Monday, June 05, 2006

Disco Delivery #22:
Spinners - Dancin' & Lovin' (1979, Atlantic)

Spinners - Body Language
Spinners - Let's Boogie, Let's Dance
Spinners - One, One, Two, Two, Boogie Woogie Avenue (Home of the Boogie, House of the Funk)
Spinners - With My Eyes
Spinners - Medley: Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me, Girl

A great disco album from The Spinners (AKA The Detroit Spinners in the UK), one of the soul groups of the 1970's.. It's been said (I think it was by Smokey Robinson in his autobiography, but don't quote me on that) that Motown artists who leave the label are often hard-pressed to top any success they had at Motown. That was probably true for some groups, but for others like The Spinners, Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Isley Brothers, who all often felt neglected by Motown, the opposite was actually true. The Spinners in particular wouldn't hit paydirt until they left for the Atlantic label in the early '70s and were paired with one of the masters of Philly soul, Thom Bell. However, by the late '70s, they were on their third lead singer (John Edwards) and in something of a commercial slump. Apparently this was the second album the group released in 1979, the first being "From Here To Eternally," their final album with Thom Bell. "From Here To Eternally" would be one of their lowest charting albums up until that time, which seemed to prompt a new association for their next album with producer Michael Zager. With "Dancin' & Lovin' ," they would manage to reverse the slump (at least for a little while) starting with the big hit single from the album, "Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me Girl." Essentially a medley consisting of a cover of the 1966 Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons hit with an original tune ("Forgive Me Girl"), it's an exceptional piece of soulful disco. It was also a bona-fide cross over hit topping the US Pop, R&B, Adult Contemporary and Disco charts.

In all honesty, before I came across this album, I had only heard of the Spinners but wasn't really familiar with their work (in a way I'm still not really familiar with their full body of work yet). I first came across the LP about a year ago in the new arrivals of a used record shop and picked it up purely out of curiosity. I wasn't really expecting the album to really impress me as much as it did. For me, there really isn't a bad track on this album, which really made it a bit hard to choose which tracks to put up. Despite not being familiar with The Spinners' work, I was however familiar with producer Michael Zager's work, mostly with Cissy Houston, and so far nothing he had done had disappointed. So far, the tracks he did off this album are undoubtedly some of the best I have ever heard from him. Some of his best production values are especially evident on the LP, particularly those big buildups; full, meaty rhythm sections, combined with a real smooth, yet soulful edge on top of it all.

"Body Language," apparently also released as a 12" in the UK, is one of those smooth, soulful disco tracks off the album. Opening with some great guitar lines into a strong, yet silky smooth lead vocal, great background harmonies and a soft, elegant string section. They even incorporate a little bit of the lyrics from the Michael Zager Band's "Let's All Chant" in the song: " body, your body, everybody move your body.. let's all chant.."

"Let's Boogie, Let's Dance" continues in a similar vein. Starting out with a slow intro, gradually building into a sunny, melodic disco groove. It's the type of inoffensive, joyful disco song you'd expect your grandparents to be able to get down to at a wedding party while the younger ones sit it out, secretly humming along in their heads. Irresistably shiny and catchy, one of those songs that just effortlessly radiates happiness and joy and good vibes, because really, you just can't go wrong with that..

"One, One, Two, Two.." finds them in a slightly funkier direction. The only song on the album not produced by Michael Zager, this one was produced by sometime Detroit singer Will Hatcher co-produced with The Spinners themselves. This one chugs along with a great blend of the Spinners' smooth yet assertive vocals and some really funky guitar work, complete with a mean break two-thirds of the way through, showing off some of that great percussion and guitar work..

"With My Eyes" is another Zager-produced track, and probably one of the most dramatic on the album. Love those strings and those great, soulful vocals, neither of which are overwhelming, both have just the right amount of passion and restraint. Those lyrics are probably also the finest on the album. A beautifully poetic take on the old "love at first sight" theme.

Can't possibly do a post on this album and omit the biggest success from it. Although it's probably pretty well known by now, it's still a great tune. The guys manage to breathe some new life into "Working My Way Back To You" and manage to combine it seamlessly with their original song "Forgive Me Girl" that, dare I say it, overshadows the first part of the medley with it's sheer soulful drama. There were many artists who seemed to see Soul and Disco as somehow incompatible, but particularly on this song, the Spinners manage to flawlessly combine the best of both. One of those groups who successfully blended their genuinely soulful style with the disco sound and had a bona fide across-the-board chart hit to show for it.

The Spinners would record another two albums with Michael Zager in the producer's chair, and would manage to make lightning strike twice in 1980 with another medley "Cupid/I've Loved You For A Long Time" off their "Love Trippin'" (1980, Atlantic) album (of which some editions included edited versions of "Body Language" and "Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me, Girl"). They'd follow that album up with "Labor Of Love" (1981, Atlantic), the last album with Zager, which would see their momentum slip considerably. After starting off the decade with a bang and something of a resurgence, sadly, it was not to continue. None of their remaining albums for Atlantic would reverse their commercial fortunes, nor would a 1989 album for the resurgent Volt label. Nevertheless, the Spinners are apparently still performing today and have a solid legacy as one of the great male vocal groups of the 1970s.

Although they may have overused the words "boogie" and "woogie" a little much, the album still stands as an excellent example of a soul group successfully (both commerically and creatively) combining both elements and sounding entirely genuine and convincing the whole time. Given the fact that one-off disco efforts were a dime-a-dozen at the time, their success in the disco arena was perhaps no small feat. Interestingly, "Dancin' & Lovin" was also one of the first Spinners albums to be given a CD reissue. Rhino Records released a no-frills budget reissue of the album in 1992, with probably one of the cheapest covers (painfully generic artwork with a bad scan of a worn out copy of the LP on the front) I've ever seen. It recently went out of print, yet it's still easy to find with cheap used, or new cut-out copies to be found almost everywhere..

**New Links: Some great new disco on the blogosphere. First Choice is a brand spanking new blog dedicated to Disco, Italo, Garage and Electro. They've only been around for some two posts and they've already got some great West End Records classics as well as a couple of early '80s italo and electro selections. Needless to say, I'll definitely be coming back for more.. Also DJ Robert Drake's Reflections of a Rock Lobster is a wonderful blog of memories from his life. From memories of New York and Philly nightlife (nights at the Paradise Garage, The Saint, The Anvil etc..) to more personal reflections, it's one of my new favourite personal blogs.. Check 'em both out sometime!






Anonymous said...

I don't think I've heard this group. Being a teen though, I haven't heard many disco groups and songs. I actually came to love the music because my dad was a disco DJ when he was younger and has an enormous selection of LPs to listen to. I'm slowly collecting songs and albums from the internet, but most of the 2300 songs on my Ipod are Disco.

Tommy said...

Awesome stuff Alex! I think I was around 15 or 16 when I started seriously exploring and collecting disco records. Lucky that your Dad has a huge LP collection.. I got into disco through my parents record collection too, damn near wore some of their records out too heh..

In any case thank God for the internet! :)

Chantilly Bass said...

Excellent blog! Thank you very much for the love and linkage. I will definitely be a regular around here. Cheers!

Tommy said...

Hey CB, no problem at all :)

Martin said...

I just saw that the album is back in print on CD through a release from Friday Music. No idea how it compares sonically to previous issues (my old LP sounds fantastic), but it's nice to see it's available again. Very good album - "With My Eyes" is the best from it, with "Body Language" and the big hit next...

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