Chuck’s Record Collection: “Disco Rocket”

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In the summer of ’77, a half-year before the movie and soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever redefined disco music for Top 40 mass appeal, K-tel took another shot at a disco collection.

(Its 1975 Disco Mania, while entertaining, was a goofball mix that included Styx, Kiss… and Bachman-Turner Overdrive?)

“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh.”

The two-record set Disco Rocket, for better or worse, was a more accurate reflection of what rode the charts and dominated the dance floors in 1976-77.

Unlike some of the K-tel collections I’ve reviewed, like Today’s Super Greats and 20 Power Hits, Disco Rocket did not land on my turntable upon its release.

I’m not exactly sure when I acquired it, but would bet that it was in the late ’90s or early ’00s, at a used book and record store. I’m betting I listened to it once and tucked it away – until now.

It’s got some gems and a few head-scratchers…
as K-tel collections typically do.

But its highlight: Six songs to a side, which means almost no edits beyond the original single. (By contrast, Pure Gold, released in the same time frame, had nine songs to a side, some substantially snipped.)

Critics of this midpoint of the disco years decry the facelessness of the performances. Unlike the early years that brought listeners such divas as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer or the Fever period of the Bee Gees, Chic and the Village People, the disco of 1976-77 lacked standout artists. And that’s evident on Disco Rocket.

Still, it’s hard to resist the groove of Andrea True Connection’s N.Y., You Got Me Dancing or T-Connection’s Do What You Wanna Do. And the soul/funk/disco combo of Rose Royce’s Car Wash, Brick’s Dazz and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music can’t be beat.

Anyone who reads the credits might get the answer to how a collection like this came together.

Motown, Buddah, Salsoul and T.K. Records’ tracks dominate this collection (18 of 24 or three-fourths of the set).

I can easily imagine a record exec saying, “You want ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’? How about throwing in a track from George McCrae? And Timmy Thomas, too.”

And, by the way: we also own the rights to the entire Ethel Merman Disco Album.
I’m sure we can work something out.

As the K-tel Kollection site notes, only three of the tracks missed the Top 30 of the disco chart – and one of those, inexplicably, was the Sylvers’ poppy dance jam, Hot Line. So if there was then what today we would call “corporate synergy” going on, it at least made sense to the folks who danced their nights away.

Where was K-tel’s editing team when the cover jacket was created? The Salsoul Orchestra track on side one of record two is not “Magic Bird of Fire (Firebird Suite),” but another track from the same album, their on-target instrumental of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Getaway.

If K-tel couldn’t pony up for the spectacular original, this version isn’t a bad replacement. Too bad it wasn’t properly credited.

And who knew that Play That Funky Music had a third verse? Or, rather, a second, which was edited out of the 45?

Innocence lost.

I never owned the Wild Cherry album that presumably had the entire track.

But surprisingly, Disco Rocket leads off with the uncut version. It’s a good sign of a collection that has a lot going for it:

Top-shelf:

• Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music
• Andrea True Connection’s N.Y., You Got Me Dancing
• Tavares’ Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel
• Rose Royce’s Car Wash
• Salsoul Orchestra’s Tangerine
• Brick’s Dazz
• K.C. & the Sunshine Band’s I’m Your Boogie Man
• The Miracles’ Love Machine
• Sylvers’ Hot Line
• Silvetti’s Spring Rain
• Diana Ross’ Love Hangover
Kebekelektrik’s Magic Fly (an obscure slice of Moroder-esque dance pop).

Decent:

• Eddie Kendricks’ Goin’ Up in Smoke
• Norman Connors’ Once I’ve Been There
• Melba Moore’s The Greatest Feeling
• The Supremes’ You’re My Driving Wheel
• Timmy Thomas’ Stone to the Bone
• T-Connection’s Do What You Wanna Do
• George McCrae’s Love in Motion

Yuck:

I enjoy the Addrisi Brothers’ Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On, as Cro-Magnon as its lyrics are. But title aside, there is no way it’s a disco song. (It’s another of those three tracks that missed Billboard’s Disco Top 30.) Even as the last song on a side, it doesn’t belong.

And the Originals’ Down to Love Town ends the collection with a whimper.

Question Marks:

The two most divisive tracks are also, to me, the most fun: Celi Bee & the Buzzy Bunch’s Superman and the Wilton Place Street Band’s Disco Lucy.

Both take pop culture icons for a spin on the dance floor. The lyrics of Superman make for a vulgar listening experience, but on the dance floor, it’s got the same kind of goofy sex appeal as Summer’s Love to Love You Baby.

And while repeated listenings of Disco Lucy would make for a novel way to torture someone, I can’t help but giggle to think that this made folks wiggle. (Maybe the fact that Lucy was my grandmother’s name has something to do with it.)

The presence of I’m Your Boogie Man rather than Keep It Comin’ Love – and the absence of Meco’s Star Wars disco cover – suggests this album came along in midsummer ’77.

It’s a good time capsule of that era, when even faceless acts could get a disco and, sometimes AT40, hit.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

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Virgindog
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Virgindog
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November 14, 2022 10:47 am

My wife had the Wild Cherry album in her collection when we met. I think we still have it but I can’t say we ever listened to it. I can’t say that second verse has inspired me to run out an buy a turntable.

Nice job, Chuck!

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 14, 2022 10:53 am

Beyond the ones I already know, I tried to get a feel for the tracks included here, and it seems like a solid comp of disco burners!

I’m someone who came to disco after getting into house and trance music, so the notion of faceless acts being bad is alien to me. Such music is perfect for a seamless DJ set for the dance floor!

It is strange, given the premise of the song, that Slow Dancing Don’t Turn Me On was recorded at such a slow tempo. Try listening to it at 1.25 speed on YouTube though, and it starts to sound more like proper disco!  😎 

dutchg8r
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November 14, 2022 12:32 pm

Hats off to you Chuck for making the sacrifice to provide us with a review of Disco Rocket. 😁

(Who at K-Tel came up with that title? My goodness, sounds like something one could order from an Adam & Eve catalog…)

Mt, I totally snorted out loud at the thought of Ethel Merman’s Disco Hits catalog. Immediately had a Mashup image of her singing in Airplane but on the disco floor with the fighting Girl Scouts with switchblades, belting out “Night Fever”.

I was amused at least.

Chuck, is there a definitive list of all K-Tel records ever produced? How close are you to having a complete library? I kept a list of Agatha Christie’s books with me as a teenager and in early 20s to keep track of what I had and what I still needed. Didn’t make it to a complete set, but I think I got over 50 of the 65 or so she wrote scouring used book stores over the years.

mt58
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November 14, 2022 1:19 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

> (Who at K-Tel came up with that title? My goodness, sounds like something one could order from an Adam & Eve catalog…)

Re: when I was working last night to create the title graphic:

I’d love to tell you all about what images popped up for search term “Chuck + Rocket + Disco Ball.” Yikes.

I’m probably now on a list.

lovethisconcept
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November 15, 2022 2:20 pm
Reply to  mt58

You are probably on several. But it’s all in pursuit of art.

lovethisconcept
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November 15, 2022 2:19 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

A complete set of Agatha Christie is a worthy ambition. Hope you get there some day. I have never tried to collect them all, but I still probably have 20-30 from random shopping.

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 14, 2022 12:54 pm

Some great stuff on Disco Rocket. Car Wash is an all time favourite. Some intriguing stuff that I’ve never heard of before like Kebekelektrik – which nevermind the song just has me thinking where, why and what were they thinking of with that name?

I don’t recognise You’re My Driving Wheel either but again its a case of what were they thinking? Looking at the lyrics it suggests something salacious but I can’t help thinking that the driving wheel analogy isn’t one to get anyone’s party started.

Overall though, gotta love K-Tel for the great, the good and the bizarre.

mt58
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November 14, 2022 1:12 pm

And, as some say:

“The Yuck.”

dutchg8r
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November 14, 2022 1:16 pm

Kebekelektrik = when some German dude was dared after Oktoberfest by his mate to spell out his cat’s hairball hacking sound.

Probably. 🙃

mt58
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November 14, 2022 1:32 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Yep.

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dutchg8r
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November 14, 2022 1:34 pm
Reply to  mt58

😂

Gesundheit.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 14, 2022 1:37 pm
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I came for The Yuck, and yet here I got some yuks.

cappiethedog
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November 14, 2022 3:37 pm

Stephen King used “I’m Your Boogie Man” as an epigraph in his short story collection Skeleton Crew. I always found that song a little menacing, as a result. I think it inspired Shriekback frontman Barry Andrews. His band’s version of “Get Down Tonight” sounds menacing.

“Play That Funky Music” is put to amusing use in Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. The protagonist is the kid in that Everclear song; the only white kid in an all-black school. He feels attacked by Wild Cherry, personally, in addition to his classmates, who serenade him every day. When he learns that Wild Cherry looks like him, as Lethem describes it, he feels as if a big weight just got lifted from his chest. And ends up liking the song.

reggie
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November 14, 2022 4:25 pm

Replace the Decent and Yuck tracks with these songs from 1976-77 and now you’ve got what a disco complilation album from that era should really look like.

Dancing Queen – ABBA
Boogie Nights – Heatwave
Sing A Song – Earth, Wind & Fire
Turn The Beat Around – Vickie Sue Robinson
You Should Be Dancing – Bee Gees
Love Rollercoaster – Ohio PLayers
December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – The Four Seasons
Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston

Mr. Plow
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November 16, 2022 2:45 pm

As a young Plow, I had 2 K-Tel collections. The best was the classic Star Power on 8-track and another called Star Hits on lp. The Star Power had an eclectic lineup including everything from Meco, KC & TSB and the Emotions to KISS and Rush to Ronnie Milsap. The lesser-known Star Hits had Meco’s Close Encounters theme and some Little River Band, I think.

Ozmoe
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November 17, 2022 7:40 pm

I knew about the Supremes dying effort to stay current with You’re My Driving Wheel, but the Originals were still in business too and trying to stay hip with disco as well?! Man, that’s a revelation to me! Great job on this, Chuck!

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