By DiscoMonster aka Fuel
Truly by the Jays and Ranking Trevor is a perfect opener for celebrating 12” releases from the 1970s. It is the first of the Channel 1 Discomix series and thus features the main tune flowing into reverberating dub and echoing percussion on one side of 12” vinyl. Moreover, it is a massively romantic tune that swoons as it grooves.
The 12” was also perfect for club DJs who wanted a richer, more expansive and superior sound. People who wanted to Dance Dance Dance to Chic sounds – tight rhythm guitar, a metronomic but flowing bass, swinging drumming, sweeping strings, sexy vocals – that could be mixed to the breaks in the beat, thus not breaking the evening’s musical flow.
In contrast to Chic’s clean sounds, Miss You by The Rolling Stones is scuzzed-up-funk. The 12” allows Jagger to fully reveal the conflict in his mind and create tension in a way that the album version never does – a clear case of the 12” version being superior.
The new format invited already great performances to be extended and given new twists. Money in My Pocket by Dennis Brown mixes in the comforting advice of Cool Runnings by Prince Mohammed over a rhythm laid down by Joe Gibbs & The Professionals. Irresistible.
More sonic innovation is found on Third World’s blend of reggae and funk on Now That We’ve Found Love. The tune was written by Gamble and Huff of Philly soul fame, a style that can be recognised in the song’s pleading vocals and harmonies. But you’ll also hear flashes of Moroder, Dire Straits guitar and house-like percussion and keyboards – the sound of Philly soul mutating
Philly soul was smooth but funk was often nasty – forceful rather than breezy, rump-shaking rather than hustle stepping. Parliament’s Flashlight incorporates bar mitzvah style chanting amidst so much funk that only the grooves of the 12” could reveal the density of the song’s sound.
On the dancefloor below the funk room, the dancing could be even more hedonistic. Maybe the lighting is even dimmer as the glitter ball spins to the highly energetic electronic instrumentation of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel. It is classic disco but anticipates piano house as it fades out. As a joyous statement of being made to feel exactly like the person you are, it is perfect.
But what of the rest of the world beyond the Jamaican-U.S. axis? Elias Rahbani and his Orchestra gave Liza... Liza sweeping strings with flourishes that aren’t western. It also has an MOR la-la-la-la wedding scene vocal line and the guitar isn’t Funkadelic. Astonishingly, it works – as does Manu Dibango’s cross-pollination of African and funk music on Big Blow – another tune too big for 7”.
Elsewhere, the avant-garde were setting the template for the 1980s. Dinosaur’s Kiss Me Again has David Byrne on guitar and you can hear him prototyping future Talking Heads’ grooves. The cavernous vocal is very house music while the cello, breakdown and electronics at 9:20 are obvious precursors of the musical adventure of rave and acid house. The song builds to a frantic climax. Love it!
But the 12” format wasn’t just for dancers, hedonists and lovers. It suited conscious thinking and Israel Vibration’s Weep and Mourn has deep dub sounds that promote consideration, beginning with the listener automatically filling in the “Babylon gone fall” lyric as the original version shifts to the dub section.
Dub’s stretching of sound to create atmosphere was especially inspirational for post-punk. It opened up ears to an ambiance that was best appreciated on 12” – Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream is at its most lucid in that format.
I like to imagine that Lipps Inc. were inspired to take a minimalist electronic approach by bands like Suicide. Funky Town’s Super Disco version instrumentation is variously layered, stripped back or looped while the beat picks up and jumps off unexpectedly. It uses the editing techniques being developed by the likes Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang as vocal lines are taken out of context to beseech: “Take me”. It waves hello and welcome to electro and breakdance. Tis a deejay’s delight.
As is Japan’s Life in Tokyo: a pioneering classic of extended intro and instrumental breaks before a glorious final chorus; magnificently sleek and otherworldly when Britain was actually quite drab and lardy.
Back then, if you liked rock music, record companies would put a song on a 12” and offer little else. But full-length, hi-fidelity deserving gems like The Motors’ Dancing the Night Away were value for money. Yes, they were singing about dancing to tunes on 12” … probably. 😉
I think rock fans and artists disparaged the 12” as a gimmick while bizarrely claiming authenticity due to cable miles used in light shows or speakers going up to 11. It’s a shame they mostly ignored the superior sonic qualities of the 12”. Whispers of its advantages were disregarded but DJ culture is alive today – And the Beat Goes On. And on and on 12”.
The Acetate to Foot-Tapping A-List Playlist:
The Jays & Ranking Trevor - Truly (1977 Discomix)
Chic - Dance Dance Dance ... Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!
The Rolling Stones - Miss You (12" Version)
Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket (w. Cool Runnings - Prince Mohammed / Joe Gibbs & The Professionals)
Third World - Now That We’ve Found Love
Parliament - Flashlight
Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (Original 12" Version)
Elias Rahbani - Liza ... Liza
Manu Dibango - Big Blow
Dinosaur - Kiss Me Again
Israel Vibration - Weep and Mourn (12" version)
Suicide - Dream Baby Dream (Long Version)
Lipps Inc. - Funkytown (Super Disco Version)
Japan - Life in Tokyo (12”)
The Motors - Dancing the Night Away
The Whispers - And the Beat Goes On
The Bohannon and Boogie B-list Playlist …
(these appear following the others on the above A-List)
Black Harmony - Don't Let It Go To Your Head
Chicago - Street Player
The Jacksons - Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) (Special Disco Version)
Joe Simon - Love Vibration - 12" MIX
North End - Kind Of Life (Kind Of Love) 12''
Dr. Alimantado - Born For A Purpose (Reason For Living
Kiss - I Was Made For Lovin' You (12" Version)
Jolly Brothers: Conscious Man (Discomix)
Hamilton Bohannon - Disco Stomp
Loleatta Holloway - Hit and Run Walter Gibbons 12" mix (1977)
Yabby You & Trinity - Chant Down Babylon - 12"
Patti Labelle - Music Is My Way Of Life
Dillinger/Junior Murvin/Lee Perry - Roots Train
Television - Little Johnny Jewel, Pts. 1 & 2
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Spread the groove: 12-inch singles and remixes up to 1979. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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