Monday, July 31, 2006

Disco Delivery #24:
Love & Kisses (1977, Barclay/Polydor)

Love & Kisses - Accidental Lover
Love & Kisses - I've Found Love (Now That I've Found You

Forgive me, I know it's been a while.. No, I haven't run out of disco records yet, I've just been neglecting this blog this past month.. As usual, busy at work and just plain lazy at home. Consider this past July my summer holiday from blogging if you will... Anywho, I've actually been planning to put some of Alec R. Costandinos' work up here for some time, I figure I've invoked his name enough already, I might as well put something up.. For those who may not know, Costandinos was undoubtedly one of the Eurodisco auteurs. In the span of about three to four years in the late '70s (from '75-'79) he managed to put out some of the most amazing, intricate, complex orchestral (master)pieces of disco artistry ever put on vinyl. Starting with his work on Cerrone's "Love In C Minor" to what many consider his most inspired moment; his disco rendering of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" (1978, Casablanca), to his other studio projects like this one (Love & Kisses), Paris Connection, Sumeria and Sphinx. Not to mention some of his more obscure works like Tony Rallo & The Midnite Band and (yes, believe it or not) Tina Turner's disco LP "Love Explosion" (1979, United Artists).

Costandinos' Love & Kisses project is probably best known for the title track/theme from the movie "Thank God It's Friday," which peaked at #22 on the Billboard Pop charts.. Prior to making a name for himself in disco, Costandinos had worked primarily in France as a songwriter/producer for and with the likes of Dalida, Vangelis, and most prominently Demis Roussos. In 1974 Costandinos would become involved with a group called Kongas, whose drummer was none other than future disco auteur Jean-Marc Cerrone. Later in 1975, the two would collaborate on Cerrone's first solo project "Love In C Minor" (1976, Malligator), one of the greatest disco classics which inevitably launched both of their careers as disco producers. The two original tracks off Cerrone's three-track "Love In C Minor" LP (the title track and "Midnite Lady") would unfortunately be the last products of the Cerrone/Costandinos partnership. As for as the reason that was, it's a bit of a question mark. In the past few years there have been a few discussions about this particular subject on the forums. One of the things that was claimed, based on old interviews and such (none of which I have seen or read, mind you), is that their collaboration ended after a subsequent "misunderstanding" about credit. Costandinos apparently claiming he was not credited appropriately for his contribution to the "Love In C Minor" project. Again, I'm not 100 % sure how true this is, although I've always found Cerrone's "Midnite Lady" to sound more like a Costandinos production than a Cerrone production, so it certainly seems plausible.. Whatever the case, by 1977 he had enough clout to release his own disco project, which leads us to this LP..

Essentially this album, with it's deliciously playful and racy cover, was something of a glorified 12" single. Consisting of only two tracks, each taking up an entire side (both tracks running around 17 minutes each), it cemented Costandinos' signature production style. His brand of European orchestral maximalism (as some might put it) was in full display on the A side - "Accidental Lover." After a brief conversational intro, it breaks into a full tilt 4/4 beat with glorius staccato strings on top. In some ways "Accidental Lover" recalls both "Love In C Minor" and "Midnite Lady". It's almost a fuller, faster version of both.. Going back to the speculation about the Cerrone-Costandinos misunderstanding, it's been said that the similarities were not some sort of formulaic accident, but a deliberate attempt by Costandinos to prove his involvement in the Cerrone record. Creating something similar enough to draw comparisons, yet distinct enough to be an original.. Getting back to the music though, one other thing that I found striking was not just the strings themselves, but how Costandinos uses them. The strings have a full, almost relentless, powerful sound to them, being even rhythmic in places. They're constantly alternating from a smooth, gentle sound to a striking staccato sound. They're so dynamic, they almost talk to you.. Point being, I don't think I've heard any other disco producer use strings quite the way Costandinos does.

The story on Accidental Lover I found a little perplexing initially.. At the beginning of the song the lyrics are a little feisty "...who'd you think you're fooling with your mystery tale, accidental lover, you're just trying in vain, don't wanna love you.." then later the vocals go.. "you know I love you... you know i love you..I wanna love you" Although as the blanks get filled in with the intro at the beginning and Alec's own vocals towards the end, it seems like a kind of one night stand story.. The man meets the woman, the woman is the one who starts off reluctant, who "doesn't want to love him." They sleep together, then the woman changes her mind and it's the man who wants to move on.. Alec's vocals towards the end go, in part.. "just close your eyes when I walk out that door.. and life will go on as it used to before.." A pretty intersting narrative, kind of gives the song a useful tension I think..

The track on side B "I've Found Love (Now That I've Found You)" doesn't quite have the tension of "Accidental Lover," but it makes a nice flipside/continuation to it.. After the tension of side A comes the euphoric release of side B.. The lyrics and female vocals are much more cheery and chirpy, not to mention Alec himself takes a lightly more prominent role as a vocalist.. Let me just say after hearing him here, I'm glad he didn't make it too much of a habit.. Still, it's not so much the vocals that win me over but the complex layers and changes throughout the song.. How it switches from layered orchestral strings, horns and harps to a strong percussive section with some great drum breaks and back again.. Not to mention some of those tense, frantic strings close to the 10 minute mark..

The singers on the album are anonymously credited as "Sue, Stephanie, Joanne, Vicki, Sunny and Alec." While Alec is, of course, Costandinos himself, the ladies include some of the most prominent session singers in the UK at the time. Sunny & Sue are actually Sunny Leslie & Sue Glover who aside from recording as a duo (as Sue & Sunny), were original members of Brotherhood of Man. The two would also sing on some other disco projects, including albums for Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Madleen Kane, Ian Levine and other Costandinos projects like Sphinx and Sumeria.. Similarly the other three session singers were also quite prolific in their own right. Vicki Brown and Joanne Stone would each be on records by some very prominent artists as did Stephanie DeSykes who would also (like all the other ladies) be involved in other Costandinos projects among many other things.. Some of the other notable personnel include Slim Pezin on guitar, who was a member of the group Voyage, as well as Raymond Donnez AKA Don Ray on keyboards and as arranger and conductor. Don Ray was of course a ubiquitous name on albums by Cerrone, Costandinos and Santa Esmeralda to name a few..

That said, as impressive as this record is (to me, at least), the best of Costandinos was yet to come. For the record, I'd probably agree with the the majority in saying that his most inspired moment was probably his landmark "Romeo & Juliet" album.. Even though that is largely considered his peak, like many of the great disco producers, he was one of those that managed to make many great records in what was really a remarkably short time.. The complexity, spendour and certainly the ambition of his records were something unique to it's time.. It's been said on the forums, and I'd agree, that the likes of Costandinos' productions are unlikely to be heard again, certainly not today anyway. Which makes it even more unfortunate, that according once again to many of the discussions on the forum, Costandinos himself (who apparently owns or controls most of his masters) doesn't seem to have any interest in reissuing his work on CD. Lord knows why, but for someone who put so much into his productions, it's a shame that much of it can't be enjoyed and preserved on CD.. Still, there have been bits and pieces of his work that have been reissued though. One of them being a "best of.." CD of his work on Unidisc in the late '80s. Apparently poorly mastered with shoddy artwork and to top it all off a misspelling of his name ("Constandinos" instead of "Costandinos"). Perhaps that is one reason why he is reluctant to authorize any CD reissues.. Also, there was a very limited Japanese CD release of his "Romeo & Juliet" album in the late 90's and a budget reissue of the Tina Turner album he did. All are long out of print and go for pretty good money these days..

After his disco efforts, Costandinos seemed to scale things down considerably. He would release one more album in 1981 called "Americana," ironically not released in the US. He would also have some sporadic writing and production credit here and there, one of them being a 1982 album for Swedish singer Tommy Nilsson. Later on he would become more involved in the film industry scoring films and more recently producing... These days he is apparently married with children, living in Los Angeles largely involved in making commercials.. A couple of notable recent credits have been as a writer and executive producer on a movie called "True Vinyl" from 2000 and as Executive Producer on another movie called "King Rikki" (2002), an East L.A. adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard the III"..

In closing, I must credit the forums for introducing me and educating me on Costandinos and his work. Over the years it has been a great resource for me on pretty much all things disco. As far as info on Costandinos is concerned though, info on the rest of the 'net is often fairly vague compared to many other prominent disco producers. Searching many of the discussions on the forum have certainly helped fill in a few blanks in his story..



Search this blog