Unknown Pleasures Chapter 12: The Be Bop Betty Story…

A continuing series exhuming, exploring and exalting the “lost” treasures scattered in the sands of music history. Because it’s never too late.

Cory Daye – Cory and Me [New York International 1979]

R-760687-1174145981.jpegConventional Wisdom aside, disco was never that popular; Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Chic and the Village People were popular…But after that, what? Disco’s “popularity” was more media/record industry hype than anything real or lasting. Record companies loved disco because they could just churn out product without having to support tours or build careers; just get a song in a movie or a tv show and watch the money roll in (MTV and rap would help them perfect this business model later).

Abetted by East Coast media and greedy record labels, disco went from  gay underground music to the sound of nouveau-riche elitism almost overnight. The most indelible images of disco (apart from John Travolta’s pants) are of the great and near-great basking in the glow of their mutual celebrity at Studio 54 while Steve Rubell stood guard outside, humiliating and teasing the “grey” people desperate to get in for a peek. This did nothing good for disco’s image with Middle America. Mix in a ton of coke, a lot of bad records by everyone from Kiss to Ethel Merman, a reactionary movement of older rock fans and a mysterious new disease targeting the exact sort of people (e.g.: gay men) that middle America had begun to (negatively) associate with Disco, and the end was inevitable.

Meanwhile, the idea that Disco was a vacant, show business-driven sound was as false a narrative as it’s manufactured popularity.  Like any musical movement, Disco had some serious artists trying to do serious things amidst the novelty tunes and one-hit wonders. What really scared the rockists was that the best Disco producers were able to make their art without the excess and trappings that seemingly necessary iin pre-punk musical reality.  Perhaps if they’d had time to naturally gestate as a cult before exploding into the thick of the mainstream, a lot more amazing music would have happened, and we’d be talking about something more than those 10 songs you have to dance to at wedding receptions and skating parties, but alas.

Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band were a group of swing visionaries led out of the Bronx by half-brothers Stony Browder Jr. and August Darnell.  Their sole hit, “Cherchez La Femme” was just a foretaste of their eccentric genius, which of course means they never had another hit despite forecasting the swing revival by about 3 decades.  Over the course of three albums, DBOSB fused disco, salsa, big band and Tin Pan Alley values into a distinctive and original sound  that people would worship them for if it came out today.  The key to their art was Darnell’s hyper-literate lyrics  sung by Daye, whose bright, fruit-flavored voice could make the most intricate lyrics into accessible pop art.

The Savannah Band split in 1979 amidst personality clashes and negligible record sales, Darnell formed Kid Creole and the Coconuts and cemented his place as an uptown cult Icon.  Daye would go solo and along with DBOSB producer Sand Linzer crafted the dancefloor confection Cory & Me.

Hearing the 120 bpm thump that opens the album, you could be forgiven for thinking “Oh, another disco record”  But when Daye arrives with that creamsicle voice and Linzer’s smart lyric, your snobbery gets crushed into stardust and it’s time to dance.  “Green Light” sets the tone for the whole album, with Daye warning all her girls not to sleep on that guy they like before  “A Be-Bop Betty” steals him from under their nose.  though it’s hard to fathom how any red-blooded male could find themselves the object of Cory Daye’s affections and not jump at the chance. Women like Daye are the reason we go to discos in the first place, amirite?

“Pow Wow” feels like Love Unlimited on a pink champagne high, with Daye exalting her beau to “pass the peace pipe” — not particularly pc, but the glitter ball beat and Daye’s breathless delivery keep us dancing against our better judgement, which is when most fun happens anyway.  “Wiggle & A Giggle All Night” points to the direction DBOSB might have gone in [and August Darnell pretty much did] with it’s South Pacific feel matched with Daye’s tongue twisting take on the lyrics [I dare you to keep up].

For all the early fireworks on Cory & Me, the showpiece of the record is “Single Again,” which opens what would be side two of the album.  Once again, the basic design is standard 4/4 dance beat, but Linzer pours so much melodic and verbal dexterity into the mold that Daye can’t help but respond in kind, giving us a near cinematic tale of dancing away the heartache.  The song segues into a coda of “What Time Does The Balloon Go Up” that feels like a lost 8th album cut. The creative synergy of Daye and Linzer is so strong that they’re comfortable trying anything:  The wistful, Philly soul of “Rainy Day Boy,”  the Uptown strut of “Be Bop Betty,” the proto Hi NRG of “Keep the Ball Rolling” — Nothing is off limits to them. It’s easy to believe a second album would have produced even more creative solutions to the dance music puzzle.

Sadly, there wouldn’t be a second album.  Despite some positive reviews and a lot of club spins, Cory & Me came and went in a musical landscape lurching between pop, disco, rock and punk, the inspired dance music Linzer and Daye proposed probably seemed trite and artificial to many ears. After years in the wilderness, the album is back in print though, and Daye’s cult has never wavered in its’ devotion to her:  She still plays regularly and shows no signs of slowing down.  She may be single [again], but she’ll never be alone.

NEXT:  Women who fly….

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