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 CĂ©line 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

I left my heart in Lotusland.. (updates and re-uploads)

I know it's been a while, so much so that I think I almost forgot I had this blog for a while there, but for those who still check here from time to time, I apologize for my prolonged absence. I've gotten some emails in the mean time that I still need to reply to, so I hope to get on to that in the next little while. In July after I had gotten my new turntable cartridge, I had mentioned doing some re-uploads. I managed to re-rip a couple of albums shortly after that post - Disco Delivery #55: Cissy Houston - Step Aside For A Lady (1980, Columbia) from this past June and from two years back Disco Delivery #25: Rinder & Lewis - Warriors (1979, AVI/Quality). I've updated the links on their respective pages, so hope you enjoy the music and improved sound..


In other updates, this is probably old news, but a while back I had promised a review of the Donna Summer concert (I know, welcome to three months ago) that I had planned to go to. Well I went on a little vacation to Vancouver, BC back in August and attended her concert in Richmond, BC while I was there... I always enjoy myself in Vancouver and this time was no different. I would have made a daytrip to Seattle if I had my passport, but unfortunately I didn't, so maybe next time..

Either way, I absolutely didn't want to leave (as usual). Took a lot of pix and bought a quite a few records, or at least spent a shitload of money on them (they don't come cheap out there!). As far as the concert goes, it was pretty damn awesome! With the screens, dancers (yes, dancers, I kid you not) it was reportedly her most elaborate tour in a while, and I'm very glad I got the opportunity to see her. While there were elements of the show that seemed a little bit cheesy (those dancers as football players - please!) the Queen of Disco did not disappoint vocally or otherwise and neither did the crowd, for that matter.. I've heard of concerts or shows where people rushed the stage, danced in their seats, danced in the aisles, I have never actually witnessed such a thing until that night. Never did I think I'd see such an insane crowd at a Donna Summer concert and in Vancouver, no less, which never really struck me exactly as Disco City North, but perhaps I was wrong.. On another note, the same night James Murphy and Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundystem were doing their DJ gig as Special Disco Version at Celebrities (a local gay nightclub, apparently becoming increasingly popular among the straights), which I unfortunately missed. I was kinda bummed when I remembered, it would have made for an even better night, but oh well..

Anyway, with that, I'll refrain from writing a big long crazy review as per usual, however my friend Eric, whom I had a great meeting with after the show, pretty much summed it up in his great review @ the Donna Tribute site.. With that, I'll leave you all with a link to the pix I took during the concert..

Also, I will be putting up a new Disco Delivery post very soon, so stay tuned..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
COLOUR IT A COMEBACK? (WEDNESDAY MAY 28, 2008)
BBC RADIO 2: CLASSIC SINGLES - I FEEL LOVE (SUNDAY DECEMBER 30, 2007)

LINKS:
THE VANCOUVER SUN - THE QUEEN OF DISCO IS BACK, READY TO DEFEND HER MUSIC (BY TONY LOFARO) (THURSDAY AUGUST 7, 2008)
DONNA TRIBUTE - FAN CONCERT REVIEWS: AUGUST 8 & 9 - VANCOUVER, BC
PHOTOBUCKET - DONNA SUMMER @ THE RIVER ROCK CASINO, AUGUST 8, 2008

CATEGORIES: RE-DELIVERIES, ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS

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