Tag Archives: Saturday Night Fever

Rocks In The Attic #637: Boney M. – ‘Nightflight To Venus’ (1978)

RITA#637When I think about all the great disco groups of the 1970s, I’m not usually thinking about Boney M. To me, great disco was solely an American proposition – K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Trammps. Even the Manx-born / Australian-bred Bee Gees sounded American during their genre-defining Saturday Night Fever period.

So a foreign-born – and most importantly, a foreign-sounding – disco band like Boney M. never really fit in anywhere. The band hail from the West Germany of the 1970s, with members originally from Jamaica, Aruba and Montserrat. If they had travelled north from the Caribbean, and landed in the USA they might have indeed been a vital part of the American disco scene.

Instead, their music is blighted by an economical, soulless Europop production by Frank Farian – the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of the 1980s. They’re more Eurovision than Saturday Night Fever; more James Last than Nile Rodgers.

While the more artistically and commercially successful Abba have remained timelessly relevant on the strength of both their songwriting and the production of their material, Boney M. just feel synthetic, a product of the capitalist West Germany. They’re hugely successful however – having sold over 150 million records worldwide, so somebody must have liked them.

Once you look past the big singles – Rasputin, Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring – this record isn’t too bad. The production-heavy opening track, Nightflight To Venus, gives drummer Keith Forsey a moment to shine on an otherwise dull record in terms of percussion (the rest of the album is very much driven by a straight 4/4 beat, with very little variation).

But it is the record’s final track, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, that is the most surprising thing of all – surprising because it’s actually quite interesting in its vocal harmony arrangement. But of course, hearing one of Shakey’s better-known songs covered by a West German / Caribbean disco band has to be heard to be believed.

Hit: Rivers Of Babylon

Hidden Gem: Heart Of Gold

Rocks In The Attic #417: K.C. & The Sunshine Band – ‘K.C. & The Sunshine Band’ (1975)

RITA#417I presume I have an original pressing of this record – it looks really old, and I’m guessing it wouldn’t have had that many reprints – and the one thing that always gets me is how thick the cardboard of the sleeve is. You could use it to prop up a car while you change a tyre, it’s that thick. I wonder if there’s a reason for it, or if the record company simply got hold of some industrial strength cardboard by mistake. Perhaps it’s to soak up all the sweat from the insides of discotheques when DJs were playing the record.

This is album number two for Harry Wayne Casey and his band. It has two of their biggest hits in That’s The Way (I Like It) and Get Down Tonight. Strangely, Boogie Shoes, also on this record, wasn’t released as a single but is perhaps more well known for its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (and subsequently every other film and television soundtrack where there is a short, two minute scene set in a discotheque, or with a hot girl on roller-skates).

It’s easy to write K.C. & The Sunshine Band off as a disposable relic of the disco era, but their roots are in the funk years of the early 1970s. They’re just a bit more accessible than the heavy superbad funk of James Brown or Funkadelic. In fact, if anything they’re just a funk band with a white guy as a band leader. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does hark back to the musical equivalent of the basketball maxim, ‘White Men Can’t Jump. We all know white men can funk – just listen to the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces. Funky honkies are few and far between though – for every Beck Hansen, there are a thousand Kurt Cobains.

Hit: That’s The Way (I Like It)

Hidden Gem: Let It Go (Part One)

Rocks In The Attic #403: The Walter Murphy Band – ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ (1976)

RITA#403Fuck the Bee Gees, I’d be happy if the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack just featured songs by Walter Murphy.

Famous for his version of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you either love or hate Walter Murphy. This entirely depends on what you think about classical music. For me, it injects a much needed groove into an art form that can be dull and stuffy. Murphy’s A Fifth Of Beethoven seems to be the perfect song to play at a funeral, if only to raise a much needed smile among the mourners. This is probably why he now composes the music for the Family Guy television show.

The instrumental songs on this album are awesome, and the record’s only weak points are the couple of tracks which feature vocals. These come off sounding very dated, as though a network television show like Quincy commissioned them for a scene set in a discotheque: “I’ve seen a man die from exhaustion, Sam, but there’s something about this that doesn’t quite fit. Let’s do another test on the leather from those roller skates…”

Hit: A Fifth Of Beethoven

Hidden Gem: Flight ‘76

Rocks In The Attic #214: Various Artists – ‘Saturday Night Fever (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

RITA#214This might be outdated, a relic of a bygone age, or a warning to the future about the dangers of bad taste…but you can’t deny it’s full of good songs.

I’ve never had a problem with Saturday Night Fever. I’ve never found myself stealing the show on a multicolour, lighted dancefloor, but I’ve often found myself strutting down the street eating a slice of pizza and carrying a can of paint. The film itself is very good, and much darker than anybody gives it credit for, but for me the one thing that has stood the test of time is the soundtrack. A hundred years from now, if an enquiring mind asked what ‘disco’ was, the fastest way to show them would be to play them this soundtrack and show them the album cover.

I really struggled to choose a hidden gem for this album. It’s full of them. I used to like Fifth Of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, but it’s sort of been done to death by every film or TV show which wants to juxtapose any staid environment with an incredibly funky song.

The inclusion of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno and K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s Boogie Shoes gives the many, many Bee Gees songs a run for their money – particularly Night Fever and Jive Talkin’ (sounding more in its right place here than it ever did on Main Course) which are both fantastic; but it is Ralph McDonald’s Calypso Breakdown that I like the best. The lead guitar breaks in the first half of the song are great, and purely as a piece of soundtrack it’s used in one of my favourite parts of the film. I challenge anybody not to move their hips when they hear this song.

Hit: Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

Hidden Gem: Calypso Breakdown – Ralph McDonald

Rocks In The Attic #147: Bee Gees – ‘Main Course’ (1975)

Rocks In The Attic #147: Bee Gees - ‘Main Course’ (1975)I’ve always had a soft spot for The Bee Gees (I know they don’t favour the definitive article in front of their name, but it’s grammatically annoying not to slide one in there). We used to live a couple of streets away from where they grew up in Chorlton, Manchester (between them being born on the Isle Of Man and being shipped out to Australia).  They seem to offend a lot of people by their very existence, but I think their early-falsetto output between Jive Talkin’ and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack are notable enough to ignore their other crimes against music.

I almost went to see Robin Gibb when he played in New Zealand just before he died. I was all set to buy myself a ticket until I read an interview he did to promote the show, in which he claimed that the music of The Bee Gees was more relevant than The Beatles, and had stood the test of time better. By the time I had stopped laughing, the concert had been and gone. I then felt like I’d missed out because he died not long after. In a bizarre twist of fate, newspaper articles over the last couple of weeks have all but claimed that New Zealand killed Robin Gibb – by flying over to play in New Zealand, he missed medical scans which may have prolonged his life.

I recently watched a documentary on the band, and Maurice really comes across as the most affable of the three. Barry really is the alpha lion of the pride, and Robin speaks only when he is given chance, but Maurice actually sounds like a genuinely nice bloke.

Hit: Jive Talkin’

Hidden Gem: Wind Of Change