New Song of the Week: MONZA EXPRESS – “In the City”

Monza Express In The City

Monza Express are a five-piece guitar band from Aberdeen, Scotland who formed in 2017 from the ashes of several other bands. As they humorously state in their bio, they’re “all the wrong side of 30 [and] no strangers to live music, having played in various bands in Aberdeen over the years.” Drawing on influences from a variety of sources depending on which member you speak to, the band includes Fraser Bateman (lead vocals & rhythm guitar), “Mr Glass” Shaun Reid (lead guitar), Greg “Mercury” Burgess (bass), Kris Fraser (keyboards, backing vocals) and David “Deco” Smith (drums). (I love that ‘Fraser’ is the first name of one member and last name of another.)

Following up on their 2018 double-single release “Sunshine/Big Dumb Rock” – both terrific songs that I urge my readers to check out using one of the links below – Monza Express just dropped a delightful new single “In the City“, which I’ve selected as my New Song of the Week. The song has a rather serendipitous little back story. The recording session was a runner-up prize in a Facebook competition put out by Aberdeenshire-based Floortom Studios, inviting acts to submit their rough song demos for possible selection by studio producer Steve Curtis. The band submitted a live GoPro rehearsal recording of “In the City”, and were delighted to learn they’d been awarded one of the coveted spots. The song was recorded, mixed and produced by Curtis, and mastered at Metropolis Studios in London.

The sweet song addresses themes of escapism from the standard 9 to 5. Fraser explains:  “I called it ‘In the City’ as both The Jam and The Who have songs [with that title] and I love those bands and what they stood for.” Bateman adds: “The composition came from a bass line Greg had been playing and we went from there. I like the almost early 60s style of the arrangement, especially when Shaun is just playing the main melody. It gives the song a little familiarity.”

The lighthearted song has a bouncy, guitar-driven melody that’s just too damn infectious! It’s the perfect feel-good song for summer, and it’s made me a big fan of Monza Express.

When you’re living in the city
And the bar looks so so pretty
Running shelter from the weather
Beer, pool and ripped up leather
I can take you miles away
Circle JFK for the day
Come and climb the Empire State
We’ll have ourselves some cake
We’ll have ourselves some cake

When you’re living in the city
And the barmaid oh so pretty
Running shelter from the thunder
Fill your glass with endless wonder
I can take you miles away
Eurostar to Paris today
Come and sail the Seine with me
We’ll have a cup of tea
We’ll have a cup of tea…and whiskey

The equally delightful and endearing animated video is a good indication that the guys don’t take themselves too seriously. Says Bateman: “I went on the website Fiverr and commissioned an animator in Pakistan to make us a video. I sent the song, the lyric sheet and photos of the band and left him to it. What resulted was an almost literal translation of the lyrics that we couldn’t not use. We think it’ll get laughs and multiple views.” I love it!

Connect with Monza Express:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Apple Music

ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

IGNITE THE FIRE – Single Review: “Echoes”

Ignite the Fire2

Alternative metal band Ignite the Fire play some of the most electrifying rock I’ve had the pleasure of hearing recently. Based in the state of Maryland northwest of Baltimore, the band was formed in 2011 by guitarist Mark Quinn and drummer Caelan Gregory while they were still both in high school. Their phenomenal vocalist Jack Gurecki joined a short time later after responding to a flyer put out by the band looking for a singer, and was soon joined by a second guitarist Michael Nelson, who serves as the band’s resident “unclean” vocalist for their harder-edge songs. The fifth and newest band member is the amazing bassist Holly Smith, who came on board in 2017.

That same year, Ignite the Fire released their debut EP Trial and Triumph, an outstanding work featuring their hard-hitting single “Criticize”, which was named 2017 Song of the Year by Z98 and iHeartRadio. They followed up in late November 2018 with a second EP Between Shadows and Solace, featuring six mind-blowing tracks. “This whole EP is about what it means to be human,” says band drummer Caelan Gregory. “We don’t want to just connect with listeners on a musical level, but an emotional one as well, and in doing that we hope to connect with people in a real and significant way.” Guitarist Mark Quinn adds “The title ‘Between Shadow and Solace’ speaks for itself. We are writing about battling the darkness but also about the hope that is there. You see that in the world we live in. There’s this feeling of dread and darkness around us but also there’s hope.

In April, they released an outstanding video for “Echoes“, one of the most popular tracks from the EP that strongly resonated with their fans and followers. The video shows scenes of a man returning to an empty house he once occupied with his significant other, and remembering past moments they shared in better times, interspersed with scenes of the band performing the song. At the end of the video, he sees her standing on the beach, and runs toward her, only to disappear just before reaching her. We’re left to determine the scene’s meaning for ourselves, but my take is that it’s too late to salvage the relationship, and he can no longer reach her, literally and figuratively. The video was directed by Tom Flynn and stars Jimmy Donohue and Kris Doscher.

“Echoes” is a stunning rock anthem, starting off with a gentle melodic synth and strummed guitar line. The song then expands in the first verse with jangly guitars, strings, keyboards, and crisp percussion as Jack begins singing in his beautiful, clear vocals. When the first chorus arrives, Holly’s deep bassline melds seamlessly with Mike’s guitar riff into a thunderous mix, accompanied by Caelan’s power drums that send the song into the sonic stratosphere. Jack’s commanding vocals – which have been favorably compared to Shinedown frontman Brent Smith’s –  rise to the occasion, bringing chills as he passionately sings the deeply poignant lyrics:

Cause I fear that I’m right
But I pray that I’m wrong
I’ll echo this silence
And I won’t let go
You left me uncertain
Don’t leave me alone
I’ll search through the darkness
And I won’t let go

The band just released a ‘Behind the Song’ video where they discuss their process and inspiration for the writing of “Echoes”.

Since 2018, Ignite the Fire has performed on numerous stages, supporting the bands Otherwise, Shaman’s Harvest, BadWolves, From Ashes To New and Diamante via Live Nation.  This year they provided direct support to Stone Horses and Another Lost Year, and headlined shows in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Those of you in the Middle Atlantic region can catch them at one of these upcoming shows. I would love to see them along with another one of my favorite bands The Mayan Factor, but alas, live 3,000 miles away.

SAT JUNE 8  –  ROCK FOR ROB! 2019 @ KC’s Music Alley, Fredericksburg, VA

FRI JUNE 14  –  With Stone Horses, The Mayan Factor, After the Broken @ Fish Head Cantina, Baltimore, MD

FRI-SAT JUNE 22-23  –  With Defending Cain, Seventh Seal @ Break Away II Sports Lounge, Hagerstown, MD

Connect with Ignite the Fire:  Website / Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

Top 30 Songs for June 2-8, 2019

1. BURY A FRIEND – Billie Eilish (3)
2. DISAPPEAR – Western Jaguar (1)
3. CHLORINE – twenty one pilots (2)
4. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (5)
5. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (6)
6. LONGSHOT – Catfish and the Bottlemen (4)
7. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (8)
8. HURT – Oliver Tree (9)
9. TIME – Morosity (7)
10. LOVE CRAZY – Karolina Rose (10)
11. STILL FEEL. – half alive (12)
12. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (13)
13. BELOVED – Mumford & Sons (15)
14. TRAMPOLINE – SHAED (14)
15. PATIENCE – Tame Impala (18)
16. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (29)
17. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (20)
18. NOT WORTH IT – The Only Route (21)
19. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (22)
20. CHOKE – I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (23)
21. SIGUE CON EL AMOR – John Defeo (11) 21st week on chart
22. READY TO LET GO – Cage the Elephant (16)
23. SAW LIGHTNING – Beck (27)
24. MAYBE, I’M AFRAID – lovelytheband (28)
25. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (30)
26. APOLOGIZE – grandson (26)
27. SEVENTEEN – Sharon Van Etten (17)
28. LO/HI – The Black Keys (19)
29. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (N)
30. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (N)

BEN PRIORY & CHARLIE PEREIRA – Single Review: “Here We Go”

Herewego (2)

Aside from the thrill of seeing one of my posts go viral (which almost never happens), my biggest joy about having a music blog is writing about music I really love. And boy, am I in love with the stunning debut single “Here We Go” by two young artists from Portsmouth, England: Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira. What’s especially astonishing about the quality of the song and vocals is that they’re both only 17 years old!

Ben and Charlie started making music together at the age of 12, when they’d have drum battles in Ben’s bedroom. Ben wrote the music for “Here We Go” last September (2018), then recorded all the instruments, including synths, piano, bass and drums. Charlie wrote the lyrics, and recorded the vocals over two sessions, the first in December 2018, and the second in February 2019. Ben produced and mixed the song, then sent the track to Peter Maher (U2, The 1975, Snow Patrol, Katy Perry) for mastering.

The song is perfection from start to finish. It opens with night sounds of crickets and waves crashing on a distant beach, setting a rather pensive mood. Then a somber piano riff, accompanied by finger snaps and bass, enter the mix as Charlie softly sings with an air of sadness in his voice of the hurt and disappointment someone’s caused him:

So I’ve been sitting here for the longest time
And it’s just not fine with me
But what you’ve done
And how you thing it’s all fun
But it just can’t run
You made that sacrifice
And I had to pay the price
For you to do what you do but it makes me blue
And you don’t even have a clue

Suddenly, the tone shifts in the chorus to a joyful, upbeat vibe with the addition of lush, shimmery synths, guitar and a bouncy bass drum beat. Charlie’s vocals are now more ardent and hopeful as he sings of the pleasures of making music, providing an escape from the sadness he was feeling earlier, and perhaps giving the relationship another go:

So here we go now
Hearing our soft sound
Hear the bass drum pound
But we don’t know til we will hit the ground
But hear the bass line flow
It’s faster yeah, never slow
Let’s do the show
Here we go, here we go, here we go

Yeah let’s take it back
Listen to the sweet guitar
It’s not a competition you’re my superstar
Just go for a drive
Let’s get away
We can take my car

Ben and Charlie have created a beautiful song that’s the perfect summer tune. I’m quite impressed by the quality and maturity of their sound, especially given their youth, and hope to hear more music from these guys very soon!

Connect with Ben:  Facebook / Instagram
Purchase “Here We Go” on iTunes

20 Best Disco Songs of All Time

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and coming of age as a gay man in the 1970s, I absolutely loved Disco. Although it was a music genre people loved to hate (many considered Disco a scourge in much the same way I felt about Rap in the 1990s), it was immensely popular, lasting from early 1974 to around 1980, by which time the genre rapidly flamed out. Once the “I Love Lucy” theme was made into a Disco remix, it was quite honestly time for the genre to die. But, man, what a great run it had!

Disco’s origins were inspired by R&B, soul and funk, which is why many of the early Disco songs were from Black artists like Hues Corporation, Van McCoy, The O’Jays, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, The Trammps, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Some of the popular Disco songs were also big chart hits, but beginning around 1976, many were extended compositions or remixes recorded with the intention of being played in the clubs, and lasted ten minutes or longer, often with lush orchestration and heavy use of synthesizers.

Just like today, where club DJs play electronic or house music with one track blending seamlessly into the next without interruption, so did the DJs of the Disco era. As Sister Sledge so eloquently put it in one of their songs, people could get “Lost in Music”. Gay men especially love their divas, so it was only natural that many of the biggest stars of Disco were women – most notably Donna Summer, but also Gloria Gaynor, Thelma Houston, Patti Labelle, Linda Clifford, Alicia Bridges, Betty Wright and Grace Jones, to name but a few. Even some of the big mainstream artists like Diana Ross, the O’Jays, Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart had big Disco hits.

There were so many great Disco songs produced that it was really tough narrowing my list to only 20. That said, the point of this post is to pick what I consider the best, so these are my choices based on my personal memories of what songs were the most fun to dance to, or drove crowds crazy. While some dance songs like “Stayin’ Alive” and “Le Freak” – both of which I love – were massive chart hits and incredibly popular, they weren’t necessarily as fun (for me anyway) to dance to as the following songs were. Also, while there have been great dance songs released from the 1930’s (beginning with the jitterbug & swing) through the present day, this list only includes songs released between 1974 and 1980. Many of the songs I chose are about dancing, going to the disco, and/or have the word ‘dance’ in their title.

20.  I NEED A MAN – Grace Jones (1977)
It goes without saying that a song titled “I Need a Man”, combined with her striking, androgynous appearance, made Grace Jones a fashion and gay icon in the late 1970s and 80s (her cross-dressing style would later have a major influence on such artists as Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Lorde). Born in Jamaica, Jones moved with her family to Syracuse, New York when she was 13, and later began a modelling career in New York, then Paris, working for fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent and Kenzo, and appearing on the covers of Elle and Vogue.

“I Need a Man” was originally recorded and released in France in 1975, while she was still working as a model, but went nowhere. The track was later re-mixed and released in the U.S., appearing on her 1977 debut album Portfolio, whereupon it became a huge hit in the dance clubs, reaching #1 on the Billboard Dance chart. It also contributed to her popularity among the gay community, and she became a star on New York City’s Studio 54-centered disco scene. After Disco fell into disfavor in the early 80s, Jones transitioned to new wave music, as well as acting, appearing as Zula in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Conan the Destroyer, and as May Day in the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill, among other minor roles.

“I Need a Man” features a fast-paced dance beat, lush strings, guitars and keys, and Jones’ emphatic vocals exclaiming “I need a man, perhaps a man like you. I need a man, to make my dreams come true.” Damn right!

19.  SHAME – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978)
Evelyn “Champagne” King was born in the Bronx to a musical family (her father was a back-up singer at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, her mother managed the band Quality Red, and her uncle Avon Long played the part of Sportin’ Life in the first Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess, and worked with Lena Horne at the Cotton Club), and later raised in Philadelphia. King had a rich and mature singing voice, and was only 17 when she recorded “Shame”. The song features a strong, irresistible dance beat, but it’s the incredible saxophone work by Sam Peake that’s the real highlight. The piano, funky bass and intricate guitars are terrific as well. It was a relatively big hit, and one of my favorite songs of 1978.

18.  YOU SHOULD BE DANCING – Bee Gees (1976)
The Bee Gees began their career writing and singing mostly heartfelt ballads, but transitioned to a more rock-oriented style in the mid 1970s with their single “Jive Talkin”. Some consider it a Disco song, and though it’s certainly danceable, I don’t consider it true Disco. For me, it was their later single “You Should Be Dancing”, with it’s infectious, thumping dance beat, that qualifies as Disco, and what a fun song it was to dance to! It was later used for one of the great dance scenes in the film Saturday Night Fever, where John Travolta wows us with his amazing moves on the dance floor. The brothers Gibb of course went on to record several more iconic dance songs for the film, including “Stayin’ Alive”, “Night Fever” and “More Than a Woman”.

Fun fact: I once sang this at Karaoke and did a damn fine job!

17.  DON’T LEAVE ME THIS WAY – Thelma Houston (1977)
This gorgeous, heart-wrenching anthem was originally written by the Philadelphia songwriting duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (whose version I prefer, thanks to Teddy Pendergrass’s passionate soulful vocals), however, it was a #1 hit for Thelma Houston, who also did a wonderful job with the song. I’ve included both versions so you can listen and decide for yourself.

16.  BOOGIE WONDERLAND – Earth, Wind & Fire with The Emotions (1979)
“Boogie Wonderland” is unquestionably one of the most exhilarating dance songs – or any song for that matter – ever recorded. As its title implies, it turns a dance floor into a ‘boogie wonderland’, and I used to dance myself into a frenzy when I heard this song played in the clubs. I’ve always loved Earth, Wind & Fire’s music, and teaming up with female group The Emotions on this track resulted in sonic gold. I realize I use the word ‘exuberant’ a lot, but my god, this song has exuberance in spades! I love the powerful dance beat and Earth, Wind & Fire’s signature piercing horn section that they generously employ on this track. The male and female vocal harmonies are absolutely marvelous.

15.  THE HUSTLE – Van McCoy (1975)
Van McCoy’s production using lush orchestral strings, jubilant horns, chirping flute and funky guitars made for a gorgeous and joyful dance song that just makes you feel so happy. Other than for choral vocals singing “Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh. Do it!” and occasional shouts of “Do the hustle!“, the song is essentially an instrumental. The song spawned the hustle dance craze, and was a massive Disco hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Soul and Dance charts.

14. HE’S THE GREATEST DANCER – Sister Sledge (1979)
Sister Sledge became famous for their monster hit “We Are Family”, but it was their previous single “He’s the Greatest Dancer” that really does it for me. Written and produced by guitarist/songwriter/composer/producer Nile Rodgers and bassist/songwriter/producer Bernard Edwards – the esteemed front men for the band Chic – the song was originally intended to be performed by Chic, but they decided to have Sister Sledge do the song instead. It quickly became a huge hit in the dance clubs upon its release in early 1979. I love that unmistakable Nile Rodgers funky guitar riff that continues throughout the track. It’s a perfect Disco song, both musically and lyrically, although there was an early snag during its production.

Rodgers later recalled the sisters being upset at being asked to sing the lyric “My crème de la crème please take me home“, as they felt it would make them seem like loose women. They suggested a lyric adjustment to “My crème de la crème, please don’t go home,” but Rodgers says he and Edwards refused to change the lyric “because we knew the world that we were writing about obviously more than [Sister Sledge] did, because they had never even been in a disco…He ain’t going to go home because [he is] the greatest dancer…he’s gonna stay there longer than you.” Rodgers later described his and Edwards’s approach with Sister Sledge as one of “sing this,” and admitted to “misrepresenting” them because neither of them had even met the sisters before the sessions. (Wikipedia)

The song was later sampled by Will Smith in his 1997 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”.

13. LAST DANCE – Donna Summer (1978)
One of the most iconic of Donna Summer’s many hits, “Last Dance” is from the soundtrack album to the 1978 film Thank God It’s Friday. It was written by Paul Jabara, co-produced by Summer’s regular collaborator Giorgio Moroder along with Bob Esty, and mixed by Grammy Award-winning producer Stephen Short, whose backing vocals are featured in the song. The song became a critical and commercial success, winning both Academy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Original Song, the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was often played at closing time at the bars and discos in 1978 and 1979.

12.  DON’T STOP ‘TIL YOU GET ENOUGH – Michael Jackson (1979)
Generally considered a ground-breaking turning point for Michael Jackson’s career, in which he transitioned from being part of a group to a major solo artist, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is not a Disco song per se, but man is it an awesome dance song! The lead single from his hugely-successful and critically acclaimed album Off the Wall, the song was Jackson’s first #1 hit as a solo artist. Masterfully produced by Quincy Jones, the song starts off cautiously, with Jackson softly speaking, accompanied by a bass riff. Suddenly, the song explodes into a lightning storm of piercing horns as Jackson screams “Ooh!”, setting the airwaves afire. From that point on, were hopelessly hooked by this brilliant song overflowing with exuberant horns, swirling strings, funky guitars, and head-bopping percussion.

11.  SUPERNATURE – Cerrone (1977)
By 1976, in increasing number of musicians & producers from Europe like Cerrone, Giorgio Moroder and Alec Costandinos were using synthesizers to make elaborate dance music. Marc Cerrone was a French disco drummer, composer, record producer and creator of major concert shows, and was considered one of the most influential disco producers of the 1970s and ’80s in Europe. The album Supernature, which has sold over eight million copies worldwide, is considered his magnum opus work. A departure from the lush orchestration with electronic instrumentation added to the mix, it was co-written by Alain Wisniak. The lyrics to “Supernature”, written by Lene Lovich, have a sci-fi theme, concerning the rebellion of mutant creatures, created by scientists to end starvation among mankind, against the humans. It was a massive hit in the discos and clubs, and I loved it so much I bought the album.

10. THAT’S WHERE THE HAPPY PEOPLE GO – The Trammps (1976)
The Trammps are best known for their smash hit “Disco Inferno”, which was featured in the film and soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. But it was their earlier work that made the Philadelphia band a staple of the disco clubs beginning in the mid 1970s, and “That’s Where the Happy People Go” was their greatest song in my opinion. The jubilant song was a celebration of going to the disco, letting loose and having a ball, and lead singer Earl Young’s raw, soulful vocals are wonderful. Like many of the long disco songs of that period, it featured full orchestration and a powerful, exhilarating beat that just compelled you to get up and dance!

9.  DANCE, DANCE, DANCE (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) – Chic (1977)
From the late 1970s to late 1980s, the powerhouse songwriting team of guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards could do no wrong, producing not only a string of hits for their band Chic, but also writing and producing hits for such acts as the aforementioned Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Debbie Harry and Johnny Mathis. Their very first single release as Chic was “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” a catchy as hell dance song that had everyone dancing with glee. I could just as easily have put their equally great songs “Everybody Dance”, “Le Freak” or “Good Times” on this list instead, but chose this one as it was their first hit that introduced the world to their infectious dance-funk music.

After the break-up of Chic in 1983, Rodgers went on to produce hits for David Bowie (Let’s Dance album), Madonna (“Like a Virgin”), Duran Duran (“The Reflex” and “Notorious”), among others, and of course went on to win three Grammy Awards for his work with Daft Punk on Ramdon Access Memories. Before his untimely death in 1996, Edwards helped form the supergroup Power Station, and worked with Jody Watley, Rod Stewart and Air Supply, among others.

8.  FROM EAST TO WEST – Voyage (1977)
Voyage was a French disco and pop/funk group, consisting of André “Slim” Pezin (guitar/vocals), Marc Chantereau (keyboards/vocals), Pierre-Alain Dahan (drums/vocals) and Sauveur Mallia (bass), together with British lead vocalist Sylvia Mason-James, who sang on the group’s first two albums, Voyage (1977) and Let’s Fly Away (1978). From East to West reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart. The song was long, full of interesting, buoyant and spacey synths, and gave me such a strong feeling of euphoria – another one to get lost in, which was what the discos were all about back then.

7. TRY ME, I KNOW WE CAN MAKE IT – Donna Summer (1976)
Everyone knows Donna Summer’s big hits like “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls” and “She Works Hard For the Money”, but only her biggest fans and lovers of true Disco know of this song that was a massive hit in the discos in 1976. “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It” is an epic 18-minute long trilogy that plays sort of like a disco version of a classical rhapsody. It’s probably three or four minutes too long, and parts of it become repetitious, but it was the perfect type of extended song that became very popular in the discos by 1976. The song was written by Summer and her frequent collaborators Italian songwriter/producer Giorgio Moroder and British songwriter/producer Pete Bellotte. I used to nearly get lost in a trance while dancing to it, which kept me nice and thin back in my early 20s.

6.  ROCK THE BOAT – Hues Corporation (1974)
“Rock the Boat” is often touted as the first disco hit to hit #1, although that’s not entirely accurate, as T.S.O.P. topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart a few months earlier. Initially, “Rock the Boat” appeared to be a flop, as months went by without any radio airplay or sales activity, but after it became a Disco favorite in New York clubs, it was picked up by Top 40 radio stations around the U.S. and quickly zipped up the chart in the summer of 1974. It was also a big hit in the UK. It’s a perfect, fun little song in its own right, Disco or not.

5. T.S.O.P. – MFSB featuring The Three Degrees (1974)
T.S.O.P. (which stands for The Sound of Philadelphia) by MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) was written by the prolific songwriting/producer team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff as the theme for the TV music program Soul Train. It’s generally considered the first Disco song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, which it did in April 1974. MFSB was actually a pool of more than 30 studio musicians at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, who worked under the direction of Gamble and Huff, along with producer/arranger Thom Bell. They played the amazing back-up music for such acts as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners and Wilson Pickett – all artists & bands I loved. Featuring vocal harmonies by female soul band The Three Degrees, T.S.O.P. was a beautiful exuberant dance song with a big, brassy orchestral sound. The song was a #1 hit and is not only one of my absolute favorite dance songs, it’s also one of my favorite songs of the 1970s. This video of an exciting performance at a Sound of Philadelphia tribute in the 2000s really shows what a gorgeous composition this song is.

4.  IF MY FRIENDS COULD SEE ME NOW – Linda Clifford (1978)
“If My Friends Could See Me Now” by R&B/Disco singer Linda Clifford is a wonderful dance version of the classic song from the 1966 musical Sweet Charity. The celebratory song of personal triumph is electrifying, with lush orchestration, frantic piano riffs, soaring horn synths and impassioned vocals. Clifford had been an extra in the 1969 film with Shirley MacLaine, and initially dismissed a suggestion by a secretary at her record label that she record a dance version of the song, thinking it would be sacrilegious. But once she heard the music, she reconsidered and recorded the Disco version. Later, after hearing the song, its composer Cy Coleman called in to a radio station where Clifford was being interviewed and thanked her for doing a dance version and bringing it to the masses.

3.  LOVE HANGOVER – Diana Ross (1976)
Talk about getting lost in a song! I’ve always loved songs with sudden and drastic change-ups in tempo and melody, and “Love Hangover” is one of the best examples of this. Oh man, how I loved this song back then, and still love it now. It’s my favorite song from Diana Ross of all her solo hits. I love how the first few minutes of the extended version are slow and soulful, with Diana seductively crooning about her ardor, setting the mood for what’s to come. Once the hypnotic disco beat kicks in, it’s as if Diana becomes lost in her love hangover, and we’re more than happy to go along with her for the mesmerizing love-drunk ride.

The song was written by Pamela Sawyer and Marilyn McLeod, and producer Hal Davis recorded the lush instrumental track in 1975 thinking it ideal for Marvin Gaye or Diana Ross, who were his two favorite vocalists to work with. He ultimately chose Diana, and I’m so glad he did, as her wonderful, sultry vocals are perfect for this track. Background vocals were provided by Motown’s in-house trio, The Andantes. The song went to #1 on several charts, including the Billboard Hot 100, Soul and Dance charts.

2.  THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I – Machine (1979)
This brilliant song by American funk group Machine was not only a massive Disco hit that caused people in clubs to go wild with delight, but also a deeply compelling social anthem that railed against racism. The lyrics describe two Latino parents who move out of The Bronx to protect their baby daughter: “Carlos and Carmen Vidal just had a child. A lovely girl with a crooked smile. Now they gotta split ’cause the Bronx ain’t fit for a kid to grow up in. Let’s find a place they say, somewhere far away, with no Blacks, no Jews and no gays.” In their new surroundings, their daughter is cut off from her own heritage and becomes self-destructive from their over-protective parenting. Ironically, when the daughter grows up, her parents find she’s the type of person from who their peers are trying to protect their own children. Carmen sadly concludes that “Too much love is worse than none at all.”

The hard-driving beat, piercing synths, gorgeous piano riffs, funky guitars, passionate vocals and soaring choruses are magnificent, bringing chills upon chills.

1.  I LOVE MUSIC – The O’Jays (1975)
I distinctly remember the first time I heard this song. I already loved the O’Jays, arguably the greatest R&B/soul band of the 1970s, but when I heard this song played at one of my local bars I went crazy! Oh my god, what a fucking fantastic song! The O’Jays were anything but a Disco act, having recorded an impressive string of outstanding R&B hits like “Back Stabbers”, “Love Train”, and “For the Love of Money”. But “I Love Music”, written by the brilliant ‘Sound of Philadelphia’ songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, is not only an incredible dance tune, but also a gorgeous celebration of music and love itself. It really could be the theme song of my life, as it perfectly describes my passion for music.

I love the way it starts off with those bongo beats, then that fantastic hypnotic drumbeat grabs you by the hips, the driving bass line and jubilant horns kick in, and it’s pure bliss. The intricate funky guitar riffs and jazzy piano keys are pretty incredible too, making for an exhilarating song of great complexity and emotional depth. Lead singer Eddie Levert’s passionate vocals are wonderfully joyous and heartfelt as he sings “Music is the healing force of the world“. The song peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and was a #1 hit on the Billboard Soul and Dance Club Songs charts, where it spent 8 weeks at #1.

Though I seriously doubt “I Love Music” would rank among the top 5 of anyone else’s picks of best Disco songs, it’s my absolute favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY – Donna Summer
I FEEL LOVE – Donna Summer
MACARTHUR PARK – Donna Summer
HOT STUFF – Donna Summer
BAD GIRLS – Donna Summer
NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE – Gloria Gaynor
I WILL SURVIVE – Gloria Gaynor
GET DOWN TONIGHT – K.C. & the Sunshine Band
(SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE) SHAKE YOUR BOOTY – K.C. & the Sunshine Band
STAYIN’ ALIVE – Bee Gees
NIGHT FEVER – Bee Gees
EVERYBODY DANCE – Chic
GOOD TIMES – Chic
LE FREAK – Chic
I WANT YOUR LOVE – Chic
MACHO MAN – The Village People
Y.M.C.A. – The Village People
I LOVE THE NIGHTLIFE – Alicia Bridges
DISCO INFERNO – The Trammps
DO YA THINK I’M SEXY? – Rod Stewart
MISS YOU – Rolling Stones
BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE – A Taste of Honey
TURN THE BEAT AROUND – Vicki Sue Robinson
THE BOSS – Diana Ross
SHAKE YOUR BODY – The Jacksons
GOT TO GIVE IT UP – Marvin Gaye
BAD LUCK – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
FOUND A CURE – Ashford & Simpson
YOU STEPPED INTO MY LIFE – Melba Moore
ROCK YOUR BABY – George McCrea
YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE – Candi Staton
YOU MAKE ME FEEL (MIGHTY REAL) – Sylvester
DANCING QUEEN – ABBA
LADY MARMALADE – Labelle
CAR WASH – Rose Royce
SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING – Peaches & Herb
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME – Shirley & Company
WHERE IS THE LOVE – Betty Wright
THIS TIME BABY – Jackie Moore
BORN TO BE ALIVE – Patrick Hernandez
YOU & I – Rick James
GROOVE LINE – Heatwave
INSTANT REPLAY – Dan Harmann
MOVE ON UP – Destination
FUNKY TOWN – Lipps, Inc.
KNOCK ON WOOD – Amii Stewart

What are your favorites, and are there any great Disco songs I neglected to mention?

New Song of the Week: REVOLVERS – “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil”

Revolvers2

There are many terrific indie artists and bands in the UK these days making some really outstanding music, and among the best of them is London four-piece Revolvers. Originally formed in 2016 and comprised of James Thurling (guitar/lead vocals) Will Oliver (guitar/backing vocals), Steven Morrison (bass/backing vocals) and Rhys Kibble (drums), they play sensational high-energy guitar-driven melodic rock. I first featured them in February when I reviewed their single “True Love”, a fantastic, hard-driving track filled with lush, reverb-drenched jangly riffs. They followed up in early April with another great banger of a tune “Come Again”, and now return with their third in a series of singles “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil“, and I think it’s their best work yet. All three singles were produced by George Apsion (White Lies, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Ellie Goulding).

It’s a darkly beautiful track, opening with an ominous gritty guitar riff and a deep, buzzing bassline that immediately hook us in. As James starts to sing, the music expands with more guitars and Rhys’ thumping drumbeats and crashing cymbals into an exciting and rather menacing soundscape. In his review of the song for Obscure Sound, Mike Mineo observed that Revolvers exude a vibe reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys, and I totally agree. Once the chorus arrives in a stream of sweeping synths and wailing distorted riffs, I’m completely besotted with this song. James’ vocals have a cold, yet slightly seductive quality, backed by the guys’ stunning but ominous vocal harmonies that have a kind of gothic horror film air, similar to what you’d hear in a film like The Omen or The Exorcist as they croon:

Rubbing shoulders with the devil
  (Anywhere you go I’ll go there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Anywhere you stay I’ll be there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Cause you drag me down)

James continues to sing the brilliant lyrics that speak to someone who leaves him feeling unsettled almost to the point of revulsion:

But every night I wake up to the smell of you
While I’m clutching to a dirty pillow
Your shadow stops the reflection of bedroom lights
And raises alarms in my head
Complain the swimming pool’s not as deep as your love darling
Guess your love is just so ardent
But every time I see someone drinking your cocktail
Take refuge inside the devil’s lair

I’m really impressed by the high quality of a lot of music videos being made by indie bands today (having also been blown away by the video UNDER AEGIS made for their song “Separate” that I just reviewed). Like the music, the gorgeously-filmed video has a dark feel similar to The Omen, and I think it’s brilliant that parts of it were filmed in a cathedral. It was expertly directed by Bradley Davies of Yosemite Bear Productions, and stars band frontman James, who now plays the role of the devilish character. He’s a nice-looking fellow, but that cold stare of his is downright malevolent! He’s shown carrying a briefcase as he lurks and skulks around in a disquieting manner, and at one point coldly watches a woman drowning in a pool, and even strangles a man in another scene. It’s pretty disturbing, but the scenes of the band performing the song in the cathedral balance things out quite nicely – both symbolically and literally.

I love this band and I love this song! It’s instantly one of my favorites of the year, and will most definitely end up on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2019.

Those of you fortunate to live in and around London can catch Revolvers at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday 7 June @ 7:30 pm – The Finborough Arms, London
Saturday 15 June @ 7 pm – Roadtrip & the Workshop, London

Connect with Revolvers on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp

BLAIR DOLLERY – Single Review: “Strange Kind’

Blair Dollery3

Blair ‘Misty Red’ Dollery is a British singer/songwriter and guitarist from the western London suburb of Twickenham. A phenomenal guitarist, Blair has been playing and performing for nearly 20 years in a number of different bands, as a session musician, and also as a solo artist. He currently serves as lead guitarist and vocalist for the outstanding alt-rock band The Underground Vault, but has also recently begun releasing singles again under his own solo project. In March (2019) Blair dropped a gorgeous single “Dream On”, and now follows up with another single, the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Kind“.

The only sounds we hear are Blair’s stunning layered acoustic and electric guitar work and resonant, heartfelt vocals, yet the track has an incredible lushness and depth. It’s a testament to his skill at coaxing such rich and full sounds from just his guitars. The dark lyrics seem to be about someone contemplating drowning himself in the ocean due to feeling heartbroken over losing the love of his life.

Follow me down to the ocean
To the deep blue sea
No time for reflection
The end is near, can you see
Some will say I have lost my mind
Some will say I’m a strange kind
Strange kind

Watch the sea growing quickly
She is everything to me
All my love, all my life
Unconditionally
Some will say I have lost my mind
Some will say I’m a strange kind
Strange kind

Connect with Blair:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase: Amazon / iTunes / Google Play Music

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “A Chair is a Chair”

Andy K Leland Chair Art

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian indie folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts, penning lyrics loaded with meaning and expressed mostly through his pleasing acoustic guitar and quirky, off-beat vocal style. Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – refers to himself as Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his sometimes dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and mellow lo-fi vibe. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life too seriously, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Like a lot of artists I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve previously featured Andy several times on this blog, and you can read some of my reviews of his music by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. He’s now released a wonderful new single “A Chair is a Chair“, and it’s one of his best songs yet. It still has the charming signature lo-fi acoustic vibe of all his music, but features added instrumentals in the form of mellotron and ambient drone guitar, played by guest musician Simone Laurino, giving the track a lovely, poignant and fuller sound. Andy recorded the song on his old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, but the sound quality is quite good.

Regarding the song’s meaning, Andy told me “I wrote the first two lines of the verse right after an old weird memory about a chair came back. Don’t really know why that memory showed up… but that’s how it started. I can say that the song is totally about a dream I haven’t had yet. That’s pretty much it!”

Concentrate
Get your head
Hold it tight
Hold it tight
Release your head
Grab a chair
Use your brain man
Use your brain

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Up to you
Up to me
What could we do friend?
What would we do?
If you prefer now
Go out tonight
Stay put and beg your God to
Drift us apart, us apart

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Welcome all that’s my garden
Very nice place to be
The air is cool
So
Come lie down…

The trippy video, which was also directed and produced by guest musician Simone Laurino, shows a variety of psychedelic, sci-fi and kaleidoscopic images that represent the kinds of surreal things the mind would imagine in a dream.

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

UNDER AEGIS – Single Review: “Separate”

UNDER AEGIS is a badass progressive djent metalcore band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who I’ve been following since their early days in 2016. Their brutal, take no prisoners sound, forged from explosive guitars, buzzsaw bass lines, speaker-blowing drums and fearsome vocals, is a full-frontal assault on the senses, while their biting, often provocative lyrics are in-your-face, yet highly relatable. Since their formation, UNDER AEGIS has experienced a couple of changes in vocalists, and the formidable lineup now consists of Carl Martin on vocals, Bao Vo on guitar, and brothers Avery Gaitens on bass and Parker Gaitens on drums.

Under Aegis2
Photos by Kelley Curran

I’ve reviewed most of their music, beginning with their debut EP [Extinct] in 2016, followed by the scathing singles “Sedated” in August 2017, and “Point Blank” in March 2018. (You can check out those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.) Now they’ve returned with a face-melting new single “Separate“, along with a violent but visually stunning video. The song is the first single from their forthcoming album Desolate, due out later this year.

About the song’s meaning, Carl Martin told the webzine The Noise, “I went through the darkest time of my life while in the process of writing these new songs. Each and every part has an intense emotional connection while in the midst of a performance. ‘Separate’ represents the desperation I felt to avoid people affecting my sanity over the course of a long period of time.” Thus the opening lyric “Separate yourself from those who bring you pain. Separate yourself. And fall into the weightlessness above”, which Martin sings in beautiful, clean vocals, accompanied by sweeping cinematic synths and Vo’s melodic guitar notes.

Suddenly, the song explodes into a thunderous maelstrom of tortured riffs, crushing bass and shattering percussion, and Martin turns into a rampaging beast, savagely screaming his bitter contempt: “You let me go the wrong fucking way! And I will never live life the same. Why don”t you show me the path to hell so I can forget your name? It’s time to make up my mind again. And rip out the heart of your lies!” Vo continues to blow our minds and eardrums with his furious shredding action while the Gaitens brothers keep the turbulent rhythm section going at full blast. These guys tear the mutherfucking roof off the sucker, and are among the best metalcore musicians around today, in my not so humble opinion.

The bloody but brilliantly filmed – and well-acted, I must say – video depicts the story of what appears to be a drug or some other deal gone terribly wrong, interspersed with footage of the band performing the song. In his discussion with The Noise about the band’s vision for the video, Martin explained, “The music video ties into the theme of the lyrics to an extent. Associating yourself with the wrong people leads to unfortunate circumstances. The bullet and near-death experience is a representation of reinventing yourself as an individual. On the other hand, Avery’s character represents bad decisions that catch up with you. The question is, ‘what’s in the bag?’ You will have to watch our next video to find out.”

Watch the intense video and prepare to be amazed by both the song and visuals:

Catch Under Aegis at one of these upcoming shows:
SAT JUNE 8 – X RAY ARCADE BAR, w/Oceano, The Cambion, Angelmaker, Cudahy, WI
SAT JUNE 29 – UNDER AEGIS @ SUMMERFEST, Milwaukee, WI
SAT AUGUST 10 – EDENFEST 2019, w/I Killed Everyone, Wausau, WI

Connect with Under Aegis:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes