All Hopped Up Music and Maps: Chapter 13
This 31-song (count ’em!) mix accompanies “The Apple Stretching,” Chapter 13 of my book All Hopped Up and Ready To Go: Music From The Streets of New York 1927-77. The chapter covers the growth of the “disco” scene in New York City, from the illicit loft parties and Mafia-controlled gay clubs of the late 1960s, through the flourishing downtown “discotheques” of the early 1970s, embracing the music’s ascension of the pop charts around 1974, and concluding with the 1976 story in New York magazine that formed the basis of Saturday Night Fever and the eventual mainstream saturation (though not the death) of disco.
Unlike previous mixes I compiled to accompany All Hopped Up and Ready To Go, The Apple Stretching does not feature music exclusively from New York City. What differentiated this musical scene from those that preceded it in New York was that the discotheque, not the live music club, was the destination of choice; as a result, it was the Disc Jockeys who played the records, rather than the musicians who played on the records, that were viewed as the performers. The chapter (and the scene) is as much about pioneering Manhattan DJs Francis Grasso, David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, and Larry Levan, and the (mostly gay, black/Latino) clubs with which they were indelibly linked (respectively, the Sanctuary, the Loft, the Gallery, and the Paradise Garage), as it is about any particular New York band or solo artist.
Accordingly, the music in this mix not only draws from a wider geographical area but from across a longer time span. Beginning with “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” from master percussionist Olatunji’s Drums of Passion album, recorded (in New York, in this case) in 1960, it then moves through some of the sounds that were influential on the dancefloors around the time of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and beyond: music by the Four Tops and Wilson Pickett, Rare Earth and Traffic. As the Loft and other venues took hold in the consciousness of the gay community in the early 1970s, DJs like Mancuso looked far and wide for music that would cater to their clientele, finding it not only in American acts like War and the Isley Brothers, but in Spain’s Barrabas (“Woman”), Britain’s Babe Ruth (“The Mexican”), the Caribbean band Cymande (“Bra”) and Africa’s Manu Dibangu (“Soul Makossa”).
Come 1974, the DJs’ influence on modern music became keenly apparent as the national record-buying public embraced songs that had first been exposed on New York dancefloors: “Love’s Theme” by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Rock The Boat” by the Hues Corporation and “Rock Your Baby” by George McRae all went to number one. Simultaneously, the sound of Philadelphia took hold, with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, First Choice and the Trammps proving popular in the charts as well as in the clubs that now swept down Manhattan’s lower Broadway and reached as far uptown as the Continental Baths. Nonetheless, the DJs created an anthem for themselves when they seized on the album track “Love Is the Message,” by Philadelphia International Records’ house band, MFSB. That track remains the underground disco classic to this day.
As the club DJ became ever more influential, record companies began catering to their request for longer mixes that would maintain the dancefloor pulse, as previously typified by Eddie Kendricks’ 1972 eight-minute album track classic, “Girl, You Need A Change of Mind.” New York’s Tom Moulton broke the mold in 1974 by creating the first ever 12” single with his remix of Al Downing’s “I’ll Be Holding On” when the mastering studio ran out of 7” acetates, and the new format officially took hold in 1976 with New York’s Salsoul label releasing the first commercial 12” single, a ten-minute extended mix of Double Exposure’s “Ten Per Cent.”
For all the preceding provisos, a significant amount of the music popularized in the New York clubs and loft parties of the 1970s was made in the Big Apple. Sometimes this was coincidental (per Olatunji or Gil Scott Heron, whose “The Bottle” became an unlikely dance floor classic), but there was enduring fondness and support for the groups that had formed in the late 1960s when a culture of experimentation had let to ever larger live bands playing ever longer funk and soul and instrumental party cuts. Brass Construction, Crown Heights Affair, the Fatback Band, and Kool & The Gang all hailed from the New York Metropolitan area, as did B.T. (formerly Brooklyn Trucking) Express, whose “Do It Till You’re Satisfied,” as remixed by Tom Moulton, rose all the way to number four in the pop charts in late 1974.
It could be argued that this particular scene peaked around then. The popularity of the music, and the clubs from which they emanated, was such that the mainstream media wrote about them on an almost weekly basis and the culture duly dissipated as it spread to the outer Boroughs. Nik Cohn’s New York cover story, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which focused on a club populated by reactionary male Italians in Brooklyn, rather than the loft parties and exclusive clubs frequented by a multi-ethnic gay crowd in Manhattan, was effectively the nail in the coffin – especially once it was optioned for a movie by Robert Stigwood, the impresario behind the American success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy. For the soundtrack to what would become Saturday Night Fever, Stigwood turned to an act he had discovered back in the sixties, one that still recorded for his record label RSO… the Bee Gees, whose latest disco single, “You Should Be Dancing,” was already on its way to number one that summer of 1976. The story of disco was about to be rewritten.
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