EVERYBODY DANCE NOWÂ… Martha Wash, the Two Tons of Fun/Weather Girls woman (and Sylvester‘s "Mighty Real" backup singer) with certainly one of the most booming and distinctive voices in the history of dance music, recalls the moment she heard her vocals go uncredited for the first time — it wouldn’t be the last. Of course, the most famous example is C+C Music Factory‘s "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," which was credited to her only belatedly — after she sued. (And by the by, she actually hated that track, since she was forced to sing, almost shout, it an octave higher than her normal register.) It was the late ’80s, when dance music briefly returned to the mainstream post-disco.
"I was in my hotel room when Black Box’s ‘Everybody Everybody’ came on the television," Wash says. But it wasn’t her image on the screen, even though it was her voice. Instead, an "alleged woman" — the rumor has it she was really a he in drag — was lip-synching to Wash, while dancing and prancing around in the video.
Wash’s recounting of that experience was just one of many highlights washed up, so to speak, at Billboard Magazine‘s 11th Annual Dance Music Summit held last week. It’s the dance music industry’s second biggest confab of the year, after Miami’s Winter Music Conference, and it attracts a more serious set of danceheads. For the summit, the leading denizens in dance sit — they don’t dance — for panel discussions that assess the state of the genre and of the industry, as well as explore their creative processes and their past. These denizens come from behind the scenes, this year including Queer as Folk‘s music supervisor, Washington’s Scott Henry of Buzzlife Productions, and record executives from many of the major labels and most of the boutiques. And they come from behind the turntables: D.C.’s own Richard Morel, Victor Calderone and the legendary New York gay house heads Frankie Knuckles and David Morales. To say nothing of the world’s reigning DJs of the moment, the Dutch Tiesto and the German Paul van Dyk. Each sat for special Q&A sessions at the Summit.
And, of course, there are those from behind the microphone, the singers and musicians: Morel again, as well as Amber, Ultra NatÃ© and Wash, the latter two of whom served on a panel called (no joke) "On Your Knees: Hero Worship." Actually, it was originally called the even more fancifully farcical — though oddly better — "On Your Knees: Diva Worship." Never mind that the biggest "diva" in dance, Donna Summer, was physically absent from the whole Summit shebang (though from one panel to the next though, her influence was omnipresent). Never mind that Amber, who served on a panel also labeled a fancifully farcical "The Billboard Master Class," and Ultra NatÃ© haven’t had more than one or two big hits. That’s the case even though they are still making music that often deserves wider attention, including upcoming albums from both. And with Star 69 Records set to release a slew of new and promising remixes of her biggest hit, 1998’s "Free," NatÃ© will likely be heard all over again this fall, at least on the dance floor.
And never mind that other "divas" on the panel included the barely-known-on-her-own Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton or newcomer Esthero. Bunton and Esthero were the stars of the panel, providing candid commentary about the music business and especially their own approaches to writing music. It’s encouraging to know we’ll probably hear more from both of them soon, since they’re on major labels. What a rare notion that is for dance artists these days! (Esthero’s new track "O.G. Bitch" is a beguilingly caustic track that recalls Nelly Furtado.) But it’s beyond premature to call them "heros" and few are yet worthy of the overplayed term "divas"Â…
REAL DIVAS AND HEROS FEEL LOVEÂ… True diva Wash also told the crowd for her panel that the writers behind her hit "It’s Raining Men" practically begged her and her Two Tons of Fun/Weather Girls partner Izora Rhodes Armstead — who sadly died the week before the Summit — to record the song, after Summer and Diana Ross had already turned them down. And true hero Giorgio Moroder, the man behind pretty much all of Summer’s biggest hits — not to mention the revolutionary Midnight Express soundtrack — told the crowd assembled for his panel, appropriately named "The Pioneers of Dance/Electronic Music," that Summer didn’t initially want to sing her best hit either, "I Feel Love." "She thought they should find a different singer, though she acquiesced to him recording a demo with her voice. Thankfully, he surreptitiously shopped the demo around to New York DJs, who instantly loved the track. Co-panelist and "house godfather" Frankie Knuckles attested to that, saying he still remembers the day he first heard the tune, as well as Summer/Moroder’s breakout "Love To Love You Baby." Summer finally allowed Moroder (and his producing partner Pete Bellotte) to release the tune, to the blissful sing-along sighs of us allÂ…
DISCO FEELS LOVEÂ… If you were asked to name just three artists who helped shape dance music as we know it, Donna Summer would factor high on the list, as would the Bee Gees and Barry White. In other words, the 1,000 voting members of the Dance Music Hall of Fame (www.dmhof.com) did just swell selecting its inaugural slate, which will be inducted at a New York ceremony this Monday night. And if you were further asked to pick five seminal dance songs to be inducted, would you pick Summer’s "I Feel Love?" Of course you would. Thelma Houston‘s "Don’t Leave Me This Way?" Indeed. Sylvester‘s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)?" Mighty right. Evelyn "Champagne" King‘s "Shame?" Hmm, well, now that you mention it, sure. MFSB‘s "Love Is The Message?"
Come again? "Love Is The Message," according to the Hall of Fame’s official notes, is a "timeless classic of danceable jazz-flavored R&B." Furthermore, a 1977 remix by Tom Moulton — who’s being inducted as the Hall’s first remixer — added "breakdown sections that have proven definitive to every subsequent form of dance music." To today’s ears though, it’s a syrupy-stringed, pretentious instrumental-based track that sunk with the "Love Boat Theme." There’s not enough love in the world to persuade anyone to search for the drowned song’s whereabouts. It’s not unlike the original "Soul Train Theme," which was actually called "T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)" — and also composed by MFSB. The acronym for this Philly group, a noted R&B backup band in its day, officially stands for "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother," though detractors let the acronym stand for two choice curse phrases, also of familial concern.
So the Hall of Fame voters hit one false note with "Love Is The Message," and it means that Gloria Gaynor‘s "Never Can Say Goodbye" was overlooked. Double injury: Her even better, and more long-lasting hit, "I Will Survive" wasn’t even nominated. But there’s always next year. Why does disco have a lock on the inductees, you may ask? Good question, one asked even before we mentioned Hall of Fame producer inductees Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the men behind Summer’s biggest hits (and Irene Cara’s "Flashdance" and Blondie’s "Call Me," as well). Well, disco’s hold is easy to explain: all nominations and nominees have to be at least 25 years old. Disco was at its peak 25 years ago, a time when early house was just springing up, laying the groundwork for the "Disco Inferno." (D’oh! Another song that’ll have to wait until next year for nomination.) And the Hall organizers were also eager to give the overly maligned disco the recognition it deservesÂ…
STUPIDISCO NEVER DIESÂ… Disco definitely deserves recognition among the dance music set because it remains significant today. Just glance at the most recent Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The past couple years have seen a rebirth in the old-school soul vocal vibe and hook-laden dance-pop sound of the disco era. Half of the chart’s top 10 hits are clearly derived from disco, or at least post-disco early house. Junior Jack‘s latest, quickly ascending the chart, is even called "Stupidisco" – as in that "stupid disco track." Billboard reports the Italian-Belgian musicmaker — born Vito Lucente — created it as a sort-of joke. Well, the joke is shared by Dave Armstrong, whose "Make Your Move," at No. 9 on the chart, shares the same melody, with the same lyrics — naturally, since they both sample the chorus of the Pointer Sisters‘ barely remembered ’80s club hit "Dare Me." Who had the idea first? It’s not clear, but Jack’s higher-charting hit is better, with a better title — and his case is helped by the fact that the song is just one of many highlights from his debut artist album, Trust It. Jack does an exemplary job of creating contemporary dance music. He touches on all sub-genres, from techno to soulful house to progressive house to disco, based on mostly obscure samples from past club hits. Among the many crowd-pleasing anthems on the album, there’s last year’s Latin jam "E Samba" and the recent hit "Da Hype," with guest vocals from The Cure’s Robert Smith that features a prominent sample from the Midnight Express film score, composed by Giorgio Moroder — yes, him again.
The best duo in dance-pop today, Basement Jaxx is close to topping the chart with "Good Luck," featuring full-on disco-styled syncopated strings and adversity-overcoming, gloriously over-the-top vocals from Lisa Kekaula. As of this writing, the song is lodged at the No. 2 spot — could it get a bump? — but the bigger scandal is that it’s the first Jaxx track to do well on the chart in years, even though it’s the third release from the Jaxx’s so-good-it’s-k-krazy Kish Kash. (Even the presence of guest vocals from JC Chasez didn’t help "Plug It In" last time out.) The other disco-colored ditties scoring on the chart: "Flawless," George Michael‘s reworking of The Ones’ still-recent chart hit, and Shape: UK‘s "Lola’s Theme," the song of the summer in Europe Â…
WELK IT UP!… Only ten seconds into the dance remix compilation Upstairs with Larry, the project’s theme is made plain. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the big band sounds of Lawrence Welk and his musical family." Is that the Lawrence Welk, the staid and square talk show host and easy-listening bandleader who your grandmother considered hip? Yes, one and the same. Music producer Kevin Welk is out to make his grandfather hip to his generation. And why not? After the legendary jazz labels Verve and Blue Note successfully opened their vaults to modern-day dance remixers, the real question is: what took Welk Music so long? Even more puzzling: who could have predicted they’d succeed beyond all expectations?
Among the 14 remixes of Lawrence Welk Orchestra standards, there are a couple disasters on Upstairs with Larry, including "Blue Velvet" by Smitty, which brings the album to a disappointing, foggy end. And a couple others, including Physics’ "Watch What Happens,” do nothing to enliven the mood of the originals. But for every failed opportunity, there are at least two other genuine revelations about just how hip Welk can be today. DJ Keri & DJ 43‘s "Baby Elephant Safari" is a stampeding delight. Q-Burns Abstract Message‘s "You Can Dance" is a jolly-good saunter. Dance of a peppy chill-out variety reigns here, which is precisely why it excels — chill-out is the modern-day variant of Welk’s own self-labeled "champagne music." And no remix will be more appealing to today’s hipsters than Dex Dubious’ "Bubbles in the Wine." Featuring a campy ’50s-era instructional sound bite on just what makes sparkling wine "light and gay," this is the perfect effervescent party track, of a timeless vintage. "Here as in most things it’s not what you drink but how much you drink that affects your appreciation of wineÂ…Let’s make it a toast to my new friend, wine." Cheers!…
FROM JUSTIN TO KELLYÂ… Say it ain’t so! After dazzling dance-poppers with a winsome club-flavored debut disc, Justin Timberlake may radically change course for his sophomore set and go for a brawny "southern rock" sound akin to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, he tells GQ. He also hinted he may not join the rest of *NSync for the planned reunion album, to allow him full concentration on his solo work, not expected until next year. All of which might make us cry a river were we not still bitter about his causing Janet Jackson to take most of the heat for their joint Super Bowl fiasco. So instead, we just feel jaded Kelly Osbourne plans to change course on her sophomore set too, but in the opposite direction. The MTV reality show star — and daughter of hard-rocker Ozzy — told BBC Radio 1 that she plans to scale back the hard-rock influence that so characterized last year’s Shut Up. Instead, she’s aiming for an ’80s pop sound. The set won’t be out before next year, since Osbourne, fresh from drug rehab, is focused at the moment on a new TV drama, Life As We Know ItÂ…
LEFT OUTSIDE U.S.Â… Anastacia is well on her way to being one of 2004’s best-selling artists in most of Europe, where she has dominated various album and singles charts. What was that? You say you didn’t know she had a new album out? Of course you didn’t. The self-titled set, a follow-up to 2002’s Freak of Nature, hasn’t been released in the U.S., and her label, Sony, remains mum about whether it’ll ever see a domestic release. One bad sign: it’s not included in the label’s fall release schedule. Perhaps it’s a result of the near-total lack of attention stateside to first single, "Left Outside Alone." And that’s just too bad, since it’s the best song of her career so far, featuring her strongest melody and her most restrained vocalsÂ…
PARTY LIKE IT’S PRINCE (OR PHARELL)Â… Those who devote their lives to the recreational study of funky R&B/dance music — that is, Musicology, Prince style — have only one place to go this Sunday, September 5, provided they’re also looking for something unusual and not so gay. Why do we say LoveSexyDC’s "The Dance Electric" September Dance Party is not gay? Because of this announcement from the group: "Dress: Stylish & Sexy (no athletic gear please)." Generally speaking, you don’t tell gay people what to wear, and you don’t have to. DJ Dredd will spin a battle between Prince tunes and those clearly Prince-inspired sounds of The Neptunes — that’s Chad Hugo and Pharell Williams, the hitmaking producers responsible for Kelis‘ "Milkshake," Britney Spears‘ "I’m A Slave 4 U" and, of course, Pharell’s own "Frontin’." Who will win? New power of soul, no question. The revolution begins at 8 p.m. at Georgetown’s Modern nightclub. Cost is $7, which enters you into a raffle for "Prince-ly prizes" and allows you access to "Prince-ly Drink Specials." Visit www.LoveSexyDC.org for more infoÂ…