Friday, December 12, 2008

If I Had A Dollar For Every Time I've Thought This

1978/79 witnessed the peak of the disco craze. The charts were dominated by disco music, the clubs were dominated by disco music, radio and television was dominated by disco music, as yet undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Amazon were dominated by disco - and even the world of cinema was invaded by disco. Next to ‘Saturday Night Fever’, the most well known film of the era to highlight disco music was 1978’s ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. The film starred a young Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger in the lead roles, but also featured a stack of cameo appearances from music artists, including the ‘Queen of Disco’ Donna Summer, Paul Jabara and a young actress, and aspiring singer/actress by the name of Terri Nunn (see previous Berlin post). Adding to the fun were The Commodores and music from Santa Esmerelda (see future post), Thelma Houston, and Cameo (see previous post). I can recall seeing the film again a few months back on a local Showtime Greats channel. If you discount the story and dialogue elements, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp through a string of very palatable dance numbers assembled around, an admittedly, flimsy plot.

One of the highlights from ‘Thank God It’s Friday’, in terms of music, was the title track, performed by the studio based disco group Love & Kisses. The vocal group was the brainchild of Egyptian born producer Alec R. Costandinos, and comprised singers Don Daniels, Elaine Hill, Dianne Brooks and Jean Graham at the core of its line-up. Costandinos himself came from a background as a producer of note for French pop artists, such as Dalida and Claude Francoise. Costandinos first came to international prominence as co-writer of the 1977 Euro-disco hit ‘Love in Minor C’, credited to Cerrone. Costandinos was then signed up to French label Barclay and given licence to form his own studio based recording project. He relocated to London’s Trident Studios and assembled a team of talented singers, calling the project Love & Kisses. The famed Casablanca label came on board to distribute Love & Kisses Stateside.

Love & Kisses’ debut album was recorded and released during the first half of 1977. In today’s terms it would probably be regarded as an EP because the entire album comprised just two songs, although they were marathon in length. Costandinos was already clearly positioning Love & Kisses as a club act, with little regard to gaining support from top 40 radio. In fact the length of Love & Kisses’ first single ‘I’ve Found You (Now That I’ve Found You), clocking in at a meagre 16 minutes, pretty much guaranteed preclusion from commercial radio play lists. However, the single was played to death on dance floors across Europe and the U.S., and went on to reach #1 on Billboard’s Club Play Singles chart. The song was disco excess to its absolute zenith, in both production and style - it was everything disco’s detractors hated about disco, but conversely it represented all that disco’s devotees loved about it. The other side of the album featured ‘Accidental Lover’, which dragged out to 17 minutes, and was a bit funkier in nature. The album ‘Love & Kisses’ itself sold a respectable number of units to reach #135 on the U.S. album chart. Costandinos released another disco concept album on Casablanca during 1977, this time using the alias of Sphinx. The prolific writer/producer released another album under the moniker of ‘Sumeria’, titled ‘Golden Tears’, followed by the critically acclaimed soundtrack for ‘Romeo & Juliet’, released under his own name. Another highly regarded project under his guidance was ‘Paris Connection’, a collection of reworked covers, including ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ and ‘Eloise’.

Love & Kisses (well Costandinos) then scored the prized gig of recording the theme song from the aforementioned film ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. The song was released as a single, clocking in at just over three minutes in its briefest guise, and quickly became a radio favourite, in addition to being much loved by Club DJs. It was a very catchy number, with a great hook in the chorus, slick production and first rate vocals - including someone who delivers the “Thank God” line in a very Barry White/Isaac Hayes like manner. ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ climbed steadily on the U.S. charts to peak at #22, and likewise found an audience here in Australia (#56).

Soon after Love & Kisses released their second album ‘How Much, How Much I Love You’ (US#85), which possibly because of a label conflict due to its inclusion on the soundtrack, didn’t include ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. Instead the album featured just three tracks, again all marathon in duration. The album’s title track ran for 16 minutes, but apparently suffocated under the weight of its own lavish production. Regardless, ‘How Much, How Much I Love You’ racked up enough sales to peak at #5 on Billboard’s Club Play Singles chart. Costandinos erred by including a 14 minute disco dedication to the fairty tale ‘Beauty & The Beast’, which was arguably just over the top and corny. Possibly to balance out the campy nature of ‘Beauty & The Beast’, the other song included was a more middle of the road pop ballad called ‘Maybe’. Costandinos continued to write and record other work outside of the Love & Kisses project, including two soundtracks ‘Trocadero Bleu Citron’ (1978) and ‘Winds Of Change’ (1979).

For the group’s third album ‘You Must Be Love’ in 1979, Costandinos wound back on the lush orchestration and lavish production arrangements, in favour of some more straight forward and accessible dance-pop music - at least on side one. Side two returns to the long-winded excesses of earlier work, with another 16 minute disco opus for the title track. By 1979 Alec R. Costandinos had become a cottage industry all by himself, with more soundtrack work, his own orchestra, and vocal group (called Birds Of Paris). It appears as if Costandinos spread his creative energies and focus too thinly across all of these projects. His Synchophonic Orchestra project was regarded as ill conceived and out of character, compared to his other work. He was also involved in an ill fated album project with Tina Turner, called ‘Love Explosion’. As the 80s dawned it appeared Alec R. Constandinos had burnt his creative candle at both ends to the point of burning out. He parted ways with the now struggling Casablanca label, and as disco withered on the musical vine amongst the explosion of new music styles, the writer/producer bid a silent retreat from the limelight. A 1991 ‘Greatest Hits’ album brought his work briefly back into focus, but most his work of the 70s era remains obscure and hard to find. But like Giorgio Moroder and Biddu, he should be regarded as a producer of considerable note in terms of the disco phenomenon.

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