Disco? Seriously? : A tale of the missing albums

23rd May 2015

I must admit that I don’t really watch too much regular TV. I don’t follow the soaps et al. I’m too busy doing other things. What I do watch is normally your typical DVD series box set or  something off the back of recorded TV via my 1TB Sky box. When that begins to get a little full, I archive onto blank DVDs. I’ll do this especially with old films – you see a lot of rarely aired movies on TV when you channel scan – plus music programmes. In general terms, the BBC 4 channel is arguably the best media source in the UK, at present. It not only features a host of excellent documentaries and drama but a wealth of superb music is regularly shown in either concert of documentary format.

A few archived goodies, recorded some time ago but only seen recently, was all about Disco. I must admit that I do have a penchant for the genre: especially Chic and Sister Sledge. The programmes mixed documentary investigations alongside ‘At The BBC’ live performances.

One thing that only recently hit me about disco was that, here was a  music genre that lasted from around 1972-ish to sometime around the very early 80s and at no time in those eight to 10 years, did anyone ever say to me, “Go listen to that superb album by this or that disco group.” Not once. What I did hear from a wide range of people and plenty of times through my very own ears, where heaps of top notch, even classic disco singles.

But where was the disco version of Dark Side Of The Moon? Whoever did their best John Travolta impression while throwing a hip to disco’s version of Sgt. Pepper? Boogied on down while drinking Dr Pepper, yes, maybe but not one of my acquaintance ever, ever gurgled a Babycham and talked, seriously and rather philosophically, about disco’s version of Blood On The Tracks.

All of those brilliant disco singles didn’t arrive on their lonesome, oh no. They hitched a ride on an album on their way to the Top 10. But what of these albums? What happened to them? Where did they go and why don’t you see many of them even in the second-hand bins at record fares? They’re there, but not in tremendous numbers.

For example, one of the best disco singles of all time was penned by one Tom Browne, even though Browne was a jazz-funk man – that’s his piercing horn intro, at the beginning of Funkin’ For Jamaica, a song that is designed to get you up off your chair. It’s almost impossible to play this song, especially with a pair of speakers fitted with healthy sized bass bins, listen to that introductory bass guitar and sit still. But who ever bought Love Approach, the album that classic single derived from?

With a bee in my bonnet, I scanned the internet to see if anyone was pushing out these albums to the populous and came across BBR (www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp). Surprisingly, the label exists to do exactly what I’ve been highlighting. That is, its intention is to get those ‘lost’ disco albums (plus funk and soul LPs) out there for people to re-discover or, for most of us, discover for the very first time. They stock  that Tom Browne effort, for example, plus many more…

For example, you will know Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman but not too many people will have bought her debut album, Chaka, from 1978, which highlighted her superb dynamic range.

A Taste Of Honey produced well regarded disco singles including Boogie Oogie Oogie. Far from being powder puff producer’s puppets, singers Janice Marle and Hazel Payne were, on their self-titled album from 1978, both versatile and expressive featuring slices of funk and soul with their disco oeuvre.

One of the best disco outfits on, what we medallion-wearing, quiff quoffed, hip thwacking cognoscenti liked to refer to as the ‘scene’, was Brooklyn Dreams which issued a superb duet with Donna Summer. ‘Heaven Knows’ was one of their best known tracks which appeared as the last track on Sleepless Nights (1979) but the outfit’s self-titled debut in 1977 was one of the most consistent albums of the period.

You can also find stonewall classic albums that specifically reference and are influenced by disco: Shalamar’s 1982 album release, Friends, to be specific. It packs in A Night To Remember and I Can Make You Feel Good as two massive hits but also the excellent production created by the label, Solar. With lush harmonies and slick aesthetics, this is an album to savour.

So should we be viewing a series of ‘lost’ disco albums with hipster beard-stroking philisophical musings? Do we need to rethink any particular disco releases in terms of artistic re-evaluation. Nah, don’t be silly. That said, what we should not be doing is ignoring them out of hand. Yes, some albums are nothing more than poor remixes of the one or two hit singles present on the same disc but there’s plenty of well strutured albums out there. Maybe the conveyor belt of cool singles was just too fast for us to take a breath and notice their associated LPs. As time has now passed, I’d recommend partaking in a quick double take. You might just find a surprise or two lurking in the groovy grooves.