on 18 November 2012
This is the fifth edition in the gradually expanding 'Disco Giants' series, issued by specialist Vinyl Masterpiece (VM), a company dedicated to issuing compilations and single artist discs of music, particularly the Soul and Funk from the 1980s. This is an area that is well served by a number of specialist companies, but VM has a stated aim of sourcing all the material from the original masters where possible, and all of the material is remastered for inclusion in the series. As with previous releases this is a two cd set, here compiled with the help of Frankie Rodriquez (of the Dutch radio show 'Behind The Grooves').
The set opens with 'Let It All Blow' (1984) by the Dazz Band, a superb slice of mid 80s instrumental funk, but with a clear pop edge that tapped in to the contemporary electronic driven aesthetic. 'I Am Somebody' (1983) by Glenn Jones is a very popular song of affirmative self-belief, delivered over a hard edged electronic funk groove, and this has featured on a number of other similarly themed collections. 'Just For The Night' (1984) by Evelyn 'Champagne' King, originally featured on her album 'So Romantic', is a faster paced pop driven affair, quickly followed by Kashif's 'Stone Love' (1983), a slower driven track with wonderful bass playing and light touch production throughout and a soul sensibility that points back at the late 1970s. As an artist Kashif never quite achieved the success of many of his contemporaries, so for those unfamiliar with his work this serves as an excellent introduction. 'Act Like You Know' (1982) by Fat Larry's Band is another ever popular crowd favourite, whilst 'Brenda Starr's 'Pickin' Up The Pieces' (1985) (co-written by Arthur Baker) is very much part of the mid 1980s 'Freestyle' movement, fusing elements drawn from Latin culture, Hip Hop and dance music with big pop driven vocals. Phil Fearon & Galaxy's 'What Do I Do' (1984) is a record that is quintessentially British, taking elements from Afro-Caribbean music and mixing them with an electronic pop sensibility, resulting in the record enjoying significant success in the UK non-specialist charts.
Disco two begins with the ever-green classic 'Outstanding' (1982) by The Gap Band (from 'Gap Band IV'), a track that continued the mainstream success enjoyed by the group during the early 1980s. 'Encore' (1983) by Cheryl Lynn is equally well known, and has remained a soul and dance staple. 'The Beat Is Mine' (1981) by Vicky D has appeared more recently on the Harmless / Demon Music Group (DMG) compilation 'Boogie's Gonna Getcha: 80s New York Boogie' as part of the Harmless / DMG licensing and use of the SAM Records back catalogue. 'Jam On It' (1984) by Newcleus is an acknowledged classic of the Electro-Funk era, and its inclusion is interesting for acknowledging explicitly the existence of Hip Hop during the same period of the other tracks featured - this not always being the case. This is followed by more 'traditional' material, 'You Can't Have My Love' (1985) by The Jones Girls, 'So Fine' (1982) by Howard Johnson and the simply wonderful slow groove of 'I Love You More' (1981) by Rene & Angela.
So. Do you buy?
As stated earlier, the 1980s is very well served by specialist music compilations, and the liner notes indicate that this compilation has been produced with (most significantly) the co-operation of the Demon Music Group, itself responsible for releasing a slew of consistently well compiled releases, notably those including the efforts of compiler extraordinaire Ian Dewhirst. Unsurprisingly, there is some overlap in material, and this highlights a perennial issue for Vinyl Masterpiece releases in the UK - the pricing. In an international (and particularly UK) context 'Disco Giants' is competing against DMG and Harmless and the legacy of the 'Original Mastercuts' series, where many of these tracks have already featured in their original 12" and album mixes, complicated by the simple fact that each single cd from the 'Back Beats' series sells for under £5!
VM have indicated that they are committed to ensuring that royalties from sales of the series go back to the original artist, which is clearly to be commended, but in material terms the series could be improved significantly. The packaging, whilst distinctive, remains basic and there is little information provided beyond a simple tracklist. One can't help but wonder if a different pricing policy would see increased sales and a wider exposure of the undoubtedly great music featured, which still deserves to be heard by those old enough to remember, and those young enough to hear and experience them for the first time.
More generally, it is worth noting that the use of the term 'Disco' is being used as a generic catch all term, not specifically related to the style or type of music featured, relating more to where the tracks might have first been heard.
The 'Disco Giants' series is an intriguing collection, but with a few tweaks it could be exceptional.