Disco gals: Clifford, Summer

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 02, 2018
Photo by: Blixa Sounds The cover of Linda Clifford's "Let Me Be Your Woman" album, one of four re-mastered reissues.

Owls Head — Linda Clifford: If My Friends Could See Me Now (1978, Blixa Sounds CD, 69:25). Soon after  the former Miss New York State and fledgling actress ("The Boston Strangler," "Coogan's Bluff" and, most importantly, "Sweet Charity") switched from singing jazz to R&B, she signed to Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records in the mid-1970s. By then, Mayfield had established himself as one of the R&B greats, with both the Impressions (he wrote "People Get Ready") and a solo career that included album highlights "Super Fly Soundtrack" and "Sweet Exorcist," with a "Sparkle" collaboration with Aretha Franklin to soon follow.

Blixa Sounds, a new Los Angeles-based label, has just released four of Clifford's solo albums (1978-1980), when she was known as the "First Lady of Disco." They were her second through fifth solo albums released on Curtom (she also did the duet album, "The Right Combination," with Mayfield. Each of the newly re-mastered albums come with bonus tracks, either 12-inch disco mixes or 7-inch single versions of album tracks.

Reaching back to "Sweet Charity," the film version of which she appeared in, Clifford recorded a disco version of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' "If My Friends Could See Me Now," with busy backing vocals by The Jones Girls. The nearly 8-minute recording topped the Billboard Dance Chart and reached 54 on the Hot 100 and 68 on the R&B Chart. Mayfield  was actively involved in the album, serving as one of its three guitarists, producing along with legendary Motown arranger Gil Askey, and writing three songs, "You Are, You Are," "Broadway Gypsy Lady" and, with Askey, "Gypsy Lady." The latter is a self-referential piece that mentions the success of the title track.

Clifford was, and still is, a powerhouse vocalist who bridged pop, R&B and disco, with seven big hits. In 1979, she earned an American Music Award nomination for Best Female Disco Artist. During the month of May 1978, her recordings of "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "Gypsy Lady" and "Runaway Love" topped the Billboard Disco Chart, with the album reaching 9 on the R&B chart and 22 on the Billboard 200 chart. Cashbox named her the Top Female Vocalist and Billboard awarded her Most Promising New Disco Artist of 1978. Record World honored her as Best New Female Vocalist and Best Pop Album.

"Runaway Love," slightly more than 7 minutes long, crested at three on the R&B chart. A song about leaving a lover, it starts softer and slower with a talk vocal. The other album highlights are the love song, "I Feel  Like Falling in Love Again" and "Gypsy Lady." "Broadway Gypsy Lady" features a violin. The bonus tracks are the 12-inch disco mixes of "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "Runaway Love" and "Gypsy Lady."

Linda Clifford: Let Me Be Your Woman (1979, Blixa Sounds CD, 78:09). Clifford's next album was originally double vinyl, with both "One of Those Songs" (11:46) and her disco take on Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (10:20) each taking up one whole side. The latter reached 41 on the pop chart and 49 on the R&B chart. "One of Those Songs" is the better of the two, with an electronic bass-like drone and very danceable. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has a long instrumental opening that gives the listener no indication of what the song is until the horns introduce the familiar melody. The bonus single version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is more direct and superior. Bonus tracks also include single versions of "Sweet Melodies" and "Don't Give It Up."

"Don't Give It Up" (9:26), one of two songs co-written by Clifford, begins with a spoken piece of how men dump women at 25 for younger women. The song then advises women to hold out for as much as they can get financially from a male lover. The disc has the 12-inch disco mix as a bonus track. The album version of "Sweet Melodies" is a winner and stretches to 7:55. Curtis Mayfield wrote "Hold Me Close," which is uptempo but smooth. Mid-tempo are "I Can't Let This Good Thing Get Away" and "Don't Let Me Have Another Bad Dream."

An interesting side note is that Clifford's discofied cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" entered pop culture history when it helped ignite the aerobics phenomenon on Jane Fonda's Workout Record (1982).

Linda Clifford: Here's My Love (1979, Blixa Sounds CD, 46:49). As with the previous album, Mayfield's Curtom label was now distributed by RSO Records, home to the Bee Gees. The album was produced by famed engineer Juergen Koppers, who worked with Donna Summers, and Philly soul legends Norman Harris and Ron Tyson, with the latter duo writing three of the songs: "King for a Night," "Bailin' Out" and "Repossessed."

"King for a Night" has a prominent beat and disco-ish strings, while "Bailin' Out," another appealing song about leaving a relationship, is very upbeat. "Repossessed," with its nice instrumental break, is another winner on this very consistent album. The album's only single was "I Just Wanna Wanna" (36 R&B, 73 dance), which is a shame because both the pop of "Never Gonna Stop" and the beat-accentuated "Lonely Night" are really good songs that should have been singles. The latter, by Leroy Gomez (Tavares, Santa Esmeralda), features a cowbell, congas and a late disco-ish instrumental break. The bonus tracks are the single version of "I Just Wanna Wanna" and the 12-inch disco mix of "King for a Night."

Linda Clifford: I'm Yours (1980, Blixa Sounds CD, 46:14). The highlight here is "Red Light," a song that warns off a rival and that topped the Hot Dance/Disco chart and reached 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also was heard on the "Fame Soundtrack." The song is by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford ("Footloose" songs). For the album, Clifford worked with another soul legend, Isaac Hayes, who produced all of the songs except "Red Light" and wrote four songs and co-wrote "Shoot Your Best Shot" with Mignon Hayes. "Shoot Your Best Shot" also topped the Hot Dance/Disco chart and reached 43 on the R&B chart, just below the 40 reached by "Red Light."

Other than the two standouts and a bit of funk on "It Don't Hurt No More," the album does not have a memorable group of songs, despite Hayes' writing. The bonus tracks on this album are single versions of "I Had a Talk with My Man" and "Shoot Your Best Shot." It would be Clifford's final album for Curtom/RSO. She released an album, "I'll Keep on Loving You," on Capitol in 1982 and two albums, "Sneakin' Out" and "My Heart's on Fire," for the Chicago-based Red Label in 1984 and 1985, but since then has only released 10 singles over the past three-plus decades. She also has been a successful jingle singer for McDonald's, Maybeline and Tropicana

Donna Summer: The Ultimate Collection (Great Britain, 2016, Crimson Productions, 3 CDs, 3:56:43). If Linda Clifford was the "First Lady of Disco," then the late Summer, born in Boston on the final day of 1948, was the "Queen of Disco." She won five Grammy awards, was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums top the Billboard 200 chart, had four chart-topping singles within a 12-month period and overall had 42 hit singles on the Billboard Top 100 chart, with 11 reaching the top five and three more reaching the top 10. She reportedly has sold more than 230 million albums worldwide.

Those hits are all included in this 3-CD package, which is divided into "To Dance," "To Love" and "To Remember" discs. The 58 selections, which cover 1968 through 2010, include seven massive hits; collaborations with Barbra Streisand, Brooklyn Dreams, Paul Jabara and Musical Youth; and original German cast recordings from "Hair" and "Godspell." From various soundtracks are the songs "Hot Stuff," "Down Deep Inside," "Romeo," "Highway Runner," "On the Radio" and "Last Dance."

Most of Summer's early career was in Europe, where she moved in 1967 to play Sheila in "Hair." Her big break came when, while she was working as a part-time model and back-up singer in Munich, she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte during a recording session for Three Dog Night. The trio recorded her first album, "Lady of the Night," which became a hit in four European countries. Then, in 1975, Summer passed along the idea that became "Love to Love You," which Summer and Moroder wrote together. In the U.S., Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart liked the song so much, he also for a lengthier version for the discos. Summer and Moroder sent back a 17-minute version. As "Love to Love You Baby," the song became a smash single in a shorter version that reached 2 on the Top 100 chart, and Summer's career on Casablanca was launched.

Among the many highlights here are "I Feel Love," her version of "MacArthur Park," "Bad Girls," "She Works Hard for the Money," "Sunset People," "No More Tears" with Streisand, "Could It Be Magic," "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It," "Dim All the Lights" and "Fame (The Game)."

ABBA: Live at Wembley Arena (EU, 2014, Polar Music International, 2 CDs, 1:50:08). For those who, like me, enjoyed the sunny, musical fun of "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" at the theaters this summer, here is a treat, a Nov. 10, 1979 concert from the last night of a six-night stand at Britain's Wembley Arena, only released in 2014. The 2 CDs come in a hardcover mini-book with 16 pages of photos from the night and an essay.

There are 25 numbers, including an opening instrumental. Several songs from the show were filmed by Swedish TV. The set includes a rare solo piano performance by Agnetha Fältskog of her song, "I'm Still Alive," which never was included on any album and thus is released here for the first time. Fältskog had a number one song in Sweden at age 18 and issued four solo albums between 1968 and 1971. During the taping of a Swedish TV special in May 1969, she met Björn Ulvaeus, and they married in 1971, a year before they formed ABBA with Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. From 1974 through 1982, ABBA was one of the most commercially successful bands in the world, so this concert captures the group midway through its run.

The band's sixth album, "Voulez-Vous" had been released in April 1979 and the show includes the title track, "Does Your Mother Know" and "Chicquitita." There also are the hits "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Money, Money, Money," "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," "SOS," "Fernando," "The Name of the Game," "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo." According to the liner notes, the concert was attended by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Joe Strummer of The Clash and Ian Drury of The Blockheads, who all sat together to the right of the stage.

Polar Music, by the way, was the name of the state-of-the-art studio that the band created out of a vacant cinema in Stockholm in 1978. Genesis' "Duke" and Led Zeppelin's "In Through the Out Door" were recorded there.

Ohio Players: The Definitive Collection Plus ... (UK, Robinsongs/Cherry Red, 3 CDs, 3:26:08). This chronologically-arranged, career-spanning collection is divided into "The Early Years," "The Golden Years" and "The Later & Solo Years". Formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1959, the group's combination of funk, soul and R&B was most popular in the 1970s. The band topped the R&B charts with "Funky Worm," "Fire" (also No. 1 Pop), "Sweet Sticky Thing," "Love Rollercoaster" (also No. 1 Pop) and "Who'd She Coo?" However, they also were noted for a succession of provocative, gatefold album covers that featured model Pat Evans, most spectacularly "Fire" and "Honey."

First known as Robert Ward & the Ohio Untouchables, their first proper album was "Observations in Time" (1969) on Capitol, here represented by "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow" and "Find Someone to Love." Ward had been replaced by guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner. The other members were drummer Gregory Webster,  bassist Marshall "Rock" Jones, sax player Clarence "Satch" Satchell and trumpeter Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks. After the album came out, Walter "Junie" Morrison joined the band as vocalist, electric piano player and musical director. Another early song, "Pain," represents how the band often approached its material: there would be a basic instrumental groove and each of the musicians would solo from time to time over it.

Also good in the early material is the ballad "Verse Is Love" and the horn-filled "Skin Tight," which recalls the band Chicago with its horns, but is way more funky. "Funky Worm" features Morrison doing his Granny voice and an ARP synthesizer solo. Most of the hits are on the second disc, plus "Body Vibes" and "O-H-I-O." "Sweet Sticky Thing," with falsettos by keyboardist Billy Beck (Morrison left in 1974 for a solo career; two songs of which are included here) and James "Diamond" Williams, who replaced Webster in 1973, after Webster became ill. The band tackled holiday material in "Happy Holidays," disco with the single "Feel the Beat (Everybody Disco)" and rock with guitar solos on "Contradiction."

Disc three includes four solo efforts, including "Born to Hustle" by Shadow and two by Sugarfoot, including a 1985 version of "Fire." Other highlights include the space-themed "Funk-O-Nots" and the disco-oriented "Everybody Up," which adds crowd sounds on the chorus. There also are covers of "Try a Little Tenderness" and "Sitting By the Dock of the Bay." The set comes with a 28-page booklet that includes a historical essay by Christian John Wikane, which includes portions of interviews with Webster, Morrison and Diamond, plus album cover reproductions.

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