Various Artists: Ultimate Disco: 30th Anniversary Collection

Jordan Kessler

Various Artists

Ultimate Disco: 30th Anniversary Collection

Label: Universal Music Enterprises
US Release Date: 2003-04-15
UK Release Date: Available as import

Is the "30th anniversary" of disco worth celebrating? Undoubtedly. But not by buying this double-disc set. Ultimate Disco, produced by the Canadian company Madacy Entertainment for the "Special Markets" division of the mega-label Universal, is a budget-bin release masquerading as a full-price, serious compilation. It has liner notes and a slipcase, but no serious aficionado would consider it the "Ultimate" disco collection.

Some of the 30 tracks included here are not even really disco. "What a Feeling", Irene Cara's hit from Flashdance, and "Celebration", the Wedding anthem by Kool & the Gang, are more '80s dance-pop than disco. "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, and "Dancing Machine", by the Jackson 5, are more soul than disco. Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie", the Commodores' "Brick House", and the Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good to You" are more funk than disco.

Just as there are a number of tunes here that do not really belong on a disco compilation, there are many, many important disco songs that are missing. One of the major problems, if not the major problem, with producing a compilation like this one is licensing. Disco was recorded by artists on a variety of labels, many of them not owned by Universal, the company behind this two-disc set. Where on this compilation is the greatest disco band by far, Chic? What about their sweet-singing friends, Sister Sledge? Music from these seminal groups is not here because Universal does not own it and, presumably, did not want to pay Time-Warner to use it. The same goes for music by artists -- including Earth, Wind & Fire, the Emotions, the O'Jays, and Cheryl Lynn -- who recorded for labels owned by Sony. In at least one important case, Universal Special Markets, the imprint responsible for this compilation, did not even include the music of a group, the Bee-Gees, that did record for a label owned by Universal.

Though some of the disco numbers here are still fantastic -- Carl Carlton's "Everlasting Love", for one -- others on this compilation are duds. Andy Gibb's sappy "Shadow Dancing" only reminds me of the absence of his three brothers, the Bee-Gees, on this compilation. I can also live without Santa Esmeralda's disco cover of the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". "A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy was pure cheese when it appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and it remains just that.

Finally, many of the disco songs on these two discs are overplayed. Before buying this set, ask yourself this question: "How many more copies of 'The Hustle', 'Last Dance', and 'Y.M.C.A.' do I need in my collection anyway?"

If you are looking for better quality disco compilations, check out Rhino's Disco Years series, Rhino's Disco Box, Sony's Last Days of Disco soundtrack, Salsoul's Larry Levan's Paradise Garage, and Salsoul's The Original Salsoul Classics.





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