Archive for the ‘rock’ Category

Dad Was a Stones Guy

In 1960s, 1970s, blues, country, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock, rock'n'roll, Rolling Stones on January 20, 2018 at 7:19 am



Beer, Girl Scout cookies and the Rolling Stones. Why am I not doing this every Friday night?

One Sunday afternoon, back in the late 1980s — or maybe the very early 1990s — my dad pulled into the driveway. I heard his car door slam, heard him bound up the steps, burst through the front door, and suddenly he was in my bedroom.

“Quick, turn on ‘MMR,” Dad commanded. “They’re playing some great old Stones song!”

Dad, who was typically a stoic, though hardly humorless guy, was practically beside himself with excitement. Since this hardly ever happened, I hastened to spin my radio’s dial to 93.3, WMMR, which for decades had been Philadelphia’s premiere rock station. As I hit the station, I heard Mick Jagger lasciviously intone, “we all need someone we can lean on…”

Dad was entranced. He was acting as if he was discovering “Let It Bleed” for the first time ever, though this couldn’t possibly be true. Dad was an early adopter of ‘MMR during its early years in the late 1960s, and “Let It Bleed,” the title track of an immensely popular Stones album, had to be in heavy rotation. Whether he’d ever heard it before or not, it was cool to see Dad so immersed in a tune on the radio.

As the slide guitar faded out and ‘MMR moved on to some other classic rock song, Dad went off to do whatever it was he intended to do before the Rolling Stones ecstasy took hold. The moment passed but I never forgot it.

Fast forward a few years. October 17, 1992. Our wedding reception. Dad and Uncle Charles, two guys I never normally thought of when the word “fast dancing” came to mind, hit the dance floor with Mom and Aunt Ruth to dance along to the Stones’ stone cold classic, “Brown Sugar.” With everything else happening on my wedding day, that was one of the moments that stuck with me.


These two incidents are all the evidence I need. Dad was a Stones Guy.

Let me explain. While I think it is perfectly possible and reasonable to love both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, nearly all of us can be classifying as either a Beatles person or a Stones person (though I think my friend Ed, a huge fan of both bands, would still self-classify as a Kinks person).

Dad liked the Beatles just fine, I’m sure. But he was a Stones Guy.

I consider myself very lucky: I am married to a Beatles Girl. My brother-in-law Roy is a Stones Guy. My brother-in-law Mike is a Beatles guy. It’s nice to have one of each, though I’m honestly not sure where my brother-in-law Bill would fall.

This is a phenomena that transcends generations. Our son Jimmy is a Stones Guy. Our son Chris is a Beatles Guy. Again, nice to have one of each.

Funny thing about Dad is that, as far as I know, he did not actually own any Rolling Stones records, at least not until I gave him the ’64-’71 compilation, Hot Rocks, for Christmas sometime in the 1990s. I am now the keeper of Mom and Dad’s records and there is not a single Stones album among them.

But, as an avid WMMR listener during the early glory days of that pioneering FM rock station, Dad probably didn’t need to, or even care to, actually own Rolling Stones albums. Clearly the Stones would have been in very heavy rotation.

So, Dad didn’t own the following Rolling Stones albums:

  • Beggar’s Banquet
  • Let It Bleed
  • Sticky Fingers
  • Exile On Main Street

However, it is highly probable that he heard every song from each of these absolutely badass records at least once on WMMR. But who knows? The “Let It Bleed” moment in my bedroom all those years ago certainly seemed like an epiphany for Dad.

I have been listening to these four Stones albums all week, diving deeper than I ever had before. Unlike Dad, I have owned these records for years, but that doesn’t mean I’ve listened to them often. It seems to me that the big hits, as chronicled on Hot Rocks, are so epic, in and of themselves, that it’s easy to take the albums from which those hits emerged, for granted.

But, damn, that’s a huge mistake. Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street are all totally necessary albums. While I know that Stones fans will consider this a “D’oh” conviction, I think that very note on each of these albums should be heard by every rock fan. Absolutely necessary records, for damn sure

Listening intently to this quartet of albums in depth, it is obvious that, with all due respect to the earlier and later work of the Rolling Stones, these records represent the core of everything that made the Stones “the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band.” You’ve got Jagger’s swagger, Richards’ rhythmic cool, the seamless fusion of several musical genres, the paradoxically loose-but-tight musicianship by everyone involved. It’s all there, and it’s all classic.

More important to me, these four records seem to embody practically everything — other than bluegrass — that Dad loved about music. Blues, country, rock, and in a song like “Let It Bleed,” it all just comes together so brilliantly. No wonder Dad was so excited.

I would have loved to have spent this evening hanging out with Dad, listening to these records and knocking back a few beers, and maybe even a shot of Jack Daniel’s. But, even though Dad’s not physically here, that’s exactly what I feel like I did. Because Dad was certainly here in spirit and, as much as I love the Beatles, I realized tonight that I’m a Stones Guy too.

Here’s a playlist/mix CD I made tonight that features four songs from each of these four classic Stones albums:

Dad Was a Stones Guy

  1. Brown Sugar
  2. Let It Bleed
  3. Rocks Off
  4. Sympathy for the Devil
  5. Dead Flowers
  6. Gimme Shelter
  7. I Only Want to See His Face
  8. Street Fighting Man
  9. Bitch
  10. Monkey Man
  11. Happy
  12. Stray Cat Blues
  13. You Gotta Move
  14. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  15. Shine a Light
  16. No Expectations





Where’s That Confounded Bridge?

In 1970s, 1973, British bands, Led Zeppelin, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on August 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm


Earlier this week, my 20-sided dice told me to listen to Led Zeppelin’s classic 1973 album, Houses of the Holy. I listened to it several times. I will now report my findings.

I have no specific memories of March 1973. Just hazy impressions.

I was in second grade at a smallish Catholic school in southeastern Pennsylvania. Each morning, I’d eat breakfast while I listened to powerhouse AM Philadelphia radio station WFIL on the radio. After I’d leave my house to walk to school, I would turn around at two or three specific spots to wave to Mom, standing inside the front door. Eventually, of course, there was no looking back, and I’d make the short trek to school.

My second grade teacher had a name that to this day I probably wouldn’t be able to spell. I am sure there was a basic second grade routine, but the details are lost to me now. Friday mornings, all the kids from first through eighth grade would walk in two neat rows over to the church for Mass. Our First Holy Communion would be happening in May, so it’s a safe bet that we were practicing for that.

In short, my life in March 1973 was about as different from that of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert “Don’t Call Me Bob” Plant’s life that year as you can possibly imagine.

In fact, it might sound improbable, but I think I was unaware of the existence of Led Zeppelin in 1973, despite their lofty status as Rock Gods. I certainly liked music, and my tastes were gradually being formed, but no one was guiding me toward the kind of heaviness that Zeppelin represented. I can safely say that I had no idea that Led Zeppelin had released their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, in the spring of my second grade year.

Despite this, Robert Plant and I did share one common interest in 1973: spinning tales of the endless journeys of thousands of adventurers on some kind of mystical quest.

When school ended each day, I would wait for the old man crossing guard to part the traffic on Concord Road and I’d head down the long catwalk back into our neighborhood. As I walked, I’d often gaze at the ground and imagine that it was the terrain for some kind of epic journey being taken by massive groups of explorers or soldiers, facing danger at every turn. On rainy days, water streaming down the street would become mighty rivers on which imaginary sailors took endless, perilous journeys. Some survived, some did not, but the journey/battle/quest went on forever. At least in my mind. Each afternoon on my way home from school, I’d pick up the story where I’d left off the day before.

Though I certainly hadn’t heard the song, I was essentially acting out “No Quarter,” a dark story song from Houses of the Holy. It’s a mysterious song about a shadowy group of (presumably) men who are facing a raging snow storm and the “winds of Thor,” as they walk “side by side with death,” while “the devil mocks their every step.” The point of the march? To “carry news that must get through” and to “build a dream for me and you.”

I don’t know precisely what Plant was getting at with those lyrics, but hearing them now reminds me of those tales I’d make up during those walks home from school so long ago. Tales that existed completely in my head for more than 40 years, until I mentioned them to my wife Donna last night.

Of course, I guess Robert Plant and I both have Homer to thank for putting these kinds of stories in our heads. And in the head of any kid who ever grew up anywhere over the last few millennia.

I missed out on Houses of the Holy in 1973. When I think of the music from March 1973 that might have resonated with me, I find that it’s the soul songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 from late March of that year that feel the most foundational to my musical tastes. In short, the songs by the Spinners, Stylistics, O’Jays and so many more are the ones that I was probably hearing the most those mornings on WFIL, and they’re the ones that sank deep into me. Bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd–whose Dark Side of the Moon was also released in March 1973 and whose popularity has arguably eclipsed that of Houses of the Holy–would have to wait for me to catch up to them.

But I did catch up eventually. I’m sure that I had heard all eight songs from Houses of the Holy on rock stations like WMMR by the time drummer John Bonham’s death brought Zeppelin to an untimely end in 1980. I got over my fear of “heavy” music and began to dive into Zeppelin’s albums, first by borrowing them from my high school classmate Dave, and then by buying them one by one for about $5.00 at my local Listening Booth record store.

And so it was that about 10 years after its release, I heard Houses of the Holy for the first time. I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, beginning to end, but I was likely amazed at how I’d already heard every song from the LP on ‘MMR. Houses of the Holy was just that damn important to the burgeoning “classic rock” culture of the early 1980s.

I don’t know that Houses of the Holy was universally acclaimed at the time of its release, but I think it holds up well. It’s a diverse album, ranging from raging Zep stompers like “Dancing Days,” “Over The Hills and Far Away,” and “The Ocean” to the ethereal “The Rain Song,” still one of the most gorgeous songs Plant has ever sung (and dig those mellotron-generated strings!). Plus, you get a goofy reggae tribute, “D’yer Mak’er” and the James Brown parody, “The Crunge,” both rare displays of a Zeppelin sense of humor. Where is that confounded bridge, anyway?

During my college years, I was falling in love with all kinds of new music, but I wound up burrowing deeper into the classic rock canon as well. More than a few times, Houses of the Holy would be the soundtrack to college dorm backgammon matches. Yes, indeed, I knew how to party.

Houses of the Holy and I sometimes spend years apart, but every now and then I rediscover it and listen to it for days or weeks on end. This is what happened after I met an online friend named Tommy back around 2008 or thereabout. He was a big Zeppelin fan, and he reignited my love for Houses of the Holy. I never met Tommy in real life and he is now sadly gone. But I feel his presence, along with the presence of those still here–Rick and Greg from college, Dave and Joe from high school–with whom I’ve shared the mighty Houses of the Holy through the years. And even the presence of seven-year-old me, telling myself the story of “No Quarter,” as I walked home from school, long before I’d ever heard of “No Quarter,” Houses of the Holy, or even Led Zeppelin itself.








333 Words About 3 + 3

In 1970s, 1973, funk, guitar solos, Isley Brothers, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock, soul on November 1, 2013 at 2:28 am

The Isley Brothers weren’t midway through their career in 1973, even though they’d been around since the mid-1950s. But they were at the top of their game on that year’s 3 + 3 album.

Hearing this album was a revelation to me. Of course, everyone knows about “Shout” and “Twist and Shout,” as well as “This Old Heart of Mine.” I’m quite partial to “It’s Your Thing,” as well. But 3 + 3 finds the Isleys tapping into the sound and feel of mid-1970s funk and moving the genre along with their own innovations.

The first thing I noticed after listening to the entire album is how it’s pretty evenly divided between excellent Isley compositions and killer cover versions of recent pop hits. The album opens with the insanely catchy hit single, “That Lady,” an Isley original, and the quality never lets up, whether the band is tackling their own songs or those by James Taylor (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”) and the Doobie Brothers (“Listen to the Music”).  And, though Chris Jasper is credited with playing the “clarinet” on several songs, I’m pretty certain that it’s actually a “clavinet” that he is using to distribute liberal dollops of funk throughout the album.

While the entire album is quite enjoyable, 3 + 3 brings it all home toward the end, with the Isley’s magnificent cover of Seals and Crofts’ proto-yacht rock hit, “Summer Breeze.” The Isleys take their time with “Summer Breeze,” letting it develop at a languid pace that at one point, unexpectedly reminds me of British band XTC. I say unexpected because I would have never imagined that XTC would remind me either of the Isley Brothers or Seals and Crofts. One particular verse though, has a musical and lyrical vibe that would feel right at home on XTC’s classic (and languid) album, Skylarking.

All the languidness (languidity?) is clearly leading up to something: an explosive guitar solo by Ernie Isley that starts about four minutes into the song and rides “Summer Breeze” to a glorious conclusion two minutes later.

Daily Record 2/9/11: Jacksonville City Nights-Ryan Adams (2005)

In 2000s, 2005, country, rock on February 10, 2011 at 3:53 am

My friend Jason is a big proponent of well-compiled greatest hits collections, particularly, two-disc anthologies that might take you a little bit off the artist’s most well-known path, but not too far. I’m thinking I could use such a double disc set of Ryan Adams (now that I think of it, I think Jason has pushed for just such a collection as well).

Adams has been around for years releasing album after album. I’ve been reading reviews (often glowing, occasionally not) of these albums for years. I’m interested but have never really taken the plunge. A two-disc anthology of Ryan Adams best tunes from the last decade plus would be welcome.

I do have a couple of his discs, including our Daily Record, the classic country-sounding Jacksonville City Nights. This was the second of three albums Adams released in 2005. Most of the songs have the sound and feel of country radio hits circa anywhere from the mid-’60s through the early-’70s. Even the CD cover art echoes the album sleeves of that period.

Depending on who you talk to, Jacksonville City Nights is either the best or second best of the three CDs he released in ’05 (the third of the albums, 29, gets little love from anyone, but the first, Cold Roses, has its fans). I haven’t heard the other two (hence the need for the compilation), but I like Jacksonville City Nights. In fact, I’d have to say that I like it best when it conforms to its genre exercise mission: when Adams strays into more modern singer/songwriter mode, Jacksonville City Nights seems to drag a bit.

Daily Record 2/4/2011: Costello Music-The Fratellis (2007)

In 2000s, 2007, British bands, Friday music, pop, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on February 5, 2011 at 1:33 am

I just had a brief moment of existential angst. I was out walking Jolie in the freezing Pennsylvania night. The snow was a foot high all around me and glazed over with a thin sheet of ice that glowed in the moonlight. It was eerie and kind of weird, and I often like eerie and kind of weird, but not tonight. I just wanted to have Jolie do her business so we could get back to the house. It was an all-business/no-pleasure kind of walk.

Anyway, I didn’t completely tumble into the angst thanks to the Daily Record, Costello Music by the Fratellis. This 2007 album proved to be fairly excellent “Friday music.”

I think we can reach a general consensus about what makes good Friday music: something kind of big and dumb and fun, but not so dumb so that the listener’s IQ doesn’t automatically tumble into oblivion. Despite the fact that “Working for the Weekend” is sort of cliché at this point, I think Loverboy is actually a pretty decent Friday music band, but of course there are other great Friday music bands across the spectrum of music.

Randomly generating Friday music can be a dicey proposition. For example, I appreciate Philip Glass (I appreciate Philip Glass. I appreciate Philip Glass. I appreciate Philip Glass.) as much as the next post-post-postmodern guy, but I don’t necessarily want to be listening to the Low Symphony during the Friday commute.

The Fratellis, however, fit the bill nicely. This British band came to our attention, as they did for many people, when their infectious song “Flathead” was soundtrack for one of those flashy Ipod commercials. Donna and I both enjoyed the song and quickly determined that we would enjoy the album as well.

Costello Music is indeed a fun listen, featuring lots of loud, sort of obnoxious rock songs about girls and stuff. I like the whole album, though driving to work this morning, it seemed a little bit longer than it needed to be. I would have liked to have knocked the whole disc out on the drive in, but I only got a little more than halfway through it. This seems to violate some unwritten Friday music rule: Friday albums should be as punchy as can be and should be able to be listened to in a single sitting. Then, if things get carried away and everyone involved is enjoying the Friday album, you can just hit repeat and let it play until you get tired of it.

My point is that brevity is a virtue when it comes to Friday music and if the Fratellis needed to lop some tracks off of Costello Music (though, as I said they’re all enjoyable) to achieve brevity, then they should have bitten the bullet and done that. But this is a minor complaint.

I suppose writing about Friday music should be a study in brevity too, though at 480 words, I’ve clearly blown that. However, I can have the good sense to stop now.

Daily Record 2/3/2011: Oxford American Music Issue, 10th Annivesary Edition-various artists (2008)

In compilations, country, funk, gospel, record collecting, religion, rhythm and blues, rock, soul on February 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm

As I have alluded to a few times on this blog, I use a chance operation to decide what album or CD will be my Daily Record on any given day. I’ve thought about explaining how I make this decision and have very recently been encouraged to do this. It’s not going to happen today, but I think I’ve hit on a good way to illustrate how the Daily Record is determined. Stay tuned. I know you’re all sitting on the edge of your seats.

My point for now though is the surprising number of times a chance operation yields a result that makes perfect sense. Take the Feb. 3 Daily Record (I’m a day behind, but I’m catching up today), for example: The Oxford American 10th Anniversary Edition two-CD set.

While this was a random choice, it very nicely reinforces the entry I did back on 1/24 regarding the current Oxford American magazine/CD. I strayed from my random path that day, because I wanted to say something about the 2010 OA Music Issue while there was a still a possibility that you could find a copy at a nearby bookstore.

Listening to the current OA Music Issue CD had got me thinking about this 10th anniversary collection and then, lo and behold, it pops up as the Daily Record.

Anyway, if you like the idea of an enormous double disc mix filled with more than 50 songs in which the only threads that binds them is that the artists are from the American South and have been featured in one of OA’s Music issues (the first disc, Future Masters, focused on artists in the 10th anniversary issue; Past Masters includes artists found in previous Music Issues of the magazine), then this collection is something you seriously ought to check out. When you do, you’ll be able to listen to the discs and find other ways to connect the dots between, say Sister Rosetta Thorpe and Big Star.

The range of musical genres on this collection is beguiling, from blues to soul to bluegrass to country to jazz to gospel and to things that can’t easily be pigeonholed into any one genre. The span of years in which these songs were recorded (1928 to 2008) is also compelling, especially since the songs are most decidedly not arranged in chronological order.

Or just imagine this set of artists on one collection:

  • Elvis Presley
  • Lucinda Williams
  • The Residents
  • Little Walter
  • Isaac Hayes
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • R.E.M.
  • Staple Singers
  • [adopting K-tel announcer voice here] …and MANY MANY MORE!!!

I could go on, but my point is that if you think you ought to hear this CD and read the accompanying magazine, you probably should. And apparently you can: it appears to be currently available right here: http://store.oxfordamerican.org/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=Issue+63

I should emphasize that I am not a paid endorser of Oxford American and no salesman will visit! I just really believe that if you read thus far and are sufficiently intrigued, then tracking down the magazine and CD ought to be a no brainer for you.

Daily Record 2/1/11: This Year’s Model-Elvis Costello & the Attractions (1978)

In 1970s, 1978, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, new wave, rock on February 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm

This Year’s Model, Elvis Costello’s second album (and his first with the Attractions) is rightly considered to be one of the best albums released in 1978 and probably one of the best for the years surrounding ’78 as well. This Year’s Model fulfilled the promise of Costello’s ’77 debut, My Aim Is True, and was just the kind of spiky, angry, organ-drenched rock’n’roll record that we all needed at the moment that disco was exploding all over the place and progressive rock was feeling bloated and self-indulgent.

In addition to all that, This Year’s Model just rocks, containing one early EC classic after another, including “Pump It Up,”  a song that has now become a part of the classic rock canon that Costello may have been appearing to revolt against back in ’78.

With all that going for it, I have to admit that, within the context of Rich’s House of Vinyl, I’m finding  I don’t have much to say about This Year’s Model.

Make no mistake: I love this record. Love the lyrics. Love the music. Love the squiggly keyboard lines courtesy of Steve Nieve. Love that Costello not only used the word “anesthetize” in the song “Radio Radio,” but that it rolls off his tongue like he sings “anesthetize” in every song he’s ever written.

Love the fact that Elvis got in some trouble playing “Radio Radio” on Saturday Night Live and that the Beastie Boys helped him recreated that moment decades later.

But, even with all this love, I need to admit something: This Year’s Model glided right by me in 1978. I’ve got no memory of hearing anything from this album on the radio at the time (well, maybe “Pump It Up”) and never felt an inkling to go out and buy the record.

Maybe I was too busy listening to two other 1978 albums I’ve covered in this blog so far: Gerry Rafferty’s City to City and Blondie’s Parallel Lines.

Costello did get my attention with the release of his third album, Armed Forces, the following year. But that’s the story of Armed Forces, not This Year’s Model.

One of the great things about music (and any art form, really), though, is that once a work has been released, it’s always there for those of us who missed it the first time around. So I missed This Year’s Model by a few years, but I eventually caught up to it. Then there’s my nephew Mike, who missed the album by virtue of the fact that he was born ten years after its release, but is catching up with Costello’s vast catalog one piece at a time (sometimes on vinyl!).

So really, This Year’s Model can be any year’s model.

Daily Record 1/31/11: Goo-Sonic Youth (1990)

In 1990, 1990s, New York City music, rock on January 31, 2011 at 5:03 am

Today, Jan. 31, 2011, would have been my Grandma Wilhelm’s 101st birthday. I’d like to say I’m dedicating today’s Daily Record to my Grandma Wilhelm, but I’m not sure she would have gotten Sonic Youth’s 1990 album, Goo. If it didn’t play on Hee Haw or the Merv Griffin Show, I don’t think Grandma would have been into it, though I do remember occasionally watching Soul Train at her Mt. Savage, Maryland, home as well. I’m not even certain that Grandma went for Karen Carpenter, who Sonic Youth commemorates on Goo with “Tunic (Song for Karen).”

Grandma wouldn’t have been the only person in my life who didn’t get Goo. Take my nephew Brian, for example. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but many years ago, back before Brian became eight inches taller than me, I mentioned to him something about Sonic Youth and how they rock. Brian, who might have been 10 years old at the time, was skeptical at best and over the years, Brian’s skepticism about one of NYC’s finest bands ever has only deepened.

This has become a talking point between Brian and me. I even passed along a homemade “best of” SY compilation to Brian a few Christmases ago. He just laughed.

It’s not just Grandma and Brian though. The night Rick and I drove up to Hershey Park to see Sonic Youth open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse, when SY and Young were touring behind Goo and Ragged Glory respectively, I surveyed the crowd during SY’s noisy set and wondered if anybody there couldn’t wait for Neil to come out with an acoustic guitar, play “Heart of Gold” and wash away the residue of these artsy noisemeisters. Of course, Young did no such thing that night, performing a noisefest with nary a nonelectric guitar in sight.

Goo was SY’s major label debut after releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums that culminated in the oft-called-monumental Daydream Nation. As is often the case in these situations, there were cries of “sell-out” when Goo hit the shelves, but you never would have heard that from me. I was relatively new to Sonic Youth in 1990, having just caught up with the most well-known track from Daydream Nation, the epic “Teenage Riot.” So my frame of reference did not give me any good reason to decry the band for Goo, and I probably wouldn’t have done that anyway. I don’t generally buy into the “sell-out” theory.

Personally, I love Goo, and I’ve never found it to be tainted by any hint of commercialism that might have come along with the band’s ascent to the majors. It’s a big, weird rock album that happens to have both a cool appearance by Public Enemy’s Chuck D. and a scary-as-hell instrumental named after a Joan Crawford movie, “Mildred Pierce.” I didn’t necessarily go backward from Goo to discover all the previous albums (I’ve still never heard all of Daydream Nation) and I haven’t picked up everything they’ve done since but I love the fact that Sonic Youth is still around (I really liked their last album, The Eternal, quite a bit) charting their own curious course through popular (and, sometimes, decidedly non-popular) music.

And, who knows? Maybe Brian will come around to Sonic Youth someday.

Though I doubt it. But SY will probably always be a talking point.

Daily Record 1/28/11: Endless Summer-Donna Summer (1994)

In 1970s, 1980s, compilations, disco, greatest hits, pop, rock, soul on January 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I’ve never hated disco music. I never thought it sucked.

There may have been times when I tried to play off my enjoyment of disco as “ironic” but the plain fact is I like disco music. I liked it in 1979 and I like it now.

Back in ’78 and ’79, I was the king of rare 7th/8th grade dances at St. Joseph School. It was easy to be the disco king at that age and in that place though, since hardly of the other boys in my class would “fast dance,” even as some of them were working up the courage to slow dance with girls.

I was totally cool with fast dancing and, in my white leisure suit and silk shirt, with my hair parted down the middle, I was well-prepared for hot grade school disco dancing action. So well-prepared, in fact, that I wound up dancing up a storm to Donna Summer’s “Heaven Knows” with one of the chaperone moms.

At the risk of bringing mortification onto my family for generations to come, I’ll simply note that, at the end of this dancing-with-someone-else’s-mom fiasco, the mom and I joined hands and spun wildly around during the climax of “Heaven Knows” until vertigo took hold and we both collapsed in heaps on the floor, dizzy in our disco decadence.

It would be difficult to calculate how many similar late 1970s scenes played themselves out, from Studio 54 down to church halls throughout the country,  to the throb of Donna Summer’s classic disco tunes. She was the Queen of Disco, after all.

In reality, Summer is a talented artist whose work far transcends labels, particularly a label as limited as “disco.” But it is as a dance floor diva that Donna Summer achieved her greatest successes, all of which are nicely chronicled on Endless Summer, a 1994 single-disc compilation of her work from “Love To Love You Baby” through “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” along with two tracks that were new to the compilation.

Even on a greatest hits disc, it’s clear that Donna Summer’s music was way more adventurous than the disco haters would have given her credit for. “I Feel Love” is an electrodance freakout (Brian Eno allegedly told David Bowie that “I Feel Love” was the future of modern music); “MacArthur Park” is a melodramatic cover that probably caused fans of the original version to shake their fists angrily at the dance music gods for allowing such an “abomination”; “The Wanderer” shows off Summer’s rock side; “Love Is In Control (Finger On the Trigger)” features a huge Quincy Jones production extravaganza.

And don’t forget “State of Independence,” a trippy tune written by Jon Anderson (of Yes fame) and Vangelis (of Chariots of Fire fame).

Even when Summer got a little cheesy (her “No More Tears” duet with Barbra Streisand), it’s all in good fun.

And, finally, let’s talk a moment about Summer’s huge hit, “Hot Stuff,” since this is the second time this week that a song with that title has been on one of the Daily Records. The Rolling Stones’ “Hot Stuff,” (from their Black and Blue album, which I covered earlier this week) was a move into reggae-influenced disco territory (or, maybe, disco-influenced reggae territory; it’s hard to tell) for the Stones.

Inversely, Summer’s “Hot Stuff” is a bold move from disco into rock. In fact, I’d love to go to a Rolling Stones concert, in which the Stones perform their song “Hot Stuff” and then segue, medley-like, into Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.” Mick Jagger could totally pull that off, though such a medley would entail the Stones’ admitting that, when it comes to songs titled “Hot Stuff,” Donna Summer  just brought the hotter stuff.