Rolling Stone Quote: “‘It is with great sadness that I must now say goodbye to my friend and fellow bandmate, Greg Lake,’ Carl Palmer wrote in a statement. ‘Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be remembered by all who knew his music and recordings he made with ELP and King Crimson. I have fond memories of those great years we had in the 1970s and many memorable shows we performed together.'”
Marvin Gaye, ‘Trouble Man’ (‘Record World’ magazine, December 09, 1972). Click to enlarge.
“Marvin Gaye scores for the first time.”
Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack released December 8, 1972 and has come to be regarded as a classic. I have to agree with the general sentiment. It’s a sultry, heartfelt, and soulful disc. Grab a listen below.
Disco Lab #39: Santa’s Disco Band – ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town’ (1977)
Lights! Glitter! Music! Excitement! Alcohol! If you think about it, the happy and productive marriage of disco and the holiday season was inevitable. The formula was utterly simple: first, take a familiar holiday carol; second, add a beat. Done!
This formula lent itself to hastily recorded LPs targeted at drugstore bargain bins. Budget label Pickwick released two holiday dance cheapies, Disco Noël and Yuletide Disco (the former with disco dance instruction booklet!), then licensed the twenty or so tracks to holiday bargain label Mistletoe, who regrouped them into two more differently-titled LPs! The appeal is explained in the liner notes to yet another Pickwick issue, the cleverly titled Christmas Disco: “This album is for the fun side of Christmas… [when] it’s time let your hair down and perk your energy up… a disco Christmas album for the whole family to have a little fun with.” Easy there, Grandma!
Today’s offering, though, is from the flipside of mainstream disco. I’ve barely touched on it in these hit-mongering Disco Lab analyses, but there’s a whole other world of ’70s disco. The music started out as an underground phenomenon, with obscure releases from small independent labels played in urban nightclubs, and quietly continued that way while Donna Summer and the Village People were blowing up the charts and invading the suburbs. (Check the Disco and Disco 2 compilations from Soul Jazz Records for a taste of the “real stuff.”) One such indie label was Los Angeles’ Magic Disc Records, who issued a mere 23 releases between 1977 and 1983, and nothing you’ve ever heard of. A few of these were holiday offerings, including this “Xmas Disco Disc” by Santa’s Disco Band (you didn’t know he had one?). Just like the budget holiday albums, this has a garish, tacky cover; the music’s gotta be awful, right?
Not so fast. In fact, this may just be Christmas disco’s finest hour. “Santa Claus…” is as much funk as disco, honestly; hard rhythm guitar and brass, really tough percussion and handclaps, and a kinda Stevie sounding keyboard. Unlike most disco, it’s got no strings or female chorus vocals, backing or otherwise. Only the hi-hat work keeps this firmly in dance floor territory.
After featuring the familiar Santa melody at the start, the record lapses into a hard one-chord groove for several minutes, enabling some great soloing from a fuzz guitar and other instruments. I love the bass, drums, and clarinet breakdown at 4:44 and the locked guitar-and-brass groove that emerges about 5:40 – and especially those motorcycle-rev guitar strums near the end. Unlike most looped, overdubbed disco productions, this is simply a tight group playing live and hot for eight and a half minutes—and from the sound of it, having a blast. (Article continues after song…)
Santa’s Disco Band: ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town,’ 1977
Producer and label owner Jack Ashford was a member of Motown’s famed Funk Brothers, for whom he played signature tambourine parts on so many iconic hits. Perhaps that’s him shakin’ it dangerously with Santa’s favorite combo. Good thing this didn’t turn up in the drugstores; it might’ve done Grandma in while “letting her hair down” for Christmas!
Disco Lab #38: Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’ (1977)
If you’d told my teenaged self, weaned on respectable rock and pop, that my favorite record of all time would be a Donna Summer song, I’d have laughed cynically. Yet here we are decades later with what I feel are the finest few minutes of Earth audio ever, “I Feel Love.”
In the fall of 1977, exhausted from college night classes, I’d sit in the dark and listen to the radio — no books, no distractions. Compared to Linda Ronstadt’s staid “Blue Bayou,” this Donna record was sheer amazement. I was really blown away by the instrumental track underneath Donna’s vocals: was it really all synthesizers? Could you really make a whole record out of synth beats? (Kraftwerk and other Kraut-rockers had been doing it for a while, but this was news to me.)
Credit the song’s innovator, genius Giorgio Moroder, the Italian producer based in Germany who set the stage for our present-day EDM (electronic dance music). On French dance duo Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories, Moroder reveals his early origins: “I wanted to do a album with the … sound of the future. And I said: ‘Wait a second—I know the synthesizer!’” In addition to most of Donna’s hits, Moroder gave us many records under his own name (sometimes as just Giorgio) as well as the Munich Machine project.
But in my opinion, this song is his absolute pinnacle. To me “I Feel Love” is a song about man’s relationship to technology. Donna’s surrounded by these ostensibly menacing synth beats and pulses, but instead of being terrified, she’s ecstatic (“it’s so good”), and not even in a sexual way. She’s swept away joyously on this robotic torrent of “fake” sounds, and that’s something I hadn’t heard before (nor since, really).
The core of the record is the throbbing, synthetic bass line you hear first; it carries through from start to finish, accompanied at time by swirling synth chords, percussion and keyboard hits, and Donna’s vocal. After a normal pop song’s length of three minutes, the song begins to fade… but then that pulsing bass figure lingers, and it starts all over again! Incredibly, the radio (and 7”) version runs a very long 5:50. The 12” version gives you all that, then plays that 2:30 coda a second time to stretch the duration out to 8:15. (Article continues after song…)
Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’ (12″ Version, 1977)
The durability of “I Feel Love”’s futuristic sound was proven eight years later in a cover version by Bronski Beat & Marc Almond. Though the remake offered male vocals and a varying tempo, the chugging synth-sequencer sound was recreated faithfully (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). 39 years later, it still sounds like a record from the future. Much to the amazement of my teenaged self.