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PART 2 (1978-1984)

So (literally) on with the motley, as the clammy fingers of disco tighten their grip. Followers of the Funk should be aware that from here on in the quality control drops somewhat alarmingly, with the funk presence on some of the following albums being as rare as the proverbial hens' teeth. But there’s still the odd nugget to be found, and hopefully you'll stick around for the ride anyway, as each LP becomes an ever-easier target for my wry, dry, spry and sly observations… 

In case you don’t already know, this is my at-a-glance summary of the following compos, a composite rating based on the following criteria:

A - the percentage of stuff on the album that has some kind of funky groove

B - the quality of the funk

C - the level of track rarity/obscurity

D - the rarity of the album itself

If an album's rating is 3 or less, don’t consider shelling out more than a pound (if even that) for it, unless you really feel you won’t be able to sleep at night otherwise. Between 4 and 6: lash out over a quid if you’re flush and/or feeling in a generous mood. 7 and above: whatever you fork out, if funk’s your thang you’re getting a good deal.

     

Downtown Disco Party (MCA 1978)

Funk Factor: 4

At the time of this release, MCA was a massive American record company. However most of their acts serviced the pop or country market, so when the time came to put out the obligatory disco compilation, they were found severely wanting. In fact, without the contributions of Norman Whitfield’s protégées Rose Royce and Stargard any suitable product would have struggled to fill one side of an album (and I certainly wouldn’t consider Len Barry’s 60’s Northern Soul stomper “1-2-3” as suitable), which is pretty disgraceful. Imagine this meeting at MCA headquarters: “So, what else can we use to pad out our disco bandwagon release?” “Well, we’ve got this afro-rock band who might fit the bill…” Unfortunately, not only is the chosen Osibisa track about as disco as Lena Martell, it's also pretty lumpy and unfunky as well - if this is the sound of genuine afro-rock, then give me the ersatz Mandingo variety every time. Just in case you're wondering, this album gets a higher funk factor rating than the review suggests mainly through the presence of War’s classy disco-funker "Galaxy".

   

20 Soul Sizzlers (Pickwick c.1978)

Funk Factor: 1

The Pickwick plan for world domination by flooding the market with their shoddy goods was by this time in full flow. But just in case there was a lull in demand they hit on a cunning new scheme to (try to) keep the punters purchasing, by putting out stuff as a “limited edition” of only (yes only) 250,000 copies – grab it while it’s hot! Unfortunately, there’s nothing hot about this particular compo, despite the title: the bulk of it dates from the sixties, and there are even pre-soul era rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs like “Poison Ivy” and “The Boy From New York City” making up the numbers. Of the few more recent inclusions, the best they can manage is a couple of dreadful pub-rock like (saloon-soul?) takes on 60’s soul classics by Dexys hero Geno Washington. So one for the funk fiend to give a seriously wide berth to, unless you wish to check out Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson, whose curious name is of far more interest than his dull sax-led copycat cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On”.

   

Disco Stars (K-Tel 1978)

Funk Factor: 1

According to the Beeb’s recent retro-fest “I Love The 70’s”, the biggest global media phenomena in 1977 were disco music and the Star Wars movie. So it didn’t take K-Tel long to try and cash in on both of them at the same time with this double- whammy. However, although it might be forgivable for things to fall a bit flat on the galactic front (the only remotely connected tune is Meco’s disco-fied “Star Wars” theme), there’s absolutely no excuse for the presence of so many disco-free - nay, quality-free - tracks. It’s a real stinker, with the likes of Smokie, the Dooleys, the Boomtown Rats, and David Soul (yet again) on board. Even worse, the only vaguely registering signs on the funk-o-meter emanate from more-disco-than-funk tracks by the Olympic Runners (another bunch of pre-Hi Tension UK funk exponents) and Chic. I’m no fan of Star Wars (when it comes to 70’s sci-fi, give me Blake’s 7 any day of the week), but I know enough about it to point out that as far as this album is concerned, there is no way one can say “May the funk be with you”.

   

Don’t Walk - Boogie (EMI 1978)

Funk Factor: 3

Based on this evidence, EMI’s disco pantry was as paltry as its funk one. Of the 20 tracks here, only half or so can be considered as vaguely suitable material to “boogie” to, unless of course you love to boogie in the same downbeat rock manner as T-Rex do. Funk freaks can find a few crumbs of consolation in Sun’s “Sun Is Here”, and “Just Let It Lay” by Gonzalez. And yes Trevor Nelson, prior to pocketing the disco dollar with the frightful "Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet", the latter were yet another pre-Hi Tension British funk outfit. For those wondering, the title is woeful wordplay on the old US traffic lights system that instructed pedestrians to “Walk”, or “Don’t Walk” across the street. If only EMI had thought of putting the Tom Robinson Band in their proper place i.e. on a punk/new wave comp, they could have expanded on the theme with “Don’t Walk - Pogo”. Then perhaps assembled a heavy metal collection entitled “Don’t Walk - Headbang”. Unlike here, they would likely have had enough material to hand to do the job properly, and not pad the album out with inapt fodder.

 

Disco Magic (Pickwick c.1978)

Funk Factor: 6

In a way, you have to admire Pickwick. No matter how feeble their resources, they always had a crack at securing a slice of the budget end of the compo market. On this double LP, the only acts they could muster on nodding terms with the charts were Eruption, R and J Stone, and the RAH Band, whose plodding-shuffle-masquerading-as-disco hit “The Crunch” is here. Otherwise it’s pretty much populated by no-namers, most of whom contribute several efforts that are on the whole quite dismal. But believe it or not there's also a smattering of tracks worthy of further investigation. I’m afraid Lee Vanderbilt’s fascination with funking up all things Caribbean doesn’t work on calypso, but Arizona have a half-decent go with several pop-funk cuts, and the Surprise Sisters surprise a little with the funk-tinged rocker “Watch Out”. However the winners in what is essentially the equivalent of football’s Conference League are Inner City Express, who finally tire of endless variations of the hustle to deliver the stylish “Fat On Funk”, that features a mind-bendingly crisp snare drum sound.

 

Boogie Fever (Ronco 1978)

Funk Factor: 1

When the boys at Ronco needed to formulate yet another name for their latest disco cash-in, they simply mixed and matched their own “Boogie Nights” with that of their deadly rivals K-Tel’s “Disco Fever” to come up with a snappy new title. However, compiling appropriate tracks wasn’t such a doddle. Although they managed to licence stuff from all the major record companies this one’s a real dog’s dinner, with side 1 a particularly gruesome selection of ill-suited drivel from the likes of Dan Hill, Foreigner, and Child. The latter remind me of my youth, when I used to sneak a look at my sister’s “Jackie” magazine when she wasn’t looking. Said publication invariably seemed to feature pin-up pix of the band's “hunky” twins, although neither happened to be the lead singer (not considered hunky enough to swoon over, which was probably somewhat embarrassing for him). Anyway, I digress… The only track here worth a listen is “Is This A Love Thing” by Raydio, a nice slice of funk-rock which on this LP has sadly been savagely truncated to accommodate more mediocrity.

   

Black Velvet (Warwick 1978)

Funk Factor: 2

By this time most of the cheapskate budget labels had long since leapt onto the bandwagon in order to exploit (or maybe bearing in mind the nature of this feature, perhaps I should say “blaxploit”) the 1970’s soul and disco explosion. However, perhaps surprisingly Warwick Records (yet another one of those ”As advertised on TV” LP compilation record companies) appeared to be shamefully slow on the uptake. Not only was this compilation their first apparent venture into the market, their choice of material was pretty ordinary too. This album features soul-related stuff that spans over a good decade or so, but most of it is so-so to say the least (for example, Gladys Knight and her Pips pals pop up yet again, with a cover of the syrupy Streisand show-tune ”The Way We Were”), and for what it's worth, the nearest they could get to Planet Funk was with Barry White’s refined groove “Never Never Gonna Give You Up”, which by the Walrus Of Love’s standards is pretty funky fare, but it’s not exactly hitting the funk motherlode, is it?

 

Steppin’ Out (Polydor 1978)

Funk Factor: 5

This album is seemingly the first foray by German giants Polydor into the soul/disco compilation arena (and in common with other major Record Companies, now using their own disco imprint). But with funk monsters like James Brown, Kool And The Gang, and the Fatback Band on their roster (only the latter make what is a forgettable appearance here), the mystery is why they never showed their hand earlier - maybe you know something I don’t? Anyway, this one kicks off magnificently, with the infectious groove of Roy Ayers’ “Running Away”  (extended version too, featuring an ace vibes break), before falling away to more mundane disco fare. But it perks up a bit at the end, as Black Moses (a.k.a. Isaac Hayes) literally gets one-up on his lurve rival/nemesis Barry White with “Menage a Trois”. However, you might find it prescient to skip the needle past the song itself to hear the best bit, as Ike stokes up a smouldering groove (strongly reminiscent of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto”) whilst he gets it on with the lay-deez.

 

The Stud (Ronco 1978)

Funk Factor: 2

Another soundtrack for a Brit flick: this one's about the sexual shenanigans taking place in and around a third-rate West End equivalent of notorious disco hangout Studio 54. The musical line-up is a motley mix of the good (El Coco’s hypnotic and sensual “Cocomotion”), the bad (Leo Sayer’s cod-calypso “Moonlighting”), and the ugly (a hideous disco take on the “Close Encounters” theme). If you care to partake of some funky disco cheese, check out the “Stud” theme by (Barry White-lite) Biddu, with its wah-wah, smoky sax, silky strings, breathy girlies, and the odd Walrus-like groan of (presumably) the stud himself. But don’t indulge too often, or nausea will soon set in. The most curious selection is by one Samantha Sang, whose tremulous tones sound suspiciously like that disco demi-god/anti-christ (delete as appropriate) Barry Gibb, who wrote and produced. Maybe Bazza felt his muse was so rampant at that point it could not be contained within the Bee Gees, or perhaps this most hirsute of medallion men felt the need to get in touch with his feminine side?

      

Midnight Hustle (K-Tel 1978)

Funk Factor: (one huge big fat) zero

This is actually one of the last albums I’ve reviewed for this feature, and unfortunately it’s also one of the worst. I’m starting to feel like I’ve been in the ring for 15 rounds with Mike Tyson at his peak, bombarded by unforgiving blows of dire disco (Boney M), doo-wop (Darts), pub rock (Frankie Miller), new wave (Blondie), pub rock masquerading as new wave (the Motors), pop (ABBA), poop (the Dooleys), cod-reggae (10cc), and the ultimate knockout punch: heads-down no-nonsense mindless boogie (the Quo, of course). In fact, pretty much everything except music to actually hustle to – one begins to yearn for Van McCoy’s lightweight ditty of that name, not present here. The most bizarre appearance is that of a pre-fame Ian Dury (who made a career out not being able to carry a tune in a bucket) ’ollerin’ along in ’is best barra’ boy bell-er with Kilburn And The High Roads – to use his favoured parlance, a right old hinge and bracket. n.b. for the benefit of those not acquainted with Cockney rhyming slang (or more accurately, "Minder" speak), this translates as “racket”.

   

Action Replay (K-Tel 1978)

Funk Factor: As “trendy” young people of today are wont to remark (or more likely, txt): “Don’t even go there!”

By the late 70’s the K-Tel conveyor-belt of dodgy disco compilations was going into overdrive to pacify impoverished punters pumped up into a disco frenzy. OK, so this one hasn’t actually got the word “disco” plastered over it, but it might as well have. The sleeve design makes its intended target crystal clear, and as for the title, if K-Tel aren’t trying to cash in on a certain disco smash by Dan Hartman (no prizes for guessing which) then my name’s Johan Cruyff/Ruud Gullit/Vincent Van Gogh (pick a Dutchman of your choice). Which wouldn’t be quite so crass if the track in question was actually here, which it’s not. After the previous horror, this really is the equivalent of kicking a (funk) man whilst he’s down. Among those queuing up to lay the boot in are Streetband (ouch!), Racey (ooof!), and with a particularly well-aimed kick to the private parts, Liquid Gold - aarrggh! For the record, the composition of this album pans out roughly as follows: tacky disco 30%, pop pap 30%, new wave lite 25%, schmaltzy ballads 15%, and last and also definitely least, funk 0%.

   

This Is It! (CBS 1979)

Funk Factor: 4

After the savage beating meted out by the last two compos, in comparison this one comes as almost blessed relief. No real surprises here, as industry giants CBS intensify their hold on the disco market, their own solid roster augmented with big hits by Polydor’s Gloria Gaynor (“I Will Survive”), and Pye’s Real Thing (the somewhat Star Wars influenced “Can You Feel The Force”). As you’d expect with such a heavy-duty and on-the-ball label, there are sadly no gaps to plug with old and/or obscure funky nuggets. However, I feel compelled to bring Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” to your attention. Surprisingly failing to trouble the UK chart compilers at the time, this track has since become venerated as a kind of super hip old-school anthem, immortalised in the episode of the fabulous Sex And The City where society queen Carrie struts the catwalk in her Blahniks and Dolce & Gabbana clobber. One has to say: it’s not exactly disco, it’s not exactly funk either, but it sure is one hell of a groove.  

 

The World Is Full Of Married Men (Ronco 1979)

Funk Factor: 2

If someone was making a UK jet-setting sex-n-scandal movie on the cheap in the 70’s, then Ronco seemed the evident choice for the accompanying budget soundtrack. Did you think that big-haired gravel-voiced Rod clone Bonnie Tyler just did god-awful bombastic AOR power ballads? Well, she also does some god-awful disco here too with the title track. Pop-star-playing-a-pop-star Paul Nicholas (best remembered as shag-permed cock-er-nee wide-boy Vince in the 80’s sitcom “Just Good Friends”) also chips in with other flimsy disco tunes written for the film. Of the rest, there is the odd disco diamond (“Mighty Real”, “Best Of My Love”) among the dross (Hot Gossip, Barry Manilow, etc), but nothing that’s any good that you probably haven’t heard loads of times already. The only real concession to funk in any form is the inclusion of GQ’s meaty “Disco Nights (Rock Freak)”. But connoisseurs of retro soft porn can take comfort from the alluring cover artwork which features a foxy lady in a body-hugging shiny cat-suit, its unzipped front exposing ample cleavage to (literally) titillate.

 

Disco Inferno (K-Tel 1979)

Funk Factor: 4

Blimey, a K-Tel disco comp that near enough actually does what it says on the tin! Although it’s not entirely wall-to-wall disco heaven, this time they finally make a fair fist of it, ranging from the classics (the Trammps’ titular track, “YMCA”, etc), to the cringeworthy (Sheila & B Devotion’s disco- by-numbers version of the standard “Singing In The Rain”). Of the mingling makeweights, Chanson turn out an OK piece of discofied-funk “Don’t Hold Back” but the relatively-funkiest thing here is the irresistible mix of disco with a latin slant that is “Que Tal America” by the Two Man Sound. Before I move on, I feel the urge to put in a good word for that most despised of disco acts Boney M - their take on the easy listening chestnut “Sunny” (that's featured here) with its steaming hi-hats and stinging strings, is absolute disco dynamite (astoundingly, none of these compos have used this obvious cliché as a title). Listening to this again, one could almost (and I do mean almost) forgive them for unleashing upon us the unmitigated misery that was “Brown Girl In The Ring”.

      

Yesterday’s Hero (Warwick 1979)

Funk Factor: 2

I’m starting to feel like Barry Norman now, what with synopsising all these naff Brit pics… Based on yet another Jackie Collins steamy (or more likely, tawdry) potboiler, this one stars Ian “Lovejoy” McShane as an ageing football star whose on-the-field genius has been blighted by his off-the-field carousing and playboy lifestyle - remind you of anybody? He gets one last chance of glory with a minor club as they unexpectedly reach the cup final against the odds, but blows it through his dependence on the demon drink. Paul Nicholas also appears in the movie as yet another pop singer (Christ, he must have been relieved when he landed the “Just Good Friends” role), and contributes more weedy disco efforts to the what-was-by-now obligatory LP soundtrack tie-in. Like the film’s featured football team itself, most of the disco and pop tracks here are strictly of the second-division journeyman variety – the (George) best of the bunch is the much-sought-after ultimate “rare groove” track “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell. 

 

Boogie Bus (Polystar 1979)

Funk Factor: 5

This album may well claim to be the Boogie Bus (complete with stocking-clad “clippie” on the back cover), but really it’s yet another ride on the now-careering disco bandwagon. The combined might of Polydor and Phonogram pool resources to come up with the goods, but the only gold-plated hit they can find between them is “I Will Survive”. Even the version of “YMCA” here is a remix – what a swizz. After that the sound of barrel-scraping ensues, with other tracks being minor hits at best. Still, the good news is that what's here mainly lies to the funky side of the disco template, with chunky cuts like Bohannon’s “Let’s Start The Dance” and 60’s boogaloo man Charles Earland’s plea to “Let The Music Play”, that certainly got me foot-stomping in my youth. However, the funkiest “passenger” on board here is “Zeke The Freak” by old dependable Isaac Hayes. Although Ike utilises disco devices like big handclaps, it still somehow sounds deliciously old-school, with organ stabs, clavinet riffs, and of course the trusty old wah-wah, all in there somewhere.

 

The Best Disco Album In The World (WEA 1979)

Funk Factor: 2

At last, the massive American Warner Brothers conglomerate (apparently) finally put in an appearance in the disco compilation arena. Like Polydor, you wander what kept them when they had a huge catalogue of appropriate material at their disposal. However, contrary to what you might have expected, the album’s boast is not entirely justified as both Rose Royce contributions are soppy ballads rather than the gritty disco-funk they were capable of delivering, and the Trammps' genre-defining classic “Disco Inferno” (originally released on WEA subsidiary Atlantic) is inexplicably missing. Of the rest, half the album is made up of the class productions of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (Chic, Sister Sledge), and the crass productions of Frank Farian (Boney M, Eruption), but whatever you think of it, it’s all been heard a million times before – great news for retro disco fans, not so great for rarity-seeking funksters. By the way, Warners have now finally released a lot of their archived funk on the “Funk Drops” CD series - could it be as nowadays, it actually makes them some money?

      

Grooves (CBS 1980)

Funk Factor: 3

Another CBS disco comp within a year – as a couple of their acts had scored recent hits with the word “groove” in the title, some bright spark decided to stretch the theme to a whole LP. No doubt they thought it a concept to rival “Sgt Pepper” or your average Rick Wakeman album. I’m afraid this one doesn’t hold that much interest to funkers with its bland mix of discofied jazz-fusion-lite as peddled by Herbie Hancock, Wilbert Longmire, et al. The standout track by some distance is Lonnie Liston Smith’s bubbling "Give Peace A Chance” (mercifully not John and Yoko’s bad-trip hippy chant of the same name). Great organ solo (by Dr Lonnie Smith - not LLS, trivia fans), but negative points for the OTT syn-drum player, who must have been on piece-rate. For retro-fashion fetishists, there is a nice picture of a fetching young lady on the back cover, “grooving” away in the classic disco get-up of strappy hi-heels, skin-tight satin pants and spangly “boob-tube” - much more appealing than the army fatigue-like trousers, doc martens and suchlike that girls choose to cavort in nowadays. 

   

Disco Erotica (Warwick 1981)

Funk Factor: 1

Soft porn peddler Paul Raymond was allegedly one of the UK’s wealthiest men, via his shrewd act of snapping up acres of seedy old Soho for a song before it became a mega-hip ’hood. However, when entering the record industry his canny business acumen seemed to desert him, a trait shared by the most ruthless of self-made millionaires who take on the poisoned chalice of professional football club chairmanship. Unlike Paul’s property portfolio, the material here is as shabby and valueless as the day he acquired it, consisting of cheesy disco plus that hoary old heavy breather “Je T’aime” to justify the Erotica part of the album title. Continuing the football analogies, like the legendary manager Brian Clough, the Sultan of Soho picked his offspring in his line-up. However, whilst Clough Jr. had a modicum of talent to justify his selection, Debbie Raymond’s feeble vocals indicate she had none whatsoever – a clear case of nepotism, methinks. Nearest thing to funk? “Everybody Get Up” by the UK Players, perhaps a case of “clunk-funk” as they try too hard to emulate their American superiors.

   

Roll On (Polystar 1981)

Funk Factor: 2

By the early 80’s, there was enough decent (not to mention of course an awful lot of dreadful) disco-fied material floating around to pretty much fill this compo up, as the Polystar alliance sought to wring the final drops out of the last days of disco – though they still had to resort to padding out the album with a couple of reggae tracks. Scraps of funkiness are just about provided by the home-grown efforts of Lynx and Light Of The World (whose exertions are much akin to the UK Players – see above), plus two contributions from the GAP Band (possibly the worst funk outfit in the world… ever), the absolutely repellent “Oops Upside Your Head” (now likely being "rowed to" at a wedding reception/school reunion as you read this), and its equally dire near-soundalike “Burn Rubber On Me”. Of more interest here (to me anyway if no-one else) is the more-than-a-little bizarre sleeve design. OK, so they may have been latching on to the roller-disco craze, but the legs in plaster – can anybody explain just what the hell is that all about?

   

Soul Nites (Ronco 1982)

Funk Factor: 4

I suspect that by now, the likes of Ronco were probably able to plunder the back-catalogues of 60’s soul labels such as Stax and Atlantic quite cheaply, hence this compo. When I noticed the inclusion of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” it made me wonder: did Ronco actually start the ball rolling with regard to its now-revered nature, or were they just doing their usual trick of bandwagon jumping? I later found out it was (inevitably) the latter, as around this time the tune had recently been exhumed for a TV ad. But moving swiftly on, if you were to peruse the playlist featured here and plump for the funkiest track, you would probably most likely pick Rufus Thomas’ “Funky Penguin”. Well if you did, you’d be wrong. It’s tipped into a cocked hat by an almost overlooked Pointer Sisters contribution “Yes We Can-Can”, recorded a decade before they hit paydirt with the electro-dance of “Automatic” and “Jump”. n.b. this track also features on the “Super Bad” comp in Part 1 of FATJ, but as I’d done this review first I couldn’t be bothered to rewrite it!

   

Disco US/UK (Ronco c.1982)

Funk Factor: 2

Obviously desperate to make the most of the final spasmodic twitches of the grotesque and bloated corpse of disco, Ronco issued this novelty double-feature, risibly suggesting that our green and pleasant land had amassed enough clout in the disco stakes to take on the mighty Yanks. Much in the same manner one would suggest, that the British boxing press fanned hopes of our very own cuddly Frank Bruno beating the invincible Tyson a few years back. So here are a few selected head-to-heads illustrating the absurdity of this mismatch: D-Train vs Hot Gossip… The Isley Brothers vs Modern Romance… Chic vs Eruption... And if that’s not bad enough, the Limey LP also carries a couple of “ringers” in the shape of Chaka Khan and Blondie. However, as everything here is from the late 70’s and early 80’s, even the quality cuts are at best mildly funky  - such as a surprise contribution from Blighty’s very own Rokotto (and I know I’m labouring a point here, but they were yet another pre-Hi Tension UK funk act, even if not a particularly good one).

   

Club Classics 1 (CBS 1984)

Funk Factor: 6

We may by now have been well into the 80’s, but the mighty CBS conglomerate (including legendary soul label Philadelphia International) obviously had no intention of letting their 70’s soul and disco back-catalogue go to waste. They just repackaged and resurrected it under the newly fashionable “club” banner, and set about milking the already misty-eyed nostalgia of the disco heyday. Presumably this was one of a set, so for those of a funky disco bent the quality is erratic, as the rock-solid groove of “Do It Any Way You Wanna” by People's Choice rubs shoulders with more laid back (and less irresistible) offerings from fellow Philly acts Teddy Pendergrass and Lou Rawls. But digging deep into the vaults to fill up vinyl unearths a real gem. Dexter Wansel was a back-room boy overseeing some of Philly Int’s more commercial releases, but every so often he was let loose to indulge his fancy keyboard playing, and on “Life On Mars” (no, not the Dame’s ditty) he turns out a masterful sample of what has to be described as “space-funk”.

   

Chunks Of Funk (MCA 1984)

Funk Factor: -1!

I am aware that strictly speaking, I have now gone far beyond my original intent of reviewing 70’s soul and disco comps for this feature. But have you noticed that, despite most of these albums containing funky grooves to some degree, none of them are actually billed as “funk” compilations? It seemed that funk was a dirty word back then (well it is actually, but for different reasons than that expressed here). It wasn’t until long after the genre’s early-to-mid 70’s artistic peak that it came into the UK mainstream as a nostalgia/retro/kitsch/ postmodern (delete as appropriate) kick. So, from the mid 80’s funk became a fashionable word to bandy about by achingly-hip media and marketing types, as demonstrated here. On this travesty, the description is applied more than a little liberally. With contributions by Hazell Dean and the grotesque drag queen Divine, a more accurate title would be “Chunks of Commercial Hi-NRG”, but of course that a: doesn’t rhyme and b: doesn’t have quite the same cachet. Someone should have shopped them to the Trading Standards Authority!

   

Another cut-out-and-keep “Funk Factor” Summary Guide to accompany you on crate-digging…

 

ALBUM

LABEL

YEAR

F.F.

Downtown Disco Party

MCA

1978

4

20 Soul Sizzlers

Pickwick

c.1978

1

Disco Stars

K-Tel

1978

1

Don’t Walk - Boogie

EMI

1978

3

Disco Magic

Pickwick

c.1978

6

Boogie Fever

Ronco

1978

1

Black Velvet

Warwick

1978

2

Steppin’ Out

Polydor

1978

5

The Stud

Ronco

1978

2

Midnight Hustle

K-Tel

1978

0

Action Replay

K-Tel

1978

0

This Is It!

CBS

1979

4

The World Is Full Of Married Men

Ronco

1979

2

Disco Inferno

K-Tel

1979

4

Yesterday’s Hero

Warwick

1979

2

Boogie Bus

Polystar

1979

5

The Best Disco Album In The World

WEA

1979

2

Grooves

CBS

1980

3

Disco Erotica

Warwick

1981

1

Roll On

Polystar

1981

2

Soul Nites

Ronco

1982

4

Disco US/Disco UK

Ronco

c.1982

2

Club Classics 1

CBS

1984

6

Chunks Of Funk

MCA

1984

-1

 

Hey, I’m not quite finished yet - here’s a special bonus...?

And the Award goes to:

20 Disco Dancin’ Hits (Pickwick c.1976)

Funk Factor: !?!~@*$#??!!!

Yes, there well may be 20 tracks on this album. And yes, the majority of them may have been hits at one time or another - and when it comes to the average Pickwick comp, that’s quite a boast. However, to label this shoddy collection of mostly stale warmed-up late 60’s/early 70’s pop leftovers as suitable material for “disco dancin'” to, is an absolute insult to anyone with a vaguely passing interest in popular music. Did they really release this rubbish believing that disco dancers would strut their stuff to the plodding rock of the Kinks and Procol Harum? And even the more contemporary fare is utterly absurd: how could they expect anyone (other than the obligatory drunken granny at a wedding reception) to boogie on down to bilge like “Billy Don’t Be a Hero”, “Y Viva Espana”, and most embarrassing of the lot, the parping brass-band drudgery that was the “Floral Dance”? Even by Pickwick’s less-than-exemplary standards, this is a true nadir. Oh yes, in my eagerness to crucify this atrocity, I forgot about the funk. Well, don’t worry about that - so did they.

 

EPILOG

Phew! Well, that’s it for me…hope you found something of interest here, or failing that, at least something to chuckle (or possibly even chortle) over. Although I’m jiggered after such a monumental task, I’m sure I haven’t exhausted this particular avenue of enquiry, and there are more such compilation LPs lurking out there somewhere, waiting for funky junkies to swoop on them in the (probably vain) hope of uncovering the ultimate obscure funk fix… 

Please note: this article is copyrighted (as at March 2005), and cannot be reproduced for any commercial purpose without permission of its author. Any enquiries etc, please email me.

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 Postscript: 

Since this feature was originally drafted, I’ve happened across the following LP’s that qualify (if that’s the right word) for inclusion...

Get Dancin’ (K-Tel 1974)

Funk Factor: 1 (barely)

Back in my teenage years I used to hang out at a monthly club session that not only trotted out the usual disco hits, but actually threw some decent funky stuff into the mix as well. So I used to make the most of this limited opportunity and get on down to the grooves. However, at some point the DJ would inevitably stick on a tape recording announcing “Motown! Motown! This is the Motown sound!” and then bore me rigid by spinning Northern Soul tripe for half an hour. Or at least he would have, had I not been scattering tables and chairs asunder in my wake making haste to the sanctuary of the upstairs bar. The reason I relate this tale is due to the presence on this album of a couple of tracks by the Javells and Wayne Gibson that apparently exploited (and cashed in on) the Northern Soul craze, although it’s all the same to me regardless of its authenticity – bleedin’ awful (and it sounds just as bad now as it did back then). That apart, if you like to get dancin’ to the Bay City Rollers or “Y Viva Espana”, then this is the album for you.

 

Original Rocking Hits (Pickwick c.1975)

Funk Factor: 4

This album features material used in “Side By Side”, a film so obscure it doesn’t even feature in Halliwell’s guide. I had to go online to find out this long-forgotten cheap ‘n’ cheerful comedy flick (directed by future Oscar-nominee Bruce Beresford) features Barry “Dame Edna Everage” Humphries and everybody's favourite beastly cad Terry-Thomas in a yarn of rival nightclub owners trying to outdo each other. So it’s no surprise the producers hooked up with the budget label of budget labels Pickwick for the soundtrack. You wouldn’t expect to find anything remotely funky by the likes of the Rubettes, Stephanie De Sykes, and Billy Ocean on this album would you? I wouldn’t either, but unbelievably the latter (who first peddled ersatz Motown/Northern tosh then had a second wind blatantly ripping off Wacko and Lionel Rich-Tea) whacks out some raw home-grown funk with “Cream On The Top”. It’s a little brittle and shaky in places perhaps (Billy’s backing band were probably whiteys), but still 100% funk none-the-less. So stick that in your (already overfilled) pipe Mr Nelson!

 

Disco Explosion Vol. 2 (Pickwick c.1977)

Funk Factor: 1 (that's being kind!)

Part 1 of "Funk amongst the Junk" features Volume 1 of this “series”, an album that contains mostly dreck (for the uninformed, back in the 70’s this was a hip word to drop when rubbishing something), but also a real find in the form of Black Stash’s “Mighty Love Man”. So when I eventually came across the follow-up LP I was hoping to experience a similar discovery. On the surface it seemed more than possible, with tempting tracklisting titles such as “Don’t Boogaloo The Night Away” and “Funky Monkey”. Unfortunately, the former sounds like the kind of rot the Drifters used to churn out in the early 70’s, whilst the latter (with its utterly misleading title) is even more disappointingly just lightweight bubblegum pop baloney along the lines of “Love Grows” by Edison Lighthouse, which for no good reason is also included here. The rest is also completely disposable, but at least good old Pickwick always give constant chuckle value with their frequent threadbare attempts at bandwagon jumping.

 

Black And White Connection (Valer 1977)

Funk Factor: 2

This double compilation album seems to come courtesy of an entirely independent Manchester label. With typical Mancunian mouth the inner sleeve fiercely asserts: “We have only used big hit singles and have not filled with lesser known artists and material”. What, you mean like Ronnie Dyson (a household name only in his own household), whose banal tune “When You Get Down To It” had reached the mighty chart position of number 34 some years previously? The material to hand appears to have been licenced from CBS and its subsidiaries, with only a few tracks from the likes of Earth Wind and Fire, MFSB, and People's Choice being anywhere near funky, but you’ll know and almost certainly own them already. The only other thing this compo has to offer out of the ordinary (unless you happen to be a fan of hot pants) is the promise that the tracks are “bridged with Moog synthesiser”, which might set a few tongues watering, but honestly, unless your intention is purely to nick bits by sampling, then it’s not even worth acquiring this album for that.

 

Disco Mania (Pickwick c.1976)

Funk Factor: N/A

If you’ve read part 1 of FATJ, you’ll be aware of me carping that most of the early disco comps I reviewed barely featured any actual disco music. Well, at least they had “original artists” and “original recordings” on them (even if in Pickwick's case the artists concerned were by and large non-entities), unlike this cheeky cash-in attempt. All tracks here (going by the cover, more pop than disco) are performed by a faceless bunch of sessioneers billed as “The Top Of The Poppers”, and were probably recycled from the infamous "Top Of The Pops" done-on-a-shoestring covers of chart hits LP series (you know, the ones with the "dolly birds" on the covers). However this copy was vinyl-free so I can’t give you the lowdown on it, but I somehow suspect it’s devoid of anything half-decent funk-wise (correct me if I'm wrong...)

n.b. Since this review I've come across an expanded double edition of this LP - with records inside too. However, I should probably have let sleeping dogs lie with regard to the content, as the Funk Factor rating is still practically N/A...

   

Disco Saturday Night (Pickwick c.1978)

Funk Factor: 3

You could call this twofold offering a real smorgas- bord, except there’s not much here to work up an appetite for. It runs the gamut from doo-wop to 70’s pop, but is light on any actual disco. DJM supply much of the material so Reg is scattered throughout (including some pounding racket that outrageously name-checks funk), as is Johnny Guitar Watson, whose bluesy forays into funk never did much for me (best effort here the promisingly titled “Master Funk” that can't quite deliver the goods). Elsewhere, the O’Jays' “Shattered Man” comes over like a rejected blaxploitation theme, whilst Allen Toussaint’s oft-covered “Everything I Do Goin' Be Funky” sounds more country-rock than funk. Geno Washington also trashes Kool’s “Funky Stuff” (what did Dexys see in him?), but the (comparatively) best offering is the spritely if cheesy "Let’s Get Dancin’” courtesy of Jefferson Airplane’s superannuated fiddle-scraper Papa John Creach. In summary, this comp suffers from the same malaise as the Beatles “White” album: dump the filler and put the rest on a single LP, and you’re still struggling to find that much worth listening to.

 

Disco Parrrty (Polydor c.1976)

Funk Factor: 5

In my original round-up of albums for this feature, you may recall I lamented the apparent absence of any Polydor soul/disco compilations released prior to 1978. Well I’ve now finally stumbled across one such artefact. Here Polydor’s holy trinity of funk (James Brown, Kool And The Gang, and the Fatback Band) are all featured, the first two with anthems any self-respecting funkite knows by heart, and the latter with “Keep On Steppin'” – it’s alright, but it's not by any stretch of the imagination the Fatback’s finest moment. As for the rest, there’s some insipid soul from the likes of Eddie Holman and Millie Jackson (quite what appeals to anybody about her is beyond me I'm afraid), plus the 60’s Northern favourite “I Spy For the FBI” dragged in to make up the numbers. However, the funk factor is raised by the inclusion of a couple of rarer cuts: Jimmy Ruffin’s wah-wah inflected “Tell Me What You Want” and Godfather of Soul protégé Lyn Collins’ souped-up “Rock Me Again”, that somehow manages to combine rock, funk, and disco to gratifying effect.

      

It’s Disco Fever (Pickwick c.1978)

Funk Factor: 4

Loveable old Pickwick just can’t stop bombarding the gullible disco-mad plebs with compilations of dubious merit – on this one they’ve hooked up with the GTO label to plunder their roster, which means there’s helpings of Heatwave (good), Fox (not so good), and the Dooleys (God help us). By-this-time-old-has-beens Lulu and Gary Glitter (am I allowed to mention him?) also feature, the latter with a peculiar version of the old Van Morrison pub-rocker “Baby Please Don’t Go” done in the style of “Rock and Roll Pt 2” - hey! Giorgio Moroder’s also here in force, trying to match the peerless majestic sweep of “I Feel Love” and generally failing miserably, although Munich Machine’s “Get On The Funk Train” was a decent disco effort, if not as funky as it makes itself out to be. Collectors of cod-reggae (there must be some out there) should look out for this album for “Silly Billy” by Marie Elliot, but addicts of faux-funk can also dig in and add “How Can I Resist” by Joe to their collection – if you like Stretch’s “Why Did You Do It” then you won’t be able to resist this either.

 

Black Magic (Pickwick 1979)

Funk Factor: 4

Well, you have to give credit where credit’s due... Not only do Pickwick title this double album in puntastic style, they’ve also finally come up with the goods on the soul front, with a vast selection of original material that spans from the late 50’s to the early 70’s and encompasses all the soul "greats" (or more usually, "grates" in my case) from that era including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, et al. So great news for soulboys. But what about the funk, I hear you ask? Well yes, there are a few funky bits and pieces around that might make this album worth picking up for: there's the stilted keyboard-heavy funk of Betty Wright’s "Clean Up Woman", the looser Caribbean sound of Beginning Of The End’s "Funky Nassau", plus "Teasin’", a well-rocked up workout by King Curtis where the effects are so pronounced its hard to tell where his sax ends and the Hendrix-alike guitarist begins. Pick of the bunch though is another King Curtis offering "Memphis Soul Stew", that pretty much lives up to its lip-smacking title - shame it fades so suddenly, but it still leaves a satisfying aftertaste.  

 

Fullstrengthsockittomeknockmeoutmakeme boogiejustlikethatDisco (Decca 1976)

Funk Factor: 8

When it came to having a black music roster, Decca were much like EMI, with what little they had mainly coming through their American associates (in this case, Brunswick). Top billing on this goes to the likes of Bohannon and the Chi-lites, who serve up pre-disco tracks typical of their oeuvre that are neither particularly good or bad, but the best Brunswick offering comes from the brilliantly-named Strutt, whose “Time Moves On” sounds like a marriage of blaxploitation and euro-disco, which can’t be a bad thing. Did you know that 30 years ago there were two versions of “Let’s Do The Latin Hustle” in the UK charts at the same time? Well, here’s a third by Year Of The Dragon - and the best one due to some delicious wah-wah licks. And amazingly there’s more good stuff here: Mick Jagger’s old flame Marsha Hunt weighs in with some frantic funk-rock, but the best is by complete unknowns the Diversions, who enquire “But Is It Funky?” Well yes sirree, in a way that only superb white funk pastiche can be. So, top marks to a label that on the surface didn’t have much to offer, but has pulled several rabbits out of its hat.

 

Update January 2010:

Since posting this feature on the internet, I've managed to scrape together a few more related albums worthy of reportage...

Disco Bumpers (Music For Pleasure c.1975)

Funk Factor: 5

In my original feature I wondered why MFP soul/disco compilations were so thin on the ground - well surprise surprise, I've now come across another one. Have you noticed that record dealer snobs into rock guff like "Floyd" automatically dismiss budget label comps as worthless tat? Well, it's their loss and my gain as I rescued this from a batch destined for the dumper. The featured tracks are courtesy of quirky independent label President (who among other things released early TK product in the UK). So apart from big hits by the Equals, George McCrae, and KC & Co, there's a few less-well-known goodies to drool over. Miami give us "Party Freaks", their classic mix of mellow groove studded with bursts of machine-gun wah-wah, and KC helms perhaps his funkiest-ever production "Move Me Baby" fronted by Gwen McCrae (for whom incidentally "Rock Your Baby" was written: hubby George stepped in when she couldn't make the session), but the juiciest booty on offer here is by Black Rock, whose BT Express-like "New York City Bump" more than evokes the sleazy and gritty image of the Big Apple of the 70's.

 

Discotrax (Warner Bros 1976)

Funk Factor: 3

In what is becoming a familiar theme, I've now discovered a predecessor to WEA's "The Best Disco Album In The World" release. The sleevenotes on this allege that the "trax" were "chosen with the help of UK club DJ's, representing some of the most popular music played in 1975". Presumably, those who mooted the likes of Norman Greenbaum, Todd Rundgren, and Van Morrison must have been off their heads on the coke supplied by Warners pluggers. Of the more appropriate selections, Major Lance's "Sweeter" is a virtual copycat of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" while Bill Harris' "Uptown Saturday Night Part 2" could've been a contender if not for his backing chicks name-checking every major US city, which gets tiresome rather quickly. Tower of Power are also here but with their weakest (if most familiar) effort "What Is Hip?", and Quincy Jones gives us the below-par blaxploitation of "Money Runner". Which more or less leaves the Meters, who may be raved about by the critics, but sadly their brand of funk has never clicked with me, and "People Say" is no exception.

 

It's All Platinum (All Platinum  c.1976)

Funk Factor: 4

A while back I picked up an All Platinum CD compilation that was blissfully choc-full of funk. Unfortunately none of those tracks are featured on this record, most of what is on it being strictly of the soul variety (such as label-founder Sylvia Robinson's hit "Pillow Talk") which is pretty disappointing, especially a track by the Moments entitled "Sho' Nuff Boogie" that induces Pavlovian-like mouth-watering anticipation of a funk fest, but turns out to be a gentle ballad - what a let down. There's also some distinctly un-All Platinum-like rocking out by Jesus Alvarez on "Walking Down The Highway", and for those who have trouble getting hold of Gil Scott-Heron's rare 45 "The Bottle" (that I actually think in retrospect is somewhat overrated), then you can make-do here with a carbon-copy cover by Brother To Brother. However, it's not a total loss on the funk front as there are two rather good instrumentals worth giving an ear to: "Who's Got The Monster", a clavinet-heavy variation on the hustle by the Rimshots, and "Soul Walking" by the Whatnauts Band, a slickly orchestrated slice of disco-funk.    

 

Disco Par-r-r-ty (Spring c.1974)

Funk Factor: 7

This American release could likely be the first album ever released with the word "disco" in its title. As such, you can rest assured there's nothing on it that you would actually classify as disco music. So what is on it? Well, a couple of tedious soul efforts plus two rather incongruous novelty tracks by the Peppers and Chakachas (whose featured "Jungle Fever" incorrectly gets tagged as funk - it's more a case of bad cod-afro rock). Those apart, the good news is that this disc is pretty much funk central, mainly through contributions by James Brown and his associates (or his "funky people" as they're now known). Everyone and his uncle knows the Godfather's seminal funk workout "Sex Machine", and many will recognise Lyn Collins' "Think" (or more to the point, the "Woh! Yeah!" sample that launched a thousand hip-hop tracks), but of the less-celebrated fare, standout cuts are the good-time feel of Maceo's "Parrty" (note the extra "r"), rock 'n' roll veteran Hank Ballard's clipped and spiky "From The Love Side", and The Mainstreeters' chunky groove "It's My Life".

oh, hang on... here's another couple! (added October 2011)

We Got Soul (London c.1975)

Funk Factor: 6

I procrastinated on punting out a pound for a battered copy of this soul sampler (featuring "The Decca Soul Kid" and Goodies-style font on the cover), but was persuaded by the presence of the funky-sounding "Do It Over" by the Olympic Runners. Disappointingly that turned out to be a false start (ho ho), but further listening confirmed it was still a worthwhile purchase. Among the big names (Al Green, Jackie Wilson, Chi-lites) trotting out their hits alongside their lesser-known soul brothers and sisters (including something by Ann Peebles that somewhat bizarrely was covered by 80's popster Paul Young) lie a few more interesting tracks. No, not Wilbert Harrison's completely incongruous rhythm and blues workout, but the Norman-Whitfield-meets-blaxploitation feel of Walter Jackson's "Easy Evil" and "Work, Work, Work" by B.W. & The Next Edition. Hamilton Bohannon's also featured with one of his typical stomping instrumental workouts, but the Eliminators liquidate the competition with "Get Satisfied", a languid funk groove that does indeed provide gratification.

 

Disco Frenzy (Pickwick c.1978)

Funk Factor: 0

Do you remember the old "Naked Gun" spoof ads for a short-lived brand of cider called "Red Rock"? The strap line was "It's not red, and there are no rocks in it!" Well, you could apply a similar line of thinking to this abominable Pickwick offering - whereas their equally diabolical "20 Disco Dancin' Hits" (see above) was a collection of hoary old pop tunes masquerading as a disco album, with this one you merely replicate the above but replace the word "pop" with the word "soul". I've seen this floating around at car boots from time to time, but wasn't prepared to shell out even a penny for it for this feature as I could tell without listening it's not only a disco-free zone, but a funk-free one to boot, and only display it here now as I've borrowed it from an acquaintance of mine for that purpose. It well may feature some the greatest soul music ever recorded, but as I'm no soul man (unlike Sam & Dave, who have several tracks featured) I wouldn't know. However, what I do know is that it's one giant con, and hopefully duped punters demanded their money back!

...and they keep coming out of the woodwork! (added July 2013)

Soul Hits (Stereo Gold Award 1973)

Funk Factor: 3

It was perhaps inevitable that certain budget record companies without the resources to licence original material would produce copycat versions on the cheap in an attempt to steal their share of the market, especially with fads like soul and disco. However at least they usually employed experienced sessioneers to do the job fairly accurately - unlike the notoriously-parsimonious head honcho of SGA Leo Muller, who tended to use down-on-their-luck wannabees (including a nascent Thin Lizzy) to cover the hits in a haphazard manner in return for beer money. Not only that, he also padded his albums out with "original" tracks (including a couple here) that said musos had knocked-out as jams, claiming the songwriting credits to blag some royalties for himself. With concern to the covers here, disregard Wilson Pickett's "Funk Factory" as despite its title it's really Stax-style soul, whilst Billy Preston's "Outa Space" is rendered unrecognisable (and unlistenable) by a rocky guitar-heavy approach (presumably Leo wouldn't shell out on clavinet hire?), but James Brown's "There It Is" is just about passable.

 

Dance Paarrrty (Atlantic/Contempo 1977)

Funk Factor: 7

Some might say that there are two good reasons to acquire this album on the strength of the cover alone (fnar fnar), but the contents make the appeal far more than skin-deep. Of course by 1977 virtually all funk had an element of disco about it, as typified by two long-loved classics here: Mass Production's "Welcome To Our World", and "Slide" by Slave - not a bad thing in my view as some earlier funk is a bit too raw for my taste. Atlantic's partner on this was an offshoot of the "Blues and Soul" magazine that specialised in picking up stuff that the majors ignored, Ultrafunk's okay "Meat Heat" being a good case in point. Moving onto previously-unheard offerings, I always thought of Ace's "How Long" as having a soulful feel, and one JJ Barnes has emphasised that with his own horn-laden version, and once Tamiko Jones exits stage-left on "Let It Flow" the groove does indeed start to flow (sorry Tamiko!). However, these are trumped by the (surprisingly Italian-based) Daniel Jackson Explosion, whose "Hymn To Africa" is has a gospel-like feel, but thankfully not so that it dominates the funk.

 

Hi-Energy (K-Tel 1979)

Funk Factor: 4

This is a real conversation piece - a rare K-Tel album! Okay, it's never going to be listed in the Record Collector Rare Records Guide, but it's certainly one I don't ever recall coming across before in all my years of vinyl trawling, and have only done so now thanks to my fellow music-obsessive Chris Retro's own internet homage to these compilations. By now the K-Tel formula of proffering a blend of commercial disco, pop and new wave hits was pretty much established, but among the few flops is a track called "Mr Groovy" by Liquid Gold. Liquid Gold? What, the same Liquid Gold who tortured us (well me anyway) with perhaps the worst disco track of all time "Dance Yourself Dizzy"?? Yes, that Liquid Gold. But hold on to your horses, unlike "DYD" this isn't the epitome (or should that be the nadir?) of disco naffness but is actually a slick yet crunchy groover that is well worth searching out if whitey disco-funk is your kind of thing. But ironically you may find it easier to get hold of it via their eponymous album rather than this compilation!

 

And if you need another another cut-out-and-keep “Funk Factor” Summary Guide for these additions: 

ALBUM

LABEL

YEAR

F.F.

20 Disco Dancin’ Hits

Pickwick

c.1976

0

Get Dancin’

K-Tel

1974

1

Original Rocking Hits

Pickwick

1975

4

Disco Explosion Vol. 2

Pickwick

c.1977

1

Black And White Connection

Valer

1977

2

Disco Mania

Pickwick

1976

N/A

Disco Saturday Night

Pickwick

1978

3

Disco Parrrty

Polydor

c.1976

5

It’s Disco Fever

Pickwick

c.1978

4

Black Magic

Pickwick

1979

4

Fullstrengthsockittome...Disco

Decca

1976

8

Disco Bumpers

MFP

c.1975

5

Discotrax

Warner Bros

1976

3

It's All Platinum

All Platinum

c.1976

4

Disco Par-r-r-ty

Spring (US)

c.1974

7

We Got Soul

London

1975

6

Disco Frenzy

Pickwick

c.1978

0

Soul Hits

SGA

1973

3

Dance Paarrrty

Atlantic/Contempo

1977

7

Hi-Energy

K-Tel

1979

4

Th-th-th-that's all folks... and this time, I really mean it! (until the next time...)

back to: Funk amongst the Junk Part 1

Reminder: this article is copyrighted (as at March 2005), and cannot be reproduced for any commercial purpose without permission of its author. Any enquiries etc, please email me.

Just For The Record:

Though this feature may suggest otherwise at times, I can assure you it is my opinion that at its best, disco music is divine! What did for it was its popularity, which encouraged all manner of opportunists to tarnish its legacy in exchange for the folding stuff. By all means join me in chastising such charlatans, but don't allow them to diminish what were some of the most exhilarating sounds produced in the history of popular music...  

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