Eight months after The Trammps released Where The Happy People Go in April 1976, they released their third studio album Disco Inferno In December 1976. A year later, The Trammps career was transformed, when the title-track featured on a movie soundtrack. This was a low-budget movie, produced by Robert Stigwood for $2.5 million dollars and featuring John Travolta. It featured music from M.F.S.B, The Bee Gees, Tavares, Yvonne Eliman and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno. Even when Saturday Night Fever was released, little did anyone connected with the project realize its impact. Soon, Saturday Night Fever became one of the biggest films of the seventies. At the box office, Saturday Night Fever grossed $282.4 million. As for Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack it was certified platinum fifteen times, selling over fifteen-million copies and staying at number one in the US Billboard Charts for twenty-four weeks between January and July 1978. For every artist or group who featured on the Saturday Night Fever, this was a career game-changer. Disco Inferno became synonymous with The Trammps. However, when The Trammps released their third album in December 1976, it was a very different story.

The Trammps had signed to Atlantic Records in 1975 and released their sophomore album Where The Happy People Go in April 1976. It had reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. Now The Trammps had to build on the momentum of Where The Happy People Go. For their third album, Disco Inferno lead Jimmy Ellis, Earl Young, Robert Upchurch and Harold and Stanley Wade got to work with a few of their Philly friends.

For what became Disco Inferno, Earl Young of  The Trammps two musical collaborators Norman Harris and Ron Baker would contribute three tracks.  Norman cowrote Body Contact Contract with Bruce Gray and Jimmy Hendricks and Starvin’ with Earl Young and Ron Tyson. Ron Baker wrote I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon). Leroy Green and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey cowrote the title-track Disco Inferno. Little did they know that Disco Inferno would become a legendary disco anthem. T.G. Conway, Allan Felder and Ron Tyson cowrote Don’t Burn No Bridges. You Touch My Hot Line was written by Jerry Atkins, Victor Drayton, Reginald Turner and Johnny Belmon. These six tracks were recorded in the familiar surroundings of Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.

Joining the five members of The Trammps, Jimmy Ellis, Earl Young, Robert Upchurch and Harold and Stanley Wade at SIgma Sound Studios were an all-star cast of Philadelphia’s musicians. Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section and Bobby “Electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall the guitars. Larry Washington and Robert Cupit played congas, while Bruce Grey, Carlton Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and T.G. Conway keyboards. Evette Benton, Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram, The Sweethearts of Sigma added backing vocals and Don Renaldo Strings and Horns played an important part in Disco Inferno’s sound. Producers included Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Earl Young and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Once Disco Inferno was recorded it was released on 29th December 1976, at the height of disco’s popularity.

Disco Inferno was chosen as the lead single from Disco Inferno and reached number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Over in the UK, Disco Inferno reached number sixteen. On the release of Disco Inferno on on 29th December 1976, it reached number forty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. This was an improvement on That’s Where The Happy People Go. When the Ron Baker penned I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon) was released as a single, it reached number fifty-two in the US R&B Charts. Although The Trammps must have been pleased that their second album for Atlantic Records had been such a success, little did they know what was about to happen. That was still to come. However, what does the music on Disco Inferno sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Opening Disco Inferno is Body Contact Contract, arranged and produced by Norman Harris. The track bursts into life with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, growling horns, dancing strings and keyboards producing a pulsating heartbeat. Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds a searing solo and Robert Upchurch’s barotone adds punchy backing vocals. That sets the scene for Jimmy Ellis’ vocal. It veers between tender and a grizzled growl. He grabs the song and brings the lyrics to life. With Earl Young’s thunderous drums driving the arrangement along, harmonies sweep in urgently, joining flourishes of keyboards and bursts of Robert’s baritone drift in and out. Meanwhile, frenzied strings dance, horns blaze and bray while Baker, Harris, Young produce a powerhouse of backbeat. It’s the perfect song to open Disco Inferno, dramatic, urgent, soulful and dance-floor friendly, providing a showcase for the twin-talents of The Trammps and their all-star backing band. Now The Trammps have your attention, they won’t let go.

Starvin’ is another track Norman Harris cowrote, arranged and produced. He cowrote the track with Earl Young, Allan Felder and ex-Temptation Ron Tyson. Again, Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat, while melodic keyboards, cascading strings and blazing horns combine to create a dramatic backdrop for Jimmy Ellis’ vocal. His vocal’s full of emotion and pain, as he sings “I’m Starvin’ for your love.” Loneliness and heartache fill his voice, before his vocal becomes a vamp, pleading and begging. Robert Upchurch’s interjections are timed to perfection, proving hugely effective. Similarly, the band provide a dramatic, emotive backdrop. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and Baker, Harris, Young give a masterclass. Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drive the arrangement along and Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds his trademark funky licks. Meanwhile, sweeping, cooing harmonies from the other Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma provide the finishing touch, to Jimmy’s needy pleas.

Ron Baker wrote, arranged and produced I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark Side of the Moon). Earl Young’s issing hi-hats and Ron Baker’s lightning-fast bass combine, as the arrangement unfolds. Crystalline guitar licks from Norman Harris and then banks of keyboards unite to build the drama. After a minute, dramatic bursts of Earl’s drums and keyboards signal the arrival of Jimmy Ellis’ pleading, heartfelt, vampish vocal. Tender harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts sweep in. Soon, they grow in power and soulfulness. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows and grows. Philly Soul, funk, jazz and disco unite. Strings dance joyously, horns growl, keyboards add dramatic flourishes and Baker, Harris, Young produce a powerful, dramatic and funky heartbeat. Handclaps and harmonies give the track a gospel twist, as Jimmy Ellis unleashes one of his most impassioned vamps on Disco Inferno. That seems the perfect way to close Side One of Disco Inferno.

Side Two of Disco Inferno bursts into life, with the title-track, Disco Inferno, arranged and produced by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. The Baker, Harris, Young section are like a musical juggernaut, with drummer Earl Young driving the track along his hi-hats hissing. Ron Baker’s tough, funky bass matches Earl every step. Don Renaldo strings swirl frantically and his horns growl. Hypnotic keyboards play their part. Then when Jimmy Ellis delivers his vocal, he’s like a disco preacher. His powerful, grizzled vocal grabs the song. Soon, he’s waving his magic, like a disco wand. Punchy, sweeping and cooing harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma grow in power. It’s as if they realize something special is unfolding. It is. From the opening bars to the closing notes, Baker, Harris, Young are at the heart of the action. Earl and Ron provide a pulsating heartbeat, while Norman Harris’ jazz tinged guitar playing is subtlety personified. The result is a ten-minute disco Magnus Opus; an anthemic track featuring disco preacher extraordinaire Jimmy Ellis with The Trammps and Philly’s finest musicians produce one of disco’s greatest, most iconic tracks.

Following such anthemic track as Disco Inferno isn’t easy, but Don’t Burn Any Bridges has to do this. Comparisons are almost unfair. Produced by Norman Harris, T.G. Conway’s arrangement has a jaunty, uptempo opening. Flourishes of quizical  strings, bursts of drums and grizzled horns combine. Then with a flamboyant flourish of keyboards, urgent harmonies sweep in. When they drop out, Jimmy Ellis takes on the role of preacher, spreading wisdom and advice with a powerful, impassioned vocal. It’s filled with energy, emotion and totally heartfelt. Behind him, strings slip and dance, horns blaze and Earl Young reflects the power and passion in Jimmy’s vocal. Tight soulful harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying Jimmy, as he delivers one of his most heartfelt, sincere and soulful vocals on Disco Inferno.

Closing Disco Inferno is the Earl Young produced You Don’t Touch My Hot Line, arranged by T.G. Conway. Searing guitar licks from Bobby “Electronic” Eli join the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, while strings sweep and swirl. Soon, Jimmy Ellis delvers a vocal that’s a combination of passion and power. It’s also deeply soulful, like The Trammps tight, sweeping harmonies. They’re joined by lush strings and blazing horns, while Bobby Electronic” Eli and Norman Harris’ guitars provide contrasts. Horns growl and Earl Young’s drums inject power and drama as Jimmy and rest of The Trammps vamp their way through the rest of the track, closing Disco Inferno on a song that has made in Philly written all over it.

It seems that The Trammps picked up where they left off on Where The Happy People Go and took their music to another level. Not only did The Trammps build on the momentum created by their sophomore album, but Disco Inferno saw The Trammps take their music to even heights of soulfulness and dance-floor friendliness. Philly Soul, funk, jazz and disco were all poured into The Trammps musical melting pot. The result was a delicious and timeless fusion of musical genres. From the opening bars of Body Contact Contract, right through tracks like I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon), Disco Inferno and the deeply soulful strains of You Don’t Touch My Hot Line, The Trammps never miss a beat. 

A combination of The Trammps vocal prowess, plus some of Philly’s best songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians saw to this. Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Earl Young all deserve credit for their productions on Disco Inferno. So do the all-star line of musicians, featuring some legendary Philadelphia musicians.  Especially with such a charismatic vocalist as Jimmy Ellis bringing each song to life with power, passion and emotion. The Trammps and Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies were just the finishing touch. When you look at the personnel involved in Disco Inferno and hear the six tracks, you wonder why the album wasn’t a much bigger success. Then a year later, somewhat belatedly, one of the tracks on Disco Inferno became an anthemic, iconic disco classic.

When Saturday Night Fever was released, the title-track Disco Inferno became disco’s anthem worldwide. Fifteen-million copies of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were sold and suddenly, everyone knew The Trammps and their music. Some of the artists that featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack didn’t enjoy the longevity of The Trammps. Thirty-six years later, The Trammps music is just as popular. Indeed, many of The Trammps songs, including Disco Inferno, have become anthemic, iconic tracks, part of disco’s rich and vibrant history. Standout Tracks: Body Contact Contract, Starvin’, Disco Inferno and Don’t Burn Any Bridges.


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