Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Disco Delivery #52:
Stainless Steal - Can-Can (1978, Warner Bros.)

Stainless Steal - More Than Meets The Eye
Stainless Steal - Messing With You (Is Like Messing With The Devil)
Stainless Steal - It All Comes Down To Love
Stainless Steal - Can-Can

These days, Giorgio Moroder's well deserved reputation as an innovator and pioneer in disco and in electronic music has become quite firmly established (and well-explored on a few of my previous entries). However, the contributions of his frequent right-hand man/ co-producer, (particularly with their material for Donna Summer and Roberta Kelly), Pete Bellotte seems to have been somewhat overlooked in comparison. With so much of the focus being on Moroder's innovations, often times on the albums where they're both credited as producers, it's not always clear where one's contributions ended and the other's began..

In listening to some of Bellotte's productions outside of his partnership with Moroder, the easy way to describe Bellotte's style (in relation to the Moroder/Bellotte productions) would probably be to envision a heightened emphasis on the rhythm section. While that's obviously an oversimplification, in comparison to a lot of the Moroder or Moroder/Bellotte records, the synthesized element, while still prominent, rarely seemed to go beyond sweetening or colouring on most of Bellotte's productions.. More specifically though, Bellotte's productions seemed to have a distinct emphasis and style particularly on the guitars and horns, which is especially evident on this album and is perhaps Bellotte's most obvious stylistic stamp.

Comparing the output of Moroder & Bellotte individually, I'd say Moroder's own productions were generally much more consistent and distinctive, not to mention more prolific than Bellotte's. I'd give him that distinction even just for the excellent Suzi Lane and Battlestar Galactica records he did. Bellotte's output, on the other hand, while not without it's high points, was obviously less so. Case in point, Elton John's "Victim Of Love" (1979, MCA) album, evidently Bellotte's most prominent effort as a solo producer, it would give him the dubious distinction of having produced what is likely the most discredited effort of Elton John's career. It's a record that's been so widely maligned by fans and critics alike that even the artist himself has since disowned it. Then again, to be fair, Giorgio also gave us The Sylvers' lamentable effort (or non-effort as it were) "Disco Fever" (1979, Casablanca), so I suppose it goes without saying that Moroder certainly had his share as well...

Anyway, point is - duds aside, Bellotte still managed to deliver some rather underrated work in his own right. This album in particular, evidently one of his lesser known productions has some of my favourite work of his. Produced of course by Bellotte, arranged by frequent collaborator Geoff Bastow, I'd assume some of the usual Munich Machine suspects (Keith Forsey, Gary Unwin, Thor Baldursson etc.. ) also had a hand in this, but with the back cover giving out no musican credits and little else aside from bum of an anonymous model, there's really no telling for sure.. The one name that does stand out in the brief credits is Jimmy Simpson, who mixed the entire album and is also likely responsible for a good deal of it's excellence as well. Prolific as Simpson was, this is seems to be the first (and so far the only) time I've seen his name attached to anything associated with Moroder or Bellotte or any of their circle of collaborators.

Taking up all of side one, the main attraction on the record seems to have been the bombastic 14 minute disco version of the Can-Can (AKA Jacques Offenbach's "Galop Infernal"). Straight out of the "do a disco version of anything and it'll sell" school of thought, as an idea, it's as derivative as it gets.. With it being a classical piece associated with dancing, I suppose someone would have done it eventually.. That said, as much as something like this isn't really supposed to be any good, it's redeemed quite wonderfully by some great arrangements and improvisation, which keep things exciting and engaging. Certainly no small feat with 14 minutes at one's disposal. The sections at the 3 minute and the 11 minute marks are especially nice, with the arrangements at both points putting an unmistakable 'Munich Machine' stamp on things. In some ways this reminds me somewhat of the disco remake of Handel's Messiah, AKA "Hallelujah 2000" by Hallelujah 2000, particularly at the start and the finish, so fans of that might enjoy this one as well. Granted, this track's perhaps a bit too twee and bombastic to sway any disco cynics, and while I wouldn't exactly consider it a highly inspired moment myself, it definitely comes across much better than one might expect it to..

For me though the best part of the record would have to be the three tracks on side two - all written by Bellotte & Bastow. All three are similar in their feel and tempo and are fairly minimal in their lyrics, largely consisting of the repetition of the title verse (or variaton of it) by an anonymous vocal chorus. Instrumentally speaking though, I find these to be some of the best examples of Bellotte's own sound and style. Sublime, yet lively and even whimsical at times, the distinctive synth sweetening, somewhat lighter than those on a Moroder production, along with the prominence of those signature guitar riffs (which I'm guessing are courtesy of either arranger Geoff Bastow or Mats Björklund) and horns are all over these tracks.

As far as the tracks themselves go, "More Than Meets The Eye" is the wordiest (which isn't really saying much) and perhaps the strongest of the three.. Opening with a simple, funky guitar line easing into a sublime string arrangement; with those signature guitar riffs and shooting synth stabs, it manages to makes an strong impression without the bombast of the A-side. The following track, "Messing With You (Is Like Messing With The Devil)" is probably the most synth heavy, opening with a great loopy, whimsical synth, with the delicate string arrangements pretty much taking over from there. However, the sexy, blissful break in the middle of the track, laden with strings and a sly bassline is definitely one of the highlights on here, definitely my favourite part of the track. The last selection on the album, "It All Comes Down To Love," a fun little track with it's unmistakable strut and warm keys which probably make it the most identifiable with the established Munich disco sound that he and Moroder as well as the likes of Kunze/Levay had pioneered. It has to be said here as well, that the sensual break, with the wispery vocals and lush instrumentation are to die for.

For me, one of the things that I notice about the side two tracks are how spacious and, in a way, less frantic than say, the A-side and some of Belotte's other, more well-known productions like Trax's "Watch Out For The Boogie Man!" Marsha Hunt's "The Other Side Of Midnight," and Melba Moore's "Burn" to name a few of the ones I've heard so far. Perhaps that is where Jimmy Simpson's involvement may have come in... Overall though, while all three tracks seemed to rely on repeated lyrics and hooky riffs to some degree, these three tracks are mixed and arranged well enough that there's enough interesting musical variation in them to balance out the repetition (the wonderful string-laden instrumental section in the middle of "Messing With You" to name one good example).

While this is likely the most anonymous out of all the albums Pete Bellotte produced, not to mention one which seemed to come and go without a trace (perhaps even moreso than usual), this has definitely become one of my favourite Bellotte solo productions.. When I had stumbled across this album a little while back, it honestly wasn't one that I had especially high hopes for, especially given how anonymous and unknown it was (in spite of it's well-known producer). At best, I was hoping for at least something worthwhile - one track, even. At the very least, after listening to the album I would have been able to say that I'd heard all fourteen minutes of a disco version of the Can-Can and lived to tell it... Nevertheless, all that aside, this little album pretty much exceeded my initial expectations. The fact that it was a production from a recognizable which I hadn't heard or heard of before proved to be an added bonus. I guess the most rewarding finds are often the most unexpected.

Just a little side note: While Bellotte seems to have kept a rather low profile, the BBC caught up with him for a brief update/interview in 2004 just around the time he was inducted (with Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer) into the Dance Music Hall Of Fame (which seems to be up in the air, as of this writing). The article: "In Tune With Britain's Disco King" is the most recent interview that I've found with him so far...





M.E. Grant said...

I'm not sure what my expectations should be of an album with that cover imagery!

Unknown said...

Pretty amazing choice. Definitely has Pete Belotte's stamp all over it!

Mr.Devlin said...

Man you do your homework and write well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these Tommy.I had managed to miss that one.Being a huge Moroder/Bellote & the whole Munich gang fan ; I'm loving these "new" tracks.

Love the details on the songs,too.
Keep up the great work my friend.


Pat Les Stache said...

I love this record. I just picked up a copy very recently not expecting too much, however "More Than Meets The Eye" completely blew me away, as did the rest of the record. Great post.

Anonymous said...

The best! Tommy thank you sincerely for a great blog. I'm going to be a regular visitor from now on. It's always hard to find good stuff and your site is better than good. Great info, great tunes, great links. you've made a Down Under Disco Dolly very happy. Keep up the good work. As for Mr Bellote - this stuff is great. I wonder how many other gems are out there yet to be re-DISCOvered!

Cheers pS

Tommy said...

Hey M.E. Grant - Thanks for the comment! Aside from the anonymous female objectification practically screaming 'disco,' I didn't really have any other expectation either..

Hey Enrique - Thanks for the comment! Yeah, Bellotte's production here is top-notch IMO..

Mr. Devlin - I need to make a few edits on this when I get some time, but I do try.. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed.. Thanks for the comment!

Hey Kristofer - I had no idea about this either until I stumbled on to it at the record store a few months back. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed. Thanks for the comment!

Hey TJ - Glad to know you enjoy this one too! I was unsure about the "Can-Can" cover at first, but hearing "More Than Meets The Eye" was what convinced me as well.. Thanks for the comment!

Hey pS - Glad you enjoy the blog.. I really appreciate the kind words! :) Hope you'll enjoy some of the stuff coming up.. Thanks again!

osses said...

Hi Tommy,I have not been here quite a long time-great work as always!

If you have spare time,check mine polish disco soundalike compilation at http://www.king-of-disco.blogspot.com/

:)big up!

BoogieMan said...

It all comes down to good Disco music. I'm enjoying this immensely, right now. The only track I had from Stainless Steal was "More Than Meets The Eye". Very nice to hear more of the story.
Thanx Tommy.

Tommy said...

Hey Osses, thanks! I'll be sure to check it out!

Hey Dungeon, no problem.. I'm glad you're enjoying it! :)

monsieurwilly said...

Thx for all.

Tommy said...

Hey monsieurwilly, no problem!

Anonymous said...

You ought to share the Sylvers' "Disco Fever" album just because it's so rare. I consider myself a fairly hardcore Giorgio collector and I've never heard it. Just explain you hate it, but it is very rare. I find it hard to believe the album doesn't at least have some camp appeal, at least as much as this Can Can thing.

I love the Trax stuff (aside from their hit "Watch Out For The Boogie Man"), people should definitely track that down, no matter what you think of this. Don't judge by this cliche'd (and in the case of the title track, truly horrendous) stuff, you don't want to miss the Trax albums. I downloaded them somewhere, and was quite surprised I thoroughly enjoyed most of it.

H.M.A. said...

funny story. last year i had the oppurtunity to hang backstage with elton john before a madison square garden gig. after talking to the missus, his bf, i chatted with elton and told him that "victim of love" was my favorite song he'd ever recorded.

he looked absolutely appalled. the friend who took me later nudged me and said, "never mention that album to elton. EVER."

i gleefully play it out at almost every set, though, and it's become a real standard at my own disco nights and has a very big following of it's own.

so yes... sometimes there can be a diamond in the shit. you just have to dig.

Tommy said...

LOL Terry!! I love your story about your little encounter with Diva Elton haha.. Cute and hilarious haha. Honestly, not being that familiar with Elton's work myself, I actually quite enjoy "Victim Of Love".. The title track and "Thunder In The Night" are a couple of my faves off that.. Anyway thanks again for sharing :)

brooker said...

Any chance you could re-upload these tracks for a fellow disco-loving Calgarian?

Anonymous said...

Error 404 - File Not Found

Please reupload all please tks for the excelent site

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Johnny said...

You're better off without it, Anonymous. I think the 1981 Rolling Stone Album guide summed it up perfectly: "Stainless it may well be, painless it's certainly not."

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