'For Discos Only' Is the Rare Archival Release You Can Truly Boogie To

With For Discos Only, Craft Recordings have created a multi-disc mirrorball extravangza that simply cannot be beat in terms of groovy fun.

For Discos Only: Indie Dance Music From Fantasy & Vanguard Records
Various Artists

Craft Recordings

24 August 2018

Believe it or not, "disco" is subjective.

When one hears the term, one's mind can be forgiven for immediately thinking along the lines of Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer or the Bee Gees or the Village People. Disco was a movement, and a rebellious one at that, defining the American 1970s by initially being a haven for the queer-minded before being co-opted into an unstoppable commercial force that defined so much pop radio during the latter half of the decade. High-hat-driven percussion and sawing string sections meshed with rhythmic guitar strums and stunning vocal turns, creating an atmosphere that was rarely anything but joyous, sometimes even euphoric.

Yet disco's popularity -- driven by both novelty numbers as well as expressive and considered artistic masterpieces -- was so easy to duplicate that before long, the market was oversaturated, leading to overstuffed radio playlists and a homophobic backlash by the start of the '80s. Its end was so abrupt and definite that "disco" soon became a catchall term to define the sound of an era.

However, the thesis remains the same: disco is subjective.

There are fans who love the commercial smashes and celebrate producers and songwriters like Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers and Barry Gibb as geniuses (and rightfully so), but there even those that remain disco purists, people who celebrated the scene's genesis, experiments, and specialty labels (like the empire that was Casablanca Records, covered extensively here by PopMatters' own Christian John Wikane). Every region put their unique spin on the scene, and San Francisco's Fantasy Records and New York City's Vanguard Records each had their distinct disco-fied sounds they were curating.

So give credit to Craft Recordings to pour over the archives from these two coastal dance factories and compile them together in the three-CD/five-LP compendium For Discos Only: Indie Dance Music From Fantasy & Vanguard Records. The "indie" portion of the title refers to the fact that a majority of these songs are not known, even if they come from artists who were huge in the scene. Most prominent among them is Sylvester, whose U.S. Top 20 hit "Dance (Disco Heat)" is featured here, but, like a majority of the tracks on this compilation, comes in a remix/extended form. Virtually all of these dancefloor workouts are pulled from 12" singles, meaning that the average run time of all the songs here is something over six minutes. Yet, given this is a compilation of forgotten and neglected dance numbers, these mixes work in For Disco's Only's favor, emphasizing grooves and a good time instead of being a mere mirrorball artifact.

Where to start with the joys contained within? While there are recognizable names ranging from Ike & Tina Turner to Carol Williams to Two Tons O' Fun (who later went on to become "It's Raining Men" singers the Weather Girls, but were initially Sylvester's backup singers), so many of the album's highlights come from lesser-known but well-respected producers. Sylvester collaborator Patrick Cowley is considered an electronic music pioneer, working as both a producer as well as a composer for gay adult film soundtracks (a reissue campaign of some of his forgotten works kicked off in earnest in 2009). The deep synth waves and syncopated bass tones he achieves with his megamix of Two Tons O' Fun's "I Got the Feeling" makes for one the album's best discoveries, right next to Shep Pettibone's remix on Carol Williams' erotically charged "No One Can Do It". Pettibone is cutting his teeth with this sparse, funky little number, as he later went on to work with everyone from Madonna to Whitney Houston to Janet Jackson.

Throughout the rest of For Disco's Only's runtime, we are treated to everything from more band-oriented efforts (like on The Blackbyrds' sly "Don't Know What to Say") to mid-tempo funk experiments (the lovely, changing "Love Hangover" by the Players Association) to keyboard workouts that more closely resemble '80s synthpop aesthetics than they do traditional disco styles (Roni Griffith's quirky "Mondo Man"). Across these 31 curated selections, there truly is something for every disco-lover here, as the track sequencing ensures that there is a constant groove that never gets too stale.

With its roots in funk and soul but its influence felt in virtually every aspect of contemporary dance music, "disco" is too broad a term to define what this movement truly was. It's best experienced in its many subgenres, one-offs, and hard-to-define hybrid numbers. "Disco" is a large umbrella that housed a lot of culture-changing thoughts and truly revolutionary production and songwriting innovations. Truly, "disco" is subjective, and compilations like this just show how diverse, daring, sexy, and fun this genre can be.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.