The Trammps – Disco Inferno The Trammps Albums 1975-1980The Trammps: Disco Inferno The Trammps Albums – album review

Robinsongs

8CD/DL

Released 25 March 2022

8CD boxset featuring Philadelphia soul outfit The Trammps’ recordings through the height of the disco era from 1975 to 1980. Their eight long players are bolstered here by bonus single edits. Ian Canty plays with fire…

With roots that dated right back to the mid-1950s when leader band Earl Young was part of The Fantastics, Philadelphia’s own The Trammps had their genesis in a four piece made up of brothers Doc and Stanley Wade on guitar and bass, guitarist Jimmy Ellis and Young on drums. As well as their instrumental talent, all were accomplished singers. On record later they were further fleshed out by members of the crack backing outfit MSFB, with bass player Ronnie Baker becoming a band member and writing many of their songs. The band were signed by Buddah Records and dubbed The Trammps after the suggested name of Bummie And The Bums was rejected by label boss Neil Bogart. The newly christened act then enjoyed some success in the American pop and r&b singles listings.

Their self-titled debut album emerged in the spring of 1975 on the Philadelphia International off-shoot Golden Fleece and it is full of silky smooth orchestrated dance numbers. Stop And Think sets out their stall at the off in a classic soul vocal group style and Trusting Heart has a pleasingly full production which lets Jimmy Ellis’ earthy voice stand out against the lush surroundings. Then an archetypal romantic slowie in Every Dream I Dream Is You comes replete with the very deep spoken voice upfront, before we get to the upbeat and excellent single Love Epidemic.

Save A Place keeps the tempo up on what is a good pop disco number. Despite the instrumental Trammps Disco Theme being solid dancefloor fodder, it does feel a like filler for the lack of vocals though. Thankfully Where Do We Go from Here has a carefree vim that is delightfully fresh. Down Three Dark Streets rather repeats the trick of Every Dream I Dream Is You at first, but some very spirited vocals mean The Trammps just about get away with it. Finishing with a rhythmic version of The Isley Brothers’ Shout, this album generally offered up plenty of interest and a good measure of quality dance grooves to the growing disco scene.

It was only a matter of months before the next Trammps LP The Legendary Zing Album was issued. The reason for this quick turnover was that it was a cash-in on the band’s higher profile by their old label Buddah, featuring recordings made in the early 1970s. Indeed a version of the 1930s tune Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart, which is part of a medley with Penguin at the Big Apple on the LP, made 64 on the US pop charts back in 1972 and Hold Back The Night (later covered by Graham Parker And The Rumour) had hit the Billboard Top 40 in 1975.

Pray All You Sinners and Sixty Minute Man, a funky cover of the Marks/Ward r&B favourite, were also singles released in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The former has a strong soul influence in its sunny glide, with the latter featuring neat contrasts between bass voice and the main vocal. An instrumental take of Hold Back The Night called Scruboard is a throwaway item and Tom’s Song is similarly undemanding. However Hold Back The Night itself is just pure class and The Legendary Zing Album closes with a reprise of the opening track. This LP is a bit thin to be frank, but I suppose the good material is very very good and makes it worthy enough of reissue.

The Trammps moved to the Atlantic label for their second proper album Where The Happy People Go and Robert Upchurch had by this time joined on vocals. This record ensues with the big beat of Soul Searchin’ Time. It’s a prime orchestral disco nugget and a spirited way to get started. A stately intro to near title track That’s Where The Happy People Go comes next, before developing into a similar high energy style, with some good and gutsy vocals. As a single it reached the Top 30 in America and Can We Come Together finished the first side of the original vinyl in a slightly more reserved fashion, but not by much. Dance grooves were what this LP was all about.

A lengthy Disco Party hit the top spot on the US dance chart as a 45, but missed the pop listings entirely. This eight minutes plus offering was made specifically for good times on the dancefloor, so can’t really be labelled anything other than a success. A hard-hitting, funky version of the old r&b favourite Ninety-Nine And A Half and the big band sweep of Hooked For Life were both also issued as singles. A much more restrained final effort Love Is A Funky Thing can’t alter the fact that Where The Happy People Go delivered exactly what it intended, i.e. seven tracks of upbeat rhythms to get tails shaking at the disco.

The first bonus extras of the set are on this disc. We have the single cuts of Soul Searchin’ Time, Where The Happy People Go, Ninety-Nine And A Half and Hooked On Life. They are good to have, if not massively different than the album takes.

For their second LP of 1976, which was released right at the end of the year, The Trammps cut one of the all-time dancehall floor-fillers. The Leroy Green/Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey composition Disco Inferno was eventually their biggest hit single in America, but only after a rerelease on the back of its appearance in the film Saturday Night Fever. The song gave its name to an album made up of six long, pumping tunes, with Disco Inferno itself nearly clocking in at 11 minutes. Body Contact Contract sizzles with furious funky lunges and reflects on the physical and sensual side of the dancefloor, with Starvin’ following on with smooth Philly string moves.

I Feel Like I’ve Been Livin’ (On the Dark Side of the Moon) was also a minor US hit as a single and it weaves a diverting, hand-clapping jazz funk path until we reach Disco Inferno itself. There isn’t much that can be said about it really, a straightforward giant groove that somehow still retains the freshness of its delivery some many thousands of plays on. Orchestral touches play a big role on a flowing Don’t Burn No Bridges and lyrically the song gives a few common sense tips to getting by in the world and You Touch My Hot Line ends the album on a really good soul-driven note. The sole extra included here is the single edit of Disco Inferno.

The name of The Trammps III presumably referred to it being their third Atlantic collection, because it was either their fifth or fourth album proper. This record came out in November 1977 and had a sleeve that featured on the front a photo of a lady with what looks like a rather painful looking tattoo. The pumping disco of The Night The Lights Went Out, about New York’s famous power outage in July of that year, starts off the album. It also saw single issue, but away from the dance chart it struggled to make an impression. An unexceptional Love Per Hour gives way to the big disco monster of this platter, the energetically sung People of the World, Rise.

The choral, exotic intro to Living the Life began side two’s five shorter tracks. Seasons for Girls, the LP’s other single, is a pretty good and much needed change of emphasis. This allows The Trammps to stretch out and show off their singing skills at a less hectic tempo. Unfortunately it didn’t make headway as a 45, but it is a lovely soul ballad. The bouncing blues-influence Life Ain’t Been Easy takes us back to the disco floor and the lighter, catchy shuffle of I’m So Glad You Came Along sounds more a natural single than anything else here. We reach the end with a decent r&b-tinged slowie It Don’t Take Much, but The Trammps III on the whole lacks the ebullience of their best work. Attached to this disc are the two short single edits of The Night The Lights Went Out and Seasons For Girls.

By the time of February 1979’s The Whole World’s Dancing it is fair to say that even though disco was still a big market, it was one in decline. The frankly daft Love Insurance Policy, which opens up the record, is still a pretty good dance tune under the silliness of the words. The songs seemed to have been compiled as to their length, going from the longest to shortest duration as the LP proceeds. An upbeat Teaser, the title track and the brassy Soul Bones (with a bleeped expletive!) were the singles extracted, but none of them made much more than a ripple on the dance charts.

The Whole World’s Dancing is a lovely groove despite that and a more funky My Love, It’s Never Been Better is also a goodie. A fast and dynamic Love Magnet and the pretty and nostalgic More Good Times to Remember made a break with disco, as The Trammps’ eyes were cast back to the joys of 1960s soul. Single edits of Teaser and The Whole World’s Dancing close out this disc.

Although the band’s commercial impact was waning, The Trammps’ admirable work ethic meant they completed two LPs in 1980. The first of these was Mixin’ It Up, which came in a cartoon sleeve illustration of musical notes in a food blender, perhaps not the most imaginative of visuals. This collection starts with the testifying chant of Hard Rock And Disco, a neat hybrid sound with wailing guitars that possibly anticipated Run-DMC’s Walk This Way. A smart move, but having said that it probably didn’t lead the “disco sucks” brigade to renounce their ways and also failed to make a splash as a single. Band member Earl Young wrote most of this record, showing The Trammps did have in-built writing talent as well as their singing skills when they wished to utilise it.

A fast, funky and stripped-down You Can Make It impresses and Music Freek (their spelling) spices up their usual musical palette with hip hop-style percussion. There is a genuine effort to update their sound here for the 1980s and it works fairly well. The big sound of Dance Contest is much more like their older material, but even this has a sense of urgency to it missing on the last album.

Synths are in evidence on Everybody Boogie and sparse funk work-out V.I.P. does the business. Unfortunately standard ballad Let Me Dance Real Close doesn’t do much out of the ordinary and sounds a bit dated, as does the 1960s r&b of Wake Me Up from Yesterday. Though Mixin’ It Up tails off a bit at the end, it is one of the best LPs here and deserved a better fate as The Trammps oversaw an injection of freshness to their approach that pays off. The only bonus track here is the single version of Hard Rock And Disco, which again demonstrates its appeal.

Forgoing the familiar confines of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sounds, The Trammps cut the last disc of this set Slipping Out at Atlantic Studios in New York. It was a sign that things were changing in the camp, with Ronnie Baker not involved and hot funk act Mass Production were drafted in to produce the record. The laidback Loveland was a far cry from their frantic disco days, falling back into a pretty staid soul ballad territory. Trained-Eye does well in reflecting the hard-nosed funk that came to prominence after disco faded, with Mellow Out being a lighter looser approximation of the sound.

A cool and lively Groove All Mighty, probably the highlight of this long player, sees us through to the second half of the album. This part includes the two singles taken from it, the brass-enhanced dancefloor pearl Looking At You and Breathtaking View, both of which did not chart anywhere. In Baker’s absence, outside material filled this LP. Our Thought (Slipping Away) had nine writers credited for its seventy five seconds duration! As it is, it is no more than a preamble to so-so ballad I Don’t Want To Ever Lose Your Love.

Is There Any Room for Me does have some smart guitar work in the intro, but after that it is more of a look back to their disco-era heyday. Finally we have the fast moving Breathtaking View, which is good enough without ever seemingly like the single to restore The Trammps to the US charts. Though it does have its, Slipping Out is very much the work of a band struggling to deal with the changing times.

Disco Inferno – The Albums 1975-1980 isn’t exhaustive – for instance the 2008 CD edition of the Trammps LP had four bonus tracks that are not included here – but does include a good amount of vital disco recordings. The first four discs are well worth one’s attention and Mixin’ It Up was a decent attempt to freshen things up. The other albums have their good points, but don’t work as well and include a few numbers where the band seem to be coasting. Even taking that into account, The Trammps will always be disco royalty and you can here just why that is right here.

The Trammps official website is here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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