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Mothership Connection: Parliament-Funkadelic live in Houston, 1976 (full show)


 
After posting that P-Funk documentary the other week, I’ve decided that Dangerous Minds needs more P-Funk. A LOT more P-Funk. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: Parliament-Funkadelic are the most psychedelic, progressive, and downright funky band that have ever stomped the Earth.

So here is today’s shot of P-Funk, the perfect start to this, or any, weekend. It’s an entire Parilament-Funkadelic live show recorded live in Houston in 1976. Hardcore fans will probably have seen this show already. This set has been commercially available on DVD for quite a few years, under different guises (and is a highly recommended addition to any library) and as there is such a shameful lack of vintage P-Funk footage in the world, if you’ve seen any doc about the band, you’ll have seen parts of this show. I’m also sure I’ve seen bits of the Mothership landing/Glenn Goins getting a blowback footage in some Dr Dre videos before.

Either way, this film is a treat for both fans and newcomers alike. The camerawork is actually pretty rubbish (there are only two, mainly static, cameras, and all we see of Bootsy’s dramatic on-stage arrival is a silvery blur), but what really makes this special is the completely remastered soundtrack, now delivered in 5.1 Dolby Surround. Though I have to admit that I don’t know if YouTube audio fidelity can deliver that. It still sounds FUCKING GREAT though.

My personal fave moment is this show is the medley (from 21:40 onwards) of “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” with Fuzzy Haskins on lead vocals, into a radically re-worked “The Undisco Kidd”, where George Clinton gives keyboard ace Bernie Worrell an extended solo.

THIS IS THE REAL DEAL. Funk on brothers and sisters!

Parliament-Funkadelic, live in Houston, 1976

 

 

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Nile Rodgers’ pre-Chic Big Apple Band plays ‘You Should Be Dancing’


 
From one disco legend to another, Nile Rodgers has just posted this to his Facebook wall, saying:

“Our pre-CHIC tribute to the Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” Robin Gibb RIP”

The Big Apple Band was indeed Rodgers’ pre-Chic project, and are not to be confused with composer Walter Murphy’s disco outfit of the same name. The sound of The Big Apple Band is rawer and grittier than either Chic or the Bee Gees (even though the Chic rhythm section of Rodgers on guitar, Bernard Edwards on bass and Tony Thompson on drums are all present and correct).

Rodgers says this of the Big Apple Band (who have another clip, this time performing Earth Wind And Fire’s “Get Away,” here):

It’s The Big Apple Band, which is us pre-CHIC playing live in a video recording studio. It was made by Kenny Lehman, the co-writer of CHIC’s debut single “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Kenny was also a booking agent who was trying to get us gigs doing high-school proms. We never got one prom gig but did lots of gigs on the chittlin’ circuit, and the seeds of CHIC were being planted.

In my memoir “Le Freak,” I tell how Bernard and I were developing into sophisto-funkers while others around us weren’t quite convinced. Notice that only he and I are wearing suits while our band mates are more Rock & Roll casual. The band was forced to change its name after composer/arranger/producer extraordinaire Walter Murphy, had major success with a great disco reworking of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He called it “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band.

It’s been a bad few weeks for fans of disco and soul, with the passing of Donna Summer, Donald Dunn and now Robin Gibb. Rodgers himself has been very ill recently with cancer (which he writes about movingly on his blog), so here’s hoping he’s not added to that list.

And here’s a great testament ot the songwriting genius of the brothers Gibb. Rest In Peace Robin: 

The Big Apple Band “You Should Be Dancing”:
 

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Before Goldfrapp, before Kate Bush, there was Noosha Fox


 
Noosha Fox is an Australian singer who, in the mid 1970s, fronted the British act Fox, who scored a handful of hits across Europe with their funk and reggae-influenced strain of glam-rock. After the band dissolved near the end of the decade, Noosha embarked on a moderately successful solo career; one of her tracks, “The Heat Is On”, ended up being covered by a solo Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA.

Fox’s tunes are great, and regularly entered high up on the British charts (as some of these clips will attest.) So how come I’d never heard of the fantastic Noosha until very recently?

Thanks to the website Lost Idols (and DM’s own Paul Gallagher,) here’s a bit more information on Noosha and the band:

The band was formed by Kenny Young (the man who got the credits for writing the song “Under the Boardwalk” for The Drifters in 1964). Lead singer of The Fox was Susan Traynor (from Australia) who earlier did backing vocals on Kenny Young’s solo album “Last Stage for Silverworld” in 1973 and also was in a band called “Wooden Horse”. The rest of the band included Herbie Armstrong (guitar and vocals), Pete Solley (keyboards), Jim Gannon (lead guitar), Gary Taylor (bass guitar) and Jim Frank (drums & percussion). Kenny Young played guitars, percussion and vocals. Susan became known as Noosha Fox and their first album “FOX” was a top ten hit in 1975.

It appears that Roger Taylor of ‘Queen’ added backing vocals to the track ‘Survival’ on Fox’s ‘Tails of Illusion’ album. Queen were in the same studio recording ‘A Night at the Opera’.

What happened then?

Noosha Fox (Susan Traynor), had a solo career when she left the band (1977) during the late 70s and early 80’s. She only had one minor hit with “Georgina Bailey”. Herbie Armstrong and Kenny Young moved on to a band called Yellow Dog and later Armstrong worked with Van Morrison in the late 70’s and early 80’s.Kenny Young has been working as a Record producer. Now Herbie is running a Restaurant together with his Swedish-born wife Elizabeth, in Hampshire called The Fountain Inn & Thai Restaurant. the rumour says they combine their talents in running one of the best eating places in the area.

Pete Solley joined Whitesnake on keyboards in 1977 for Snakebite. He’s also played with Procol Harum, Mickey Jupp and many more. He has also produced records for Oingo Boingo, Motorhead and Romantics. Jim Frank worked as an sound engineer for Alice Cooper (“Welcome to my nightmare”) and Peter Gabriel’s first solo album to mention a few. Jim Gannon played with the band “Black Widow” and also did some vocals on Alice Cooper “Goes To Hell”.

Not bad post-pop careers there, not bad at all.

Fox are one of those acts who have been unfairly booted into history’s dumpster, casualties of a cultural shift that saw extravagant glam rock relegated to just an embarrassing phase. Although undoubtedly an influence on a whole generation’s burgeoning sexuality (check out the YouTube comments on any of her/their clips,) ask anyone under the age of 40 who Noosha Fox is and you’ll get a blank stare and an itchy scalp.

That’s a real shame, because Noosha and her band were fantastic. With her very distinctive look and sound (silent-cinema star and pinched-nose temptress, respectively) Noosha Fox predated the far-out kookiness of Kate Bush by a good four years, and seems to have been a huge influence on the band Goldfrapp, who have basically re-interpreted her look and sound for the electronic age.

Of course, maybe Fox passed me by because I am not a child of the Seventies. If any of our readers have any memories of the great band/singer, do feel free to share them in the comments. In the meantime (while I try and track down a “best of” album,) here are a selection of Noosha and Fox clips:
 
Fox “S-S-S-Single Bed”
 

 
After the jump, more music by Noosha and Fox, including “Imagine You, Imagine Me”, “Electro People”, “The Heat Is On” and more…

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‘Love Saves The Day’ by Tim Lawrence: The Disco Bible


 
Many, many books have been written about disco, and I have read a whole bunch of them (including more well known works like Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro, Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco by Daryl Easlea and The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night by Anthony Haden Guest) but still nothing comes close to matching Tim Lawrence’s exhaustive yet entertaining Love Saves The Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-79.

For those of you who still believe that disco was nothing more than an music-industry creation dreamt up in a backroom by a bunch of coked-up suits and sold to passive, gullible consumers too high to know it was an empty fad (here’s looking’ at you, Em!) then you need to get your hands on this book. That goes for anyone else with an interest in the disco genre, particularly those who know the basics of the story but crave more. Because, believe me, it’s all here.

Lawrence is a lecturer at the University of East London and a renowned writer on dance music and culture. He has in the past published books on the avant garde/disco composer and performer Arthur Russell (Hold On To Your Dreams; Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene 1973-1992) and most recently added the introductory foreword to Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City, 1989-92. But to me, at least, Love Saves The Day is still his best work. From his website:

Opening with David Mancuso’s seminal “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party, Tim Lawrence tells the definitive story of American dance music culture in the 1970s - from its subterranean roots in NoHo and Hell’s Kitchen to its gaudy blossoming in midtown Manhattan to its wildfire transmission through America’s suburbs and urban hotspots such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, and Miami.

Tales of nocturnal journeys, radical music making, and polymorphous sexuality flow through the arteries of Love Saves the Day like hot liquid vinyl. They are interspersed with a detailed examination of the era’s most powerful DJs, the venues in which they played, and the records they loved to spin - as well as the labels, musicians, vocalists, producers, remixers, party promoters, journalists, and dance crowds that fuelled dance music’s tireless engine.

TIm Lawrence may not have lived through this era, but his book is phenomenally well-researched and features interviews with all of the remaining key players, sketching the very earliest days of the movement: from David Mancuso’s Loft parties to Francis Grasso mixing records at the Sanctuary as far back as 1970 (the first dj ever to do so), from Nicky Siano opening The Gallery while still a teenager in 1972 to Steve Ostrow’s gay/mixed Continental Baths (home not just to performances by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, but also the venue where future legendary djs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles cut their teeth.) all the way up through the decade to the opening of both Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.

Love Saves The Day IS exhaustive (perhaps too exhaustive for disco newcomers) and while it can act as a great reference for fact-checkers, it’s also an entertaining read that spares little detail of the complicated drug-and-sex lives of these people. This was an era of radical social change and these folks (and this music) were right at the forefront of those changes. The first chapter of Love Saves The Day is available to read in full on Lawrence’s website, and it focuses on David Mancuso, the man whose Loft apartment-cum-dance-space gave birth to disco culture and who, to this day, remains the beating heart of “real” disco. It also makes clear the connection between hippie culture of the 60s and the emerging gay/black/female-centeric dance culture of the 70s:

When it came to public venues Mancuso’s preferred to go to the Electric Circus, which opened in June 1967, and the Fillmore East, which opened in the spring of 1968. Both of these psychedelic haunts were situated in the East Village — the Electric Circus was located in an old Polish workingman’s club on St. Mark’s Place, the Fillmore East, in the words of the New York Times, on “freaky Second Avenue” — and both hosted live entertainment 1. “I went to the Electric Circus at least once a month,” says Mancuso. “Everybody was having fun and they had good sound in there. It was very mixed, very integrated, very intense, very free, very positive.” The Fillmore East showcased some of his favourite artists. “I heard Nina Simone perform there. I went with my friend Larry Patterson. The Fillmore East would often be noisy but that night everybody was very focused. She was wonderful.”

Mancuso didn’t just go to the Fillmore East to listen to music. “That’s where I also first heard Timothy Leary. He gave a series of lectures backed by the Joshua Light Show.” The ex-Harvard academic was already an important figure for Mancuso, who had first taken Sandoz when he was twenty and the drug was still legal. An early trip coincided with a snowstorm (“each flake was like a universe”) and ten tabs later he came across Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which argues that psychedelics can provide a shortcut to enlightenment. “The book blew me away. It became my bible and I started getting involved with him.” The young acolyte met the acid guru at his LSD (“League for Spiritual Discovery”) headquarters in the West Village, went to his Technicolor lectures and became a regular at his private parties. “People were tripping but the parties were more social than serious. There was food and music. I knew we were on a journey.”
Mancuso’s personal voyage took a vital turn in 1965 when he purchased the key to 647 Broadway, just north of Houston, for two hundred dollars.

Like Soho, NoHo (as the north of Houston area was nicknamed) had historically functioned as a manufacturing district, drawing on New York’s immigrant population as its low-wage workforce, and when industry relocated to the cheaper terrain of New Jersey and beyond New York’s artists moved in, delighted to exchange their cramped Upper East Side apartments for a range of stunningly expansive lofts. The influx triggered off a sophisticated experiment into the relationship between art, space and living that apparently excluded the likes of Utica-born Mancuso, but he quickly established himself as a key player within this creative population, intent as he was on reintroducing art back into the party. “Everyone loved my space,” he says. “There might have been a hundred people living like this so it was very new. A lot of people would just come and hang out there. There were all sorts of activities going on.”

Some of these activities were influenced by Leary. “I would organise these intimate gatherings where we would experiment with acid,” says Mancuso. “There were never more than five of us when we did this. One person would take nothing, another would take half a tab and the rest would take a whole tab. It was all very new and we took it very seriously. We used The Psychedelic Experience as our guide.” Leary also had a bearing on the decoration of the loft space. “I built a yoga shrine, which I used for yoga and tripping. In the beginning it was three feet by five feet and it eventually grew to fifteen feet by thirty feet. As you walked into the loft you were immediately drawn to this area. It was gorgeous.”

Music — which was similar to LSD inasmuch as it could function as a therapeutic potion that “de-programmes” the mind before opening up a mystical trail that culminates in spiritual transcendence — was also introduced into the equation. “Leary played music at his lectures and parties and I went in the same direction. I bought a Tandberg tape recorder so that I could play tapes. The Buddha was always positioned between my two speakers.” That was the perfect position from which to hear the homemade compilations, which drew on a diverse range of sources and were structured to complement the hallucinogenic experience. “I made these journey tapes that would last for five hours. They drew on everything from classical music to the moody blues. They would start off very peacefully and the reentry would be more about movement, more jazz-oriented. Somebody might get up and start dancing around the room at some point, although they weren’t dance sessions.”

...and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

I can’t stress enough how good this book is, and how anyone with an interest in disco, underground culture or the 70s should try and track down a copy. It features some invaluable dj playlists from specific spots and times, which act as a checklist for a whole world of great, under-valued music, but besides that, it’s just a great read. I dip in and out of it all the time, and still find amazement and amusement after many readings, so I guess it would be pretty fair to say that Love Saves The Day is my bible. 

You can find a copy of Love Saves The Day on Amazon.

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Excellent documentary on the life of Sylvester


 
If there’s any one artist who represents everything that was revolutionary about disco music, it was Sylvester. It doesn’t matter how many Bee Gees, Ethel Mermans, Rod Stewarts, Boney Ms et al you can throw at the genre as a reason to hate it, the fact is that if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.

Sylvester broke every taboo going. In fact he didn’t just break them: he tore them up, threw them on the floor and stamped on them with uproarious glee, all while dragging you out to dance with his irresistable energy. He didn’t have to shout about any of his social or political inclinations because he was already living them, out in the open, for everyone to see.

Sylvester didn’t make “political music” because he didn’t have to: Sylvester’s very existence was inherently political.

That to me is the rub when it comes down to “disco” versus “punk”, and all that bullshit snobbery and scorn rock fans heaped on disco. Contrast Sylvester with any one of the gangs of middle class, straight, angry-at-whatever white boys that were supposedly turning the world upside down in the name of “punk” and it becomes clear who was really pushing social boundaries.

The fact that the music was instantaneous and accessible only deepens the subversive effect. It’s unfortunate that “disco” has become an easy way to dismiss that which genuinely does not fit the rock cannon’s hardened mould, be it for reasons of race, gender or sexuality, but the music itself never died away. It reverberates still with an incredible, universal power. Sylvester was a supremely talented vocalist and performer, and I just couldn’t take seriously any music aficionado who claimed not to be moved by “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” (not to mention “I Who Have Nothing,” “I Need You,” “Do You Wanna Funk,” “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight,” etc, etc.)

And besides, if I had a choice between a bunch of white punk boys or black drag queens, I know who I’d rather party with.

Unsung is a series produced by TV One profiling some of the more over-looked, yet supremely talented, names in black music from the 70s and 80s. There’s much to enjoy here if soul, funk and R&B are your thing. Other artists covered include Teddy Pendergrass, Zapp, Rose Royce, the Spinners and many more.

But for now let’s just enjoy the uplifting, touching and ultimately tragic story of the real queen of disco music:
 

 
Thanks to Paul Gallagher!

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‘The Joy Of Disco’: the music that changed the world


 
... as in The Joy Of Sex.

A special treat this Sunday for all our disco-fan readers outside the UK, The Joy Of Disco is a BBC documentary about that much derided music genre that seemed to come out of nowhere to change the world in the late 70s.

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about disco, and this is undoubtedly one of the best. Featuring new interviews with many of the key players (Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Nona Hendryx, David Mancuso, Tom Moulton, Kathy Sledge, Nicky Siano and lots more) and some great, rare footage of top nitespots like The Gallery and Studio 54, this is a real treat for the disco fanatic.

But what really makes The Joy Of Disco so good (and well worth a watch, even if you are not a disco fan) is the placing of the music in its proper historical and social context. Disco was black, urban music that became the soundtrack to the gay liberation movement and, according to the program makers:

foregrounded female desire in the age of feminism and led to the birth of modern club culture as we know it today, before taking the world by storm.

All up to the (seemingly inevitable) racist and homophobic “Disco Sucks” backlash. That put paid to the faddishness of the genre, but ultimately, by driving it back underground to the gay and black clubs that spawned it, helped make it stronger than ever and actually did very little to kill the sheer joy of the music itself.

The Joy Of Disco explores these issues in the kind of detail they deserve. It aired on BBC4 on Friday night, and some industrious soul has already put it up on YouTube to share the love (yes, it’s another case of get it before it’s gone). This is highly recommended viewing - you won’t see anything this interesting, exciting or fabulously funky on your screens this evening:
 
The Joy of Disco, part one:
 

 
The Joy Of Disco parts 2 to 4 after the jump…

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Everything is Perfect Until the Music Stops: ‘Disco Fever,’ 1978


 
While looking up a suitable image for last night’s post on disco by Simon Frith, I came across a film called Disco Fever, a disco-exploitation oddity from the same year as the article, 1978.

As a fan of both disco music and cult cinema I was surprised to never have heard of this, and now I’m wondering if any of our readers have seen it? In case your memory needs jogging, it stars Casey Kasem and some dude called Fabian, and a lot of the action seems to revolve around a discotheque which is onboard a jumbo jet. Here’s the original trailer for further investigation (this film may just be so bad it’s good, or it may just be so bad): 
 

 

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Simon Frith’s ‘The Infinite Spaces of Disco,’ 1978


From the Daily Mirror newspaper, 1978 (uploaded by Cornershop15)

This 1978 essay on the cultural meaning of disco by the respected British musicologist Simon Frith (author of Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music and Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll) was recently unearthed and re-published by the ever excellent DJHistory.com.

It goes some way towards highlighting the difference in appreciation of the genre on both sides of the Atlantic—it always seemed to me that disco never had the cultural impact in the UK that it had in the States, possibly because of the distinct ethnic and social heritage of the music—while Britain had to wait another ten years to experience its own genuine dance revolution.

What is common on both sides of the Atlantic, and of interest to anyone who likes disco music or lived through these years, was the sneering derision the genre faced from rock listeners and their corresponding press. It took another 20 to 30 years to rehabilitate disco’s reputation, and it’s interesting to read these very criticisms usually levelled by the music media coming from a self-professed disco fan:

In public I’m into punk like everybody else (saviour of rock ‘n’ roll’s soul and all that) but privately I’m a junk rock junkie and the junkiest music of all is disco. Everybody hates it. Hippies hate it, progressives hate it, punks hate it, teds hate it, NME hates it, even Derek Jewell hates it.
 
Disco is music for the disillusioned. It isn’t art: no auteurs in disco, just calculated dessicating machines. It isn’t folk: no disco subcultures, no disco kids seething with symbolic expression It isn’t even much fun: no jokes, no irony, only a hard rhythmed purposefulness. Disco is the sound of consumption. It exists only in its dancing function: when the music stops all that’s left is a pool of sweat on the floor. And disco’s power is the power of consumption. The critics are right: disco is dehumanising – all those twitching limbs, glazed-eyed, mindless. The disco aesthetic excludes feeling, it offers a glimpse of a harsh sci-fi future. ‘What’s your name, what’s your number?’ sings Andrea True in my current favourite single, and it’s not his telephone number she wants, but his position in the disco order of things. The problem of pogoing, I’ve found, is not that it’s too energetic for anyone over 30 years and 11 stone, but that it requires too much thought. 
 
Popular music has always been dance music; disco is nothing but dance music. It has no rock’n’roll connotations; off the dance floor it is utterly meaningless, lyrically, musically and aesthetically. Every disco sound is subordinate to its physical function; disco progress is technological progress. The end doesn’t change but the means to that end, the ultimate beat, are refined and improved – hence drum machines, synthesisers, 12” pressings. And disco is dance music in the abstract, content determined by form. Popular dance music of the past, in the 1930s say, was a form determined by its content. The content was developed by dance hall instructors and sheet music salesmen and band leaders whose rules of partnership, decorum, uplift and grace, can still be followed in ‘Come Dancing’: the music is strictly subordinate to the conventions of flounce and simper. In contrast, when Boney M, German manufactured black American androgynes, sing for our dancing pleasure, ‘Belfast’, it means nothing at all. Any two syllables arranged and sounding just so would do and how we dance to them is, of course, entirely our own affair. There are no rules in disco, it’s just that individual expression means nothing when there’s nothing individual to express. I trace disco back to the twist, the first dance gimmick to be taken seriously and the first dance step to be without any redeeming social feature. I blame disco on Motown, the first company to realise that if the beat is right, soul power can be expressed without either the passion or emotion that made it soul power in the first place.

You can read the rest of the essay here. In the meantime, here’s something by Andrea True Connection. It’s not “What’s Your Name What’s Your Number?” as mentioned in the essay itself, as I’ve never been a big fan of that track. Instead it’s an earlier gem by the band that predates the awfully similar soundingIs It Love You’re After” by Rose Royce by a good three years:

Andrea True Connection “Call Me” (1976)
 

 

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RIP Don Cornelius of Soul Train


 
Don Cornelius, creator and star of Soul Tain, has been found dead at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. From TMZ:

Law enforcement sources tell us ... Cornelius died from a gunshot wound to the head and officials believe the wound was self-inflicted.

Sad news indeed - I had only posted on Soul Train here on DM a few weeks ago. Thanks for all the awesomeness, Don! In memory here’s the man himself introducing the legendary Soul Train line dancers to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Mighty Mighty” in 1974:
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Have Yourself A Soul Train Sunday

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Funk legend Jimmy Castor RIP
01.16.2012
06:17 pm

Topics:
Music
R.I.P.

Tags:
RIP
70s
Soul
Funk
Jimmy Castor


 
Legendary funk saxophonist and band leader Jimmy Castor, of The Jimmy Castor Bunch - the sample source for a huge amount of hip-hop records - died today in Las Vegas of causes that are “currently unknown.” Sad news. Castor is best known for the evergreen breakbeat classic “It’s Just Begun,” “Troglodyte (Cave Man),” which was a huge hit for The Jimmy Castor Bunch in 1972 and “The Bertha Butt Boogie.” Here’s an excellent clip of the band performing “It’s Just Begun” live on TV (apparently the show is called Soul School), and tearing the roof off that sucker:
 

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Have yourself a ‘Soul Train’ Sunday


 
And why the hell not? Here are some classic clips from Soul Train that are guaranteed to make you feel good, and maybe even get up and shake your ass!

You know, with all the Seventies-related posts here on DM, it’s good to remember that the decade was not all about white boys with guitars (though some of the clips below are from the early 80s too). These dancers are hot as hell - without resorting to showing acres of flesh - and isn’t it nice to see people actually interacting with each other when they dance?

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes “Bad Luck”
 

 
After the jump, Kool & The Gang, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Trussell and Yellow Magic Orchestra…

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More images from the Golden Age of HMV, Oxford St


 
WIth the rumored abandonment of CDs by the music industry, and after the closure of 60 of its stores at the start of 2011, it looks like the writing is on the wall for the British music retail giant HMV. The chain, the largest of its kind in the UK and which launched al the way back in 1921, announced on Monday that it will be selling off its Ritz chain of live venues, and Simon Fox, CEO of the company, has admitted that the 2011 Christmas season is make or break time for the brand.

The passing of HMV would truly be the end of an era, so what better time to take a look back at its glory days? In particular these photos from the retailer’s flagship store in London’s Oxford Street, taken in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and handily collected and posted in two different entries on the excellent Voices of East Anglia blog. The first of these entries was posted over the summer, and did the rounds back then, but the second entry is even better still.

I have mixed feelings about HMV - too many hours spent searching for music they would never stock and I would find more easily at an independent shop, versus occasionally finding incredible bargains on “unwanted” releases lurking in the discount bins (and sometimes a good pop album on sale for less than any other shop.)  But looking at these photos, and the clothes, hairstyles, design and records, the viewer is reminded not just that this is an era long gong, but that it was also a golden age of physical music retailing, the like of which we will never see again.

I don’t think records or record shops are ever going to go away - downsized for sure, but not extinct. However it’s unlikely we will see this much flash (and cash) invested in the humble vinyl emporium ever again:
 

 

 

 

 
See more fantastic pictures of HMV at Voices of East Anglia - part one and part two.

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Nile Rodgers’ ‘Le Freak’: Music biography of the year


 
Yes, I am aware that Marc Campbell writing on this blog last month claimed that Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson is the music book of the year—which is why I have fudged the terms here and inserted the word “biography” into the headline. Shouldn’t there be a distinction between writers on music and musicians who write anyway? Well, it doesn’t really matter if you are more interested in the story or the music, as Nile Rodgers’ autobiography Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny is packed to the last page with stories and anecdotes that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.

If you consider yourself a music fan, then Nile Rodgers needs no introduction. He is a hardcore, bona-fide music industry legend. He not only co-wrote some of the biggest hits of the Seventies with his partner Bernard Edwards in the band Chic (“Le Freak”, “Good Times”, “We Are Family”), and produced some of the biggest records of the 80s (Madonna’s Like A Virgin, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Duran Duran’s Notorious, Diana Ross’ Diana.) His skills as a guitarist are beyond any doubt and have influenced a generation of musicians not only in the disco, funk and dance genres but further afield in post-punk and even hard rock. At a recent gig in Manchester, Rodgers’ Chic Organisation was joined onstage by The Smiths’ Johnny Marr who sat in on “Le Freak”—the pairing might seem unusual, but listen to their guitar styles and the influence is clear.

Le Freak is Rodgers’ candid autobiography, and what a tale he has to tell. Not only is this one of the most fascinating stories in modern music, with a cast list of some of the biggest stars in the world, but it’s also one of the most under-documented so to hear it coming from the proverbial horse’s mouth is a delight. There’s drugs, sex, rock’n’roll, drugs, booze, disco, hippies, drugs, Black Panthers, bohemians, buppies, drugs and some more drugs for good measure. The years spent playing and writing in Chic, while not given short thrift, are not the main focus of the book. Chic have been well documented elsewhere, in particular the book Everbody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco by Darren Easley. But where that book leaves off—namely the coke-fuelled 80s—is where Le Freak really kicks in to gear, with Rodgers working with Ross, Bowie, Ciccone and snorting his way through the GDP of a small country. Any mere mortal would be dead from the amount of coke Rodgers scoffed, but what’s even more impressive is his hardcore work ethic and the fact that he managed to keep it all together (and tight!) while under the influence.

But it’s the early years of Rodgers’ life that are the unexpected highlight. To call his upbringing unusual would be an understatement. Born to his mother when she was just 13, and only a few years before she became a full-time heroin addict, Nile travelled with his mother or one of his grandmothers between New York and LA during the 50s and 60s. His musically gifted father wasn’t present, but Nile ran into him in a couple of times on the street, and got to witness his vagrant lifestyle first hand in a couple of heart-breaking reminiscences. In Los Angeles, at the age of 13, Rodgers drops acid at a hippie pad and ends up hanging out with Timothy Leary. In New York, at the more wizened age of 17, he finds himself tripping balls in a hospital emergency ward as Andy Warhol is wheeled in, having just been shot by Valerie Solanas. This being the kind of incredible life that Rodgers leads, he is able to meet both men later on in life, in very different circumstances, and recount these tales directly to them. He credits events and coincidences like this in his life as something called “hippie happenstance.”

Yet, despite all the major celebrities who make regular appearances throughout the book (I particularly liked the story of meeting Eddie Murphy), this remains distinctly the Nile Rodgers story. It’s clear how important family is to the man, and despite his own family’s unusual set-up and dysfunction, it’s the Rodgers’ clan who are the anchor in this wild tale (even despite their own wild times consuming and selling drugs). Nile’s parents may have been junkies, and genetically predisposed him to his alcoholism, but they taught him about fine art, music, fashion and culture, which is not how heroin-addicted parents are generally perceived by the public.

Le Freak is an excellent book, and worth reading whether you like disco music or not. Nile Rodgers’  is one of the most important composers/musicians/producers of the 20th century, and it’s good to see him finally getting his due. But despite creating the biggest selling single for his then label, Atlantic, and producing the biggest break-out records for a generation of 80s pop superstars, it still packs a punch to read about the discrimination that Rodgers and his music faced from within the industry:

A few weeks later I did a remix of a song of [Duran Duran’s] called “The Reflex”. Unfortunately, as much as Duran Duran liked the remix, their record company wasn’t happy, and I was soon in an oddly similar situation to the conflict Nard and I had had with Diana Ross’ people.

Nick Rhodes called me moments after the band had excitedly previewed my retooling of “The Reflex” to the suits at Capitol Records. “Nile” he began, his monotone stiff-upper-lip English accent barely hiding his despair. “We have a problem”.

My stomach tightened. “What’s up Nick?”

He struggled to find the words. “Capitol hates the record” he finally said.

I was stunned. “The Reflex” was a smash. I was sure of it. This was déja vu all over again.

“How do you guys feel about it?” I asked a little defensively.

“Nile, we love it. But Capitol hates it so much they don’t want to release it. They say it’s too black sounding.”

Too black sounding? I tried not to hit the roof, but in a way it was nice to hear it put so plain. Finally someone had just come out and said it.


 
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny by Nile Rodgers is available here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Nile Rodgers dishes the dirt on Atlantic Records
Miles Davis talks about his art on Nile Rodgers’ ‘New Visions

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Rarely seen 1974 promo for Sparks ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’


1974 NME Sparks cover - uploaded by Sparksmael.
 
Yes, it’s an original 1974 promo clip for Sparks’ classic glam-era chart topper! Not enough people know that this video exists, which includes even a lot of Sparks fans - I only discovered it myself quite recently. It’s not amazing but it is fun, and is worth a watch to see Russel’s uber-camp flying leap at 0:35. Not to be too down on Queen, but a lot of people assume that “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both Of Us” was a cash in on the opera-pop of “Bohmenian Rhapsody”, which is not the case. “This Town…” was released a whole year before Queen’s smash, and this video pre-dates their “Bohemian Rhapsody” promo too - in fact Queen supported the Mael brothers on some of their first ever UK dates in 1973, so it’s pretty safe to assume the influence was the other way around. But, hey, this isn’t a competition, both bands were high-class acts, I’m sure Queen fans will find a lot to like in this clip:
 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment