor fellow in the front.. Notice how she forgets to 'sing' into her microphone at 1.55 and 1.58



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Musikladen)
Uploaded by fritz51333


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #11: PHYLICIA ALLEN - JOSEPHINE SUPERSTAR (1978, CASABLANCA) (FRIDAY MARCH 17, 2006)
THE FUGITIVE COP (WEDNESDAY MARCH 8, 2006)

LINKS:
EARTHA KITT FAN CLUB
EARTHA KITT @ DISCOGS
EARTHA KITT - WHERE IS MY MAN 12'' @ DISCOGS
EARTHA KITT - WHERE IS MY MAN @ WIKIPEDIA
QUEERTY - EARTHA KITT: HERE'S TO A LIFE (BY JAPHY GRANT) (MONDAY DECEMBER 29. 2008)
THE HUFFINGTON POST - EARTHA KITT: MY ENCOUNTER WITH A LEGEND (BY BRUCE VILANCH) (FRIDAY DECEMBER 26, 2008)
GUARDIAN - OBITUARY: EARTHA KITT (BY ADRIAN JACK) (FRIDAY DECEMBER 26, 2008)
BBC NEWS - OBITUARY: EARTHA KITT (THURSDAY DECEMBER 25, 2008)
PHILADELPHIA CITYPAPER - 20 QUESTIONS: EARTHA KITT (BY A.D. AMOROSI) (FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 6, 1997)

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, IN MEMORIAM.., VISUAL DISCO, DISCO NEWS

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Strange Weather - The Tumultuous Re-Emergence of Grace Jones (Part One)


Of all the things Grace Jones is infamous for, her penchant for lateness is about as notorious as her temper. As anyone who has followed Grace for any significant length of time might know it’s not unknown for the lady to be, as I've been told, hours late for her own shows yet still manage to win over the crowd by the end of it. It’s perhaps the sort of thing which led her former collaborator and paramour, Jean-Paul Goude to remark:

Grace likes to party. In the end I lost her to it. She won’t work. She’ll show up whenever she feels like it. She has an entourage that encourages it…. Ironically, the fact that she’s fucked up her career only proves how genuine she really is.

Goude’s remarks may partly explain why it has taken nearly 20 years for her to show up with her latest album, “Hurricane” (2008, Wall Of Sound). With all the false starts and delays that have surrounded the release of a new Grace Jones album these past 19 years, this is practically Grace’s own “Chinese Democracy,” except of course, Grace’s hype is much less overwhelming, and the reception much more positive and rightfully so. “Hurricane” may not replace “Nightclubbing” (1981, Island) at the top of critics’ lists, but it will probably go down as one of the finest albums of her career. For a woman who, depending on whichever birth date (1948 or 1952) you believe, is at or nearing 60, pulling off a sound like the one she has on this album, at her age and after such a lengthy absence, seems rightly triumphant. For a survivor of the disco era, it’s certainly not the first time she’s had to pull this off. A model-turned-recording artist (not always a guaranteed career move, just ask Naomi) with an undeniable presence and personality, she also had the unconventional (some have even said limited) voice to match, which seemed to be both an advantage and a challenge. For her then producer Tom Moulton who was initially reluctant to take the job and who had once remarked that her voice reminded him of Bela Lugosi, it was perhaps more of the latter.. Yet, as much of a disco icon as she was, after 1979 whatever disco cachet she carried would have likely meant next to nothing; contemporaries like Sylvester, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor had it hard enough, and even then, never quite eclipsed their disco success. If it weren’t for the vision of Island founder Chris Blackwell and his idea of pairing Grace with the team of Sly & Robbie, Alex Sadkin and The Compass Point All-Stars, Grace Jones the singer seemed destined to become yet another casualty of the times. The release of “Warm Leatherette” (1980, Island), however, proved to be the turning point. With it and the three albums that followed, the true potential of her distinctive voice, personality and presence were harnessed and showcased like never before. Emerging more artistically distinctive and relevant than ever, it was possibly the most successful reinvention of a disco act ever executed.

On a more personal note, and at the risk of sounding a tad fan-boyish, I’d have to say that discovering Grace Jones in my mid teens is probably one of those things that saved my life. Looking at her and listening to her felt like a portal to another place, another realm of possibility - into an urbane world of fashion, music, art and individuality that couldn’t have been further removed from the insipid oil money of the Calgary suburbs, the juvenile teenage punk of my peers, or the vulnerability of those early teenage years. While others may have found her cold, unrestrained gender ambiguity intimidating and threatening, to me there was something about her that felt incredibly, even radically liberating and inspiring at the time. I suppose the seemingly innate predilection of gay men toward iconic female diva figures (be them triumphant, tragic or both) likely goes a long way in explaining why myself and legions of gay men before me were drawn to her.. Cornering Grace's appeal among gay audiences and her symbolic stature in disco culture, the late Mel Cheren nailed it down pretty well in his autobiography (pgs 282-3):

"If there is anyone who, for me, epitomized the untamable, anything-goes atmosphere of those last disco days before AIDS, it was Grace Jones.... Although not a really a singer, at least not at first, she somehow convinced people to take a chance. Her first single, 'That's The Trouble,' quickly climbed the charts in the U.S. and became a smash. And Grace just as quickly became an icon for gay men... One time, early in her career, he [Tom Moulton] asked her about her direction, 'I want to be a star, darling,' she growled, which was honest enough. But she wanted stardom on her own terms, in a way that constantly raised eyebrows. People were shocked when she physically attacked London TV host Russell Harty on the air... They were shocked again when she posed nude in Hustler, entangled with another woman over the banner 'I have a lot of man in me.' They were shocked when she was simply being Grace... I adored her, but then, so did most gay men. It's hard to put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps because she, like we, defied convention at every turn. Perhaps because she rose above her roots. Because she turned the tables on society, using it's own techniques and methods to transform herself into a star. Whatever the reason, when someone asks me what or who best epitomizes those wild, wacky, sexy, wonderful days, I usually think of those animal eyes, that growl and say, if you want to know what it was like, look at Grace.

If I recall correctly, my first exposure to Grace Jones came through a little review in XY Magazine (a gay teen magazine which I used to devour in those days) for the then recently released "Private Life: Compass Point Sessions" (1998, Island/PolyGram) 2 CD set. It was enough to get me to borrow a copy from the public library. Listening to the post-disco groove fused with cold renderings of Reggae and New Wave and just the overall clash of madness and elegance, it was nothing like I’d ever heard before - not even the Reggae I used to hear Saturday afternoons on the local University radio station, which came close but still didn't quite cut it. Getting past my initial perplexion after a few listens, I was hooked. It was one of those things that rarely left my CD player in those days and still remains a frequent player for me today. A year after I'd bought it, those discs were pretty well scratched up and worn out..

If my appreciation wasn’t solidified by then, it was irreversibly so by the time I saw her One Man Show on video. I remember special ordering the VHS from the downtown HMV here in Calgary and really making an event of the day it finally came in. Skipping class one Friday afternoon in November '99 just to go pick it up, upon taking it home and playing it, I was transfixed. While her visual impact was certainly not lost on me before, One Man Show seemed to immortalize it on another level altogether. Seeing her perform “Warm Leatherette,” impeccably staged, contemptibly spitting out the song's lyrics, looking for all the world like the coldest, most ferocious, Amazonian bitch to ever live pretty much sealed it for me. At the time, for most of the gay guys I had come across, their default diva seemed to be Madonna, but for me, from that moment on, Grace was it.



Grace Jones - A One Man Show (Part 1 - Warm Leatherette, Walking In The Rain)
Uploaded by ImpatraZ

I suppose, given the cold, aggressive image she has, Grace has always been something of an enigma. Having discovered her in the late 90’s during what will probably go down as her ‘wilderness years,' her enigmatic persona seemed that much more magnified at the time. For someone so distinctive, she seemed practically off the map for much of that time, having ‘gone underground,’ as she puts it. Aside from Compass Point Sessions, which seems to have gone a long way into reintroducing her iconic back catalogue to the public, the 90’s and early 2000’s seemed to be a mess of speculation, shelved album projects, sporadic single releases, botched deals, minor movie roles, punctuated by the occasional high profile appearance now and then. Although still performing quite regularly (three times a month, she claimed in 2000), little was reported in the press, aside from the occasional bout of air/train rage, rumours about her drug habits, gossip inches about her love life and occasional festival or fashion show appearance. Amidst all of that however, talk of a new Grace Jones album, although relatively low-key, never really seemed to die.

A return to the Island label, her 1993 single, the #1 Billboard Club Hit “Sex Drive” (a cover of Industrial duo Sheep on Drugs' “Track X”) produced by Mark Pistel and Philip Steir, two-thirds of activist rap/industrial group Consolidated was a blistering, snarling return to form, especially after her largely disappointing major label liason in the late 80's. Notably, the B-side of “Sex Drive,” “Typical Male,” a cover of a track which Consolidated originally did themselves, was my personal favourite of the two tracks. A searing feminist indictment of patriarchy, who better to deliver such a statement than one of the most feared women in pop culture, herself? Needless to say, Grace's version, backed with an aggressive aural clash of beats and samples and fronted by her combative delivery, was far more effective than Consolidated's original. Although this may have come some fifteen years earlier, it is perhaps the most direct precursor to the direction she would take, using her persona as a vehicle for social commentary, upon her re-emergence earlier this year with “Corporate Cannibal.”

Listen: Grace Jones - Typical Male (1993, Island Red Label)

Despite the positive reception to the "Sex Drive" single, the 1994 album project that was to supposed to follow, said to have been entitled “Black Marilyn” would eventually end up on the shelf. Grace briefly spoke about it in her interview from the December 2008 issue of Mojo Magazine:
We had the whole album. Consolidated came in and ended up producing the whole record and I couldn't stand listening to it. I ended up crying. I just got like ‘Whaaaaaa!’ Then I started taking drugs. I think I was mixing everything. Just whatever I could find to kill the pain. Downers and uppers and whatever was new on the market.
After the aborted “Black Marilyn” project, she seemed set to return once again with her much touted collaboration with Tricky and his Durban Poison label, reported in 1996 and plugged further a couple of years later by Brian Chin for his liner notes on the Compass Point Sessions set. Yet by the end of the 90’s that collaboration seems to have effectively collapsed amid rumours of creative differences and irreconcilable demands. To date, the only track to ever surface of the three or four that they had apparently finished (Grace once said three, Tricky reportedly alleged four) from their sessions was “Hurricane”. Apparently re-recorded and included as the title track for her current album, at the time, alternatively titled “Cradle To The Grave” by some, it ended up leaking in the late 90's via a bootleg white label with two versions said to have been remixed by DJ Emily, which are still widely available on the Internet. Tricky himself had also previewed another version – one which he had remixed himself on a radio show that he hosted in September 1999.. Given Tricky's involvement in this mix, of all the versions to have surfaced, this is probably the closest to the final version recorded by Grace and Tricky.

Listen: Grace Jones - Hurricane (Cradle To The Grave) (Tricky Remix) (Unreleased)
Listen: Grace Jones - Hurricane (Cradle To The Grave) (White Label Mix 1)

Despite the apparent demise of her partnership with Tricky, there still seems to have been some resurgent interest at the turn of the millennium - a collaboration with Lil’ Kim - “Revolution” from her album ”Notorious K.I.M” (2000, Atlantic), a remix of “Pull Up To The Bumper” by Funkstar De Luxe (top 5 on the Billboard Club Charts in November 2000). Of all the one offs she did during this time, her finest would have to have been “Storm” from the soundtrack of the ill-received 1998 Avengers movie. Co-credited to frequent collaborator Bruce Wooley's Radio Science Orchestra and produced by Marius De Vries (U2, Madonna, Björk); with it's epic orchestration and Grace's larger-than-life cinematic presence, "Storm" sounded like the the Bond theme that she had never been given. With reports surfacing of yet another planned album project said to be entitled (appropriately enough) "Force Of Nature,” that track effectively seemed like an exciting preview for things to come..

Listen: Grace Jones & The Radio Science Orchestra - Storm (1998, Atlantic)

Having signed a record deal in 2000 with an emerging web-based company, MCY.com (with planned distribution by EMI) - an early proponent of digital music distribution and one of the many short lived, ill-fated dot-com enterprises of the time, things seemed to be looking hopeful once again. A prominent press interview with The Independent (her first major press interview in 8 years, they claimed) and a less high profile one the year before for Australian webzine Seven Magazine both gave hints to an imminent album release, with the latter interview ambitiously citing the likes of Roni Size, Stevie Wonder, and P. Diddy (or Puff Daddy, as he was known then) as prospective collaborators. Around mid-2001, there were also some reports mentioning that "Storm" producer, Marius De Vries had been enlisted as a co-producer on the project. Not long after however, whatever hopes of an imminent album release seemed to be dashed with the project appearing to be all but scrapped, or as MCY reps claimed ‘indefinitely on hold.’ It would be another three years before anything more was heard from Grace on the studio front..

To be continued in Part Two..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DEAR SANTA.. (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 24, 2008)
THE RETURN OF GRACE JONES? (FRIDAY JUNE 20, 2008)
RÓISÍN MURPHY AND SOME OTHER NEWER SHIT THAT GETS ME ALL EXCITED.. (THURSDAY APRIL 17, 2008)
NO HITTIN' BELOW THE BELT.. (THURSDAY JUNE 29, 2006)
DISCO REISSUES UPDATE (MARCH 17TH - APRIL 12TH (THURSDAY MARCH 16, 2006)

LINKS:
THE WORLD OF GRACE JONES
GRACE JONES - OFFICIAL MYSPACE
YAHOO! MUSIC GROUPS - GRACE JONES MAILING LIST
THE BLITZ KIDS - GRACE JONES
GRACE JONES @ WIKIPEDIA
GRACE JONES @ DISCOGS
GRACE JONES HOMEPAGE
THE INDEPENDENT - GRACE IN FAVOUR (MONDAY SEPTEMBER 4, 2000)
BILLBOARD BULLETIN - GRACE JONES TO MCY (TAKEN FROM ALLBUSINESS.COM) (TUESDAY JUNE 20, 2000)
SEVEN MAGAZINE - FEATURE: GRACE JONES (BY MICHAEL DANIELS) (APRIL 1999)
ALT.GOSSIP.CELEBRITIES - CYBERSLEAZE (11/03) (NOVEMBER 5, 1998)
UNOFFICIAL TRICKY FAN PAGE - COLLABORATIONS DISCOGRAPHY

CATEGORIES: ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS, SIDE DELIVERIES, VISUAL DISCO, DISCO NEWS

Dear Santa...

Unfortunately, I don't have much to offer in acknowledging this Christmas season. I've got some re-uploads and at least one new Disco Delivery that I want to post before the end of the year. Also, I've got a little two part feature on Grace Jones that's been a long time coming.

Anyway, instead of skipping it altogether this year, hopefully you enjoy this video of the Weather Girls' "Dear Santa (Bring Me A Man This Christmas)" that I was sent via Facebook.. Gotta love these ladies - go on and blow, Miss Izora (rest in peace).. If nothing else, Paul Jabara (rest in peace) was a camp genius!



And while we're on the subject, here's Grace Jones performance from Pee Wee Herman's deliciously twisted 1988 Christmas Special..



Anyway, with that, Merry Christmas everyone..

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First we shake, then we break..


Chic - Hangin' (1982, Atlantic)

While we're on the subject of Chic, I thought I might as well post the audio and video for "Hangin' " which I've always thought was one of the best singles from their latter period in the 1980's. Although I'd say "Take It Off" (1981, Atlantic) was Chic's best album of the 80's, I always thought this song and the "Tongue In Chic" (1982, Atlantic) album which it came from really showed them hitting their stride with their updated sound.. With a killer hook, horns centre stage and the cool, yet lively vocals from Bernard and the ladies; with Chic giving off just a little more 'street' and still maintaing their dance-appeal, this is definitely Chic at their funkiest. If I had my way, this would have been to the early 80's what "Le Freak" was to the late 70's.

Chic - Hangin' Uploaded by PaulJD2006
As far as the video goes, I never in a million years expected to find one, but one day while poking around on YouTube, there it was. Posted by the video's director himself, New York filmmaker and Emmy Award winning editor Paul Dougherty, the video is as much of a gem as the song is. With the Chic guys playing DJ, Luci and Alfa looking fly on the dancefloor, along with kids, club scenes, art groupies, and a little requisite pop-locking; it feels like a time capsule of New York and of Chic themselves in the early 80's. Director Paul Dougherty elaborates on the video in the directors notes from his YouTube page:
Though a little overwhelmed by this gig, I'm proud and lucky to have featured an early incarnation of hip-hop in this November 1982 production. I might add to this description but for now I'll just say that I met some of the players in the cast at New York's Fun Gallery. This scene was a hotbed of graffiti and hip-hop and because it was in the East Village, there was a lot a crossover, art meets the street, etc. There I met the guy I cast as the messenger, the legendary Kano and his young pal "On" aka On-ski (doing the ET dance in the tan outfit and ski hat). Also noteworthy is the disco setting which was the storied Roxy (roller-rink & disco) where c/o the nights that Kool Lady Blue organized there, white folks got some of their earliest exposure to hip-hop Chic was a pleasure to work with. I wish I could have hit one out of the park for them on this video but at least it's a fun time capsule that further ties them to the hip-hop sound they helped invent..
Whatever his reservations, as it is, this looks like one of the best visual documents of Chic's classic lineup out there, in one of the more overlooked phases of their career, no less. Aside from this video, Dougherty had directed or edited videos for the likes of Public Image Limited, Afrika Bambaataa, Whodini and The Beastie Boys, some of whch are listed on his YouTube playlists as well as his own website. Like Dougherty had alluded to at the end of his directors notes, this is one of those songs (and videos) in Chic's catalogue which perfectly situated them in between their disco heritage and the hip-hop movement which they, in part, had influenced. One of their underrated classics, in my opinion. In a little bit of side trivia: "Hangin'" was also covered in 1990 by the 'other guy' in Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley for his first and only solo album, "Son Of Albert" (1990, Epic), which I haven't heard, though I'm not expecting much. To add one more video treat before I finish off this post, evidently there was also a video for "Give Me The Lovin," one of the singles from their final album of the 80's (and witht heir classic lineup), Believer" (1983, Atlantic). Looking at this video, it seems obvious that the end was near, since Chic themselves aren't even in this one, having been stood-in for by a bunch of kids playing dress-up. One of the comments on YouTube suggests that the kids were a bit of a trend at the time, though given the waning status of the group, a fairly convenient one, it seems. Anyway, the quality is sort of shitty, but I still think it's kinda cute.
Chic- Give Me The Lovin' Uploaded by NickFRESHBoogie
PURCHASE: CHIC - REAL PEOPLE/TONGUE IN CHIC CD AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CO.UK | DUSTY GROOVE | CD UNIVERSE CHIC - BELIEVER CD AMAZON.COM | AMAZON.CO.UK | CD UNIVERSE PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES: CHIC & JOHNNY MATHIS COLLABORATIONS TO FINALLY BE RELEASED? (TUESDAY NOVEMBER 11, 2008) UPCOMING SISTER SLEDGE REISSUES (FRIDAY AUGUST 10, 2007) BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (SATURDAY JANUARY 6, 2007) UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (CHIC AND MORE!): (DECEMBER 1, 2006 - JANUARY 22, 2007) (SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25, 2006) UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (APRIL 25 - MAY 30) (FRIDAY APRIL 21, 2006) DISCO DELIVERY #2: NORMA JEAN WRIGHT - NORMA JEAN (1978, BEARSVILLE) (SATURDAY JANUARY 14, 2006) LINKS: CHIC TRIBUTE CHIC @ DISCOGS CHIC - REAL PEOPLE/TONGUE IN CHIC CD REVIEW @ DISCOMUSIC.COM ALL MUSIC GUIDE: CHIC - TONGUE IN CHIC (REVIEW) ALL MUSIC GUIDE: CHIC - BELIEVER (REVIEW) PAUL DOUGHERTY - TV NOOK PAUL DOUGHERTY ON YOUTUBE ROXY NYC @ WIKIPEDIA THE ROXY, NYC @ DISCOMUSIC.COM THE ROXY, NEW YORK @ HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, VISUAL DISCO

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chic & Johnny Mathis collaborations to finally be released?

Updated 02/03/09

Those familiar with Chic and Nile and Bernard's more obscure productions are likely familiar with the unreleased album they had produced for Johnny Mathis in 1981, entitled "I Love My Lady." Even moreso than the reported Aretha Franklin sessions, which it seems were aborted even before they had began, this album, apparently an actual finished project, has become the undisputed holy grail of Chic Organization productions. Given that people in the Chic camp like Rob Sabino, the late Tony Thompson and Nile Rodgers himself have undyingly vouched for it's excellence, no one seems to have an official explanation as to why it continues to remain unreleased. It's been suspected that Chic's production was a much too radical change in direction for Mathis. In Daryl Easlea's excellent book, "Everybody Dance: Chic & The Politics of Disco," there are a few pages dedicated to the unreleased Mathis album. At the time, Mathis had just come off a very successful collaboration with Deniece Williams, with Rodgers and Edwards apparently drawing inspiration from the aftermath of his comeback. In Easlea's book Nile Rodgers explained the inspiration and his theory as to why the album was pulled:

"He had been this big superstar, then his light dimmed a little, and then he came back after that massive record with Deniece Williams. His popularity rekindled, he went on this reckless tear - partying and hanging out; it really frightened the people closest to him. When we did this record, it was so exciting and youth oriented. All his people went 'oh my god.'... The Johnny Mathis record to me sounded like Al Jarreau meets Chic. It didn't sound like Johnny Mathis to me - it was even more edgy than I'd ever heard him.. That's why it was pulled. His audience at the time was like middle-aged women who would go out to Vegas, and this was pushing his envelope." (pgs. 191-2)

Apparently the shelving of the album project didn't stop Mathis from breaking out somewhat. The apparent 'reckless tear,' that Rodgers talks about possibly gives some context to him coming out as a gay man the following year..

However, as elusive as the album is, apparently there are some out there with copies of the recordings, one of them being Ralph Tee of Jazz FM in the UK, who recently played the title track on his radio show this past Sunday (November 9th). I recently came across a post on the discomusic.com forums by a mystery poster from the UK who had put up a link to a rip of the radio stream. Listen for yourselves..

Johnny Mathis - I Love My Lady (unreleased) (link updated)

At the end of the clip, Ralph Tee says that this and two more tracks from Chic's Johnny Mathis album will be given an official release on a Chic box set, supposedly planned for next year. I haven't been able to find any further details so far, so hopefully those will be forthcoming...

As it is though, this track sounds like one of the finest things Chic did in the 80's, like a slightly Brazilian flavoured, sparer version of the classic Chic sound.. Despite the breezy, laid-back arrangement, the Chic groove and elegance is unmistakable. While the 80's had seen Chic moving with the times, ditching the ever present Chic strings (which appear here in their understated spendour) in favour of synths, horns and a generally more funk-centred sound; this track instead echoes both the classic Chic disco sound of the 70's and some of their more adventurous acoustic efforts in the 80s ("You Can't Do It Alone," "Tavern On The Green" and some of the other tracks off the Soup For One Soundtrack to name some examples). Although I can't help but wonder how this could have sounded with a full "I Want Your Love" or "Upside Down" type of treatment, this song occupies a wonderful middle ground between the two acts. With Johnny Mathis adopting a bit of Chic's urbane edge, and at the same time giving the Chic Organization an opportunity to further expand, experiment and redefine their sound in the post-disco landscape, this is ultimately a welcome revelation. Hopefully we'll be hearing more soon..

UPDATE 02/03/09: And apparently we are hearing more.. Courtesy of the Chic Tribute site, another track, entitled "Sing" has just leaked. Unfortunately it's only a one minute snippet this time, but a pretty promising one nonetheless.. Go to the Chic Tribute News page to hear the sample.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (SATURDAY JANUARY 6, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #2: NORMA JEAN WRIGHT - NORMA JEAN (1978, BEARSVILLE) (SATURDAY JANUARY 14, 2006)
UPCOMING SISTER SLEDGE REISSUES (FRIDAY AUGUST 10, 2007)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (CHIC AND MORE!): (DECEMBER 1, 2006 - JANUARY 22, 2007) (SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25, 2006)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (APRIL 25 - MAY 30) (FRIDAY APRIL 21, 2006)

LINKS:
JOHNNY MATHIS - I LOVE MY LADY @ CHIC TRIBUTE
CHIC TRIBUTE NEWS: NEW MATHIS TRACK (FEBRUARY 2, 2009)
DARYL EASLEA INTERVIEW @ CHIC TRIBUTE
TONY THOMPSON - THE MAN WHO PUT THE BACKBONE IN CHIC (ECHOES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW) @ CHIC TRIBUTE
EVERYBODY DANCE: CHIC & THE POLITICS OF DISCO (BY DARYL EASLEA) @ AMAZON.CO.UK | AMAZON.COM
CHIC @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
CHIC @ DISCO-DISCO
CHIC @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: DISCO NEWS, MINI DELIVERIES

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Fascination Movement v. 0.5 (beta)

Earlier in the year, I did a little post about The Fascination Movement's awesome remix of Starcluster's Smoke & Mirrors (feat. Marc Almond). Fascination Movement member and fellow blogger Sean Wolcott of The Red Room (an awesome blog, btw) recently sent me a little teaser of their upcoming debut EP, "0.5," which is due for release in early December on the Aube label. From what I've heard so far, the EP as well as the single, "Radio" are nothing less than brilliant.. Melancholy vocals + shiny, supple synth textures = awesome!


The Fascination Movement - Radio
Uploaded by fascinationmovement

If you like Moroder, New Order, OMD, or even Cut Copy this'll likely be right up your alley.. There's a genuine feeling and appreciation for the sound that I love about this, which, despite the 80's influences, give it a lasting sort of freshness and currency.. A nice change from the sort of ironic pastiche that used to pass for this sort of thing.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
FEELING FASCINATION (MONDAY JANUARY 14, 2008)
BBC RADIO 2: CLASSIC SINGLES - I FEEL LOVE (SUNDAY DECEMBER 30, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #40: MUNICH MACHINE - A WHITER SHADE OF PALE (1978, CASABLANCA) (SUNDAY APRIL 29, 2007)
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:
MYSPACE - THE FASCINATION MOVEMENT
THE FASCINATION MOVEMENT @ DISCOGS
MYSPACE - AUBE RECORDS
THE RED ROOM

CATEGORIES: NUDISCO

Change



Although it may have been bittersweet for some out there (particularly for many of you in California), I'd like to extend congratulations to my American readers out there on making history on Tuesday...

In light of that, I thought this might be a good time for this song.

According to Joel Whitburn's 1974-2003 Hot Disco/Dance chart book, this was the only charting single for Zulema as a solo artist on the Billboard Disco Charts (#37), though she's probably better known these days for her song "Giving Up" from 1972, a great track apparently well regarded in disco and hip-hop circles. A sorely underrated soul singer/songwriter in her own right, Zulema Cusseaux was also a member of a little-known 60's girl group called The Lovelles, an early lineup of Faith Hope & Charity, and a frequent collaborator of Van McCoy throughout her career.

Listen: Zulema - Change (12'' Version) (1979, LeJoint/London)


This song, "Change," taken from her final album "Z-licious" (1979, LeJoint/London) seemed like something of an oddity. Written, produced and arranged by Cusseaux herself, it was, in my opinion the best track on what was otherwise a weak album, by her standards. Bringing a blistering consciousness to the dancefloor, it's perhaps not the sort of thing escapist soundtracks were made of. The fire in her delivery, the hopeful, yet critical lyrics, occasionally veering into hectoring, preachy territory (all you sinners.. won't be winners.. when the master.. comes around on judgement day.. etc..) along with the rawness of the arrangement behind it, are what seemed to make this an unusually captivating single. It's those very qualities in the lyrics and the music: the urgency, the frustration coming through with the call for change which seem to give this track a strange sort of currency and relevance today.


The 12" version included here was mixed by Richie Rivera, who, for some reason isn't credited on the Canadian pressing I have. The break on here just after the 4 minute mark with those keyboard solos and guitar riffs take this several steps higher than the album version, which, for the record, I would have put up here if I was able to find my copy of the LP..

Although Zulema seems to have dropped off the face of the earth (or at least of the music industry) after the early 80's or so, after this final album, she teamed up briefly in the early 80's with Al MacDowell to form the duo Zalmac, who had released an album on the TSOB (The Sound of Brooklyn) records. In 1996, Ichiban Records, along with David Nathan had compiled and released a collection of some of her solo material for RCA. It's a compilation that I highly recommend for those interested in discovering the deep, soulful sounds of Zulema.

For those interested in hearing more of Zulema, there's a great posting on YouTube of what was likely her last solo single, a little known piece of countrified soul entitled "A Mother Cries," released 1981 on TSOB.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #48: ASHA PUTHLI - L'INDIANA (1979, DASH/TK) (TUESDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #37: MIDNIGHT RHYTHM (1978, ATLANTIC) (WEDNESDAY MARCH 14, 2007)
DON'T DENY YOURSELF, JUST COME INSIDE.. (TUESDAY MARCH 6, 2007)

LINKS:
ZULEMA @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
ZULEMA @ DISCOGS
ZULEMA @ WIKIPEDIA
ZULEMA - CHANGE (US 12") @ DISCOGS
ZULEMA - CHANGE (CANADIAN 12") @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
ZULEMA - Z-LICIOUS LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
ZULEMA - Z-LICIOUS LP @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
RICHIE RIVERA @ DISCOGS
ZALMAC @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES

Friday, October 31, 2008

Disco Delivery #57:
Nocturna (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1979, MCA)



Gloria Gaynor - Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away (Nocturna's Theme)
Vicki Sue Robinson - Nighttime Fantasy
Heaven 'N' Hell Orchestra & Chorus - Whatcha Gonna Do
Heaven 'N' Hell Orchestra - Bitten By The Love Bug
Moment Of Truth - Love At First Sight
Moment Of Truth - I'm Hopelessly In Love With You
Jay Siegel - Why Do Lovers Come Together
Heaven 'N' Hell Orchestra - Chopin's Nocturne - Opus 55 #1 (Nocturna)


Originally, I wasn't planning to post a follow-up to the last Disco Delivery today, in fact, I wasn't even planning to post anything particularly Halloween related today, until I suddenly remembered that I had this record. One of the little goodies I had gotten in Vancouver this summer, I managed to find a sealed copy there that I hadn't even opened until this morning. Somehow, I seem to have become a little bit precious about my sealed records lately, there's a kind of weariness that I seem to have developed over the last few years of buying and searching for records, of opening something that has been sealed for thirty or so years. It's like I'm disturbing some sort of artifact.. Either way, I suppose they're meant to be enjoyed, and this one didn't disappoint.

Although I haven't seen the movie, which is long out of print, there are some little clips on YouTube (see below) and reviews all over the internet, which generally seem to boil down to "awful, but fun." Released in 1979, (but filmed in '78) and directed by Harry Hurwitz under the alias 'Harry Tampa', it's been described as a campy, low budget disco vampire movie, with it's plot (without giving away too many spoilers) revolving around Nocturna, the granddaughter of Dracula (played by John Carradine). Having fallen on lean times, their Transylvanian castle has been turned into a hotel/disco where they invite a band (played by one time Salsoul group Moment of Truth) to play live. Nocturna falls for Jimmy, one of the boys in the band so to speak, played by the late Antony Hamilton (in what appears to have been his first major film role), who takes her to New York where romance, disco and vamipric ridiculousness apparently ensue..


Although Yvonne DeCarlo (best known for her role in The Munsters) is listed as the 'star' in the intro, judging from her involvement as the main writer, executive producer and her role as the lead character, this movie seemed more than anything, like a vehicle for Armenian born belly dancer, sometime singer and actress (and I'd use that word loosely) Nai Bonet. Something of a vanity project of hers, she seemed to have had her hands in virtually all aspects of the film, all the way down to the soundtrack. Not only is her picture prominently splayed on the back cover and inside the gatefold sleeve, she was also given a loose, vague production (or executive production) credit, with one of her companies, Nai Bonet Music even taking part of the publishing on all the songs.

Although the film wasn't exactly meant to be scary, looking at the clips, the most glaring things would have to be either Brother Theodore's hilarious/creepy ranting, along with Nai Bonet's so-called 'acting.' Even with the simple lines she seems to have, she's barely convincing with her numb, catatonic delivery. Apparently they put in a topless bathing scene (for those of you into that) with her, which is evidently supposed to make up for some of that. Nevertheless, it's probably no wonder her IMDB credits drop off completely after 1979.

That said, despite the film's dubious credentials, the soundtrack is remarkably solid, being probably one of the best disco soundtrack albums I've come across. A double LP produced and arranged by Reid Whitelaw and Norman Bergen who together had also produced Ralph Carter (of 'Good Times' fame), Alfie Davison and pretty much all of Moment Of Truth's material, it's packed mostly (last two tracks aside) with full and hearty Philly-style meat-and-potatoes disco, much of which seems to have gone overlooked despite some of the high profile names attached to this.

The two major singles from this were the lead-off tracks by Gloria Gaynor ("Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away") and Vicki Sue Robinson ("Nighttime Fantasy"). Both were given special disco mixes on the album by Kevin Burke & Wayne Scott and Doug Riddick, respectively, with both given shorter versions on their 12" releases (which I haven't heard yet). Both singles ended up charting low to modestly on the Billboard Disco Charts in 1979 (Gloria at #81 and Vicki at #21), but despite the relatively modest success of both singles, I'd probably consider these among some of the best material that I've heard from both ladies. Exquisitely arranged with just the right amount of dancefloor intensity and high drama, both tracks are incredibly infectious and memorable. A good deal of that is likely due to the backing band full of notable Philly players like Larry Washington and his distinctive percussion, Jimmy Williams (also of Double Exposure) on bass, Bobby Eli and Dennis Harris on guitar, Keith Benson on drums, Don Renaldo's Strings & Horns, and the ubiquitous Sweethearts of Sigma (with Irene Cara also credited) providing their angelic background vocals. Given that and the time period, it's perhaps no coincidence why these tracks remind me in places of some of the tracks off Grace Jones' "Fame" (1978, Island) album.

In an interview with Jussi Kantonen for DiscoStyle.com this past February, Gloria Gaynor herself had commented on "..Heartbeat" after being asked about a recently released remixed version. As much as I personally enjoyed the track, apparently Gloria herself had a different opinion:
I never liked the old one, the new version is certainly better than that. I thought "Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away" was a corny title to begin with, and the arrangement of the the original was already badly dated when I did it. And the lyrics were dreadful, I would never in real life present words like that to anyone. In fact I only agreed to sing it out of courtesy to my then manager who also happened to be my husband..

This song has apparently been remixed several times, with several rounds of remixes released in 1995, one of them by co-producer Reid Whitelaw as well as a more recent remix by Eric Kupper released last year (the one referred to in Gloria Gaynor's interview). A version of "Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away" was also produced by Tom Moulton for his Loose Change (1979, Casablanca) LP project released the same year.

Aside from the first two tracks, the two tracks contributed by Moment of Truth - "Love At First Sight" and "Hopelessly In Love With You" are also excellent. "Love At First Sight" is, in my opinion, the best of the two. An excellent piece of uplifting Philly disco, pounding rhythm and delicate piano flourishes complimented with a brilliant, uplifting melody and a muscular, soulful vocal, it seems too good to have remained an obscurity on here. Probably best known for their #3 Billboard disco chart hit "Helplessly" in 1975 (originally released on Roulette), Moment Of Truth were quite possibly one of the most underrated groups on Salsoul. Apparently no longer signed to Salsoul by this time, this song stands up to the great songs from their Salsoul period.. Although this evidently didn't become a single, referring back to Ms. Gaynor's comments about her own single, perhaps it was due to the fact that this sound might have been a bit dated as well by this time> However, if there ever was another contender on here, it would have to have been this one..

Of the other tracks on the album, there are two tracks anonymously credited to the Heaven 'N' Hell Orchestra, both a vocal ("Whatcha Gonna Do") and an instrumental ("Bitten By The Love Bug"). Of those two, my favourite is perhaps the latter, which features some energetic, yet sublime arrangements and some great galloping breaks in the middle. Although I do with they had kept the sax that they had used on the movie version of the song (see the third video clip below)..

Aside from that, there's the lone ballad on the album, "Why Do Lovers Come Together" performed by Jay Siegel (misspelled on the front cover as 'Jay Siegal'). A bit of a buzz-kill, but admittedly, a track that gets better with more listens. Siegel is probably best known as a member of the 1960's vocal group The Tokens, who had a huge hit with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in 1967. Also, not sure if Discogs is wrong on this one, but according to them, Siegel (credited as J. Siegel) was also one of the producers credited behind Sarah Dash big disco hit "Sinner Man."

Overall, I suppose it's not unusual for films of this calibre to have soundtracks exceeding the quality of the film itself, and while I haven't seen the movie to say so for myself, the reviews certainly suggest as much. On it's own terms, it's a solid and enjoyable record that's definitely worth seeking out for some unexpected treasures, especially for those who enjoy the Philly/Salsoul side of disco..

As far as the movie goes, there was some apparently some shadowy intrigue surrounding the film, with rumours about the film having been financed by laundered mob money. It likely persists due to the murder of one of the film's financiers, former actor/embezzler William H. Callahan in 1981, which remains unsolved to this day. Apparently the movie was only briefly released on video for in the early 80's and apparently, even then, only for rental. There's an original copy on eBay currently going for nearly $200 US, but there are also more reasonably priced bootleg DVDs out there, which are easy to find.. On that note, there's always YouTube, where there are some great, fun clips of the intro and some of the movies' disco scenes that I had to include here. Let me just say, Antony Hamilton was really something in his day..


Nocturna Opening (Chopin's Nocturne, Gloria Gaynor - Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away)
Uploaded by dharakatmandu


Nocturna - Disco Scene 1 (Antony Hamilton, Nai Bonet, Moment Of Truth performing 'I'm Hopelessly In Love With You')
Uploaded by dharakatmandu


Nocturna - Disco Scene (Heaven 'N' Hell Orchestra - Bitten By The Love Bug)
Uploaded by chuckvoodoo


Nocturna - Disco Scene (Moment Of Truth performing 'Love At First Sight')
Uploaded by chuckvoodoo

Some Trivia: The year following the making of Nocturna, one of the stars of the soundtrack, Vicki Sue Robinson would get one of her first movie roles in a film called "Gangsters", which also featured Nai Bonet in a prominent role. As well, one of the producers of the soundtrack - Reid Whitelaw seems to be still active in the music industry, albeit in the business side of things these days with his company Reid Whitelaw Productions/Brookside Music Corp.. Whitelaw and Brookside Music seem to be quite prominent in the area of disco reissues and remixes (see the various remixes of Gloria's "Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away" linked above), currently owning and controlling the catalogues of the Philly Groove and Private Stock labels to name a couple.

LINKS:
NOCTURNA - ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (2 LP) @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
GLORIA GAYNOR - LOVE IS JUST A HEARTBEAT AWAY 12" @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
GLORIA GAYNOR - LOVE IS JUST A HEARTBEAT AWAY 12" @ DISCOGS
VICKI SUE ROBINSON - NIGHTTIME FANTASY 12" @ DISCOGS
MOMENT OF TRUTH @ ALL THINGS DEEP
INTERVIEW WITH GLORIA GAYNOR @ DISCOSTYLE.COM
VICKI SUE ROBINSON @ DISCO-DISCO.COM

NOCTURNA @ IMDB
NOCTURNA @ ALL MOVIE GUIDE
ERIC (MYSPACE BLOG) - NOCTURNA REVIEW (WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 1, 2006)
VAMPYRES ONLINE - NOCTURNA REVIEW
BASEMENT CINEMA: NOCTURNA
TIME OUT NEW YORK - NOCTURNA REVIEW
GORILLANUT.COM - NOCTURNA REVIEW
CRITICAL CONDITION - OBSCURE & BIZARRE FILM ON VIDEO & DVD - NOCTURNA REVIEW

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, VISUAL DISCO

Monday, October 27, 2008

Disco Delivery #56:
Top Secret (1979, Telson/London)



Top Secret - What You're Doin'
Top Secret - I Like The D.J.
Top Secret - Call Me
Top Secret - Dancin' Into Midnight
Top Secret - Disco Darling
Top Secret - Jealousy


It's been a little while, so I figured I might as well get something down on this record, one of my favourites and one which I've been holding on to for a little while now. This obscure and rather appropriately named late-disco project courtesy of the Montreal disco tag-team of George Lagios and the late Pat Deserio is a little something I had picked up exactly two years back in October '06. Those who've been digging in the disco crates will most likely know Deserio and Lagios as the producers behind such notable Can-Con Disco projects/acts such as The Bombers, Bob-A-Rela and Quebec record and film star Céline Lomez. Individually, Lagios had produced Canadian rock notables such as Michel Pagliaro in the early 70's and the ever-enduring April Wine in the early 90's. Deserio however was probably the most prolific in the disco scene in his own right, having produced projects such as Kebekelektrik, Sea Cruise and the rare and recently re-discovered cosmic favourite Dogs of War LP along with records by Monty Cantsin (AKA controversial Neoist performance artist Istvan Kantor), Canadian synth-pop icons Rational Youth and their landmark album "Cold War Night Life" (1982, YUL/Capitol) and others on his early 80's YUL label (named after Montreal's Dorval airport code) in the post-disco days.

As far as this album goes, while it was somehow in keeping with the apparent rock/bluesy influence that ran through a lot of their work together (perhaps owing, in part, to Lagios' background in that genre), it's still somewhat of a departure from the sort of thing one might have expected given the more direct, harder edged disco of Lagios and Deserio's Bombers or Bob-A-Rela albums, not to mention the electronic dabblings of Deserio in/with Kebekelektrik and Rational Youth for that matter.. To give a brief, simple summary, I'd probably describe Top Secret as Bob-A-Rela's tender, more laid-back sister album. Keeping still with Bob-A-Rela's rock-disco leanings, yet toning down the sometimes dark, urgent tempo and intensity that ran through much of that album, balancing it out with more evocative, vocally driven, melodic disco balladry of sorts.

Digressing from the music briefly, I have to make mention of the playfully anonymous album artwork on here.. While the filing cabinet on the front cover might be unremarkable on it's own, I thought the back cover and credits - illustrated like some sort of RCMP/FBI police file, were pretty clever for an album as destined for obscurity as this one was. Somehow the false profile on the back gives the unlikely description of a black female criminal from Montreal with red hair and blue eyes, along with three pieces of drug history obscured in masking tape, with one - 'hashish' still visible. A bunch of meaningless randomizations I'd imagine, still, you gotta love vinyl artwork..

However, in spite of the nifty layout, unless my copy is missing some sort of inner sleeve with more details, the album doesn't really give much credit in the way of actual musicians or vocalists. So far, I can guess that at least two of their usual suspects likely played on here, noted guitarist Walter Rossi, who lists this album on the discography on his website, as well as Mississippi bred, Montreal based Quebec rock legend Nanette Workman whom, if I'm not mistaken (and if I am, someone please correct me), with her sultry, smoky, slightly southern intonation likely provided some or a good deal of the lead and background vocals on the album.

As far as smoky and sultry go, the album's excellent opening track "What You're Doin' " (co-written by Walter Rossi), carried by it's easy riding guitar groove, with some bluesy accents, pretty much sets the tone for Side A and much of the softer, disco balladry of the album. The second track however, "I Like The D.J.," written by Rossi and Workman, bests it. Undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments on the album. Carrying on with the mellower disco groove, the playful, flirty disco themed lyrics, it's that killer, memorable chorus and melody (highlighted by some great, bright guitar riffs), which really elevate this song.

While Side A ends on a sunny note with "Call Me," another piece of pretty, flirty disco, Side B opens with "Dancin' Into Midnight," likely the best candidate for 'disco stomper' on the entire LP. Another one of the most memorable tracks on the album and perhaps the closest in style to Lagios and Deserio's better known disco projects (it probably wouldn't be out of place on Bombers LP, now that I think of it). With it's anonymously chirpy disco vocal chorus, combining with the insistent beat and bass, along with some swirling, hypnotic orchestral and synthesized levity, it's 7 minutes of misty, whirling disco fantasy.. If there was ever a 12" to be taken from this album (and I've yet to see one in my travels on and off-line), this should have been it. Interesting fact: "Call Me" and "Dancin' Into Midnight" are both credited to Deserio and Dogs of War principal Jack August, which I probably wouldn't have guessed had I come to this after hearing his work with Dogs Of War and The Zebras..

"Disco Darling," the second track on Side B is yet another highlight on the album and certainly among the best I've heard from Lagios & Deserio period. The Top Secret version here is ultimately the definitive version of this song, with a previous version released as "Dance On (Disco Darling)" on 12" by a one Randy Raider in 1977 on the Disques Direction label, also produced by Lagios and Deserio. The backing tracks on both versions are remarkably similar, yet with that said, the strained male vocals on the Randy Raider version are nowhere near the gentle, tender female rendition on this version. The female vocals along with the slower tempo and the less embellished remix on the Top Secret version make a much better compliment to the lyrics and the devastatingly pretty, memorable melody..

Aside from being a cover version, "Disco Darling" is notably the only track on the album not written by the various in-house names credited on all the others. The songwriter links (whether correct or not) on Discogs link to three apparently European writers, which makes me wonder if there are any other versions of this song than the two produced by Lagios/Deserio floating around..

The final track "Jealousy," also credited to Pat Deserio and Jack August, is another quality track. With some of the most elaborate, uplifting arrangements on the album, a chorus and melody that doesn't disappoint, ending things beautifully.

Looking at and listening to an album with an approach that seemed to value mood and feeling over sheer tempo (not especially common in a year like 1979, it seemed) along with a name and image as anonymous as "Top Secret," they likely sealed this record's fate the moment they titled it. Yet, while this is, at least in my experience, one of the more obscure Lagios/Deserio productions, this also has to be one of their very best albums in both mood and melody. While for some it may not be as instant as their better known disco work, after a few dedicated listens, the gentle touch of the vocals and arrangements, and the uniformly strong, solid melodies subtly reveal their charms and yet ever so surely leave their mark.

LINKS:
TOP SECRET LP @ DISCOGS.COM
PAT DESERIO @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
PAT DESERIO @ DISCOGS
GEORGE LAGIOS @ DISCOGS
RANDY RAIDER - DANCE ON (DISCO DARLING) 12" @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
RANDY RAIDER - DANCE ON (DISCO DARLING) 12" @ DISCOGS
WALTER ROSSI - OFFICIAL WEBSITE
NANETTE WORKMAN @ WIKIPEDIA
JACK AUGUST @ DISCOGS
INTERVIEW WITH RATIONAL YOUTH 1996

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, CAN-CON DISCO

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