Disco has changed. What has forever been defined by the glitter-ball aesthetic of Saturday Night Fever, has, slowly opened its arms to embrace a world of different musics, loosely connected by the idea, feel or groove of “disco”. Fuelled by voracious selectors and intrepid reissue labels bringing back 12″s from Beirut to Port Of Spain, our understanding of the genre has become all the richer.
We are not trying to re-write the canon here, simply add to it. And with a term as slippery as “disco” have set a few ground rules to help you navigate the list. First up, as the original 12″ format, its that which we’re limiting ourselves to here, reluctantly excluding a wealth of incredible album-only tracks and 7″s that frankly warrant a round-up in their own right. Bollywood disco, a vast industry but almost exclusively released in LP format, is one such casualty.
As far as dates go, we’re talking exclusively here about the decade between 1975 and 1985 (although the odd track may have been penned before or released after), and are happy to include records that sail close jazz and soul at one end and RnB, funk and boogie at the other. Nu-disco or anything that could possibly fall under this category is therefore also out.
In treading a different path you may also find that a few widely acclaimed superstars have had to make way for some lesser known gems, but every time have sought to make the case for inclusion.
If its influence on samplers is anything to go by, ‘Outstanding’ is a certified classic; Ice Cube, Biggie, Mary J Blidge, Madonna, Ashanti have all taken bites out of this soul boogie bomb. The instrumental is great ammunition for your disco blends.
TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) / Love Is The Message
Possible the biggest underground hit in NYC’s late ’70s disco scene, for many this is the Paradise Garage anthem. MFSB’s album by the same name – which also features Soul Train theme ‘T.S.O.P.’ – was a landmark release for the Philly soul movement. (Side note: MFSB stands for ‘Mother Father Sister Brother’.)
You can’t have a disco list without some MJ and it’s got to be a slice of Off The Wall. Jackson and Quicky Jones at the peak of their powers, the album has a funky undercurrent that’s clubby, yet plenty soulful; best captured ‘Rock With you’ whose wickedly sly groove would be imitated but never bettered for years to come.
It’s a testament to the timeless nature of this groove that you might have heard it played out in more than one places. Thank South African afro-rock outfit Harari for ‘Party’, which resonated so loudly it made the American Disco Hot 100 in ’82.
The Carioca soul merchants roll out the horns for a 12” that does disco the only way the Brazilians know how. One of any number of contenders for this list, their ’77 debut Maria Fumaca has just been reissued on vinyl.
‘Dance For Me’ may be a pretty straight forward disco soul jam, but the real fire here is on the B-side. ‘For Your Love’ is a synth-heavy, slo-mo monster with lazy vamps and stabs to die for. Proof you don’t need to drive fast to get noticed.
Written by the Edwards/Rogers dream team for the We Are Family! album, this is still one of the biggest jams out there, and one that rightly earns its place. Check out Al Foster’s ‘She’s The Greatest Dancer’ cover (sadly not on 12”) too for the leftfield vote. Name-dropping Gucci and Fiorucci, it was also incidentally one of the first tracks to feature brand names. A more dubious legacy perhaps…
This Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam-produced track proves that the duo are right up there in R&B history. That post-disco, electric bassline, those chords, the background vocals that sound like they’ve been rewound; it clicks expertly with Houston’s sizzling pipes.
Husband-and-wife songwriting-production team Ashford & Simpson dominated the ‘70s with their sophisticated blend of upbeat soul and righteous undercurrents. The A-Side on this 12″ was a number 1 hit but nothing quite compares to the spectacular ‘Stay Free’. RIP Nick Ashford.
They might be called The Whispers but nothing about these gentlemen is quiet. Everyone knows ‘And The Beat Goes On’ – a chart topper and a Grand Theft Auto favourite – but don’t forget to flip it over the churning, bass-weight disco of ‘Can You Do The Boogie’
Like the best edits, Danny Krivit’s job on ‘Let’s Lovedance Tonight’ cuts all the juiciest dance floor sections – that organ-heavy groove, killer breaks and a lazy sax line – together. Still, the original 1979 full vocal version is pretty rad and if you’ve got a double copy, you know what to do…
A founder member of Brit funk pioneers Hi-Tension, David Joseph pursued a solo career in the ‘80s and had immediate success with ‘You Can’t Hide’. Larry Levan remixed the track, stripping it back and slowing it down, but this is one of those rare cases where the original tops Larry’s mix.
This monster 12” from the Cuban-born musician straight out of the Arthur Russell school of left-field disco earned Cuevas two more bites at the cherry on Island Records, but nothing hit the fragile heights of ‘Ebony Game’ and its wonky, cosmic chorus.
A track that bridged so many worlds, Chaka Khan’s Prince cover was not only a massive funk & RnB tune, but managed to doff a cap to early hip hop, and ‘70s disco in the same motion. Grandmaster Flash and Stevie Wonder feature heavily on a crossover hit that is one of the latest 12”s featured in this list.
At the peak of “Disco Sucks!” backlash, Earth, Wind & Fire battled changing waters with this wicked boogie belter. ‘Let’s Groove’ signalled a new era for the band, mixing the live soul of their 7-inch past with synthesised funk and vocoder robotics.
A diggers grail, this cut from Brazilian soul legend Cassiano’s Cuban Soul 18 Kilates was part of the new wave of laid back boogie making waves a long way from the Copacabana. Simplicity personified, let the hook take you there.
An archetypal island disco get-down from the Trinidadian calypso and soca giant. One dug straight out of T&T by Sofrito years ago, that rightfully earns Shorty the title of both ‘the father of soca’ and ‘The Love Man’.
By the time Luther arrived on the scene, disco was a full-blooded mainstream monster, but while ‘Never Too Much’ will always hold a place in our hearts, pick your way through Vandross’ saccharine catalogue and you’ll find this gem, tucked away on Forever, Always, For Love. It didn’t try to change the world, but then disco didn’t always have to.
Not immediately released as a 12”, this Larry Levan classic appeared on a Padlock mini-LP in 1983 and featured the best of the Compass Point dream team – Wally Badarou on keys and Sly & Robbie on drums and bass. Dubbed-out, downtempo bliss that took the sound to a new place completely.
“The song ‘Miss you’ was never meant as a disco song at all; that harmonica isn’t exactly disco, right?” Whatever Jagger says, clearly what was going on in the discotheques made it on to this record. The ‘Special Disco Version’ brought the band into the club for the first time and set the blueprint for remix 12”s by pop and rock acts.
A Paradise Garage classic back in the day, the man with the third-best moustache in the business dropped ‘Don’t Let Go’ on the brilliant Elektra imprint back in 1978. A guaranteed mid-tempo party starter.
The band sets a groove that never lets up and Marvin, with his wicked falsetto vocals, rides like a pro surfer. The very essence of cool distilled into one slab of wax, this was a direct influence on MJ’s ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.’
Only ever released as a promo 12” this is one of those increasingly valuable Brazilian boogie holy grails that’s about as gorgeous an example of the MPB-meets-disco sound that has obsessed selectors across Europe and the US in recent years. Arranged by Brazilian disco don Lincoln Olivetti, whose sparring partner Robson Jorge contributes the guitar parts.
Midnight Express was Giorgio Moroder first score. Director Alan Parker wanted a song like ‘I Feel Love’ and Moroder came back with this dark, moody, throbbing instrumental. Like the Donna Summer classic, ‘Chase’ was a textbook moment in the develop of hi-NRG.
Recently reissued by BBE, rags to riches afro-disco originator Kim Kwaku Obeng taught all the musicians in his band to follow his unique James Brown-meets-highlife sound, holding a tight groove for their hypnotic riffs and in-the-pocket-solos. ‘Love Me For Real’ is the kicker here, the bonkers vocals sounding like some kind of proto hip-hop meets gospel chorus.
The Duke could have any number of hits on this list (‘Reach Out’ was edged at the last), but if we’re going definitive you can’t look beyond ‘Brazilian Love Affair’, the coolest, funkiest 7 minutes you’re likely to hear. Impossible to categorise, the funky dancefloor gem features the touch of Brazilian legend Airto on percussion.
The great drummer of Italo disco Tullio De Piscopo’s ‘Stop Bajon’ was a staple at Baldelli’s Cosmic Club and has since become something of a Balearic anthem. One of the most infectious grooves in this list, and a tracks that wears Italo’s light-hearted sensibility with style.
El Coco hand a hand in arranging Le Pamplemousse and you can hear the similarities. Mid-tempo groover ‘Do You Have Any’ is utterly addictive and kinda silly, whilst things slow down just a lil’ on the B-Side.
With that mighty, mighty Jocelyn Brown vocal, ‘Hooked On You’ is a highlight from Cerrone’s vast and oft louche back-catalogue. A guaranteed party-starter, there’s a reason the original will set you back three digits…
Hawaiian disco dons Seawind didn’t just make breezy island music – although if it had been released on 12” ‘Free’ would certainly have made the cut. Here it’s all slap bass and horn stabs on a funky MJ tip.
Straight out of funky Nassau, Bahamanian outfit T-Connection scored a #1 hit on the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart with ‘Do What You Wanna Do’ back in 1977 for Henry Stone and Steve Alaimo’s TK Disco label. A funky dance floor hit, the percussive break down is one of the finest of the decade.
Chic was an unstoppable disco force. Of the many monster hits – ’Good Times’, ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Everybody Dance’ – ‘Le Freak’ is the slinkiest. Recorded after Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were refused entry from Studio 54, the Freak out! refrain was originally written as Fuck off!
Walter Gibbons may be credited for mixing the world’s first commercially available 12” in the shape of Double Exposure’s ‘Ten Percent’, but his role on Ja-kki’s goofy ‘Sun…Sun…Sun…’ is less obvious. Uncredited, but stamped with all of Gibbons’ trademark unpredictability, it’s a wild 9-minutes of repeated refrains that ratchet up the tension to nowhere, in frenzied looping dance with itself.
The Warehouse, Paradise Garage, Muzik Box, Zanzibar… this Salsoul staple got heavy plays everywhere; with its creeping bassline, majestic brass, strings, keys and chilling vocals, it’s easy to see why! Mixed by NYC disco legend Walter Gibbons.
Inspired by Star Wars, in 1978 French synth pop duo Droids released their one and only album Star Peace and this space-suited, playfully kitsch 12”. As Bernard Fevre says, “it’s a bit like Jean-Michel Jarre crossed with an alien from Mars.”
French synth provocateurs Mathematiques Modernes took disco to the outer reaches on this 12” from 1980; a great example of the Europeans turning to the avant garde. A stand-out track on punk-funk label Celluloid and a demanding dancefloor hit.
As much as we love Shep Pettibone’s 1983 version for Salsoul, there’s no beating Tom Moulton’s original mix. Like Holloway’s other hit ‘Hit and Run’, ‘Love Sensation’ has been sampled endlessly but most obviously on the italo-house staple ‘’Black Box – Ride On Time’ which preserved her timeless acapella for a whole new generation.
Another on the RnB end of the spectrum, Attitude were born out of electro-soul outfit The System and released a sole LP on Atlantic in 1983, that spawned this monster 12”. Full of heart-ache, it’s dripping in disco nostalgia, and plays like an end-of-nighter for the whole era.
Island’s Compass Point studio bashed out its fair share of dubby disco oddities during the ‘80s but none more unique than Will Powers’ self-esteem pep ‘Adventures In Success’. A leftfield disco oddity that will leave you feeling like a champion.
The inaugural P&P 12” and an underground classic, Cloud One’s ‘Atmosphere Strutt’ was a killer Patrick Adams production straight out of the NYC disco downtown. Spaced-out disco that survived the cull into obscurity, it stands out for the wild synth line that was way ahead of its time.
Taana Gardner’s sole LP on West End spawned a number of 12”s, none more important than ‘Heartbeat’. A slo-mo affair that typified some of the post-disco tendency to strip back the glamour in favour of simpler constructions. Kenton Nix’s touch is all over this one, responsible for the equally list-worthy ‘There’s Never Been (No One Like You).’
Herbie Hancock’s adventures in disco were hit and miss, but when he got it right, boy did it groove. And ‘Stars In Your Eyes’ is the pick of the bunch – a perfectly sprung slice of late night nostalgia.
With its tough, plugged-in beat and hint of heartbreak freestyle, ‘Time To Move’ is super infectious; a guaranteed floor move. It’s also a difficult one to catch, often trading for three figures, but was given a proper reissue a few years ago.
An island disco bomb rescued a few years back by Soundway, the calypso groove and cosmic phazer is a killer combination that practically opened the whole world to the joys of Caribbean space disco. Not on the original 12” Soundway’s reissue also contains the unmistakable ‘Tomorrow’s Sun’.
A real stinger from disco production super-group of Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael and Leroy Burgess, ‘Lady Bug’ was a cult classic, taken from the group’s only LP, and the pick of Groove Line’s recent heavyweight reissues. Mythical stuff.
The Bee Gees had to make this list somewhere, so why not being covered by disco diva Melba Moore and her popping 1979 version of ‘You Stepped Into My Life’. There are a full 120 seconds of groove before Melba’s vocals send the whole thing into a state of delirium, but it’s worth the wait.
Founded by Ghanaian brothers Michael & Isaac Osapanin, London-based afro-funk outfit Kabbala dropped two killer disco 12”s on Red Flame back in the early ‘80s, and we’ve plumped for ‘Voltan Dance’ for this list. Backed by the much remixed ‘Ashewo Ara’, ‘Voltan Dance’ is a lilting, versatile number that you’ll struggle to even find on YouTube.
When the NYC Peech Boys came to an end, Man Friday became Larry Levan’s new project. Their post-disco/pre-house debut single ‘Love Honey, Love Heartache’ brings synth bass, FX and dub echoes together under the disco ball in one of the finest productions from the Levan arsenal. Released by the legendary Vinylmania.
How Nigeria’s most elusive musician got hold of all those synthesizers, no one really knows, but they certainly fell into the right hands. Released in 1983, both tracks, heavy with Afro-conscious lyrics about value and soul, are propelled by electro-funk throbs and squelches, pre-empting the rise of the machines in what remains some of the most invigorating dancefloor music ever made.
On her debut single, Lynn not only proved she had a cracking set of windpipes, but she also managed to pull off chart success in what is undoubtedly one of the defining tunes of the era. The track was part-composed by keyboardist David Paich of Toto, for whom Lynn later recorded the vocal on ‘Georgy Porgy’.
British disco dons Imagination released ‘Changes’ in 1982, split between the final track of their second LP and the B-side, the equally smooth ‘So Good, So Right’. The former become a hit with Larry Levan, remixed on Nightdubbing the following year. One of the UK’s most accomplished contributions to the down-tempo boogie canon.
Hammond stabs and tidal percussion carried this instrumental from DJ tool to peak time dance floor weapon. The first 12” release on Prism, the Peter Di Milo-led outfit specialized in 10-minute percussive jams that were known for whipping the Paradise Garage into a frenzy.
A cornerstone of DJ Harvey’s apocryphal Sarcastic Disco mix, Claudja Barry’s ‘Love For The Sake Of Love’ was the b-side to the 1976 London single ‘Sweet Dynamite’. A slo-mo disco anthem with the most yearning string arrangement of the decade.
Patrice Rushen got her first record deal with the jazz label Prestige Records in 1974, aged 20, releasing three albums on a fusion tip before moving over to Elektra to fully explore her funky side. Tracks on Pizzazz and Straight from the Heart were staples on New York’s more discerning 1980s dancefloors; none more than the utterly irresistibly ‘Haven’t You Heard’.
Founded by the the Cayre brothers, Salsoul issued hundreds of disco 12”s over its original decade long reign. This club classic was one of the label’s biggest releases, topping both the disco and R&B charts and climbing to 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. It’s still kickin’ today.
Of all Arthur Russell’s twisted disco cuts, this stands proud as his most anthemic. Its insanely funky, minimal proto-house percussion and sleazy, double-entendre lyrics – Is it all over my face?/You caught me love dancin – created an instant classic and it has endured ever since.
If there’s one record from west Africa that captured the disco wave it’s this bomb from Orlando Julius. It’s been a long time since this was a rarity, but still stands head and shoulders above the rest for its prescience and ultimate good-time feel. Strut recently got the man out of retirement for an LP with the Heliocentrics, where it emerged that Julius may well have had a hand in penning ‘Going Back To My Roots’, which features far higher up this list.
With disco’s decline in the late ‘70s, ‘Give Me The Night’ was one of the genre’s last singles to hit big. The Quincy Jones-produced track remains one of Benson’s finest moments. ‘Cause there’s music in the air and lots of loving everywhere.
The title doesn’t disappoint: ‘Space Bass’ is a fine specimen of intergalactic disco with ectoplasmic mono-synth lines and paranormal incantations. The perfect soundtrack for Saturday night on the floor, or for an acid trip indoors.
Two tracks that prove Ron Hardy worked magic behind the decks and the reels. If you thought ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ was already rockin’, just try Ronnie’s edit. And then flip it over for his take on ‘No Way Back’, which burns and burns until the chorus sears at the halfway house. Pure fire.
After drumming for Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder and band leading for Motown, Hamilton Bohannon went solo. His unique brand of disco – characterised by funky wah-wah guitars, long drum breaks and thudding bass – is best realised on the Carolyn Crawford-starring ‘Start The Dance’, though the lesser-heard ‘Coming on Strong’, also released on Mercury in 1978, is a close second.
Philly Intl. darling Jean Carn began her career recording spiritual jazz with her then husband Doug, but truly found her voice on Gamble & Huff’s legendary imprint. ‘Was That All It Was’ is the pick of the bunch – the crystal clear claps, shining in restrained glory against those gorgeous string arrangements Philadelphia International made their own.
The Brazilian soul master Tim Maia didn’t release much on 12” but with helluva horn section, ‘Sossego’ makes the cut. Taken from his only explicitly disco influenced Disco Club album, it’s a small representation of the big man’s contribution to Brazilian music, and a nod to his sense of humour in titling a thunderous funk track ‘Quiet’.
Though ‘Firecracker’ is usually thought of as an early example of synth-pop, a genre that YMO helped pioneer, this track was as big with the emerging electro-hip-hop players in the Bronx as it was in the dancefloor visions of Larry Levan and later the Belville Three.
Another Carmichael-Adams-Burgess master-stroke, this 12-minute gem was mixed by none other than John Morales, and is the fruit of the band’s latter-day reformation, released on little known label Moonglow in 1982. Such was its cult appeal it ended up lending its name to UK label BBE.
A monster track from Afro-disco outfit Tumblack, signed to Island for a rare-as-hens-teeth 12”, where the percussive Afro-instrumental intro giving way to full on disco groove, that gained cult status on the European Balearic scene. Presumably licensing the track from Barclay who released the LP, Island Records are also represented by Wally Badarou who is credited on the sleeve.
33. Inner Life
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough / Make It Last Forever
One of Larry’s signatures, rumour has it that ‘Make It Last Forever’ was the last track played at the Garage. The epic 13-minute version was previously unreleased, until Tom Moulton re-mastered it in 2003 from the original master tapes, along with Larry’s equally sensational mix of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’.
Though Oneness Of Juju pushed more boundaries in the avant-garde jazz scene, they blessed clubland with this percussive, discofied slice of afro-jazz on ‘Every Way But Loose’. The lesser-heard B-Side ‘Run Away Baby’ couldn’t be more perfect for a sunrise set. Original 1980 copies are extremely rare…
With its funky ass space-line, Jody Watley’s soaring vocal and that totally irresistible breakdown, it’s easy to see how this became a PG ear-worm. Although a NYC outfit, Shalamar was a good fit for the classic SOLAR label, because their sound was always as sunny as the weather in Los Angeles.
David Mancuso played it at The Loft; Larry at the Garage; Michael Jackson pinched the vocal refrain; and so did Rihanna. Originally released on 7″ in 1972, ‘Soul Makossa’ is one of the first disco records and remains one of the best. Ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa
An original edit pioneer, Hardy would tweak reel-to-reel tapes to extend breaks on disco tracks, maintaining pace on the floor and foreshadowing the birth of house. When Ron Hardy used to bang his ‘Peaches and Cream’ edit, the Muzik Box would explode. Nephew Bill Hardy recorded the edit from an original reel for the first release in a series of Muzic Box Classics 12”s. It’s Magic!
Whilst we could wax lyrical about B1 (a breezy, bossa cover of Edith Piath’s ‘La Vie En Rose’) or B2 (the fierce, Sly and Robbie co-written hit ‘Nipple to The Bottle’), A1, a sizzling remix of the already sexually-charged AF ‘Pull up the Bumper’, is one of the finest examples of dub disco ever recored. Lyrically it’s genius – Pull up to my bumper baby / In your long black limousine / Pull up to my bumper baby / Drive it in between – and so suggestive that some airwaves banned it altogether. Grease it / Spray it / Let me lubricate it.
According to David Bowie, in the middle of recording of his Berlin Trilogy, “[Brian] Eno came running in and said, “I have heard the sound of the future.” … he puts on “I Feel Love,” by Donna Summer … He said, “This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.” Enough said.
A chronically overlooked figure on the disco continuum, P-Funk prodigy Captain Sky recorded a trio of deeply funky LPs in the late ‘70s that riffed on George Clinton’s comic-book-meets-afro-futurist aesthetic. Entering the phone booth of his mind, the Captain may not have had the same success but as the opening track of Pop Goes The Captain released on AVI Records in 1979, ‘Moon Child’ is as powerful a slab of space disco you’re likely to hear.
One of those tracks that has become a hit in reverse, Mary Clark’s foot-stomping disco-soul excursion ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ was initially released to little effect on short-lived NYC label La Shawn, a meagre 200-copy run dissolving into obscurity almost immediately. But up there with Gloria Ann Taylor’s ‘Deep Inside You’ as one of the most sought after on Discogs, its stock rocketed even further when Floating Points dropped it in his Essential Mix last year. A perfect example of the collector-hungry Discogs economy making a classic out of a cast-off.
23. Michael Boothman
Waiting For Your Love / What You Won’t Do For Love
Invisible City Editions’ finest work of reclamation is this washed up tropical island gem by Michael Boothman aka the Trinidadian Quincy Jones. Bubbling away like a Lime Lemon and Bitters cola, is ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ the ultimate end of the night closer? DJ Harvey says so.
A proper Italo anthem, Maurice Cavalieri and Giorgio Stefani’s extra-terrestrial 1983 hit ‘Spacer Woman’ was initially conceived as something of an experiment to break the classic disco dance sound. Using a Linn Drum, TR-808 and Yamaha DX7, the duo created something truly alien, where the woozy synths and solar arpeggios created the perhaps back drop for Stefani’s wife, whose vocoded vocals turn the whole thing into a dreamy ballad for space lovers.
A budding singer from Harlem, Sylvia Striplin got her first real break in music as part of Aquarian Dream, Norman Connors’ cult jazz-funk band, whose single ‘You’re A Star’ narrowly missed out on this list. Moonlighting for Roy Ayres’ Ladies Of The Eighties, she was signed to the great vibraphonist’s Uno Melodic disco label to cut her only LP in 1980, which lent its name to this unmistakable, bubbling disco 12”.
The mighty calypsonian, Winston Bailey was Shadow, a cosmic reggae disco legend from Trinidad who cut a couple of serious synth-heavy bangers in the early eighties. Originally released on his ridiculously sought-after Sweet Sweet Dreams LP, ‘Let’s Get It Together’ made it as a dub onto the b-side of ‘Way Way Out’ on Kalico Records in 1984 but only recently saw the light of day via a series of Caribbean disco reissues on Cultures Of Soul. An absolute monster of a track.
A clutch of killer ‘80s groovers from ‘70s Miami soul star Gwen McCrae who reinvented herself for the new decade with a totally different sound. ‘Funky Sensation’ burned big on all fronts – disco, hip hop, roller skatin – and the A-Side is peak-time power music, just ask MCDE.
Who can resist that chorus? Taken from the Crusadar’s hit album by the same name, ‘Street Life’ plays out in all its sumptuous glory on this full length, seven-minute-plus US disco mix. A soundtrack favourite, you can sing-along to Crawford’s hustle on ‘80s noir crime drama Sharky’s Machine, Tarantino’s blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown, and whilst you shoot cops on Grand Theft Auto V.
Prince could write, sing, play, produce and look sexy all the while, as his enduring 1979 classic ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ so perfectly demonstrates. Apparently concerning Patrice Rushen (who also appears in this list), when you find the Purple one riding Pegasus naked, you know he wants it.
The original blues rock version of ‘I”m A Man’ was first given a disco-aimed refix by Chicago who stretched out the percussive section for 7 minute-plus take. Macho took things one step further with this 18 minute odyssey that rocked countless gay bars and clubs. A good one to stick on if you need the loo.
A gorgeous blend of Latin rhythms, Arp keyboards, Marta Acuna’s dreamy vocals gliding in and out of the galaxy and that spacey P&P sound, ‘Dance, Dance, dance’ is one of Patrick Adams’ best (and rarest) productions. The perfect end to an evening of hot summer dancing.
Inspired by the spaced out Afro-rhythmic sound developed by DJ Beppe Loda at the mythical Typhoon club, Italo studio outfit Helen recorded this exotic ode to Africa. By the time Daniela Paratici’s seductive vocals arrive, you’ll have fallen in love with Zanzibar too. The B-Side ‘Afro Mix’ loses the love chant, layering with the polyrhythm with additional live hand drumming by Nigerian percussionist George Aghedo. Whilst the original vinyl is fairly abundant, Dark Entries paired the track with the band’s earlier, more urgent ‘Witch’ for a 12” reissue back in 2014, complete with dreamy artwork.
A Salsoul classic and one of several anthems in this list to soundtrack New York’s voguing ballroom scene in the early ‘80s, Philly girl group First Choice originally released ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ on their 1977 album Delusions, but it didn’t make it onto 12” until six years later when a set of remixes from Shep Pettibone and Frankie Knuckles took it to the top of the dance charts.
Besides Giorgio Moroder, Patrick Cowley is widely considered the godfather of electronic dance music. In the late ‘70s Cowley played synthesizer on Sylvester’s album Step II which included hits like‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’. Then in 1981 he released ‘Menergy’, a celebration of the gay club scene, that was later re-released with vocals from Sylvester. A pioneering force for Hi-NRG, Cowley was also one of the first victims of AIDs; dying in late 1981 whilst on world tour with Sylvester.
A literal turning point in Diana Ross’ career, the soul-turned-disco superstar followed the form of the song, that reinvents itself three minutes in from plaintive ballad to assertive disco groove, with one of the most recognizable basslines of the era. Initially just a 7” (although Motown did release a killer promo on 12” backed by Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’) by the time this was circulating as a maxi single, Ross was a fully formed disco superstar and this was her anthem.
One who depends on inheritance offers themselves up to poverty, so goes the Yoruba proverb ‘Agboju Logun’. Shina Williams & his band of funksters reflect on that pearl of wisdom in this 11 minute electro-disco workout. With a rockin’ Afrobeat backbone, it’s one of the best examples of Lagos’ fertile, cross-cultural scene in the 1970s. The original on Earthworks is not easy to track down, but Strut comp’d it back in 2001. A bootleg surfaced in 2006, but hopefully this will get a proper reissue one of these days…
One of the biggest hitters on the Sleeping Bag discography, Class Action’s ‘Week End’ united the best of the post-disco universe in one place. Originally written by our man Patrick Adams for his Atlantic Records studio group Phreek (which also featured Leroy Burgess and vocalist Christine Wiltshire), it was given a brand new lick by Larry Levan in 1983, mixed by Morales & Munzibai and produced by none other than Bob & Lola Blank. A bona fide dream team, with Wiltshire belting the chorus like Sunday’s never going to come.
‘Going Back to My Roots’ is a track with many lives. Written and first recorded by Lamont Dozier, it was then covered in 1980 by Richie Havens who, unusually for a folk musician, funkified it. But it was NYC disco outfit Oyssey who, a year later, gave it full-body floor treatment, all the while maintaining its black power and soul fulfilment message.
A hedonist hymn for those whose church was the Paradise Garage, ‘Stand On the Word’ is the end-of-nighter to end all nights, and perhaps the most famous choral cut ever to make the dance floor. Chorus is provided by the exuberant Joubert Singers, led by Phyliss McKoy Joubert, who delivers the Saturday night sermon with aplomb. The original is rare as the scarcest relic, going for a good ton every now and then.
ESG, a co-release between 99 Records and Factory, was nothing short of a masterpiece: eighteen minutes of infectious and economical funk grooves. ‘Moody’, including the 12-inch remix single that followed, was big in the clubs in New York and London, even though over half of the ESG sisters hadn’t even completed high school at that point. Meanwhile ‘UFO’ is up there with the most sampled tracks of all time, making this EP one of the most influential on the history of dance and hip-hop.
Before Daft Punk there was Space. The original French disco cosmonauts, with the space helmets to match, they found immediate success with their 1977 debut Magic Fly, arguably the most important release of the country’s short-lived space disco craze. An eerie, stratospheric hook, and vast, expansive synthetic sweeps that would make Vangelis go weak at the knees, it was released as a 12” backed by the hyper-nostalgic sci-fi love song ‘Ballad For Space Lovers’. For its use of technicolour collage the video was also way ahead of its time.
The LGBTQ icon for whom “gender was an everyday choice”, Sylvester embodied the freedom and sexual transgression of the disco era more potently than perhaps any other performer. Flamboyant and openly gay, his devil may care attitude translated on record to mega hits like ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ – latterly described as the “cornerstone of gay disco”. We’ve gone something a little rawer, sweatier and less polished, picking the soaring cover of Ashford & Simpson’s ‘Over & Over’ from his self-titled debut as Sylvester’s high point, his trademark falsetto in full flow. Sylvester is rightfully crowned the Queen Of Disco.
It’s no secret that periods of cultural liberation in the Middle East in the late ‘70s produced some of the most vital disco of anywhere in the world. While civil war in Lebanon may have facilitated the creation of the country’s most avant-garde music, it also caused such instability within in the industry that records were released in small quantities which rarely left the country. One ever present though was the Rahbani Family, whose work with iconic vocalist Fairuz was perhaps the best known of a (relatively) vast musical empire.
Taking the best of Western disco and adding a dark, almost noir-ish flair to the sound, Elias Rahbani and his Orchestra released ‘Liza… Liza’ on 12” in 1978 – an almost unprecedented format in Lebanon – with a sleeve so risky it wouldn’t make it onto the shelves today. Gorgeously orchestrated, with a driving, almost cosmic bassline and monster synth stabs, ‘Liza… Liza’ is a force of nature, variously bootlegged but as yet not properly given the dues it deserves.
A Cuban percussionist, most renowned for his role in the ‘50s Afro-Cuban jazz movement, who was 58 years old when this was released, as one of the top two greatest disco 12”s of all time? You better believe it.
‘Thousand Finger Man’ wad first released on an album of the same name in 1970 (1970!?) and can justly claim to being one of the first disco tracks of all time, long before the extended mix was just a glint in Tom Moulton’s eye.
When the 6-minute album original eventually made it onto 12” backed by the equally massive ‘Jingo’ in 1979, it became an instant Salsoul classic.
From the eerie synthetic intro, the slow-building piano stabs and bass line that makes ‘Love Hangover’ sound like a tribute piece, it’s an extraordinary 9-minute journey of power and restraint, which takes a top two spot for being almost a full decade ahead of its time.
In 1981, Arthur Russell, under one-off alias Dinosaur L, released 24→24 Music; the title referencing how the elusive rhythm switches up every 24 bars. From it, ’#5 (Go Bang!)’ was as much a hit in the downtown gallery scene as it was in Mancuso’s Loft and Levan’s Garage.
The track was a little too crypto for other DJs though; so Francois K was invited to join the already all-star lineup to give the the track a more dancefloor-friendly mix. Francois K’s scalpel job re-organised Russell’s freeform laboratory and future-facing druggy euphoria into a dubbed out dancing experience like never before.
Like the original, the disco mix runs on dramatic dynamism; the wild web of sounds – vagrant trumpets, drunk guitars, dancing keys, casual latin-style percussion, loopy men and women – thickens and expands before eventually detonating in a massive I wanna go BANG! bomb.
Francois K took the mad vision over to side B with his screwball mix of disco-rap jam ‘Clean Your Bean #1’ – also from 24→24 Music and just as much fun on the dancefloor. An unrivalled exercise in disco-not-disco, little compared to this 12” then and, over 30 years on, the same can be said now.
A big thank you to our crack squad of consultants, without whom this would never have been possible: Monica Lynch, Patrick Ryder, In A Lonely Place.