The 80s were a turning point both socially and artistically. The cold grip of ‘Reaganomics’ was starting to make itself felt in the US (as Thatcherism would indeed assert itself in the UK), and the carefree atmosphere on the club scene was about to receive an unwelcome shake-up with the dawn of the AIDS virus.
In many ways, economic circumstance, as well as creative exploration, meant punching some keys on a machine would prove easier than employing a full band. This simple fact, which would allow popularly available music to be created outside expensive studios, would assert itself in Detroit, Chicago, New York and eventually the whole world. The music featured here was created just prior to this technological and musical explosion; it contains elements of the disco and uptempo R&B of the 70s, and hints at the evolution of house, techno and hip hop that would succeed it.
‘Love Hangover’ (1977) by the Players Association is a good place to start, it being the earliest track here, and the one to retain the strongest link to its disco roots. A staple on dancefloors worldwide with its textbook congas and walking bassline, it still sounds fresh to this day.
‘(King Tim III) Personality Jock’ (1979) by the Fatback Band was a landmark record. King Tim III was not only the track’s title but also the name of the rapper whose voice is heard on the track. His only other appearance on vinyl was the track we feature here, ‘Charley Says (Roller Boogie)’, the rarely heard follow-up in which he was backed by Fatback. The band crop up again on this compilation with ‘Is This The Future? (1983).
Fonda Rae is another key artist from this period, and features twice here; once under her own name, and then again as part of Rainbow Brown. ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’ is probably Fonda’s best known cut. A huge club track, with original copies still exchanging hands for £40-£50, it was co-written by Leroy Burgess, who recorded with another significant group of the era, Aleem. A tough, piano-led groove, augmented by echoed handclaps, chugs away steadily underneath Fonda’s finger-wagging vocal. Bob Blank, who’s recorded everyone from Sun Ra to Mantronix, turns in a wonderfully sparse production, whilst in its phrasing and arrangement, the singalong chorus bears Burgess’ hallmarks to a tee.
‘It Ain’t No Big Thing’ by Rainbow Brown similarly bears the striking imprint of the producer and arranger Patrick Adams, who put this group together in 1981. He released their self-titled LP on his own P&P label, prior to it coming out on Vanguard.
Jimmy Spicer recorded his debut for Dazz Records, ‘Adventures Of Super Rhymes’, in 1979. He had a flurry of early singles including ‘This Is It’, one of the original burgundy-cover Def Jam singles, prior to the label becoming a CBS subsidiary. Def Jam’s owner, Russell Simmons, also shares production duties on ‘Money (Dollar Bill Y’All)’ from 1983. With its instantly recognisable three-note electronic motif, this cut has endured the test of time to become an early hip hop classic, as well as proving sample fodder in various guises.
Despite often being seen as inferior to the 70s in terms of artistic merit and creativity, the early 80s was a melting pot of ideas that eventually spawned whole genres and musical styles. The different crowds that follow house, techno and hip hop might still resort to pointless snobbery nowadays, perhaps unaware that their music of choice shares the same basic DNA. Back then, mingling in the multicultural musical pool of New York, the future was being born.