Friday, October 19, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 9 - Leisure Suit Larry In The Lair Of The Extended Dance Grooves (Disco's Biggest Year Pt 2)

Wrapping up our look back at Disco's biggest year, this mix focuses less on 1977's hits (though there's still some huge ones here) and more on the genre's extended-dance-track club aesthetic that always lay at the its core and is probably its most enduring legacy today.

In fact, for me, it's almost shocking how much more directly linked to today's EDM and alt R&B scenes these tracks sound versus their more popular counterparts we just listened to on Vol 8 - The Ballad Of Tony Manero. But however you like your disco, influential or purely endearing, I think most of you will find this mix to be an addictively propulsive ride with a killer three-song close out.

Here's the link...

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. & 2. Once Upon A Time / Faster And Faster To Nowhere - Donna Summer: Donna Summer released two albums in 1977. We'll get to the bigger one later in this mix, but for now we start with a pair of tracks from her second '77 release - and the first double album of her career - Once Upon A Time. A concept album cowritten with (as was much of her material of the era) producers Giorgio Moroder and Peter Bellotte, Once Upon A Time cast Summer in a Cinderella-like narrative and was designed to be played in long extended passages with no perceivable breaks between many of its songs, a design so well achieved the album in full landed as the #1 single on the US Hot Disco/Dance chart. A few of the album's songs, especially I Love You and Rumour Has It, charted in Europe, but I felt its opening two tracks presented successively gave the best sense of the album's unrelenting dance floor flow.

3. Fire Island - Village People: My favorite cut from the Village People's self-titled debut, Fire Island only features one member of the band's signature lineup, lead vocalist Victor Willis.  The act was actually the brainchild of French producer Jacques Morali, who had already experienced a degree of success in Europe but wanted to make a name for himself in the states. Armed with a batch of new songs, he relocated to New York, discovered Willis on a demo tape, and the two quickly got to work, recording the debut and assembling a supporting troop of backup dancers. But when the album took off, they soon realized they hadn't assembled the a strong enough backup crew built for the long haul, so all the original Village People other than Willis were let go, and a new/more talented cast of supporting "People," were chosen, giving us the band's definitive late 70s lineup.

4. Give Me Love - Cerrone: One of Europe's most important and coolest disco producer's of the 70's and 80's, Frenchman Marc Cerrone sounds as dialed in as any artist of the era to the future of electronic music, and no more so than on his '77 magnum opus Supernature. This shortened radio edit of Give Me Love is one of two tracks from the album we'll be profiling on this mix.

5. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) - Chic: Hoping to project themselves as the "rock band of the Disco genre," Chic was founded in 1976 by a duo of phenomenal session musicians, bassist Bernard Edwards and rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Niles Rodgers.  They wanted to create a fully immersive live experience along the lines of what Roxy Music and Kiss were doing in rock, and like the Village People, began work on their eponymous 1977 debut album before they had even solidified their original lineup.  Dance, Dance, Dance, the record's biggest hit, is the first track they ever recorded.

6. Tried, Tested, And Found True - Ashford & Simpson: Here's another aces Ashford & Simpson song, this one from their first full-length release of that year, So So Satisfied.

7. La vie en rose - Grace Jones: Primarily the brainchild of prominent disco producer Tom Moulton, there's very little in Grace Jone's fairly generic (and if we're being honest, not very good) disco debut Portfolio that bears much resemblance to the daring, genre-mashing work that would define the bulk of her career. But in a few moments on the album, glimmers of the unusual musical force Jones would become sneaks out, particularly in a splendid dance cover of Send In The Clowns that became a club favorite in the states, and her awesome, breezy but personal feeling rendition of La vie en rose included here.

8. Supernature - Cerrone: Another shortened radio edit from Cerrone's 1977 album Supernature, this time it's the knock-out title track here to wow us. Cool contemporary acts like Jungle seem almost unimaginable without this song having come before.

9. Shame - Evelyn "Champagne" King: The biggest hit of Philly-based singer/songwriter/producer Evelyn King's career, from her '77 full-length debut Smooth Talkremains a dance floor scorcher to this day.

10. From Here To Eternity - Giorgio Moroder: Much like the long extended-suite sections of Donna Summer's Once Upon A Time, the first five songs on Giorgio Moroder's '77 solo debut From Here To Eternity, kicked off by the album's title track included here, were intended to be taken in in one uninterrupted listen.

11. Disco Inferno - The Trammps: Considered by many the greatest Disco track of all-time (and if it's not, the song that immediately follows on this mix might be), Disco Inferno is another late 1976 single that didn't really explode on the charts until after its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack.  We're going all in with the long version of the Philly soul act's jokey reinterpretation of scene's from The Towering Inferno here.

12. I Feel Love - Donna Summer: The lead track from Summer's first '77 album I Remember Yesterday, again, a Summer, Moroder, and Belotte collaboration, was, aside from Summer's vocal, performed entirely on synthesizers, and is now considered one of the most influential recordings of all time, and the first  bona-fide EDM recording.

13. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (12" Club Remix) - Santa Esmeralda: Though originally released as the 16-minute, side-long title track to Santa Esmeralda's 1977 debut, it was a 12" club remix pressed shortly after that became the most popular version of this French Disco act's infamous Nina Simone/Animals cover. So we're going with the club remix here to close things out, just as did Quentin Tarantino, who used that version with its signature opening handclaps to score the Uma Thurman / Lucy Lui winter-garden face-off at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 8 - The Ballad Of Tony Manero (Disco's Biggest Year Pt. 1)

Ah, Disco.  Love it or hate it (and I was definitely in the Steve Dahl camp growing up), Disco was everywhere in 1977, a cultural force that completely reshaped how many around the world danced, dressed, and lived (and that was all before Saturday Night Fever the film hit in mid-November, which sent Disco-fever into the stratosphere).

But as meteoric as Disco's rise had been, it's fall from grace was just as dramatic, finding itself nearly irrelevant from a mainstream standpoint within another few years, and the butt of a never ending array of pop-culture jokes for decades to come.

But then, around the turn of the century, based in part on the success of the play Mama Mia, the expanding electronic music scene, and especially, the rapidly growing popularity of a pair of French robots, a positive reappraisal of Disco began to emerge and has continued to gain traction ever since, to the point we find ourselves at now, where Disco is widely regarded as one of the most dominant influences on the music of today.

So now that we are all deeply enmeshed in Disco Phase 2, let's take a two-mix look back at some of the biggest hits in the biggest year of Disco Phase 1.

Here's the link.

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. Night Fever - The Bee Gees: Kicking things off with another Bee Gees cut from the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, aka the best selling soundtrack of all time (over 45 million copies), and also arguably the most influential soundtrack all-time, with probably only the Jimmy Cliff-dominated The Harder They Come soundtrack and just maybe the soundtrack to The Big Chill giving SNF a run for its money. But give this cheeseball classic its due, there's never been a single album that single-handily encapsulates an entire genre the way the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack does disco. And a funny tidbit about Night Fever - it actually appears in a way on the soundtrack twice. After the recording of Night Fever was finished, its physical drum track tape was cut and spliced back together in an alternate pattern to get the drum track for Stayin' Alive

2. Take A Chance On Me - ABBA: This second single from Abba's late 1977 release Abba: The Album was their final UK#1 hit of the decade, powered by its rhythmic "Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance" vocal riff that originally was just a pace-keeping nonsensical chant band member Bjorn Ulvaeus would hum to himself when jogging.

3. Boogie Nights - Heatwave: One of my personal disco favs, Boogie Nights was the first in a long string of late-70s/early-80s hit songs for the Britain-based but international in makeup Heatwave, which boasted members from America, England, Switzerland and Czechoslavakia.

4. A Fifth Of Beethoven - Walter Murphy: The first of three chronological cheats on this mix and the next that were actually originally released before 1977 but felt like they belonged here due to their inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, composer/arranger/producer Murphy tried for several years to repeat the fluke success of A Fifth Of Beethoven to no avail, but he would go on to experience tremendous success over the next four decades as a film and television composer, with several of his biggest, award winning efforts coming from his many collaborations with comedian / show runner Seth McFarlane.

5. Yes Sir, I Can Boogie - Baccara: Though they never had any chart impact in the States, this first song ever by a pair of Svengali-controlled Spanish flamenco dancers/folk singers turned disco divas was one of the biggest songs of the year throughout Europe and within a short period became the best selling single of all-time by a female act or artist until Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You surpassed it in 1992. They would continue to thrive in Europe for a few more years exclusively as singles artists, and then see interest in their song revived in 1997 with the success of the British comedy The Full Monty, which featured the song prominently in its soundtrack.

6. Boogie Shoes - KC & The Sunshine Band: Another chronological cheat, Boogie Shoes first appeared on the Florida act's 1975 debut KC & The Sunshine Band, but didn't become a hit until late-1977/early 1978 after its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack.

7. Strawberry Letter 23 - The Brothers Johnson: This song was one of three late-70's hits for the Motown-promoted but LA-based Brothers Johnson, a pair of actual brothers who went by the amusing nicknames of Lightnin' Licks and Thunder Thumbs.

8. I Just Want To Be Your Everything - Andy Gibb: The song, the very first release, single or otherwise, from the Bee Gees' kid brother Andy, was one of the biggest hits of 1977, dominating AM radio throughout August and September of that year. It was so omnipresent at the time, even my mother, who rarely paid much attention to music as she was bogged down raising two unruly tween-age boys, bought a copy of the single.

9. By Way Of Love's Express - Ashford & Simpson: Possibly the greatest husband and wife songwriting duo in R&B history, by 1977, after 10 years of penning Motown hits, including but not limited to most of Marvin Gaye's collaborations with Tammi Terrell, Ashford & Simpson were as focused on their performing career as their songwriting/production efforts, releasing two albums over the year. This track was one of two R&B hits from their bigger-selling second album of that year, Send It.  We'll catch a track from the duo's first album So So Satisfied when we get to Part II of our look back at Disco's biggest year.

10. How Deep Is Your Love - Bee Gees: So here's another fun factoid about Saturday Night Fever the film.  The Bee Gees did not work on the soundtrack until after principal photography was finished. Most of the dance scenes were actually performed with Boz Scaggs or Stevie Wonder playing in the background, but when Scaggs refused to license Low Down and other tracks to the film because he already had an arrangement with another disco-themed film in the works, the Bee Gees were contacted.  This track here would go on to win the 1978 grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Group.

11. Love's What's Happenin' - The Emotions: Considered amongst the most influential all-female acts in soul history, the Chicago-based Emotions made the canny switch from Gospel to Disco right as Disco was taking hold. By '77, they were at the peak of their popularity, based in no small part on Rejoice, the best selling record of their career, and the album we pull this deep cut from here. The album's top track, Best Of My Love, has already been profiled on our Vol 2 - Nancy's Favorites.

12. Jack And Jill - Raydio: This late December '77 lead single from the eponymous debut full-length for the Ray Parker, Jr.-led Raydio (yes, Ray Parker Jr. of Ghostbusters fame), a song which reworks the Jack and Jill fable in a tragically modern romanticized way, was the band's first hit, but they would continue to appear on the US R&B charts for the remainder of the decade.

13. Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band - Meco: Meco was the recording name created specifically for this classically cheesy novelty disco track by well-respected industry session musician, producer, Chuck Mangione high school buddy, 1960s West Point graduate, and bonafide Star Wars nut Domencio Monardo. Holding down the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, it was, like for so many artists on this mix, the biggest hit of his career.

14. You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On) - High Inergy: Pasadena's High Inergy would land a number of small hits on the US R&B and Pop charts throughout the remainder of the 70s, but none would hit with the impact of their debut single here.

15. (Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again - L.T.D.: Yet another one-hit wonder from 1977, this song could have just as easily ended up on our upcoming funk mix.

16. Don't Leave Me This Way - Thelma Houston: Motown originally planned on giving this monster cover of the Blue Notes' original to Diana Ross, but for some reason changed their minds and gave to one of their younger emerging artists instead.  It would go on to win Thelma Houston the 1978 Grammy for best R&B Vocal Performance.

17. Devil's Gun - C.J. & Co.: The super funky title track to C.J. & Co.'s debut album was the highest charting song of the Detroit-based production duo's short-lived careers, but it continues to land on film soundtracks to this day.

18. Float On - The Floaters: Another of the biggest singles of 1977, Float On peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, but spent a full six weeks topping the US soul charts. It would be this R&B act's only mainstream hit.

19. If I Can't Have You - Yvonne Elliman: Yvonne Elliman was a well known Hawaiian singer of Japanese and Irish descent, who in addition to having a few charting singles in the early 70s, had also been an original member of both the original stage version and 1973 film production of Hair (as Mary Magdalene) and toured as a back-up singer for Eric Clapton. After landing a top-20 hit with the Bee Gees-penned Love Me in 1976 she was recruited by the Bee Gees to perform How Deep Is Your Love, a song they written specifically for her, on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, but producer Robert Stigwood objected, thinking How Deep should be performed by the Bee Gees, so they gave her another new song, If I Can't Have You, instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

20: Love Is In The Air - John Paul Young: Though he would have greater international success in the UK, South Africa, and his native Australia (after emigrating from Scotland as a child), Love Is In The Air was the only American hit for John Paul Young.

21. More Than A Woman - Bee Gees: Though one of the few songs original to the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack that was never released as a single, this has always been my second favorite Bee Gees' number from the soundtrack after Stayin' Alive.

Friday, October 5, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 7 - North, South, East, West, Even Across The Sea, The Bar Is The Place To Be

As much as punk gets credit for being one of rock's first back-to-basics cycles, rock's first roots revival actually started way earlier, kicked off in the late 60s by the country-rock movement which included the likes of Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Byrds, and The Band, and which then evolved into a near decade-long phase where artists like J. Geils and Bruce Springsteen in the Northeast, supercharged southern-fried rockers like Lynyrd Skynyrd, English pub rockers like Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker, and blues rockers everywhere rekindled a love for the gritty, straightforward, brass-heavy rock, blues and boogie-woogie sounds of the 50s and pre-psychedelic 60s.

And while, just like disco, bar band music was about to drop in popularity as punk and new wave surged to the fore and the antiseptic production slickness brought on by the initial MTV/CD era wiped the music's rougher edges away, in 1977 it was still enjoying its mid-70s mainstream peak.

This mix, then, celebrates those 1977 artists who were delivering some of the best no-nonsense, tradition-based rock of the day.

Here's the Spotify link!

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. I Do - The J. Geils Band: One of the American East Coast's preeminent down-and-dirty bar bands over the first half of the seventies, the Massachusetts sextet had seen both their popularity and financial fortunes in serious decline in the two years leading up to 1977. So they decide to start mixing things up.  The result was Monkey Island, an almost schizophrenically eclectic collection of songs. And while neither the band's best or most popular record, it does mark a clear transition point as the band began its shift away from the rough-hewn sound of their early days towards the mainstream pop sound that would define their early 80s commercial heyday, a shift that would ultimately compel lead singer Peter Wolf to leave the band.

2. What's Your Name - Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors. This is the one. The album that, released just three days prior, will forever be linked to the fateful plane crash that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines. And sadly, often lost in the recollections on the tragedy, is just what a triumphant return to form Street Survivors was for the band after several years of lesser releases. Powered by the recent addition of Cassie's younger brother Steve Gaines, Survivor is the punchiest, tightest album in the band's catalog, every bit the equal of their genre-defining first two releases (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd) and Second HelpingWhat's Your Name, the album's lead single, was its biggest hit, peaking at number 13 on the Billboard charts.

3. Catmelody - Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane:  Tough time picking which Rough Mix tracks to go with on this mix, except for this track here, which has the strongest roadhouse feel of any song on the record.

4. Cocaine - Eric Clapton: Following the relative commercial and artistic failure of his all-over-the-place, guest-star-laden 1976 release No Reason To Cry, Clapton decided he wanted his next effort to have a greater sense of musical consistency. So he returned to the studio with just his regular touring band and, for the first time, the disciplined production hand of frequent Rolling Stones collaborator Glyn Johns. The result was Slowhand, one of the best, most relaxed, and -- despite trafficking in an eclectic scope of genres almost as wide ranging as J. Geils' Monkey Island -- most sonically unified releases of his solo career.  This song, the J. J. Cale cover that gets things started on Slowhand, received a lot of airplay in the states, but was banned in Argentina for its drug-centered lyrics.

5. Stick To Me - Graham Parker & The Rumour: When first conceived, Graham Parker envisioned his third album Stick To Me as a maximal, orchestral affair. The songs were recorded with a crazy number of session musicians, in one case up to eighty string players. And then, when it came time to mix it all together, Parker and his producers came to the horrifying realization that they had been working with a defective lot of reel-to-reel tapes. Everything was lost. With just days left before Parker had to head back out on tour, they did the only thing they could in such short time, reworking all the arrangements and rerecording everything in altered, stripped-down Pub Rock form, and that is the version of the album that exists today. Not surprisingly, it was frequently criticized for its rough, lo-fi sound upon first release, but as the years have passed and various rock movements have worked their way through intentional lo-fidelity phases of their own, the mix doesn't sound that out of sorts today, freeing us to just appreciate the power and quality of the songs, as is the case with the title track here.

6. Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl - Mink DeVille: Though one of the original main-draw CBGB house bands along with the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and The Talking Heads, and though they were fully accepted by the emerging punk fanbase (lead singer Willy DeVille had an edgy, macho, confrontational presence that played well with the crowds), Mink DeVille was never punk. They were a top notch, more intimidating set of versatile Springsteen-like traditionalists with a genuine knack for artfully blending the disparate sounds of New York's many ethnic neighborhoods into their songs. That talent will be on full display in the three songs we'll be featuring on this mix from their 1977 debut Cabretta, starting with this awesome barroom ballad here.

7. Crosseyed Cat - Muddy Waters: As I said earlier in the comments for Mannish Boy on Vol 1 - Best Of The Best, some of the tracks Johnny Winter put to tape for Hard Again were rerecordings of past Chess classics.  But the album boasted a number of original compositions as well, and of those originals, Crosseyed Cat is far and away my favorite.

8. Thunder Island - Jay Ferguson: Because Jay Ferguson only produced two songs that charted during his solo career (this Joe Walsh-assisted track here and Shakedown Cruise), he is often unfairly lumped in with the decade's many one hit wonders, a categorization that completely ignores Ferguson's prominent role as lead vocalist and a principal songwriter for his two earlier bands, crazed late-60s psych-rockers Spirit and early-70s hard rockers Jo Jo Gun.

9. Rough Mix - Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane: When Ronnie Lane first contacted Pete Townshend about working together, it was initially just to see if Townshend would consider producing Lane's next record. But the two struck up quite the rapport, and the project became a full blown collaboration, with one exception. Lane only had half an album's worth of material ready to go at the start, and was hoping the two could co-write the rest. Townshend, who'd never written with partners before, resisted, offering instead to bring in some of his own unrecorded tunes that weren't quite right for The Who. So in the end, though the two worked hand-in-hand on the production of every song on the record, the only number on Rough Mix where the two artists shared a writing credit is this searing instrumental title track here.

10. Ju Ju Man - Dave Edmunds: Though 1977's Nick Lowe-produced Get It was actually the fourth album of Edmund's already well-established career, it is now considered the first entry in Edmund's much lauded late 70s run of near classic albums that would also include 1978's Tracks On Wax 4 and 1979's Repeat When Necessary. Always a rock traditionalist, Edmund's talent was never his originality, but his ability to make everything he touched tons of fun, and this cover of Ju Ju Man from Get It is no exception.

11. That Smell - Lynyrd Skynyrd: Further strengthening the eerie link between Street Survivors and the plane crash was the presence of this famous song, which reads like a psychic premonition, but was actually written by Van Zant as warning to his bandmates (especially guitarist Gary Rossington, who had just wrapped his Gran Torino around an oak tree while driving drunk and on ludes) that it was time to start scaling back on their indulgent ways.

12. Whole Wide World - Wreckless Eric: The biggest song of first-wave-punker Wreckless Eric's career, this tune could have easily gone on one of our two punk-themed mixes, but its more relaxed pace felt more at home here.

13. Gunslinger - Mink DeVille: Here's the number from Cabretta that was most in-line stylistically with DeVille's fellow CBGB house bands, the New York Dolls/Johnny Thunder-ish Gunslinger.

14. Only The Good Die Young - Billy Joel: We'll hear more from Billy Joel when we get into our AM nostalgia mixes, but this rowdy song (my all-time Billy Joel fav) from his 1977 monster-hit album The Stranger could only go on this mix here.

15. Lay Down Sally - Eric Clapton: For any artist born with a fervent blues obsession, it's a natural transition to drift into more country-oriented work as they mellow and age. Eric Clapton was no different, with country numbers popping up with increasing frequency in his catalog as his career matured. Slowhand's Lay Down Sally remains one of Clapton's best pure-country efforts, and was a huge hit for him in 1977.

16. Dancing In The Moonlight - Thin Lizzy: While much of Thin Lizzy's eighth album Bad Reputation was made up of lean, mean hard rock, this song, the biggest hit from the record, is pure brass-driven bar band at its best.

17. April Fool - Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane: Here's one more of Rough Mix's strikingly rustic Ronnie Lane ballads, this one given an extra dash of backwoods mysticism via some evocative guest guitar work from Eric Clapton.

18. Somebody - The J. Geils Band: Another of Monkey Island's broad-ranging tunes, this song finds the band veering into near-metal territory.

19. Spanish Stroll - Mink DeVille: The last track we'll be featuring from Mink DeVille's debut Cabretta, the Lou Reedish Spanish Stroll was the biggest hit of the band's career, and owes a good part of its popularity to bassist Ruben Siguenza's spoken-word cat calls over the bridge.

20. Two Tickets To Paradise - Eddie Money: As with Billy Joel, we'll be hearing more from Money when we get to our AM nostalgia mixes, but this track from the Irish New Yorker turned Bay Area rocker's eponymous debut, the most enduring song of his entire career, also felt like it belonged here.

21. I Know A Little - Lynyrd Skynyrd: Steve Gaines, the younger brother of back-up singer Cassie, had been added to the Skynyrd line-up just a year before when, faced with diminishing sales and critical reception, the band decided they needed to return to their original three-guitar attack. But though the rookie in the band, his presence is strongly felt throughout Street Survivors, sharing vocals on several tracks with Van Zant, and even penning two, including this rousing boogie-woogie number that closes the album's first side.