25 February 2008

Barbara Mandrell and Country Disco - The Lost Genre

Some say the end of the Disco era began when Rick Dees' novelty song "Disco Duck" hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976. I actually think it was a few years later, when Walt Disney Productions answered that hit record in 1979 with Donald Duck singing "Macho Duck" on the Mikey Mouse Disco album. In the same year, a sub-genre of country music nearly developed. I call it "country disco." It was a sub-genre that not only drove another nail in the disco coffin, it also could have driven country music into a soul-sucking commercialism from which it would never recover. Well, actually that second part happened anyway, but that's another story.

My favorite example is a Barbara Mandrell's song from her 1979 LP "Just For The Record." On the cover, a 31 year old Barbara is sporting a sequined little dress that would have gotten her pass the velvet ropes at any Nashville discotheque. On the whole, the album is her blend of country with a little pop and soul (heavier on the pop than soul.) But a little song, Is It Love Yet, hidden on track 3 on side 2, is so catchy it could get stuck in one's head for close to 30 years and forever break the common wisdom that country music doesn't groove outside a line dance.

I put together this little video to illustrate. It starts off with a rhythmic lead in and then rides a slight but defined drum/dance beat and accented with backup singers throughout. In the video, I've noted the specific disco references at about 1:24 and around 2:20. To set the mood, the video includes a disco ball and go-go boys.

Babs was not the first artist to take this route, Dolly Parton had a fair amount of success with danceable country songs like Baby I'm Burnin' (#25 in 1978 on Hot 100 charts). Nor was Mandrell the last. In 1991, Tammy Wynette had a #11 hit with KLF doing Justified and Ancient. And today, all Leann Rimes songs are better after they've been reworked and remixed.

Barbara went on to win two Grammy's, have a top 10 TV Show, six #1 country singles, and perhaps the only person to appear on both Hee Haw and Baywatch.

As far as I know, "Just For The Record" was never released on CD and certainly not available digitally. LPs and 8-tracks can be found on the ebay.

Download the MP3 here:
Is It Love Yet?

Barbara Mandrell Discography

19 February 2008

2 Cool Covers

  • "tears dry on their own" - Amy Winehouse cover (I can actually understand the words now)
  • "everything" - Michael Buble cover

13 February 2008

Anne Murray

Like a lot of successful artists do later in their careers, Anne Murray released a duets CD, Friends and Legends. The duets are Anne's songs over her 40 year career with artists like the Indigo Girls, Nelly Furtado, Olivia Newton-John, and k.d. lang. It's been fun hearing the songs with a duet partner and reworked a little bit. Anne is the kind of singer that is never too showy. She sings her songs as they are meant to be. Technically perfect each time and minus any unneeded frills. The best description of her singing style I've ever read was from that premiere source for music reviews...the YouTube comment section:
  • Says user tyoonz: "Anne has always had such an exquisitely clear, clean voice. She doesn't need to embellish her tunes with all the flamboyant flourishes that so many of today's younger singers regard as de rigeur. She lets the song speak for itself by presenting it with understated eloquence and quiet elegance." Or as zingerz24 less eloquently states, "Anne was Hott in her day..Wonderful Voice Also."

In 1981, the New York Times wrote, "Miss Murray's calm blandness of personality has a way of anchoring what might otherwise seem impossibly frothy - as in the case of Olivia Newton-John -with an affecting emotional weight. And her voice, a consoling contralto, is always a pleasure."

She was most famous for ballads that hit the adult contemporary and country music charts in the late 70's and throughout the 80's. But bored with those ballads, Anne went through a period of doing some uptempo music. It was still the 80's - so uptempo meant some synth pop stylings worked into her albums. It resulted in some cools songs and a few really bad ones. None translated into hits for her. I'm no music marketing exec, but I would imagine it was difficult to find an audience among fans used to more sedate love songs. Plus she wasn't edgy enough for the at-the-time MTV crowd. The first cut off of her 1983 A Little Good News album (which won a Grammy for Country Female Performance) is the best example. The same year my cassette player had in heavy rotation songs like "Sex (Im a...)" from Berlin and "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran, I was also listening to this 80's sound burning up the charts (Well, it peaked at #103 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #47 on the Country Charts):

Another of Anne Murray's greatest aspects, she could rock the shoulder pads. She didn't get the notariety Joan Collins did for shoulder pad wear. That didn't stop her. Anne sported the look on many an album cover and Solid Gold appearance. Always looking femenine - yet never too far away from her time as a PE teacher in Nova Scotia.

Anne Murray Discography
Anne Murray Centre

Penguin Food

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