What makes for a Monster Orchestra? For Philadelphia composer-arranger-conductor John Davis, it was an array of the best musicians the city had to offer. Between 1976 and 1979, Davis led his Monster Orchestra for four disco LPs on the SAM Records label, plucking its members from the A-Team of Philadelphia International’s MFSB and Salsoul Records’ Salsoul Orchestra. Guitarists Bobby Eli and Roland Chambers, percussionist/conga player Larry Washington, drummer Charles Collins, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, and string and horn leader Don Renaldo (plus stalwart backing vocalists Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson, a.k.a. The Sweethearts of Sigma) all joined John “The Monster” Davis (an alumnus of productions for Carol Douglas, Arthur Prysock, The Philly Devotions and William DeVaughn) for four of the most memorably musical albums in the disco canon. All four of those titles have recently been remastered and expanded on two 2-CD sets from Demon Music Group’s Harmless label and its Disco Recharge series.
Night and Day/Up Jumped the Devil pairs Davis and the Monster Orchestra’s 1976 and 1977 platters, respectively. Night and Day put Davis’ group on the map, adding a dance backbeat and a resplendent, symphonic overlay to the Cole Porter songbook. One can only imagine what Porter, who died in 1964, would have thought of the Monster Orchestra’s approach, but surely the great composer-lyricist would have approved of seeing his classic songs speak to a new generation and “Night and Day” rise to the Top 5 on the Billboard Disco chart. Davis gave the lavish disco treatment to six evergreens from the eternally witty, often risqué Porter songbook, drawing on hits from stage (“I Get a Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes, “You Do Something to Me” from Fifty Million Frenchmen, “Night and Day” from Gay Divorce, “It’s De-Lovely” from Red, Hot and Blue) and screen (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Born to Dance, “In the Still of the Night” from Rosalie) alike. Much as Vince Montana frequently did leading his iteration of The Salsoul Orchestra on various standards, Davis balanced a certain, inherent amount of camp with an unwavering dedication to impeccable musicianship. He rounded out the LP with a couple of original compositions which he co-wrote with Monster guitarist Craig Snyder, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop.” The lyrics weren’t quite Porter, but they certainly kept listeners on their feet!
Up Jumped the Devil aimed for a funkier sound than its predecessor, which it accomplished via cuts like Davis’ title track and the Davis/Snyder co-write “Got to Give It Up.” Davis’ breezy “We Can Fly” recalled the sweet soul side of the Philadelphia players – a style they practically invented – while the epic medley of “The Magic is You/You’re the One/Recapitulation” was designed for club play and melded funk, rock and symphonic soul. All seven tracks were originals written or co-written by Davis, and the album succeeded in taking The Monster Orchestra in a new direction without losing the elements – and musicians – that led to its success in the first place.
Night and Day has been expanded with five bonus tracks – the 7-inch single edits of the title track, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop,” plus the extended 12-inch versions of “I Can’t Stop,” “Night and Day” and “I Get a Kick (Out of You).” Up Jumped the Devil has six bonuses, including both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of the title song and “You Gotta Give It Up,” as well as the 7-inch edits of “The Magic is You” and “You’re the One.”
After the jump: a look at Ain’t That Enough for You/The Monster Strikes Again, and complete track listings and order links!
In the liner notes to Harmless’ new edition, John Davis recalls his general exhaustion – and his attitude – with inspiring the song “Ain’t That Enough for You” and the album of the same name that followed. (The U.S. No. 4 Disco hit also became The Monster Orchestra’s only charting single in the U.K.!) Club dwellers didn’t get enough, however, of Ain’t That Enough for You, which featured a number of uptempo Davis originals including the driving title track, “Disco Fever,” “A Bite of the Apple” and “I’ll Be the Music” (the latter co-written with guitarist Craig Snyder) along with Big Dee Irwin’s “I’ve Got the Hots for You” and even a brassy disco arrangement of John Cacavas’ Kojak theme. Though Larry Washington and Don Renaldo were still playing in The Monster Orchestra, the Philly soul influence was less pronounced as Davis found his own, potent fusion of the lush and the funky. In addition to writing, conducting, arranging and producing, Davis was also playing keyboards, saxophone and flute; no wonder he found himself exhausted!
He was further taxed by the absorption of the SAM label into the Columbia Records empire. Davis intuited that his fourth Monster Orchestra album, The Monster Orchestra Strikes Again, would fall through the cracks at the larger record company. Unfortunately, his fears proved to be true. He hoped Strikes Again would earn the disco orchestra an even wider fan base, and seemed to be on the right track when “Love Magic” and “Holler” were paired on a Disco single that climbed to No. 5. “That's What I Get," too, had a bright, Bee Gees-esque sheen that was ready for the radio. "Bourgie, Bourgie” was introduced by its writers, proven hitmakers Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson, as an instrumental cut on their 1977 album Send It. The famous pair delivered made-to-order lyrics to Davis, which the trio sang together. It also had all of the makings of a hit. But as Davis recalls in Alan Jones’ new liner notes, “Columbia…did not get behind the record and it fell off the charts. I was really disappointed by the whole affair, and that was the last project Sam Weiss [of SAM Records] and I worked on.”
Five bonus tracks have been appended to Ain’t That Enough for You: 12-inch and 7-inch single versions of the title track plus 7-inches of “Disco Fever” and “Kojak,” and the 12-inch of “A Bite of the Apple.” For Strikes Again, Harmless has added three 7-inch edits (“Holler,” “Bourgie, Bourgie” and “Love Magic”) and “14-T,” the non-LP flip of “Bourgie, Bourgie.” Both of these collections from Harmless include new liner notes from Alan Jones and are housed in sturdy slipcases. (Unfortunately discographical annotation hasn’t been provided. We've filled that in for you, below.) Phil Kinrade has remastered all four albums.
Though The Monster Orchestra didn’t survive long into the 1980s, Davis continued to make music, composing for such television programs as T.J. Hooker and Beverly Hills 90210. Both of these Disco Recharge volumes make it clear why Davis’ group was anointed Disco Orchestra of the Year by Billboard in 1979. Let the “Disco Fever” begin! Both titles are available now and can be ordered at the links below!
John Davis and the Monster Orchestra, Disco Recharge: Night and Day/Up Jumped the Devil – Special Edition (Harmless DRCCDX025, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
CD 1: Night and Day (SAM LP 700, 1976)
- Tell Me How You Like It
- I Get a Kick
- I’ve Got You Under My Skin
- Can’t Stop
- In the Still of the Night
- You Do Something to Me
- It’s D’Lovely
- Tell Me How You Like It (7-Inch Edit) (SAM single 76-5003, 1976)
- I Get a Kick (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12451, 1976)
- Night and Day (7-Inch Version) (SAM single 76-5004, 1976)
- I Can’t Stop (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12451, 1976)
- I Can’t Stop (7-Inch Version) (SAM single 76-5004, 1976)
CD 2: Up Jumped the Devil (SAM LP 701, 1977)
- Up Jumped the Devil
- We Can Fly
- You Gotta Give It Up
- Once Upon a Time
- The Magic is You
- You’re the One
- Up Jumped the Devil (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12452, 1977)
- Up Jumped the Devil (7-Inch Version) (SAM single 77-5005, 1977)
- You Gotta Give It Up (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12452, 1977)
- You Gotta Give It Up (7-Inch Version) (SAM single 77-5005, 1977)
- The Magic is You (7-Inch Edit) (SAM single 77-5006, 1977)
- You’re the One (7-Inch Edit) (SAM single 77-5006, 1977)
John Davis and the Monster Orchestra, Disco Recharge: Ain’t That Enough for You/The Monster Orchestra Strikes Again! – Special Edition (Harmless DRCCX026, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
CD 1: Ain’t That Enough for You (SAM LP 702, 1978)
- Ain’t That Enough for You
- Disco Fever
- I’ll Be the Music
- I’ve Got the Hots for You
- A Bite of the Apple
- Stay with Me
- Kojak Theme
- Whatever Happened to You and Me
- Ain’t That Enough for You (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12457, 1978)
- Ain’t That Enough for You (7-Inch Version) (SAM single 78-5011, 1978)
- Disco Fever (7-Inch Edit) (SAM single 78-5011, 1978)
- A Bite of the Apple (12-Inch Version) (SAM 12-inch single S-12457, 1978)
- Kojak Theme (7-Inch Edit) (SAM single 78-5009, 1978)
CD 2: The Monster Orchestra Strikes Again! (Columbia/SAM LP JC 36074, 1979)
- Baby I’ve Got It
- Bourgie, Bourgie
- That’s What I’ve Got
- When It’s Right for Love
- Love Magic
- Bourgie, Bourgie (7-Inch Edit) (Columbia/SAM single 1-11086, 1979)
- Holler (7-Inch Edit) (Columbia/SAM single 3-10975, 1979)
- Love Magic (7-Inch Edit) (Columbia/SAM single 3-10975, 1979)
- 14-T (Non-Album Track) (Columbia/SAM single 1-11086, 1979)
What happened to the DISCO RECHARGE series from Harmless ?? It has been over two years no update on their FACEBOOK page ?? No news on their website ??
Joe Marchese says
Hi Alan, I can't locate the link where I believe I read it, but it's my understanding that, unfortunately, Harmless has wound down its operations. (Its parent, Demon Music Group, is alive and well as are the other Demon imprints.) If anybody has additional information affirming this or to the contrary, please feel free to share. Thanks for reading!