In 1976, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America),
launched a project to introduce the use of the precious metal called,
“Platinum” onto records. This would mark a ‘new milestone’, as a new
form of identification for records that sold over the one million
‘Disco Lady’ by Johnnie Taylor would make music history becoming the
first single to be certified platinum, selling over one million
copies. Johnnie Taylor signed with Columbia Records in 1975, after his
9 year association with the Stax label, which filed for bankruptcy.
Harvey Scales, a former singer with his group, ‘The 7 Sounds’ (who
regional hit on the Magic Touch label entitled, "Get Down" in the
summer of 1967), presented a demo marked, "Disco Baby" to Detroit
producer, Don Davis. Don wrote and produced many of Johnnie Taylor's
hits at Stax from 1967-1975.
The demo track featured music from members of George Clinton's
Parliament-Funkadelic clan. Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Ramon “Tiki”
Fulwood on drums, and Bootsy Collins on bass. After hearing the hot
track, Don began immediately incorporate the lyrics. His inspiration
was drawn from an African dancer he had seen on a trip he took to
Spain. The dancer would get out on the middle of the floor and the
whole place mesmerize with her moves. While writing the lyrics,
another inspiration came to his mind, the classic Curtis Mayfield 1961
composition hit, “Gypsy Woman”. In the song, a dancer would hypnotize
everyone with her gyrations around the campfire, including Curtis. Don
would later add horns arranged by legendary Motown producer, David Van
DePitte, who in 1971 produced Marvin Gaye's landmark LP “What's Going
The background vocals were added by a session group called ‘Brandy’,
along with Telma Hopkins, from Tony Orlando & Dawn. Telma was a studio
session vocalist in Detroit, with a group called ‘The Debornaires’ in
the 60's throughout the 70's. They had backed up such artists as,
Spyder Turner on his 1967 B side hit classic Stand By Me, " You're
Good Enough For Me", Jerry-O's "Karate Boogaloo", Isaac Hayes' “Theme
From Shaft”, and session background work for all of the artists
featured on Holland-Dozier-Holland's Hot Wax/ Invictus label.
Afterwards, Johnnie laid down his vocals; Disco Lady was recorded at
the United Sound Studio, in Detroit.
Released in early January of 1976, the song hit No 1 on the R&B
Singles charts on March 13 for 6 weeks and No 1 on the Pop Singles on
April 3 for 4 weeks. His LP “Eargasm” hit No 1 on the R&B LP charts
and No 5 Pop LP. Various radio stations around the country banned the
song, because some disc jockeys thought the lyrics were ‘too
suggestive’. It didn't matter to the public because ‘Disco Lady’ sold
two million copies worldwide, making it the best selling single in
Johnnie Taylor reportedly was disappointed after the final mix was
released, but after becoming the first artist in recording history to
receive a platinum award on April 25 of that year, he quickly changed
his mind. ‘Disco Lady’ paved the way for Johnnie's label mates, The
Manhattans’ ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye”, received a platinum award for the
best selling single in music history.
During this time, there was a backlash from the Black Radio Community
pop commercial radio for not including R&B records on their play list.
The claim was pop radio purposely eliminated R& B music from their
format because of the sound not being ‘commercial’ or ‘pop’ catering
to an audience of ‘easy listeners’. The terminology coined about this
occurrence in Black Music of this time was called “BLACKLASH”.
Inevitably, songs like "Disco Lady", helped break the mold of the
listeners ear for the acceptance of good R&B dance music on
commercial/pop radio no matter what race the artist happens to be.
To Johnnie and P-Funk, we music fans are forever in your debt for
blessing us with a great hypnotic track, transforming our ‘eargasms’
to a mind blowing musical extravaganza. ...And as for all of you
'disco ladies' in tow, continue to keep shakin' it Up, shakin' it
down, movin' it in and movin' itround.......Owwwww!!!
Chancellor of Soul