Thursday, March 24, 2005

1974: GAYNOR

Never Can Say Goodbye (7 Dec - 2)

This will be the last entry I'll have time to complete before I disappear for a fortnight to enjoy an extremely well-earned holiday, and it seems fitting to depart by ushering in, not only the first "G" entry - steady - but also a record which for many readers may represent Year Zero, Day One, the moment when the future started; the first crossover Hi-NRG hit. In 1974 there was also Donna Summer's "The Hostage" which hit big in Germany and the Low Countries if nowhere else. But three full years before Summer's Once Upon A Time brought forth the genesis of the sequenced disco concept album (compare "I Need You Now" with Leonard Cohen's "The Guests"), there was side one, tracks 1-3, of Gloria Gaynor's debut album Never Can Say Goodbye - three segued songs with identical beats unifying to create something of a symphony to transience (and typically, such transience has proved far more durable than most of the "durable" music of this period), mixed and overseen by one of the most important operatives in any sphere of '70s music, the late and great Tom Moulton.

Beginning with the still bizarre "Honey Bee," in which Gaynor implores her Other for s(con)sensual satisfaction in a series of unsubtle metaphors ("Come on and sting me!" "You're always buzzin' buzzin' buzzin'") over a deranged fuzz guitar which seems to have escaped from Sky Saxon's coal bunker (why was the garage punk-disco fusion chimera left so unexplored?), the music strides into "Never Can Say Goodbye" itself and finally reaches its climax with a dizzying rush through "Reach Out I'll Be There."

Certainly "Never Can Say Goodbye" sounded like a bewitching future in the winter of '74, with its frenetic string intro, like "Love's Theme" at 78 rpm and its unstoppable layers of percussion topped by a strangely Nashville-sounding guitar, describing/re-inscribing an old Jackson Five weepie as though reheard via amyl nitrate. The methodology of speeding up a ballad to 120 bpm and amazingly making it doubly more moving and affecting did of course subsequently become a staple of gay disco, which is why Donna Summer's 22-minute artifically adrenalised rush through "Macarthur Park" may well cut deeper than Richard Harris' ham theatrics - her inhuman cackle ("A-haaaa!") is arguably more disturbing than any element of the original - and why Neil Tennant's reluctant confession of "Maybe I...didn't love you" right at the fade of the Pet Shop Boys' "Always On My Mind" touches a place Presley didn't even know existed.

As with "Until You Come Back To Me," "Never Can Say Goodbye" is a song about the desperation necessary to hold on to something, or someone, that has drifted away. Whereas Michael Jackson's soprano sobbed on the original recording, and Isaac Hayes' baritone boomed on his quickfire (1971) cover, Gaynor appears out of control - and the speed rush of the music traps her in the same way Moroder traps Summer on "I Feel Love"; as Gaynor sings "There's a very strange vibration," it's as if she's being involuntarily transported to the Earth's core to make her passion burn ("It says TURN AROUND YOU FOOL!"). But every time the roundabout slows down to give her an opportunity to get off, Gaynor denies herself the option - "Don't wanna let you go!" Note the coy/euphoric "Hey" acting as a subtle nod to the early Supremes. But in her despair, Gaynor is paradoxically and cosily euphoric about her imminent annihilation ("I can't do with or without"), and so the speed continues not to relent.

Outwardly, everything about "Never Can Say Goodbye" points to a hitherto unseen and unimagined brightness. The 18 minutes of side one of its parent album act as a challenge to Northern Soul hangovers (and indeed those 18 minutes were highly popular at the Twisted Wheel and similar) - can you keep it up for all that time? When sufficient numbers were hopped up on dust or sherbet fountains, they found that they could; hence the imminent arrival of the 12-inch single, and hence in the long-term side one of The Lexicon Of Love - all five songs, though not segued or strictly sequenced, share the same BPM, and work towards a cathartic climax of despair in "Valentine's Day." Here is one of the many places where it started.