Before the Punk movement started declaring that “Disco Sucks”, the Disco era embodied a refined and elegant fantasy world for me; full of sophistication, glamor and amazing musicianship. I was lucky enough to live in Philly, home of Sigma Sound Studios and the MFSB orchestra, and I got my start singing 4 sets a night in a disco cover band called The Max, and then an original disco-flavored group called Fun City. These videos capture some highlights from those years…
Randy Crawford, “Street Life”
This song sums it up for me. I auditioned for a band back in the day by singing this tune. I tried to do it justice, but I'm sure I never came close to Randy Crawford's effortless vocals, which are amazing, as are the lyrics: “There's always love for sale / A grown up fairy tale / Prince charming always smiles / Behind a silver spoon” etc. “Street Life” was an inspiration for my tune “Silent Movie”, with its atmosphere of street-glamour and tawdry elegance.
Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, “Cherchez La Femme”
Ok, many people know this fabulous song, with its smooth, sleek, 1940s influence. The vocal and horn arrangements are so refined and detailed, it feels like you're in a '40s film with palm trees blowing. The video captures that “tropical hollywood” feeling, with the stylish set and costumes. (Weird bit of trivia: the first line of the lyrics mentions Tommy Mottola, one of the owners of Casablanca records.)
Patrice Rushen, “Forget Me Nots”
Another super talented lady – I love the production on this, as well as the classy vibe. Like “Cherchez La Femme”, this video features the classic hotel bellhop costume, another nod to '40s style seen through the lens of '70s fashion. Patrice does it all – sings, plays, composes, produces… a real talent and inspiration to me.
Chic, “I Want Your Love”
I sang this one in the disco cover band. Again, the sophisticated style of their outfits, the set, and the refined, classy attitude just blows me away: the dapper suits, shimmery fabrics, and flowers in the hair – not to mention the unparalleled bass playing – heaven.
LTD, “Back in Love”
This was my favorite song to sing in the cover band. Not much else to say for this awesome song – the way the high background vocals come in on the chorus, the horn parts, the dance moves – all stellar.
Double Exposure, “Ten Percent”
When I was 16 or so, I had a boyfriend named Michael Radcliffe – an incredible bassist, who played in this band. I hung out at a lot of their gigs, in Atlantic City and elsewhere, staying up till 4 am when the last set was finished. They had matching suits, killer dance moves, and great musicians in their band. I still have the Salsoul 12″ of this tune, and after all these years it still sounds awesome.
Sylvester, “Dance (Disco Heat)”
This list would not be complete without props to my favorite disco singer, Sylvester. I always loved this song, because of the weird syncopated rhythm of the vocal melody in the verses, and the choppy way the music follows it, in unison – not to mention that insane vocal break towards the end. So much power, and so much spirit. Sylvester was one of the original members of the Cockettes, and he died from AIDS complications in 1988. R.I.P. Sylvester, you were a true Queen of Disco, and a major inspiration.
Alice Cohen's record Pink Keys was released on Olde English Spelling Bee last week and is highly recommended by Impose staff. We also adore her music videos, made of collagey cut-ups, which you can check out here.