Excerpt from And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records:
Since we’d released the first Donna Summer album and “Love to Love You Baby,” we had been talking up disco. We hadn’t been big believers in the genre before this; it had seemed insubstantial, a little too much like the flavor of the month, but once we saw that the genre had staying power at the clubs and recognized that the clubs could dramatically influence radio, we embraced it. It was a money-making product, and we were in the money-making business.
Even unknown disco artists, who may have cost us only twenty thousand dollars, were selling enough product to make a profit. Casablanca was becoming so irrevocably associated with the disco genre that we were called “the disco label,” and artists from all over the world were coming to us in droves to make deals. It reached the point where people wouldn’t go into their favorite record store to ask for the new album by a particular artist—they would ask what was new from Casablanca. We were able to sell product that had no radio play just because the word “Casablanca” was printed on it.
This wasn’t an accident. Initially, we ran into a problem selling disco. In fact, the entire industry was afflicted with the same dilemma. The club DJs tended to play one disco song right after another without naming what was playing. Disco was a very formulaic genre, and it all sounded fairly similar, so clubbers were clueless about what songs they were hearing. Our solution was to flood the clubs with advertising. We had cocktail napkins and posters and coasters and matchbooks bearing images of our artists and logos made up by the truckload, and we distributed them through the network of discotheques. While all this promo material didn’t help you figure out what song you were listening to, it did make the Casablanca name omnipresent, and we soon had ourselves a very successful brand.
To help market that brand, we scoured the landscape for disco artists, and we spent most of the first half of 1977 signing them as quickly as we could get a pen into their hands: Love and Kisses, Paul Jabara, Munich Machine, and many others. Most did not produce any huge radio or retail hits, but they were wildly popular at the clubs. That wasn’t all bad, because it gave Casablanca a consistent presence on a grassroots level.
To this day, it still surprises me that most people don’t really understand that the typical disco act was just a producer and a concept. The bands were (for the most part) merely a fancy logo on a well-designed LP cover, which often portrayed a female in some high-fashion sexual pose. This fantasy concept was mainly intended to help an ad agency to build a marketing campaign around the cover art. And perhaps the best example of the concept was found in the work of European producer-songwriter Alec Costandinos.
Alec was a slender, good-looking guy of Egyptian descent who had been developing acts in France for several years and had scored a decent hit in 1976 with Love in C Minor, an album he’d collaborated on with a French disco drummer named Jean-Marc Cerrone. Alec was a joy to work with; the man knew every aspect of his craft. He knew how to write and produce music very quickly, but he was also intimately involved in creating cover art, and he’d often sit in on marketing meetings or work on contractual details with Richard Trugman. He knew that we were spending more time and effort on our bigger acts like KISS and Donna Summer, but as long as we gave him what he needed (which wasn’t much) he never complained. Of all the artists we ever signed, Alec unquestionably delivered the most for our money. He was a one-man assembly line of great disco: between June 1977 and September 1979, he would release eleven albums through Casablanca under six different monikers.
The most successful of these was our first Costandinos acquisition: Love and Kisses. The debut LP, whose artwork featured a close-up of a woman’s partially exposed breasts (her T-shirt was being ripped apart by several groping hands) had already been released in France, and both Neil and I felt it would do very well stateside. In no small part, this was due to the fact that both of the LP’s two songs were sixteen-plus minutes long. We released the album, and everyone was very pleased with the success of “Accidental Lover” and “I’ve Found Love (Now That I’ve Found You).” Both songs were huge in the clubs throughout the summer of 1977. Love and Kisses was so successful that we also snatched up Sphinx, a project Alec had worked on with French arranger Raymond Donnez (aka Don Ray). Like Love and Kisses before it, Sphinx had already been released in France. It had been designed as a concept album that told the story of the betrayal of Christ. Again, the album contained only two tracks, both epic-length, each filling up one side. Jesus meets disco. It was a match made somewhere south of Heaven.