Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Deep Cuts

Cut Glass - Without Your Love (1980, 20th Century Fox)
Cut Glass - Alive With Love (1980, 20th Century Fox)

Cut Glass - Without Your Love (Hot Tracks Remix)

Updated and re-uploaded 1/15/09

If there's anything that fits the bill of an 'undergound disco classic' it's got to be this single.. Although I'm sure it was popular in quite a few clubs back in the day, this single was evidently an iconic staple in the playlist of New York's legendary (some might also say infamous) gay nightclub The Saint. As a result, this record, particularly the A-Side "Without Your Love" became quite an anthem and something of a cult disco classic in quite a few disco circles. I can only go by second-hand knowledge here, but DJ, record producer and apparent 'Saint' devotee Ian Levine, in an interview with the DJ History website partially explained the hysteria:

The music at the Saint was so spot on. I can remember so many records: Souvenirs by Voyage, Sentimentally It’s You by Theo Vaness. Everywhere else went for the pounding of the beat. The Saint went for the beauty in the music. Rattling their tambourines, these guys with their shirts off with these huge fans. And it was packed. There was 4,000 people in there. I never saw it, even in the summer, with less than 2,000 there...... Just as northern soul discovered the records of the sixties and played them in the seventies, so the Saint discovered the records of the seventies and played them in the eighties. They made Gods out of the cult disco records of the seventies. Cut Glass Without Your Love. $200 a copy for the 12-inch on 20th Century. Charlie Grappone, of Vinylmania in New York, used to have them on the wall; these priceless 12-inch things. There was no bigger record in the Saint than Cut Glass.

Whether it was the biggest or just one of the biggest at The Saint (another one that comes up often is Marlena Shaw's version of "Touch Me In The Morning"), evidently the record was so popular at one point that someone even put out a bootleg 12" (on an apparently fictitious label called Earhole Records) in order to satisfy demand..

Cut Glass was essentially a guise for Detroit based producers Jeffrey Steinberg and Jeffrey Parsons, the same guys behind the excellent Hott City - Ain't Love Grand (1979, Butterfly/MCA) album. The voices behind Cut Glass were also none other than singers Ortheia Barnes and Mildred Vaney (AKA Millie Scott), both of whom had also sang on a good portion of the Hott City record (see Disco Delivery #20 for more on them and Hott City). As far as I know, Hott City and Cut Glass are the only two projects released by Steinberg and Parsons (certainly the only ones I've ever found) and this single definitely has their indelible stamp on it. Generally speaking, the sound of Cut Glass, for the most part, picks up where Hott City left off, albeit with less irony and more sincerity this time around..

As great as both tracks on the single are, the A-Side "Without Your Love" would probably be the standout here. After I first heard it, I don't know how many times I had caught myself humming that melody, singing that refrain to myself.. However, needless to say, it's not just that melody or those full, uplifting straight-to-church vocal harmonies, but the combination of those elements along with those cool, sharp and impeccable synth arrangements that make this record the ultimate combination of gospel exaltation and chemical trance. I suppose given the distinctly clean, sharp, glossy quality of the synths on this record (as well as on the Hott City LP), it's probably no wonder why this project was coined 'Cut Glass.' The crisp synth sounds and the warm, heavenly vocals of Barnes and Vaney combine to not only make this one killer record but one which exemplifes what disco did quite like nothing else.

Although these days there is much less, if hardly any gulf between R&B and elements of electronic music with the likes of Timbaland and Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins (among others) combining elements of both in their work (and having the lucrative hit making careers to reward them for it), yet some 20-30 years before them this single (albeit in a different context) similarly combined elements of both and perhaps went even further. Combining both a European-inspired (read: white) electronic, synthesized, melodic element with those distinctly American (read: black) soulful, gospel-inspired vocals in such uncompromising purity, this record achieved what was probably one of disco's greatest legacies: that bringing together of diverse, even disparate elements together into what was a beautifully distinctive sound and experience.

If the original 12'' version of "Without Your Love" doesn't display that contrast clearly enough, the Hot Tracks mix drives it home like a sucker-punch.. The remix by Hot Tracks founder Steve Algozino doubles the length of the original (among other things), taking it all the way up to some twelve or so minutes. I'm not too well versed on the output of remix services like Disconet, Hot Tracks etc., but so far, along with the Disconet mix of ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" this has got to be one of the best mixes that I've heard from either outfit. The highlight of the Steve Algozino remix has got to be that Patrick Cowley-inspired trance-inducing, out-of-this-world, spaced out synth break right in the middle. Easily taking up half of the mix, it takes that contrast, that juxtaposition between the cool electronic sheen and warm uplifting vocals to a whole new level altogether. Once choice moment in that break would be right around the 7.30 mark; just when you wonder if things are going to come back down to earth, an additional layer of piercing, knock-out electronic hypnosis kicks in, taking things higher and farther than you expect it to.. When the melody comes in again, on that major key with those great vocals on top, it comes in at such a perfectly timed moment it becomes less of a reluctant come-down and more like a warm, affirming ray of sunshine..

To digress for a moment, looking at the elements of this record, it reminded me of an article in Seattle Weekly that I came across not too long ago. The article quoted Mel Cheren of West End Records in some choice passages from his book "Keep On Dancin': My Life And The Paradise Garage" (which I still have to get) in which he described The Saint:

"The dance floor was circular and huge, and above it rose the planetarium dome, diaphanous and semi-transparent, high overhead. When lights were projected onto it the effect was unlike anything you ever saw. Up there you were in a completely other world, a world without angles and walls and restrictions, a circular world where you could whirl like a drugged dervish and swim in sound and light and beauty.......The balcony was essentially a big orgy room.......Virtually everybody up there was looking for sex, and most were finding it. Then, after trysting up there in heaven, and smoking a dusted joint or snorting some coke, you'd come back down to the dance floor for another round."

Judging from that alone, I couldn't think of a more perfect soundtrack to that than this record, particularly the remix.. The vocals and melody with their 'light and beauty', complimenting that almost spiritual high of the communal dancefloor along with those icy synth-scapes bringing to mind those darker, more illicit pleasures. I'm not even sure whether the remix version was given any significant play there, but those contrasting elements in the mix seemed to mirror the same sort of things that might have been experienced at The Saint. If anything, it certainly seems to compliment the sheer intensity that such a place must have embodied.

While "Without Your Love" may have been the prominent track here, the B-side, "Alive With Love" is an excellent record as well.. Although "Alive With Love" may not reach the same heights that "Without Your Love" does, it also has a similarly strong, full vocal; a memorable melody and refrain and that same beautiful combination of synths (so cool, they're hot) and fiery, uplifting vocals.. The Hot Tracks remix aside, out of the two tracks on the original 12" single, I have to say this one probably has the more satisfying synth break, starting out cool and sparse coloured with those light guitars and then gradually culminating into a beautifully layered, glistening soundscape.. Both tracks on the single are listed together as peaking at #16 on the Billboard club charts, so I'm sure both got ample play regardless of which was on the A-side. With it's passionate vocal, peppered with just the right amount of grit and glory along with it's slightly slower tempo and seductive sleaze-appeal this one is perhaps less bold than the A-side, but sublime and equally satisfying nonetheless..

Just to further cement the status of these two tracks, both tracks would be covered later into the 1980s. The best of the bunch would probably be Tina Fabrique's cover, "Alive With Love (A Love Letter)" (1984, Prism). Produced by John Morales and Sergio Munzibai, Tina Fabrique's version ably updates the track to the Hi-NRG sound of the time, while putting her own stamp on it with her own excellent vocals (thanks to qdearl for offering and to DungeonDJ for letting me hear this).

In addition to that, in 1985 San Francisco Hi-NRG idol Paul Parker would also cover Cut Glass with his own decent version of "Without Your Love" produced by Ian Anthony Stephens (who had also worked with Madleen Kane and Hazell Dean). Later on in 1989, Ian Levine himself would also produce a cover of "Without Your Love" as part of his ill-fated Motorcity project with one of the original vocalists, Ortheia Barnes reprising her role. Although I'm not really a fan of the recordings that came out of his ambitious Motorcity project (which are a mixed bag to say the least), he accomplished quite a feat in getting a virtual constellation of former Motown stars back in the studio, some well known (The Marvelettes, Syreeta, Mary Wilson, Former Ladies of The Supremes) others not as much (The Sisters Love, Chris Clark, The Elgins). Although never signed to (or at least never recorded for) Motown as far as I know, Ortheia Barnes, a prominent figure in the Detroit music scene was also included in the Motorcity project. Although the 1989 remake doesn't even come close to eclipsing or standing out from the original, Ian Levine has very recently put many of the tracks and videos from his Motorcity project up on YouTube, this one included (click here to view the video).. The production values of the video are quite amateur to say the least, largely consisting of Ortheia doing her thing in the studio, nevertheless it's a treat to at least see one of the faces behind these tracks..

More recently the UK club mix factory, Almighty Records had done a remix of the song in 2003 which I haven't heard yet, although given that it's on a CD single with Evelyn Thomas' "High Energy," I'm assuming the remix is most likely based on Ian Levine's '89 remake, as opposed to the original...

Although Parsons and Steinberg were far from prolific disco producers, their few disco releases under the guises of Hott City and Cut Glass (at least the ones that I've heard so far) displayed such a distinctive sound and style that it seems rather unfortunate that they weren't more prolific. Although these tracks came fairly late in the game as far as disco is concerned, both sides are great examples of not only the diversity within disco, but as one of the best things to come out of that musically odd transition period just after it's height.. Personally, I see this single as musically notable not just on it's own terms, but with it's elegantly synthesized style replacing what would probably have been a sweeping string section on an earlier disco record, it also seems to represent a kind of bridge between the classic disco sound that preceded it and the Hi-NRG dance music that would replace it in the '80s.. That transition period at the dawn of the '80s saw some, if not many disco acts and producers experimenting and often times putting out sub-par, uninspired records to distance themselves from disco's tainted shadow. However, there were inspired moments like this that, even to this day, not only sound unusually fresh and distinctive but which also realized the best of what disco had to offer..

Parsons and Steinberg would produce one more single under the Cut Glass guise, a cover of the Grey & Hanks tune "Rising Cost Of Love." From Millie Jackson, to the Supremes' Jean Terrell, to the Tom Moulton project Loose Change and others I'm sure, "Rising Cost of Love" was one song which really seemed to make the rounds in the late '70s. Unfortunately, it's one single that I don't have yet, but certainly something I'd be curious to hear one day.

Just to note: both tracks from the original 12" were ripped from my vinyl copy, however the Hot Tracks remix was a file that I had downloaded elsewhere a while back.. I believe the Steve Algozino remix was released on the 5 CD "Hot Classics Box Set" that Hot Tracks put out in the early 90s. Long out of print and produced in limited quantities, it's pretty hard to come by but given the quantity of mixes on it, it's evidently highly sought after these days.. Although I don't have this next set either, former Saint DJ Michael Fierman included "Without Your Love" on his double-CD mix compilation "Fire Island Classics, Vol. 2" (1999, Centaur), which I believe is the only place where any of the original Cut Glass recordings have been officially put on CD..

Another side note: Given that I've invoked it quite a bit on here, for more insight on The Saint, see former Saint DJ Robbie Leslie's interview with DJ History as well as some of the others in the second section of links, below..








DannyBlue said...

Thanks Tommy - another immaculately researched piece and some great music.

Tommy said...

No problem dannyblue! :) Thanks for the kind words..

Anonymous said...

Great review! and I couldn't agree more, "Without Your Love" definitely stands out more among the two. Tina Fabrique's or Fabrik (depending on which vinyl copy you have....) version of "Alive with Love" is much more intense, in my opinion, than the Cut Glass version. It's one of my all time favorites. If you still haven't heard it, I'd be happy to send you a digital copy, just let me know!

Kenneth H said...

I found the song Without your love a couple of years ago and it's a song I like a lot. Perhaps not at first but after listening to it several times it grew on me. Actually, there's an Almighty remix of it from 2005/6 which is my favorite, a nicely updated version. The b-side is new to me, this is the first time I've heared it.

BoogieMan said...

These are great tracks! Funny but, I could've swore I had a copy of the original version lying around here somewhere. I think I got it on CD (unripped) somewhere but, either way, I downloaded them all. I have the "Tina Fabrique" version and will send you a copy shortly. It has a long solo-vocal intro. I'm recovering from a stupid accident. Almost lost my eyesight! I'm squinting through blurred vision to write this. Just another day in The Dungeon.

Tommy said...

Thanks Qdearl! I finally (just now actually) heard the Tina Fabrique/Fabrik version, but thanks for offering to send me the file, anyway :) I'll have to make a little edit on the main entry, cause it's definitely the best cover of the three I've heard so far.. You can't go wrong with a voice like that!

Hey Kenneth! Yeah I do tend to enjoy it after more listens, too. To be honest, I actually heard the Hot Tracks remix version first, so that probably affected my initial impressions. After hearing the synth break on that mix, there was just no turning back hehe..

I'll have to look for some info on that more recent Almighty remix. Thanks for the tip on that! :)

DDJ, thanks so much for emailing me the Tina Fabrique version! That vocal intro is stunning. As I said earlier, just can't go wrong with a voice like that. Needless to say, I quite enjoyed her version. Thanks again :)

Anyway, thanks also for commenting in spite of your blurred vision. That must have been one nasty accident if you almost lost your eyesight.. Yikes! Hope you get better soon DungeonDJ..

Anonymous said...

I've never head the Hot Tracks version of this song. Delicious.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Blog.........Great Musik and a literary education to back it all up. Just discovered, so am gorging myself on all these wondefull tracks!

Many Thanks..........Bob!

Tommy said...

Hey Enrique, that remix is indeed delicious! Definitely my favourite version of that track.

Thanks Bob, hope you enjoy the other tracks :)

Anonymous said...

the name of warhol's label was earhole records.

Anonymous said...

The Best Disco Blog, really...
I add you in my link page.
Greetings from

Tommy said...

ahgoodygoody: I had no idea Warhol had a company with the same name! I found one brief reference to it online (I guess I'll have to look elsewhere and offline for more). Still not sure if this record has any connection to it though.. It would certainly be interesting if there was..

dance70, thanks for the link and the kind words! :) I just linked your site as well..

Anonymous said...

These are great tracks - and new to me. Thank you. This is a wonderful blog - I look forward to reading and hearing much more.

Tommy said...

Thanks for the comment Stephanie! :) Thanks as well for linking me to your blog. I appreciate the intelligence of your entries..

ish said...

Wow thanks for these. I haven't heard these songs in years. Realy takes me back.


Maciko said...

Many many thaks for this discover
very great tracks
thanks for your good work

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