Yeah, I Own These (Part One in a Series) - Desperate Stabs at Disco Relevance
I started collecting vinyl about four years ago and since then have managed to amass a collection of over 1000 records. While I try to buy all the new albums I love in this format, the majority of my purchases have been what could be described as culturally forgotten. Over these years one of my favourite sub-genres to seek out and find are dance singles recorded by show business legends who if not experiencing a lull in their careers still find themselves attempting to get the attention of the kids with a not-always-subtle stab at relevance. Of my seven favourites listed below only one was actually successful, but my life is better for their existing.
1) “Easy Way Out” by Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison’s Laminar Flow isn’t an album that gets a lot of love from critics, but for all the wrong reasons. While some find ways to praise its somewhat boring standard rock tracks, most single out the album’s opener “Easy Way Out” as a sad attempt to chart a disco hit at a point before people remembered he was ROY FUCKING ORBISON. I, on the other hand, love the song and it’s the reason I squealed out loud when I found the album at a local record shop. While “Easy Way Out” isn’t as good as “Crying” that’s more due to the fact that “Crying” is legitimately one of the greatest songs in music history and almost nothing else measures up. It is, though, at least as good—if not better—than “Pretty Woman” and I’m prepared to argue with anyone about this for as long as it takes for them to concede I’m right.
2. “Love Rush” by Ann-Margret
Out of all the artists mentioned in this list, Ann-Margret is the one who most deserved to be a genuine disco diva. Despite its failing to make a splash, her eponymous 1980 five track disco album is a genuinely great showcase of her talent and almost supernatural sex appeal. Its failure more a result of bad timing than anything else (released even a year earlier, before the inevitable disco backlash, it might have made a much greater impression). Below you’ll find a clip for an abbreviated version of “Love Rush” (the album track is 6 minutes) because it’s the only performance video from the album available on YouTube, but all five songs are great with “What I Do to Men” and “Midnight Message” serving as the other two standouts
3. “This Girl’s Back in Town” - Raquel Welch
After a series of flops and a growing dissastifaction over only being offered roles based on her legendary physical assets, Raquel Welch found herself at a career crossroads in the 70s. With the help of Alice Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon, she reinvented herself as a Las Vegas performer and impressed many dubious critics with her talent as a singer and dancer. Surprisingly, though, this didn’t lead to an album deal and it wouldn’t be until 1987—when she found herself selling workout videos a la Jane Fonda—that she released “This Girl’s Back in Town” as her attempt to break back into the big leagues. By then she had been blackballed by Hollywood for successfully suing the producers of Cannery Row for casting her in order to secure foreign financing while planning to fire her at the first sign of trouble in order to give the part to Debra Winger, their preferred choice. But despite the obvious intent of the song’s declarative chorus, the world and MTV shrugged and only the people who watched her workout video to the very end saw the video.
4. “Where is My Man” by Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt was so ahead of her time that it seems a bit shocking she managed to be as successful as she was. A brash provocateur in the Nicki Minaj-style, Kitt wore her sexuality in a way that defied the sex-kitten/bimbo bombshell expectations of the day—to the point that when viewed today, her performance clips make it seem like she was a traveler from the future who came to the 50s and 60s to show the world what it had in store. That said, by 1983 popular culture had pretty much caught up to her and “Where is My Man” comes across more as a funky cougar anthem than anything truly outrageous. Which kinda makes me love it even more.
5. “Stay with Me” - Charo
Okay, I admit it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that Charo was a “legend” before she recorded Olé, Ole. Even at the absolute height of her fame, Charo was always one of those show business figures who was more famous for being famous than for anything she ever actually did as a performer. Now the natural assumption would be that this was because she didn’t have much to offer besides her cartoonishly appealing figure and sweetly goofy accent, but the best moments of this album suggest that—had we gotten our heads out of our asses and given her a chance—she could have gone on to much greater things. I bought the album as a piece of kitsch and put it on assuming it would provide some campy fun, but instead found a really good album that recalled the kind of latin-infused disco that makes the work of Leroy Gómez and Santa Esmerelda must owns for any fan of the genre. And that’s despite the fact that the last of its five tracks is a cover of the theme from Love Boat—the TV show most responsible for making her a household name in the 70s. What few people who watched her shake her hips and say, “Cuchi-cuchi!” on that show knew was that she was a gifted acoustic guitarist, which she proved on the album’s second track—a nearly 9 minute instrumental called “Concierto De Aranjuez”. But the stand out track is “Stay with Me” a slow and sultry disco track that suggests an emotional depth her ubiquitous TV appearances never allowed her to convey.
6. “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” - Barbra Streisand (with Donna Summer)
By far the biggest hit of any of the songs on this list (the only one, really), “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” didn’t mark the first time Streisand aimed for the pop charts, but it’s easily the best of her attempts to prove that she could do more than be your mom’s favourite singer. While she sold more records teaming up with Barry Gibb at the height of his Saturday Night Fever fame, her duet with Summer is the real shit. While bearing all the hallmarks that made Babs Babs, once this track hits its groove (at the 1’50 mark to be exact) it can’t be stopped and is as good as anything on Summer’s solo records (which is as good as a compliment as you can give any 70s disco single).
7. “Young Dudes” - Mamie Van Doren
Mamie Van Doren is an icon who never gets the full attention she deserves. This is partly due to the fact that out of the trinity of 50s blonde baby doll bombshells she was always considered the C-list choice after B-list Jayne Mansfield and A-list Marilyn Monroe. But Van Doren did something those two superstars didn’t—she made it to 2019, where she remains as fabulous as ever and fills my Facebook timeline with a non-stop array of anti-Trump news stories. (Still a sexbomb in her 80s, she’s also woke af.) Back in 1986 she co-starred in a forgotten comedy called Free Ride, which featured her dance single “Young Dudes”. If Eartha Kitt’s “I Need a Man” feels like a cougar anthem, then “Young Dudes” is THE cougar anthem—a song so overt in its intentions that it makes “Baby Got Back” sound like a Tori Amos song. I found this single at a used record store in Ottawa and couldn’t buy it fast enough. Whenever I find something like this I assume it’s something everyone else in the world knows about, but somehow passed me by, but in this case it’s just as obscure as you’d assume. In fact, I had to upload it to YouTube for this post (although I did find a clip for its b-side “Queen of Pleasure”).