Friday, February 17, 2006

Disco Delivery #7:
Sylvester - M-1015 (1984, Megatone)

Sylvester - Rock The Box
Sylvester - Sex (LP Version)
Sylvester - Sex (12" Version - An Ian Levine Remix)
Sylvester - Lovin' Is Really My Game

Fast-forwarding ten years from the early disco of the last disco delivery to 1984... Okay, so maybe 1984 is pushing it a little; some may not consider this disco, but I certainly do.. This was one of the last albums by Sylvester James, one of the bona-fide queens of disco (there can be more than one can't there?). After leaving the Fantasy record label in the early '80s after supposedly being miffed at their attempts to change his image and musical direction, he moved over to the small San Francisco indie label Megatone. He almost insantly struck gold with celebrated producer Patrick Cowley and "Do Ya Wanna Funk." His final album on the Fantasy label ("Too Hot To Sleep," 1981) saw him in a moving away from disco into a more classically soulful sound, while the sexually charged, cutting edge "Do Ya Wanna Funk" signaled yet another shift. "..Funk" would not only be one of the greatest examples of the emerging, distinctive "San Francisco sound," but a prototype for the direction Sylvester would take while at Megatone. Those years in part saw him return to the dancefloor, this time with a more aggressive, electronic Hi-NRG sound, with many of his songs presenting a much more blunt, up-front sexuality than ever before. Not to mention his image; while at Fantasy they occasionally tried (often in vain) to "butch him up" (see his '77 self-titled album cover). A complete contrast to his Megatone years when his image would often unashamedly blur gender lines to say the least.. So much so it even prompted Joan Rivers to ask if he was a drag queen. The response: "Honey, I am not a drag queen. I am Sylvester!.".. Says it all really..

Aside from being one of the last albums Sylvester would do, "M-1015" is often cited by some (like allmusic) as being his "last solid album." I would probably agree. Interestingly, the album title seemed to came from both it's own catalogue number and a notorious San Francisco bathhouse located at 1015 Folsom (thanks to Joe.My.God. for this info). Along with that curious title and the beautifully futuristic, androgynous cover drawing by David Duran, there were also some largely overlooked musical gems on this one. "Rock The Box" and "Sex" to name a couple are both amazing tracks, with those relentless three-dimensional swirling, pounding synths; infectious in their own dark, retro-futuristic sort of way... "Sex" is probably one of his definitive tracks from this period, not to mention one of his most (if not his most) blatantly sexual efforts, "You make it hard..and baby, I can't wait..I've got to have you now.." From the lyrics, to the the heavy, Hi-NRG production, the whole thing is practically tailor made for the gay scene. The Ian Levine 12" mix might be a little much, stretching it all the way to 9 minutes, but if like me, you can't get enough of this track, the 12" mix might just do it for you. Aside from extending it, it sounds like Levine used an alternate vocal take and included some new verses on the lead and background vocal parts..

Another notable track is his cover of the disco classic "Lovin' Is Really My Game," originally done by the group Brainstorm from their 1977 "Stormin'" album.. A huge disco favourite, which I can honestly say was never one of mine. Regardless, it seemed to show that Sylvester wasn't abandoning disco, not even in 1984. I suppose the disco backlash would have died down by then, but then again, with Sylvester hardly being mainstream at this point, it probably wouldn't have made a big difference anyway. Nevertheless, it would still be at least another ten or so years before it would be somewhat acceptable to cover a disco song... In any case, I don't even care for Sylvester's version that much either, but maybe someone out there does..

While Sylvester is most famous for working with Patrick Cowley during this period, much of this album was produced by both James "Tip" Wirrick (who produced "Sex") and the team of Morey Goldstein and Ken Kessie (who produced "Rock The Box"). Kessie and Goldstein also recorded as a duo under the name Modern Rocketry and had a notable hit around this time called "Homosexuality" which I believe was covered by the Pet Shop Boys not too long ago...

This most certainly won't be my last Sylvester entry. Despite his untimely death, he left an impressive catalogue and a groudbreaking legacy which, it seems is starting to get more recognition. There's a new book out by Joshua Gamson about his life called "The Fabulous Sylvester," which, as a reader just pointed out to me (thanks Michael!), was just released on paperback. I haven't bought it yet, but it's something I want to get pretty soon.. Also, if anyone's interested, the "M-1015" album is available on CD through Unidisc, who, if I'm correct, have since bought out Megatone Records' back catalogue. It was retitled "Rock The Box" complete with an unfortunate hack-job on that wonderful original cover, but all the tracks from the original album are there, plus some bonuses..

Note: Some fresh new links! Visit Doubt Beat, Back & Forth and Habitat '67, thanks to all three for linking me..





JMG said...

Great post, Tommy! You covered so much! All I can add is that some people think that the 1015 album, while a number in the Megatone catalog range, might have also been winkingly titled for the Sutro Baths, SF's most notorious bathhouse, located at 1015 Folsom. The building is merely known as 1015 today, and it hosts a number of quite famous dance events: Mass, Spundae, Real Bad, etc.

Anonymous said...

sniff, sniff, the links are not working for me.
I just love "rock the box", its sort of a missing link between electric boogie and early techno house.

Tommy said...

Thanks Joe, I had no idea about that! I've always wondered if there was more to it than just the catalogue number. It certainly makes sense when you have a song like "Sex" on the album.. Anyway, just added that info to the main entry, thanks again! :)

I apologise about the links kitsch transporter.. I just added extra mirror links to all the files through zShare.. Those ones should work if the main ones aren't working.. :) FileLodge can be erratic sometimes, as I'm finding out now..

Anonymous said...

Lovin' Is Really My Game always drew the entire crowd to the dance floor and was one of my favorites. Maybe crowd reaction affects how you feel about a dance song.

Sexbox said...

Do these GH collections span his entire career? I would hate to get one that only pulls songs from one or two albums.

Also, I know your post was to focus on Sylvesters 80's material, but was anyone else amazed by Byron Stingly's cover of "You Make Me Feel" in the late 90's? I swear it was Sylvester reincarnated!

Tommy said...

I think you have a point Jerry. At a club I often mind myself dancing and enjoying music that I probably wouldn't if I were listening alone..

Unfortunately, there aren't any compilations that cover the entire span of Sylvester's career. Still the best bet is the 2-CD Greatest Hits on Unidisc, which is by far the most comprehensive of all the Sylvester compilations released so far. It's the only one that covers his work on both the Fantasy and Megatone labels (from 1978-1984).

Yes! I remember seeing the video of Byron Stingily's cover in the late '90s on the now-defunct Electric Circus TV show up here. I didn't know much about Sylvester then, I just remember thinking "maybe Sylvester isn't dead after all" lol..

Tommy said...

I'm real curious about that "Too Hot To Sleep" album. I've heard from you and others that it's actually quite good, even if it is somewhat different from Syl's other albums. I remember the Soulwalking site gave it a good review a while back...

I hope there is live footage somewhere of Sylvester and the Two Tons, what a great show that must have been!

Anonymous said...

Tommy, go search on edonkey or emule, same servers, They have some sylvester live footage. It make take a week to download but if you can't find them anywhere it's a good resort.

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