50 Disco Albums You Better Have…Or Else

Posted April 2, 2015 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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Loleatta
Loleatta Holloway
(1977; Gold Mind/Salsoul)
Charted: — / Billboard 200

 

The first time gospel-trained Loleatta Holloway worked with Philly powers Norman Harris and Ron Baker proved to be a perfect game changer for her career. It quickly turned her into a heavyweight disco diva, especially since no one could belt with such range and tenacity. On “Hit and Run,” she wails with such power that her ad-libs are just as intoxicating as its feelgood disco-powered grooves.  And those same infectious vibes can be heard all throughout “Dreamin’” and the often-overlooked “We’re Getting Stronger.” Holloway could also sing ballads, especially the soulful kind. She does that on “Worn Out Broken Heart,” a Floyd Smith-produced tune that would have easily turned Holloway into a Whitney Houston balladeer.

 

diana
Diana Ross
(1980; Motown)
Charted: #2 / Billboard 200

 

Coming off the success of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, the Chic Organization primed Motown star Diana Ross for yet another takeover of the disco market with her 1980 Diana disc. The disc doesn’t contain the overall gorgeousness of the aforementioned Sister Sledge masterpiece, but it still holds up. “Upside Down” is one of her funkiest exercises to ever hit radio. It also danced its way to number one pop. “I’m Coming Out,” a lover letter to her devoted gay audience, also ruled the charts. Other cuts proved to be decent inclusions: “Tenderness,” the furiously funky Chic mix of “Have Fun (Again)” and the pop-funk of “Give Up” are instrumentally some of Chic’s underrated showcases. The Russ Terrana-remixed album version, unapproved by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, contains lengthier passages of instrumental breaks, newer vocal ad-libs and even positions the band more in the forefront. There are obvious differences of the two, but the more commercial-sounding version proved to be a smart idea for Ross since the album dropped at the very awkward time of the “Disco Sucks” uproar.

Closer
Gino Soccio
(1981; Atlantic/RFC)
Charted: #96 / Billboard 200

 

Despite the album’s metallic art work looking like a pale knockoff of Hall and Oates’ androgynous self-titled LP, Closer is Gino Soccio’s “black music” album. Going for a heftier R&B feel, the “Dancer” producer dropped one of the best post-disco records to hit the streets in 1981. The horn-ready opener “Try It Out” featured a salacious trumpet solo from Roger Walls and a competent solo by Memphis singer Erma Shaw.  Tucked on the other side was “Hold Tight,” a song containing glorious Italo-disco synths, Chic-inspired bass and sizable harmonies. Soccio also found a way to merge with soul with New Wave on the “Street Talk.” Possibly overlooked, Soccio blended beautiful pop with dancey soul on the Bill Withers cover “Love Is.”

 

Instant Funk
Instant Funk
(1979; Salsoul)
Charted: #12 / Billboard 200

 

Bunny Sigler’s backing band Instant Funk found individual success on the Salsoul side of things. On their 1979 self-titled debut, the group pulled off the Top 20 hit “I Got My Mind Made Up” (a No. 1 R&B and disco smash) and a stunning showcase of soulful disco power on “Crying.” Big horn arrangements, bubbling funk and preacherlike belting by James Carmichael decorate much of the disc. Although George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic brigade exercised similar jamming across the latter half of the ‘70’s with disco ears in mind, this set for Salsoul feels more superior. You hear it immensely on “Don’t You Wanna Party,” the galactic stunner of “Dark Vader” and the bad-ass jazz instrumental “Wide World of Sports.” Fans of 12” inch gems should seek out the Larry Levan mix of “I Got My Mind Made Up.” Some sources alleged that Walter Gibbons started work on the remix before Levan touched it, but bowed out due to spiritual convictions while abstaining from the sexual gravitas of the lyrics.


Never Can Say Goodbye

Gloria Gaynor
(1975; MGM)
Charted: #25 / Billboard 200

 

Breakout disco singer Gloria Gaynor first blasted into the mainstream of her debut disc, Never Can Say Goodbye. The album is considered to be a landmark for the genre for featuring a nineteen-minute continuous disco mix on the album’s entire first side – all handled by Tom Moulton. He didn’t get proper credit for his work on the first round, but rest assure that Moulton’s contribution here opened up a world of opportunity for the renowned mix king and underground splicers like him. The Norman Harris-MSB powered “Honey Bee” ticked for six minutes before entering into her first major chart-topping hit – a disco cover of the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” She then jumps back into the lane of Motown for a dancey cover of the Four Tops “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” All of this groovy innovation and four-on-the-floor goodness was released way before disco music was even coined a genre. By the time the album impacted the charts in January 1975, disco was quickly becoming a household name. Billboard decided to whip up a new chart, Disco Action, for this type of music in the fall of 1974. Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” was the chart’s number one hit. Leading the compilation of the chart’s hits was none other than Moulton. If you really want the truth, this album launched the careers of both Gaynor and Moulton. By the time the dust settled on Never Can Say Goodbye, Moulton was already working on giant mixes for Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records.


Voyage

Voyage
(1977; Marlin)
Charted: #40 / Billboard 200

 

French disco group Voyage made their mark with their self-titled LP, proving to be one of the better skilled acts in the Eurodisco field. Released on the Sirocco label and distributed in the US on the TK’s Marlin label, Voyage showed off powerful cuts like “From East to West” and “Lady America.” Acting as a concept album, each track played a vital part in bringing elements of world music into the strobe light festival . “Point Zero” showed off African tribe chants, while “Orient Express” focused on Arabic rhythms. The second side fired up percussion furies on “Latin Odyssey,” country hoedowns on “Bayou Village” and Scottish bagpipes on “Scotch Machine.” On paper, the idea sounds dangerously ridiculous, but producer Roger Tokarz finds some clever, ambitious way in creating a respectful dance soundtrack for the nations. Some discotheques were bold enough to play full sides of these continuous mixes. Although often overlooked, “From East to West” and “Lady America,” along with their follow-up hit “Souvenirs” are revered favorites in the memory banks of Studio 54 patrons.

The Garden of Love
Don Ray
(1981; Atlantic/RFC)
Charted: #113 / Billboard 200

 

At his creative peak, producer extraordinaire and Eurodisco innovator Cerrone managed to work out a few albums on other acts. Keyboardist Raymond Donnez, billed as Don Ray, appeared throughout the credits of Cerrone’s albums. In 1978, Ray worked alongside Cerrone on his solo debut to be released through on the French producer’s Malligator label via a distribution deal with Polydor Records. The lead vocals you hear isn’t Ray; it’s Rob King and Lee Rich. Of the six tracks, the inescapable “Got to Have Loving” was the lone hit, charting at number 44 in the US. But the disc is full of Cerrone glamour, including the electro-jazz of “Standing in the Rain” and the zesty sing-a-long exhibitions of “Midnight Madness.”

 

Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band

(1977; RCA Victor)
Charted: #22 / Billboard 200

 

Innovative and breathtaking, this genre-bending effort assembled by this big band-influenced Bronx band pushed a number of boundaries, causing other bands to follow to mimic some of their cultural breakthroughs. With the smart fusion of 30’s swing and slick disco layouts dressing up songs like the French language-laden “Cherchez La Femme/C’est Si Bon” and “I’ll Play the Fool,” disco saw no limits in its push to mainstream. Even with jazz aficionados worried about the sudden takeover of newer, bigger genres, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band – led by half-brothers Stony Browder and August Darnell Brodwer along with their cool jazz frontwoman Cory Daye – calmed all premature fears. This isn’t something Miles Davis would have envisioned, but the ballsy adventures of disco jazz opened the window for a new type of crossover. Inside the creative set is a reworking of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” tagged to the very end of “We Got It Made.” The lively disco struts of “Sour and Sweet/Lemon in the Honey” also go hand in hand with the robust hit single “Cherchez La Femme.” Album producer Sandy Linzer went on to produce the hit record “Native New Yorker” for Odyssey the following year.


Romeo & Juliet

Alec R. Costandinos & the Syncophonic Orchestra
(1978; Casablanca)
Charted: — / Billboard 200

 

Fifteen minutes and twenty-four seconds full of symphonic prowess and bold movements are displayed on this pop-disco adaptation of the “most excellent and lamentable tragedy of Romeo and Juilet.” Egypt composer Alec R. Costandinos entered into London’s Trident Studios to compose one of the greatest articles of Eurodisco, a new disco formula upheld by string excess and over exaggerations of MFSB’s orchestral powers. Brass team Birds of Paris, arranger Don Ray and a chorus of singers joined Costandinos took on the famous Shakespeare play, singing word-by-word of the prologue and important segments of the romantic drama. The first side, all woven together to create one seamless dancefloor romp, became so popular in American discotheques that many DJs have claimed it to be the most important disco song of the 1970s. It rose to number one on the dance/disco charts in March 1978. Act 3, the first to be heard on the flip side, could have easily squeezed into a Philly soul playlist, thanks to its litany of horn solos and gritty funk. For the last segments, Costandinos merges funk with the Eurodisco style to create something entirely different from its opposing side. He would go on to create more disco-tinged cantatas and motion picture soundtracks, but nothing resonated as strongly with disco lovers as his work on Romeo & Juliet.


Can’t Get Enough

Barry White
(1974; 20th Century)
Charted: #1 / Billboard 200

 

From start to finish, 1974’s Can’t Get Enough is a beautiful piece of sophisticated soul. It wraps itself around the Isaac Hayes symphonic achievements, thanks to the masterful string arrangements of Gene Page. It also adds a glorious disco strut to its most iconic tracks (“You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”). The disc only plays for a disappointing thirty minutes and is saturated with expansive slow jams (“I Can’t Believe You Love Me” goes on for ten minutes straight). Can’t Get Enough doesn’t bear enough discotheque bait for it to possess a all-encompassing disco label, but the impact this record had on the industry and on White’s career proved to be revolutionary. It was enough momentum to transform White into one of the first male stars of the relatively young genre.

NEXT: #30-21


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine

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