PROTO DISCO


Retta Young: You Beat Me To the Punch (disco version)
From 7” promo (All Platinum, 1976)

Gloria Scott: Just As Long As We’re Together
From 7″ (Casablanca, 1974)

Life Force: Prove Me Wrong
From S/T (Strawberry, 1975)

Chuck Jackson: Take Off Your Make-Up
From 7” (ABC, 1974)

(Ed. Today’s post comes from Soul Sides reader Tom Bigg who offered a variety of topics. Had to nix the “UK Hip Hop” suggestion but “proto disco” sounded like the move.)

It’s easy from this distance to divide musical history into neat categories and time frames: ’68 to ’74 is the butter period for soul and funk; ’75 onwards becomes ever more dominated by four-to-the-floor disco.

But as always the truth is more complicated and more interesting. For a start, as the song implies in the mid-70s no-one really knew where disco was going – and the increase in music aimed at clubs and dancing challenged established soul and funk artists to try out new rhythms and tempos.

Retta Young is typical of this shift. Her two most famous songs are “Sending out an SOS” and “My man is on his way”: the first a Northern soul track from 1972, the second a disco classic from five years later. In between she recorded “You beat me to the punch”, and it’s only on the promo that you find a ‘disco version’ of the song – presumably to be played out in clubs. The song starts slowly, it’s even a bit pedestrian – but it builds a fantastic groove which combines a disco rhythm with some great wah-wah guitar and strings.

Barry White needs no introduction as a master of smooth soul and funky beats, though his first success was as a producer in the late 60s for artists such as Viola Wills and Felice Taylor. He also produced a string of great records on the cusp of disco by Love Unlimited, West Wing, Tom Brock and many others, including a fantastic album for Gloria Scott from which this track comes.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about Life Force, whose only album came out on a small New York label. It’s a really impressive combination of good songs and interesting themes, including a tribute to Paul Robeson for his trailblazing role as a black singer and activist. The track I’ve chosen here is a mid-tempo gem which exactly captures the sense of being midway between early 70s soul and mid 70s disco.

And finally a singer best known for his earlier material (and for being Jesse Jackson’s brother, fact fans). Chuck Jackson has a powerful voice and this song has everything: a nice break to kick off and gorgeous piano, strings and backing vocals – in true disco fashion. Again, this is a b-side which seems to have been more about experimentation than getting airplay.

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