LARRY LEVAN-THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES 1978-1983.

LARRY LEVAN-THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES 1978-1983.

Recently, when I reviewed Salsoul Nation-Mixed and Compiled By Luke Howard, I mentioned how although Salsoul Records was one of the most important labels of the disco era, but no record company had undertaken a comprehensive and extensive reissue of its back-catalogue. However, not long after I wrote that article, I discovered that not one, but two labels are planning to reissue Salsoul’s illustrious back-catalogue. In the UK, BBR Records will begin reissuing Salsoul’s back-catalogue in late August 2012. Starting with albums by The Salsoul Orchestra, Double Exposure, First Choice and Instant Funk, Salsoul fans will at long last, be able to rediscover these albums once again. As if that’s not enough, Ultra Records in the US, are planning a digital release of the Salsoul back-catalogue. With two labels making Salsoul’s back-catalogue again, this is Disco Heaven. So, for those of you who can’t wait until then, I thought I’d review some of the best Salsoul compilations available. The first compilation I’ve chosen is Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, a double-album released in 2005 by Sussd Records. Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 features twenty of the remixes over two discs. On the compilation are remixes of tracks by Loleatta Holloway, The Salsoul Orchestra, First Choice, Aurra, Instant Funk, Skyy and Inner Life. Before I tell you about some of the music on Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, I’ll tell you about the role Larry Levan played in making Salsoul Records the most important label in disco’s history.

By the time Salsoul Records became the label disco lovers know and love, Larry Levan was a twenty-one year old DJ. He’d grown up in Bedford, Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York and had started DJ-ing alongside Frankie Knuckles at the Continental Baths. He got his next break there, when he replaced Nicky Siano who founded The Gallery. From there, Larry started DJ-ing around New York, becoming a regular fixture among New York’s club scene. By 1977, Larry Levan was offered a residency at the club which would become synonymous with him..Paradise Garage.

Michael Brody who owned Paradise Garage, had intended to transform the club into something akin to Studio 54. In the beginning, Larry attracted a following that crossed the social spectrum. Soon, the club became restricted to members only. Membership restricted to a carefully selected clientele, who were allowed through the hallowed doors of what was just a somewhat anonymous building from the outside…until you got inside.

Once inside the Paradise Garage, you were immediately struck by the sheer size of the club. In total, there was twenty-thousand square feet, so this required a very special sound and lighting system. Designed by Richard Long, it featured a Bozak Mixer, plus to help get the sound into every nook and cranny of the club the Levan Horn Bass Speakers. The Paradise Garage wasn’t an easy club to design a sound system for, but Richard Long managed to do so. All that was left was for Larry to do his part, attract the club-goers.

Soon Larry Levan began to become one of the biggest draws in the New York club scene. He would remix tracks live, fusing different parts of track seamlessly. He’d lengthen introductions, mix in instrumental parts, tease dancers with breakdowns and then throw in an accapellas. Essentially, he was taking part of one track, mixing it with another, resulting in a new track being born. This is what he’d go on to do at Salsoul, a year after he’d started DJ-ing at the Paradise Garage.

Although Salsoul had opened its doors as a disco label in 1975, Larry was something of a latecomer when it came to remixing Salsoul’s music. He joined the ranks of DJs like John Morales and Walter Gibbons, and would create some of Salsoul’s best known remixes. One of his first remixes for Salsoul was Instant Funk’s Crying. After that, he worked his way through Salsoul royalty, remixing tracks by the Queen of Salsoul Loleatta Holloway, whose The Greatest Performance of My Life Larry Remixed in 1981. Soon, Instant Funk, Skyy, Logg, Double Exposure,The Salsoul Orchestra and Inner Life were remixed by Larry. Along with Walter Gibbons and John Morales, Larry’s reputation grew.

During a five year period between 1978 and 1983, Larry Levan’s profile as a remixer and DJ soared. Indeed, his profile got so high, that he became the first DJ to release a remix album, Larry Levan’s Greatest Remixes Volume 2. This confused record collectors, as there had never been a Volume 1. Back in 2003, Sussd Records collected twenty of Larry’s Salsoul remixes on Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, which I’ll now tell you about.

DISC ONE.

Among the ten Larry Levan Salsoul remixes on Disc One of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, there’s a mixture of well known and what I’d call leftfield choices. Some of his better known tracks have been eschewed, with compiler Jeremy Newall deciding to introduce listeners to some of his less well known tracks. Tracks like Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Instant Funk’s Crying, Logg’s I Know You Will and Bunny Sigler’s By the Way You Dance all feature. Joining them are Loleatta Holloway’s The Greatest Performance Of My Life, The Salsoul Orchestra’s How High, Aurra’s When I Come Home and Jimmy Castor’s Tellin’ On The Devil. As you can see, there’s plenty of great tracks, so choosing just a few to mention won’t be easy. 

My first choice from Disc One of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, is a Salsoul classic, Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Released in 1981, from Inner Life’s album Inner Life, it has a real timeless sound. It’s hard to believe that it was originally released back in August 1981. This timeless sounding arrangement is combined and a stunning vocal from Jocelyn Brown. Her vocal is diva-esque, as she delivers Ashford and Simpson’s lyrics. Produced by Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, it’s a track that after a subtle, hesitant start, where drums, percussion and then Jocelyn’s vocal combine, literally bursts into life. Drums pound, strings swirl, percussion, keyboards and chiming guitars combine before Jocelyn’s powerful, emotive vocal enters. After that, the track just gets so much better. Handclaps and bursts of backing vocalists join the arrangement, combining power and drama and gives the track its uplifting, joyous and timeless sound.

Bunny Sigler’s By the Way You Dance (I Knew It Was You) was a track from his 1979 album I’ve Always Wanted To Sing…Not Jut Write Songs. Here, Larry takes the original seven minute song and stretches it to just over ten minutes. A pounding, funky rhythm section, percussion and guitars combine, with Larry teasing the listener, extending the introduction. When Bunny’s vocal enters, he delivers it in powerful, punchy bursts, with the rhythm section and percussion for company. Layers of keyboards are added, with backing vocalists added to an arrangement, where Latin, funk and disco are combined. Later, Bunny struts his way through the track, with percussive breaks and the pounding rhythm section playing their part in the track’s inspirational, uplifting and good-time sound. 

First Choice, who featured the vocals of Rochelle Fleming were one of Salsoul’s biggest groups. Double Cross, was a track from their Hold Your Horses album, released in 1979. Written by Norman Harris and Ron Tyson, and produced by Norman Harris this is a classic from First Choice. Just the dramatic soaring vocal opens the track, before grand strings cascade, blazing horns and the rhythm section enter. They provide the perfect backdrop for Rochelle’s vocal, while tight, soulful harmonies accompany her. As her impassioned vocal drops out, a bass pounds, horns rasp, and flourishes of strings are joined by a wistful flute and jazz-tinged guitars from Bobby Eli. All this makes Double Cross one of the best remixes on the compilation. Mind you, Larry had a good starting point, with Rochelle’s stunning vocal and Norman Harris’ peerless production.

On many Salsoul compilations, when a compiler chooses a Loleatta Holloway track, it’s usually either Dreamin,’ Hit and Run or Love Sensation. Not here. Instead, The Greatest Performance Of My Life, a track from her 1979 album Loleatta Holloway. Produced by Floyd Miller, just a wistful piano and subtle guitar accompany Loleatta’s heartfelt vocal, before percussion enters. Soon, the track reveals its secrets, with the rhythm section and guitars joining, as lush strings add to the emotion of the track. When Loleatta’s vocal drops out, Larry builds the track up. Percussion, keyboards, strings and drums are dropped in, just at the right moment. Unlike other tracks Loleatta doesn’t vamp her way through the whole track. Instead she restricts her vamp to later in the track, revealing a much more soulful side to her music.

One of Larry Levan’s best known remixes is Instant Funk’s Crying. It was one of the first Salsoul remixes he undertook, back in 1978 and appeared on their 1979 album Instant Funk. There’s an almost space-age sound to the track, before the pounding drums and powerful vocal enters. The rhythm section are key to the track’s sound, while guitars and keyboards play their parts. Blazing horns signal the arrival of tight, soulful harmonies. Then at last nearly two minutes into the track the growling, emotive vocal enters. It’s well worth the wait, with seven more minutes still to come. They fly by, with Larry’s remix highlighting everything that makes this a classic track. This means the vocal, harmonies, swathes keyboards, punchy, blazing horns and not forgetting the pounding rhythm section. These pieces of the jigsaw are put together by Larry in a way no-one else had thought of, resulting in Salsoul classic.

While I’ve only mentioned five of the ten tracks on Disc One of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, this is no reflection on the quality of the other tracks. It’s just certain tracks chose themselves, with Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, First Choice’s Double Cross and Instant Funk’s Crying three of them. Loleatta Holloway’s The Greatest Performance Of My Life showed a quite different, soulful side to her music. Among the other tracks I could’ve mentioned, were tracks by The Salsoul Orchestra, Logg and Aurra. Really, the quality of remixes was so high that I could’ve chosen nearly every track. Will that be the case on Disc Two of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983?

DISC TWO.

On Disc Two of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, rather than ten separate artists like on Disc One, Instant Funk feature four times and Skyy twice. The four other tracks are from Jimmy Castor, Sparkle, Steve Arrington and Inner Life Featuring Jocelyn Brown. Will the tracks on Disc Two of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 match the quality of Disc One?

Instant Funk don’t just feature once or twice on Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983, but five times. Larry remixed a number of their tracks, including their ten-minute epic I Got My Mind Make It Last Forever. Hailing from New Jersey, Instant Funk backed Loleatta Holloway, The O’Jays and Curtis Mayfield. The track reached number one in the US R&B Disco charts in 1979, and was from their 1979 Instant Funk. I Got My Mind Made Up was sampled by De La Soul on A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays. Over nearly ten minutes, where a proliferation of percussion, a loping bass line, punchy drums and backing vocals, the track combines Latin, funk and disco music. With breathy backing vocals, accompanying a really soulful lilting lead vocal, this was Instant Funk’s biggest hits. Not only that, but it’s a highly memorable, timeless classic from Salsoul label, mixed by Larry Levan.

Skyy’s First Time Around was released and remixed by Larry in May 1979. Opening with just a wandering bass, before a male vocal enters. Then sizzling guitars, swirling strings and pounding drums combine. The arrangement is dramatic, while sweet, sensuous vocals drift in and out of the track. This track has a quite different sound, with rocky guitars providing a contrast to the lushness of the strings and the pounding drums. There’s even synths which occasionally reverberate above the arrangement, as the track reveals its charms and secrets. Although I’ve heard various remixes and edits of this track,  Larry’s version is one of the best versions of a track from one of disco’s biggest groups.

Jimmy Castor never released an album for Salsoul, but several of his tracks became favorites of remixers, including Larry Levan. Probably his best known is It’s Only Just Begun. Stabs of keyboards, bursts of braying horns and the rhythm section give the track a loose, funky sound with a Latin twist. Then when Jimmy’s vocal enters, he delivers it with a swing, perfect for the arrangement. Backing vocalists are added, helping percussion, handclaps and growling horns, creating the loose, catchy sound. This results in a quite un-Salsoul sounding track. There’s neither the big production of other tracks, nor the vocal that grabs your attention. However, it still works, still results in a catchy, some might say irresistible sounding track. Personally, although I appreciate the quality of this tracks, it’s one of my least favourite tracks on the album. My reason for this is its quite un-Salsoul sound. 

Sparkle’s Handsome Man is a track Larry remixed for Salsoul but which was never released by the label. When Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 was released, this was the first time the track was ever available. A pounding bass-line, percussion and handclaps are combined, with guitars and keyboards added. There’s even a slight Chic sound to the track, especially the guitars. The vocal seems a bit weak, sitting far back in the mix. It’s accompanied by backing vocalists and blazing horns. Soon, you realize it’s a track that you want to love, but the vocal lets it down. If someone like Rochelle Fleming or Loleatta Holloway was singing the vocal, it would be a much better track. Instead, it’s good, but not great. 

The last track I’ve chosen to mention is by the group who were my first choice from Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown’s. Make It Last Forever was remixed by Larry in 1981 and is a track Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael cowrote and produced for their Inner Life album. This is a thirteen-minute Magnus Opus, with swathes of cascading strings, joined by the rhythm section and percussion. Then Jocelyn’s vocal heartfelt, impassioned enters, with tight, soulful harmonies accompanying her. Her vocal and the way the strings are used are key to the track. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Jocelyn’s vocal, and are augmented by the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion. As Jocelyn sings “Make It Last Forever,” you wish the track would indeed last forever, given it’s one of Larry best remixes. While it doesn’t last forever, it’s a thirteen minute epic.

On Disc One of Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 there were ten separate artists on the disc. No artist was featured twice. This isn’t the case on Disc Two, where Instant Funk feature four times and Skyy twice. Mind you, given Larry’s association with both groups, this may be understandable. For some people however, they’ll be disappointed by two groups featuring eight times on the compilation’s twenty tracks. It could be argued that maybe, the compilers could have chosen some of Larry’s other Salsoul mixes. Personally, I think as long as the quality is there, then the compiler can be forgiven for featuring Instant Funk and Skyy as often. Having mentioned quality, there’s only one track that didn’t quite work for me. This was Sparkle’s Handsome Man, which previously, had never been commercially available. Everything was in place for a great track, except one thing…the vocal. To me, it was weak, sitting too far back in the mix. If Loleatta Holloway or Rochelle Fleming had delivered the vocal, the track would’ve been far better. The two tracks from Jimmy Castor, who never recorded an album for Salsoul, didn’t have what I’d have what I’d call a Salsoul sound. Despite this, It’s Just Begun is actually a really good dance track , but one of my least favourite tracks on the compilation. I’m not so sold on Tellin’ On The Devil, with its proto-rap vocal. To me, that’s the only weak track on Disc One. Apart from just three tracks, the other seventeen on Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 feature some of his best mixes. Of these tracks, some of them are bona fide Salsoul classics, including Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Instant Funk’s Crying, First Choice’s Double Cros, Skyy’s First Time Around and Inner Life’s Make It Last Forever. They’re closely followed by Bunny Sigler’s By the Way You Dance (I Knew It Was You) and Loleatta Holloway’s The Greatest Performance of My Life. For anyone who loves either disco, Salsoul Records or Larry Levan, then Larry Levan-The Definitive Salsoul Mixes 1978-1983 is well worth buying. It contains some Salsoul classic, classics that Larry Levan played at the Paradise Garage between 1977 and 1987, when he was one of the biggest, highest profile DJs in the history of dance music. Standout Tracks: Inner Life’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, First Choice’s Double Cross, Loleatta Holloway’s The Greatest Performance of My Life and Inner Life’s Make It Last Forever.

LARRY LEVAN-THE DEFINITIVE SALSOUL MIXES 1978-1983.

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4 Comments

  1. Mel

    Great review..You are the hardest working man in the music business..thank you for the reviews!!

    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for that. I do my best and it’s nice when people appreciate my work. I’ve got some great stuff line up over the next few months. Lots of Salsoul for a start, both rereleases of their artist albums, plus a number of their compilations, plus lots of great stuff from other artists as well. This is getting to quite a busy time for labels, with many labels releasing some new albums and compilations. So expect plenty of reviews, plus a few older albums too. Keep looking my blog and you’ll find it all. Thanks again for your kind words. I hope you like the addition of You Tube videos plus the Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Mix Cloud music.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

  2. Jay Negron

    Great Review as always Derek!!!!
    Now being in the thick of that era (’74-’85) I have a few bubbles to burst and some truths to be told.

    In those days record companies did everything and anything to sell their records. And whether they told the truth or not didn’t matter; that was just a side issue…if they could stretch the truth to sell records, then it was ok for them.

    That being said, and not to disparage Larry’s accomplishments in any way, I have found out that he did NOT mix all those tracks he was credited for.
    And included in that fact are some on this CD you reviewed.

    It was known that Larry had a substance abuse problem; that led to him not keeping all his appointments and responsibilities 100%.
    When he was scheduled to be in the studio, many many times he did not show up. The engineer at the studio would do the mix and the label would credit it as a LARRY LEVAN Mix. You can ask engineer Bob Blank how many times this happened.

    Another known fact is that JOHN MORALES mixed all the Patrick Adams / Greg Carmichael produced tracks released at Salsoul…this includes all the INNER LIFE & LOGG releases; (12″s & LPs). I interviewed John on Disco935 and he told us the truth. Later on, Patrick Adams & Jocelyn Brown also concurred.

    This blew my mind when I found out because for years when I seen “THE GARAGE MIX”/ Mixed By Larry Levan on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” I took it as fact…but now I know the truth.

    The record companies (Salsoul especially) wanted to sell records…and Larry was a HOT Item….His name on a record would guarantee immediate sales just over a weekend.

    Instant Funk’s “Got My Mind Made Up” is another one that is in question….Walter Gibbons was said to do that mix and quit just as it was finished (something about he objected to the deep sexuality in the track, because of his new found religious beliefs)….it was said that larry made a few edits but the mix was Walter’s….Walter & Larry are both not with us, so we will never find out.

    Larry’s name was on SO MANY remixes during ’79 and the 80’s…but sadly we will never know what he actually did or not….there are some people STILL with us that have chosen to keep quiet…not to tell us either way…other DJs from The Garage, other engineers in the studio…they know the truth but would rather just let sleeping dogs lie.

    • Hi Jay,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that you added these comments. I had my suspicions about several tracks on the compilation and wondered whether someone would confirm these suspicions. I’d been told this was the case, but not having been around back then, I’d no way to prove it.

      When I listened to the album as I wrote the review, I wondered whether John Morales had mixed some of the tracks. There was a John Morales sound and feel to the tracks I knew John remixed Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael’s productions, but had no way of proving it. I hoped someone would tell the truth about these days. I’d been tipped off by an insider, but wanted this collaborated.

      After a while, you recognise various remixers styles. (Incidentally, I’ll be doing an article on John Morales soon, plus one by Walter Gibbons.) About Walter Gibbon’s mix of Got My Mind Made Up, I had suspicions about the track. It’s just a shame people aren’t getting credit for what are, some classic mixes.

      I’ve never bought into the whole Larry Levan bandwagon, I’ve heard too many stories disproving them. For me, Tom Moulton, John Morales and the late Walter Gibbons are three of the best remixers.
      While people are as you say, “letting sleeping dogs lie,” it means the same myths are being perpetuated. That’s why I haven’t gone overboard about Larry being a genius. True he was a good DJ and remixer, but maybe not the legend some people would have us believe. Thanks for your comments Jay.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

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