Sunday, March 5, 2017

Love To Love You Baby and the rise of proto-disco

Alright, that's quite enough art-rock. Time to cross the disco Rubicon.

Listening to music from 1976 means working my way through a lot of what I think as proto-disco. The funk and soul rythyms of the mid-1970's are heading towards the insistent pulse of four-on-the floor, the sound towards the ecstatic release of disco, but we're not quite there yet.

Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby is too slow, to sinuous to be disco as it was later codified, but as the herald of both an emergent genre and a new medium (the 12' extended edit) it's second to none. Even if it's barely a wakka-wakka guitar away from soundtracking an adult film.

A thought not remotely helped by the thought of co-writer Georgio Moroder's moustache. Brrr.

Like most works of genius, Love To Love You Baby has absolutely no right to work as well as it does. The song is a deeply silly one seemingly born of the participants mucking about in the studio, with single-entendre lyrics delivered in a breathy whisper by Summer, topped off with additional moaning and groaning, perhaps for clarification purposes for the particularly obtuse.

It takes the previous year's more delicate but thematically similar Inside My Love by Minnie Ripperton and makes it look positively understated. In fact, the BBC refused to play or even initially to promote Love To Love You Baby - that's how outré and scandalous it was deemed to be. In your face, Sex Pistols!

What makes the song more than a Carry On Affair? First and foremost, it's Donna Summer. The purity of her gospel and musical theatre-trained voice means the song gets away with a lot more than it could than with a more grounded vocalist, of course. But the contrast between the voice and the lyric also pushes LTLYB into the innocence/guilt, spirit/flesh, push/pull dynamic that's powered so much great art, high and low.  

Not to mention a whole lot of great dance music over the years.

And then there's the extended 12' version. As a 7' LTLYB is a good novelty record by a great singer, but it's when Moroder and his crew extend it out to nearly twenty minutes of baroque dancefloor commentary, strings, flutes, Europop choirs and breakdowns circling around Summer that the song takes off, transcending its own limitations.

Great songs have a knack of suspending time and whenever I hear the long edit of Love To Love You Baby I never want it to end. Yes, I can feel a new genre coalescing around your ears. Yes, I would love to have been there when people first heard and danced to it for the first time.

But above all, I do not want it to end. I rewind or refresh and play it again.

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