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?)
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.
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.”
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?
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:
• 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).
• 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
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.
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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