Week 28: Platinum Swagger
Last weeks almost unbearable heat has been replaced with a couple of days worth of rain and thunderstorms – and everything still feels real good, mostly because I’m now officially on vacation! And one of my favourite things to do when I’m off work, is to dig out some old darlings from the crates and play them really loud (and while at it, teaching the kids some vintage moves)…and the top spot on that preferred pile of albums to be played real loud usually belongs to Johnnie Taylor and his “Eargasm” LP from 1976!
It’s opening cut, the unstoppable hit single “Disco Lady” needs to be played 4-5 times (increasingly louder and louder) before moving on to the rest of the album…simply one helluva song. After the third listen you start to reflect on how Johnnie really found the surefire recipe for chart success (listen closely all you wannabe artists out there), it’s simple, really:
First you spend like 25 years in the business doing some proper groundwork…creating yourself a name doing gospel, doo wop, gritty hard hitting soul and some sweet ballads – and then, when you’re on top of your game, you just record 8 or 9 solid R&B songs and, at the height of the disco era, add some extra hi-hat work to one or two of them…and BOOM, you too could have yourself something like the first certified platinum single ever in recording history. That’s how Johnnie Taylor did it – and that’s what allows for swagger like this: (Video clip borrowed from Sunny)
Let me just add that it probably helps using session musicians like Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins and Glen Goins (of Parliament-Funkadelic fame) for all your hit single efforts – and I guess using background vocalists like Telma Hopkins or seasoned songwriters and producers like Harvey Scales and Don Davis wouldn’t hurt either. For good measure, remember to throw in some not-so-ambiguous lyrics, like “Move it in, Move it out. Shove it in, ’round about – Disco Lady”…making even Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling” sound stiff.
For a full scope on Johnnie Taylor’s career, let’s check out the beginning of AMG’s Steve Huey bio on Johnnie:
“Young gospel phenom, gritty Stax/Volt soulster, lady-killing balladeer, chart-topping disco king, Southern soul-blues stalwart – Johnnie Taylor somehow always managed to adapt to the times, and he parlayed that versatility into a recording career that lasted nearly four decades. Nicknamed the “Philosopher of Soul” during his Stax days, that version of Taylor is best remembered for his 1968 R&B chart-topping smash “Who’s Making Love,” but far and away his biggest success was 1976’s across-the-board number one “Disco Lady,” the first single ever certified platinum (which at the time meant sales of over two million copies). When the national hits dried up, Taylor wound up as one of the most prolific artists on the Malaco label, a refuge for many Southern soul and blues veterans whose styles had fallen out of popular favor by the ’80s. Taylor called Malaco home for over 15 years and kept on recording and performing right up to his passing in 2000.” (Read the full story here!)
And for those of you who didn’t click the Harvey Scales or Don Davis links above, here the complete story on how the fantastic “Disco Lady” recording came together:
When Stax folded, Johnnie Taylor signed with Columbia Records in 1975, retaining Davis as his producer. All were hopeful with this new label association, but no one could have foreseen the success of Johnnie Taylor’s mega-hit “Disco Lady.” Recorded at Davis’ favorite studio, United Sound Studios in Detroit, the producer used Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman” and an African dancer he had seen on a vacation to Spain as a template for a partially finished song, “Disco Baby,” that songwriter Harvey Scales had brought to him. After adding ideas by Albert Vance, Davis took his tribute to dancefloor seductresses to Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell who honed and tightened up the groove, while veteran arranger David Van DePitte did the horn arrangements. Background vocals were done by studio group Brandy and Telma Hopkins of Tony Orlando and Dawn (“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”). The phenomenally successful hit single parked at number one R&B for six weeks and number one pop for four weeks on Billboard’s charts in early 1976. The BMI Award winning song can be found on his 1976 gold LP Eargasm. The Columbia Records 45 was the first certified platinum single by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) selling over two million copies and featured Parliament-Funkadelic members bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell.
OK…so after spinning that opening cut 5 or even 6 times, I usually flip directly to the B-side (to catch my breath after some serious exercising) to get myself an earful of the album’s next best song (in my opinion, almost stronger than “Disco Lady”…but that’s prolly because I can do the listening peacefully sitting down) – the hypnotic “Running Out Of Lies”, another great example of stellar songwriting, with Johnnie singing like there’s no tomorrow, to a slow, yet snappy beat with some serious horn and string sections perfectly attached to it. Just plain awesome! And those three little words pretty much sums up the entire album as well…a must-have for all of you!
The only bad thing about this post is that my copy of the album has been played way too many times to offer you a perfect rip. Luckily, there’s a 1999 CD re-issue still in circulation…get it immediately for that perfect listening experience. Or if you, like me, want your music on shiny black vinyl…get yourself a copy of the original 1976 LP right here (affordable too – ranging from $0.85 to $20)!
Johnnie Taylor – thank you for the music!
(Ps. While ripping the album, I managed to change the pitch for a minute with a sudden elbow move – and immediately noticed something fundamentally scary…which led to a serious discussion with my conspiracy theory loving pal, Soulbrotha. We now think that I by accident just might have stumbled across the Milli Vanilli scoop of the 70s! If you increase the pitch with about 10%, Johnnie Taylor sounds identical to Gladys Knight! Now just imagine the hilarious possibility of Johnnie just being a lip-synching stooge, fronting for a down-pitched Gladys and her cunning plan to turn dissatisfaction with the male dominated recording industry into some extra cash…now imagine the both of them laughing, hand in hand, all the way to the bank! Crazy talk? Just listen to this – and then tell me I’m barking up the wrong tree! Hehehe!)