At this point, it’s safe to say the report of disco’s death was an exaggeration. The backlash against it, culminating in 1979’s infamous Disco Demolition Night by an attention-hungry rock DJ, only accomplished sending disco back underground, back to all the othered communities to which it originally belonged. From there, its legacy splintered into countless musical styles that would emerge over the next several years, from new wave and post punk to techno and hip-hop. Disco didn’t really die so much as it was given up by the music-industry machine that smothered America in generic white disco fever and caused all this outrage in the first place.
Even during disco’s heyday, when its shiniest, most formulaic tracks were being pushed on the masses, there was a ton of weird, worthy stuff happening beyond the mainstream. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Sources: The P&P Records Soul & Disco Anthology, a 2015 compilation of tracks from P&P Records, a Harlem-based label whose in-house style and collection of rare, killer cuts has made it a cult favorite. These are songs recorded in the back half of the ’70s and released across a seemingly endless family of ethereal sub-labels. (The same label, Harmless Records, also has a comp dedicated to P&P’s equally interesting ’80s output, which focused more on funk and hip-hop.) P&P’s most pivotal figure, the legendary dance-music producer Patrick Adams, dubbed its sound “underground disco.” The songs were recorded fast, cheap, and dirty, and that’s exactly what sets them apart. They lack that overproduced sheen and merciless four-on-the-floor beat of so much mainstream disco, more often relying on heavy funk percussion or Adams’ buzzing MiniMoog. In the end, they’re left sounding grittier—more real, more soulful, more timeless.
This particular compilation, which is out of print but available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music, brings together 37 songs from a ton of P&P acts, many of which ultimately revolved around Adams and label founder Peter Brown laying down instrumental parts behind the scenes. There are more extensive collections out there—including a multigenre 15-CD box set with 185 songs—but Harmless’ Soul & Disco Anthology is a great starting point for sampling some of the label’s best dance tunes. There are a handful of novelty tracks in there, like a seven-minute harp-tinged cover of the Charlie’s Angels theme song (bad novelty) and the sexed-up “Spank Me,” which comes complete with ass-slapping sounds and shrieks of ecstasy (good novelty). But for every one of those there are three more world-class jams: Marta Acuna’s everlasting “Dance Dance Dance”; Ahzz’s break-neck “New York’s Movin’”; multiple tracks from Patrick Adams’ cosmic-disco persona Cloud One (but in a disappointing choice, it’s not the superior instrumental version of “Atmosphere Strut”); the gooey goodness of the “Super Jay Love Theme”; Dennis Mobley’s epic, party-starting cover of “Superstition”; and tons more.