DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-AIN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU AND THE MONSTER STRIKES AGAIN.

DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-AIN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU AND THE MONSTER STRIKES AGAIN.

By 1978, John Davis had established a reputation in music as a successful songwriter, arranger and producer. Ever since the early seventies, he’d been working in Philly, with groups like First Choice, The Intruders, The Soul Survivors and artists like William DeVaughn. Then when he joined the nascent SAM Records, John began developing a reputation as one of disco’s pioneers. 

John was playing his part in making SAM a label to challenge Salsoul as disco’s premier label. To do this, John had formed his own disco orchestra, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra, to rival the legendary Salsoul Orchestra.  Not only had , John Davis and The Monster Orchestra played on most of SAM Records’ releases, but they’d released two albums. 

They were 1976s Night and Day and 1977s Up Jumped The Devil. Soon, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra would release their third album, Ain’t That Enough For You in 1978. Ain’t That Enough For You was the most important album John Davis and The Monster Orchestra would release. The reason for this was that The Salsoul Orchestra had lost Vince Montana Jr, its founder, leader, conductor and driving force, the title of disco’s greatest orchestra was up for grabs. Could John Davis and The Monster Orchestra snatch their crown with Ain’t That Enough For You which along with The Monster Strikes Again, has been rereleased by Harmless Records as part of their Disco Recharge series?

Ain’t That Enough For You.

With the title of disco’s premier orchestra up for grabs, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra got to work on Ain’t That Enough For You. John wrote the title-track Ain’t That Enough For You, Disco Fever and A Bite Of The Apple. With guitarist Craig Snyder he cowrote I’ll Be The Music. They also cowrote Stay With Me with Vince Fay.  David and Dee Ervin cowrote I’ve Got The Hots For You, while Mark Bauman and Marty Markiewicz wrote Whatever Happened To Me and You. The other track might not have seemed like a controversial choice, but it was. 

It was a cover of the Kojak Theme. Covers of tracks like this, plus novelty songs, were providing ammunition for the anti-disco bandwagon. It was beginning to gather pace. According to them, this was proof that disco was lacking in direction and imagination. Disco they believed, was about to implode. This would prove prophetic in 1979. That was still to come. Before that, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra began recording Ain’t That Enough For You.

When recording of Ain’t That Enough For You began, many of the musicians that featured on Up Jumped The Devil were there. This included guitarist Craig Snyder, bassist Vince Fay, percussionists Larry Washington and Jimmy Walker, while Don Renaldo provided the strings and horns. John Davis played flute, keyboards, saxophone and took charge of vocals. Absent were The Sweethearts of Sigma, who’d played a big part in the success of Up Jumped The Devil. Instead, adding vocals were Billy Harner, Carolyn Mitchel and Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Rufus Thomas. Once Ain’t That Enough For You was completed, it was released in 1978.

Ain’t That Enough For You was released in 1978, but wasn’t a commercial success. The title-track, Ain’t That Enough For You was the lead single, and proved popular in clubs. In the UK, it reached number seventy. Released as the second single, was the Kojak Theme. This may have been to cash-in in the program’s popularity. However, it seemed a strange choice for a single. After all, there were much better tracks on Ain’t That Enough For You, as you’ll realise, when I tell you about. Ain’t That Enough For You. 

Opening Ain’t That Enough For You, is the title-track, which was one of two singles released from the album. It’s a six-minute epic that explodes into life. A pulsating rhythm section and percussion drive the arrangement along. Then searing, rocky guitars, dramatic keyboards and horns join the fun. Next, the lushest of strings dance in. They dance joyously, above the pulsating arrangement. When a female vocal enters, her vocal is equally joyous, filled with enthusiasm and emotion. Her vocal is swept away, on top of the lushest strings. By now, the track takes on a Euro Disco sound, which when combined with disco and elements of Philly Soul, funk and rock, is a delicious, and heady brew that’s truly dance-floor friendly.

Rolls of drama open Disco Fever, which has a heavier, funkier sound. Tight, urgent and soulful harmonies join the funky rhythm section, percussion, keyboards and chiming guitars. Flourishes of strings and stabs of horns join bursts of dramatic drums. While the arrangement is crucial to the song’s success, so are the harmonies, which are delivered with power and emotion. Later, a growling saxophone solo proves to be the finishing touch, as funk soul and disco unite.

That seems to set John Davis and The Monster Orchestra on their way. Spurred on, they continue spreading hooks and happiness aplenty, on this infectiously catchy, soulful and funky slice of classic disco.

Like the previous tracks, I’ll Be The Music just bursts into life, grabbing your attention and taking you on a musical journey. You float along amidst the lushest of strings, while harmonies serenade you and horns rasp. Meanwhile the rhythm section provide this joyous, uplifting track’s heartbeat. Horns growl and kick, drums pound and horns swirl and cascade, as John Davis and The Monster Orchestra demonstrate just why they were one of the best disco orchestra’s and challenging for The Salsoul Orchestra’s crown.

I’ve Got The Hots For You is a quite different track. It’s slower, funkier and has a much tougher sound. Vaneese’s sassy, feisty and snarled vocal is accompanied by a P-Funk influenced arrangement. The rhythm section and guitars provide an uber funky backdrop. They’re joined by keyboards and blazing horns. Together, they play their part in a track that’s very different from what’s gone before, but demonstrates there’s much more to John Davis and The Monster Orchestra than disco.

A Bite Of The Apple was written by John Davis. He appears to have found biblical inspiration. A pounding, pulsating disco beat is joined by a Spanish guitar as the arrangement becomes jaunty and funky. Flourishes of strings sweep and swirl above the sweet, punchy harmonies as the arrangement gallops away. Spanish horns sound, while percussion and the pulsating beat combine with cascading strings. As Euro Disco and disco are combining, a growling saxophone solo adds a jazzy twist. For five-minutes the track gallops along teasing and tempting, daring you take A Bite Of The Apple, which is quite delicious.

As Stay With Me begins, you sense something is about to unfold. There’s this sense of anticipation when percussion and rhythm section combine. Then flourishes of strings and rasping horns join the punchy, pounding beat. That’s a clue that something is about to make a grand entrance. What it is, is a strutting, soaring vocal.  Urgent and dramatic, it joins the swathes of swirling strings, stabs of horns and pounding beats. It’s the missing link. Now everything falls into place. You just sit back and luxuriate in this track where elements of Earth, Wind and Fire, disco and Philly Soul combine. The next six minutes fly by. When the track ends, you can’t resist the temptation to play it again SAM.

Earlier, I mentioned that the inclusion of the Kojak Theme was controversial for many people. However, they’ve probably never listened to this string-drenched fusion of funk and disco. It features the lushest of strings, a funky rhythm section and sassy, sensual harmonies. It’s orchestral, dance-floor friendly, dramatic and funky. If it didn’t happen to be the theme from a popular television show, it would’ve been hailed as a musical triumph.

Whatever Happened To Me and You closes Ain’t That Enough For You. This is four minutes of soulful, disco. The sweetest of harmonies sweep in, accompanied by lush strings, while the rhythm section march the arrangement along. It’s the bass that leads the way, before Craig Synder’s rocky guitar add to the heartache and drama of the lyrics. Later, John Davis unleashes a saxophone solo, as he takes centre-stage. When his solo is over, he passes the baton to the harmonies. They’re at the heart of this beautiful and heartbreakingly sad fusion of disco and soul. This seems the perfect way to close Ain’t That Enough For You, with John Davis and The Monster Orchestra proving whether it’s disco, funk, Philly Soul or Euro Disco, they’re equally at home.

Just like Night and Day, then Up Jumped The Devil, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s third album Ain’t That Enough For You continued their ascendancy to the towards becoming disco’s greatest orchestra. Good as Ain’t That Enough For You was, and it’s one of the finest albums by a disco orchestra, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra didn’t quite take the crown from The Salsoul Orchestra. They were still the best disco orchestra. John Davis and The Monster Orchestra were a close second with their fusion of disco, funk, Philly Soul and Euro Disco. It was a close run thing though.

During the eight tracks on Ain’t That Enough For You they demonstrate why. Not only were they capable of creating some of the most soulful and dance-floor friendly music, but seamlessly, they could switch between musical genres. There’s no way you could describe John Davis and The Monster Orchestra as a one-trick pony. Not at all. Instead, you could describe them as versatile and multitalented. The eight tracks on Ain’t That Enough For You demonstrates this. Even the Kojak Theme works in the hands of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. This refuted the accusations that disco lacked direction and imagination. Instead, the hook-laden, soulful and dance-floor friendly Ain’t That Enough For You proved beyond all reasonable doubt that John Davis and The Monster Orchestra were one of the most innovative, influential and multitalented disco orchestras.  Sadly, despite this, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra would only release one further album, The Monster Strikes Again. 

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The Monster Strikes Again. 

By 1979, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra had cemented their reputation as one of the most successful disco orchestras. Like two prize fighters, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra and The Salsoul Orchestra were going toe-to-toe for the title of disco’s best orchestra. By 1979, The Salsoul Orchestra were on the ropes. They’d lost Vince Montana Jr. year earlier and some of The Salsoul Orchestra’s stars had been sideline. Among them were Norman Harris. So, the title was up for grabs. So, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra returned to the studio and recorded The Monster Strikes Again.

For their fourth album, 1979s The Monster Strikes Again, two singles, Love Magic and a cover of Ashford and Simpson’s Bourgie Bourgie saw John Davis and The Monster Orchestra revisit the commercial success of their earlier albums. Considering The Monster Strikes Again proved to be John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s final album, this seemed a fitting end to their recording career. However, what made The Monster Strikes Again such a successful album? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

For The Monster Strikes Again, John Davis wrote That’s What I Get, and penned Baby I’ve Got It, Holler and Love Magic with Vince Fay. Ron Netsky wrote When It’s Right For Love and the other tracks was a cover of Ashford and Simpson’s Bourgie Bourgie. When it came to recording The Monster Strikes Again, many of the same musicians that had played on previous John Davis and The Monster Orchestra albums were joined by some new faces.

When recording of The Monster Strikes Again began, a mixture of familiar and faces gathered. The rhythm section included guitarists Ronnie James and Craig Snyder, bassist Vince Fay and drummers Grant MacAvoy and Jimmy Young. They were joined by percussionists Larry Washington and David Waker, while Gerson Rosenbloom played synths. Taking charge of strings and horns was Don Renaldo. John Davis played flute, keyboards, synths, saxophone and took charge of vocals. Adding vocals were Billy Harner, Carolyn Mitchel and Vaneese Thomas-White, daughter of Rufus Thomas. Once The Monster Strikes Again was completed, it was released in 1979.

On the release of The Monster Strikes Again in 1979, it was more successful than its predecessor Ain’t That Enough.The two singles, Love Magic and Bourgie Bourgie surpassed this success. Not only were they commercially popular, but gave John Davis and The Monster Orchestra two massive club hits. Considering The Monster Strikes Again would prove to be John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s final album, this seemed a fitting finale from one of disco’s greatest orchestras, which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening The Monster Strikes Again is Baby I’ve Got It, one of three songs penned by John and Vince Fay. A rocky rhythm section and percussion combine to drive the arrangement along. before synths and chiming guitars enter. When sassy, feisty harmonies enter, they prove to be a game-changer. They prove to be crucial to the track’s success. They’re soulful, but give the track a noticeable Euro Disco influence, joining the pounding rhythm section, synths and searing guitars. By now,

elements of soul, disco, Euro Disco have been combined. Unlike earlier John Davis and The Monster Orchestra albums, synths play a bigger role in this track. However, they work well and their sound has aged well. What really makes the track are the choppy, confident and often sassy harmonies. Adding the finishing touch is a growling sax solo, which adds to the drama of this hook-laden slice of disco, where disparate musical genres and influences are seamlessly fused.

Bourgie Bourgie, which was written by Ashford and Simpson, was one of two singles released from The Monster Strikes Again. Not only is this one of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s best tracks, but a true disco classic. As the arrangement gradually unfolds, you realize something special is about to reveal its secrets. This is case from the entrance of the pounding drums and percussion. They’re joined by a pensive piano, elegant gliding strings and blazing horns.  Everything adds to the sense of anticipation. Heartfelt, soaring harmonies add a sense of urgency, while the rhythm section add bursts of dramatic funk. What then follows is true disco perfection. Everything falls into place at the right time. Elements of soul, funk and drama combine, while drama, beauty and elegance are ever-present. For just over six-minutes, producer John Davis produces a soulful and funky disco Magnus Opus which is truly timeless and worthy of being called a disco classic.

Percussion and the rhythm section join urgent guitars and stabs of keyboards before horns blaze and strings dance on That’s What I Get. Here, the guitars have a real Chic sound. This is quite unlike previous albums, but works well. The choppy sensual vocals are needy and filled with emotion. The vocals are swept away atop the lushest of strings that quiver and shimmer. By now, the arrangement is combining elements of soul, funk, disco and Euro Disco. However, the Euro Disco influence is much stronger than on earlier albums. It’s really apparent in the strings, harmonies and thunderous drums. in many ways that brings out the emotion and sense of neediness in the lyrics, on what is one of the highlights of The Monster Strikes Again.

There’s a slight moody, dramatic sound to When It’s Right For Love, as the arrangement begins reveals its secrets. You can hear this from the entrance of the rhythm section, chiming guitar and swathes of lush strings. When the harmonies enter, they’re veer between tender and impassioned to tight and urgent. One thing never changes, their soulfulness. They’re a perfect foil to the arrangement that takes as its reference points disco and Euro disco. Gradually the drama builds and builds, with horns growling, strings dancing, rocky guitars screaming and Larry Washington adding his trademark percussion. Like the other tracks, producer John Davis brings everything together seamlessly. The arrangement reaches a dramatic crescendo, one that’s melodic, soulful and dance-floor friendly. In short, it’s another classic slice of disco courtesy of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra.

Straight away, you realise Holler has a harder, funkier sound. This is very different to previous tracks. Key to this are the keyboards and rhythm section that drive the arrangement along. The soulful, cascading harmonies and braying horns provide a contrast. They’re the perfect foil to this tougher, funkier sound. Later, the arrangement heads in the direction of Euro Disco, which has been one of the themes of The Monster Strikes Again. Having said that, this was the direction disco was heading by 1979. Many producers had been influenced by the popularity of Euro Disco. Here, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra seamlessly switch from their trademark disco sound to incorporate this harder, funkier sound. In doing so, they demonstrate their versatility as musicians.

Closing The Monster Strikes Again is Love Magic, which sees John Davis and The Monster Orchestra determined to end their fourth album on a high. Chiming guitars and thunderous drums combine before percussion, an uber funky bass and swathes of cascading strings combine. When the harmonies enter, they’re choppy and urgent, and accompanied by dancing strings. Again, there’s a Euro Disco influence to parts of the arrangement, especially the drums, strings and harmonies. Apart from Euro Disco, funk and jazz have influenced other parts of the arrangement. The bass has been influenced by funk, while the keyboards have been influenced by jazz. Mostly, the arrangement has been influenced by Euro Disco, and it’s in that direction it heads. Nearly eight minutes it arrives at its destination, closing The Monster Strikes Again on a dance-floor friendly, funky high.

After just four albums, The Monster Strikes Again brought John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s career to a close. Granted they released one more 12” single, Hanging Out in 1981, but The Monster Strikes Again was their final album. At least The Monster Strikes Again ended their career with a commercially successful album. Not only that, but The Monster Strikes Again featured two hit singles Love Magic and Bourgie Bourgie. This meant a return to the commercial success and critical acclaim that John Davis and The Monster Orchestra enjoyed earlier in their career. However, by then, their music had changed.

Indeed, what’s noticeable about The Monster Strikes Again is the shift towards Euro Disco. This was a common occurrence among disco producers. Whereas previously American disco producers stuck to the classic American disco sound, they started to move towards the sound favored by European producers. This sound had proved commercially successful for Boris Midney and Giorgio Moroder. While this changed of sound might have prolonged the career of many disco producers, nothing could save disco from what happened on 12th July 1979, Disco Demolition Night.

Having provided the musical backdrop to the second half of the seventies. disco went from hero to zero in the space of a year. Suddenly, disco sucked. Disco’s downfall started on Christmas Eve 1978, That’s when Steve Dahl was fired by Chicago radio station WDAI. It had previously been a rock station, but switched to disco. Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He’d an inkling that disco wasn’t long for this world. 

Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.

From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before. WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby, disco nearly died.

Following Disco Derby Night, disco’s popularity plunged. Disco artists were dropped from labels, disco labels folded and no further disco albums were released. Disco was on the critical list, and suffered a near death experience. It took a long time to recover. After disco’s demise, dance music changed. 

No longer were record labels willing to throw money at dance music. Budgets were suddenly much smaller. Gone were the lavish productions of the disco orchestras of the seventies. This is epitomised by The Salsoul Orchestra and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Strings and horns were now a luxury. Music would have to go back to basics. For John Davis and The Monster Orchestra, this was the end of the road.

Disco Demolition Night almost destroyed disco. After that, disco artists, records and labels were hugely unpopular. So it’s no surprise that John Davis and The Monster Orchestra didn’t release any more albums. Instead they released just four albums of almost flawless disco. The Monster Strikes Again, with its fusion of disco, Euro Disco, soul, funk and Philly Soul, brought John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s career to a close, with one of their finest albums of their four album career which at last, have bee reissued. 

For way too long, the four John Davis and The Monster Orchestra have been out of print. Not any more. They’ve been released by Harmless Records as part of their Disco Recharge series. The second volume in this series features Ain’t That Enough For You and The Monster Strikes Back. This brings to a close the John Davis and The Monster Orchestra story who without doubt, were one of the greatest disco orchestras. Proof of that is  John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s fourth album The Monster Strikes Again.

DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-AIN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU AND THE MONSTER STRIKES AGAIN.

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