There was a musical revolution around 1977, one that overwhelmed all that had come before. I’m talking about disco, obviously – the hedonistic, cocaine-fuelled dance music that dominated the charts over the next couple of years.
Disco was so prevalent that bands who should have known better climbed on the bandwagon – The Rolling Stones with Miss You, Kiss with (the admittedly brilliant) I Was Made for Lovin’ You. But other bands were above that sort of thing – you imagine that isolationist, perfectionist acts like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were barely even aware of the comings and goings of musical fads and fashions. But that wouldn’t stop us from enjoying disco versions of their best known tracks.
Disco was a genre prone to the cover version – sometimes whole LPs worth of discofied retreads of well known tracks could be found in the cheap bins of Woolworths. And at the time, the ‘soundalike’ album was fairly commonplace – not just the Top of the Pops LPs and their imitators, but whole discs of covers by one act, sold at a fraction of the cost of an LP by the actual artists. My parents had an Abba covers LP, by an act called Krista, and if you didn’t listen to closely, it was just about passable.
In 1977, Discoballs: A Tribute to Pink Floyd by Rosebud appeared, and was soon to become a regular in bargain bins and second hand shops. This was no ordinary ‘soundalike’ – the eight tracks here, ranging across the whole of the Floyd’s career to that point, are pulsating, disco reconstructions that frequently only bear a passing similarity to the original tune – and are arguably all the better for that. After all, who wants a cover version that is effectively a facsimile? There are some odd choices – the main theme from More and Summer 68 are not the best known Pink Floyd songs – and some ambitious ones, like One of These Days and Interstellar Overdrive.
Rosebud were made up of French session men, including a couple of members of prog-jazz act Magma, and orchestrated by Gabriel Yard, who would later score films for Jean-Luc Godard and Anthony Mingella. The vocals are by Miss X.
The cover – a classic bit of 1970s sexploitation – is probably better known than the music. In keeping with the times, the LP was available on red vinyl, though my copy is sadly in plain old black. Released, remarkably, on Atlantic Records.
In 1979, The Wonder Band’s Stairway To Love appeared. A rather more low-rent affair from Euro disco producers Armando Noriega, Israel Sanchez and Silvio Tancredi, this was a record of two halves – a side of anonymous disco tunes and a side of extraordinary Led Zeppelin covers. More accurately, it was an elongated Stairway to Heaven suite, with Whole Lotta Love thrown in the middle. It starts out fairly faithfully (if clumsily), and then after about a minute suddenly explodes. This goes on for 28 minutes (Whole Lotta Love appears at the ten minute mark if you are impatient) and rarely even has a passing similarity to the original sound. It’s well worth a listen, even if it left a school chum and I aghast after he picked it up in a Debenhams bargain bin in the early 1980s.