Today, we're looking at two recent releases on Cherry Red's Big Break Records label from two legends of disco (and so much more): The Trammps and Gloria Gaynor!
"Where were you when the lights went out in New York City?" asked The Trammps in song on the opening track of 1977's Trammps III. (The answer? Everyone was making love, naturally!) The urgent, atypically topical track by Allan Felder, Ron Tyson and arranger-producer Norman Harris is just one highlight on this underrated album, released after Disco Inferno but before that album and its title song caught fire thanks to Saturday Night Fever. The Trammps are today remembered as a premier disco band, but Trammps III - produced by the triumvirate of Baker, Harris and Young - found Jimmy Ellis, Robert Upchurch, Earl Young, Harold Wade and Stanley Wade artistically stretching out. It's just received a splendid, expanded reissue from Big Break Records.
Despite its title, the Atlantic release of Trammps III was not the group's third album. Rather, it was the fifth, following one compilation on Buddah Records, a "proper" debut on Philadelphia International/Golden Fleece, and two for Atlantic. The pre-Atlantic albums showcased The Trammps' Philly soul roots; indeed, Earl Young was the man who thrillingly kept the beat on countless classic songs in his capacity as drummer for MFSB (and later, The Salsoul Orchestra). Young's MFSB compatriots Bobby Eli, T.J. Tindall, Michael "Sugar Bear" Foreman and Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey all played on the album.
Those looking for sultry disco wouldn't have been disappointed by the first side of Trammps III which featured just three tracks: "The Night the Lights Went Out," "Love Per Hour" and "People of the World, Rise." Leroy Green and Ron Kersey's "Love Per Hour" featured horns not by the Philadelphia-based Don Renaldo's Horns and Strings but by James Brown's frequent collaborator Fred Wesley (and His Horny Horns!), lending the track a boisterous swagger. Norman Harris, T.G. Conway and Bruce Gray's "People of the World," an uptempo anthem of peace and partying, boasts lead vocals by both Jimmy Ellis and Robert Upchurch, balancing Ellis' grit with Upchurch's smoothness.
Side Two of the original LP presented The Trammps' more melodic side, proving that they were every bit the equal of their fellow Philly-bred harmony groups like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes or The O'Jays. Ron Baker and Ron Tyson provided four of the five songs including the aching "Living the Life," which beautifully captures a man rebuilding his life after the demise of a love affair. "Life Ain't Been Easy" juxtaposes its bittersweet lyric to a surging melody and sweet harmonies.
Ellis sings the lead on "I'm So Glad You Came Along," adding fiery passion to the ode to a loved one, while Upchurch brings vulnerability to his declaration of newfound love, "It Don't Take Much." The lone non-Baker/Tyson-penned track, the Turner/Akins/Bellmon composition "Seasons for Girls," dials up the romantic quotient even more with Upchurch's yearning lead, rich group backgrounds and lush strings, not to mention some taut guitar licks likely from Eli or Harris. The 7+-minute track is also included on BBR's reissue in its single edit. Surprisingly, the strong ballad peaked at a disappointing No. 50 R&B. The single version of "The Night the Lights Went Out" (No. 6 Disco/No. 80 R&B/No. 103 Pop) rounds out BBR's reissue.
Though "The Night the Lights Went Out" was a sizeable disco hit and Trammps III itself placed respectably at No. 27 R&B/No. 85 Pop, both were ultimately outshone by "Disco Inferno." The single initially made No. 53 on the Hot 100, but its re-release in conjunction with its appearance on Saturday Night Fever shot it to No. 11. (It was already a Disco chart-topper.) The Disco Inferno album was eventually certified Gold. Trammps III didn't scale those heights, but it remains one of the group's most enjoyable and diverse excursions on record.
The music of Gloria Gaynor has been an essential part of the Big Break Records line-up since the label's very first release, a reissue of The Queen of the Discos' first solo album, Never Can Say Goodbye. Since then, BBR has returned six more of her albums to print including her fourth LP and second for Polydor Records, 1977's Glorious.
Though the title track of Never Can Say Goodbye had skyrocketed to become the very first Number One on the Billboard Disco Action chart and the album had crossed over to a No. 25 berth on the Billboard 200, Gaynor's next two long-players hadn't fared as well. The failure to build on the success of Goodbye was no reflection on the quality of the music on Experience Gloria Gaynor and I've Got You, but regardless, the label felt it was time for a change. The artist's first three albums had been helmed by producers Tony Bongiovi and Meco Monardo and mixing engineer (and father of the disco mix) Tom Moulton. For Glorious, Polydor tapped the team of producers Gregg Diamond and Joe Beck, and mixer Godfrey Diamond. The Diamond brothers were riding high from The Andrea True Connection's "More, More, More," and Beck was still basking in the success of Esther Phillips' jazz-disco foray "What a Difference a Day Makes." Both Gregg Diamond and Joe Beck brought their own songs to the table for the album that would become Glorious.
Gregg's "Why Should I Pay" opens Glorious with a fusion of disco, R&B and rock. The nonstop rhythm keeps Gaynor's soulful vocals planted firmly in the disco realm, but Steve Love's guitar solos add a touch of rock that distinguished Diamond's productions from those by Bongiovi and Menardo. Not that Glorious totally departed from Gaynor's previous modus operandi; in the tradition of her revivals of the standards "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "How High the Moon," the vocalist tackled Herman Hupfeld's "As Time Goes By" on Glorious. Diamond's signature piano and Beck's searing guitar licks combined with a Diamond-penned interlude (entitled "The Hands of Time") to ensure that Gloria's "As Time Goes By" wouldn't resemble any other version before or since. The Side One closer, Diamond's epic "Most of All," finds Gaynor dreamily imploring, "We don't need no words/Let the music speak for itself..." in a hypnotic fantasia anchored by guitar, piano, bass and lush strings and perfect for intimate, not-too-slow dancing. Though it's more of a showcase for Diamond's production than for Gaynor's vocals, "Most of All" remains a singular highlight in the artist's discography.
The tempo picks up with the first track on Side Two of Glorious. The upbeat disco of "We Can Start All Over Again," the first of three songs co-written by Joe Beck and George Fame, contrasts with their atmospheric, R&B-inflected "Sweet, Sweet Melody" featuring another strikingly controlled performance from Gaynor. The slow-burning Beck/Fame "So Much Love" allowed Gaynor to use her deepest, most sensual tones to great effect.
Of course, much of Glorious was intended to move the vocalist away from the sound of her first three albums, but "Life Ain't Worth Living" was actually composed by the writer of the first track on Gaynor's first LP. Philadelphia's Melvin Steals, co-writer of "Honey Bee" on Never Can Say Goodbye, penned the storming disco cut on which Gaynor showed off her passionate interpretive chops. Joe Ferguson's smooth sax and Jimmy Gregory's insistent bass both add color to Gregg Diamond's one contribution to the original record's second side, "This Side of the Pain."
One bonus track has been appended to Glorious: the single edit of the sprawling "Most of All." At a little over three minutes' length, it emphasizes the song's melodic core. Gaynor went on to record the underrated Park Avenue Sound with Philly soul greats Norman Harris, Ron Tyson and Allan Felder before sealing her immortality with Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris on Love Tracks - the album that premiered "I Will Survive." (Both albums are already available on BBR.)
Like Trammps III, Glorious has an exemplary new essay by Christian John Wikane. Both titles are housed in Super Jewel Boxes, and both have been remastered - the former under the supervision of reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson, Nick Robbins and Anders Peterson, and the latter by Pierre Brousses. For The Trammps and for Gloria Gaynor, greater successes followed - but these two albums are both essential listening for fans and collectors alike. Trammps III and Glorious are available now from Cherry Red and Big Break Records!
- The Night the Lights Went Out
- Love Per Hour
- People of the World, Rise
- Living the Life
- Seasons for Girls
- Life Ain't Been Easy
- I'm So Glad You Came Along
- It Don't Take Much
- The Night the Lights Went Out (Single Version) (Atlantic single 3442, 1977)
- Seasons for Girls (Single Version) (Atlantic single 3460, 1978)
- Why Should I Pay
- As Time Goes By (includes The Hands of Time)
- Most of All
- We Can Start All Over Again
- Sweet Sweet Melody
- Life Ain't Worth Living
- This Side of the Pain
- So Much Love
- Most of All (Single Version) (Polydor single PD-14391, 1977)