When peo­ple think of dis­co in inter­na­tion­al terms, the first thoughts are usu­al­ly the U.S. and Europe. It’s easy to for­get that Canada played a note­wor­thy role in disco’s boom years via hit­mak­ing acts like France Joli, Lime, Gino Soccio, etc. One of the pio­neers of Canadian dis­co was Three Hats Productions, a part­ner­ship between musi­cians Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison. This tal­ent­ed duo presid­ed over a vari­ety of projects beloved to dis­co col­lec­tors, includ­ing self-cre­at­ed projects like Grand Tour and Southern Exposure as well as work with per­form­ers like the Duncan Sisters and Skatt Bros.

However, their best-known and most beloved work came through the THP Orchestra. This stu­dio out­fit was devised to do a quick­ie cov­er ver­sion for the Canadian music mar­ket but quick­ly blos­somed, lead­ing to Early Riser, the first Canadian dis­co album and Two Hot For Love, a fol­low-up whose epic title track put Canada on the inter­na­tion­al dis­co map. Both discs have recent­ly been col­lect­ed in a 2-disc set with extras as part of Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge series and the results are well worth the time for fans of orches­tral dis­co stylings.

Early Riser:

The THP Orchestra began when Morrison and Guenther were entrust­ed with the task of knock­ing out a cov­er ver­sion of the Rhythm Heritage hit “Theme From S.W.A.T.” over one week­end so the local RCA Records branch could a get a jump on that song’s Canadian release. The results were respectable, boast­ing both qual­i­ty orches­tra­tion and an effec­tive recre­ation of the funky groove that dri­ve the Rhythm Heritage ver­sion.

When the THP Orchestra cut became a domes­tic hit, Morrison and Guenther got the nod to cut an album and the result was Early Riser. Like a lot of ear­ly dis­co albums using the “orches­tra” for­mat, it has one foot in the dis­cothèque and the oth­er in a sort of exot­i­ca-tinged mood music realm. The cuts are kept short (noth­ing over 6 min­utes in length), all done in a style that bal­ances pop acces­si­bil­i­ty with groove-con­scious arrange­ments.

Using the suc­cess of the “S.W.A.T.” cov­er as a styl­is­tic man­date, the pro­duc­ers have fun exper­i­ment­ing with cov­ers of past, most­ly instru­men­tal hits. Highlights in this area include “Manha De Carnival,” which has a low-slung, jazzy approach rem­i­nis­cent of Lalo Schifrin’s jazz-dis­co work of the mid-‘70s, and an aggres­sive­ly uptem­po cov­er of the Mondo Cane the­me “More” that laces the orches­tra­tions with syn­th and works in brief drum breaks. There’s also an exot­i­ca ver­sion of “Sugar Sugar” that is unde­ni­ably kitsch in style but more effec­tive than you might expect.

However, it’s the hand­ful of orig­i­nal cuts that con­nect most effec­tive­ly here and also point the way towards Guenther and Morrison’s future work. The title cut is a gem, built on a flu­id yet dri­ving bass line that is lay­ered with soar­ing strings and per­cus­sive riffs when horns and vibes dou­ble each oth­er. “Crazy Crazy” has a brief vocal melody but is main­ly dri­ven by a jazzy horn riff that gives it a sense of dance­floor swag­ger while “Dawn Patrol” is more dis­co exot­i­ca that has an irre­sistible bounci­ness beneath the thick strings and horns.

In short, Early Riser is a most­ly suc­cess­ful slab of pro­to-instru­men­tal dis­co despite its pop-chart mind­ed sense of restraint. However, Guenther and Morrison would quick­ly top their work here with a more evolved state­ment of this style…

Two Hot For Love:

Ask a dis­co expert for their top ten list of the best album side-length dis­co epics and chances are they’ll include “Two Hot For Love.” Guenther and Morrison put this 16-min­ute jug­ger­naut togeth­er at the advice of A.J. Cervantes, the head of U.S. label Butterfly, when he sug­gest­ed they do some­thing tar­get­ed at the U.S. dis­co mar­ket. What they came up with is an endur­ing cult clas­sic of the gen­re.

Though it is clear­ly mod­eled on “Love To Love You Baby,” includ­ing a orgas­mic female moan-break, Guenther and Morrison use the side-length for­mat to put their own stamp on the gen­re. The style they cre­ate has a silken ele­gance to it, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its use of key­boards, yet has a relent­less, hard-edged dri­ve to its insis­tent con­ga rhythms and the per­cus­sive use of the horn sec­tion.

The taut arrange­ment builds its ten­sion from a main melod­ic motif fea­tur­ing occa­sion­al gospel tinged vocals from Barbara Fry (vocal­ly, she’s a dead ringer for Loleatta Holloway), with a series of instru­men­tal breaks that elab­o­rate upon the rich mate­ri­al of that main motif. There are flights of fan­cy for the string sec­tion, excur­sions on the analog syn­the­siz­er and string and horn duels as “Two Hot For Love” keeps switch­ing up the arrange­ment with­out ever drop­ping the inten­si­ty. It nev­er runs out of melod­ic twists to throw at the lis­ten­er and the results will leave dis­co fiends joy­ful­ly exhaust­ed.

The Two Hot For Love album was put togeth­er in a rush, so the sec­ond side repris­es four cuts from Early Riser. However, this isn’t the padding it might seem: Guenther and Morrison went back to the mas­ter tapes and remixed them to reflect their grow­ing under­stand­ing of the dis­co gen­re. The remix­es push up the rhythm sec­tion in the mix and pare down some over­dubs to give them more of a sin­gle-mind­ed dance floor focus. They actu­al­ly improve on the orig­i­nals, par­tic­u­lar­ly the remix of “Early Riser,” and the new mix­es ensure that they blend styl­is­ti­cal­ly with the title cut.

In short, this cult fave total­ly deserves its rep­u­ta­tion. No col­lec­tion of dis­co epics is com­plete with­out Two Hot For Love.

Bonus Material:

Both discs are fleshed out with plen­ty of bonus tracks in the Disco Recharge tra­di­tion. The disc devot­ed to Early Riser has 7-inch edits for three cuts for the album plus a 12-inch mix of the title track that gen­tly extends the instrumental’s con­tours à la Tom Moulton.

However, the biggest bonus here is the inclu­sion of the ear­ly Three Hats Productions opus “Fighting On The Side Of Love” by Wayne St. John. It’s an old-fash­ioned stom­per, with soar­ing orches­tra­tion over a pound­ing beat and a gut­sy yet smooth vocal from St. John. It’s easy to imag­ine this song going over big at a Northern Soul week­ender. No less than four ver­sions are pro­vid­ed of this song (7-inch, 12-inch, and instru­men­tal 7- and 12-inch mix­es). Any way it’s mixed, this song is a win­ner and a great inclu­sion on Disco Recharge’s part.

The bonus mate­ri­al on the Two Hot For Love disc is devot­ed to five dif­fer­ent mix­es of the title cut, which was sliced and diced many dif­fer­ent ways for dis­cothèque con­sump­tion. There’s so much melod­ic mate­ri­al to plun­der in the album ver­sion that they all work well. The RCA 12-inch ver­sion is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing because it strips out all vocals except the back­ing chant of the title, mak­ing it an almost pure­ly instru­men­tal voy­age, and the Pete Waterman remix is the most adven­tur­ous one. That said, they’re all worth a spin, with the dif­fer­ent choic­es in what to high­light and what to cut mak­ing them inter­est­ing lis­tens for the devot­ed fan.

Quality notes from Alan Jones round out the pack­age and fea­ture inter­view mate­ri­al with Willi Morrison, who cheer­ful­ly relays the tale of his acci­den­tal jour­ney into becom­ing a dis­co mae­stro.

All in all, this dou­ble bill of Early Riser and Two Hot For Love deliv­ers the rich­ly-orches­trat­ed goods as it makes a won­der­ful case for the wor­thi­ness of Canadian dis­co.