Monday, July 13, 2009

Surprisingly Moved by Viola Wills

When I first got in my new car I turned on the stereo to find that I had Sirius satellite radio stations. I perused the manual and found that Sirius would be provided for the first year of the vehicle's operation. Since the car was actually used, I have four months of Sirius left. I'm serious.

I was listening to channel 81 Cinemagic Jazz Standards on my way home from Safeway. This station, strangely enough, played classic dance and disco before the Studio 54 channel. I was minding my own business when the familiar strains of the 1980 recording If You Could Read My Mind came wafting through the six (count 'em, six) speakers. Viola Wills. I opened the car windows and belted that tune out with the lady. It's a beautiful, uplifting production of a song whose subject matter is not quite beautiful and uplifting. In fact, a controversy surrounding the rearrangement of this Gordon Lightfoot paean to dance was brewing around the same time as the Disco Sucks movement hit a full head of steam. I didn't care then or now because Disco Don't Suck. I got home, opened my laptop, and searched Viola and If You Could Read My Mind.

The first link that came up was a news story reporting that Viola Wills had died on May 9, 2009, two months prior. I was surprised at the news and SHOCKED that I hadn't heard it before as I pride myself on my knowledge of the minutiae of pop culture. Many links later I accepted her death to be true.

I was surprisingly moved by Viola's death. Surprisingly because I didn't feel that way when Vicki Sue Robinson died. But Viola and I had a number of tunes, and a meet and greet, in common. I remember bopping to Stormy Weather, Up on the Roof, and Gonna Get Along With You Now as I came out of the closet and onto the dance floor. Viola Wills was the disco cover queen.

Viola was discovered in the late 1960s by Barry White but it wasn't until a decade later that she hit it big with her cover of Gonna Get Along Without You Now which reached the top 10 in 1979. (The 1959 original was sung by Patience & Prudence.) The hit started a string of dance covers including Both Sides Now, (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me, Stormy Weather, Up On The Roof, Secret Love, Love Pains, Climb Every Mountain, Midnight Blue, If You Leave Me Now and the aforementioned If You Could Read My Mind. Stormy Weather topped out at #4 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart in 1982. She continued to release records into the late 1980s although there were not many hits among them. These were mostly released on the RVA record label which she formed with her husband Robert Ashmun in 1983.

Wills was extremely popular among the nation's gay community with her singles always spun in gay dance clubs. IN fact, that's where I met Viola. I hired her to perform at Torpedo, a gay dance club in South Beach, Florida in 1991. She was, as the nightclub business deemed her, a track act; she brought instrumental tracks with her to which she performed live vocals. Viola packed the floor on one of our biggest dance nights and was very sweet and unassuming. That's about all I remember. It was a night club, for Christ's sake.

In reading about Viola I found out that she was 53 when we met seventeen years ago. (She was born December 30, 1939.) I was 35. She looked great. So did I. And now I learn she recorded singles as early as 1966! I hadn't heard any of her non-dance oriented work so I decided to look for some of this stuff. Unfortunately, there was nothing but the aforementioned tunes in disparate disco compilations.

Since I found no audio files I searched YouTube for video and hit gold. But I wanted an audio collection - you know to blast in the car with the windows open. So I downloaded high-quality videos from YouTube, extracted the audio and converted it to 192 bkps using SWITCH. Not sure what that makes it technologically but it's still music. Below is a list of the songs I compressed into a ZIP file. Email me if you'd like the URL to download the ZIP.

Rest with peace, Viola.

I Got Love (1966) - excellent
Lost Without the Love (1966) - nice
You're Out of My Mind (1967) - excellent but not good quality
I Believe in Miracles (1975) - beautiful
Let's Love Now (Disco Version) (1977) - not a highlight
Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1979) - reminds me of Bette Midler's You're Moving Out Today
(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
If You Could Read My Mind from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
Let Me Be Your Rock from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
Midnight Blue from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
Secret Love from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
Up On The Roof from If You Could Read My Mind LP (1980)
If You Leave Me Now (1981) - very nice version of the treacly Chicago hit
The More I See You (1982) - nice take on the classic
Stormy Weather (1982) - ahhhhh
Climb Every Mountain (1983) - another remix version is on YouTube
Both Sides Now (1989) - surprisingly acceptable
Dare to Dream (1989) - excellent and written by Vi
Love Pains (1989) - was another version really necessary?
Gonna Get Along Without You Now (Single Version) (1980)
If You Could Read My Mind (extended) (1980)
Bonus Track - Gonna Get Along Without You Now (Patience & Prudence) (1959)

No comments:

Post a Comment