January 31, 1976: New York disco scene special

This week James Hamilton devotes the whole of his page to the American disco scene. He was there last week, representing Britain at Billboard Magazine’s First International Disco Forum. This column also includes his first mention of beat-mixing.

Last week, (January 20-28), there gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Manhattan a forum of disco DJs, club owners, equipment manufacturers and record producers who had journeyed from all corners of the United States and Canada and from as far as Italy, Hong Kong, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Japan and Nigeria.

They all came together to exchange ideas and exhibit their wares at Billboard magazine’s First International Disco Forum, Disco ’76.

As the only disco DJ to attend from Britain, I hope that I represented your interests well. Rather than talk about the Forum now though, I’d like to tell you everything I learnt about the fascinating New York disco scene.

So much US disco music these days is dominated by a metronomic beat carried by loudly schlurping cymbals and hissing hi-hats that there has to be a reason — and there is.

The Americans have finally gone back to dancing, and typically have become hung up on doing formalized dance steps, just like in the old days of the classic dance crazes. The current craze is still the Hustle, and knowledge of the Hustle explains everything.

Latin or Spanish in origin, the Hustle is excitingly like a slowed-down version of the Jitterbug! In fact, champion dancer Barbara Tucker even refers to it as the Swing-Hustle, for to dance it in the New York style you do not let go of your partner’s hands at all. Because it needs a steadily constant beat, all the records designed with dancers in mind have a constantly ticking rhythm.

More than that — the New York style of DJing has become possibly the most demanding and skilful of all, because the DJs have to keep the rhythm going even when changing from record to record if they don’t want to lose their dancers in mid-step.

This has led to the use of turntables with variable speeds (more next week about other equipment). As DJ Alex Kabbaz uses them, he will start by playing a record at its normal speed, then gradually speed it up until it’s the same speed as the next record he’s going to play, which he then synchronizes, over the one that’s already playing, with no discernible joins!

The rest of this page — just for this week — is given over totally to the type of sounds that are currently being played by DJs like Alex in New York’s discos. Some are known, others less so.  Continue reading “January 31, 1976: New York disco scene special”

January 24, 1976: Chubby Checker, War, 5000 Volts, Country Joe McDonald, Neil Sedaka

New Spins

CHUBBY CHECKER: ‘(At The) Discotheque’ (London HLU 10515)
Originally flip of ‘Do The Freddie’ (which is consequently the only Checker hit I lack), this used to change hands amongst disco DJs at anything up to fifty quid . . . so there’ll be much gnashing of teeth now.  Chubby rhymes “discotheque” with “hey hey hey” as he adapts to a boogalooing 1965 Philly beat, which while far removed from ‘The Twist’ should still go down well up North.  Less rare, the double A side coupling is his duet with Dee Dee Sharp on ‘Slow Twistin”.  Also out is ‘Reggae My Way’ (20th Century BTC 2040), a 1973 mixture of steel drums, ‘Love Is Strange’, and not much actual reggae!

WAR: ‘Low Rider’ (Island WIP 6267) (mentioned in Billboard column 9/13/75)
Delayed by a new label deal, the funksters’ huge US hit is a well-proven disco smash which throbs and jumps along with more energy than anything since their great ‘Me And Baby Brother’.

5000 VOLTS: ‘Bye Love’ (Philips 6006501) (mentioned in Billboard column 2/7/76, Billboard chart debut 3/6/76)
Borrowing a bit from the TK sound, sizzling cymbals and long intro included, the guys and gal mix up their vocals more than before as they hustle along to an extremely pretty melody.  Gawd knows who’s actually singing!  Continue reading “January 24, 1976: Chubby Checker, War, 5000 Volts, Country Joe McDonald, Neil Sedaka”

January 17, 1976: Four Seasons, George McCrae, Tropical Band, The O’Jays, Jesse Green

New Spins

FOUR SEASONS: ‘December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)’ (Warner Bros. K 16688)
Celebrating possibly their first meeting with Dawn, the guys get enthusiastic on a mid-tempo stomper that is crammed with grow-on-you appeal.  Should be huge.

GEORGE MCCRAE: ‘Honey I’ / ‘Take This Love Of Mine’ (Jay Boy BOY 107) (Billboard chart debut 1/24/76)
Two trax from his last album, and the flip is my old fave happy romper!  The hit side is similar to his usual style, with its long intro and familiar format.

TROPICAL BAND: ‘Porto Rico’ (Bradleys BRAD 7535)
Like a breath of fresh air, this sparkling instrumental has heavy disco rhythm and synthetic lead spiced by Latin brass, scat-singing chix, and deep-voiced gent intoning the title.  Continue reading “January 17, 1976: Four Seasons, George McCrae, Tropical Band, The O’Jays, Jesse Green”

January 10, 1976: Sound 9418, Creation, Gloria Gaynor, Faith Hope & Charity, Donald Byrd

New Spins

SOUND 9418: ‘In The Mood’ (UK 121)
OK, here it is!  Jonathan King has made the definitive disco version by taking the traditional old brassy approach, mixing it with the strings sounds from Joe Bob’s recent US treatment, and then – with the tempo staying the same throughout – throwing in a “disco” segment followed by a reggae section.  Gimmicky, catchy and crazy as can be, it’s all such fun that it has to appeal to everyone!  As I have an interest in the record I hope you’ll realize that my reviews are unbiased once you’ve heard it yourselves.  The throwaway flip is called ‘Jimmy’s Theme‘ . . . I wonder why?

CREATION: ‘I Get The Fever’ (Black Magic BM 109)
This late 60s fast romper, also credited in its day to the Prophets, is a madly infectious vocal group chanter with a huge reputation up North.  Out several times before, it’ll probably hit now on Black Magic.  As flip there’s a similarly fast instrumental by Thom Bell and Bobby Martin called ‘Cheyenne’, credited to Promised Land.

GLORIA GAYNOR: ‘How High The Moon’ (MGM 2006558) (mentioned in Billboard column 8/23/75, Billboard chart debut 9/13/75)
Gloria gallops along to the S.O.N.N.Y. rhythm with hi-hats flying (not that Sonny Casella produces her), and if not too fast for dancers she should do better than last time with this formularized oldie.  Continue reading “January 10, 1976: Sound 9418, Creation, Gloria Gaynor, Faith Hope & Charity, Donald Byrd”

January 3, 1976: dub reggae special, Glenn Miller, Cliff Nobles, The Who, Tamiko Jones

A Plain Man’s Guide To Dub (And Other Burning Issues)

The sound of now, dub, has been growing in Jamaica over the last two years until suddenly it has become the roots music of the moment.

Put simply, dub is the result of an engineer fiddling about with the tapes of an already finished record, and using all the faders, echo and phasing at his command, creating something totally different.

Thus he can cut the bass in and out, suddenly stop one instrument in a flurry of repeating echo, phase the cymbals until they put your teeth on edge, and make ghostly voices appear for isolated phrases.

More often than not, the records which are turned into dubs are big hits in their own right, and it’s not uncommon for several different dubs to be made of them.

The first example of the technique was possibly Andy Capp’s ‘Pop-A-Top’ in the late ‘60s, an instrumental the precise playing of which foxed many until they sussed that in fact the instrumental tracks were being manipulated after the recording was done.

The technique then passed through the straight Version stage, when most singles had just the backing track as flip, until the sound system DJs, who recorded their own ranting over many Versions, wanted to create something that was even more personal out of someone else’s work.

They made their own skank records by fading the original singer’s voice in and out of their own voice-overs. Now even the DJs have faded somewhat, as the engineers are currently king!

Indeed, it was King Tubby who recently stirred everyone up with his ‘King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grassroots Of Dub’ album. His latest is the very even in quality ‘The Dub Master’ (Grounation GROL 502), which is full of relaxing dubs all dominated by booming bass patterns.

Top DJ Big Youth gets the best of both worlds by using great dubs behind his voice-overs, and also features many straight instrumental dubs on his album ‘Dread Locks Dread’ (Klik KLP 9001).  Continue reading “January 3, 1976: dub reggae special, Glenn Miller, Cliff Nobles, The Who, Tamiko Jones”

December 27, 1975: Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Tabou Combo, Chuck Jackson

New Spins

MANU DIBANGO: ‘Makossa Music’ (Creole CRLP 503)
I’ve had a bundle of Afro, Salsa, and Dub albums sitting in my drawer waiting to be reviewed, and never the space on the page for them.  Thank goodness for Christmas!  If you’re in a position to play great music like these ethnic sounds you’re a lucky DJ indeed, for although superb to dance to they remain unknown amongst the British majority. Manu Dibango caused a stir in funky clubs a few years back with his terrifically rhythmic ‘Soul Makossa’ (lead track here), which must have inspired the Fatback Band amongst others.  This virtual “Best Of” album has many of the saxophonist’s goodies such as ‘Oboso’, ‘Kata Kata’, and ‘Pepe Soup’, some of which may be a bit fast but are worth it for the lead track alone.

FELA RANSOME KUTI & THE AFRICA 70: ‘Gentleman’ (Creole CRLP 502)
Side one is the title track, and that is the goodie here.  After a bit of skippable doodling it suddenly erupts into a bouncing, leaping, joyful throbber, with hollow booming bass behind a brassy front line.  Jazzy and subtle, but infectiously happy as hell!

MASEKELA: ‘The Boy’s Doin’ It’ (Casablanca CBC 4005)
Now living in America, trumpeter Hugh Masekela has forgotten his jazzy leanings on this Afro-Funk outing, much of which futures that ‘Street Dance’ type of rhythm.  Title track’s a slow funker, while ‘Excuse Me Please’, ‘Ashiko’, and ‘Mama’ have more bounce to the ounce.  Continue reading “December 27, 1975: Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Tabou Combo, Chuck Jackson”

December 20, 1975: Barry White, Martha Reeves, Elton John, Mike Dorane, Kandidate

New Spins

BARRY WHITE: ‘Let The Music Play’ (20th Century BTC 2265) (mentioned in Billboard column 12/20/75, Billboard chart debut 3/13/76)
Confusing intro about “one ticket please” and “yeah, she’s the one”, then the ole croaker gets to groaning “ooh, ooh aughh” as only he can.  Whether it’s the oddly suppressed female squeals or the way in which he keeps fading behind multi-layered swirling strings I know not, but something about this I find strangely disturbing.  Anyway, there’s an easy beat thudding away from the outset, which should prod dancers into action.  Flipside instrumental starts slow before eventually becoming recognizable.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS: ‘Jimmy Mack’ / ‘Third Finger, Left Hand’ (Tamla Motown TMG 599)
Already a hit twice, this stomping Holland-Dozier-Holland reissue from ’67, with its equally popular slightly slower flip, is Tamla’s way of greeting Martha Reeves on her UK tour.  It remains good, but her new product is the solo ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’ (Arista 36), on which she gets gritty with a TK-type treatment of the Jackie Wilson classic, which should work for some without necessarily going pop.  Continue reading “December 20, 1975: Barry White, Martha Reeves, Elton John, Mike Dorane, Kandidate”

December 13, 1975: Marcels, Real McCoy, Silver Convention, Ritchie Family, Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps

New Spins

MARCELS: ‘Blue Moon’ (Pye 7N 45559)
Great timing for a reissue of this fun-filled 1961 chart-topper, as although not strictly a twister it’s still full of everything about which we wax nostalgic.  Far from the first, the burbling Mr. Bass Man and gibberish noises as done on this record are nevertheless now the archetype of that whole ‘Who Put The Bomp’ era.  On the flip you’ll find the added attraction of Big Dee Irwin (and Little Eva): Swinging On A Star.

REAL MCCOY: ‘Twist And Shout’ (Route RT 24)
Take nearer the Top Notes than the Isley Brothers in speed, this classic dancer has the Twist part of its title emphasized more than usual by ratatatat drumming and clapping while a noisy frenzy is generated behind the frantic hollering of London’s McCoys.  In 1975, it sounds good, all over again.

SILVER CONVENTION: ‘Silver Convention’ LP (Magnet MAG 5010) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 7/19/75, LP Billboard chart debut 8/2/75)
The whole point of the album is lost in this, its British form, when as even the press release confesses the running order and backing tracks have been changed from those of its disco-smashing US counterpart.  Probably its biggest attraction would have been the complete ‘Fly Robin Fly’ / ‘I Like It’ segue – except that now those tracks are reversed!  Side One does indeed segue, but the edit between ‘Save Me’ and ‘I Like It’ is so atrocious that any competent DJ could do it better live just using the singles!  At least ‘Fly Robin Fly’ is 5:35 long, and the rest is passable muzak.

RITCHIE FAMILY: ‘Brazil’ LP (Polydor 2383358) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 8/30/75, LP Billboard chart debut 9/13/75)
Another album of disco muzak, with the Side One segue being ‘Peanut Vendor’ / ‘Frenesi’ / ‘Brazil’.  The true story behind the original ‘Brazil’ single is that, as a gesture of goodwill towards his French licensees, Cotton Records’s boss Sonny Casella put together a Philadelphia session and in effect produced ‘Brazil’ for Jacques Morali, who subsequently claimed the sole production credit.  Casella and his protégé, Jeanne Burton, sung with three other session-singers on the single, but for this later album his services were not required – to the extent that for the follow-up single (which opens Side Two), his ‘Come With Me’ was rewritten as ‘Dance With Me’.  To the album’s credit, the segues are smooth and Side One makes excellent background music.  Continue reading “December 13, 1975: Marcels, Real McCoy, Silver Convention, Ritchie Family, Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps”

December 6, 1975: Band of the Black Watch, Bob Marley, John Conteh, Judge Dread, Armada Orchestra

New Spins

BAND OF THE BLACK WATCH: ‘Dance Of The Cuckoos’ (Spark SRL 1135)
Better known as the Laurel & Hardy theme, this divinely silly rumpty-tumpty instrumental is likely to become the new ‘March Of The Mods’, and is guaranteed to get your audience linking arms for a rampage of destruction!  Is there time for it to be THE Xmas hit of ’75?  Even the flipside’s cha-cha-cha ‘Caribbean Honeymoon’ makes a useful ‘Come Dancing’ sendup!

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS: ‘Live!’ (Island ILPS 9376)
This album of the Lyceum gig that produced ‘No Woman, No Cry’ (included now in its full 6:55 version) has to be the definite Marley set – it’s certainly won me over to him at last, anyway.  Amazingly good for dancing all the way through, with applause kept to a manageable minimum, although Side Two is possibly strongest for a general audience, featuring as it does ‘No Woman’, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ and ‘Get Up, Stand Up’.

JOHN CONTEH: ‘The Boxer’ / ‘Dance The Boxer’ (Boxa K01)
Pugilistic champ Conteh’s much ballyhooed debut on his own label is surprisingly good, even if his voice is mixed so far back it’s almost over the ropes.  Pure disco funk of the War/Kool & The Gang type, it’s a punchy (ho ho ho!) energetic bouncy stomper which sounds possibly even better on the Conteh-less flipside version.  Certainly worth trying.

JUDGE DREAD: ‘Come Outside’ / ‘Christmas In Dreadland’ (Cactus CT 80)
The Mike Sarne hit from ’62 now features the girl being chatted up by Dread telling him to sod off, get stuffed and other such unladylike expressions!  Extremely rude and screamingly funny, it should be a monster.  The faster reggae flip is just as offensive, if less useful.

ARMADA ORCHESTRA: ‘Classical Bump’ (Contempo CS 2078)
Greig’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, having been rocked up in the past by Kokomo (not the group) as Asia Minor, now goes disco with a rattling fast bump rhythm.  And it sounds great!  Continue reading “December 6, 1975: Band of the Black Watch, Bob Marley, John Conteh, Judge Dread, Armada Orchestra”

November 29, 1975: Gil Scott-Heron, Donna Summer, Penny McLean, Cimarons, The Miracles

New Spins

GIL SCOTT-HERON: ‘Johannesburg’ (Arista 23)
The originator of ‘In The Bottle’, Gil gets a subtle Kasandra-type groove going on this slinky slow funky chanter that’s gradually growing Stateside.  Hypnotic stuff.

DONNA SUMMER: ‘Love To Love You Baby’ (GTO GT 17 – single; GTLP 008 – album) (mentioned in Billboard column 9/27/75, Billboard chart debut 10/4/75)
Out here since March [?], this Munich-made American’s pseudo-sexy monotonous thumper has just caught on big in US discos.  Expanded to fill the whole of one side of the new album, her ‘Pillow Talk’-type cooing and moaning gets spread a bit thin but the Barry White-ish backing’s several shifts could well make her the toast of Britain too.

PENNY MCLEAN: ‘Lady Bump’ / ‘The Lady Bumps On’ (EMI 2365) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/8/75, Billboard chart debut 11/15/75)
Another US biggie from abroad, this bouncy bumper’s being played on Canadian import although it’s probably from Germany, where it’s currently number one.  Penny sounds dreadful, but the B-side continuation is bearable being mainly instrumental with lotsa drums, bass and strings.  Continue reading “November 29, 1975: Gil Scott-Heron, Donna Summer, Penny McLean, Cimarons, The Miracles”