Just over a year ago, in July 2011, Harmless Records released their first installment in their new Mixology series, releasing Mixology-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes. This triple album featured thirty-one tracks from disco’s premier label, Salsoul. Now the Mixology series will return on 20th August 2012, with Harmless Records turning their attention to another of disco’s most important labels SAM Records. Mixology-Sam Records Extended Play is released on 3 different vinyl samplers featuring edits by the likes of Todd Terje, 6th Borough Project, Maxxi Soundsystem & Soul Clap. Before I tell you about the highlights of Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play, I’ll tell you about the history of Sam Records.
When Sam Weiss founded SAM Records in Long Island City, New York in 1976, he was something of a veteran of the music industry. He’d been involved in the music industry since the late forties, when he and his brother Hy founded Parody Records. Although the company wasn’t a commercial success, and soon folded, the Weiss brothers persevered. Eight years later, in 1954, they founded Madison Records, which was primarily a vehicle for releasing R&B records. Soon, Madison was releasing soul, doo wop, pop, rock, soul and gospel. Madison continued right through until the late seventies. By then, Sam Weiss had founded another record label, Sam Records, which he specifically setup to cash in on disco’s popularity.
Having founded SAM Records in 1976, the nascent label released it’s first release the same year. Doris Troy’s Woman and The Ghetto was SAM Records’ first release, although John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s Night and Day gave the label its first hit single, reaching the top five in the US. The following year, SAM Records would release their first twelve inch single, after Tom Moulton had inadvertently invented it.
John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s I Can’t Stop had the honor of being SAM Records’ first twelve inch single. The next couple of years saw SAM Records release some of their most memorable and successful singles. This included releasing Lucy Hawkins’ Gotta Get Out Of Her and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s disco version of the Kojak Theme in 1978. Then came one of Sam Records’ best known tracks in 1979, Gary’s Gangs Keep On Dancing. However, the twelve-inch versions of these singles weren’t released on SAM. Instead, between 1978-1980 Sam Weiss decided to license the tracks to Columbia. For one of SAM’s artists, the Columbia deal was perfect. John Davis and The Monster Orchestra enjoyed commercial successes with Love Magic, a cover of Ashford and Simpson’s Bourgie Bourgie and Baby I’ve Got It. Similarly, Gary’s Gang found commercial success with Let’s Lovedance Tonight and Do Ya Wanna Go Dancin’? Once the deal with Columbia ended, twelve-inch singles were released on SAM Records again.
By the time the Columbia deal had expired in 1980, the disco boom was over. The Disco Sucks had caused disco’s demise. Neither record labels, nor record buyers were interested in buying music by disco artists. So with dance music evolving, so did the music SAM Records released. Among the groups that joined SAM Records and helped establish the label’s new sound were Rhyze and Convertion.
Covertion were produced by Greg Carmichael, with Leroy Burgess lead vocalist and keyboard player. He was joined by various members of his family, including his sister Rennee and adopted brother James Calloway. Convertion’s big hit was Let’s Do It. Sadly, after that, the relationship between Covertion and Sam Weiss broke down. When Convertion left SAM Records, Sam kept the name Covertion, which he owned the copyright to. Having said that, Convertion released one more track, the boogie classic Sweet Thing in 1983. By then, SAM Records had folded. After leaving SAM Records, Convertion became Logg and the Universal Robot Band.
The next two years, 1981 and 1982, proved to be busy and successful years for SAM Records. Among the artists that released tracks were K.I.D’s Don’t Stop and Vicki D’s This Beat Is Mine in 1981. Vicki D’s This Beat Is Mine, which was a worldwide hit. Sadly, her followup Mystery Lover, released in 1982 wasn’t as successful. Former Motown duo Mike and Brenda Sutton would release a trio of tracks for SAM Records. This started with 1981s We’ll Make It. Their other two releases were 1982s Don’t Hold Back and Don’t Let Go of Me, which gave them their biggest hit. It reached number thirty-seven in the US Disco Charts. Along with tracks from Komiko, Monica Neal, Soundtroupe, Kreamcircle and Greg Henderson, the rest of 1982 was just as busy as 1981 had been. Ironically, after two busy years, 1983 would prove to be the year SAM Records closed its doors.
During 1983, SAM Records’ final year in business, the label didn’t release as many releases as previous years. There were releases from Wardell Piper, who was something of a disco veteran, plus releases from Steve Shelto and Tony McKenzie. Klassique’s Somebody’s Loving You proved to be SAM Records’ final release. This was a quality slice of dance music, from a label who’d prided itself on releasing some classic music. After five years, SAM Records closed its doors, bringing to an end Sam Weiss’ career in the music industry…for now.
Six years later, the SAM Records name was revived in 1989, with new music and old favorites released. Two years later, Sam’s son Michael Weiss founded Nervous Records, with SAM Records being incorporated into Nervous Records. Sam came out of retirement, becoming Vice President. They released SAM Extended Play, a double album of some of SAM’s best music. Only a few new tracks were released, with Richard Rogers’ All I Want the label’s final release. This time, Sam Weiss had finally retired, after over forty years in the music industry. However, Sam Weiss’ left his mark on music, with Sam Records one of disco’s most important labels. Thirteen tracks from the SAM Records’ back-catalogue feature on Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
The track that opens Disc One of Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play, is one of SAM Records’ biggest hits, Vicki D’s This Beat Is Mine. Released in 1981, this gave Vicki D a worldwide hit. Pounding drums, percussion and whispered vocals combine as the track starts to reveal its secrets and surprises. A mixture of yelps, handclaps, rhythm section and keyboards combine before Vicki unleashes a sassy, vampish vocal. Sometimes, her vocal is swathed in echo, while the rhythm section add funk and keyboards give the track its boogie sound. For nearly eight minutes, Vicki D’s vocal is at the heart of the track’s success, as producers Gary R. Turnier and Andre Booth fuse funk, disco and boogie. In doing so, they create a track that’s dramatic and catchy, classic dance track.
One of SAM Records’ biggest acts in the label’s early days were John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. They released Up Jumped the Devil in 1977. The version chosen is the 6th Borough Project’s Jumped Up Jam, where the track’s extended to nearly nine minutes. The Monster Orchestra featured M.F.S.B.’s Bobby Eli, percussionist Larry Washington and Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns, plus the Sweethearts of Sigma backing vocalists. Percussion, rhythm section and guitars combine, before John’s dramatic vocal enters. Not only do the Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, soulful backing vocals, but share the lead vocal. Later, Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns play an important part in the track’s bold, dramatic sound. Strings sweep and swirl, while horns rasp and growl. With percussion, pounding rhythm section and a proliferation of percussion combining, one of the highlights of Disc One reveals its drama and majestic sound.
Gary’s Gang released their most successful single Keep On Dancing in 1979. The version chosen is Todd Terje’s Remix. Pounding drums, percussion and swathes of keyboards are combined as the introduction is extended. Todd Terje teases and tantalizes, unleashing a seemingly never ending groove that has you spellbound. You’re swept along atop layer upon layer of keyboards and synths, while a pulsating, punchy beat ushers in the vocal. Even the vocal is used to tease the listener. The same line is repeated, becoming part of the track’s hypnotic and timeless sound, which now includes bursts of whistles, synths and a myriad of percussion. Here, Todd Terje gives the track a complete makeover. However, he had a good starting point with the original track. The result of his remix is a track that has an uplifting, joyous and contemporary sound. It’s hard to believe it’s over thirty years old.
Convertion’s only release for SAM Records was Let’s Do It, released in 1980. From Convertion, the Universal Robot Band and Logg were born. Produced by Greg Carmichael, the track features Leroy Burgess’ lead vocal and virtuoso keyboard skills. His vocal is almost rapped, while his keyboards are central the track’s sound and success. Percussion, rhythm section and then backing vocalists sweep in. They add tight, soulful harmonies, before the keyboards, percussion and rhythm section head for a prolonged breakdown, where delay adds to the drama of the track. During this innovative, percussive heavy track, the keyboards have an Italian Piano House sound. Sam Weiss’ failure to agree a longer deal for Convertion would prove costly. They signed to Salsoul, becoming Logg, who’d enjoy much more commercial success on disco’s premier label…Salsoul.
K.I.D. released Don’t Stop in 1981. The version chosen is the Runaway Remix. From the opening bars, you can hear how dance music had changed since 1979, and the Disco Suck’s backlash. Gone are the lush strings of disco, with a much more electronic sound replacing it. Keyboards, synths and crunchy beats combine, while punchy backing vocals and an almost haunting, sinister vocal soars above the arrangement. Marauding drums and stabs of synths replace the vocal, before it reenters, displaying a different type of soulfulness. Although many people would criticize tracks like this as soulless, to me that isn’t case. Instead the track has a compelling, hypnotic and electronic soulfulness, which thirty-one years later, has aged well.
Mike and Brenda Sutton were originally signed to Motown, but would release three singles for SAM Records. Don’t Let Go of Me (Grip My Hips and Move Me) was their biggest single. Clinton Houlker’s edit of the track features here, and transforms the track with a 21st Century edit. Although I’m far from a fan of edits, I like this one. Pounding drums, squelchy synths and crashing, flying cymbals are combined before the vocal is unleashed. Bursts of the punchy, dramatic vocal are added, as the drama builds. Swathes of synths cascade, as drums crack and pound, testing the tolerance of your speakers. The vocal is a mixture of sass, drama and power. Clinton repeats parts of the vocal, using it to tease the listener mercilessly. He then deploys filters to add to the drama. Having locked into a groove, Clinton exploits it fully and quite masterfully, resulting in new life and meaning being brought into an old track.
It’s as if the best track on Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play has been kept until last. John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s version of the Ashford and Simpson classic Bourgie, Bourgie. This one of the real classics from the SAM Records’ back-catalogue and is one of three tracks from John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. The Catz and Dogz Remix is very different from the original. It’s as if the remixers throw a series of never-ending series of curveballs. They’ve deconstructed, then reconstructed the original, resulting in a spacious, dramatic track, where snippets of the track are unleashed. Bursts of the rhythm section, vocals, percussion and keyboards escape from the arrangement, allowing you to hear snapshots of the original. Then crunchy drums, echoey keyboards and bewitching vocals join the mix. They play their part in what’s best described as an atmospheric, alluring ambient exploration of the original, with elements of broken beat added for good measure. Although described as a remix, so different from the original, it’s more like a reproduction, and something new and quite leftfield.
The thirteen tracks are a mixture of reedits and remixes, which bring a new twist and new life to familiar and classic tracks. Edits can be very much a hit and miss affair. Nowadays, it seems everyone wants to reedit tracks, believing it to be a shortcut to fame and fortune. Usually, these edits are just cut and paste jobs, with effects and filters added. Even supposedly experienced DJs who think edits are a shortcut to doing remixes, lack the required creativity and talent. So, as someone whose heard way too many third rate reedits, and often thinks of reedits as a poor man’s remix, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the reedits on Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play. They were innovative, creative and inventive, breathing new life and meaning to much loved tracks. Similarly, the remixes are just as innovative, creative and inventive, none more so than Todd Terje’s remix of Gary’s Gang Keep On Dancing and the Runaway Remix of K.I.D’s Don’t Stop. One of the most compelling and imaginative remixes is The Catz and Dogz Remix of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s Bourgie, Bourgie. During the track, it’s impossible to second-guess where the remixers are taking the track. You certainly weren’t expecting what Catz and Dogz come up with. You’re taken an a fascinating journey, where surprises aplenty are in-store. After the thirteen reedits and remixes of SAM Records’ classics, compiler Jacques Renault then lays down a seamless, peerless mix of the thirteen tracks. His mixing is smooth, he never misses a beat and seamlessly weaves the thirteen tracks into a majestic musical tapestry. So, just over a year after the release of Mixology-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, comes Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play, the second volume of Harmless Records’ Mixology series, which will be released on 20th August 2012. Like Mixology-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, Mixology-SAM Records Extended Play is an opportunity to revisit and rediscover one of the most important, influential and innovative labels in the long and illustrious history of dance music. Standout Tracks: John Davis and The Monster Orchestra Jumped the Devil, Gary’s Gang Keep On Dancing, Convertion Let’s Do It and K.I.D Don’t Stop.
Published: 23rd August 2012