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June 2021

Image of Jorja Chalmers

Midnight Train

For a decade or so, Jorja Chalmers has been performing saxophone and keyboards with Bryan Ferry. She’s a dazzling presence on stage, as befits Ferry’s carefully curated and casually sophisticated image, plus her contributions to his concerts can be outsized. During a recent, pre-Covid performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles I attended, the backup singers on the iconic song “Avalon” lost their way in the final section. Ferry looked wide-eyed at Chalmers, who swiftly crossed the stage to guide the singers back in sync. Ferry, clearly grateful for Chalmers’s cool, shrugged off the misstep.

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Image of Walter Egan and Stevie Nicks

Fascination’s Fascination

This year, Walter Egan released an album partly about a crush he had on Pamela Des Barres, a famous rock ’n’ roll “super-groupie” with a long list of friends and lovers in the music, film, and television industries. She came of age on LA’s Sunset Strip, in Laurel Canyon, and on the beach, relishing the full landscape of Southern California sensations. Egan met her briefly in 2001 and then again over a weekend in 2013, noting in his journal at the first encounter that she “was famous for ‘hanging out’ with rock luminaries.”

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Image of Donna Summer on stage

Disco on the stage

At one point in the late 1990s, if there were still cause to doubt it, it became apparent just how forcefully the disco revival had hit the mainstream. When not one but three jukebox musicals where disco music was featured hit London’s West End, the proof was undeniable.

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Image of Donna Summer in her waitress outfit

Working Hard For The Money

In the classic track from Once Upon a Time “Working The Midnight Shift”, Donna Summer’s Cinderella character hits rock bottom. Forced to take on demeaning (but never specified) labour, the song manages to evince a post-Fordist nightmare where the singer has lost control of agency of her body. Her breathy vocals are detached, signifying perhaps an out-of-body experience as she observes her body grinding away, the relentless music suggesting hands in busy, unceasing motion. Tucked away in the middle of the Side 2 suite, it was probably one of the last tracks that would have been considered as having single potential. However, over the years it has demonstrated a lasting cult appeal, attracting covers from Holy Ghost! and occasional Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante.

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Image of Donna Summer

Eurodisco, Europop and Storytelling

In Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of the One, the music ethnologist Rickey Vincent (1996) decries Eurodisco productions for a lack of a cohesive musical song dramaturgy. They were, he says, “producer-made tunes” generally lacking in a sense of sequence, i.e. beginning, build-up, catharsis, release. They relied instead on being simple and catchy enough “to bring rhythmless suburbanites and other neophytes flocking to plush dance clubs at strip malls from coast to coast”. By song dramaturgy, what he is actually talking about, rather than story told through lyrics, is a kind of narrative structure that might be found purely in the music instead.

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Image of Donna Summer

Disco-lit

Progressive rock and disco and on the surface might look like binary opposites, natural enemies even, given the way their audiences were often characterized (one male, white, heterosexual, the other female, black, gay). However, during the second half of the 1970s, it was evident that some of disco’s more adventurous producers were attracted like moths to the same literary flames that inspired many progressive rock concept albums.

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Explore our Pride Month Reading List

Our Pride Month Reading List

Celebrate this Pride Month with some of our favorite queer icons in music! We’ve picked out four classic 33 1/3’s for you, including a behind-the-scenes look at The Raincoats with Jenn Pelly. Browse our full Pride Month Reading List for free digital resources and more discounted books, and check out these featured episodes of the Bloomsbury Academic Podcast for more conversations on gender, sexuality, and identity.

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