Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Disco Box

2001 was a banner year for me. I had broken up with my ex that January, and moved out a month later into a studio off of NW 21st Street in Portland. The ensuing six months was the best time of my life up to that point. So that spring, as a present to myself, I strolled down to the local music store and picked up this hunk of fun.

I rediscovered it a few days ago, and have been listening to it nonstop since. Maybe it's that summer has FINALLY, irrevocably arrived. Maybe it's that Pride is this weekend. Whatever...something in me is celebrating and aching for sweet release of some sort.

And this four-disc box set delivers. Uneven in places, especially during the last disc. And as you'd imagine, 80 tunes spread out over only four CDs does not lend itself easily to extended mixes - the way you'd hear them in the clubs. But if you want to hear some of the most hedonistic music ever created, condensed down to radio-friendly bite-sized chews, you owe it to yourself to listen to a few of these gems. A few of my all-time faves:

Born to Be Alive - Patrick Hernandez: My absolute favorite of everything here, and that's major praise. The title says it all: kinda corny and self-evident (yeah, you're born, you're alive, duh-hickey), but damn, defiant ecstasy has seldom been so catchy and exciting.

Rock the Boat - The Hues Corporation: I hadn't heard this one ever before 2001. No real reason to like it other than it's catchy, it swings, it's got a good beat, you can dance to it...I'd give it a 88, Dick.

Young Hearts Run Free - Candi Staton: Man, something about the horns in this song just do me in. Horns in disco in general, yes, but here they're just perfect, toe-curling. And then Ms. Staton uses her beautiful but weary voice to tell the story of the man who left her and her young baby to fend for themselves. Irresistible but heartbreaking.

Turn the Beat Around - Vicki Sue Robinson: Crazy, sassy and classy. Sung with whiplash intensity.

Get Up And Boogie - Silver Connection: Stupid, stupid fun. Makes me want to lace up my roller skates.

Boogie Nights - Heatwave: Another song I just like, just 'cause. It's underplayed and deserves a new audience.

I Feel Love - Donna Summer: Bow down to the ultimate queen of disco, bitches. But even more so, pay respects to HRH Giorgio Moroder. His throbbing synthesizer here filled a million discotheques and inspired countless DJs. Techno and its myriad offshoots (for better or worse) wouldn't exist without this one.

The rest of Disc 2 - I can't list them all. This disc is golden.

Y.M.C.A. - Village People: I know...this song's too obvious. Still, it cracks me up that this homage to clandestine M2M fun at the local gym is still a perennial favorite at weddings. Besides, I heard this one recently at a club here in town, and it worked the crowd into a froth even more than "I Gotta Feeling."

Knock on Wood - Amii Stewart: Tribal, before tribal was even considered a concept. (Trying not to use the word "fierce," it's so overused, but it really does apply here.) And the video is classic '70s kitsch.

Good Times - Chic: This one comes right after "Born to be Alive." It's a dangerous the end of these two, you're bounding out of your skin with unspeakable joy. Need I bring up the immortal bass line?

Lost in Music - Sister Sledge: I love "We Are Family," which is also here. But man, talk about your statements of purpose. "Responsibility to me is a tragedy...I won't give up my music - not me, not now, no way, no how!" Cue me falling in love.

Funkytown - Lipps, Inc.: So fun. And I miss those Star Wars-like synthesized voices. SO 1980, but so timeless.

Cruisin' the Streets - The Boystown Gang: Not much as a piece of music. But I gotta give it up for a band that ain't the Village People that name-checks gay meccas and waxes rhapsodical about finding...not a love interest, but a hunky guy and your next conquest, boys. The shorter version is here; I desperately want to find the extended version, with its VERY explicit lyrics.

It's Raining Men - The Weather Girls: Of course. One of the greatest gay anthems of all time. But by this point, the term disco is being diluted quite a bit - this is more straightforward pop than disco.

And now, for the few clunkers that just don't work for me.

Honeybee - Gloria Gaynor: If you can make it past the first 3 seconds, you're stronger than me. How annoying can a honeybee's (imitated) buzz be on record? Check it out...but you probably won't be back.

In the Bush - Musique: A bevy of oversexed women panting "Push, push in the bush. Do you like it? Do you like it like this?" I generally have no problem with sex in songs, but this is just me: I don't care to think about vajayjay in any of my music, disco or otherwise.

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life - Indeep: What a brillant title. What a great premise. Such potential for a kick-ass song. And this dud falls SO flat. A plodding beat and a lame, lame rap by the DJ make me want to flush this down the drain. (Cue - I kid not - a toilet flushing. Because that's the sound sensation that's sweeping the nation, right?) Also: not disco.

Other quibbles: Far too little Donna Summer, no Bee Gees (!?), no Earth, Wind and Fire. They could have fleshed out the set with more of these artists and thrown some of the non-disco stuff out toward the end. And extended mixes would have been fun, perhaps even segued one into the next. And saddest of's out of print. Still, you can buy it if you search around, and the prices are pretty comparable to what it was originally sold for.

This set makes me wonder if there's any demand out there for an old-time disco-era DJ, and also if there's still time for me to hone my craft. I loved doing the college radio DJ thing, but to be able to play songs end to end - with no breaks and no commercials - and to be in control of a party's mood just gives me the best kind of chills. And I ain't a fan of the soulless machinelike overwrought beat playing in the clubs nowadays.

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