Archive for October 23rd, 2008

Sylvester – You Make Me Feel Mighty Real (and Epilogue)

October 23, 2008




Listen – Sylvester – You Make Me Feel Mighty Real – MP3″

Listen – Sylvester – You Make Me Feel Mighty Real (Epilogue) – MP3″

Greetings all.
I hope all is well, and that you’ve got your loins girded (or un-girded as the case may be) for the weekend.
I decided to bring the week to an end with one of my all time favorite disco tracks, and a tune that I’ve loved since it came out.
If you’ve followed the Funky16Corners blog, you’ll already know that despite the funk and soul-osity of this blog, my musical tastes range far and wide, and have evolved considerably over the years.
To go back to the statement (no doubt a paraphrase) generally credited to Duke Ellington, there are two basic kinds of music, good and bad, and despite the fact that there are many folks out there that would question my taste – this being a chaque’un a son gout monde, mon freres – I like to think that I get it right a lot of the time.
To those of you to whom the term disco is poison, I ask you to bear with me. To the rest of you, I request only that you make sure that your dancing shoes are on securely.
I’ve broached this particular subject before, but for the many who do not have the time or inclination to hang on my every word, I’ll recap briefly. Like many of my ilk and age group, I was loathe to like much disco, and double-extra-loathe to admit what I did like, through an unpleasant combination of teenage homophobia, warped suburban rockist class consciousness and a misguided longhair’s purism.
As the years have passed, and I have matured (somewhat anyway) I have shed most of the aforementioned stupidity in favor of what might be considered a somewhat more enlightened frame of mind.
As I have also related, back in my teens, when it was all but unheard of among my antisocial circle to like disco, let alone make mention of the fact, there were a couple of records that absolutely blew my mind. ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ by Sylvester is one of those.
Back in the day, when – despite the fact that there weren’t too many cartoons I was interested in on Saturday mornings – I still remained fastened securely to the couch, eyes glued to the television set, with substandard broadcast fare still a superior option to getting up and wandering out into the light of day.
One byproduct of the couch-potato-ness, was the fact that American Bandstand would pop on around noon. Now, as byproducts go, American Bandstand ranks right up there with the kind of things corrupt manufacturers use to stretch dog and cat food. However, in between the Shaun Cassidys, and the Leif Garretts there appeared the occasional gem, like the Fleshtones, and one boring Saturday morning, Sylvester.
Now, I was probably glued to the sofa with a bowl of soggy Captain Crunch, half paying attention, when the polyester form of Dick Clark introduced someone who I’d never heard of, the synths started pumping and Sylvester boogied out onto the stage. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that the studio audience of California teens were as surprised as I was, when what looked like a great big woman (He did say ‘Sylvester’, right?) danced out on the stage and started to tear it up.
I was transfixed.
When I first heard ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’, I was probably 20 years away from hearing the term Hi-NRG, but I think I grokked it anyway, because there is no better example of a genre that carried a name like that than this song.
Oddly enough, I already owned another (maybe the first) example of the genre, in the 45 of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, produced by Giorgio Moroder. Moroder created many hits with the Hi-NRG sound, using electronic keyboards and percussion, and his American counterpart was none other than Sylvester’s producer Patrick Cowley.
Sylvester James got his start in show business as part of the legendary drag troupe the Cockettes, and went on to record a couple of albums with the Hot Band for the Blue Thumb label in the early 70s. By the middle of the decade he had signed to the Fantasy label, and started making some of the most infectious records of the disco era.
‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ appeared on his second LP ‘Step II’ in 1978. It made a minor mark on the pop charts, but held the Number One spot on the Billboard Dance chart for six week in the summer of that year. It went on to become an anthem of sorts, and was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
Bottom line is that ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ is a hard driving record, not only as disco, but as soul. It’s often forgotten – since so much mainstream disco was so formulaic and awful – but there were a lot of great singers, songwriters and producers working in the genre (as well as the many DJs that helped to shape the sound), and Sylvester was in the first rank of vocalists. His singing in general, but especially on this record is a thing to behold, filled with joy and daring, his falsetto soaring over the pulsing beat. It’s hard to listen to ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ and keep from moving. Whether you shift surreptitiously on your seat, or leap up with your freak flag flying high, there is no denying the power of a record like this.
Sadly, Sylvester had a tough time of it, peaking just as the genre was beginning to decline, under pressure from his label to tone down his image, and most tragically succumbing to AIDS at the age of 40 in 1988.
Do yourselves a favor, rip this one to CD, take it out to your car, pop it into the player and drive around with the windows open, playing it at full volume (you’ll probably make the stiffs in your neighborhood a little uneasy, which is always a good thing). You’ll feel a lot better, and you’ll be sending a little Sylvester back out into the ether.
See you on Monday.

PS I’ve also included the Epilogue, which closes out the LP side that starts with ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’.

PSS Don’t forget to head over to Iron Leg for some storming Irish R&Beat

PSSS Check out Paperback Rider as well (just updated).