The year opened with classic disco sounds gaining national notice in the clubs and on pop radio. Gloria Gaynor's full album side "Never Can Say Goodbye" medley led the way for disco medleys to come. LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade," co-written by Bob Crewe, producer of classic Four Seasons hits, and Kenny Nolan, was an instant classic. Shirley Goodman, of the 50's duo Shirley and Lee, released a disco smash with "Shame Shame Shame," written by Mickey & Sylvia's Sylvia Robinson who would later help start the hip hop revolution as co-owner of Sugarhill Records.
B.T. Express - "Express" (Scepter)
B.T. Express, originally called Brooklyn Trucking Express, were superstars of early disco. "Express" was produced by group member Jeff Lane and mixed by Tom Moulton. The song is classic orchestral disco with horns, strings, flute, and even train whistles.
Carl Douglas - "Blue Eyed Soul" (20th Century Fox)
Jamaican born Carl Douglas stormed world pop charts in 1974 with the #1 smash "Kung Fu Fighting" reportedly recorded in 10 minutes with Indian born producer Biddu. He failed to have a major pop follow up, but "Blue Eyed Soul" was an additional hit with disco audiences.
Carol Douglas - "Doctor's Orders" (Midland International)
Carol Douglas had a range of experience on stage, in small film and TV roles, and as a member of the vocal group the Chantels. She went solo in 1974 and quickly had the hit single "Doctor's Orders." The song had been a hit in the UK for Sunny of Sue and Sunny. Carol Douglas was recruited for the American version which became a disco landmark. The song was produced by an uncredited Meco Monardo. Listen for the "bubble guitar" and "galloping congas" effects that would soon become common in disco records.
Al Downing - "I'll Be Holding On" (Chess)
Prior to his emergence as one of the early disco stars, Al Downing, aka Big Al Downing, was best known for being one of the few black artists who was popular with country music fans. His big disco hit "I'll Be Holding On" was recorded for Chicago's legendary Chess label.
Gloria Gaynor - "Never Can Say Goodbye" (MGM)
"Never Can Say Goodbye" was first recorded by the Jackson 5 in 1971 and became a #2 pop smash. However, it was Gloria Gaynor's version, recorded as a disco track, that became legendary. Tom Moulton was hired to create a disco mix out of the first side of the Never Can Say Goodbye album letting the songs segue from one to another making this one of the very first true disco albums.
Jimmy Castor Bunch - "E-Man Boogie" (Atlantic)
Jimmy Castor is best remembered for a unique brand of funk and disco novelty music. His biggest pop hits were "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" and "The Bertha Butt Boogie." "E-Man Boogie" is a more straightforward proto-disco party song. The track includes impressive rock-oriented guitar and funky percussion.
Joneses - "Sugar Pie Guy" (Mercury)
The Joneses were an R&B vocal group from Pittsburgh. However, their style of vocal harmonies was not dissimilar from the Philadelphia International sound of groups like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
Labelle - "Lady Marmalade" (Epic)
Labelle began their career in the 1960s as a somewhat ordinary girl group. However, their career from the early 1970s onward would be anything but ordinary. The trio had a penchant for wearing futuristic space inspired costumes onstage and blending rock with R&B. In 1974 they headed to New Orleans to record with legendary producer Allen Toussaint. One product of that experience was "Lady Marmalade," an impossibly funky ode to a New Orleans prostitute. It was co-written by Bob Crewe, best known for work with the Four Seasons, and Kenny Nolan, a writer of a number of early disco classics who later had a big solo pop hit with "I Like Dreaming." After Labelle, Patti Labelle and Nona Hendryx would go on to fascinating solo careers.
Van McCoy - "African Symphony" (Avco)
Van McCoy's first big music industry breakthrough came working as a songwriter with the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the 1960s. He wrote for artists such as the Shirelles, Jackie Wilson, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Van McCoy began recording as a solo artist in 1966 but failed to earn commercial success. "African Symphony" was his first disco hit and it uses a lush orchestral sound. It would not be long before Van McCoy recorded "The Hustle," the song which would give him a permanent place in music history.
The Moments and the Whatnauts - "Girls" (Stang)
The New Jersey based Moments were a highly successful R&B vocal group of the 1970s. Three of the members would later have success recording as Ray, Goodman, and Brown. The Whatnauts were based in Baltimore. The two groups joined together for "Girls," a slick string-filled early disco hit.
Gene Page - "Satin Soul" (Atlantic)
Gene Page is best known for his work with R&B legend Barry White. However, his lush orchestral arrangements were feature on work by a wide range of other artists beginning with the accompaniment for the Righteous Brothers' 1964 classic "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." "Satin Soul" is Gene Page on his own arranging and conducting lush orchestral disco.
Philly Devotions - "I Just Can't Say Goodbye" (Columbia)
The Philly Devotions were one of the vocal groups that helped define the Philly Soul sound. "I Just Can't Say Goodbye" is smooth disco featuring a stunning falsetto lead.
Jimmy Ruffin - "Tell Me What You Want" (Chess)
Jimmy Ruffin is the older brother of David Ruffin of the Temptations. He became a solo R&B star with his recording of "What Becomes Of the Brokenhearted in 1966. However, he found it difficult to retain consistent success. "Tell Me What You Want" is an early disco classic. The listening link below is a Tom Moulton remix of the song providing an outstanding example of early disco mixes with a lengthy instrumental introduction.
Shirley and Company - "Shame Shame Shame" (Vibration)
Shirley Goodman, the lead vocalist of Shirley and Company, was a veteran of 1950s rock and roll. As one half of Shirley and Lee she recorded "Let the Good Times Roll," a #1 R&B smash in 1956. She was persuaded by Sylvia Robinson, fomerly of Mickey and Sylvia of "Love Is Strange" fame, to record the vocal for "Shame Shame Shame" and release it on her label Vibration. It was a disco smash. Sylvia Robinson would later have a major role in the early success of hip hop as the head of Sugar Hill Records.
Sister Sledge - "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me" (Atco)
The members of Sister Sledge were still teenagers when they recorded this single. It is pure Philly soul. The sisters would become even better known later in the decade with their landmark "We Are Family."
The Stylistics - "Hey Girl, Come and Get It" (Avco)
The Stylistics were one of the most successful soul groups of the early 1970s and a key act in the development of Philly soul. The song "Hey Girl, Come and Get It" is almost hypnotic in its endless early disco groove.
Temptations - "Happy People" (Gordy)
The 1975 version of classic Motown vocal group the Temptations released the album A Song For You. One side of the album was uptempo and the other focused on ballads. "Happy People" is one of the uptempo cuts and featured the Commodores as the funky backing band.
Betty Wright - "Where Is the Love" (Alston)
Betty Wright was a pioneer of the Miami soul sound who had a major impact on the development of the disco sound that would emerge out of the city. She first hit the charts as a teenager in the 1960s when she also helped fellow Miami artists George and Gwen McCrae to recording contracts with Henry Stone, best known as owner of TK Records. "Where Is the Love," with its prominent horns, was an early disco smash and earned a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.