Monday, January 26, 2009
Disco Delivery #59:
Slick (1979, WMOT/Fantasy)
Slick - Space Bass
Slick - Feelin' Good
Slick - Sexy Cream (The Massage Song)
Slick - Sexy Cream (feat. Doris James) (12'' Version)
Slick - Put Your Pants On
Slick - The Whole World's Dancin'
Released on Philadelphia's ill-fated WMOT label in the brief period when they were Fantasy's Philly outpost; looking at the credits, Slick, at least on this, their first album, was essentially a studio meeting between members of both Ingram and Fat Larry's Band.
Largely produced by Butch Ingram (AKA Norman 'Butch' Ingram) who had also produced the likes of Philly Cream, Ronnie Dyson, Blue Magic and not to mention Barbara Mason's "Another Man" among other things, this album was something of a family affair with pretty much all of the Ingram brothers in the credits. Aside from Butch as producer and bass player, brothers Jimmy (keys/synths) and Billy (guitars) got the bulk of arrangement credits, along with Timmy Ingram on percussion, John Ingram on drums, as well as sister Barbara and her ubiquitous trio, often known as The Sweethearts of Sigma on background vocals. Along with Fat Larry's Band musicians Anthony Middleton (guitars) and Larry LaBes (bass), 'Fat' Larry James himself along with his wife Doris James also had prominent credits on the album along with one time blue-eyed soul singer Len Barry, best known for his 1965 Motown-esque hit "1-2-3" who was still in the business, albeit mostly behind the scenes by this time.
Personally speaking, I must have been around fifteen the first time I had heard of Slick, back in the days of the original Napster. In the program's search field I would sometimes type in something vague and innocuous like 'disco' or some variant of it, just to see if anything interesting would come up. One of the best tracks I had discovered that way was the second single off of this album, "Sexy Cream." Immediately piquing my curiosity when it came up; with a title like that, I just had to hear it. And I definitely wasn't disappointed when I did. Musically, it had everything I loved - a propulsive beat, deep popping, pounding synthesized bass, augmented by a coloring of strings and hefty horns in particular; it was one of those late disco, high-energy tracks which like nothing else, seamlessly combined traditional instrumentation with tempo and technology.
On top of that of course, were the vocals and lyrics, which made this possibly the naughtiest, borderline x-rated disco track I had heard up until then. Featuring 'Fat' Larry James' wife Doris James on vocals, free of the sort of simulation displayed on tracks like "Love To Love You Baby," the Tee Cees' "Disco Love Bite" or Musique's "Good And Plenty Lover," her breathy, willowy vocals still had an undeniable sexiness to them. If one didn't know better, one might think Andrea True, Marilyn Chambers or some other moonlighting porn actress was behind the vocals, which for a track like this, is the highest compliment I could possibly pay.. With lyrics like "gimme, gimme some of that sexy cream, you know what I mean.." and other lines like "..that sweet sexy stuff, it always blows my mind.. it makes me feel so real.." delivered with a wink and touch of 'give it to me' desperation, the track came across (no pun intended) less like the massage theme they may have originally intended, and more like some kind of debaucherous disco ode to the joys of bukkake instead.
That said, it's perhaps no wonder why "Sexy Cream" was banned in the UK by BBC Radio 1. It was perhaps that which led to it being subtitled 'The Massage Song' on the LP (the subtitle printed only on the label, not on the back cover tracklist curiously enough) in an attempt to perhaps extinguish some of the controversy. While, at least for me, the massage themes in the song became somewhat clearer after getting the LP, it seems more of a not-quite multiplied single entendre than a genuine case of misunderstood intentions. Even if it were, I highly doubt that there are body lotions or massage oils around with the sort of intense mind blowing qualities that Doris James' vocals constantly allude to.. Between the suggestion of the album's cover shot and the sequencing on the album, with "Sexy Cream" followed by "Put Your Pants On" - a brief, sassy lousy lover lament that Vanity 6 could have easily pulled off had they been around, it's context doesn't exactly serve to diminish anyone's first impressions either.
Interestingly, "Sexy Cream" is another one of those cases where the LP version is actually slightly longer than the 12'' version, however, the 12'' mix is much harder-hitting and streamlined. The piano and guitar fill-ins ever present on the LP version, are turned way down on the 12'' making things a little deeper and darker, the sexual intensity of the track coming across much more forcefully, with the synths, drums, strings and horns getting more space in the mix. In a notable west coast connection, both the LP and 12'' versions were mixed by John Hedges and Marty Blecman, both of whom were doing quite a bit of production and mixing for the likes of Sylvester and others on the Fantasy label(s) at the time. Blecman and Hedges would of course would go on to be quite influential with the San Francisco Hi-NRG sound, and the Megatone label in particular.
That aside however, the best known track on the album would have to be the opener, "Space Bass." Written by Doris and Larry James with Len Barry, it's seems obvious that this was the track which helmed the whole Slick project, given that it was not only the first single, but the only track on the album whose credits noticeably differed from the others. While Butch Ingram had produced the rest of the album, the producton on "Space Bass" was credited to a consortium of sorts - Len Barry, Larry James along with WMOT principals Alan Rubens and Steve Bernstein also taking credit.
Musically, it's perhaps one of the most stunning, forward-looking tracks to come out of Philly at this time. A stunning, 7 minute space-age disco odyssey, filled with trumpets and laser beams, backed by a cavalcade of wondrous, swelling strings, and an allmost jazzy bassline that just doesn't quit, I'd imagine it would have been enough to send a number of drug induced disco dancers into a frenzy in it's day. With The Sweethearts on lead vocals (which might make this one of the most futuristic records they ever took part in), Space Bass is, in my opinion, quite possibly one of the best non-library 'space disco' tracks around, having combined an epic, cinematic quality with just the right amount of rhythm, tempo and bass to make it translate on a dancefloor. Surprisingly, despite not charting in the US (at least according to the Billboard Disco Charts book), "Space Bass" was not only a club hit in the UK, but had even become a top 40 pop hit, peaking at #16 in July '79.
As far as the rest of the album goes, nothing else on it quite tops or approaches the excellence of "Space Bass" or "Sexy Cream." The only one which comes close would probably be "Feelin' Good." Opening with an epic intro which gives one the impression that "Space Bass, Pt. 2" was on the horizon, it doesn't quite follow through with the intro quickly giving way to what is, barring Barbara Ingram's great vocal and the break two thirds of the way in, a fairly insubstantial, albeit pleasant disco track.
A saccharine shock after the heavy romp that was Sexy Cream/Put Your Pants On, what doesn't come close in any way whatsoever is the album's closer "The Whole World's Dancin'." A piece of mandolin-laced 'disco is taking over the world' filler fromage, it's the one track on here that's perhaps best forgotten.
There was one more Slick LP which followed this one, entitled "Go For It" (1980, WMOT/Fantasy), where they evidently tried to re-engineer the project as a more conventional female R&B group (which included the late Brandi Wells as a member). Although yielding something of a mellow soul classic in a track called "Sunrise," nothing on there quite had the same impact as the singles off this LP. Filler tracks on this album notwithstanding, the two singles which helmed this record, with their flawless combination of musicianship, rhythmic intensity and technology, rank, at least in my mind, as some of the best examples of the heavier, energetic disco of this time..
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #12: DAMON HARRIS - SILK (1978, WMOT/FANTASY) (FRIDAY MARCH 24, 2008)
SLICK LP @ DISCOGS
SLICK LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
SLICK - SPACE BASS 12'' @ DISCOGS
SLICK FEAT. DORIS JAMES - SEXY CREAM 12'' @ DISCOGS
UK CHART ARCHIVE - JULY 14, 1979 (PDF FILE)
BUTCH INGRAM @ DISCOGS
FAT LARRY'S BAND @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
LEN BARRY @ WIKIPEDIA
JOHN HEDGES INTERVIEW @ DJS PORTAL
JOHN HEDGES @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
JOHN HEDGES @ DISCOGS
MARTY BLECMAN @ DISCOGS
CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES