Dollar Records: Disco Where?

Sure, there’s bad disco, but there’s a bad version of every music, right? I, for one, peeled that bumper sticker off
a while ago, but if you’re still hesitant, investigate the roots of the genre in The Legendary Zing Album (1972) from Philadelphia’s Trammps, a reissue of which I recently poached from The Groove‘s dollar bin.

There’s no consensus on the first disco hit. Those who don’t cite the title track to this collection may point to “The Love I Lost” (1973) by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, whose pioneering disco backbeat is provided by Trammps drummer/bass singer Earl Young. With guiarist Norman Baker and bassist Ron Harris, Young painted the rhythmic backdrop to countless Philly soul records in the late 60’s and early 70’s. (Supposedly, club D.J.’s were drawn to Young’s patented 16th-note proto-disco hi-hat, as it made for easy slip cues.)

Aside from the beat, there are other remarkable goings-on within the first Trammps record: the passionate, hot, high scream of lead singer Jimmy Ellis; the Motown-inspired lushness of the arrangements, typical of Philly soul; inspired songwriting from the trio of Baker-Harris-Young; interesting cover choices– race music classic “Sixty Minute Man” and Judy Garland hit “Zing Went The Strings of My Heart” each get Trammpled; and, most significantly, disco-wise, mix-engineer Tom Moulton‘s dance-oriented treatments. Sections are spliced and repeated, instrumental versions of songs reappear (with goofy titles like “Penguin at the Big Apple” and “Scruboard”) foreshadowing an era of 12″ dance remixes, and full LPs that played like a D.J.

Graham Parker and The Rumour, 1977

I may have listened to “Hold Back The Night” a dozen times tonight. English pub-rocker Graham Parker listened to it enough times to cover it with The Rumour, releasing it as a UK hit single in 1977. (What’s pub rock, you ask? It’s what punk rockers were doing in 1975, n00b.) Anyway, if ever a disco-shuffle existed, this is it. Beautiful, hypnotizing.

The Trammps will be best–or, at least, most–remembered for their 1978 smash, “Disco Inferno,” featured prominently in Saturday Night Fever. In years following, the disco backlash (arguably aimed less at the music itself and more at its initial core fanbase of gays, latinos, and blacks) would render the genre nominally dead. Nevertheless, dance music with a four-on-the-floor beat, blaring in clubs to shaking rumpuses, never really went out of style.

The Legendary Zing Album (or The Original Trammps, as it is titled for the 1975 Buddha reissue) takes us back to a simpler era when the story was just one hell of an R&B vocal band with top material, production magic, and a rhythm section to die for. Seek this before you burn a mother down.
–Brett Rosenberg