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.

“Disco Party” Compilation (1978)

Disco is, arguably, the most maligned of musical genres. Sure, hardly anyone under the age of 60 listens to classical any more, but there aren’t wide swaths of the population who actively proclaim to hate it and pontificate about it’s utter lack of social and musical value. Plenty of people “don’t get jazz” or make fun of country because of it’s proclivity for songs about trucks, beer, and dogs, but those some folks generally don’t actively hate on those genres. Certainly rock was hated by the older set back in the 1950s, but now it’s ubiquitous – you’re more likely to hear AC/DC than Frank Sinatra playing at the supermarket. Hip hop too was widely derided as lacking merit in the 1980s, but clearly that isn’t the case now after 30 years of hip hop music and culture infusing itself into society.

But people will tell you that they hate disco. They fucking hate it.

On the surface, I get it. The disco era is stereotypically described as full of bad fashion, cocaine, and general vapidity, a form of escapism during the economically depressed 1970s. Films like Saturday Night Fever certainly embraced this image, and if any movie has ever come to complete define a moment in time, it’s that one. It’s the genre that prompted the infamous Disco Demolition Night in Chicago, with it’s literal blowing up of disco records and the resultant storming of the field by White Sox fans during the intermission between games in a double-header. Even in 1979 people hated disco. What disco is to genres Nickelback is to bands, the thing that is popular to hate. But let’s not forget what else they have in common – they both sold a ton of records.

There’s something else I know, too. I know that the fastest way to fill up the dance floor at your office holiday party is to start playing some disco. Many of the dancers will claim that they’re being ironic, but the huge smiles on their faces betray them – secretly, in their most private heart of hearts, they love it. Kids will dance to it. Middle-aged couples will dance to it. Grandparents will dance to it.

So when I saw this two-LP comp from 1978 in the used bin for four bucks the other day I figured “why not”. I only recognized one of the 14 songs, K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”, but I just kinda knew this would be cool. Plus I just bought an Okki Nokki record cleaner and I needed some cheap, grubby vinyl to try it out with, so why not? (Note – the Okki Nokki cleaned the hell out if it and it sounds clean) The tracks seem to be vintage remixes, and each side plays seamlessly as if it was actually spinning at a club. And you know what? It’s rad as hell. And I have no problem admitting it. If you want to come over here and dance, feel free. I’ll put it on and we’ll spin on the floor like we’re at Studio 54.

Richenel – “Perfect Stranger” (1981 / 2018)

Richenel is Dutch androgynous gender-bending dancer-singer-performer Hubertus Richenel Baars. He put out a number of releases in the 1980s and 90s, and last year Music From Memory collected six of his earliest pieces into the EP Perfect Stranger.

Simmering disco-funk blending electronic beats with horns and instrumentation, Perfect Stranger is breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that these tracks are almost 40 years old – they’d sound right at home on the dance floor today. Richenel’s delivery is gender neutral – if you’d didn’t know he was male, you’d be just as likely to think the vocalist was a deep-voiced female soul singer. These are nighttime tracks, the songs that set the stage in the early evening for what is to come later, when you’re still trying to conserve at least some energy for the long night ahead.

The B side is a bit funkier than A, but whichever side you put on will get you into the groove.

Sumy – “Tryin to Survive” (1983 / 2014)

There’s a weird thing that happens to me sometimes when I’m blogging. I’ll be listening to something I’ve never heard or even heard of before, like this re-release of the 1983 funk album from Surinamese funkster Sumy called Tryin to Survive, and think to myself, “you know, this reminds me a bit of early Prince.” And then I go do a little research and find a review of the same record on The Quietus that makes the exact same observation. Scooped! So what to do? Make the same connection and have people think I just copied it from somewhere else? <sigh> These are the trials and tribulations of the non-professional music blogger. The struggle is real.

So let’s get back to Tryin to Survive. This is an interesting record to my ears – it’s definitely funk in its overall presentation, but done with heavy reliance on synths and what sound like mechanical beats, which gives the whole thing a sort of sterile feel that one usually doesn’t associated with funk. It’s like if Ricky James decided that Kraftwerk was the future and went purely electro-funky. (♠) So it’s sort of disco-funk, I guess. The synths, though, make it a hard record to wrap your mind around – you can hear the soul, funk, and doo-wap influences all over the place, but they all feel at odds with the instruments used to express them musically.

Tryin to Survive is a fun period piece if you’re into a bit of funk-disco fusion.

(♠) Go find that comparison in another review!

Brunaliðið – “Útkall” (1979)

OK. First things first. Take a few moments to fully absorb this album cover. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

I found this copy of the 1979 Icelandic soft-jazz disco-pop album Útkall on eBay the other day, and while I knew in all likelihood I would find it super dated, I figured what the hell, because it was cheap and miraculously still sealed. Unfortunately the shrink had shrunk over the years, warping the cover pretty badly. As for the vinyl itself, it has one noticeable warp on the outer edge right where it would have been in contact with the spine – the spine that had been bent 90 degrees over time. But I more or less expected that, and it still played fine.

I’d love to crack wise about this record, but I try not to do that here. After all, it’s easy to listen to this for the first time 37 years after it was made and talk crap, but the fact of the matter is this sounds an awful lot like the stuff that was playing on the AM dial in my parents’ cars when I was a kid. Light funk, not quite dancey enough to qualify as disco, almost like post-disco-white-urban-folk-pop or something (<- I just made up a genre; remember kids, you read it here first, so please give me proper credit!).

That’s all fine and good. But let’s get down to the real nitty gritty here, shall we? I’m not a conspiracy theorist (except when I am), but I think our tall friend with the sunglasses somehow ended up in a basement somewhere in RVK 101 nine years later torturing some dude with a samurai sword and some other nonsense. Don’t believe me? Well feast your eyes on the below (Exhibit A).

Coincidence? I don’t believe in ’em. Still not convinced? But wait, there’s more.

This doesn’t prove anything, of course, but dudes in dark clothes and sunglasses have long been spotted at the scene of many a crime, including some musical ones like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Personally I think this guy looks a heck of a lot like American skyjacker D.B. Cooper (Exhibit B below – the FBI drawing of Cooper), who completely disappeared with $200,000 in cash in 1971 after parachuting out of the back of a commercial airline, which is a pretty ballsy thing to do in any decade.

Sure, you’re thinking, how did DB Cooper get to Iceland and get involved in a pop band, right? Don’t forget that Iceland made it to the American consciousness in a big way in 1972, only one year after Cooper’s famous heist, when Bobby Fischer traveled there to play in the world chess championship. Still not convinced? Well, who’s that guy in the background watching Fischer’s arrival in Reykjavik? (Exhibit C)

I can’t prove any of this, of course. Which makes it a perfect conspiracy theory. Not sure where the mystery man is today… I’ll have to keep looking for him in the backgrounds of photos. He’s probably tending bar in Akureyri or something. If you see him, though, be careful….