Label / Cat. No: D&M Sound DML 1
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
As one Disc Jockey Said - "The Vast Majority is not just wall to wall sound; it is city block to city block sound - and babe, it's all disco heat and color!"
That's where T.V.M. is at! Sixty of the greatest players and down home singers that ever hit a speaker system. They start by working out driving funky rhythm charts and tracks - add strings, brass, reeds and then finally their great blues and salsa vocalists. You name it! From funky blues to symphonic jazz - sensuous salsas to hard rock. The vast majority has it covered.
What I Say
I believe that there is a transatlantic and generational gap in understanding of the word 'Disco'. Clearly for our American cousins in the 70s, Disco was an exciting, energetic movement. It was a scene, with its own rules, its own dress code, its own moves and its own drugs of choice. It was cutting edge, it was, frankly, funky.
For me, hitting my teens in the early 80s, the word 'Disco' means a school organised event once a term, where teenage boys fuelled on Mars Bars and Coca-Cola would act like pillocks on the dance floor until the slow set started, when they suddenly became stuck to the walls.
American 70s Disco had Studio 54, Tavares and Shep Pettibone. English 80's Disco had middle-class white guys called Tim who'd play a selection from that weeks Top 40, plus 'The Birdy Song' and 'The Can Can'.
I can still clearly remember my first Disco, in the main hall of Causton Junior School, Felixstowe in July 1982. It was still light outside, and all the P.E. equipment had been moved to the side of the hall to make room for a dance floor. I even recall that two of the songs that were played were 'Green Door' by Shakin' Stevens (who, I'm sure I needn't remind you, was dubbed 'The Welsh Elvis'.... hah!), and 'The Hucklebuck' by 'Coast to Coast'. A happening scene, it was not.
And all this background flavour is only to point out that I am the last person who should try to review a Disco album. I am thoroughly unqualified to make any assessment as to what's good and what's not. To be fair, I know that's never stopped me before in my reviews.
I've spent some time trying to find out if this is a proper, genuine Disco album, or some cheap cash-in. I started with the assumption that it was probably the latter, not least because it has the words 'Disco Dynamite!' plastered across the back of the sleeve. I thought that a genuine part of the Disco movement wouldn't need to state it so boldly. I then discovered that the scores were by Colin Fretcher and Roy Budd. Now, Roy Budd may be a respected film score arranger, but he's also from South Norwood, which is just round the corner from where I was born, and most definitely not Disco Central. The other chap, Colin Fretcher, is credited as producer on this album which is hardly going to do his credibility any good.
But the producers, Dave Miller and Marty Wilson seem to have a good enough reputation, and know what they're doing. The catalog number of DML 1 made me think this might be some fly-by-night outfit, but D & M records were set up in 1975, just in time to get in on the early days of Disco, and according to some sources, they invented the concept of the 12" single. Yikes!
So, I'm prepared to accept that this is the genuine article - an album from the early days of Disco. But is it any good? Well.... I enjoyed it well enough. It didn't make me want to get up and dance, though very little does these days. You know, what with my ageing bones and everything. But what really struck me was the unpolished nature of the songs. They seemed slightly plodding, pedestrian almost. None of the high polish and perfect production that marks the later Disco sound. I suppose for me that that's what gives this its authenticity. It's a snapshot during the development of Disco. It's not the finished article, but a work in progress. All the elements are there, but it would take a while for this professional shine to be applied.
And that's about it. It's OK. Actually, it's quite good. But of course, Disco gave rise to Disco Dancing, which was always a challenge. Until now....
And those tracks from my first school Disco...
1. Love For Sale
2. Move It!
3. Pain Dealin' Woman
1. Muddy Sneakers
2. Salsa Woman
3. Take It!
4. Oceans Apart
6.5 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: A&M Records SP-4775
First Released: 1979
What The Album Blurb Says...
Special thanks to Kip for having such a good idea; to Kip and Herb for bringing me into it; to Juliea for all the help along the way; to everyone at A&M for keeping it such a good place to work/play; and a very special thanks to Ms. Merman. If it weren't for her great talent, dedication to "the work to be done," sense of humor, love of life, generosity and the ability to give of herself...well then, most of us wouldn't want to do another hundred records, T.V. shows, state fairs, etc... with her.
Thanks, Ethel, for the continuing reminders of what it's all about...
Love, Peter Matz
"For decades Ethel Merman has been the heart and soul of the American Musical Theatre. Hearing this album, I'm convinced that this Disco Diva may be taking a whole new career! Not only are these songs among the world's favorites, but the sheer joy of Merman's voice makes me want to get up and dance. Bless you for boogeying, Ethel, you're hot as a pistol!"
"P.S. When are you going to sing one of my tunes?!"
What I Say
Back in the late 80s I was a big fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway, the 'comedy' improvisation show. (I put 'comedy' in speech marks because, seeing it again recently on re-runs, I realised just how pedestrian it really was). Often the show would end with a game called 'Party Quirks' - one of the ensemble would play the part of a party host, and his guests all had idiosyncrasies which the host had to guess. The guests of course couldn't just walk in and say 'I'm a Mexican Astronaut' because that would just be too easy, and not make for very interesting television. Despite having been quite a big fan, the only thing I remember is one round of party quirks where someone had to demonstrate that they communicated with the dead. At one point he sang 'I hear voices and there's no-one there', to which the host (on that occasion Tony Slattery) replied, "Oh! He thinks he's Ethel Merman".
Stealth edit: - As LJ user huskyteer pointed out, Tony Slattery was in fact quoting from Airplane!, which makes sense.
And that, gentle reader, was the sum total of my knowledge of Ethel Merman until now. Or at least, I thought it was. Having listened to this album, I realise that although I may never have seen or heard Ethel directly (see, we're on first name terms already), I have heard her parodied a thousand times. On all those American sit-coms when somebody 'amusingly' bursts into song, or takes on a big dramatic number, the voice that they're impersonating is Ethel's. You don't believe me? Just listen to the how she pronounces 'know' in 'like no-business I know', and you will have an instant pang of recognition.
It seems that our Ethel is a comedic cliché, the distinctive voice of American Musical Theatre, a vocal shorthand to all that is glamorous and over-the-top in Broadway. I'd say she was the American Elaine Paige but that seems unfair. At least Ethel seems to have some charisma...
But if Ethel herself is a cliché, then what can I say about this album? In 1979 when Disco still seemed newish and exciting, this may have been a truly revolutionary album. When worlds collide. The old and the new. But now it just seems like a bunch of old standards with an uninspired disco backing added on afterwards. It's kind of telling that Ethel came into the studio and did her normal renditions of the songs in a single take. There's no integration or fusion here, and the two layers seem to operate independently of each other. You have some lively old songs, and some non-descript Disco instrumentals, but the total is substantially less than the sum of its parts.
Ethel's voice sounds... strong for a 71 year old, but I can't say it's exactly to my tastes. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this album, other than it should never have been made. Ethel worked in Musical Theatre, not Studio 54, and it just seems to tarnish what was otherwise a pretty heady career. I say shame on the producers who clearly wanted to make a fast buck on the back of the Disco phenomena by trying to appeal to two separate markets to try and double their profits. The cads.
It's worth reading the 'About This Video' section on this YouTube offering to give another insight into opinions of this album. Unapologetic. Shocking. But honest about this album's place in the Disco pantheon. (2017 edit - sorry, this no longer exists, and I can't remember for the life of me what was sound, but it seems intriguing, doesn't it!!??)
As a final point, I should probably point out that this barely falls into the category of 'Forgotten Albums'. After all, this was rereleased as a CD, and apparently has quite a cult following. It even has its own Wikipedia Page. So, can I call it a Forgotten Album? Well, it was in a cardboard box, under a table, in a corner of a charity shop sited in a Livestock Market in Hereford. I'd therefore say pretty much, Yes. I also think, having forced myself to listen to the whole bloody thing that it really should have stayed forgotten.
Doing it right:-
1. There's No Business Like Show Business
2. Everything's Coming Up Roses
3. I Get A Kick Out Of You
1. Something For The Boys
2. Some People
3. Alexander's Ragtime Band
4. I Got Rhythm
2 out of 10