The bicentennial year is turning out to be another interesting one as I make my way backwards chronologically through my record collection. I’m just getting to S as I play my 1976 albums in reverse alphabetical order, and already I’ve found a one-disco-hit wonder with real talent, an overlooked gem by a superstar, an overlooked gem by a non-superstar, and a truly dynamite soul album you’ve probably only heard one song from.
Sometimes one-hit wonders really deserve that distinction. They get lucky with a catchy song more often than not written by someone else and, lacking any real talent or imagination, are never heard from again. Candi Staton breaks the mold. Granted, she did have one minor hit in 1970, a cover of the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand by Your Man,” long before the birth of disco…so she is technically a two-hit wonder. Her “Young Hearts Run Free” is disco brilliance, and with a much saner message about what happens when you stand by your man, advising against. Why she never had another hit is a mystery to me. The rest of her hit-titled album is good as well. I played it at a recent party and got no complaints.
Donna Summer’s career began with “Love to Love You Baby” (1975) and really took off with “I Feel Love” two years later. In between was A Love Trilogy, which, though not a big hit at the time, perfectly bridges the two, pointing toward the electronica-infused, extended-mix disco that would soon come to dominate dance clubs and radio. Containing her cover of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic” (more orgasms on Donna’s version) and the side-long “Try Me/I Know/We Can Make It” mix, this album qualifies as an overlooked treasure really worth dusting off.
Sparks was one of my favorite groups in the mid-70s, but they never had a real hit in the U.S. I discovered them watching Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert at a sleep-over late one night and became an immediate fan. Their 1976 release, Big Beat, looked at the time like it might launch them into stardom: their first release playing with the big boys on Columbia, it was well produced, the songs were all snappy yet quirky-queer, centered on the theme of sexual anxiety, and the sound was big. Sparks was even featured in the horrible 1977 film Rollercoaster (which I saw in Sensurround; it features Helen Hunt in her first movie role). Anyway, their career never really took off (Helen’s did), but I still like this album a lot.
My best find of the past week, though, has been Johnnie Taylor’s Eargasm. Embarrassing title aside, this is one mighty fine — and sexy — album. It leads off with the megahit “Disco Lady” (incidentally, the first single to be certified platinum) and doesn’t let up. For some strange reason, I didn’t like that song when it came out. (I was probably upset it kept “Dream Weaver” from being #1.) I came to my senses later on. Side two is even better. It’s not disco (even “Disco Lady” isn’t really), it’s classic R&B by the man known as the Soul Philosopher. So there! Play this one at your next party or next time you feel like having sex and see what happens. Trust me on this one. You can thank me later.