There is a lost art form and it is the special disco version. Beloved of James Murphy, and neophytes like my friends and I, these are endlessly strung-out 12″ edits suitable for dancing to in people’s living rooms. Embarrassment doesn’t enter into the equation.
I dragged a few of my favourites into a playlist (see above), usage of which I condone at any party you elect to host. Interspersed between true classics are a few songs imbued with the spirit of the special disco version. You can call this anachronistic, but I prefer “generous”.
Three songs are synecdochical. First, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” is an arpeggiated odyssey, arguably the ur-disco hit in its institution of synthesizers at the foreground of the genre. It’s used to good effect in the David O. Russell film “American Hustle”, its inexorable buildup serving as an ideal backdrop for Amy Adams’s tease-with-no-release. Heard in retrospect, Summer’s multi-tracked vocals (the song was released in the same year as Saturday Night Fever) lend the track a sleazy, high-camp aura—but in 1977 it must have sounded like nothing more than a utopian future.
Second, when I first heard Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops” as a child, I found it almost unbearably sad and bearably mesmerising. I used to have dreams wherein the song was intellectual property, the essence of which subversive forces were trying to steal. With time, the warmth of its spirit has revealed itself, unravelling from a fathoms-deep synthesized bassline and a smattering of bongos atop a rigid LinnDrum rhythm.
Third, a faux-ami, in the shape of Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack”, unabashedly one of the greatest songs of all time. By 1996 vinyl was out and the compact disc was in, but there was still a market for extended edits of three-minute one-hit wonders. A jazzy tinkling of piano, tasteful in the extreme, gently tickles a beat cribbed from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love”. Morrison croons about recapturing a throne; ironically, a year later he would be imprisoned for possession of a firearm, thereafter requiring an actual revanche. Alas, he didn’t have the “comeback song” alluded to in the second verse. Over the course of seven-odd minutes, the song unfurls into a magisterial slow jam; at virtually every party I attend I ensure it gets its moment in the crepuscular sun.