Milk Crate Crawler: West End Records № 1
I've talked quite a bit about record labels in my artist-focused D posts, I've noticed, so it only makes sense to commence a new series of pieces that centers on those companies instead of simply dwelling on the singers and groups that resided on their rosters.
While I'm starting with a disco label, I can't promise I'll stick to that genre or even the broad category of dance music. Bear that in mind.
West End Records was founded in 1976 by disco pioneers Mel Cheren (R.I.P.) and Ed Kushins who named it after the area in which their office was located (the Manhattan theater district). (Strangely enough, many disco "institutions" were located in or around the building West End operated out of, most notably Studio 54.)
The label is typically―if not famously―associated with two things: First, the great DJ and producer Larry Levan, and second, the popular dance club Paradise Garage. Levan produced, mixed, remixed, and edited for all sorts of people in the 70s and 80s (Salsoul Records' artists being one of his main clients), but West End historically comes off as being his home―so let's start with some Levan!. [Note: West End Records only officially closed its doors in 2007 after Cheren's unfortunate passing. Legal and personal arguments, inner-turmoil episodes, and general disagreements, though, crippled the company through the 80s and 90s.]
With W.E., Levan did a load of work with Taana Gardner, a disco singer who had a slightly thinner yet throatier timber than most vocalists of the time who used their talents in flashier ways, whipping notes all over the place and adding frills to just about every syllable. Two of my favorites are 1979's "Work That Body" and the buttery 1981 jam "Heartbeat." Gardner's material tended to be of the slower variety, which I think is great considering the fact that so much of 1970s disco tends to be of the hyper-active variety. Gardner's stuff is normally (always?) below 100 bpms in terms of tempo.
Karen Young was another W.E. singer who actually scored the company their best-selling 12" with "Hot Shot," a much more rhythmic, pumped-up, bass-heavy all-night-boogie-inducer that will get in your ear and never leave. I love how it incorporates this really unusual swing jazz instrumental track. It's no wonder that it sold over 800,000 copies. (That's a lot for a disco single, but many, many singles hit that mark over the years. You can guess why so many record stores, garage sales, and thrift shops are absolutely loaded with disco!)
I'll sign out for now, but rock the Mondays away to these four tunes and expect more West End samples soon enough.
Taana Gardner - Work That Body
Taana Gardner - Heartbeat
Taana Gardner - Heartbeat (Party Mix)
Karen Young - Hot Shot