Have you ever seen a more amazing sci-fi inspired disco video than this?* I think not. La Bionda were known for being some of the originators of Italo-Disco and for that I tip my beer to them because as you know, this blog is littered with references and videos paying homage to this gem of a genre.
Sally Shapiro-Spacer Woman from Mars (1980s)
*I thought Spacer Woman from Mars was pretty awesome especially after it was matched with these clips from Xanadu.
Oh, you thought the whole Secret Disco thing was over, eh? Not yet. I’m hoping to wrap it up by the end of this year and I still have a few more entries. For now, there’s this well-known and heavily sampled song by the Brooklyn family known as ESG. As far as I know the fast version is the original and the slower version was the one favored by break-dancers and hip-hoppers.
Earlier in the year I created a series of posts based on the book, Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco. I finally got around to finishing some of the entries I left hanging.
The Funhouse logo
This installment is focused on the New York City danceclub The Funhouse. According to Turn the Beat Around, this nightclub was inspired by the infamous Paradise Garage, the avant-garde answer to the glitzy drug-fueled Studio 54. All the clubs were in New York, of course, ground zero for nightlife in the 70s and 80s.
The Funhouse became known for introducing the club-set to new 80s genres like electroboogie and freestyle. It’s also well-known for one it’s most famous DJs: John “Jellybean” Benitez, who later went on to become an internationally famous producer and is well-known for his collaborations with Madonna. Madonna, coincidently is said to have earned Jellybean’s attention by hijacking the DJ booth one night and playing one of her demo tapes which was well-received by the dancing crowd.
Below are a few songs Jellybean Benitez was known to throw into his mix set.
Jimmy Bo Horne – Spank (12″ Disco Version) 1979
I never knew this song by name but the opening organ-y melody was well familiar to me upon hearing. The heavy bass drum in the beginning is definitely the first step on the road to House music which would come into being 10 or so years later. What got my dancing shoes moving was the charming sound of a real drum-kit churning out those awesome pre-House beats. The handclaps are cute in a disco way but man, that driving, relentless bass line. I always say who needs guitars in dance music? The message of the song, “spank!” and the “do it, do it” refrain…well, that’s up to you to interpret in any way you see fit.
Man Parrish – Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)
So I guess this song received a bit of resurgent popularity due to a scene in the movie Shaun of the Dead. Uh, I wouldn’t know. I can’t watch any movie with zombies or zombie-like creatures because I won’t be able to sleep for days afterwards. I’m not kidding, it’s ridiculous. So I’ll just take other people’s word on this. Oh my, I just got creeped out writing about zombies. Ay, should I delete this paragraph? Okay, easy now, breathing…
Man Parrish was always known to me as the creator of one of the silliest songs of the Italo Disco/Hi-NRG genre, Male Stripper. Please click the link to listen, please, it’s quite fun.
Anyways, there is some debate on whether Hip Hop Be Bop song is considered hip-hop (as in old school b-boy New York, 80s hip hop) or if it’s considered electro (as in 80s electro). Turn the Beat Around refers to it as “electro.” Listening to this song brings on images of breakdancers, ghetto blasters and all that other b-boy style like it’s right there in front of me. Whoosh, I’m in New York, 1982! What a time it must’ve been!
By the way, anyone catch the Magnificent Seven bassline line around 1:28? Or is that a nod to Kraftwerk?
Wide Boy Awake-Slang Teacher
This one I remember from my kid days in the 1980s, when I’d listen to KROQ obsessively on my little pink Sony radio. It’s one of those cross-genre songs of the time, music that oscillated between new wave, hip hop and freestyle like One More Shot by C-Bank, another KROQ hit. Most of these songs got incorporated into East LA DJ sets due to the prominent break dancing beat. If it sounded sorta new wave all the better for getting the button and trench coat set on the dancefloor. According to Youtube comments and Turn the Beat Around, it was a Jellybean Funhouse favorite.
Here it is, The Funhouse danceclub, a small moment of disco/freestyle history captured in an obscure New Order video. There are glimpses of Jellybean in his clownface DJ booth and producer of Confusion, Arthur Baker. Baker was also a well-known engineer of all those elecro beats. The sneaky party girls were real Funhouse clubbers named Mama Juice and Eva.
This video is a classic, even recently payed homage to by the band Holy Ghost! The remake sadly proves what little real joy is left in the world, it feels pretentious and awkward, a poor tribute. I found it depressing actually. So don’t watch it unless you wanna see how far we’ve fallen.
Next up, Freestyle and electroboogie, the genre credited to Jellybean Benitez and known locally on the Eastside as plain ‘disco.’
Machine-There But for the Grace of God Go I (1979)
The social commentary of this song is unique for the disco genre. It’s a bittersweet morality tale of a runaway child who craves freedom from her oppressive Caribbean parents and is delivered into the subversive and not always healthy, world of rock n’ roll. What else is a “natural freak” from the suburbs to do? The high energy beats drive the message home, evoking a flight from something pressing. The stretching vocals of singer August Darnell adds to the urgency. This “apocalyptic disco” song continues to be a favorite with disco and Hi-NRG DJs and is often mixed with Lime’s Babe We’re Gonna Love Tonight for an anthemic, rousing dancefloor set.
A question for the ages: “Is too much love worse than none at all?” Continue reading →
Lime-Babe Were Gonna Love Tonight
Considering the term “Chicano Oldies” is accepted and in popular use, I’d like to create a genre called “Chicano Disco.” Some favorite examples above.
In Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro explains how the influence of the European musicians’ love for synthesized music fundamentally changed the essence of dance music. Whereas disco used to be based on funk, live beats and real drummers bands like Kraftwerk showed there was another way to create a rhythm. The synthesizer with it’s fake handclaps, hi-hats and bass drums helped create a whole new genre of disco music: Hi-NRG.
Hi-NRG had a huge following amongst Mexicans and Chicanos in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s. It was the musical fuel for an amazing DIY scene of DJs, backyard parties and dance clubs that ruled over large sections of the city. It’s a movement that isn’t well known outside Chicano circles in Los Angeles, back then most people could not care less what was going on in our communities.
I wasn’t part of this scene but my brother was a DJ and a member of Boyz in Kontrol, one of the hundreds, if not thousands of party crews that existed at the time. The crews were responsible for organizing parties, dance contests, DJ battles and cruising (cars) spots. While punk may get a lot of credit for being a DIY scene, the disco scene of 1980s rivaled punk in it’s “let’s organize ourselves” philosophy. Unlike punk it wasn’t a political choice, the self organization was done out of sheer necessity. Our neighborhoods offered very few forms of entertainment or diversions for youth.
Towards the late 1980s, the backyard parties started attracting the attention of the authorities, and by using the excuse of minor incidents of violence, these authorities begin to systematically shutdown and target the parties. Some involved with the scene said this heavy handedness by LAPD and the sheriffs department helped to create the revival of cholos and gangs on the Eastside. During the height of the disco scene, to be a gangster or cholo was the epitome of being uncool. Kids would snicker at the site of old veteranos riding on the bus with baggy pants like some anachronistic figure of the past. The disco scene had Latino kids going from neighborhood to other neighborhoods across the city to attend parties and to battle each other on the dance floor. The rivalries that existed and any tension were quickly diffused through dancing and partying. The violence that occasionally happened at these parties was mostly due to fights over girls/boys and the usual love dramas.
When the authorities started cracking down on the party crews and cruising, the essentially were forcing teenagers with lots of energy to stay home. And who was waiting for them? The old gangs who provided them with diversionary outlets. Many of us saw this process play out in front of our eyes. I’m not saying this was the only catalyst for the upsurge in gangs but it was a significant one and gives us a few clues to how we can deal with our current gang problem. The more you try and control youth, the greater the eruption of chaos. Young people need something to do, they have a lot of energy and excitement for their new world that cannot be bottled up and funneled into a path that adults approve of. Let the kids party!
Hi-NRG is still popular among successive generations of backyard partygoers. Go to any baptism, quinceañera, wedding or birthday party on the Eastside or in the San Gabriel Valley and there will be at least one DJ set devoted to the pantheon of Chicano Disco aka Hi NRG.
Does this song sound familiar? If it does, you might think it’s a rip-off of Melle Mel’s White Lines except it was Melle Mel who borrowed this song for White Lines while neglecting to give the band Liquid Liquid credit. A lawsuit ensued causing the band’s record company to go bankrupt and the band to fall apart and in the end, Liquid Liquid received no credit for being the originators of this popular and seminal hip-hop song.
Formerly a punk band from New Jersey, Liquid Liquid became influenced by bands like Can and Fela Kuti and soon after found themselves in the Leftfield Disco scene. The Secret History of Disco describes them as “rock deconstructionists with a ferocious but minimal groove.”
For this installment of Secret Disco, I’m presenting notable bands on Y Records. Started by Dick O’ Dell in 1978 and based in Bristol, England, The Secret History of Disco describes Y Records as “twisting the dance floor into new shapes.” Cowbells seem to be the unifying element in all these songs.
Pulsallama-Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body
I thought I was over music like this but when it’s done well like this song from Pulsallama, the appeal of these quirky tracks is rediscovered. I love the steel drums and the way they wander around the atonal chorus and spoken lyrics. Pulsallama was an avant-garde art band from New York and a part of the the burgeoning new wave scene. Ann Magnuson of Bongwater was once part of the group.
Pulsallama was a short-lived, yet legendary, 12 piece all-girl percussion band who ruled Manhattan nightlife for a brief period in 1981 and 1982. Their sound has been described as “13 girls fighting over a cowbell.” Pulsallama got a rave review in New Musical Express in which the reporter said he was “dancing, screaming and laughing, all at the same time!”
Pigbag-Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
Another Y label hit, Papa’s Got a New Pigbag was one of the most awesome experimental post-punk, funk, dance-floor hit songs of the early 80s. The amazing bassline later gets heavily referenced by The Style Council in the song Precious.
Maximum Joy-Stretch (Discomix & Rap)
I often assumed this kind of music was just funky new wave. I had no idea it was being played in dance clubs, I was too young for those activities when these records were released.
We Are All Prostitutes-Pop Group
Pop Group: a few leaps into punk and a boogie into funk and then back into some experimental musical world of their own making, all accompanied by Situ/anarko lyrics.
In my life, I have loved many songs. It’s a rare occurrence but there are a few which I have loved and not known their names. Worse is when their names have disappeared from my memory causing me great consternation. How do you find them again? They are usually odd or rare tunes and even if you hummed them into a phone or something, the phone would look back at you with a great big blank stare. It would be as confused as the voice recognition prompts on automated telephones that can’t seem to understand my ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and so I’m forced to punch the corresponding buttons. So I have no one to turn to, no humming decoder or Dr. Phil DJ that will identify all the random tunes floating in my head and memory. I just wait and hope that one day the song and I will cross paths again and we’ll join each other in an aural connection, love blooming once again.
To get to my point, Looking From a Hilltop is one of those songs. I first heard it when my brother brought it home from Exodus records after a vulgar shopping spree where he dropped about a two hundred dollars (his whole life savings to that point, he was 13 years old) on imported 12-inch records in his quest to be the best South San Gabriel DJ of the 1980s. I don’t think he was as impressed with the record as much as I was. It was innovative for melding new wave vocals and aesthetics with pop-locking friendly beats. It sounded so fresh and new to my ears, I felt innovative just for listening to it. I borrowed the 12-inch for long periods of time and my brother being a bit proprietary (having spent the money to get it to our house all the way from England) eventually asked for it back. Into the crates it went, lost among the Stacey Q and Tapps records.
Every few years I’d ask my brother for “the record.” Find me the record! By then his collection had grown so large it took up most of the family garage. He would look half-heartedly but never seemed to find it. Crushed and a bit obsessed, I started to think I’d never hear the song again. As time went by, I stopped asking.
Just a few years ago, I decided to look for myself. Facing the stacks of crates holding thousands of albums it dawned on me that I’d forgotten the name and artist of the song! I did remember the bright orange sleeve and the distinctive look of the British vinyl – those details recorded somewhere in my internal jukebox. Even with this information, the search was futile, too many crates filled tight with worn records, their sleeves rolled at the edges from all those DJing nights of frantic thumbing-throughs and scraped by the rough wood as the record was plucked from the crate and thrown onto the spinning turntable. No wonder my brother wasn’t so keen on helping me find it.
So guess what happens next? I’m reading the Secret History of Disco book and he mentions Section 25 and I think to myself “Hmmm, the name sounds awfully familiar…” And so I do a Youtube search and there it is, my song! My love, I’ll never forget you again! But I must be honest, you haven’t aged all that well.
The vinyl as I remember it!
I think this is probably the version popular with the DJ set as it has a very pop-locking feel to it and none of the wimpy girl vocals.
Lots of end of the year posts coming up soon. I don’t know about you but 2010 just kinda snuck up on me. I’m still surprised when people keep mentioning the “end of the decade.” Ooops, can we rewind a bit? I’m not quite ready for the new times, on the other hand, I’m so happy to say goodbye to the miserable decade behind us. My apologies to the youth who called the aughts their heyday. May you soon know a new world of pleasure and joy! Afterall, the new world is there in our hearts.
I’ll start the joy fest early with this little gem of a jam I’ve been listening to non-stop for the past few days. Another Secret Disco find. It’s the break that I love. The energy of the song slowly building up with the introduction of a earthy bassline, the tempo begins to gather steam, the falsetto gets more plaintive, the beat harder and finally releasing into a hands-in-the-air anthemic break punctuated with syncopated horns and a little bongo solo. It’s the kinda sound that inspired House music.
Here’s hoping your New Year’s Eve is filled with all kinds of boogie!
I think Sunday is a good day to post this song because if I believed in the sacred, this song would be it. This music is what religion should be: visceral, calling to a power outside and within oneself. It is dripping with magic.
A couple of months ago I traveled to Guanajuato, MX with friends and through one of these friends, met the drummer for the only punk rock band in the city. We spent the night chatting in this cave-like bar filled with hip youth from the nearby college. It was a warm, gothic-y place lined with red velvet wallpaper and playing the latest indie tunes from around the world. The energy of this punk rock guy, appropriately nicknamed Godzilla or Godzi for short, was intense and heavy. So looming was his presence that his entrance into the bar caused the students sitting around us to look nervously over their shoulders. He could make the rock walls of the building we were sitting in feel threatened, so formidable was his presence.
With a beer in hand he began to tell one story after another, breathlessly, continuously, hours passing quickly, each story revealing his wry sense of humor and unexpected wisdom. Finally, in a rare pause of the conversation, I asked him if he’d ever been to Veracruz. His eyes glowed for a moment, remembering. He said in Spanish: Yes, that is a beautiful city, full of magic. Magic? I asked, Real magic? Not magical? Magic, he says. There is magic in the earth there, it is a special place. Different cities in Mexico contain all kinds magic, some places it is stronger. For instance, near Leon there is a town which is very dark, there is bad magic there. You don’t want to visit this pueblo…but I go occasionally. A small moment of silence passes and he grins, leaving me to wonder what he does in the bad magic pueblo. Then his words rumbled off into a subterranean place of slurred speech and I sank back against the crumbling rock walls wondering how long the night lasts in Guanajuato.
I immediately thought of this story when I heard first heard this song, there is magic here. It is up to you to decide what kind of magic it contains.
I got the voices of many in my throat
the feet of a frog and
the tail of a goat
According to book The Secret History of Disco and comments left on the Youtube page for this tune, this song was popular at early disco clubs in New York. It was part of a musical trend that included other African inspired music like Babatunde Olatunji.