discocoke

In 1979, at the grand old age of six I threw a hissy fit because my older sister could disco dance better than me.    My family often met in the living room and danced to whatever my father, an avid record collector, put on the stereo.  It was Minne Riperton’s “Dancing and Acting Crazy” that set off this particular round of familial celebration, and my older sister was hot-to-trot.  She could do ‘the Hustle’.  She could do ‘the Rock’.  She could do the ‘Cha-Cha’.  My little six year old feet could not keep up.  I ran up to my room in a jealous fury.  Crying, I wrote in my journal (yes this homosexual kept a journal at age six a portent of self important chronicling that would continue straight to adult hood).

“I wish I could disco dance!”

My six year old  passion for dancing and disco music continues to this day.  It could be nostalgia, it could be because I was a Carter era baby, it could be because of the glamour of the era was so intriguing, but mostly I think it was because the music was so good.

It’s strange that with so many books about the disco scene, there are so few books that actually deal with the multifaceted music of the era. Books about the disco scene always tend to concern themselves with the same tent poles: Donna Summer, Studio 54, Bee-Gees, Saturday Night Fever, Love Hangover,  Paradise Garage,  Gloria Naylor, etc.  Disco was more than Larry Levan and Bianca Jagger on a white horse.

The popularly held concepts of the disco movement have brushed over what was so great about the scene in the 1st place: The deliriously fantastic and diverse underground music scene.    So many of the great songs have fallen in the cracks of obscurity.  This is painful.  For a great song like Eddie’s Kendrick’s Date With Rain , to fall into obscurity is a crime against nature.

Writer Vince Aletti offers a much needed corrective.  A new collection, “The Disco Files 1973-78”, collects all of Aletti’s music reviews from 1973 to 1978 from the now defunct Record Pool magazine.    It is an extensive tome that repositions the disco era away from Halston and back to the music.  It is not a look back or a fond rememberance.  All of the reviews were written exactly at the time those 12 inches were being released.  Week by Week, Vince examined what was being played at the clubs, what new singles excited him, what bored him, and what effects the disco music had on the culture at large.  Vince was the first person to write about disco for the Rolling Stone in 1973 and the 1st writer to rigorously critique disco as a serious art form.

This book is filled with gems.

It is filled with reviews on “lost” artists and groups like BT Express, Gene Page, Crown Heights Affair, The Richie Family,  Tata Vega,  Stratavarious,  and Santa Esmeralda.  Love and Kisses  Alec Costandinos, Emuir Deodato, Bobbi Humphrey, The Black Light Orchestra, The Softones,  G.C Cameron, Jean Carn  and  Sandy Merecer.  The book contains exhaustive descriptions of producers, session players, singers,   and styles from “New York eclectic” to “Philadelphia glossy” to the “fast Latin hustle .”

Vince would occasionally pause his vast encyclopedic-like music reviews to take on the politics of dancing.  After the local New York based  Soho Weekly News published  an op-ed piece,  by the artist communities in Soho, about the “truly evil people” private discotheques were ushering into the Soho neighborhood,  Vince wrote this in his   May 29, 1976 column

The rhetoric of those people who set themselves up to tell the public about the endless, imagined evils of the world hasn’t’ changed at all.  The dance halls the Soho Weekly is so outraged about are three private discos in the Soho section of New York- Nicky Siano’s Gallery, David Mancuso’s 99 Prince (home of the New York Record Pool) and the recently reopened Frankenstein.  A clue to why these discos are being treated like leper colonies is this quote from a recent New York Post article  titled, unfortunately, “Soho Artist Saying No-Go attract Go-Go sounds of Disco”: The discos reportedly attract sustainable numbers of blacks , Hispanics and homosexuals.  Critics believe drug-taking occurs, but admit they have no evidence to back this up”

If there is a disco community and I believe there is, “Blacks, Hispanics and homosexuals” are at its core.  Maybe it’s time for the party People to get serious about their rights and assert their community against barely-disguised bigotry, sexism and hypocrisy of “communities” like Soho around the country.

The irony of course is soon the housing boom of the late 80’s would expunge Soho not only of those “evil” clubs, but also most of the artists. (and there was a club in Soho called Frankenstein!!!! )

Some weeks Vince could be dramatically world weary:

Well let’s face it: this has been an exceptionally dull week. A week so dull in fact that not even the arrival of the new Labelle album could salvage it.

Then another week he would rises from his bored haze, after finding another stellar track that inspired him,  to pick up the bayonet and carry on:

No complaints this week – finally there are some records to get enthusiastic about. Now it’s the release of Ralph MacDonald’s album, “Sounds of a Drum” on Marlin, is providing to be the most essential new lp…

He also chronicled what clubs across the country were playing week to week. Want to know what  Richie Rivera, DJ at the infamous Anvil, was playing in March 12 1977.  Here it is:

Body Contact/Disco Inferno -Trammps

Come to America- Gibson Brothers

Dance if you Want it-Gibson Brothers

Do You Wanna do it- T-Connetction

So now you know what was  really playing between the poppers and the backrooms.

I suggest reading The Disco Files like many read Andy Warhol ‘s Diaries; do not read it  straight through, just  open  a certain year at random and check out what was hot on the scene (I noticed that my friends turn to see what disco songs were pumping on their birthdays).

I have a feeling that there are so few extensive document about the actual disco 12 inches/albums released because  a lot of  those who were playing  and listening to the music either died from AIDS, hard living, or like my father, moved away from that particular  genre of music ( he became a jazz fiend) and never looked back.   People forget that disco was soul music that had many permutations  and there were hundreds upon hundreds of great disco songs that while not blockbusters were very popular in their own right. Disco was Eddie Kendrick’s, The Temptations, The Meters, Bobby Womack, Melba Moore, Marvin Gaye, Fatback Band, Boz Scaggs, Patti Brooks and yes Minne Ripperton, all tracks discussed in Vince’s book.

Part cultural snapshot, part memoir of a lost era, but mostly a comprehensive chronicle of the terrific disco music being released on any given week.  If you are a fan of disco music, history or just a curious self involved queen who wants to know what was playing on your  birthday in 1975 please check it out.

DiscoFilesCover

Disco heads also might want to check out this website http://terrysmusicallife.blogspot.com/

Terry has a great collection of  music.

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