THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES.
THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES.
For some time, I’ve been meaning to write about one of my favorite, and without doubt, one of the greatest labels of the disco era, Salsoul Records. They were one of the most influential and innovative disco labels, releasing over three-hundred tracks between 1974 and 1985. Along with Casablanca, SAM, Prelude, T.K. and West End Records, Salsoul provided the soundtrack for the disco era. Now, twenty-seven years after the original Salsoul label folded in 1985, the music of Salsoul is like the holy grail of disco, loved by disco fans worldwide. This has meant that many compilations have been released, to quench the thirst of disco lovers for the music of Salsoul Records. However, one of the most comprehensive and in-depth compilations is The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, released in 2011, by Harmless Records. This is a three disc compilation, featuring thirty-one of Salsoul’s greatest songs, including tracks from disco diva Loleatta Holloway, The Salsoul Orchestra, Skyy, Instant Funk, Inner Life, Leroy Burgess and First Choice. As if this isn’t good enough, six of these tracks were remixed by Tom Moulton, the godfather of the remix, while Walter Gibbons and Larry Levan remixed four tracks apiece. So not only do you get thirty-one of the greatest tracks of the disco era, but twenty-three of them are remixed by some of the greatest remixers of the past forty years. Before I tell you about the music on The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, I’ll tell briefly you about the history of Salsoul Records.
Although Salsoul Records had been founded by Joseph, Kenneth and Stanley Cayre in 1974, it wasn’t until two years later in 1976, that Salsoul would release its first disco track. By that time, fate had intervened and Salsoul had been able to sign up some of the greatest musicians of the seventies, who would play a huge part in Salsoul’s success.
These musicians had previously worked at another innovative and influential label, Philadelphia International Records, and were known as M.F.S.B. During their time at Philadelphia International Records, this group of musicians had played a huge part in the success of the Philly Sound. Together, they’d played on many of the Gamble and Huff’s recordings. Kenneth Cayre was a huge fan of the Philly Sound, and was determined to sign the best musicians to his label. When M.F.S.B. were in dispute with Gamble and Huff over commercial matters, Kenneth Cayre spotted an opportunity that would transform not just Salsoul Records future, but music history.
Having realized the dispute between Gamble and Huff and M.F.S.B. Kenneth Cayre signed M.F.S.B. to Salsoul Records, renaming them The Salsoul Orchestra. This included the legendary Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, who’d play a huge part in the label’s sound and success. Ronnie Baker played lead and rhythm guitar, while Norman Harris played bass and both wrote arranged and produced songs. Earl Young’s signature drum sound was key to the success of both Philadelphia International and Salsoul’s music. Like Ronnie and Norman, Earl wrote, arranged and produced tracks. Together the trio are credited with creating the sound and structure of disco tracks.
Joining Baker, Harris, Young was vibes player Vince Montana, whose orchestral arrangements would be key to Salsoul’s success. This wasn’t the end of the Philadelphia International influence in Salsoul’s sound and success. Bunny Sigler would also join Salsoul. Now that Salsoul had some of the greatest musicians and most creative minds in music working for them, Salsoul would set about releasing what would become some of the greatest disco music ever recorded, much of which can be heard on The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, and which I’ll now tell you about.
Like each of the three discs that make up The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, Disc One is arranged in chronological order, starting with the release of Bataan’s The Bottle (La Botella) in January 1975, the track that launched Salsoul as a disco label. Disc One then takes us through the release of two of Salsoul’s biggest tracks, Double Exposure’s Ten Per Cent and Loleatta Hollway’s Dreamin’ in November 1976. The two tracks that close Disc One were released in March 1977, Eddie Holman’s This Will Be A Night To Remember and Carol Williams Love Is. During this period, Salsoul were releasing some of their most memorable and biggest hits. These tracks were being mixed by some of the best remixers of that time, Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons. Choosing just a few tracks isn’t easy, given the consistent quality of the eleven tracks, but eventually, I’ve managed to do so.
The track that most people consider launched Salsoul as one of the premier disco labels is Double Exposure’s Ten Per Cent, released in November 1976 and produced by Norman Harris. Opening with Earl Young’s trademark pounding drums, percussion and shivering strings, the track is driven along by the Baker, Harris Young rhythm section, as a gloriously, uplifting track unfolds. Hissing hi-hats, swirling strings, a sizzling guitar solo from Norman Harris and stabs of keyboards all play their part before the impassioned vocal enters. Accompanied by tight soulful harmonies, the vocal is laden with emotion, while an absolutely, intoxicating and invigorating arrangement sweeps you along. There’s everything you could want and more on a disco track. Strings, percussion, the tightest of rhythm section and of course that impassioned and emotive vocal. It’s impossible to resist the charms and beauty of the track, during nearly ten minutes of majestic disco, that’s deserving of the word masterpiece.
Silvetti’s Spring Rain was released in November 1976, with the Tom Moulton remix featuring on The Definitive Salsoul Mixes. This track wasn’t recorded in the Salsoul studio, instead it was recorded in Spain. Salsoul’s A&R department spotting the track’s potential. In the hands of Tom Moulton, the track was given a makeover, the result being a lush sounding track, that sounded as if it had been recorded by The Salsoul Orchestra. Opening with that much sampled piano riff, the lushest of strings enter, as the track sweeps along at 114 beats per minute. Subtle, gentle backing vocalists enter, as the track takes on a hustle sound. Percussion then plays its part, joining the strings and that piano, while drums pound dramatically. By the end of the track, you can only marvel at the timeless sound of a track that has inspired a new generation of producers who have sampled Spring Rain.
During her time at Salsoul, Loleatta Holloway was transformed from Southern Soul singer to disco diva. One of her greatest tracks in Dreamin,’ a stonewall disco classic, demonstrating just what it took to be a true disco diva. Dreamin’ was a track from Loleatta, her third album, released in 1976, on Salsoul. Released in March 1976, and produced by Baker, Harris, Young this is the original album mix of Dreamin’ a track that would become a true disco classic. Here, Loleatta delivers a sassy vocal, before vamping her way through the track. With the Salsoul Orchestra accompanying her, everything is in place for a seminal track. Sweeping, swirling strings, Earl Young’s peerless drumming, percussion, Ron Harris’ bass and then Norman Baker’s guitar give way to Loleatta’s impassioned, sassy vocal. From there, Loleatta gives a masterclass of a vocal, accompanied by soulful backing vocalists. Add to that Vince Montana Jr.’s vibes playing and blazing horns that punctuate the track adding drama, and you’ve the recipe for one of the greatest disco tracks of the seventies.
Carol Williams’ Love Is You, released in March 1977, is a track I’ve always loved, and for far too long, it was an underrated and overlooked track. Thankfully, Carol’s track has come back into “fashion,” and is one of the hidden gems in the Salsoul back-catalogue. Produced and co-written by Vince Montana Jr., who fuses the sweetest, joyful vocal with a stunning arrangement. This results in five minutes of majestic, magical music. When the track opens, it’s just Earl Young’s drums that you hear, before literally, the track explodes into life. Suddenly, you’re greeted by sweet, cascading strings, blazing horns, percussion and the rhythm section. They give way to Carol’s sweet, beautiful vocal. She’s accompanied by a backdrop of quivering strings, flourishes of guitars and bursts of horns as the track reveals its irresistible sound. Later, Vince adds just the finishing touch to the track with his vibes, playing a lengthy and glorious solo. This is just the perfect way to close this gorgeous track, one with a hook-laden, feel-good sound.
Although there are eleven tracks on Disc One of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, I’ve only mentioned four of these tracks, but could just as easily have chosen any of the other seven tracks. That’s how good the music is, and it isn’t often you can say that about a compilation.Mind you, it isn’t everyday that you’re lucky enough to be revisiting a label like Salsoul. In choosing these four tracks, I had to miss out tracks by Eddie Holman, The Salsoul Orchestra and Helplessly. Will I have similar problems when choosing the tracks to review on Disc Two of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes?
After the disco delights of Disc One, Disc Two of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes promises more of the same. This starting with the release of a trio of Salsoul classics in April 1977 in First Choice’s Doctor Love, The Salsoul Orchestra’s Getaway and Loleatta Holloway’s Hit and Run. This period takes in Runaway by The Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway, Gaz’s SIng Sing in November 1978 and closes with Skyy’s First Time Around and Instant Funk’s Crying in May 1979. It seems that it’s just one great Salsoul track after another, with the label seemingly at its creative peak. Little did anyone realize that come 12 July 1979, it would be all change for disco, with disco suddenly sucking and the infamous disco sucks movement. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago, when a huge quantity of disco records were blown-up. This would’ve a huge effect on disco labels, including Salsoul. However, that was all to come, before that, I’ve the highlights of Disc Two of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes to choose.
First Choice were a group discovered by Baker, Harris, Young, who had the group under contract. When Baker, Harris, Young left Philadelphia International, they brought them to Salsoul. Previously, the group had been signed to the Philly Groove label, with Armed and Extremely Dangerous gave the group some success. Doctor Love was released in April 1977, and produced by Norman Harris. With lead singer Rochelle Fleming, fronting First Choice, they’d become one of the disco era’s biggest groups. The track has a bright and bold introduction with a mixture of blazing horns, cascading strings and a punchy rhythm section combining. Then, when Rochelle’s vocal enters it’s perfect for the arrangement, with its mixture of power, passion and confidence. Behind Rochelle, the rest of the group contribute soulful, backing vocals, as the track heads to a breakdown. This was placed here by Tom Moulton, who remixed the original track. By adding this lengthy breakdown Tom allows the listener to experience the track in all its glory…and then some. A combination of Rochelle’s powerful and passionate vocal, Norman Harris’ stunning arrangement and Tom Moulton’s remixing skills result in one of First Choice’s greatest tracks.
One of the most memorable of the tracks released by Salsoul was Runaway, by The Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway. Released in June 1977, this is another track featuring Salsoul’s very own disco diva. Since its release, Runaway has been remixed by countless remixers, but the version included on The Definitive Salsoul Mixes is the original track. A combination of some of the most talented musicians of the era, Vince Montana’s production skills and a true diva are at the heart of the track’s success. Opening with that unmistakable introduction, where the guitar and drums combine, quickly, the introduction grows. Rasping horns, swirling strings and percussion accompany Loleatta. Her vocal is confident, defiant and powerful, while drums punctate the arrangement and lush strings cascade. The arrangement sweeps along, with its potent combination of dramatic horns and drums, while percussion, vibes and strings provide a contrast. However, what makes the track is Loleatta’s vocal, as the confidently and defiantly vamps her way through a genuine and timeless disco classic, that would later influence a new generation of house producers.
Gaz’s Sing SIng is another track that wasn’t originally recorded by Salsoul. Instead, it was recorded by the German label Lollipop. Produced by Jurgen Korduletsch, who also discovered Claudia Barry and brought her to the US, Jurgen wanted Salsoul to distribute the track. Salsoul gave it to Robbie Rivera to remix. This was his first remix and the result is a joyous track with a real feel-good sound. Released in November 1978, and mixed by Robbie Rivera, the track is extended to seven magical minutes. Opening with pounding drums and guitars, they’re joined by the bass, percussion and strings, before Claudia’s vocal enters. As she sings, her vocal is answered by a male vocalist. The track benefits from a strong rhythm section, which is augmented by rasping horns, keyboards and percussion. Robbie Rivera’s mix is excellent, totally transforming the original track, turning it into a Magnus Opus, where the best of European and US disco becomes one.
Skyy’s First Time Around was released in May 1979 and the version included here is the original 12” mix. Opening with just a wandering bass, a male vocal enters, before sizzling guitars, swirling strings and pounding drums combine. The arrangement is dramatic, while sweet, sensuous vocals drift in and out of the track. This track has a quite different sound, with rocky guitars providing a contrast to the lushness of the strings and the pounding drums. There’s even synths which occasionally reverberate above the arrangement, as the track reveals its charms and secrets. Although I’ve heard various remixes and edits of this track, I still like the original, from another of disco’s biggest groups.
Like Disc One of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, Disc Two features quality music from the opening bars of the first track, to the closing notes of the last track. The tracks here include some of the label’s greatest moments between April 1977 and May 1979, with First Choice’s Doctor Love, Skyy’s First Time Around and two classics from Loleatta Holloway, Runaway and Hit and Run. That’s without mentioning Instant Funk’s I Got My Mind Made Up and Crying, or Ripple’s And the Beat Goes On. Truly, Disc Two has an embarrassment of musical riches awaiting discovery or rediscovery. However, it seems ironic that just as Salsoul were entering such a hot period, that the Disco Sucks backlash would be just around the corner. Would this affect the music that Salsoul would then release? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
It seems a cruel twist of fate that the track that opens Disc Three of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes opens with Candido’s Jingo, which was released in July 1979, the same time as the Disco Sucks movement came to an ugly conclusion. After this, many radio stations and record companies avoided disco, which previously, had been one of the most popular musical genres. Records sales of disco records fell, while previously successful groups like Chic saw their popularity quickly decline and labels releasing disco music suffered. However, Salsoul proved resilient, with the label managing to continue releasing some of the most memorable music in its history. This included Candido’s Dancing’ and Prancin in July 1979,’ Loleatta Hollway’s Love Sensation in July 1980, Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough in May 1981 and First Choice’s Let No Man Put Asunder in May 1983. The track that closes The Definitive Salsoul Mixes is Leroy Burgess’ Heartbreaker in August 1983. Sadly, two years later, Salsoul would close its doors, after ten years of releasing some of the greatest disco music ever. I’ll now pick a trio of these tracks to tell you about.
Like many of the tracks released by Salsoul, Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Inner Life has a real timeless sound. It’s hard to believe that it was originally released back in August 1981. This timeless sounding arrangement is combined and a stunning vocal from Jocelyn Brown. Her vocal is diva-esque, as she delivers Ashford and Simpson’s lyrics. This was a track from Inner Life’s 1981 album Inner Life. Produced by Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, the version chosen is Larry Levan’s Remix. It’s a track that after a subtle, hesitant start, where drums, percussion and then Jocelyn’s vocal combine. Then. the track literally bursts into life. Drums pound, strings swirl, percussion, keyboards and chiming guitars combine before Jocelyn’s powerful, emotive vocal enters. After that, the track just gets so much better. Handclaps and bursts of backing vocalists join the arrangement, combining power and drama. The result is without doubt, one of the highlights of Disc Three of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, given its uplifting, joyous and energetic sound.
Loleatta Holloway released Love Sensation in July 1980, with Tom Moulton’s remixing a track written by Dan Hartman. Nine years later, Love Sensation would be “borrowed” by both Black Box on Ride On Time and Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch. Both tracks were huge commercial successes, with Ride On Time the UK’s biggest selling record of 1989. However, neither track can match the Norman Baker produced original, featuring Loleatta Holloway disco diva. Opening with its combination of rhythm section, percussion, piano and cascading strings, you anticipate the entrance of Loleatta’s strutting, powerful vocal. Accompanied by swirling strings, rasping horns and a punchy rhythm section, Loleatta gives a vocal masterclass. Her voice becomes an impassioned roar, while backing vocalists accompany her. Tom Moulton’s remix is a mass of lush strings combined with dramatic drums and blazing horns, with Loleatta’s powerful vocal key to the track’s success and timeless, dramatic sound.
Frankie Knuckles’ remix of First Choice’s Let No Man Put Asunder was released in May1983. It was originally produced by Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young, of the Baker, Harris Young rhythm section. This is very definitely one of their very best productions. Here, Frankie Knuckles Remix takes the original track and turns it into a dance-floor classic, one that’s spanned several generations. Against a backdrop of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, percussion and handclaps, Loleatta Holloway’s sassy vocal enters. She’s full of bravado and confidence, while backing vocalists accompany her. Loleatta literally vamps and struts her way through the six minute track. Over the years, I’ve heard numerous reedits and remixes of this track, but Frankie Knuckles version is one of the best versions of a track that’s worthy of being referred to as a classic.
During Disc Three of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, there’s no let up in the quality of music. This period included tracks from Candido, Loleatta Holloway, Inner Life and First Choice, not forgetting The Salsoul Orchestra who can be heard on every track Salsoul recorded. Although disco was no longer as possible, after the Disco Sucks backlash, Salsoul continued to make some stunning music. In some cases, much of that music is now over thirty years old, but like a good wine, the music has aged well. Several times during my review I’ve referred to the music as timeless, and that’s the case with so many of the thirty-one tracks on The Definitive Salsoul Mixes. Ironically, this description of Salsoul’s music as timeless could be applied to another label, Philadelphia International Records. What makes this ironic, is how many of The Salsoul Orchestra were part of Philadelphia International’s house band M.F.S.B. Having provided the heartbeat and sound to the Philly Sound, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr. and Bunny Sigler would do the same in New York at Salsoul Records. In doing so, they wrote themselves into music history, having been part of the success story of two of the greatest labels in the history of music Philadelphia International Records and Salsoul Records. To me, part of the success of Salsoul and Philadelphia International, was the combination of some of the most creative and talented musical minds. Whether it was arrangers, producers, musicians or artists, both labels ensured that they had access to the finest, most creative people. This even extended to Salsoul’s A&R department, who spotted the potential of tracks like Bataan’s The Bottle (La Botella), Silvetti’s Spring Rain and Gaz’s Sing Sing. All of this lead to Salsoul becoming one of the greatest disco labels, with one of the best back catalogues. Thirty-one of these tracks can be found on three the discs of The Definitive Salsoul Mixes. So, whether you’re a Salsoul veteran, or newcomer to Salsoul’s music, then The Definitive Salsoul Mixes is an unmissable compilation from Harmless Records, featuring many of the Salsoul’s greatest and most memorable music in its eleven year history. Standout Tracks: Double Exposure Ten Per Cent, First Choice Doctor Love, Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway Runaway and Inner Life Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES.
- Posted in: Disco ♦ Euro Disco ♦ Funk ♦ Philadelphia Soul ♦ Soul
- Tagged: Baker Harris Young, Carol Williams Love Is You, Double Exposure Ten Per Cent, First Choice Doctor Love, Inner Life Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Larry Levab, Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway Runaway, Salsoul Records, The Salsoul Orchestra, Tom Moulton