Disco Discoveries, Part One: Loose Joints, New View Points
I came of age when the Village People, Hooked on Classics and Rick Dees were the sound of disco - literally and figuratively the bell end of the genre and the decade itself. I jumped along to Dee's "Disco Duck" on the family mini-tramp, while over at my grade school, Jimmy Carter was a punch line and Disco SuckedTM. We laughed at disco then, hooted at the Bee Gees and their cartoon falsettos, goofed on 20" bell bottoms and monster side burns.
The disco backlash was inescapable. It worked its hate deep into my conscience, where remnants still reside today. Ironically I had no trouble embracing disco's progeny. House music and its continuously splintering inspirations seemed to edit out the cheese found in late 70's popular disco. Gone were Indian costumes and dancing aquatic animals. Left were the weirder, underground elements that held more appeal for a straight white kid in Arizona.
But you can't spend much time with House without confronting the disco issue, so a reevaluation was always in order. The work to reshape my understanding and appreciation of disco is on going. It has been helped tremendously by reading Peter Shapiro's outstanding book, Turn the Beat Around - The Secret History of Disco.
Just as Simon Reynolds's Rip it Up and Start Again sparked a deeper love for post punk and added about 200 bands to my must-hear list, Shapiro has overwhelmed me with new sounds and directions. I have months, years of material to find and experience. I've decided to begin at the beginning, with a compilation from one of disco's pioneers, David Mancuso.
David Mancuso Presents The Loft, Volume 1 (Nuphonic, 2000) gives a taste of the music DJs spun at Mancuso's legendary private house parties, held in New York in the beginning in the late `60s. Mancuso's invite-only gatherings, held in his own loft, brought together the soon-to-be who's who of the early New York disco scene, names like Nicky Siano and Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan. Certainly the exclusivity was a draw for the lucky invitees, but it was Mancuso's sound system and the music that poured out of it that inspired them.
The two disc collection brims with foundational tracks. Foremost on disc one is the previously unreleased (at the time) original version of "Is it All Over My Face?" (MP3) an 11-minute groove from Arthur Russell's fleeting group Loose Joints. As Shapiro relates, Russell's record label found the track completely lacking in commercial potential and commissioned Larry Levan to remix for radio appeal. Having grown more familiar with the messy glory that is the original, I find Levan's smooth remix pales in comparison.
The original take of "Is it All Over My Face" is a loose, weird joint indeed, a free jam of vocal chants, rolling percussion and Russell's signature cello holding up the low end. It never works up much of a sweat honestly, but the vibe is pure ramshackle bliss.
Other highlights include, well dammit the whole things is great, but check out Man Friday's "Love Honey, Love Heartache (Larry Levan Vocal Mix)", Ednah Holt's "Serious, Sirius Space Party (Club Version)", Karma's "High Priestess" and Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa".
I realize I'm glossing over some amazing songs, worthy of many separate posts. I'll spend more time on Mancuso, Siano, and Larry Levan in the next edition.