Donna Summer Sings “I Feel Love”

SummeryesterdayListen to this track by Boston-born disco queen and original dance-pop music diva Donna Summer. It’s “I Feel Love”, the breakthrough 1977 electro-dance hit as produced by Italian producer and musician Giorgio Moroder . It would appear on her fifth album, I Remember Yesterday and as a 12 inch extended single (an innovation of her label, Casablanca), which is what you’re hearing now. It would appear in multiple re-mixes over the years.

Legend has it that Brian Eno and David Bowie discovered the song while in the middle of making the Berlin Trilogy, convincing even them of what dance music would sound like in the ensuing decades. They were right on the money, of course. Along with being thoroughly innovative, this song was also a huge pop hit that immediately appealed to the masses. It scored top ten status all over the world and effectively solidified Donna Summer’s star status at just the right time, which was the height of the disco period.

Amazingly too, it paved the way for modern club music in general by freeing it from the world of American R&B, and introducing decidedly European influences instead. Its influence would have a lasting impact well beyond disco, particularly where music technology was concerned, but for many other reasons, too. Read more

Sister Sledge Sing “We Are Family”

We Are Family Sister SledgeListen to this track by familial R&B vocal group from Philadelphia, Sister Sledge. It’s “We Are Family”, a signature tune from them as written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, who also play on it along with drummer Tony Thompson. All three are namechecked in the performance by lead singer Kathy Sledge. The song is taken from their 1979 album of the same name; We Are Family. This is the full length version of the song, which would otherwise appear in a three-minute and change radio edit.

This is a classic tune of the disco era. It’s an anthem to celebrate those who are singing it, a paean to sisterly bonds and to what is means to be a part of something greater than oneself – a family. It’s also something of an anthem to those who gathered in the clubs as a subculture of those not recognized by the mainstream yet made into a family of sorts by virtue of their disenfranchisement. But, really, anyone can see what this song is about, and can relate to it. No wonder it was such a hit.

The song would be one of Sister Sledge’s biggest hits, released in March of 1979 and scoring a #2 chart position on the Billboard 100 and a #1 showing on the R&B charts. This was after the single made headway in the clubs then into local and national radio play. Not bad for a song that the label was unsure about whether or not this would make any waves, hitwise. It was also something of an extra victory, considering that it was made to order for the group, even if Rodgers and Edwards hadn’t heard or seen them before the song was written. Read more

Blondie Plays “Rapture”

Blondie RaptureListen to this track by New York new wave darlings and CBGB graduates Blondie. It’s “Rapture”, their 1981 hit single as taken from their sixth record, Autoamerican. This song and the album off of which it comes would continue to prove the band to be a supple and versatile musical unit.

Their achievements up to and including this song certainly rested on a few very important factors. First, they wrote great songs, reflected by their success in the charts during a time when great writing equaled lots of records sold. Second, in frontwoman Debbie Harry they had a presence defined by undeniable charisma and visual appeal. Of course, this made their ironic name based on a common catcall (“Hey! Blondie!”) even more ironic, given that the press and fans alike often referred overtly to Harry’s (admittedly considerable) sex appeal first, often making the music she helped to create to be a secondary consideration.

But, third; despite all of the attention Debbie Harry was getting as a new wave pin-up, Blondie was still a risk-taking band that had no problem reaching outside of their comfort zone even at the height of their powers when they had the most to lose. They were musically curious, and very aware of their surroundings when it came to the music being made by their contemporaries at other points along the pop music spectrum. And that’s where this song comes in as perhaps their greatest leap outside of their musical wheelhouse. Read more

Daft Punk Play “Get Lucky”

Daft Punk Random Access MemoryListen to this track by masked and anonymous Parisian disco-electro twosome, Daft Punk. It’s their made-for-summertime single “Get Lucky” as taken from their long-awaited 2013 record Random Access Memories. The song features vocals by Pharell Williams, a vocalist, songwriter, and one-half of The Neptunes production team.

Also joining them on this track is the one and only Nile Rodgers playing that impossibly funky rhythm guitar part that only he can play. If only they could have got Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson too for the full on Chic effect, although that bass part played by Nathan East nails that Edwards style. But, that’s the thing with this song, and with the rest of the record as well; it is very conscious of its inspirations.

This tune is unabashedly 20th century, with ’70s disco, and ’80s electro being the main courses, supplemented by fender rhodes soft rock textures and real drums, as played by Omar Hakim no less, to supplement the duo’s characteristic vocoders, drum machines, samplers and synths.

There seems to be quite a lot of sentimentality on this record as a whole, with a number of other contributions and references to bygone eras to be found therein.

Read more

Chic Plays “Le Freak”

Listen to this track by dance-music pioneers and disco heavyweights Chic. It’s “Le Freak” an enormous hit single from 1978’s C’est Chic album, and one of the biggest hit singles of the era. Written by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, the song became the biggest selling song on the Warner Music label, holding that position until it was supplanted by Maddona’s “Vogue” in 1990 – twelve years!

But, like many smash singles, it had a fairly humble origin. Rodgers and Edwards, along with drummer Tony Thompson, had been on the New York scene for a while. And while there, they made a lot of friends. One such person by 1977 was singer and model Grace Jones, who had made a name for herself on many fronts, one being her association with Andy Warhol, and by extension Studio 54.

But, that particular nightclub was not known to be friendly to “the little people”, with long lines and surly doormen turning people away being standard fixtures. And yet ironically, in the age of optimistic and inclusive disco music, it would be this very surly and elitist attitude at the door of ’54 that would inspire this now immortal dance track. Read more

The Rolling Stones Perform ‘Miss You’

Listen to this track from Dartford Kent and London’s favourite rock n roll and R&B quintet the Rolling Stones, with their 1978 hit single “Miss You” as taken from their landmark album that year, Some Girls.

The record was cut and put out just as the band, and the course of pop music, was in something of a transition, being pulled in at least two directions toward new wave and disco. Guitarist Keith Richards was in dutch with the RCMP with charges of drug trafficking. Mick Jagger was in the process of negotiating new deals for the band, while also attempting to update their sound.

And what  was more of an update than this, a clear and present disco record from the Greatest Rock n Roll Band In the World®? But, all is not what it seems on this single, the band’s last (to date) US #1 hit something of a latter-day hit just before their identity as an album band with top 40 hits was to be replaced instead with megatours. Read more

Michael Jackson Sings ‘Rock With You’

Here’s a clip of former Jackson 5 frontboy Michael Jackson with his 1979 disco-pop radio smash “Rock With You” as taken from the superlative pre-Thriller , pre-superfame, pre-Whacko Jacko album, Off the Wall.

This song is quite simply one of the most joyous pop records ever made.

It’s one of those songs which contains an entire world inside it – a world of innocence, fun, and freedom, characterized by an ethereal beauty beneath its infectious dance grooves.  This is the fantasy world of late night disco parties, yet free of the jaded self-indulgence. This is the purity of youth, of young love, and the power of movement and music that brings it all together.

There are songs which are of their time, and this is certainly one of them.  Yet, in this case, its being of its time is not a detriment to how well it’s aged.  It’s more like something which is preserved in amber; a time, a feeling, a state of being that can not be repeated, yet can certainly be celebrated every time it’s heard.  When Michael says ‘rock with you’ he really is talking about dancing.  In this, we get the good side of Jackson’s gravitation towards childhood; a time when all intentions are pure, and everything said is as honest as it will ever be.

This is Michael Jackson in a transitional period in his career, barely into his twenties and already a veteran recording star.  In this, he carries himself as the relaxed pro, hitting each tone as it should be hit, and certainly getting inside the material and making us believe it.  Some how on this record, you just know this guy has the moves.  You don’t have to see him dance, you just know that he’s as good as his word.  If Thriller put him into the stratosphere and into the realm of insanity at the same time, this was the sound of Jackson as the singer, the entertainer, and not as the self-styled pop Messiah of later years.

For me, this is the Michael Jackson  we all want him to be; the consummate performer, transporting us to a world of dance floors and young love as easily as a spirit moving over the waters.  It’s a cruel irony that the very thing that made him great would also be his undoing.  Yet, when I hear ‘Rock With You’, the pale tragic figure that became a self-parody couldn’t be further away.


Disco Sucks? Try Earth Wind & Fire

The Best of Earth Wind and Fire Vol. 1Disco has always been an extension of r&b, derived from the smooth, production-oriented approach found in Philly soul – not much new, but presented as though it was, which is what made all the difference. But in the summer of 1979 , there was a backlash against the music that was summed up in two words: disco sucks.

The incident unfolded in Comisky Park in Chicago during half-time at a White Sox game. At the ‘disco sucks’ event, former fans burned records in what started as a cheap publicity stunt for a local radio station, and ended up being pretty ugly. The incident has been linked to cultural realization that because disco was in fact originally the music of gay culture, and black and Hispanic culture too, it was ultimately a threat. A threat to what and to whom is less clear, but shades of Third Reich book burning was hard to deny, no matter what you happen to think about the records. Starting off as a tongue-in-cheek joke, the encouragement of a large mass of people to be destructive in a public place was ill-conceived at best.

But, the passing years have allowed the music of that mid-70s to 1980 heyday to become appreciated even by rockists such as myself. The fact is, disco is about fantasy, that being a part of a nighttime culture of heroes made on a dance floor is, in the moment, more important than mundane real life to many people. And that’s why it thrived, and in some ways and in different forms, continued to thrive in Chicago house music in the late 80s, to rave culture into the 1990s, and beyond.

But for me, disco is the music of my childhood, or at least a big part of that tapestry of radio in the 1970s and early 80s. One of my favourites is the 1978 disco anthem ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, a hit single included on the group’s album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol.1.

Listen and watch this clip and try to deny that this tune is all about the joy of living, the warm feelings of remembering good times with friends, and the power found in dancing together.

Get down!