This Week’s Theme: Contractually Obligated Disco Recordings
This is probably the most ridiculous theme I have selected so far, and it is all because of one song on one album that most people have never heard of or listened to. I was doing some record store shopping and selected a Carole King album for Ms. Faux since she is one of her favorite artists and it is an album I was pretty sure she had never listened to. The album is Welcome Home, and was released in 1978. Although this is not one of her best, most of the songs are still Carole King songs and aren’t that far removed from her work in the early ‘70s. However, one song on the record really stands out – Side Two, Track One. If you are familiar with the old methods of tracking songs on vinyl records, this is normally a spot used for songs that are either going to be released as singles, or at least are considered album highlights. Back in the day, if you wanted a listener to make it through an entire album, you had better have a reason for them to take the time to flip an album over on the turntable and keep on listening. In 1978, this can only mean one thing – it had better be a dance track, and most specifically something to be played in a discotheque.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show Volume 2, Number 9.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
The song on the album is titled “Disco Tech” so there should be no surprise that what follows is one of King’s worst songs. Here are the lyrics:
If you want to get a real education Come to the friendliest school in the nation Rhythm is our way of communication You won't ever want to take a vacation You can meet the Dean of Boogaloo He's gonna get down and boogie with you At Disco Tech Let me be your teacher Disco Tech Why don't you take home a diploma from Disco Tech We won't give you pomp and circumstance All you're gonna need to do is dance Why don't you enroll, give your soul a chance You might even find a new romance Everybody here is graded "A" The only school records are the ones we play At Disco Tech Let me be your teacher Disco Tech Why don't you take home a diploma from Disco Tech
King, in an obvious attempt to appease her label and not ruffle any feathers, put it this way in the liner notes for the album.
Secret Fantasy Department Part 2: could I be a Rhythm and Blues group? I gave it a try on Disco Tech with Navarro and the excellent horn section arranged by George Bohanon. Turn it up and dance your feet off!
Wow! That is some grade A horseshit, but that is why liner notes are so great and should never be ignored.
In deciding to use this week’s theme, I did not go blindly into my research. The Carole King song was not some revelation to me. I have known and heard plenty of music from the late ‘70s to know that the disco revolution worked its way into all genres of music. However, my interest is not in the overall disco craze, which produced hundreds of hit songs by artists who focused their careers on this form of music. My interest is in the impact of disco on the songwriting and recordings of artists who otherwise would never have produced material of this type. In other words, the impact of disco on the careers of artists like Carole King, who ended up writing and recording a dance song called “Disco Tech” and attempting to pass it off as just another song in a long, successful career.
In order to show the impact of disco in this way, I decided to select ten artists and provide one song from 1978-79 for each, plus one song from their primary recording period as a counterpoint. A few of the songs I used were already familiar to me, at least by reputation, but most I found by simply thinking of an artist from the ‘60s and early ‘70s who I assumed were still recording in the late ‘70s and then searching for whatever albums they produced during this period. In every case, I found exactly what I was looking for. I literally thought up the names of ten artists and immediately had ten songs. That was the scariest result of all. The impact of disco was so prevalent that no one could escape it. Not the godfather, not the queen, not the greatest singer/songwriters of the era, and definitely not Diana Ross (who probably thought this song was better than anything she did in the ‘60s).
This week’s playlist is built a little bit differently than most. Instead of attempting to work ten disco songs into a 2-hour show, I started the show with a ten-song disco dance party. So get out your Boogie Shoes, shine a light on your mirror ball, dry clean your white polyester suit or gold lamé halter top, and get ready to get down. Or, in the words of Carole King, Turn it up and dance your feet off! Yikes.
The Ten Worst Disco Songs Ever Recorded! (or at least selected for this week’s show)
Carole King “Disco Tech”: Many of the songs I’ve selected this week share the same aspects of a stereotypical disco song. This one includes sixteenth notes on the high hat, a four on the floor drum beat, and some trademark disco licks. It even has a ridiculous “yaow” at 1:40. Since it is a Carole King song, the lyrics are clever, but only if read with tongue firmly in cheek. Songwriting credits are given to the entire band, so it is obviously a track that was written in the studio, probably after they were told that they had to write a disco hit to release as a single. It ends with a one minute long sax solo and has zero redeeming value. It is fantastic and terrible all at the same time.
Wilson Pickett “Dance With Me”: This song flows perfectly out of the Carole King song, with the same tempo and four on the floor beat. The lyrics also include the phrase “disco,” but the lyrics aren’t near as clever as the King tune. What it lacks in originality is made up for by Pickett giving a great soulful vocal performance. Pickett could sing the classified ads and make them sound interesting, so that is no surprise. When it hits the 2:30 mark, the disco backing vocals kick in for a 30 second dance break. The last minute and a half repeats the chorus, but includes some great Pickett soul shrieks. It is fantastic and terrible all at the same time.
Dusty Springfield “Living Without Your Love”: Much like the Pickett track, this song is from a period during which Springfield enjoyed a modest amount of comeback success. The high hat and four on the floor beat are in full effect, but the melody is at least a little bit more interesting on this one (a little bit, but not much). It is clearly driven by the disco sound of the era, but isn’t as stuck in that format as other singles of the time. The backing vocals are in full disco effect though, and there is a sax solo that is totally representative of the time.
Bill Withers “You Got The Stuff”: What is happening here? This one is more like an Earth, Wind, and Fire funk song than a disco track, but it must be 1978 if Bill Withers (one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his era) is singing a song with a chorus that just repeats “you got the stuff” over and over, and even incudes Withers sincerely singing the lyrics “boop shoop be doo.” Much like Carole King, Withers can’t help but write lyrics that sound sincere, but this is a really, really, really forgettable piece of songwriting by the man who wrote “Lean on Me” and “Grandma’s Hands.” When he sang “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know” it was the stuff of soul vocal legend. When these backing singers sing “Dance!” over and over, it is not that. It is something else, and it is giving me a stomachache. The song ends with a 3 minute and 45 second dance break filled with a variety of pops, whistles, bass thumps, and vocalizations over a steady beat of nothing. When Withers starts dropping “Oh baby” over and over it just makes me want to cry.
Aretha Franklin “Ladies Only (Short Version)”: I have known about The Queen of Soul’s disco album for a long time, but I’ve never heard it before. The entire album doesn’t appear to be available on streaming, but luckily the short version (thank god) is out there for our listening pleasure. This one starts like a soul ballad, but if you’ve ever heard a Donna Summer song then you know what’s coming as soon as it starts. There is absolutely nothing about this song that is enjoyable, and it makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth when she sings the verse in French. To her credit, Franklin sings it as if it is 1968 and the world depends on her delivering another classic soul performance, but there is only so much you can do to sound sincere when you start singing out “everybody party, party down, party, party down.”
James Brown “The Original Disco Man”: This is absolutely the biggest WTF on this list. There is no way this song could have been good, but it is made even worse than you’d expect because the backing track sounds like any of the hundreds of poorly produced disco records that were advertised on television throughout the period for people to disco to at home. My favorite part is when Brown yells out his classic “Hit it!” but there is nothing there to hit. He yells “Hit it!” and then the god-awful backing singers sing “He’s the original disco man with the original disco band, he’s the original disco man, his groove is where it all began, he’s the original disco disco man with the original disco disco band, he’s the original, bona-fide original, original disco man.” Near the end when Brown starts yelling “You tell ‘em!” and they keep singing the horrendous chorus you know that the end of the world is nigh.
Diana Ross “What You Gave Me”: Sixteenth note high hat? Check. Four on the floor kickdrum? Check. Strings? Check. Funky thumpin’ bass line? Check. Backing vocals that are not the Supremes? Check. Dance break? Check. Long, repetitive chorus outro? Check. Soul-less Diana Ross vocal performance? Check. Just awful.
Chicago “Alive Again”: This one breaks down into a fairly typical late ‘70s Chicago song at the 25 second mark, but those first 25 seconds sound way too much like the “Theme From S.W.A.T.” for this to be from any year but 1978. Of all of these songs, this one may be the least impacted by the sound of the era, but it is definitely a far cry from “Saturday In The Park.” Peter Cetera definitely isn’t singing Italian songs on this one. I can handle this song, once in a while, but it isn’t making me miss the days before Terry Kath died and Peter Cetera had to take over the band while the rest of the members dealt with their own struggles. You don’t even have to listen to the album to understand the impact of the period, as this is the only Chicago album that drops their trademark numbering system for album titles.
Hall and Oates “Portable Radio”: Unless you know this song, you would never know it is Hall and Oates until you hear one of pop music’s best blue-eyed soul singers come in on the verse. From that point on, it is a fairly standard Hall and Oates song, but that intro is a great example of the influence of disco on the music produced in 1978. I actually like this one, at least as album filler, but I won’t be saying “Alexa, play the album X-Static by Hall and Oates” very often.
Kiss “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”: This is the best-known song on the list and the furthest away from straight-ahead disco, but I would argue that it is the best example of how music was impacted by the disco revolution. Although the songs I selected for this week’s show are pretty terrible when compared to the music made during the prime of these artists, most of them are still R&B/soul songs at their core. It isn’t that much of a stretch that Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett went into the studio to try and record a song that would sell in the current market and came out with these tracks. Kiss, on the other hand, were at their peak of popularity as the hard rock icons of the era. Although their 4-part solo album project was not very successful compared to their first 6 studio albums and 2 live double-sets, they were still spitting blood, breathing fire, and shooting flames for sold out crowds throughout the nation’s arenas. When their fans ran out to purchase their new album Dynasty in 1979 they were not expecting to be met with this song as the opening track. Over forty years later, this song is arguably their most popular, but at the time this looked like the beginning of the end for the band and it wasn’t until they became the godfathers of hair metal on MTV five years later that they were able to turn this mis-step around.
Artist of the Week (Disco): Régine Zylberberg and Klaus Quirini
Régine Zylberberg and Klaus Quirini are the first in a long line of people whose work led to the disco craze of the late ‘70s. Zylberberg claims to have started the first discotheque and been the first deejay at the Whisky a Go-Go in Paris in 1953. She installed a dance floor with colored lights and played records on two turntables in order to ensure that there was no pause in music when she changed records. Six years later, the owner of the Scotch Club in Aachen, West Germany installed a record player on opening night instead of hiring a live band. The attendees at this supposedly historic event were not impressed until Klaus Quarini, a reporter there to interview the crowd, took control of the turntable and started to introduce each record, therefore laying claim as the first nightclub deejay.
I am pretty sure that neither Zylberberg nor Quirini were mentioned at Disco Demolition Night in Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979, but I would also bet that Donna Summer and The Bee Gees made sure to stay out of Chicago that evening.
Artist of the Week (Not Disco): Marian Anderson
Marian Anderson was a contralto (woman who sings at the lowest female voice register), best-known for singing opera and spirituals, and performed from the ‘20s through the ‘60s. As a musician her career was filled with great performances and recordings, and her talent alone puts her on the list of the greatest American performers.
In addition to her incredible career as a performer, she was an important figure in the fight for civil rights in the US. Her national recognition in this struggle began in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. In response, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR arranged for her to perform an open-air concert on Easter 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial in front of an integrated crowd of 75,000. The live radio broadcast of the event was listened to by millions of people and was one of the first national events to shine a light on the move toward civil rights.
During the second half of her life (she was born in the late 19th century and lived to be 96 years old), she devoted her life to the fight for human rights. In 1955, Anderson was the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, an event that was comparable to Jackie Robinson playing Major League baseball. She was named as a delegate to the United Nations as part of its Human Rights Committee and performed concerts all over the world as a Goodwill Ambassador. She was involved in the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, sang at the March on Washington, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Congressional Gold Medal, a Kennedy Centers honor, a National Medal of Arts, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The life, music, achievements, and importance of Anderson can barely be scratched in a summary like this. It may seem odd that she would be an Artist of Week in a show whose theme is bad disco recordings but seeing her mixed into this week’s show fits perfectly. The most important redeeming quality of the disco movement of the late ‘70s is that this was a time during which diversity was celebrated. People of all races, classes, and sexual orientations danced together and the pop charts were filled with African American artists performing music that embraced these differences in people (see Sylvester and the Village People for a starter pack on the importance of disco in the movement toward inclusion and acceptance). In order for all of the soul and R&B artists of the ’60s on to become as popular as they did, and therefore change the landscape of popular music sales in the US, artists like Marian Anderson had to push through the racial struggles that all African American artists faced in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I can’t say for sure what Anderson thought about disco music, but I am sure that she recognized how far the country had come by the time Donna Summer was crowned the Queen of Disco and beloved by millions of people of all races.
Happy Birthday (February 27)
Marian Anderson: See Artist of the Week
Mildred Bailey was one of the first successful female jazz singers. She was amazing and I’d put her in every Faux Show if it wouldn’t make me feel guilty.
Dexter Gordon was a tenor saxophonist and one of the original innovators of bebop jazz. If you want to understand jazz all you need to do is listen to Dexter Gordon recordings. In addition to a long, troubled yet successful career in jazz, Gordon starred in a fantastic 1986 film called Round Midnight, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Hugh Grundy was the drummer for The Zombies. The most important thing to know is that he was the drummer on the album Odessey and Oracle, one of the greatest albums that you have never heard. If you have heard it then you are one of the converted and know what I am talking about.
Cory Henry is a keyboard player who has performed with several groups, including a few years with Faux Household favorite Snarky Puppy. He is now a solo performer who focuses on retro soul.
Neal Schon is a founding member of the pop/rock group Journey. He plays lead guitar.
Charles Strite invented the pop-up toaster, for which he received a patent in 1921. I don’t think I need to explain how important the pop-up toaster is to society. It was literally the greatest invention since sliced bread. I wish there were avant-garde electronic music recordings of Charles Strite playing his pop-up toaster as an instrument, but that just never happened. Instead, I included some music from reggae artist Koffee. She is one of the most talented young reggae artists recording today. Her new album will be released in March and includes the song “Lockdown.” Her first album, an EP called Rapture, includes the song “Toast” (get it?) and won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. She is the youngest person and the only woman to win the reggae Grammy.
Chicago “Alive Again” (#14 10/28/78) and “Beginnings” (#7 7/10/71)
Aretha Franklin “Think” (#7 5/25/68)
Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” (#1 2/5/77)
Kiss “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (#11 6/16/79) and “Shout It Out Loud” (#31 4/17/76)
Wilson Pickett “In The Midnight Hour” (#21 8/14/65)
Dusty Springfield “Son of a Preacher Man” (#10 12/14/68)
Supremes “Come See About Me” (#1 11/21/64)
Bill Withers “Use Me” (#2 9/9/72)
2 for “Two”day
All of the Theme Artists (one disco and one from their prime)
Koffee “Lockdown” and “Toast”
Amos Lee “Shoulda Known Better”
Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift “The Joker and The Queen”
Joss Stone “You’re My Girl”
A Little Jazz
Mildred Bailey “Wham (Re Bop Boom Bam)”: This song is one of Bailey’s best early versions of what would later evolve into rock and roll. It is one of my favorite Bailey recordings.
Dexter Gordon “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry”: This track is from Gordon’s fantastic 1962 album Go. The album is in the National Recording Registry, and this track is about as beautiful as a jazz ballad can be.
Love your neighbor as yourself
Marian Anderson “Plenty Good Room”: This is one of the many great spirituals recorded during Anderson’s career.
Cory Henry “Oh Happy Day”: Hammond Organ master Henry lays down an incredible version of the spiritual made famous by Edwin Hawkins.
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|Track Number||Artist||Song Title|
|1||Carole King||Disco Tech|
|2||Wilson Pickett||Dance With Me|
|3||Dusty Springfield||Living Without Your Love|
|4||Bill Withers||You Got The Stuff|
|5||Aretha Franklin||Ladies Only (Short Version)|
|6||James Brown||The Original Disco Man|
|7||Diana Ross||What You Gave Me|
|9||Hall and Oates||Portable Radio|
|10||Kiss||I Was Made For Lovin’ You|
|13||The Supremes||Come See About Me|
|14||Dusty Springfield||Son of a Preacher Man|
|15||Joss Stone||You’re My Girl|
|17||Wilson Pickett||In The Midnight Hour|
|18||Cory Henry||Oh Happy Day|
|19||Marian Anderson||Plenty Good Room|
|20||James Brown||Try Me|
|21||Mildred Bailey||Wham (Re Bop Boom Bam)|
|22||Dexter Gordon||I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry|
|23||Carole King||You’re Got A Friend|
|24||Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift||The Joker and the Queen|
|25||Amos Lee||Shoulda Known Better|
|26||Hall and Oates||Rich Girl|
|28||Bill Withers||Use Me|
|30||Kiss||Shout It Out Loud|
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