“It’s one past ten o’clock here at WRKS FM New York. We’re 98.7 Kiss. K-I-S-S: where nobody gives more music. I’m Yvonne Mobley hosting our Kiss Mastermix Dance Party – dance hits of 1980..”
Yvonne Mobley: a name to make many a UK music-obsessive go weak at the knees. And for true fans of vintage New York radio air-checks, the honeyed tones of the great Chuck Leonard can also be heard on this year’s 500MH seasonal offering.
Broadcast over the NYC airwaves on Christmas Day, 1980 this edition of the Mastermix Dance Party brings together the stellar talents of Tony Humphries and Shep Pettibone, though it’s not clear just how they divided up the mixing duties. No matter, the results are predictably splendid and the 500MH spotting team have compiled an (almost) complete track-listing – check the Lyrics tab of the mp3 files.
So the sound quality ain’t great…but hellfire, this is TONY HUMPHRIES and SHEP PETTIBONE. 32 years ago!
All that remains, therefore, is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas from 500 Miles High. Postings have been slightly erratic recently and who knows what the New Year will bring, but for now…push back the sofa and party like it’s 1980.
There’s nothing we like more at 500MH than wandering off the well-trodden path and discovering something interesting in the disco undergrowth. So whilst it’s great to hear tapes of classic New York radio shows and clubs, what (you may ask) was happening in early-80’s gay Seattle?
That question can now be answered in the form of a storming set by Dana Andrews, recorded at The Monastery club’s 1983 Red Party.
A quick trawl of the Internet reveals virtually nothing about this amazing looking Seattle venue – The Munsters meets Paradise Garage? – but what scant info there is on the long-demolished Monastery (aka The Sanctuary) can be found over at the ever reliable discomusic.com, for example:
“So many crazies: the naked dancing men, the glitter girls, the fashion fags, the leather gang-honeys, they were all there…”
But enough of the clientele, what was the music like? On this showing a fascinating mixture of what you might expect (multiple Patrick Cowley tracks) to things you wouldn’t (a very long and spacey version of the Gap Band’s You Dropped a Bomb on Me).
Oh and a lovely sequence where Nick Straker’s Straight Ahead is mixed seamlessly into Glad to Know You, which sounds like it could have been recorded in Shoreditch (or Oslo) last weekend.
Never expected to be saying this on 500MH…but here’s a real treat for Martin Luther King Day: an astoundingly good WBLS Saturday Night Dance Party mix by Merlin Bobb that was broadcast to the people of New York just before the very first MLK day, 20th January 1986 [anorak note: the mix went out on Saturday 18th before the holiday on the Monday].
Luckily for us, someone recorded it and the cassette quickly made its way across the Atlantic to our friends at Beard Science. The original tape had a lot of the usual wear and tear of any well-played family heirloom, but it’s now been lovingly restored and presented here for your listening pleasure.
And what a pleasure. The mix is a perfect marriage between disco and early house (proving conclusively that both these genres are drawn from the same musical well) and sounds like it could have been recorded last week rather than 26 years ago.
The many musical highlights include a raucous edit of Labelle’s What Can You Do For Me? and a less well known MLK speech over the long intro of Creative Source’s version of the ultra-paranoid Who Is He & What Is He To You?. The “I have a dream” speech is of course also represented and Merlin works it to provide a real shivers-down-the-spine moment.
Connoisseurs will also appreciate the deep, resonant “WBLS in New York” station IDs – always a pleasure to hear – and Len Brown filling the Yvonne Mobley role from the rival WRKS/Kiss mix shows. By the way, if anyone has tapes of Len’s Quiet Storm slot (“one of the most delightful programmes on radio”), then please get in touch.
So…a flawless, genuinely emotional mix by an underrated figure on the New York dance scene and a fitting way to celebrate this year’s Martin Luther King Day.
Let’s kick-off 2012 with a bit of New Year’s magic from the early 1980’s, courtesy of the magnificent Roy Thode (pictured above left, with Ann-Margret and Bobby Viteritti).
There’s probably not much more to say about New York’s legendary palace of gay excess, The Saint, that wasn’t covered in our Jim Burgess post last January, other than perhaps to puzzle over it’s continuing fascination for *cough* straight, middle-aged Yorkshiremen. There’s actually some debate among disco-anaraks as to the exact vintage of this recording – the “official” date is NYE 1980/81, but some say it’s actually from the 81/82 celebrations, which would make it exactly 30 years ago to this very day, so 500MH is tempted to go with the latter scenario.
Musically we are in the Disco sub-genre known as morning music….or sometimes sleaze (though there are purists who can draw distinctions even between these two close bedfellows). All the general listener needs to know is that this is the music that was played at the very end of the night (i.e. in the morning), mid-tempo in pace but off-the-scale in terms of emotional drama. Largely a phenomena of the gay scene, this was a musical world where the likes of Sharon Ridley’s Changin’ (a classic of the genre) could rub shoulders with…er…Cliff Richard.
As usual, thanks go out to some of the old-timers on DJHistory for the help pulling this together, including the almost-complete track listing hidden in the lyrics tab of each file:
As a footnote, Roy was also a participant in one of the odder remix projects of the disco era – along with Larry Levan he reworked C is for Cookie by Sesame Street’s very own Cookie Monster. Perhaps 500MH can dig that out later in 2012…
One of the many pleasant aspects of running this blog is getting to know some of the artists/DJ’s in what is sometimes referred to as “the scene with no name” (a term that is only slightly catchier than nouveaux-disco-afro-balearic-cosmic-slomo-edits-scene). A good example of this would be a blossoming bromance with the mysterious collective known as Beard Science – intrepid sonic explorers and veterans of five splendid 12″ releases (with, we hear, a sixth one on the way).
Anyway, one of their shadowy number – lets call him JC – got in touch to tell me about an old cassette tape that he recently discovered in the cellar at Beard Towers. Early indications showed it to be a Tony Humphries mix from the mid 80’s, but to be on the safe side he sent it over to the 500MH lab for further forensic analysis.
Well, the results are in and we can say that this is a classic Mastermix Dance Party session from New York’s WRKS-FM (aka Kiss FM 98.7), hosted by the ever-delightful Yvonne Mobley. Aired in 1986 it shows TH cutting up early House records, contemporary soul/funk and the occasional earlier classic. But in addition to the flawless musical selection, Humphries seems to be pushing the limits of what was possible with two turntables in the context of “proper DJing” (as opposed to pure turntablism). Very ocassionally you fear he might have gone too far, but just when it seems it might all fall apart he brings it back with a disco bomb like “Bad Girls” and it all takes off again.
All in all, sublime stuff which really does sound as fresh today as when it first troubled the airwaves 25 years ago. And to think that this (and mixes just like it) went out to the people of New York every week, commercial-free for three-and-a-half hours.
Finally a word about the artwork which Beard Science created especially for 500MH’s presentation of this mix – lovingly hand-drawn and reminiscent of the great Marvel Comics artist…and native New Yorker…Jack Kirby, this truly is the icing on the (Christmas) cake.
So there you have it – 500MH’s yuletide gift especially for you. Enjoy and stay tuned in 2012…
With less than a week to go until the Big Day, I must admit that the festive spirit hasn’t yet infected 500MH to the same extent that it did last December. So to get proceedings started here’s the result of some Internet “research” I recently conducted.
When I learned that contemporary Italo-influenced producer, Brioski, took his early inspiration from the Mixage vinyl mix-albums that were lying around his childhood home, I felt moved to investigate further.
After a few carefully-placed clicks, and some 500MH tidy-up work I found myself listening to a fascinating instalment of this series that ran from 1983 to ’87 on Italy’s Baby Records. Mixed by Massimo Noè and Pino Santapaga, these records contain all you’d expect from an 80’s Eurodance franchise – sublime highs followed by unfathomable lows and all executed with a melodramatic, nay operatic, fervour that would make Puccini blush.
Turning to the example at hand, it was released in 1983 with a Baby Records Catalogue number of BR 56051 (the actual records were all simply titled Mixage). Musically this one ranges from an interesting Euro-medley of Jeopardy and Billie Jean..through the mega-hit Vamos a la Playa…to the Black Lace-esque nonsense of La Bionda’s One for You, One for Me. Add in a seasoning of faux-classical pretension and some basic-but-effective mixing and you’ve got a recipe for Yuletide dancing fun.
So push back the sofa, put this on the virtual gramophone and party like it’s 1983.
As mentioned in the recent Salute 2 post, 500MH has long-wanted to pay its own tribute to Disco’s pioneers by giving a permanent home to some genuinely historic mixes (many of which only circulate in the semi-clandestine world of DJ forums). So when we heard that this particular mix had dropped off the radar, we were delighted to present a poignant moment in the ongoing story of New York nite life.
For many, The Saint was the ultimate club: an icon of the NYC gay scene throughout the eighties, it opened in its doors in September 1980 on the site of venerable live music venue, the Fillmore East. With a $4 million budget, and aspirations to match, it immediately became the night spot du jour for the upscale party crowd (membership was $250 per year and sold out immediately). Such was its success that the main competition (12 West and Flamingo) closed down within months.
So…a high-tech paradise and drug-fuelled Bacchanalian fleshpit, but what about the music?
Unlike contemporary nite spots such as The Paradise Garage and The Loft, The Saint was never known for the adventurousness of its music policy. Instead its DJ’s honed a distinct house-style that blended the theatricality (melodrama?) of 1970’s disco with the more contemporary sounds of Hi NRG and Euro-synth-pop. Limahl was a big favourite.
Jim Burgess was a DJ, remixer and sometime professional tenor with a penchant for retirements and comebacks. A resident in the early days of The Saint (along with the likes of Alan Dodd, Roy Thode and Robbie Leslie), he retired in spectacular fashion in 1981, walking out midway though a record at the height of the evening. But a few years later he was back in the saddle and played the second-last set of The Saint’s non-stop 48 hour closing party (leaving it to Robbie Leslie to bring down the final curtain).
Sadly Jim passed away in 1993, but he leaves us with this wonderful 4 hour mix (track-listings in the lyrics tab as usual):
A Michell GyroDec turntable has been sitting in Casa 500MH since…well, sometime in the mid 90’s. In that time it’s seen some ups-and-downs: it’s been stoled, ignored for years in favour of rival turntables but, like Barry Manilow, it’s made it through the rain and is now back as the heart of our vinyl-ripping operation. In the following homage to this classic piece of audio engineering I’ll strive to avoid hi-fi speak (“a trace of sibilance in the transients” etc.) and just tell you what matters.
Firstly, it looks brilliant. The above pic isn’t mine, but a photo from the Michell Engineering site. It was taken (for unexplained reasons) at Borehamwood railway station and shows a GyroDec Mark III, the same model that I originally bought – though mine was finished in silver rather than bling-tastic gold. Some people will tell you that a GyroDec was featured in the film A Clockwork Orange, but that was an earlier Michell turntable, the Hydraulic Reference. Still, it does look pleasingly “far out” and I can’t deny that my decision to buy one was partly based on aesthetic considerations – though I did audition some alternative options, including the classic Linn Sondek LP12. Suffice to say, the Gyro looked the best and sounded the best.
On to my history of GyroDec ownership: the Mark III sat happily in my “system” for a few years before being stolen in a burglary (along with a number of other treasured possessions). When the insurance money came through, I replaced it with the lastest Mk IV model – visually similar to the above but with a standalone, rather than deck-mounted, motor (in the photo, that’s the gold cylinder on the left-hand side which drives the platter via what can only be described as “a rubber band”).
All was well for a while, but when we moved to an open-plan house, I couldn’t find anywhere to get, what you might call, a proper setup. And when I later realised my long-time ambition of getting an in-house vinyl-based DJ setup (2 x Technics SL1210 + mixer), the Gyro started a long fade into obscurity. Until now.
A project (men must have projects) is underway to put the GyroDec back to work – initially for vinyl-ripping, but ultimately to listen to records in the manner that God intended: decent system, leather armchair, gin & tonic, possibly wearing a smoking jacket. And a fez.
Thus far I’ve replaced the rubber band (a very reasonable £15 from the excellent Analogue Seduction) and levelled-up the equipment stand that it resides on – five minutes work with a spirit level. And that’s about it for Phase 1 (this project has very tight budget). So, armed with laptop and soundcard I can now make high-class vinyl rips that – in theory – should put to shame those done on the Technics.
And if any of that’s whetted your appetite, here’s a rip that I made today of Perri’s 1988 cover of Steely Dan’s Caves of Altamira. Oh, it’s uncompressed AIFF format, of course:
Sticking with the cassette-ripping action, I’ve got a few tapes on the mid-80’s New York label ROIR (Reach Out International Records), a casette-only imprint that released original material, such as the harmalodic funk of Alfonio Tims & His Flying Tigers as well as reissues of out-of-print titles by the likes of Prince Far I & The Arabs.
Today’s selection is from a great one-hit-wonder of early hip-hop, Brother D. His classic How We Gonna Make The Black Rise Nation Rise originally came out on the Clappers label in 1980 (and got a UK Island release the same year) but didn’t come to my attention until it was included on the excellent Mighty Reel cassette, given away with the New Musical Express in 1982. As a young political firebrand, the strident militancy of the lyrics appealed to me, and as a latent disco-phile, the Cheryl Lynn sample made my loins feel funny.
To think that the same sample (Got To Be Real) is now used in a Marks & Spencer TV advert. Enough to make one want to storm the barricades again…
So back to the music, first up is the live version on the ROIR cassette, Brother D & Silver Fox – Up Against The Beast. The album – a live collaboration between D and a reggae MC – promises much but only really comes alive on Brother D’s “hit” (note that Silver Fox doesn’t appear on this):
By the mid-80’s, mixing had made its way from the clubs of New York to the more enlightened night spots in the UK. Thanks to the efforts of mixing pioneers such as Greg James, the concept of a continuous musical flow – based on beatmatching skills and vari-speed turntables – was slowly replacing the traditional record-chat-record format of british clubland.
For more info on the evolution of mixing in the UK, see this excellent article by Greg Wilson and associated discussion on DJ History.
But such skills (or indeed, decent music) had yet to reach the carpet-and-chrome clubs that I occasionally frequented in West Yorks – so in 1986 when I got hold of a tape of the winning entries from that year’s Technics/DMC World Mixing Championship it felt like a big deal. Little did I know at the time that the world of competitive mixing was a scene in dramatic transition.
The world championships were only established a year earlier, when Roger Johnson was crowned the winner (more about Roger in a future post). In that inaugural competition – of which little documentary evidence exists – there was little turntable trickery, just “straight” mixing/cutting/blending of the popular tunes of the day.
Then in 1986, DJ Cheese stole the show with a performance largely based on scr…scr…scr…scratching. And lots of it. Outraged runner-up Orlando Voorn exclaimed “What is this, a Mixing Competition or a Scratching Competition?”. The answer seemed to be resolutely “a scratching competion”, the art of the scratch – and associated gimmickry – being the reason d’etre of the championships ever since.
For anyone wanting a round-up of the last 25 years of winners, a surprisingly concise and readable summary can be found over on the DMC site.
But back to 1986, and it’s now time to make up your own mind on the ins-and-outs of that year’s competion, with 500MH’s handy guide:
6. Kris Kastaar (Belgium)
From the opening cut-up of Colonel Abrams, an assured outing from KK – often rocking double copies to good effect. Some ambitious mixes/overlays that don’t quite come off. Very solid – but in this company – 6th place seems about right.
This one always stood out when playing the tape back in 86 – very strong opening, dropping Rappers Delight over Loveride then straight into some Trad Jazz. Even manages to throw in a bit of Roy Ayers at the end. Of all the finalists – the best music selections (just) and the DJ I’d most like to have seen playing in a club. Well done Mick!
Another 500MH favourite – Roger takes some of the the biggest dance tunes of the day, gives them a sprinkling of magic hip hop dust and weaves a very compelling mix. In ’85 he might have won with this – we’ll never know.
“For the Great Britons of this world”, Chad serves up a creative set that embraces the new school methods and which laid the groundwork for his winning performance the following year. Early signs of the gimmickry and visual showmanship that would come to characterise the scene (see Youtube for his 1987 set: WWII flying helmet, scratching behind back etc.).
Dense, percussive and simply more “street” than his rivals, Cheese ushered in the concept of turntable trickery as an end in itself, rather than a means to stitch records together. Later this would lead to the empty theatrics of Germany’s DJ David doing handstands on a spinning Technics. But would also give us the astonishing minimalist expressionism of DJ Kentaro.