When it is said that disco died at the end of the ‘70s, what that means is it died as a dominant mass-market trend of the music business. A demand for new dance music continued in the clubs and devoted practitioners of the form didn’t bat an eyelash as they continued to ply their trade.
A great example of a band that escaped the waning days of the disco phenomenon and continued to score on the dance charts into the ‘80s was Change. This European/American studio project cut six albums, one a year from 1980 through 1985, and the cream of their output can be sampled on Reach For The Sky: The Change Anthology, an outstanding new 2-CD set from Groove Line Records.
Change was the brainchild of dance music entrepreneur Jacques Fred Petrus and producer Mauro Malavasi, a pair of Eurodisco veterans who scored on the disco charts during the latter half of the ‘70s with projects like Macho and the Peter Jacques Band. For Change, they drew direct inspiration from the cosmopolitan yet minimalist approach of Chic, even hiring musicians and singers who worked with Chic to add lyrics and vocal arrangements to their compositions and instrumental arrangements. What this team created was a unique fusion of Eurodisco melodicism and American soul that is sleek and disciplined enough to still sound fresh to modern ears despite its obvious period charms.
Disc 1 covers Change’s first three albums, a set of recordings that represent the more classically disco side of their output. It starts strong with a quartet of tracks from their debut The Glow Of Love, an album that Schlockmania reveres as the best Chic sound-alike ever recorded. The title track is amongst the most swoon-inducingly romantic disco ballads of all time, topped off with a killer lead vocal from Luther Vandross, while “A Lover’s Holiday” and “Searching” wed hypnotic Eurodisco hooks to crisp, American-style rhythms that give them a mesmerizing quality.
And that’s not all the first disc has to offer: “Paradise” offsets its percussive, staccato verses with a bridge where the group vocals soar alongside the song’s spirit-lifting sentiments, “Sharing Your Love” is a luxurious trip into Quiet Storm balladry with a silky group-vocal chorus and “The Very Best In You” offsets a propulsive boogie groove with elegant vocal melodies.
Disc two captures the highlights from the final three Change albums and it represents their shift towards a more electronics-dominated approach. Thankfully, it retains the tuneful quality of the material on the first disc while pulling things into a sleeker, more techno-tinged realm. The Italian side of the group really starts to show on tracks like “Got To Get Up,” where chant-like group vocals rhythmically flow over a backdrop dominated by a trance-inducing programmed synth hook, and “Let’s Go Together,” where the vocals and the synths restlessly compete to see who can produce the most melodious frills.
Fans of American funk will also be pleased by the material that disc 2 includes from Change Of Heart, the Change album that found the Italian disco auteurs collaborating with Minneapolis soul titans Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The title track of said album is included in its 12-inch form and it’s a synth-funk monster where staccato vocals act as a slick counterpart to the choppy rhythm guitars, new wave-y synth stabs and the glossy, synthesized bassline that drives it all along. “You Are My Melody” is another killer from this album that pumps up its elegant verses with a percolating chorus.
Reach For The Sky: The Change Anthology could succeed on the barrage of excellent songs alone but it’s also worth noting that Groove Line has gone the extra mile in packaging it. The nicely designed digipak does a fine job of emulating the minimalist, shape-driven art that usually appeared on Change album covers and the set’s producers have included a handful of single edits and extended mixes that fans will appreciate. Best of all, there’s a thick booklet of liner notes that include a concise, informative essay by disco expert Christian John Wikane plus track-by-track comments from the singers and musicians who worked on each album.
In short, Reach For The Sky: The Change Anthology speaks strongly for the aesthetic validity of the dance music that followed in the immediate wake of disco’s demise. The smartly-chosen track listening not only makes a great case for Change’s legacy but also charts how dance music shifted from the lushness of classic disco to the rhythmic, electronic sleekness that ‘80s dance music would be known for. Thus, this is not only a great listen but an education in the shifting tides of dance music styles during this time — and that makes Reach For The Sky: The Change Anthology a treasure twice over for disco fans.