Written for Collector’s Choice Music, @2008
The identity of the beguiling vocalist Miss X may never be known, but this smoking Eurodisco tribute to Pink Floyd, cut in 1977, featured some of the most prominent names in the French musician’s union — including a future Oscar winner.
Rosebud was never a real group, of course, but the creative, cohesive sound of Discoballs didn’t just happen organically in the studio. Nor was it anonymous.
Long before he won the Academy Award for his 1996 score to Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, composer Gabriel Yared was an in–demand arranger and orchestrator. Discoballs was one of his more successful projects in this era (the Lebanon–born Yared would, shortly, go on to write the music for Jean–Luc Goddard’s Every Man For Himself, and Jean–Jacques Beineix’ Betty Blue, for which he won several prestigious French cinema awards).
Yared eventually became one of moviedom’s most popular continental composers; his other best-known works include The Talented Mr. Ripley, City of Angels, Cold Mountain, The Lover and The Next Best Thing.
Although Alain Puglia and Thierry Perret — collectively calling themselves ARENA — were given production credit, session guitarist Claude Engel believes they were merely the project’s financial backers. Engel, who was among the studio musicians assembled at Paris’ Le studio de la Grande Armée, remembers Yared both arranging and producing the eight Rosebud dance–a–thons.
Engel and Rosebud bassist Jannick Top had spent much of the 1970s performing with Magma, the French progressive rock outfit founded and fronted by eccentric drummer/composer Christian Vander. Saxophonist Alain Hatot had played on a string of Elton John albums, including Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
Andre Sitbon and Jean Schultheis were top session drummers; Schultheis, also a pianist, would later have a second career as a singer/songwriter (“Confidence pour Confidence”).
And Georges Rodi, whose Polymoog and ARP synthesizer solos and fills give Discoballs a bubbling river of hot blood to sail on, has collaborated and performed with Yared over the years, on a number of film projects.
“I have a love of composing for dance choreography,” Yared said later. “More so than for cinema, this medium satisfies my needs to compose for the illusion, the imagination.”
Of course, illusion and imagination were key elements in the production of disco music, which by 1977 had wrapped its labyrinthine arms around Europe and was snaking its way into the workaday American psyche — ’77 was the year of Saturday Night Fever, when throbbing, pulsating, high-energy dance music became more than just the province of big–city clubs. That year, disco became a blue-collar phenomenon.
Everybody, it seemed, got into the act. The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and even the Grateful Dead issued full–throb disco records; even Ethel Merman trotted out “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and the rest of her Broadway chestnuts for high-energy runs ’round the dancefloor.
In ’77, though, it was unlikely that the canonized Pink Floyd, then riding high on the success of the Animals album, would be next in line at the disco (“Another Brick in the Wall,” with its uptempo, staccato guitar–driven backbeat, wouldn’t come along until 1980).
Enter Gabriel Yared and Rosebud.
Rosebud’s adrenalized take on Roger Waters’ “Have a Cigar” was, improbably, an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic. To this day, the 12-inch single mix is prized by collectors and considered a high-water mark for nascent electronica (interestingly, the track’s most prominent feature is Engel’s rippling lead guitar, which he says was made up in the studio, during the session).
“Money,” too, was a club smash. In 1977, this Dark Side of the Moon track was, to the average radio listener, probably Pink Floyd’s best–known song.
Dancers the world over doubtless had a ball singing “Goody Goody Goody Bullshit!” along with Miss X as they tripped the strobe light fantastic to Rodi’s wobbly synthesizer lead, Yared’s clavichord runs and Engel’s serpentine guitar chords.
Early Floyd, in the form of Syd Barrett’s psychedelic pop masterpiece “Arnold Layne,” got a heavy duty funk workout from Rosebud – the closest thing to a straight-ahead pop song on Discoballs, it features a fierce and frenetic sax solo by Hatot, and Stevie Wonder-esque electric piano from Rodi.
Perhaps the most fascinating cut on Discoballs is its closer, the “Main Theme” from the film More (co– written by Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright).
Here, Yared displays his burgeoning talent for arranging disparate musical elements – in this case, a funk beat, a lengthy melodic solo, world–music vocalizing and windy sound effects – into a beautifully cohesive, and cinematic, whole.
Cinematic? Clearly, he was thinking ahead.
Discoballs is more than a time capsule, more than state-of-the-art Eurodisco, circa 1977, and more than some quirky little blip on the map of passing Pink Floyd ephemera.
It’s both a starting point and a compass for one of the most lauded musical talents of a generation.
And hey! You can dance to it!