One thing I find quite ironic about the music industry is the importance certain bands and labels place on anniversaries. If you take bands like The Beatles, Beach Boys or labels like Motown, then it seems anniversaries give record labels the chance into go into marketing overdrive. Take The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an example. A special edition was released to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, with an remastered edition released in 2009. I’m sure that their will be the same hype surrounding the next surrounding the next anniversary that fans are encouraged to celebrate. Similarly, how many times has the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, been rereleased? Then there’s Motown. How many box sets or volumes of “rarities” have been rereleased? After a while, you become immune to this over-marketing. Nowadays, look at the albums being rereleased, especially rock albums and the usual suspects are released ad infinitum, until you wonder whether there’s anyone alive that doesn’t have a copy of these albums? Sadly, soul, funk and disco aren’t as celebrated. Yes, this year the fortieth anniversary of Philadelphia International Records has been celebrated, with the release of a ten box set, plus a box set of remixes and album of reedits. Similarly, three box sets of Stax singles were released, recently celbrating Stax’s music. However, what about labels like Hi Records and of course, Salsoul Records? How were these labels anniversaries celebrated? In the case of Salsoul, how was its thirtieth anniversary celebrated in 2004? Was there an elaborate box set, or a complete reissue program of its greatest albums? Not quite. Indeed far from it. Instead, it was with a smattering of mix and compilations albums. One of these was Salsoul 30th, a two-disc set where thirty DJs, choose their favorite Salsoul track. Although not quite what fans of Salsoul hoped for, it featured some of the label’s biggest tracks, as you’ll see when I tell you about the compilation.
Disc One of Salsoul 30th features fifteen tracks from some of Salsoul’s royalty. The Queen of Salsoul Loleatta Holloway features four times, with Hit and Run, Dreamin,’ Catch Me On the Rebound and Love Sensation chosen. Among the other artists are First Choice, Double Exposure, Candido and the Salsoul Orchestra. These tracks are a mixture of the original singles, album tracks and twelve inch version. There aren’t any real leftfield choices, with most of the DJs playing it safe, choosing well known and classic tracks. Given that most of these tracks are among the best in Salsoul’s history, choosing the highlights of Disc One of Salsoul 30th won’t be easy, but here goes.
Opening Salsoul 30th is one of Loleatta Holloway’s Salsoul classics Hit and Run. Released in 1977 on Salsoul, Hit and Run features the sound of the Salsoul Orchestra. They were formed when M.F.S.B. left Philadelphia International Records to form the Salsoul Orchestra. With the Baker, Harris and Young rhythm section gracing their recordings, they went on to record some of the best tracks of the disco era. Along with Dreaming, Runaway and Hit and Run, Loleatta Holloway was the greatest diva of the disco era. Here, her powerful and sassy vocal along with the multitalented Salsoul Orchestra, make this not just one of the greatest tracks of the disco era, but a Salsoul classic and a track that’s still a staple of many a DJ’s sets.
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 a track that’s deserving of the word masterpiece.
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. Oroduced by Baker, Harris, Young this is the original album mix of Dreamin.’ Here, Loleatta delivers a sassy vocal, 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.
Double Exposure’s My Love Is Free, from their 1976 debut album Ten Percent, was another track produced by Baker, Harris, Young. Opening with drums, shakers, swirling strings, guitars and flourishes of keyboards, they give way to the male lead vocal. Meanwhile, the rest of the group contribute punchy, backing vocals, while the arrangement has made in Phialdephia stamped all over it. With rasping horns, cascading string, percussion and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. However, while the arrangement is of the highest quality, so is the impassioned pleas of the lead vocal, augmented by some equally impassioned and soulful backing vocalists. Together, they combine to produce one of the most soulful tracks on Salsoul 30th.
First Choice were a group discovered by Norman Baker who had the group under contract. When Baker, Harris, Young left Philadelphia International, they brought First Choice to Salsoul from Philly Groove Records. The album 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. A combination of Rochelle’s powerful and passionate vocal and Norman Harris’ stunning arrangement result in one of First Choice’s greatest tracks.
First Choice’s Let No Man Put Asunder was released in May 1983 and was produced by the Baker, Harris Young rhythm section. This is very definitely one of their very best productions. Against a backdrop of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, percussion and handclaps, Rochelle Fleming’s sassy vocal enters. She’s full of bravado and confidence, while backing vocalists accompany her, as she literally vamps and struts her way through this classic track.
Loleatta Holloway released Love Sensation, written by Dan Hartman in July 1980. 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. The lush strings combined with dramatic drums and blazing horns, with Loleatta’s powerful vocal key to the track’s success and timeless, dramatic sound.
Although I’ve chosen just seven of the fifteen tracks on Disc One of Salsoul 30th, I could just as easily have chosen several of the other tracks. However, tracks like Double Exposure’s Ten Per Cent, which launched Salsoul as disco’s greatest label, plus true classics like Loleatta Holloway’s Love Sensation and First Choice’s Doctor Love chose themselves. That’s not forgetting tracks like The Salsoul Orchestra’s You’re Just The Right Size, Joe Bataan’s The Bottle (La Botella) and Candido’s Thousand Finger Man. This demonstrates the consistent quality of the music on Disc One on Salsoul 30th. Will this be the case with Disc Two of Salsoul 30th?
On Disc Two of Salsoul 30th, most of the tracks are well known and can be found on many other Salsoul compilations. Most of the tracks are the original album tracks, with twelve inch mixes in the minority. There are several ways of looking at this. For a newcomer to Salsoul, it’ll allow them to hear more of label’s highlights. It also means that you’re hearing the track as it was originally recorded, rather than how a DJ has remixed it. Although there are many great remixes of Salsoul tracks, from true greats like Tom Moulton and John Morales, I’ve heard many remixes that are the musical equivalent of a car crash. Thankfully, none of these car crashes are present on Salsoul 30th. Instead, there’s tracks from Inner Life, the Salsoul Orchestra, First Choice, Inner Life and Leroy Burgess. With so much great music on Disc Two of Salsoul 30th, what are its highlights?
Like so many Salsoul releases, Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, a track fro, their 1981 album 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. 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 and gives the track its uplifting, joyous and energetic sound.
Gaz’s Sing SIng is a 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. Released in November 1978, the track opens 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 Opening with just a wandering bass, before a male vocal enters. Then 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.
First Choice’s Love Thang, released in 1979 on Gold Mind Records is a lush sounding dance-floor classic. With lush strings sweeping, while rasping horns and a funky rhythm section combine with percussion, handclaps and keyboards, a sultry, diva-esque vocal soars above the arrangement. Accompanied by backing vocalists, crunchy beats and handclaps, the strings shiver as the vocal drops out, before rejoining. Although this track has a similar sound to other tracks by First Choice and Inner Life, it has something else in common, its quality.
Inner Life’s Moment of My Life was released on Salsoul Records in 1982. This was a track from Inner Life’s third and final album for Salsoul Inner Life II. Arranged by Leroy Burgess, who co-produced the track with Greg Carmichael, it features a stunning, diva-esque vocal, full emotion and passion, delivered with power. This is delivered against a backdrop of crunchy drumbeats, percussion, keyboards and the funkiest of bass line, while gospel tinged backing vocalists augment the lead vocal. The tempo is 114 beats per minute and like so many of the Salsoul releases, is just a quality slice of disco, with elements of funk and soul featuring in Leroy’s fantastic arrangement.
Leroy Burgess released Heartbreaker on Salsoul Records in 1983. Not only did he cowrite the track, but arranged and produced the track. When the track opens, it’s a combination of funky rhythm section, squelchy synths and joyous backing vocalists that combine. They give way to Leroy’s vocal. His vocal is powerful, passionate and emotive as the backing vocalists combine with him throughout the track. Flourishes of piano, reverberating synths and the rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop for Leroy’s vocal. Along with his joyous, gospel tinged backing vocalists, Leroy creates a stunning track, one that demonstrates his talents not just as a vocalist, but as a songwriter, arranger and producer.
Disc Two of Salsoul 30th picks up where Disc One left off, with one great track following hard on the heels of another. From Inner Life, you head on a musical journey that takes in the Salsoul Orchestra, Candido, First Choice, Instant Funk, Skyy and Leroy Burgess. It seems a magical, musical memory is just a few minutes away. Again, most of the tracks on Disc Two are well known. Sadly, none of the DJs go for a real leftfield choice. Given how DJs are always banging on about how deep into the crates they dig, not one of them has unearthed a hidden Salsoul gem. So for anyone who has even a few Salsoul compilations, you’ll have most of the tracks on the album. Having said that, most of the tracks on Salsoul 30th are the original versions, not the remixes or reedits that feature on other compilations. As much as I like remixes and reedits, and there are many fantastic remixes out there, from people like Tom Moulton, John Morales, Larry Levan and Walter Gibbons, not every remix has the same quality. Instead, far too many minor and amateur DJs produce remixes and reedits that despoil the Salsoul name. So to hear the unadulterated versions of the tracks is something to be welcomed. However, for anyone whose a big fan of Salsoul, there’s nothing new on Salsoul 30th. For a newcomer to the label, then Salsoul 30th will prove the perfect introduction to the music of Salsoul Records. Having said that, Salsoul 30th has no pretensions of being a definitive Salsoul compilation. Instead it’s described as a budget compilation, so is aimed at the newcomer to Salsoul, or someone just wanting an overview of Salsoul’s best bits. It fulfills its remit or raison d’etre, choosing to leave another label to release a much more comprehensive and in-depth compilation. Much as I enjoyed Salsoul 30th, I hope that by the time Salsoul turns forty on 2014, then a record company somewhere, will release a comprehensive and in-depth retrospective of the Salsoul back-catalogue that does disco’s biggest and greatest label justice. Standout Tracks: Loleatta Holloway Dreamin,’ Double Exposure My Love Is Free, Loleatta Holloway Love Sensation and Inner Life Moment of My Life.