It is amazing what you’ll buy when the need for vinyl outweighs good sense. I’m not sure what mood I was in a few weeks back when the best I could bring home was an album of disco versions of Pink Floyd songs, but it may have been certifiable. Ignoring a raft of warning signs – the painted stripes on the red-headed cover nude, the list of musicians looking very like French session hacks, perhaps most alarmingly the name of the outfit – as I say, ignoring all that I still handed over my tenner and brought home Rosebud: A Tribute To Pink Floyd by Discoballs.
Hang on. Looking at the spine suggests that the title is actually Discoballs: A Tribute To Pink Floyd by Rosebud. That’s so much better, isn’t it? I mean, having a naked lady imitating a Grecian discus-throwing statue (where the discus is replaced by a disc; tee-he) is OK as long as you’re calling her Rosebud not Discoballs.
On the back, the poor lass has lost her red paint stripes, or maybe they’ve shrunk down to the red dot that protects what remains of her modesty. Certainly nothing could save her self-respect, as her expression seems to suggest.
“But what about the music?”, you cry. Don’t bore us with oiled naked ladies, tell us about the songs!
Beat there is a-plenty, as you’d expect. First up is that broodingly cynical expose of record company shallowness, “Have a cigar” from Wish You Were Here. It starts promisingly enough, with a vaguely funky disco beat and some nice choppy guitar and a multi-tracked female vocal singing the verse. The first verse is repeated again, but that’s OK as ‘Fly high, you’re never gonna die’ has a nice ‘fly…’ answer-echo that works well. There’s a brief but catchy percussive break then the verse returns. The same verse. The first verse. Repeated twice more. Then an instrumental break that has tasty synth (too brief) before the verse returns. It’s the first verse again. Twice more. AHHHGH! And then it does it all again, but as I’d run screaming from the room I cannot tell you how many more repeats there were.
“Free Four”, a slightly odd shanty ballad from Obscured by Clouds, sings of mortality and death, very much from a male perspective, as the opening lines make clear.
The memories of a man in his old age
Are the deeds of a man in his prime.
You shuffle in gloom of the sickroom
And talk to yourself as you die
So this jaunty arrangement with a chirpy female vocalist – Miss X, according to the credits, showing profound good sense in keeping her real name off the recording – sounds very odd indeed. But it’s funky, the guitar stabs are a bit dirty and the arrangement sprints along like a young gazelle. Which would be great if it wasn’t about an old duffer dying. Oh well, the guitar solo is excellent, if unaccountably country-tinged. The wedding bells at the end are just plain odd.
Next up we have “Summer 68”, a nostalgic song from Atom Heart Mother in its original setting, but here a bouncy reggae almost-instrumental that sounds like it was transplanted from a Caribbean video arcade game. The only line of the original song deployed here is, ‘How do you feel?’. Hard to say. Somewhere between amused delight and on-coming food poisoning, I think.
Taking out side one, literally out of this world, is a disco arrangement of “Interstellar Overdrive“ from the very first Pink Floyd album. This starts promisingly with some crunchy guitar and that famous descending riff on a Casio-sounding keyboard. But it settles down into a repetitive and not very interesting groove with flute fills. This is much less the angst in space of Dark Star than the squeaky clean transistors of R2-D2 in a cute bit of comic relief with C-3PO from some Star Wars out-take reel. Yet the brass stabs jump pleasingly from channel to channel like a big band tennis match while the squelchy synth fills of the final section are, frankly, synthtastic. These deliciously analogue sounds are credited to Georges Rodi. Well done, Georges. Again, I’m both appalled and entranced; feet tapping and eyes rolling simultaneously.
Given that most Pink Floyd songs are a rather plodding tempo, the speeded up “Money” that opens side two is fun. In fact the whole track will bring a smile: the girlie vocals, the synths, the prancing beat. You know, I’m starting to love this LP.
(Don’t give me that)
Goody goody goody bull-shit
As ‘One of these days’ is primarily instrumental to begin with, the Discoballs jazz-funk workout (now with added sax!) simply grooves along, gaining momentum from the elevated tempo and some bouncing bass work. This is actually a pretty damn good arrangement where the players – especially the guitarist Claude Engel – enjoy the space to solo. Perhaps it goes on a bit long, but that’s disco, eh?
Now here’s a stretch. Re-imagining a whimsical 1967 tale of a washing-line thief of dubious morality as an eighties dance track. Jaunty vocals, jazzy sax; doesn’t work that well… until a breathtaking rising vocal arpeggio on the name of the hero. Arnold Layne rises up towards the stratosphere and cues a departure into experimental disco territory (an obvious oxymoron, I know, but the instrumental break is again rather good). Then it just ends. Neat.
Given that the catalogue available at the time of this album’s production covered eleven Pink Floyd albums, the choice of songs is, to say the least, idiosyncratic. Rather than ending with “Wish you were here” or “Us and them” or even the eternally cool “Astronomy Domine”, the Discoballs team chose the title theme from “More”, a minor 1969 transitional Floyd soundtrack curio. Odd and a little down-beat.
In sum, Discoballs is everything the cover promised. Kitsch and clever, amusing and appalling, and absolutely worth the price of admission. I can easily imagine this album being one of those I pull out on miserable grey Melbourne winter days (like today) and get a whiff of rosebuds. If only I could work out the Citizen Kane connection…