Trips, Hip and Not So Hip

I was a big fan of Soul Train. It ran on Saturday afternoons on one of the TV stations we could get from Rockford, Illinois, and I must have started watching it as 1973 turned to 1974. The first thing I dug about it was the theme song, and as soon as I started hearing it on the radio, I ran out to the record store to buy the single: “T.S.O.P.” by MFSB (which probably should be on my Desert Island list but isn’t). I kept watching because it seemed like there was always somebody on the show I wanted to see. Earlier this year, VH1 ran a documentary called Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the show’s debut, and Time-Life released a nine-disc DVD best-of available only by mail. Now, Time-Life has boiled down the highlights to a three-DVD set called The Best of Soul Train, which will be sold in retail stores. Here’s a list of the seven best on-screen moments from the set, chosen by Soundspike.

Most of the performances on the Soul Train DVDs are from the 1970s. By the end of that decade, of course, soul music as the world had known it since the 1960s was pretty much dead, replaced by disco, which itself was about to be supplanted by rap and hip-hop, which were percolating beneath the surface as early as 1979. Back up at the surface, however, disco was going strong with no end in sight. People you’d never imagine going disco got into it: KISS recorded “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” Elton John made Victim of Love, the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” and Paul McCartney’s “Goodnight Tonight” were remixed for club play, and then there was The Ethel Merman Disco Album.

I have always believed the latter to be the best evidence that absolutely everybody was bitten by the disco bug. The other day, however, I was reminded of a record that might prove the point even more effectively. In late 1978, Dolly Parton was on a streak of three straight Number-One singles on the country charts, each of which had crossed over to pop—and “Here You Come Again” had climbed all the way to Number Three. Given that level of success, you wouldn’t expect a star of Dolly’s magnitude to have to fiddle with disco, but that would be a misjudgment of the historical moment in the winter of 1979. And so, this, which rose to Number 25 in March during a 14-week run on the Hot 100. (H/t Vinnie Rattolle’s, where you can download Dolly if you want.)

On an entirely non-soul/disco related topic: One of the first and most famous bootlegs was Bob Dylan’s Great White Wonder, which first began circulating in 1969. Many of the tracks, alternates and works in progress, got official releases on The Basement Tapes and elsewhere, but the original Wonder remained fairly scarce—until now. Philip Cohen has recreated the whole thing at ROIO.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Stop back tomorrow, when we’ll set the Wayback Machine for a pivotal day in 1970.


2 responses

  1. As a whole, disco never made much of an impression on me, so I don’t have any legitimate defense in admitting that I actually bought the pink vinyl ‘Dance With Dolly’ 12-inch single. The $2.98 Musicland price sticker on its shrink wrap is the smoking gun. I must have bought it for the colored vinyl, rather than the novelty disco angle. Please forgive me.

    On the other hand, I *gladly* bought Dolly’s 1985 #1 country single, “Think About Love.” The Dave Thoener remix for the vinyl 45 sounded hotter than all-get-out through the Optimod audio processing at the AM country station I worked for at the time. Sadly, the wimpy album version is all that has ever seen CD release.

  2. I’ll cop to actually liking “Baby, I’m Burnin’ ” Of course, that could be because it was the only song I could possibly hear — and did hear — on country AND disco stations in spring 1979. Not Dolly’s best, far from it, but a few minutes of fun — sure. (As opposed to her ’90s flirtations with dance music, which are just painful to listen to.)

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