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 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.





VinylMiser said...

Welcome back Tommy. I knew it was just a matter of time. (Chuckle), I guess I won't be posting this album anytime soon.;)

Tommy said...

Thanks Vinylmiser! Let's just say I have a tendency to hibernate once in a white :)

Lady Blacktronika said...

Those videos are hilarious.

Tommy said...

Yeah, I love the videos too haha.. I need to get one of those bootleg DVDs of this movie soon. Somehow, I'm not sure that this'll ever get an official DVD release anytime soon..

Typo on the previous comment - white=while :P

Unknown said...

I loved this soundtrack... Thanks for posting! The movie is a hoot. And, yes, Antony Hamilton was one hot piece.

Tommy said...

No problem, Enrique! Yeah, the movie sounds like it'd be a lot of fun. Even if it wasn't though, I'd probably get it just to see more of Antony Hamilton haha

Anonymous said...

Hi Tommy , is nice for you to be back.I missed you .Am I late in order to download Nocturna ? Can anyone here help I been searching for this for a couple of years. Will be appreciated,Vincent

Tommy said...

Thanks Vincent. No, it's not too late. I have to change the individual links, but underneath the song links, there should be a small link to a zip file containing all the tracks.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Tommy , I love this album.Vincent

Anonymous said...

Hi Tommy, is it possible to have a link for download Nocturna soundtrack? I will appriciete a lot!!!
Thanks in advance

the saucer people said...

It was a wonderful moment to discover the individual links to 'Nocturna' were still active (the sendspace link is defunct)...only just heard about this album and I should have known there was a good chance it would be included in a 'Disco Delivery' post at some point in the last three or four years!

An absolutely stonker of an album and without a doubt one of the better seventies 'disco' soundtracks, worth it for the Gloria Gaynor mix of 'Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away' and the frenzied drum break workout in 'Bitten By The Love Bug' (and the Youtube clip of the disco dance scene of this track is just a complete pleasure to watch!) to track down the film!

PS> Anyone ever come across the 'Love At First Bite' soundtrack, another "disco horror" one from the same year I think?

Many thanks again!

KL from NYC said...

I just saw a fuzzy copy of the movie and had to get the soundtrack.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE 'Nocturna'. I saw the film in 1979 three times at the theatre and I own a copy now. I had the album on vinyl but would love to find a copy on cd.

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