5 Faves: Best of Vincent Montana
HiFi pulls out five great tracks from the Vincent Montana playbook
Vincent Montana, Jr. was by no means a household name. For a brief moment the orchestra he founded and conducted was. The Salsoul Orchestra, a cute alias used for Gamble & Huff’s MFSB machine, culled out two Top 40 hits in 1976. But he didn’t get the spotlight and worldwide recognition that so many that fronted his work experienced, like the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, Billy Paul and Loleatta Holloway.
Montana, who passed away at the age of 85 on April 13, is being remembered for his behind-the-scenes groundwork in the world of Philly soul and classic disco. HiFi Magazine unearths five of his wonderful gems that best reflects his mammoth legacy.
“New York City Boy”
Pet Shop Boys
The UK dance duo and producer David Morales finds a clever way to merge Village People-esque dance beats with glowing Philly soul orchestrations. They add more to the stack using an angelic choral component and a sneaky sample of Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park.” Montana joins in on the affair, providing the aforementioned string and horn arrangement. The entire track serves as a tribute to dance music’s influences and the bright future that lies ahead.
“Magic Bird of Fire”
The Salsoul Orchestra
This may be a personal favorite of Montana’s, which successfully transports haunting classical undertones unto the Studio 54 dance floor. It lifts an ambitious sample of Igor Stranvinsky’s Firebird suite and turns it into a triumphant Superman-like anthem. It is loaded with chunks of gospel, tribal beats and a gusto that easily bests David Shire’s Saturday Night Fever arrangements.
“You Are My Everything”
Vincent Montana, Jr. featuring Double Exposure
Thirty years removed from the Philly soul disco magic of the Seventies, “You Are My Everything” sounds like a lost treasure of that period. Montana and his daughter Eileen brilliantly composed this track for former Salsoul act Double Exposure, who were best known for New York disco favorites “My Love Is Free” and “Ten Percent.” There’s an obvious house-like update etched inside the grooves, but it’s almost impossible to tell it apart from the explosive Double Exposure hits. Montana’s influence and presence is felt throughout the track, but things go to the next level once the track hits the six-minute mark on the original mix. His mallets then beats out a killer solo, proving wholeheartedly that age is just a silly number.
Salsoul Orchestra feat. Loleatta Holloway
Co-written by Ronnie James and Montana, “Runaway” puts Chicago soul singer Loleatta Holloway in a very hot situation. This was a song used on the Salsoul Orchestra album, and not hers. Still, the big-piped disco diva gives the five-minute track her all, even briefly dressing up as a Nancy Wilson-trained singer. On a looped vamp, she belts out a message to Montana (“C’mon Vince, play your vibes”) and then dances into the sunset while he beats his instrument like a Roy Ayers torchbearer.
“Love Is the Message”
It’s almost impossible to look over this mammoth exercise of celestial disco. Inside Tom Moulton’s gorgeous 12-inch player, the grooves are expanded with perfection. And every component of MFSB lights up with Times Square bravado, from Tony Williams’s rapturous sax solos to Leon Huff’s sexy electric piano layouts, from the Three Degrees’s excellent ad-libs to Earl Young’s four-on-the-floor hammering. Montana also provides excellent showmanship on the vibes. And it seems like the glue that holds everything together. With this kind of musical brilliance, it’s no surprise that the citizens of New York, even WBLS kingpin Frankie Crocker, adopted the song as the Big Apple’s dance anthem.
Want more of that? Look to the Shep Pettibone-mixed “Ooh I Love It (Love Break).” Inside, a bit of hip-hop magic and Sweethearts of Sigma dreamy coos walk around the familiar final moments of “Love Is the Message.”
“Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”
After a drum lead-in, Montana opens up the luxurious r&b midtempo gem with warm and succulent sounds from his vibraphone. With just one or two bars, it becomes too easy to call the song. It became a big hit for the Spinners, selling well over one million copies and skyrocketing to number one r&b and number four pop.