Main | Sunday, June 04, 2006

Instant Disco History #6: On Broadway

As has been well documented on this here website thingy, I have no love for showtunes. I consider it one of my greatest failings as a career homosexual, along with my disinterest in the culinary arts and my apparent inability to discern minor color gradations. Eggplant? Eggshell? Whatever.

However, one does not live in a vacuum and there is just no way for a career homosexual to not absorb some knowledge of showtunes, especially not if you've spent several thousand evenings in a gay disco. Because right after torch ballads, the most disco-versioned of any music genre has got to be Broadway showtunes. And if said showtune is also a torch ballad? Kismet! (And by "kismet", I don't mean the actual 1953 Broadway musical Kismet or the 1955 movie version directed by Vincente Minelli, who made other contributions to homosexual culture.)

Just about every song from every Broadway musical has been given a disco treatment, usually with not-so-great results. Give a listen to The Ethel Merman Disco Album if you're really feeling self-abusive. Formerly a staple of gay dancefloor, the discofied showtune has pretty much disappeared over the last decade or so, tracking the declining number of hit musicals, one could argue. One notable recent exception would be Deborah Cox's 2004 hit, Easy As Life, from Aida. What follows below are six of the most popular disco versions of Broadway showtunes. The songs are available for your download, but I encourage you to purchase the full-lengths, where available.

1. What I Did For Love - Grace Jones, 1977.

From A Chorus Line.

Wow, this is painful. I love Grace Jones, but this is just one painfully bad song. I include it for two reasons: 1)It was a fairly big hit in the gay clubs and 2)Even as bad as it is, it's better than the other showtunes on the album, which include Tomorrow from Annie and Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music. However this album did give us the immortal morning music classic La Vie En Rose, so all is forgiven.

(Grace Jones, What I Did For Love Island Records 1977. Download What I Did For Love. Purchase Grace Jones: Portfolio, here.)

2. If My Friends Could See Me Now - Linda Clifford, 1978.

From Sweet Charity.

Linda Clifford's If They Could See Me Now remains a staple of disco oldie radio formats. Clifford, a former beauty queen (Miss New York 1963), was signed to Curtis "Superfly" Mayfield's Curtom Records. This track was fully orchestrated and I just love the string section laid against the staccato piano riffs. This is a all-time disco classic, perhaps more than any other Broadway tune gone disco. The album, by the same name, contained a number of hits, most notably Runaway Love.

(Linda Clifford, If My Friends Could See Me Now, Curtom Records 1978. #1 US Dance (5 wks). Download If My Friends Could See Me Now. Purchase Runaway Love: The Singles Anthology, here.

3. Don't Cry For Me Argentina - Festival, 1979

From Evita

Festival was the studio creation of Russian-born New Yorker Boris Midney, who was also the creator of studio acts Beautiful Bend (That's The Meaning, Boogie Motion) and USA-European Connection (Come Into My Heart/Good Lovin'). His Disco Evita album, as Festival, featured four vocalists and a 17-piece orchestra, including Midney himself on violin. The album covers many of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber songs from the Broadway musical, as well as a Midney original titled Evita's Theme: Lady Woman. If I had a nickel for every party I went to that year during which Disco Evita was played in its entirety ...well, I'd have a lot of nickels, because the queens adored this album.

(Festival, Don't Cry For Me Argentina, RSO Records, 1979. #1 US Dance, 1 wk. Download Don't Cry For Me Argentina. Purchase The Boris Midney Anthology, here.

4. Memory - Menage 1983

From Cats

Man, I hated this record. Hate, hate, hated it. But it was a big hit and I must include it. This track has been unavailable commercially for years, so unless you want to track down the 12" in a used record shop or purchase it on one of the outrageously expensive import compilations, you may as well download it here. Menage was a one-off studio creation of Warren Schwartz, who produced Turn The Beat Around for Vicki Sue Robinson.

(Menage, Memory, Profile Records 1983. Download Memory. Purchase HI-NRG Classics, here.)

5. I Am What I Am - Gloria Gaynor, 1983

From La Cage Aux Folles

Gloria Gaynor returned from the triumph of 1979's I Will Survive and in her version of I Am What I Am, arguably created the most enduring and beloved anthem of gay pride yet recorded. Watch a short clip of Gaynor performing I Am What I Am, here. When you hear this song at Pride events this year, and you will, take a look around at some of our butcher brothers having a big ol' nelly moment during "Some think it's noise, I think it's pretty!"

(Gloria Gaynor, I Am What I Am, Silver Blue Records, 1983. Download I Am What I Am. Purchase Gloria Gaynor: I Am What I Am, here.)

6. One Night Only - Scherrie Payne, 1984

From Dreamgirls.

Scherrie Payne was one of the 87 members of The Supremes, post-Diana Ross. Interestingly, former Supreme (#4, I believe) Cindy Birdsong provides backing vocals on One Night Only, which was a decent chart and club success for Payne. A few years ago, Scherrie was part of the hugely failed Supremes reunion tour, which was a major embarrassment to Miss Ross. Scherrie's sister is Freda Band Of Gold Payne. One Night Only was released on San Francisco's way-gay label, Megatone Records, home of Sylvester.

(Scherrie Payne, One Night Only, Megatone Records, 1984. Download One Night Only.)

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