James Brown – “Jam 1980s” (1978)

Just in case James’ sparkly lightning bolt outfit and mustache didn’t make it clear, the jacket reverse of Jam 1980s tells you exactly what you’re in for – “JAMES BROWN – NEW DISCO SOUND”. The Godfather of Soul taking a stab at being The Godfather of… Disco?? And there’s also a statement from the man himself.

Here I am back where we all started because now people want real dance music. I am so glad that the public got wise to the electronic sounds! Either you can or you cannot. I thank God they say I can. Here it is so spank your butt off.

Wow.

All that being said, the opening track “Jam”, all 11+ minutes of it, is not disco. Like, not at all. It’s actually moderately funky. Not heavy funk to be sure, and the guitar solo is pretty rock ‘n’ roll, but hardly disco. Brown still does call-and-responses with the band and belts out his trademark “Ha ha!”s. This ain’t no Bee Gees, that’s for sure.

Jam 1980s was the 24th album Brown put out… in just the 1970s (he’d close out the decade with The Original Disco Man in 1979). That’s insane, and certainly fits his title of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

“Saturday Night Fever” Soundtrack (1977)

Mock this album and these artists all you want, but this thing sold like nobody’s business. It held down the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 for 24 straight weeks during the first half of 1978. As near as I can tell only one other artist managed to tie that feat since then – Prince with Purple Rain. Thriller probably had more weeks at the top, but not consecutively. It has sold 16 million copies in the US alone. That’s insane. Plus over one million in sales in at least five other countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. It’s a double album, and if you’re of a certain age you’ll probably recognize almost every song on it.

Laugh if you like, but this is arguably the definitive disco record. Sure, that may be a dubious distinction, but there aren’t too many many musical movements that burned as bright and hot and then disappeared in such a short amount of time.

Village People (1977-78)

I was just a kid when disco came and went, that flash-in-the-pan of excess and cocaine and polyester. For a long time disco, like Nickelback, was one of those things that you could profess to hate and no one would even bother to ask why – it was just accepted as a fact in much the same as gravity or partisan politics. Plenty of people were obviously way into it, though, as is evidenced by record sales of the top artists of the era. One of those groups, of course, was the Village People.

We seem to have reached a time when it’s become OK to occasionally do the YMCA at a sporting event or quietly sing along to “Macho Man” (or do so much more loudly when no one else is around). In fact, the hatred of disco seems to have faded, and while I’d hardly say anyone is nostalgic for it, the hits are more visible within mainstream culture than they have been in decades. The “Disco Sucks” and “Death To Disco” movements are now more a part of disco’s history then they are statements that anyone would accept on face value. Today if you said something like that, you’d either get a polite laugh or maybe a confused raised eyebrow. Plus as ever wedding DJ knows, the quickest way to get a bunch of middle aged (and older) white people onto a dance floor is to play some disco. The smiles will come out immediately and everyone will hit the floor, much to the embarrassment of their children.

The first three Village People albums came my way as part of a collection a couple of months back and this is the first time I’ve heard anything other than their mainstream hits. And I’ll tell you right now that the fours-song debut Village People (1977) is absolutely killer, basically a dance 12″. None of their hits are on this record, but in a way it may be their very best – not yet caught up in its own image and fame, a simple disco dance record intended to get bodies moving.

Life’s too short to expend any energy “hating” a type of music. Get dancing.

Brass Construction – “Brass Construction II” (1976)

When you’re hanging out in Kirkland, WA, the United States’ coronavirus ground zero, and the governor has taken things as close as he can to a full martial law lockdown, and your company has everyone working from home for the foreseeable future, but it’s the first full sunny day in forever, you need some funk. Something to get the juices flowing, the feet moving, your soul stirring in a way that makes you think, “yeah, we’ll get through this nonsense”. So I dipped into the collection I recently got from Derek’s dad and came out with a copy of Brass Construction II. Sure, it’s not the funkiest funk that ever funked, leaning more towards disco than jazz, but it’s pretty fresh while we sit her and contemplate the word pandemic and what has happened to our retirement savings over the past two weeks. Cuz sometimes you just need to get a little funky, my man.

“Sambo (Progression)” is my recommended track. As an added bonus, the start of the B side opener “The Message (Inspiration)” sounds like the base for N.W.A.’s “I Ain’t the 1”. Get some.

Wild Cherry – “Electrified Funk” (1977)

wildcherryelectrifiedfunk.jpggTake blues, funk, and disco, cram them into the blender with some Jack Daniels and a dash of cocaine, and you get Electrified Funk.  Wild Cherry are generally regarded as one-hit-wonders, having released the mega-hit “Play That Funky Music” on their 1975 self-titled debut.  That song took Wild Cherry platinum and garnered two Grammy nominations as well as awards from Billboard and an American Music Award.  But after rocketing to stardom they found it difficult to replicate that success and by 1980 the band was no more.

It’s kind of odd, because there are some great jams on Electrified Funk, songs like “Dancin’ Music Band” and “Hole In The Wall” that seem like they should have become hits.  Sure it’s dated, but if this record doesn’t make yo want to put on some polyester and hit the dance floor then you might be dead.  It may not have the band’s big hit, but Electrified Funk is a good time just waiting for a needle drop, so if you find a clean copy cheap, pick it up.