Curatorial Casablanca

by Christian John Wikane

20 August 2009


Vernon Burch, Platypus and more

Vernon Burch: “Get Up” (Get Up, 1979)
Generation X-ers take heed: “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite owes everything to “Get Up” by Vernon Burch. Not that you would know that by looking at the album credits on their World Clique (1990) album, where the name of the former sideman of the Bar-Kays is conspicuously absent. If you didn’t know, you know now and you might be speechless when you listen and compare. The percussion break, the din of whoops and hollers, and a “whistle” effect that peters down and swoops back up were all liberally borrowed by Deee-Lite. (The bass guitar hook was swiped from “Bring Down the Birds” by Herbie Hancock.) They got a number four pop hit, Vernon Burch faded into semi-retirement.

Get Up was the second of three albums Burch released on Chocolate City. Sporting a day-glo yellow sweater and hot pink pants, Burch carries the gaiety of “Get Up” over to the album cover. Though not a major hit, “Get Up” nonetheless remained a staple of discriminating DJs over the years before Deee-Lite appropriated the track. Get Up was released on CD in Japan in 2006 but it is an expensive find.  These days, Burch is better known as Reverend Vernon D. Burch and his performances are mostly behind the pulpit, where he and his wife, Glenda, give rousing sermons. He may be light years away from the Bar-Kays, Chocolate City, and “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman One Half Man)” (a cut off Get Up) but on record, Burch still gets the party started.


Platypus: “Dancing in the Moonlight” (Platypus, 1979)
Platypus began as a progressive rock band with an R&B undertone. The Dayton, Ohio-based group landed in Los Angeles to pursue a record deal with Motown. When that didn’t materialize, they toured the world on the strength of their outstanding live show. After seeing the group perform in Osaka, Japan, Roberta Flack committed to help promote and mentor the band. Leaving Los Angeles to return back to Dayton so they could be closer to the New York-based Flack, Platypus wrote and recorded the songs that would furnish their Casablanca debut.

On a fateful trip to Manhattan, Arthur “Hakim” Stokes, one of the group’s vocalists, and the late Larry Hines, who played lead guitar in Platypus, wrote the lyrics and music to “Dancing in the Moonlight”. Hines initially meant to mock what he saw as the prevalence of disco, which replaced bands like Platypus as the primary source for people’s entertainment. Once the group recorded the track, however, they all took a vigorous and virtuous approach to the music. The strength of the song is in all the carefully conceived details, the way the vocals are stacked, the chord changes, the transition from the verse to the chorus when the song flies into a stratosphere of disco euphoria. “Is it any wonder I love dancing in the moonlight”, the band croons in falsetto over strings courtesy of the Cincinnati Philharmonic. In just a matter of years, Platypus transitioned from performing “Round About” by Yes to creating an unsung disco classic. Though their self-titled debut did not launch any major hits, and the group stayed together for only one subsequent album, the members of Platypus are currently planting the seeds for a reunion.


Tony Rallo & The Midnite Band: “Fais L’Amour” (Burnin’ Alive, 1979)
Discussing the oeuvre of Alec R. Costandinos on Casablanca could easily supply pages of editorial space. Between 1977-1981, Costandinos produced more than a dozen albums. About one-quarter of those albums billed his name while others were studio projects with monikers like Sphinx, Sumeria, Paris Connection, and, the most popular of all, Love & Kisses. Most all of his releases featured the distinct Costandinos sound of ornately produced string sections that were as much a character to his work as the choir of female session singers who often populated his records.

After exploring everything from the Bible to Shakespeare to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Costandinos produced more straightforward disco, pop, and soul acts, including an album by Tina Turner on United Artists, Love Explosion (1979). The Costandinos touch is all over Tony Rallo & The Midnite Band’s Burnin’ Alive. Though the quality of songwriting varies across the album’s five five-minute plus songs, there a few that transport the listener to a climate not unlike the habitat of the ibis, which comprises the logo that graced the back covers of Costandinos productions. “Fais L’Amour” generates the most excitement. The glossy pop-funk yields to a disco Shangri-La where The Midnite Voices dreamily intone, “You can do it”. No lead vocal is credited on the track but chances are the late Arthur Simms, a regular session vocalist with Costandinos, is the voice behind the brassy falsetto. Casablanca had its share of obscure albums. Three decades later,Burnin’ Alive and the exquisite “Fais L’Amour” should be excavated from the vaults. 

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