Tuesday, February 22, 2005

1974: DISCO

DISCO TEX and His SEX-O-LETTES
Get Dancin' (23 Nov - 8)

The bagpipe-type drone of the saxophones at the intro recalls "Hoots Mon." Then the boot-stomping beat kicks in concurrently with gloriously artificial crowd cheers and whoops to suggest a marriage between the Miami/TK beat and Slade's brand of glam-Doc - KC and the Sunshine Band doing "Cuz I Love You." Excitable female backing vocals yell "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!" before settling into setting the scene with a syncopated '20s-style Charleston refrain, all to introduce - Sir Monti Rock III.

The man himself, the former hairdresser and Johnny Carson Tonight Show regular, the "little faggot from Puerto Rico without a clue" (as he once described himself), a Vegas star in the '60s until blackballed for uncertain indiscretions, only to be resuscitated in the '70s by Four Seasons mentor Bob Crewe. And what a resuscitation! He storms into the song, yelling indiscriminately in Brooklynese and Spanish at 300 mph: "Turn yourself on! We've got to get together and BOOGIEWOOGIEWOOGIEBOOGIE!! Radar Love is here!!!" Ray Stevens collides with Dorothy Parker.

"Get Dancin'" has an extremely strong case for being the most important single of 1974, and is certainly the key record in taking gay disco out of The Loft and into the world. In its shameless marriage of Glitterbeat, Cotton Club shimmy and barrio R&B it manages to anticipate just about everything which punctumised pop in the '80s. Despite its embrace of the future, however, "Get Dancin'" shares the same uncertain glance at the recent past as other pop of the era: "Dance your dance to all those hits you remember!" Sir Monti instructs. "You can't think of all the WRONG things in the world!" No sooner has he looked back in angst that he re-engages in mischief with a succession of orgasmic groans ("I'm turning myself on!") before again urging liberation on his audience, i.e. us - "Nobody cares how you wear your hair, darling, just keep doing it!"

Disco Tex also comes out of the same and venerable tradition of operatives like the Johnny Otis Show. And, as with the latter's verging-on-the-demonic/hysterical "Mama He's Making Eyes At Me," the song drops out halfway through, seemingly with exhaustion ("My chiffon is wet, darling!"), before an insistent clavinet hauls it back in again, doubly reinforced ("Please help me! You must forget all your troubles!").

Do the Sex-O-Lettes really sing "Fuck you" at 4:33?

Sir Monti, meanwhile, attains extrabodily transcendence. He quotes from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" but advises with a wink, "Sweat, and you'll just get wet." His reverberating scream of "DAAAAAAANNNNCE!" at 5:24 suggests falling through a trapdoor into the abyss, but at 5:35 he's rescued again by an unlikely Orange Lodge marching band. He goes for the final climax ("I'm KILLING myself baby!") before signing off with a defiant "Rock 'n' roll is here to stay!" answered by an immediate Glitter Band "HEY!" as the record collapses into its glorious self.

There was to be a second and even bigger hit single in 1975, "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo" ("Dig my rhinestone tap shoes!"), and best of all an album, Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes Review, which three decades later remains one of the most startlingly original and compulsive of all dance albums. All eleven tracks are segued and underscored by the same conjured crowd noises, and while you briefly observe that you could sing the tune of "Born With A Smile On My Face" to "Jam Band," you gasp as it's suddenly submerged by Leslie cabinet psyched-out guitars. Then it's straight into "Shirley Wood" which pretty well invents Prince, though the eventual bitonal clarinet and trumpet lines suggest a pitched battle between Purple Rain and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra. As for "Around The World," intoned with deft coolness by one Luann Simms, its coldly irrational Glitter stomp winks "Goldfrapp? We were there first and best." Even Freddy Cannon is brought back from the living dead to sing the outrageous "Outrageous," and as we reach "(I See Your) Name Up In Lights," the Latin influence becomes more pronounced (so much so that when "Me No Pop I" first came out I briefly assumed Coati Mundi to be Disco Tex), except that Sir Monti keeps pulling it into chasms of manic dub. Meanwhile, the remarkable "Love Is A Killer," credited to "The Chocolate Kisses" who sound very much like fellow Bob Crewe-produced act Labelle, is the Shirelles forcibly relocated to the barrio frontline. Compulsory listening (and dancing) for music which, out of all 1974 pop, is most fiercely redolent of pop in 2005.