Back in the beginning of DJing as an art form, everything was an egg hunt. That’s why it was very fitting that I recently exhumed a record I’ve been hunting for a long time, Chas Jankel’s Glad to Know You, from a local dollar bin littered with filler.
Aside from a possible disco section, dance tracks really didn’t have a place on the racks yet, and it would be decades before the Internet was fast enough to download a wav. file in an acceptable amount of time. It was the job of these early ’80s DJs to find tracks that moved dance floors but many times weren’t designed for mixing or club play. It was a very exciting time – the recently updated Technics 1200 turntable had just replaced the somewhat restrictive rotary pitch knob with a pitch fader capable of stretching +/- 8%, creating a new world of mix possibilities. Additionally, drum machines would begin to fairly ubiquitously replace live drummers, creating the opportunity for a long mix.
And perhaps most importantly, dedicated clubs began popping up in America to accommodate this burgeoning underground culture. None are perhaps more famous than the fabled Paradise Garage in New York City. Indeed, how I came to find out about this incredible record was in researching the patron saint of the club, Larry Levan. Thanks to those hardened hunters like Larry, a scarcely available and unknown 1980 import shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Disco charts after A&M released a 12” version in 1981 where it remained for seven weeks. Interestingly, those charts at the time were not made based on commercial success, but rather from reporting club DJs from various cities around the country. This structure really let underground sounds shine and pointed dance DJs in the right direction.
A&M released the record with three cuts, the first of which – “Glad to Know You” – is probably the best-known track. With lyrics from Jankel’s old Blockheads band mate Ian Dury, the song is a wonderful fusion of disco vibes with the tools of a forthcoming electro era. The funk inspired bassline is undeniably groovy, and the soul-centric organ riff never gets old. There is experimentation with tape delay and sampling, saturated reverb, and synthesizer manipulation. Even 36 years later, this tune would set a club off.
The most futuristic track, however, was of course on the B-side. “3,000,000 Synths” is a true examination of the powers within the Oberheim synthesizers that would become commonplace in the later part of the decade as Miami bass and electro styles began to take off. Those famously wet filters on Oberheim machines were put to the test with massive sweeping resonant pads that pan across the soundscape. Mind melting lines constantly modulate up and down scales and at times there is almost too much noise. The tune is saved from being labeled experimental by a nice and chunky funk bassline with organ stabs and a heavy electro bass arpeggio. There are no lyrics this time around, but instead indecipherable spoken word samples in the background, a stylistic choice still heard in many dance tracks today.
The original 1980 Japanese 7” release only contained the first two tunes, but I’m willing to wager that A&M thought the record was originally too risky for wide success. So the 1981 12” U.S. release contained B2, “Ai No Corrida” much more closely followed the established disco formula. The drum machines and samples were traded for a band and drummer. There are still artifacts of Chaz’s forward thinking style in the notable synth work, but the track is less exciting and in comparison to the other two, feels very safe.
We owe a lot to these early years of people messing about with synthesizers and drum machines. The work from this period jettisoned dance music out of its glitzy disco cage and into a new era that was experimental, different, and welcoming of people belonging to the other. Disco had become chic and commercialized. The exciting music being played at spots like Paradise Garage was paving a way for house music to be born and creating the pillars of acceptance and unconditional love that are held so dear in dance music culture. You’re unlikely to ever find that coveted 7” Japanese import, but there are U.S. copies floating around Discogs that won’t break the bank.
It is so important this music is not forgotten, partly because it’s just as enjoyable and relative today as it was so many years ago. Many thanks due to the beloved Larry Levan and all the other DJs throughout history and today who have pushed the envelope of creativity and artistry and continue to do so.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.