Monday, January 15, 2007

Disco Delivery #32:
French Kiss - Panic! (1979, Harem/Polydor)

French Kiss - Mischief
French Kiss - Panic/Save Me (Suite)

Last week I got a great email from a reader named Mark, who wanted some help identifying a track he heard on a mix at the Bootleg DJ Cafe. The track in question was on part three of the excellent mix from August '04 (go to 'News,' scroll down to Monday 30.08.04).. Unfortunately I was completely clueless about it myself and after hearing it, I too wanted to know what that great instrumental track was. Well he eventually found out soon after, no thanks to me, and it turned out that it was "Mischief" by the Simon Soussan production French Kiss. With that information, I had an excuse to do a little record shopping the next day and of course, ended up picking up a copy of the LP..

I'll have to admit that Simon Soussan's productions haven't exactly been high on my wants list.. One of my first purchases back when I had started buying disco albums was Shalamar's first album "Uptown Festival" (1977, Soul Train), half of which was produced by Soussan. The Soussan-produced title track, a disco medley of Motown classics, was apparently a huge disco hit, yet it was never really a favourite of mine. To be honest, neither was the rest of the album ("Inky Dinky Wang Dang Doo" anyone?). Although I do enjoy quite a bit of Shalamar's later work when they became a real group, until now, I never really took the opportunity to investigate any more of Soussan's work. In hindsight, I was probably a bit hasty in writing him off, after all he did produce Pattie Brooks' excellent single "After Dark," a favourite of mine off the "Thank God It's Friday" soundtrack. In my opinion, it was one of the best things she's ever released, a glorious, sexy, slightly dark disco classic. For me, it more than makes up for the rather dire "Uptown Festival."

Simon Soussan also has something of a reputation if nothing else, which was another thing that sort of put me off of his work. Whenever his name popped up on internet pages I searched or forum threads I'd come across, people often didn't have too many good things to say about him. If anything, Soussan was a very interesting, if not somewhat shady character in the world of Northern Soul. Aside from the very basic facts, I'm no expert on Northern Soul, so I won't even begin to dive into it too deeply. But to sum it up for the uninitiated (and at the risk of oversimplifying things), the scene was one which celebrated, in almost cult-like fashion it seems, rare American R&B records. Records which were largely unsuccessful and long forgotten at home, but were highly celebrated by DJ's and dancers in places like the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca among others. Often times the artists themselves, long faded into obscurity, had no idea how coveted their records were. From what I've come across, Soussan's notoriety came from being something of a record dealer/bootlegger in this scene. A paragraph on the martinsbox site partly describes his notoriety:

"Oh, the seventies was such a wild and wacky decade for the Northern Soul scene. Forget the 60's. You had to be there to appreciate what was going on; and there was always something going on. Take these four records for instance; all played at the same time; all new vocals to popular instrumentals; all hammered to death by Russ Winstanley at Wigan Casino. Well glory be! Had some intrepid collector unearthed a batch of obscure soul records on a trip to the USA and brought them back here to share with his soul brothers and sisters? Sadly, no..... Enter Mr Simon Soussan, sometime DJ and bootlegger who was one of the first ex-scene personnel to make it to the States. Old Simie wandered into a US recording studio accompanied by some anonymous girlies and copies of 'Afternoon of the rhino', 'My little girl', 'Double cooking' and 'Crying over you'. A good fifteen minutes later he had written some 'new' vocals to these tunes and the aforementioned ladies of the nighter had dubbed their dulcet tones over the popular stomping instrumentals. Before you could say 'Here's an exclusive, Russ' the acetates were revolving around the decks of Wigan Casino and filling the floor with gay abandon. Hey, that Russ Winstanley, he certainly knows how to find those rare dancers! Surprisingly enough the bootlegs were in the shops within 3 months of their debut spin at the home of soul music. -Dave McCadden"

Ian Levine, another disco producer and prominent figure in the Northern Soul scene explained it further in a recent interview at DJ History:

"Simon Soussan had a scam. He put a record list out. Bob Relf had this huge record, Blow My Mind to Pieces. And he put this list out: ‘Bob Relf Reaching For The Best - even better than Blow My Mind To Pieces. Only one copy. £35.’ At the bottom of the list it said, ‘You must state alternatives because there are no refunds if your first choice is not available.’ So everybody wanted the Bob Relf record. But it didn’t exist. He made the title up. It was a scam just to get people to send the money in and he’d give them any old rubbish he had. So I thought Fuck you, and I called my first record Reaching For The Best by the Exciters.... He damaged the scene and people have still not forgotten him after 25 years. He’s still a figure of contempt. But he did discover a lot of great records. He went on to become a successful disco producer. He re-wrote northern soul songs: Love And Desire by Arpeggio was Stronger Than Her Love by the Flirtations."

If anyone's curious to see, a user on the forums posted a scan of an old sales list, allegedly sent by Simon's company, on a thread from last April..

Anyway, just a part of the story, but I'm sure you get the picture.. As mentioned in the Ian Levine quote, by the late '70s, in addition to being a sometime DJ and dealer/bootlegger, Soussan was also branching out into record production. According to the Discopia interview with Laurin Rinder, who played on some of his sessions, he was apparently quite wealthy already from his involvement in the clothing business and didn't seem to have too much trouble financing his sessions. He would come to make quite a name for himself in the disco world by producing artists and studio groups like Pattie Brooks, Shalamar and Arpeggio as mentioned earlier, as well as Jessica Williams, The Simon Orchestra, Charisma, and Romance to name a few.

I must thank Mark for pointing me to this one, since as far as I'm concerned, on this French Kiss project, nothing quite tops "Mischief." Driven by those handclaps, swirling strings and above all, those haunting, layered synth arrangements, it's a pity that this wasn't extended and released as a single. That chirping synth in the background is particularly alluring, as is that melody line played with that dark, shiny synth sound which just completely stands out, cutting through all the other layers. Placed right at the end of the album, the track is like a light at the end of a tunnel, a reward for enduring some of the other rather plodding tracks on the album. Admittedly, "Mischief" is hardly the most representative track on the album. For the most part, I would describe the sound on the album to be kind of like Cellarful-of-Motown meets Eurodisco. I know that might sound like a winning combination, though in my opinion, the actual results mostly range from the pleasant, to the rather nondesript and unremarkable. Tracks like "All Out Of Tears," "We're The Right Combination," and "You Got Me Groovin' " are flowery and pleasant enough, and on paper seem to have all the elements in place, but they just seem to lack a certain something. A ballsiness perhaps, or maybe just that same forward-looking sound that "Mischief" had. Some of the tracks, like "You Got Me Groovin'," for example, seem to start off with good ideas that either don't seem to be developed to their full effect, or that appear somewhat marred by their vocal arrangements. Anyway, that's just my assessment..

Whatever the case, to me, the only other track on the album that rises above the pack is the single and title track "Panic/Save Me (Suite)." Apparently a partial cover of an older song, it's got, once again, those great handclaps, disco laser sound effects (always a winner in my books), and of course above all, those dynamic strings. In between the disco chants, those staccato, Costandinos-esque strings, interplayed with those rhythmic handclaps are what really make this track worthwhile.

The "group" of French Kiss judging from the back cover consisted of Yvette Johnson, Lamarr Stevens, who appears on at least one other Soussan production, and Muffi Durham, an actress whose credits seem to drop off after around 1980. Aside from Stevens, I'm not sure who sang on what, but their picture and their names on the back cover are the closest thing to musician credits on the album. The rest of the album's music is credited, rather anonymously, to "The Simon Orchestra." However, the credits for "Disco Mix Consultants" are quite plentiful in contrast, with each track on the album being credited to a different mixer. Among the 'mix consultants' credited, Gary Blair, who appears on the first Arpeggio LP, is credited for mixing the title track, and Will Crocker, a much more prolific name having been involved in quite a few Disconet mixes, is credited for the mix of "Mischief"..

I also have to mention that album cover, which is undoubtedly one of the best things about the album. That delightfully cheeky photo was taken by Gary Heery, who seems to have done quite a few album covers in the late '70s. Heery is still active today, and has his own website, where you could see some of his other work.

Also, in case anyone wishes to purchase the album, "Panic!" was recently reissued on CD by Unidisc. Unidisc has also put out CD reissues for some of the other projects that Soussan produced like Arpeggio, Simon Orchestra and Jessica Williams.. This is actually the second CD reissue for French Kiss and the aforementioned Soussan productions, the first being by the now defunct Hot Productions label in the mid 90's. I don't have the Unidisc reissue yet, but judging from the quality of some of the Hot Productions CD reissues I have, I'm sure the Unidisc releases are of better quality..

Anyway, reputation notwithstanding, I hope to find some more worthwhile Simon Soussan productions in my searches. At the same time that I bought this LP, I also picked up the Charisma - Out Of Time (1978, Barclay) LP which he produced, so I hope to give that a good listen soon.. In the mean time, enjoy the files..





BoogieMan said...

This is a GREAT album Tom. I happen to have the original on wax. I downloaded the song anyway since I need a new Stanton cartridge for my Techniques turntable (No, not a 1200 series but, with pitch control). I also have an original of The Simon Orchestra's Mr. Big Stuff (LP) but, haven't gotten around to transferring any wax to mp3. Only my CDs so far. Love your blog! Been checking it faithfully since a few weeks after you started it. I just started my first blog at

I'm surprised you're not up for any awards. Very informative blog you got here, aye!

Tommy said...

Thanks for the comment DungeonDJ! :).. I probably have a similar turntable to yours. It's a fairly old Technics SL 1600 (not the quartz lock one) with the pitch control knobs hehe..

Anyway, I just visited your blog, off to a great start! It's always good to have more disco.. I'll be sure to put a link to it! :)

Anonymous said...

Like the tracks. Many elements are the same as in Arpeggio's album 'Love and Desire'.

Tommy said...

Glad you like them, Chris! :)

I just tracked down an mp3 of "Love & Desire," and you're right! Sounds like they even used that same high-pitched female singer as in "Panic"..

Anonymous said...

muy buen disco, muchas gracias . sin me pueden ayudar con este disco

muchas gracias desde Chile.

mi correo

Anonymous said...

Have you taken down the link to Panic? Can't seem to get it to work...

Tommy said...

No, haven't taken it down. I just checked and for some reason though the second link doesn't work.. hmm, but I also checked the primary link and that should be working fine..

Thanks for letting me know!

Anonymous said...

Pattie Brooks' excellent single "After Dark," a favourite of mine off the "Thank God It's Friday" soundtrack. In my opinion, it was one of the best things she's ever released, a glorious, sexy, slightly dark disco classic.

I just wondered if you were aware that the above record was a copy of Shawn Robinson's Northern Soul Classic "My Dear Heart" on US Minit records, another plunder by SS....

Tommy said...

Anonymous - Thanks for the info! No, I had no idea "After Dark" was another ripoff, although I can't say I'm that surprised. I'm going to have to track that down so I can hear it now. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

The reason why the voice sounds the same from "Love and Desire" by Arpeggio, to "French Kiss" to the majority of the recordings of this familiar voice produced by Simon Soussan on most of his productions, is because it is the same person "Monalisa Young". Unfortunately, there were groups of groups of groups that were created by Simon, denying Monalisa the credit of representing her own talent.

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