The oddball Euro-disco tribute albums of the late 1970s.
There was a musical revolution around 1977, one that overwhelmed all that had come before and established a new Year Zero for music, changing fashion and culture forever. 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, more reclusive 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, aimed at an audience that liked the songs – but not enough to want to pay full price for them. My parents had an Abba covers LP, by an act called Krista, and if you didn’t listen too closely (it was on cassette, so not exactly a sparkly hi-fi experience to begin with), it was just about passable.
In 1977, Discoballs: A Tribute to Pink Floyd by Rosebud appeared and within a year would become a regular sight in bargain bins and second-hand shops. This was no ordinary ‘soundalike’ – the eight tracks here, ranging across the whole of 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 neither the best known Pink Floyd songs nor the ones that immediately suggest themselves as dancefloor fillers – and some ambitious ones, like One of These Days and Interstellar Overdrive.
Rosebud was 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, a weirdly arty slice of erotic provocation that is probably quite in keeping with the album as a whole when you think about it. It certainly attracted the attention of many a youth for whom Pink Floyd was – in those pre-Another Brick in the Wall days – little more than a mystery within an older brother’s record collection. In keeping with the times, the LP was available on red vinyl, though my copy is sadly in plain old black. It was released, remarkably, on Atlantic Records, the home of Led Zeppelin. Speaking of which…
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 – one side of anonymous disco tunes and another of quite extraordinary Led Zeppelin covers. More accurately, it was an elongated Stairway to Heaven suite, with Whole Lotta Love thrown in the middle, because why not? It starts out fairly faithfully (if clumsily), and then, after about a minute, suddenly explodes into delirious insanity. This goes on for 28 minutes (Whole Lotta Love appears at the ten-minute mark if you are impatient) and rarely has even a passing similarity to the original song. It’s well worth a listen, even if it left a school chum and myself aghast after he picked it up in a Debenhams bargain bin in the early 1980s.
These two albums may be the tip of a fascinating iceberg. They clearly signal that nothing was beyond the reach of the disco juggernaut. Readers with further examples are encouraged to share.
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