Friday, December 16, 2011

Must cosign Tom Ewing's mild amazement at this piece that argues for Donna Summer's worthiness for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame but doesn't even mention the world-historical recording "I Feel Love"

Lots that was news to me in the piece, but the general gist - the idea of Donna-as-rocker; like some girl in a Stones song come to defiant life, or a female Rick James - actually seemed familiar. Then I remembered that Summer makes it into Marcus's List of Canonic Records at the end of Stranded... but for "Hot Stuff". The first time I read that I was like "why not 'I Feel Love'?! Or Once Upon A Time!". But then realised that it figured, given that Kraftwerk are noticeably absent from the List as is indeed pretty much anything European or electronic.

Another example of the Stranded generation's deaf spot in terms of disco came into my ken recently when I acquired the 1981 book Lester Bangs wrote with Paul Nelson about Rod Stewart. (For years I'd labored under the false impression that this was rare, on account of never seeing it in second-hand book shops but you can find it perfectly reasonably priced online). Until really quite recently I had never realised just how much of a touchstone figure the Classic Rod of the Faces and those early solo albums was for American rock critics: someone they held in the same company of esteem as Van Morrison and Neil Young and Randy Newman and The Band; someone they had a lot invested in emotionally in terms of a future for a populist rock rooted in American music that avoided the paths of either Heavy or Progressive; someone who kept them keeping their faith all through the pre-punk/pre-Clash'n'Costello Seventies, only to leave them feeling jilted and aghast when Rod "went Hollywood".

I haven't got far into Rod Stewart but there's a good verbatim-style shooting-the-shit dialogue between Nelson and Bangs, during which Nelson, who'd interviewed the singer fairly recently, talks about how Stewart can't even conceive that he "might have lost anything"

Bangs asks:

"Do you think he really feels that 'D'ya Think I'm Sexy?' is as good as 'Maggie Mae?'"

What struck me was how it was inconceivable to those guys and their peer generation that someone might actually prefer "D'ya Think I'm Sexy?" to "Maggie Mae". (Someone, in fact, like me).

Inconceivable, also, that Stewart might actually have dug disco, not just as social scene (the glitz, the sex), but as a musical form.

But there's a perfect logic to the way all those Brit Sixties cats evolved: what they started with was a passion for contemporary black music and that's what they stayed with, right through into the Eighties, when they were making records using the same machines that state-of-art black pop was using, drawing on the same ideas to do with beats and sounds and arrangement. The Stones doing funk and disco (and reggae) in the 70s, Pink Floyd going disco with "Another Brick in the Wall", P. Collins and P. Gabriel using EW&F style horns and discofunk grooves, Steve Winwood making slick post-Jam & Lewis records in the late Eighties... it all makes perfect sense. They actually followed through the trajectory of rhythm-and-blues into the early days of R&B as we currently know it (ie. a studio-concocted, producer + machines, non-performance oriented music).*

Of course they all wanted to get on the radio and make money too. Got to keep the mortgage payments up on their mansions.

* a few American equivalents did too, but less convincingly, and with more of a sense of desperation. E.g. that other Lester Bangs talismanic fave Bob Seger, who did "Shakedown" for the Beverley Hills Cop II soundtrack in 1987 (c.f.Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom" on the Running Scared soundtrack). Seger doesn't look or sound very comfortable amid the new sound.