Inventory: 11 Unexpected Disco Records

Inventory: 11 Unexpected Disco Records

1. Lalo Schifrin, "Jaws"

For a time in the '70s, disco versions of John Williams movie themes were as common as smiley-face buttons—an artist named Meco made a platinum-selling career out of such things—but one of the first examples of discofied Williams came from an unlikely source. In 1975, multiple-Oscar-nominated composer Lalo Schifrin set Williams' low two-note Jaws signature to wakka-wakka Shaft guitars and a little free-jazz piano, effectively turning one of the creepiest movie scores in history into a party-down variation on Schifrin's own Mission: Impossible theme. By scoring a significant hit, Schifrin inadvertently paved the way for every Meco and sub-Meco disco opportunist to inflict Star Wars boogie tracks on the populace for the next 10 years.

2. Marilyn Chambers, "Benihana"

Post-Deep Throat, "porno chic" became so pervasive that for a few years, at least, the mass-media guardians were almost willing to forget that adult-film stars were famous first and foremost for having sex for money. Behind The Green Door sensation Marilyn Chambers parlayed this amnesty period into a minor mainstream movie career (if David Cronenberg's Rabid counts as "mainstream"), and one 1976 club favorite. A year before Donna Summer essentially faked an orgasm on record for "I Feel Love," Chambers panted and moaned like a… well, like a porn star on "Benihana," an otherwise middling hunk of soft disco cheese with faint Asian overlays.

3. Chicago, "Street Player"

Although Chicago was never the most critically acclaimed pop band of any of its eras, the band's first six albums do bubble with energy and inspiration—some of it awkward, and some of it laudable. But by 1978, the band had bottomed out creatively, having lost one of its founders to a self-inflicted gunshot, and its producer/manager to a business dispute. That year saw Chicago's first unnumbered LP, Hot Streets, which the band followed a year later with a return to numeration, Chicago 13. The latter album kicks off with a nine-minute would-be disco anthem, which replaces the earlier records' displays of instrumental prowess with repetitive riffs, disco whistles, and "whoo-whoo" backing vocals. All of this is topped by a laughably world-weary chorus: "I'm a street player and I've seen it all." Because nothing says "badass" like the nasal coo of Peter Cetera.

4. The Beach Boys, "Here Comes The Night"

Almost as surprising as The Beach Boys turning one of their lesser-known late-'60s ditties into a 10-minute disco workout was the man behind the conversion. Curt Boettcher, sunshine-pop journeyman and longtime Brian Wilson crony, was in a career slump following a decade of failed solo projects and non-starting soft-psychedelic bands—many of which are now regarded as among the best of the original West Coast rock scene. Boettcher showed a real affinity for the artsy side of dance music on "Here Comes The Night," a non-hit (but a cult favorite) that worked The Beach Boys' harmonies into the tight format of Euro-minimalism, to ecstatic effect.

5. Kiss, "I Was Made For Lovin' You"

By 1979, Kiss had been plastered on millions of lunchboxes, comic books, and every other manner of merchandise imaginable. And yet the disco single "I Was Made For Lovin' You"—released in May of '79, just days before its accompanying album Dynasty—was what had the Kiss Army crying "Sellout!" Technically, it wasn't even Kiss' first flirtation with disco: A year earlier—possibly under pressure from the band's masters at the disco-centered Casablanca Records—Kiss released a remix of its hard-rock anthem "Strutter," dubbed "Strutter '78." But the diehards hated "I Was Made For Lovin' You" so much that it still vies with the 1978 solo albums and the 1983 unmasking as Kiss' definitive shark-jumping moment. Ironically—as with the reviled ballad "Beth" three years prior—"I Was Made For Lovin' You" charted higher than Kiss' more snarling, signature singles. Singer-guitarist Paul Stanley has since confessed that he wrote the song just to prove that anyone could pump out a disco hit, though in retrospect, this song is a hell of a lot catchier (and even tougher) than what Kiss dribbled out in the '80s.

6. The Rolling Stones, Emotional Rescue

The Stones boldly staked their claim for hip-swiveling greatness with the number-one single "Miss You" off 1978's Some Girls, so the danciness of Emotional Rescue two years later shouldn't have come as that big of a surprise. And truth be told, only the seductively sleazy title track and the self-explanatory "Dance, Pt. 1" are out-and-out disco songs. But the feeling of coked-up debauchery clings to the record's bright, punchy grooves like a polyester leisure suit, and it undoubtedly helped Emotional Rescue reach number one on the Billboard albums chart. In typical Stones fashion, they were able to have their cake and eat it too, shoring up the rock fan base with a hit record while winning new backers with some trendy window dressing.

7. Herb Alpert, "Rise"

The godfather of easy-listening jazz crossed over to a new market in 1979 with this number-one pop hit, a danceable instrumental as smooth as porcelain. Ostensibly a cheesy variation of the kind of Love Boat-ready music people heard on their TV sets every night, "Rise" is elevated by Alpert's plaintive horn, winding through an honestly lovely central melody. And culturally, the song had an impact, moving disco out of sweaty, coked-up urban nightclubs, and making it safe for airport lounges.

8. The Boston Pops, Saturday Night Fiedler

Conductor Arthur Fiedler set the Boston Pops Orchestra to demystify classical music for the masses by mixing tuneful classical compositions with orchestral renditions of pop songs. But that mission took the Pops to a strange place with this kitschy 1979 curio. Opening with a medley of songs from Saturday Night Fever, the Saturday Night Fiedler LP later gives Bach a thumping beat for a track named "Bachmania," and goes all the way through the looking glass with a cover of David Shire's Mussorgsky riff "Night On Disco Mountain." Someday, someone's neo-disco act will cover Saturday Night Fiedler, and the cycle will be complete.

9. Sesame Street Fever

10. Mickey Mouse Disco

Licensed characters enjoy nothing more than having their likenesses slapped on quickie albums designed to cash on some musical craze. But there are two ways to approach the assignment. On 1977's Sesame Street Fever, Robin Gibb worked with Children's Television Workshop to produce the creditable soft-disco song "Trash," while skilled session players worked up lightly funky versions of "Doin' The Pigeon" and "Rubber Duckie," featuring the voices of Frank Oz and Jim Henson. On 1979's Mickey Mouse Disco, generic boogie-men and women render airless takes on "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and "It's A Small World," occasionally interrupted by the easily imitated voices of Donald Duck and Goofy. Advantage: Muppets. (Although the not-quite-The-Village-People "Macho Duck" on Mickey Mouse Disco is almost weird enough to justify all future synergistic corporate-pop projects.)

11. Ethel Merman, The Ethel Merman Disco Album

Disco music and Ethel Merman both enjoy considerable gay followings, but who said the two were ever meant to be together? One of Merman's final projects, The Ethel Merman Disco Album combines her unmistakable bombastic vocals with a thumping club beat and simply hopes for the best. As with so many attempts to harness the disco beast, the results aren't pretty.

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