Smokey - How Far Will You Go? The S&M Recordings 1973-81

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2015-06-22

John ‘Smokey’ Condon, a striking young man from Baltimore, came to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, and together with producer, EJ Emmons they formed the band Smokey, an off-centre and preposterously bawdy gay outfit. At that time (1973) they struggled to find a record label, even utilising EJ’s industry contacts. Their manifesto was deemed too offensive for mainstream America, or even the underground, whatever semblance of that existed. 

Little did anyone, but the hip and clear-sighted gay scene, know of Smokey, even after they created their own imprint, S&M Recordings. Well, justice comes to those who wait, and Smokey’s How Far Will You Go? The S&M Recordings 1973-1981 is brilliant restitution to a band and their music at the apotheosis of gay dance/funk and even punk music. Or indeed any music, let alone one with such a frank exposition of everyday gay life.

The compilation kicks off with ‘Leather’, all funky glam and very much like David Bowie’s ‘Fame’, except pre-dating it by a year. The track is about the gay and transvestite fashion scene, and full of great keyboard runs and come-hither voice.

‘DTNA’ (Dance the Night Away) is a cheeky number which starts out with a latino woman narrating “I’ve heard this record six times before/ Ooo, did someone say sex?/ Ooo, cha cha cha/ Cha cha cha allegro" [emphasised], before some seriously sleazy funk leads off. Condon sings that he wants "to dance the night away/ ‘cause it's far out!", and he’s right. 

It feels good to use the word groovy without irony, and with great affection. Yes, it's groovy. It's disco alright, but disco with a trace of narcolepsy and drollness set over an engaging beat straight outta Philadelphia.  "I’ve got a lot to give to you/ and you’ll want it too," sings Condon, and he’s not wrong. 

There’s so many fabulous tracks on here, it's a veritable lolly shop of superior dance, disco and funk, but the highlights include ‘I’ll Always Love You’ , a track recalling Sylvester. Torchlit romanticism is at the core here, with innocent sentiment rather than the pornographic detail elsewhere. On ‘Topaz’, Condon hustles his suitor to "satisfy my wistfulness/ Comfort my descent/ Cherish me forever/ Ignite my fuel/ Adore my plumage,"  before disclosing  "I love you", and the implored empathy makes you hope Condon realises these impassioned desires.

More on the unabashed and ribald side is ‘Piss Slave’, a hot, sweaty and sexy disco stomper in extended dance remix format, with great loops resolving all over the place, plateauing and then, again, soaring to enraptured heights. The lyrics leave nothing to the imagination; "I wanna be your toilet/ Sexy sexy/ Your legs around me/ I wanna be your piss slave/ I need to feel your piss running down my throat/ Give it to me when I ask for more/ Yes sir, no sir!/ Please give me some more/ I wanna drink your piss." That's more than tongue in cheek, then. In context, the lyrics are about free expression rather than gratuitous profanity, as they would have been viewed at the time.   

‘How Far Will You Go’, with its slap bass, rhythm and blues guitar, dark haunted sighs, and enervated haze almost breaks down mid-track before the percussion gains volume, and keyboard excursions reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s jazz-funk excursions kick life into yet another rich composition. When Condon sings the double entendre "When you get here/ I’ll lend you a helping hand," it’s very much the happy ending we anticipated. 

On ‘Temptation’, the regimented pulse and vaguely prog guitar give over at 1:50 to a drastic reduction in tempo, a moment of beautiful pause with the kick-line "I am yours/ Here is my heart/ take it and say we’ll never part/ I’m only a slave to you," replete with psychedelic languor. The gentle glockenspiel lends tenderness to a moment that remains in the memory with real life poignancy. Truly lovely. 

Elsewhere, ‘Fire’ is a rampaging gospel rocker; ‘Puttin on the Ritz’ is a strut with an easy jazz/blues rhythm and Leonard Cohen-style vocal delivery; ‘Topanga’ is bar-room honky-tonk with a barbershop quartet cut short by the diva heroics of Condon, and ‘Million Dollar Baby’ sounds like a Curtis Mayfield number delivered with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section,  Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Robert Cray on guitar.  

Gay pride exemplified. Essential. Best compilation of the year thus far.

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars