Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fern Kinney, Odyssey, and Kelly Marie: The British Liked Disco? Follow-up Question: The British Liked Our Disco Leftovers?

If there's one thing I don't associate with disco, it's England.

Big Ben. Tower Bridge. Buckingham Palace. Disco! Nope, don't see it.

And yet, Great Britain was a country in the late '70s. There were people living in it. These people must have experienced disco somehow. Funny, but I'd never thought about it. When I think of late '70s England, I think of punk, New Wave, heavy metal, progressive rock, even some soft rock, but I sure as hell don't think of disco.

Well, not only did the British like disco - they liked certain disco singles more than we did. At some point in the late '70s, record labels must have been pumping out so much disco that they lost track. I mean, how could people ever get sick of disco, right? Well, as it turns out, Britain was picking up our disco scraps.

It's charming, in a way, how quickly disco left the American airwaves. Like an inebriated party guest who still has enough sense to know when he's worn out his welcome, as soon as the calendar struck 1980, almost as if on cue, disco in its pure and original form slinked away from the American charts. Sure, there were a few stray odds and ends like "Funkytown," but almost every "disco" song in the new decade was actually disco with a twist: disco-tinged New Wave ("Call Me"), disco-tinged hard rock ("Another Brick In The Wall, Part II," "Another One Bites The Dust"), disco-tinged soft rock ("Magic," "Woman In Love"), disco-tinged Cosby Rock ("Too Hot," "Give Me The Night"), etc. etc. Disco didn't exactly die. Like Voltemort, it just slipped into an alternate supernatural dimension, waiting for the day when it could be reincarnated in a host body.

And then there was Great Britain ... which was about six months behind. Because in 1980, in the UK, disco wasn't quite yet dead.

Listening to the following three songs is like listening to disco from an alternate dimension. They "sound" like the disco songs you know and love, without actually "being" the disco songs you know and love. Imagine if you programmed a computer to generate "disco songs." The computer would create something like "Together We Are Beautiful," "Use It Up and Wear It Out," and "Feels Like I'm In Love."

Both Fern Kinney and Odyssey were American disco acts who never made it big in their homeland. But alas, the disco gods threw them a bone, and they were able to achieve at least a small slice of polyester immortality across the pond. Kinney's "Together We Are Beautiful," which hit #1 in March 1980, floats along on a swirling, pseudo-Diana Ross cloud.

Meanwhile, Odyssey's "Use It Up and Wear It Out," which hit #1 in July 1980, has more of a latin, "Bad Girls"/"Calypso Breakdown" quality.

However, there were a few British disco hits that were genuinely British in origin. Scotland's own Kelly Marie hit #1 in September 1980 with "Feels Like I'm In Love," a song that was originally written for Elvis Presley, but he croaked before he got the chance to record it (assuming he would have wanted to record it anyway). God knows what that version might have sounded like, but I get kind of an Anita Ward, "Ring My Bell" vibe from Kelly Marie's, with some Moroder-esque laser beam effects thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure which of the song's several YouTube clips I find more hilarious, so I've decided to embed the official video (which comes with a campy naval theme, and most definitely was filmed in Britain), but if your head's still in a spin and your feet still haven't touched the ground, then you might enjoy this video from Top of the Pops. But be warned: if Courtney Love and Boy George had a bastard child, Kelly Marie might be the result.


Herr Zrbo said...

At the 50 second mark, how do those two guys manage to jump while spinning and lend perfectly on that ledge?? HOW?? I call shenanigans.

For a video to a disco song I found it mildly annoying that she kept her hand in her damn pocket for the majority of the time. What is this, casual disco? You couldn't be bothered to boogy down for the shooting of your own video?

That Top of the Pops footage is in surprisingly good condition, it doesn't have any of the normal old video/VCR lines at all.

Little Earl said...

Well, it turns out there's a reason for that. On further inspection, that clip is actually from a Dutch music show called - get this - "TopPop." Damn you, YouTube!!

I didn't even notice that little backwards jump there; good catch. Here's a third clip that might be even tackier than the other two. A couple of other thoughts:

1) I like how all the clips feature the two male back-up dancers, but the backing vocals on the actual recording sound female. I can see this going down at the record label: "Kelly, the glittery black back-up dancers are part of your 'image,' all right?" "But they're not even singing on the..." "I said do it!"
2) There's that part where her voice jumps into this incredibly high-pitched falsetto. It sounds like it was electronically processed a little bit, but I think Kelly might have been freakish enough to do it au naturel.