10 essential Warner Bros Disco classics… The establishment of an identity happened to be the ultimate key word by the end of the 70’s. Be it musically with the arrival of producers settin’ up a distinctive sound. As visually with trends applying to social if not political categories. With the same applying for many independent structures which came to symbolize what a label is supposed to be. In others words, an entity synonymous with a certain standard of quality!
Even though Disco (and later on House Music) happened to most likely be the thing of independent labels (Philadelphia International Records, Prelude, Salsoul, West End or SAM Records), the major companies eventually jumped on the wagon, with more or less commitment. The first coming to mind being Columbia and RCA, with Warner Bros. makin’ no exception…
Warner Bros. pretty much embodies the American dream, as illustrated by the story of its founding members. Not to mention its dimensions. As a company, Warner Bros. saw the light back in 1918, at the initiative of Larry, Jack, Albert and Sam Wanskolaser. Four brothers who were Jewish immigrants hailing from Poland. Even though their story started 15 years earlier with the launch of their first movie theater – the Cascade – in New Castle, PA. Then by the one of a distribution company the year after.
Warner Bros. has pretty much been associated with innovation along with time. Producing movies with sound in the 20’s. Then delivering the first all-color film with sound by the likes of ‘Noah’s Ark’ in 1929.
The company strenghtened its impact while producing famous cartons such as ‘Bugs Bunny’ in the 30’s. They are also responsible for the memorable ‘Casablanca’… A film shot during the World War II starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, standing as a timeless masterpiece.
Although Warner Bros. already had a successful music publishing company, Warner Bros. Records only came to light back on Mar. 19, 1958. This a few months after Jack Warner had taken the control of the company on his sole own. The Everly Brothers being offered the first million dollars deal in the history of the recording industry back in 1960.
From then, Warner Bros. which had become Warner Bros. – Seven Arts after Jack sold it to Seven Arts Productions, started growing significantly. First with the absorbtion of Atlantic Records. But also serving as a distributor for countless structures like Curtom Records, Sire Records, RFC or Geffen Records. Not to mention Quincy Jones‘ label Qwest Records and Prince‘s imprint Paisley Park among others.
Warner has never been a Disco label as such. But one could feel the influence of the genre on many of their releases at the time. Be they blended with Soul, Jazz, Funk or even with Rock vibes (ie. Rod Stewart, Leo Sayer).
Wishin’ you’ll enjoy the ride as much as we did while putting this together. Here we go with some of their most significant releases at the time. With your suggestions as a mention to your favorite tune from them more than welcome anytime…
Better known as Chaka Khan, Yvette Marie Stevens formed her first group in her native Chicago at the age of 11. Replacing Baby Huey of Baby Huey & the Babysitters after Huey‘s death in 1970, she remained with them until their disbanding the year after. She eventually caught the attention of two members of The American Breed, soon after known as Rufus.
She launched her solo career with WB in 1978 although she continued recording with the band until the early 80’s. Khan went straight to the top with the Ashford & Simpson penned ‘I’m Every Woman’. One of her signature songs along with ‘Ain’t Nobody’. ‘I Feel For You’ completing the list back in 1984. An explosive cover version of a 1979 Prince song, featuring Grandmaster Melle Mel on the rap intro and Stevie Wonder on harmonica [More…]
George Clinton started it all by the end of the 50’s while forming The Parliaments. This Doo-Wop formation gave later birth to both Parliament and Funkadelic. Two entities whose respective line-ups varied upon circumstances along with time (and eventually disagreements or disputes).
With Parliament getting to the forefront in the second half of the 70’s, one could feel a growing tension between the members of the combos. This resulted in Thomas Grady‘s departure from the venture back in 1977, after financial and management disputes with Clinton. Funkadelic releasing their biggest album ever – ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ – the year after. Then the 1979 ‘Uncle Jam Wants You’ album which features the electronic flavored ‘(Not Just) Kneep Deep’. The latter standing as one of the group’s signature jams…
Much if not everything has been said about Prince Rogers Nelson who managed to be to Warner what Michael Jackson happened to be to Epic Records. A musician, a singer, a producer, an actor and an entrepreneur, he remained with the label from his debut until 1994. Eventually launching his own structure by the likes of Paisley Park. The success would start with the release of his second album – Prince – back in 1979. It featured ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘I Feel For You’. Two tracks which he’d initially written as demos for Patrice Rushen, and ‘Sexy Dancer’.
One of the most clever minds of his generation, Prince had a unique gift to play with words and attitudes. ‘Controversy’, from his 1981 album of the likes, perfectly illustrating this. As a response to the speculations back then around his sexuality, gender, religion, and racial background. In the spirit of the memorable ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ which came up as a part of his ‘Sign O The Times’ album 6 years later.
Born in Sussex to an English father and an Irish mother, Leo Sayer first started as a songwriter before becoming himself a recording artist back in 1973. Geared towards Pop, he obviously loved Dance vibes as illustrated on the 1974 released ‘Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance)’.
He would eventually reach his peak by the second half of the seventies with the Disco-styled ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’. A cut which he soon after followed with the vibrant ‘Thunder In My Heart’. There, you could feel how he really sang his heart out. Featuring Ray Parker, Jr. on guitar and Jeff Porcaro on drums, with production work by the likes of Phil Perry.
A cut which Craig Dimech aka Meck gave a second life to some 24 years after.
Hanceville, AL native Canzetta Maria Staton first performed with an all girl vocal quarter at the early age of 5. In the meantime, some of you might remember of the memorable ‘Hallelujah Anyway’ which she released on Defected more than 60 years after, back in 2012. A performance which says everything about her incredible longevity with a voice much of the same as in her performance of ‘Victim’ back in 1979.
A Gospel and Soul singer, Candi Staton is best known Stateside for her 1970 remake of Tammy Wynette‘s ‘Stand By Your Man’. But also her 1976 Disco chart topper ‘Young Hearts Run Free’. A song which David Crawford wrote for her, just like ‘Victim’. Meanwhile her biggest success in Europe is the anthemic ‘You Got The Love’ where she appeared along with The Source back in 1986.
On the heels of George Benson‘s 1976 ‘Breezin’ album. An opus which marked the beginning of his most successful period. Its follow up – ‘In Flight’ – with the same line-up of musicians (Harvey Mason, Ronnie Foster, Ralph McDonald, etc) and producer (Tommy LiPuma). It spawned classics such as ‘Nature Boy’, a cover version of ‘Everything Must Change’, and this War penned gem…
A brilliantly reorchestrated version of it, it saw our man setting up his own signature, while scatting over his famous Ibañez guitar play…
Benson nevertheless scored his biggest success for the label 4 years later with ‘Give Me The Night’ which Rod Temperton penned for for him. With Quincy Jones in charge of the production duties [More…]
One of the most prolific and successful songwriters in the history of contemporary music… Lamont Dozier scored his biggest success ever with the Afro-tribal infused ‘Going Back To My Roots’. From his 1977 ‘Peddlin’ Music On The Side’ album. With rhythm arrangements courtesy of Hugh Masekela and McKinley Jackson. And featuring luminaries such as Ray Parker, Jr. and Arthur Adams (guitar) and Joe Sample (electric piano). Not to mention Bill Summers and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion…
Various artists covered it soon after. From Richie Havens to Odyssey. But also Spaghetti House studio act FPI Project who gave it an interpolation with the memorable ‘Rich In Paradise’ 14 years after [More…]
Hard not to think of the most beautiful couple – Ashford & Simpson – in the history of contemporary music when remembering either of Nickolas Ashford or Valerie Simpson. As not only they wrote some of the most beautiful/meaningful songs one might think of. Be it Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye‘s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ or Chaka Khan‘s ‘I’m Every Woman’ to name but a very few. But also embodied the sophistication in terms of arrangements and production, most likely during the Disco period.
From their 1979 ‘Stay Free’ album, with mixing work courtesy of the inevitable Jimmy Simpson, ‘Found A Cure’ remains one of their absolute peaks…
By the one who made himself a name with his cover version of Richard Strauss‘s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’.
One of those mythic instrumentals from the Disco era, from Deodato’s 1978 ‘Love Island’ album. An opus which most likely marked the peak of his collaboration with producer Tommy LiPuma (George Benson, Al Jarreau…).
Its warm symphonic arrangements were certainly for much on the good reception ‘Whistle Bump’ had. But also the presence of Larry Carlton on guitar. Not to mention the memorable whistle parts which a lot of producers would insert from then in the Disco scene. Therefore givin’ birth to a new trend [More…]
Stargard saw the light in Los Angeles, CA by the end of the 70’s, at the initiative of producer Norman Whitfield. A female threesome comprising Rochelle Runnels, Debra Anderson and Janice Williams… One most likely remembers them for the ‘Theme Song from ‘Which Way Is Up’. A track which Whitfield wrote and Mark Davis produced… It served as the main theme from the soundtrack to the movie of the likes featuring Richard Pryor back in 1978.
Switching from MCA to Warner the year after, Stargard also made quite some noise with the boiling ‘Wear It Out’. A cut that saw Davis collaborating this time with Earth Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White productionwise…