Music Reviews – Linda Clifford

Linda Clifford 

If My Friends Could See Me Now

Let Me Be Your Woman

Here’s My Love

I’m Yours

(Blixa Sounds)

You can say whatever you like about disco – when it was born, when it died, and whether or not it should have been permitted into polite society in the first place. The fact remains, the… let’s say six years… during which disco was at its musical peak, in amongst several farmyards full of swine, there was more than the occasional pearl.

Some were instantly identifiable, and might not even qualify as pure, unabashed disco in the first place: Donna Summer’ “I Feel Love”… and “Love To Love You Baby,” too.  Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover,” Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” that seamless first side of Gloria Gaynor’s Never Can Say Goodbye.  And, of course, “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper,” which should never have been a mere song.  It ought to have been a tattoo, as well.

Others… “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Ring My Bell,” “I Will Survive,” “Funky Town”… “Funky Gibbon”!  And let’s not forget – “Disco Stomp”! “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”!!  That one by thingy, that’s on your tip of your tongue!!! They’re so much a part of your mental furniture that, even if you loathe them all, you can’t imagine life without them. 

And then there’s those that lurk so deep within your subconscious that you could be strapped for hours beneath an unrelenting mirror ball, while flashing lights and smoke machines flail and flood around you, and your mind remains a total blank.

Until somebody plays them.

If you’ve never heard Linda Clifford… well, that’s a stupid remark for a start.  Of course you’ve heard Linda Clifford, or you have if you were around during those years when she was at her mightiest. But if you don’t remember Linda Clifford, imagine this: A pulsing beat.  Soaring strings.  Space-age bleeps.  A bass line that thinks it’s an angry cat’s tail.  Honking horns.  An intro that doesn’t let up for the length of the average Stones 45, stuffed with “hey”s and “uh-huhs” and a determined “get down.” And then, around the two-and-a-half minute mark, a horn motif that wanders in out of nowhere, rests its feet on the coffee table… and yes.  It’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  In full ten minute 1979 disco mode.

Clifford was onto her third album by then, by which time, sad to say, most of disco’s most dramatic performers were seriously thinking about switching on the auto-pilot, and letting the machines make the music. Not Clifford. In fact, Let Me Be Your Woman wasn’t simply her best LP so far, it was one of the entire disco genre’s best, recorded with a backing unit that included Chester Thompson, Bobby Eli and the Jones Girls, and littered not with simply a handful of great tracks, but a wall-to-wall barrage of the things.

And boy, if you thought the album were tracks were terrific, wait till you hear the 12-inch remixes.

The extended version of “Don’t Give Up,” from that same album, is probably Clifford’s finest hour.  Or, more accurately, her finest ten minutes.  Stately slow, but insistent too, it drives a similar mood to the Three Degrees’ version of “Maybe” (the album version, not the earlier 45), all the way down to the “alright girls” opening line.  Except times have changed and values, too.  The Three Degrees were offering a pep talk.  Clifford is out for blood.

And the reason we’re telling you all this is….

A former jazz vocalist, actress and Miss New York State, Clifford’s earliest singles appeared on Paramount in 1973, and didn’t really do much – Curtis Mayfield’s production of his own “(It’s Gonna Be) A Long Long Winter” made minor inroads into the R&B chart in 1973, but it wasn’t until Clifford switched to Knight’s own Curtom label in 1977 that things started to happen.

Over the next five years, Clifford would release half a dozen albums for Curtom, four of which have just been reissued by Blixa Sounds… and they’re all as great as they ought to be: If My Friends Could See Me Now, titled for her first major hit, in 1978; Let Me Be Your Woman and Here’s My Love from 1979; and 1980’s I’m Yours. 

Absent are another 1980 waxing, The Right Combination, built around seven duets with Mayfield himself; and, oddly, Clifford’s debut, 1977’s Linda, which rounded up covers of songs by Evie Sands, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Van McCoy, the BeeGees, Bunny Sigler and Rod Stewart (a gloriously soulful “Tonight’s The Night”) and should be added to the schedule right now.

In the meantime, however, let’s look at what we’ve got.

With Mayfield co-producing (alongside Linda’s Gil Askey, of Motown renown) and contributing several songs to the proceedings, If My Friends… became Clifford’s breakthrough – it reached #9, while spin-off singles “Runaway Love” and Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” both join the title track in appending the album with extended mixes.  

And that is the key to this series, the inclusion of some of the most powerful 12-inchers of the age, genuine full length performances that let Clifford truly show off those remarkable vocals.  She was never, after all, your “typical” “disco diva.”  Steeped as she was in the demands of both jazz and “classic” R&B, that voice could boil blood from across the dance floor, and one can only imagine what the R&B scene of a decade earlier would have made of her.  Stax would never have sounded the same, that’s for sure.

And speaking of Stax… Clifford’s fourth album, Here’s My Love, maybe proved a little disappointing after the peaks of its predecessors, although it still has its highlights.  But I’m Yours placed Clifford in the studio with producer Isaac Hayes, who also wrote the majority of the songs, and it doesn’t matter what year it came out, this is vintage stuff from them both.

So, four albums and, once again, it really doesn’t matter whether you remember Linda Clifford or not.  Nor whether you think you like disco or not.  Some albums… indeed, some careers… transcend whatever boundaries you want to erect around them, and Clifford’s is one of them.

And if you don’t believe that….  Nah, just stay home with your Kiss, Wings and Rolling Stones records.  No danger of stumbling across any dodgy disco there, is there?

 

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