NY DISCO ‘80
New York’s disco/soul WBLS radio may still be winning the ratings battle but out in the clubs the energy has definitely dropped, with once exclusive names now practically touting for business at any time other than the busy weekends. Where disco was once a lifestyle this comes as a depressing fact of life.
Studio 54, until recently closed, now opens just on Fridays and seems to be attracting a largely black crowd, possibly due to its new black owner, the svelte pyjama suit and sombrero-sporting Michael Stone. Lacking a liquor licence (but then New York’s best, Paradise Garage never had one), the club now has a more enjoyable atmosphere than in the era of poseurs even if the music on offer remains much unchanged. The converted theatre setting has been slightly revamped although the same variety of backdrops and flashing light columns drop down from the high ceiling amongst the dancers, new additions being extra articulated neon panels overhead and a huge rather ugly mechanised walkway-topped gantry that slides forward through the old proscenium area to form a stage.
Also in an old theatre with similar backdrop variety, Xenon makes much play of its spectacular laser effects. This club last year was adamant in its refusal to grant admission to a group of British disco personalities, but was only too keen to grab 12 dollars a head while it still could In 1980. The only feature of slight interest was Rick James getting DJ John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez to play his new album and clearing the dangerously empty floor of its Wallys in the process. Still, it was a Monday!
Jellybean actually seemed to be jocking all over the place, and was at The Electric Circus for much of the week too. The disco floor here is naturally divided with lights into a three ring area and the DJ booth is housed inside half a merry-go-round. Interestingly, despite much talk of rock’s in-road into US discos, a live band playing on another floor at the Circus had zero audience while the disco was comfortably populated (new wave, rock and Merseybeat oldies are big in LA though, but then . . . I mean, LA!).
Froggy and his friend Owen Jailler, when they weren’t looking at smutty books, spent much of their nights chasing after New York’s best mixing DJ, Larry Levan, who was not due at his regular Paradise Garage gig until the Friday we had set aside for Studio 54. Consequently Froggy and Owen experienced the heavy black drugs-orientated scenes at Manhattan’s Melons and New Jersey’s Zanzibar, at both of which Larry was making celebratory appearances on winning Billboard’s disco DJ award again.
My own observations then on this trip are based mainly on Jellybean’s style, which naturally involved no talking at all. His big tricks seemed to be chopping very loudly into the long tension-building intros of Kano ‘I’m Ready’ and Diana Ross ‘I’m Coming Out’, possibly mixing two copies of each to prolong the excitement which typically got all the athletic young men throwing their arms In the air and going “ooh!”. His running mixes were consistently faultless, but the constant excitement without any respite from the brighter end of the disco music spectrum got to be a bit wearying. It was the sound rather than tempo that stayed bright and zingy, it being noticeable how he was having to use oldies due to the lack of suitable newbies when taking the tempo very fast.
Of the current material used not o by Jellybean but by other jocks I heard, and In addition to records mentioned In passing on this page over the last two weeks, the much repeated material included obviously Stacy Lattisaw, SOS Band, Change ‘Searching’, less obviously George Benson, Raydio ‘For Those Who Like To Groove’, Gap Band, especially France Joli, Kurtis Blow, Dynasty, plus Voyage ‘I Love You Dancer’, Chaka Khan ‘Clouds’, Two Tons O’ Fun ‘Got The Feeling’, Flakes, Everlife ‘Superhero’s Theme’, and — mixing really effectively wherever I went — Rod ‘Shake It Up (Do The Boogaloo)‘.
Temporarily fired with enthusiasm on my return to London, I loaded up my disco boxes with some of the ones I wouldn’t normally carry but in fact have yet to use any of the zingy ones here, because, let’s face it, London is London . . . thank god!
KEEP IT FUNKY
Some jocks seem to have been getting the wrong end of the stick about my little slogan, taking it to mean that variety in the music they play is bad and monotony is the Ideal to aim for. Far from it.
“Keep It funky” followed on from my double-edged “Disco is dead” – which (a) pointed up the stupidity of that remark from uneducated media when clearly disco as a concept was not dead, and (b) sarcastically expressed the hope that crud “disco” disco music was indeed dead — the “funky” slogan thereafter referring to the music that for the most part has become the dominant disco sound AND NOT to the need for DJs only to play that sound.
Pure zingy “disco” was fun for a while but the surfeit of “disco” tripe that that then flooded the market is what gave the word a bad name. If there’s going to be a main type of music identified as disco, let’s for goodness sake — KEEP IT FUNKY! Funk, soul and jazz have roots, pure “disco” had none and largely suffered the consequence.
Now this is not to say that I only want to hear from specialist funky jocks, or about the specialist funky records that ordinary DJs are using in amongst their regular programme of sounds. I personally play a huge range of music on mobile private party gigs (the “vinyl junkie” tag is true), and I think it is important to reflect — without necessarily going into too much detail — what records are being danced to in addition to the current funky stuff, otherwise a generation of DJs will grow up totally unequipped for the real world should they ever get a general gig.
Hence, the DORC . . . but not enough DJs are listing general non-specialist hits in their chart returns. I’m sure a lot of you are playing ’em so let’s hear about ’em too! And if you’re one of the lucky minority who does play at specialist funk-jazz gigs, keep your charts coming as well. Let’s face it, there’s room for them all.
Send your charts (at least a Top 20 or more if possible), written on your own paper (there are no printed forms), so that they arrive mid-week to James Hamilton, Record Mirror, 40 Long Acre, London WC2E 9JT — and remember that any dates or info enclosed will not be published until the week after the one you’ve aimed for.
ODDS ‘N’ BODS
Morgan Khan, with big money behind him, and three brand new companies (including a label whose still secret name you’ll love!), is off to the States to tie up product and generally spread the news about his promotion service, which looks likely to monopolise R&B releases even from many major UK companies (and that’s not the half of it) – hmm, I wonder, will PRAT regret losing this “brat”?! . . . Tony Jenkins of Mayfair Playboy Club funk fame end Peter Byefield have formed ‘FunktIon’, a club with a difference for up-market jazz-funk fans — starting nest week (12), members (£5 charter, £10 once 500 have joined) get the discounted use of Battersea’s Bennett every Tuesday with Tony & Alex Anders spinning jazz just for them, nobody else admitted, plus regular funk parties every six weeks at other exclusive London discos similarly taken over specifically for the night – details from Funktion, 3 Cale Street, London SW3 (01-352-7349) . . . BBC-TV filmed at Soho’s Groove record shop last week as evidently they think of Jean there (neither little or old) as ”the little old lady from Greek Street” who knows all about funky music, this plus stuff about Jean’s little boy and his hit records for showing on ‘Nationwide’ within the next month . . . Surface Noise — and it Is a pity It’s too darned fast after all (at in fact 130bpm) – will be on Groove Production instead of WEA for the entire run, pressed and packaged by WEA, who believe In the smaller label’s street vibe, man . . . Cameron ‘Let’s Get It Off’/’Magic Of You’ is on US 12in now . . . Chris Hill and the Mafia currently love ‘To Prove My Love’ from Ned Doheny’s year-or-more-old Japanese CBS Sony LP, Ned being AWB’s sometime writer . . . Ingram ‘Mi Sebrina Tequana’ (US H&L LP) Is Chris’s other big oldie still, while Bob Jones says ‘Foot Loose’ from Morrisey/Mullen’s 1977 ‘Up’ LP (Embryo/Atlantic’ SD 536) Is a killer fast jazz-funk dancer . . . CBS’s Loraine Trent (to whom Terry Hooper owes £5) will launch Earth Wind & Fire’s upcoming new double LP called ‘Faces’ appropriately at Edgbaston’s Faces with DJ Steve Dennis in October . . . Greg Edwards’ photo last week didn’t get printed quite as lull length as the original, which got pretty near the knuckle — or something! . . . Peter Young now starts his 9 am Saturday morning London chart show on Capital with the first hour given over to hot newies but with strong soul slant, adding even more to the station’s disco orientation at weekends . . . London Is noticeably ahead of and funkier than the rest of the country to judge between local and national sales charts, incidentally (so what else is new?!) . . . Rob Harknett (Harlow) says it’s getting so difficult to buy records outside the Top 75 in his area that he couldn’t even get Diana Ross — but someone’s been stocking it since though, surely! . . . Andy Greg, playing good disco and some jazz-funk (despite earlier saying his crowd shun it) around Loughton, infos the local Discocity shop at 27 The Broadway stocks current Imports . . . ‘Paul’ Davison (Sawston Black Bull on funky Fri/Sundays), excited by a recent trip to the North-Eastern US, reports that out-of-the-way Johnson City’s Power & Light disco there has a carpet-covered DJ booth full of luxuries like TV games, CB units, beer freezer and other home comforts — but makes no mention of decks or records (who needs ’em!) . . . DJ doyen of swinging sixties (he taught Lulu how to dance when jocking at the Bag O’Nails for instance), Al ‘Needles’ is now very welcome as floor manager at Mayfair Gullivers, where the doors were actually closed last Friday it got so full . . . Steve Lockwood (Huddersfield) seems proud that the West Yorkshire Assn of DJs chart he compiles has long been headed by the appalling Kelly Marie, while Glenn Ross (South Normanton Storthfield Country Club) says he’s often asked for it as ‘My Heart Beats Like A Drum’, and Russell ‘Arbie’ Burtonshaw (Retford MAYC) says let’s hope It sinks without trace — no such luck I fear . . . Larry Foster (Ilford Room At The Top) has been giving the Wallys some fun with Tom Jones ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and Bud Flanagan ‘Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr Hitler’ – goodies both, I agree . . . Chic ‘Le Freak’ must be a contender for the modern equivalent of ‘Simon Says’ or ‘Sugar Sugar’ surely, to judge from recent gigs where upper class sprigs do depressingly like real “disco” disco still . . . Rolling Stones would have been at 50 and only the next three DORC hits in the Disco 90 had they been included . . . Alan Jewell (Finchley Road Les Elites) slavishly copies all this page’s BPMs (plus he does his own) into a cross-indexed notebook so that he’s ever ready for gigs when not using his own records . . . I just memorize ’em! . . . Anthony Nutting (Stafford), not a DJ, thinks it’s a pity I stopped listing record timings as well — frankly everything else takes too long to do, and timings only cluttered the reviews even further . . . Hiroshi Fukumura needs careful enunciation — you WHAT your mother? . . . MU strike being over and TOTP due back, doubtless consistently selling soul music will get swamped again by TV-generated higher pop sales, ending much of our recent mini disco boom . . . KEEP THE FAITH, right on now!
LEVEL 42: ‘Love Meeting Love’ (Polydor POSPX 170).
Throbbing synth undertow and jazzy piano with derivative languid vocal on lovely UK-recorded flowing 100-99-101-102bpm 12in jogger, originally on Elite, mixes well With Ramsey Lewis ‘Hell On Wheels’, the longer 101-100-101-102-103-102bpm ‘Instrumental Love‘ B-side version being led by Gato Barbieri-style sax.
SUN: ‘Space Ranger (Majic’s In The Air)’ (Capitol 12CL 16157).
Jauntily bubbling smoothly harmonised 125bpm soul canterer with splurging synth effects and classily constrained instrumentation reminiscent of a less raucous GQ, on extremely pleasant 3-track 12in with the gently jittery 113bpm ‘Hot Spot‘ jogger and more angular steadily jolting 113bpm ‘Quest‘ instrumental, none of which really raise a sweat.
DENNIS BROWN, SLY & ROBBIE: ‘Sitting And Watching’ (Taxi TAXI 100).
Jamaica-pressed amazingly effective dead simple 81bpm 12in reggae roller with great wailing harmonised humming and a beat that’s somehow just right for getting lost in — hard to explain, but It’s a grabber! Tom Holland’s been turning everyone on to it, so see if you can find one too. Continue reading “August 9, 1980: NY Disco ’80 report, “Keep It Funky”, Level 42, Sun, Mtume, Rhyze”