by Daevid Brock
Various Artists – Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
This 2-LP set compiles American artists who saw opportunity in the proliferation of affordable recording equipment, synthesizers, and drum machines, to create impressive and wonderfully eccentric soul/funk/disco. These artists were not ‘homemade’ in the cassette culture networking sense. They released vinyl singles and LPs on their own homegrown or tiny regional labels, sought wider distribution, acclaim, and most likely record company attention. Nevertheless, this is a fun compilation that is chock full of cool and strange songs and is brimming with homemade charm. Here is a tour of the set. Oh yes, there will be drum machines…
Remember those old Wurlitzer stores in the malls with the cheesiest sounding music? Jeff Phelps’ ‘Excerpts From Autumn’ instrumental sounds like one of the demonstrators from those stores, but someone who really knows how to use it and takes it into soulful space. Phelps gets a second entry with ‘Super Lady’, which uses the same instrumentation, though it’s more intricately arranged and includes vocals.
Guitar Red’s ‘Disco From A Space Show’ is propelled by a tap-tap-tap-tap metronomic beat, wildly swirling synth lines, and a cool grooving space-soul vibe.
Jerry (J.G.) Green’s ‘I Finally Found The Love I Need’ sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom, and is characteristic of some of the 70s most almost-hit pop-soul tunes.
The lyrics on Key & Cleary’s ‘A Man’ is brimming with Black/civic pride, has a beautiful rhythm guitar pulse and fidgety electronic drums.
I love the darkly tense but cool grooving vibe and crafty use of dissonance and effects on Spontaneous Overthrow’s ‘All About Money’.
Cotillion’s ‘If You Give A Dance’ is pure soul for the disco dancefloor. Think K.C. and the Sunshine Band for the Motown crowd.
USAries’ ‘Are You Ready To Come? (With Me) Pt. 1 (and later in the set Pt. 2)’ is Sex-eeeeeee! It lays down a lazy strolling funk-blues vibe, sounding like The Temptations singing to the Shaft theme. Really good vocals and harmonies on this one.
Johnnie Walker was one half of the duo that comprised USAries, and his ‘Love Vibrator’ is a bouncy funk- soul instrumental. (With a title like ‘Love Vibrator’, I’m surprised there were no lyrics.)
‘Don’t Challenge Me’ by Makers is passionately sensual, with excellent vocals and carried along by a cheesy drum machine beat and Casio-ish keys. Regardless, the arrangements and sound are pretty darn good.
T. Dyson and Company’s ‘It’s All Over’ is a great mixture of disco and soul, with a cool variety of synths and keys, and more really good vocals and lyrics. I love the combination of spacey synths and jazzy ivory tickling keys.
Starship Commander Woo Woo’s entry is ‘Master Ship (excerpt)’, and the music is just as freaked out as the band name and song title. The orchestral keys are from the most celestial regions of space and the song is colored by effects galore. This is an oddball entry on this set, being more 80s space-age, experimental synth-pop than funk/soul/disco.
Deborah Washington & the Astros’ ‘Shortest Lady’ relies heavily on its mundane drum machine, but everything else about it is strangely interesting. The female lead vocals are saucy, the male backing growls are creepy, there’s a spacey edge to the song, and I love the over-the-top cheesy funk pulse.
Steve Elliott’s ‘One More Time’ is a fairly straightforward 70s styled sexy soul love song. It’s a got a nice flute solo, good lead and backing vocal arrangements, and spacey synths.
The New Year’s ‘My Bleeding Wound’ is one of the most cool and strange experimental tracks of the set. The music is dominated by a repetitive stinging guitar pattern, later joined by a minimal bass riff. And leading the way are outrageously spaced out James Brown-ish vocals.
Otis G. Johnson’s ‘Time To Go Home’ sounds like it was recorded with a shoebox cassette recorder, but it’s a beautifully heartfelt religious song with a nice melody.
Personal Space was released in 2012 by Chocolate Industries. I couldn’t find any info on the label but it was distributed by The Numero Group, who have been releasing/distributing the most esoteric of reissues/compilations for years. The songs on this set are all over YouTube.