Feel My Love is an undeniably physical album, easily accessible on its commercial surface.
Not just any musician would spice up their live act with an eight-foot reticulated python, and Alice Cooper wasn’t the only one. The scaly spectacle is part of the legend of a New York-born R&B writer-producer who had a brilliant idea to capitalize on the roller-disco madness that was sweeping dancefloors in 1979. Vaughan Mason & Crew cribbed Chic’s “Good Times,” even more directly than Queen would do with “Another One Bites the Dust,” and the resulting hit, “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” led to a recording deal—and, later, a lot of samples. Mason teamed up with Butch Dayo in 1983 for what would be their only album in front of the mixing board, and improbably, it still sounds fresh nearly four decades later. Be With Records has reissued the much sought-after Feel My Love, and it’s as solid a dance album as you can get outside of Rodgers and Edwards.
Proud of their work together, Mason and Dayo open the album with scripted studio banter about the “dynamite session” they just finished. They’re ready to “take it to the streets” and cue it up with the old-fashioned pushing sound of a playback button, launching incongruously into a ballad: “Oh, Love.” It doesn’t exactly set the mood for a party record, but the big piano chords and soul crooning make it a terrific slow-dance deep cut.
But you don’t buy a record like this for the ballads, and to get the party going, he returns to the source of his previous success, the rink. But this time he comes up with something more original. “Rollalong Songs” dispenses with the Bernard Edwards rip (ok, Dayo’s bassline sounds a little like “Double Dutch Bus” from 1981) and generates its own bright bubblegum-funk with shimmering rhythm guitar, making for a pretty irresistible anthem. You’ve heard these elements before, but Mason and Dayo, who played multiple instruments on the track as well as mixed the recording, create an spacious sound that seems influenced by DJ Larry Levan.
Still, it’s the title track, with its instant, distinct hook, that has endured most. A wobbly piano leads into a trebly synth timbre that smacks of the street but also has an eerie vulnerability matched by Dayo’s initially uncertain vocal. “Feel My Love” is a mid-tempo pulse of dancefloor desire that’s somehow as haunting as it is celebratory. The soulful voice emoting over programmed drum beats and an almost minimalist funk drone give this boogie more than a hint of anxiety, with melodic lines subtly criss-crossing each other. In this airy mix, you can almost envision the nightclub’s flashing lights revealing that, even amid a crowd of sweaty dancers, there a vast, empty inner space of longing.
Producer Shep Pettibone, who’d go on to remix Pet Shop Boys and Janet Jackson, comes in to mix the denser, more percussive “Party on the Corner,” with background singers echoing dub-like and the ’80s synths feeling a bit more commercial, and a bit more dated, moving away from the leaders’ vision. The record ends with a return to that distinct funky aesthetic “You Can Do It,” another track that’s celebratory on the surface but whose timbres build an unlikely tension. While a chorus sings, “Step by step/ Add a little more pep,” the descending melody and low-register voices keep the mood down, even though the beats keep the body moving. It’s a fascinating contrast, the clear production letting you hear the contradictions in this deceptively simple music.
Feel My Love is an undeniably physical album, easily accessible on its commercial surface. But if the lyrics are straightforward pop, the music goes deeper than you might expect. Maybe the python was more than just a shock tactic, but represented a richer dance concept of man’s struggle with nature and the beat.