ssk anyone who loves disco music, which were the most influential and innovative labels of the disco era, and certain labels will always crop up. At the top of list, is Salsoul Records, which released some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful music, which was influential, innovative and cutting-edge. Then there’s label like SAM, Prelude, Casablanca and of course, West End Records, which Mel Cheren and Ed Kushkins founded in 1976. Soon, West End Records were releasing some of the most successful music of the disco era. This included music from Karen Young, Loose Joints, Taana Gardner, Betty Lavette and Michelle, who released just one albumson West End Records. That albums was Magic Love, was released in 1977, just a year after Mel and Ed founded their new label. Michelle’s 1977 album Magic Love, was one of the first albums West End Records released. Magic Love was collaboration between American and French musicians, which saw Philly Soul, Euro Disco and US Disco fused by French producer Pierre Jaubert and Tom Moulton, who mixed the album, to give it a dance-floor friendly sound. Before I tell you about the music on Magic Love, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.
Michelle’s story begins in Tunisia, where she was born Chantal Sitruk. Later, she moved to Paris and was known as Chantal Curtis. It was in Paris, that French producer Pierre Jaubert first discovered Chantal. Pierre came across as she was walking down a Paris street, talking to a friend. When Pierre heard her voice, he asked Chantal if she could sing. She said she could, and that she was looking for work as a singer. Disco was at the height of its popularity, and Pierre Jaubert had established a reputation as a songwriter and producer. So he set about transforming Chantal Curtis into a disco diva. To do this, Pierre had to put all his previous experience to good use.
Pierre had been working as a songwriter and producer since the mid-seventies. Previously, Pierre had worked with the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, who released two albums, 1974s Soul Makossa and 1975s Malik. After that, Lafayette Afro Rock Band became Pierre Jaubert’s studio band. Indeed, it was Pierre who convinced Ice to change their name from Ice to the Lafayette Afro Rock Band. Pierre produced two of Ice’s singles, Bobo Step and Passion. He also produced Captain Dax’s 1975 single Dr. Beezar. So, by the time Pierre met Chantal, he was an experienced songwriter and producer with a successful track record.
For Chantal Curtis’ debut album Magic Love, four songs were written. Donny Donable of the Lafayette Afro Rock Band contributed Can You Feel It. Dan Japlin and Jean Marc Willa-Roze cowrote Magic Love and Hold Me, Squeeze Me. The other track was Disco Love, written by Eddie Johns and Erma Reese. These four tracks became Magic Love, which was recorded in Paris and Philly.
Musicians on Philly and Paris would work on Magic Love. In Philly, the rhythm section icluded bassist Jimmy Williams, drummer Keith Benson and guitarists Ronnie James. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey played piano, electric piano, synths, while Larry Washington played congas and The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson added backing vocals.
Among the musicians in Paris who worked on Magic Love, were members of the Lafayette Afro Rock Band. The rhythm section included bassist Lafayette Hudson, drummer Laurent and guitarists Etienne Dooh and Lance Quinn. Horns came courtesy of Ronnie Buttacavoli and Arthur Young, who played clavinet, Fender Rhodes and electric piano, and Frank Abel played Moog synth and piano. Tulli and Moto added percussion, and Phillippe Briche strings. Producing Magic Love were Pierre Jaubert and Tom Moulton, who mixed the album. Once recording was complete, Magic Love was released in 1978.
When Magic Love was released, Chantel Curtis’ name wasn’t on the album. Instead it was released as Michelle. By the time Magic Love was released, Chantel had become addicted to drugs. Her partner, Phillippe Briche was a talented pianist and arranger, but was also a drug addict. Chantel had also discovered drugs, and by the time Magic Love was released, was in prison. So, rather than use Chantel’s name, it was released under the pseudonym Michelle. In Paris, Epic Records released Magic Love, while West End Records released the album in America. Disco Dance gave the newly named Michelle, a massive hit single. The success of Magic Love helped establish West End Records as one of disco’s leading labels. Why was that? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I tell you about Michelle’s only album Magic Love.
Opening Side One of Magic Love is Can You Feel It. A funky bass line, wah-wah guitars, stabs of blazing horns and a pulsating disco beat sets the scene for Michelle’s tender breathy vocal. The Sweethearts of Sigma add cooing, sweeping harmonies as Michelle’s vocal grows in power, passion and sensuality. Meanwhile, the rhythm section create the pounding disco beat. Bursts of growling horns, percussion and the sweetest of harmonies envelop her vocal. Thunderous drums and a strident bass provide the heartbeat as Michelle takes on the roll of disco diva. Confidently and with just the right mix of sass and sensuality, she struts her way through this delicious slice of American disco.
Magic Love has a much more Euro Disco sound, as it explodes into life. Flourishes of cascading strings, tough keyboards and a thunderous Euro Disco beat accompany Michelle’s sassy vocal. She delivers a vocal that’s sensual, strident and assured, complete with soaring, sweeping soulful harmonies. Swathes of strings dance, before during a breakdown the funky rhythm section, percussion and chiming guitars take charge. The drama continues to builds. Then when strings sweep in, you realize that Michelle’s vocal is about to swept centre-stage. It does. Her tender, breathy and needy vocal is accompanied by cooing harmonies. Together, they ensure this pulsating Euro Disco track closes Side One of Magic Love on a memorable dance-floor friendly high.
Hold Me, Squeeze Me opens Side Two of Magic Love. There’s no let up in the tempo as American and Euro Disco combine head on. Handclaps, layers of dancing strings and the rhythm section combine with keyboards, before Michelle’s needy vocal enters. Her vocal veers between tender to powerful, but is always filled with emotion. Meanwhile, the band add a funky backdrop, with the rhythm section and chiming guitars at the heart of the action. Keyboards add a tougher, funkier sound, while harmonies provide a subtle contrast. Harmonies cascade, gliding elegantly above the arrangement, before passing the baton to Michelle. With handclaps accompanying her, she delivers a vocal that’s both needy and joyous. The finishing touch is a Hammond organ solo, which Michelle scats above. This brings this hook-laden and infectiously catchy.
Disco Dance closes Magic Love, and is a nine-minute epic that reminds me of Donna Summer’s I Love To Love and Donna McGhee’s Make It Last Forever. Michelle adds faux sensual moans and groans above an arrangement where disco and funk unite. Chiming guitars, lush sweeping, swirling strings, percussion and the rhythm section combine to dive the arrangement. Later, Michelle adds a punchy, dramatic, vampish vocal, while her band ensure this fusion of funk and disco swings along. Although it swings along, resulting in a funky, dance-floor friendly track, it’s not of the same quality as other tracks. Instead, it brings Magic Love to a disappointing end.
Magic Love proved to a good album rather than a great album. In the history of disco, Magic Love has long been forgotten about, apart from diehard disco lovers. This is a great shame, as three of the four tracks feature some great music. Can You Feel It, Magic Love and Hold Me, Squeeze Me are of the highest quality. US Disco, Euro Disco, funk and soulful harmonies are combined during these three tracks. Then Disco Dance, with its faux sensual moans and groans, proves to be something of a damp squid. Rather than end Magic Love on a high, it brings the album to a disappointing close. However, you’ve got to remember that Magic Love was Michelle or Chantel Curtis’ debut album. Given the quality of music on the first three tracks of Magic Love, you’d have though that Michelle had a big future ahead of her. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
Following the release of Michelle’s Magic Love, Chantel Curtis next collaboration with Pierre Jaubert was Get Another Love. Released in 1978 on Keylock Records, Get Another Love was the last album Chantel Curtis released. What should’ve been a long and successful career was cut tragically short. Having become addicted to drugs, Chantel’s life spiraled out of control. She became addicted to drugs, served time in prison and in 1985, was murdered in Israel. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. Chantel was shot, with the bullet thought to be intended for her boyfriend Phillippe Briche. So, what looked like a long and promising career after the release of Magic Love, was cut tragically short. Chantel Curtis’ story is a case of what might have been. She released just two albums, the best of these two albums was her debut album Magic Love. Standout Tracks: Can You Feel It, Magic Love and Hold Me, Squeeze Me.