Song Of The Day 4/21/2013: Machine - "There But For The Grace Of God Go I"

Continuing the R&B mini-countdown to the DJ Gig That Will Change The World. We're only doing this until Wednesday, then I'm thinking of doing metal for a week. (No promises, but it would really fit the real-life narrative right now.) So hang on.

I don't think I've done a ton of disco on this blog. I personally don't carry that "disco sucks" ethos that was employed as a measure of our perceived suburban manhood in the late '70s and early '80s. I think it was a little more important, or at least the roots of it were more important, than we're willing to admit. Having said that, my traditional issue with disco is just the songwriting thing. It didn't produce many great songs. Or failing that, atmospheric arrangements. I've always maintained the production values of disco were often way too chintzy.

I grant I might have been missing some of the subtext. For example, I didn't get that the bored, distant singing in Chic's "Good Times" was a statement on its own, or that the lyrics were a little darker and weirder than when I heard them on the radio for the first time. Now, separated from its context, "clams on the half-shell and roller skates" sounds much more wry than it did in 1979. And it took me 30 years to realize that, yeah, Bernard Edwards did kind of invent all the pop music that came after him. (Yeah, Nile Rodgers in a way, but definitely Bernard Edwards.)

But overall, although I'm open to disco these days, there aren't a lot of records that drew me in with the story. My favorite disco record of all time is "Native New Yorker" by Odyssey, because it's a glitzy song with a sardonic, bitter story. (I think Mark Eitzel would do a great slowed-down cover of it.) This song by Machine just became another favorite, and I'm not entirely surprised to learn it sprung from the mind of August Darnell (below). He was in one of the few disco bands I truly love, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. After Machine, who only made two albums, he formed Kid Creole & The Coconuts, another great band I still haven't figured out. That's for another day.

"There But For The Grace Of God Go I" has three quick verses, telling the story of a family that decides it's time to leave the Bronx for a place that has "no blacks, no Jews and no gays." I shot up when I heard that line. Social criticism wasn't a big component of any kind of pop music in 1979, but especially disco. The song goes on detailing the effects of trying to instill prejudice in one's children, of restricting through misunderstanding rather than empowering through compassion. It's probably not a big spoiler that said effects aren't very positive.

And also you can dance to it.

**(Bonus: I just now discovered Darnell produced Cristina's cover of "Is That All There Is?")


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