Friday, 3 December 2010

The 20 greatest disco records

Disco was for many years dismissed as vacuous music. People missed the point, not realising that this was exactly what made it so good - a chance to forget the stresses and strains of the working week and lose yourself in the music for a few hours at least. In recent years (largely due to an increasing number of heavyweight books about the movement) it has been rehabilitated but due to the fact that many hits were one track wonders it is still difficult to identify the defining tracks. Having done considerable research in this space (I've listened heavily to disco for well over a decade now) I give you my definitive take on my favourites - some are established classics, some aren't well known but all have set dance floors alight. I've left out Go Bang by Dinosaur L and All over my Face by Loose Joints - both of which will upset the purists. If you disagree with my choices, why not leave yours (plus Youtube clips) at the end of the article? PS: If you're looking for Abba or the Village People you might be in the wrong place....

20. Class Action – Weekend

Legendary Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan recorded this with Christine Wiltshire. 11 minutes of anticipatory bliss. This was actually a cover of a previous disco tune by Phreek. Levan would often play this track several times in the same evening even though it hadn't been formally released - inevitably it became a Garage classic.

19. Saturday night - David Morris

A personal favourite this one. I picked it up for less than $5 on my last trip to New York. A track that captures the excitement of an impending night out on the town with a beautiful lady - youza!

18. Staying Alive -The Bee Gees

Falsetto alert! One of three number one hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack but that shouldn't detract from what a great track it is. Effortlessly funky - it just makes you want to strut...The movie was key in communicating the ethos of the disco movement to the mainstream.

17. Do what you wanna do – T-Connection

A favourite for everyone from Nicky Siano to Norman Jay. T-Connection were actually from the Bahamas but were based in Miami. They recorded four albums in all but this was by far their defining moment.

16. Love is the Message – MFSB

For many people the national anthem of disco and effectively David Mancuso’s theme tune. MFSB were Philly record’s house band. Rather than taking a standard song structure this instrumental piece took the listener on an atmospheric jazzy journey - an approach which would be repeated on numerous releases right through to the advent of  house music. This is arguably where the deep disco template was set.

15. The Love I Lost - Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

The definitive philly soul track and a huge hit in the clubs (most notably the Gallery) and on radio, reaching number 7 in the US charts. The track was originally recorded as a ballad but the musicians upped the tempo, with the drums in particular given more prominence and a disco classic was born. 

14. BRA - Cymande

This is a great example of the fact that disco doesn't always need to be an upbeat 4/4 beat (in fact some might argue it isn't disco at all). A British band, Cymande produced a number of classic tracks and albums but this is their defining movement. Jazzy horns give way to a deep funk groove and an irresistible dance floor filler. Famously sampled by De La Soul on 3 Feet High and Rising highlighting its impact on the hip hop community as well as the disco movement. Cymande have become increasingly influential in recent years and anyone who appreciates good music could do worse than seek out some of their classic seventies recordings.

13. Eminence front - The Who

Yes, the Who! This track was actually produced after disco peaked (in 1983) but is unbelievably funky. Roger Daltrey later claimed that this was the only track worth releasing of the It's Hard album. Thanks to Jake who tipped me off about this one.

12. I love you more - Renee and Angela

Danny Krivit's re-edit is the version to look out for. The atmospheric piano riff creates the framework for the guitar that follows. A classic example of less is more. Sampled by Notorious BIG on I love the Dough. Renee and Angela were lovers initially before realising that they were more effective as songwriting partners!

11. Space Bass – Slick

Not quite so well known this one as some of the others on this list although it reached number 16 in the UK charts. Slick were the rhythm section of Fat Larry's band and this track has been championed by DJs as diverse as Jeff Mills and Gilles Peterson..
10. Thinking of you – Sister Sledge

You can’t have a disco top 20 without both Sister Sledge and Chic and this track has both. Subtler than We are family and He’s the greatest dancer and better for it. The track carries Rogers and Edward's distinctive guitar and bass sound and somewhat bizarrely was later covered by Paul Wellar.

9. Spanish Hustle – Fatback Band

Not only did they arguably record the first ever rap single with King Tim III but they recorded some of the funkiest tracks ever set to wax - including this which was a UK top ten hit. There is a great steel drum re-edit to look out for too...

8. I feel love - Donna Summer

Perhaps a predictable choice but Georgio Morroder's 15 minute version is a bass driven masterpiece. The rolling , off key bass sound was achieved by altering the key of a Moog synthesizer and created a druggy, trancelike beat, offset by Summer's sexy vocal.

7. Love Hangover - Diana Ross

Ross was one of a number of established stars (Rolling Stones, The Who) who jumped on the disco bandwagon and did it more convincingly than most. Hooking up with Nile Rogers she scored hits with No-one gets the Prize, and eternal gay anthem I'm coming out but it is Love Hangover that is the real classic. Hangover was championed by Nicky Siano amongst others but it was on radio where this really broke through, its slow, sensual intro giving way to an infectious upbeat groove.
6. Say a prayer for two (US remix) - Crown Heights Affair

Crown Heights Affair took their name from a district of Brooklyn. This track is from their 1978 album Dream World. The track's driving bass and gospelly vocals manage to appeal to both funk and disco fans and we are subject to another superb breakdown. Make sure you get the US remix as its by far the best version (and the one played at both the Loft and the Garage).

5. Enjoy your life – Oby Onyioha

Disco spread worldwide with each nation fusing it with their own sounds.I give full credit for this one to legendary crate diggers Kon and Amir who unearthed this Nigerian disco classic on their Off Track volume 3 which came out earlier this year.  This, like the best disco, is effortless and insanely dancey.

4. Let no man put asunder – First Choice

‘It’s not over!’ – for obvious reasons makes a great tune towards the end of the night when the dancers are trying to squeeze just a few more songs in before having to go home. First choice were from Philly and recorded this in 1977, they scored another Loft favourite with Doctor Love.

3. Ain’t no Mountain High Enough – Inner Life.

Written by Ashford and Simpson, produced by Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, vocals by Jocelyn Brown, remixed by Levan and released on Salsoul – this track is dripping disco royalty. Eleven minutes long, it has a huge breakdown about two thirds of the way in which, if the atmosphere is right, can take the roof off.

2. Girl you need a change of Mind – Eddie Kendricks

A huge Loft favourite. Ex-Temptation Kendricks recorded a number of classic disco tracks (including Levan favourite A date with the rain) but for me (and many others) the eight minute take of this track is the pinnacle of his work. Like many disco tracks its all about the breakdown – the tune is taken down to virtual silence before the instrumentation is gradually re-introduced and Eddie leads us back with the ‘never gonna change’ refrain.

1. Standing in the rain – Don Ray

What is so great about this song is that it seems to mark the exact point between funk which preceded it and house which followed. The synth waves at the outset send tingles down the back before the euphoric vocal leads us into ecstasy. Don Ray was actually Raymond Donnez and worked with Serge Gainsbourg and played keyboard on producer Cerrone's albums before eventually disappearing to France following his sole album. He was possibly last seen waiting on tables in a Paris restaurant. Some would argue that Got to have loving is his definitive track but for me this is not only his best track but the best of the whole disco era...

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