I’m an unashamed fan of disco. Aye, in it’s heyday it might’ve been the shallowest form of music around, the 70s equivalent, yet better-dressed cousin, of contemporary throwaway nonsense like Lady GaGa or Pink. But sneer not. Listen closely to any of those era-defining records and unlike those (coughs smugly) ‘artists‘ of today, you’ll find a real soul at the heart of it all. Real instruments played by real musicians. 4 real (man). Listen to the guitar playing on anything off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and tell me that’s not up there with Jeff Beck. Listen to Nile Rodgers’ rinky-dink funk riffs on any Chic record you care to pick at random then listen to the second verse of The Smiths ‘Boy With the Thorn In His Side’ and tell me Johnny Marr doesn’t rate the playing on Chic records. Major copyism going on there! In homage to Chic, Johnny Marr even went so far as naming his son Nile!
So aye. I like disco music. And I’m clearly not alone. Abba (aye, snigger all you want) loved George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby so much they nicked the drum sound from it for Dancing Queen. “So what,” you say? Well, a couple of years later and Elvis Costello was touring somewhere in the American mid-west. He’d been working on a new song but was getting frustrated at the lack of a good melodic hook for the intro. Dancing Queen comes on the radio. He loooks at Steve Nieve and asks him to listen closely to the piano part. Could he replicate it? A wee while later and Oliver’s Army is complete. True story that. What goes around comes around and all that. If you don’t believe me, seek out the 2 tracks in question and play the intros back to back. I’d put them up here, but the internet police would be straight on my back…
A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house. He hosted a music night where 5 of us took it in turn to play 5 records, each grouped into distinct categories. So far, so Nick Hornby. I can almost hear your muffled laughter from here. The one track that made the biggest impression on me that night was not the long-forgotten Tom Waits album track or the hard-to-find and rare-as… punk 7″ that I’d never heard before or the, well, I’m sure you can imagine exactly the sort of records that were played that night. No. The record that made the biggest impression on me that night was this gem from the early 80s.
DJ Gary Byrd and the GB Experience ‘The Crown’. Over 10 minutes of soul/funk/rap and, most definitely, disco, I hadn’t heard it since it had last troubled the charts (number 6 in July 83, trivia fans). It sounded better than I’d ever remembered. Written by Stevie Wonder to boot. He does a wee rap/verse thing at one point. I’m sure he plays drums on it too (it sure sounds like him), but that might just be me making things up as I can’t find much in the way of info about it online. It’s a disco classic folks, from the days when D.I.S.C.O. was D.E.A.D. The Fresh Prince was clearly getting jiggy to it as well, but we’ll gloss over that part.
Conversly, in 1974, just before D.I.S.C.O. went B.O.O.M., People’s Choice recorded this, Do It Anyway You Wanna. People’s Choice were from Philly (of course) and had a reasonably successful recording career. Andrew Collins played the original of this on BBC 6 Music the other day and I went and dug out my copy. Sadly, my version is a mildly irritating remixed version featuring snatches of Oops Upside Your Head, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and stuff like that. Still magic though. And it reminds me of Saddle Up and Ride Your Pony and the Billy Connolly “I’ll walk you home when I empty my underwear‘ sketch that goes with it.
Happy Mondays do Staying Alive. The producer takes a stanley knife to much of the Pills, Thrills… album, snatches of tracks you know and love weave in and out of the mix, Shaun skanks on top of the unholy soup, Rowetta yodels and wails like a transvestite with his balls caught in a vice. This is the sound of a band on the ropes. The final round with no fight, nothing left to give back. It. Is. A. Mess. Enjoy it! The only good thing is the guitar riff. It sounds like a funky bucket. And I mean that in a good way of course.
Shane MacGowan Shaun Ryder