When you think of disco meccas, you probably picture New York or Los Angeles, maybe Miami, but definitely not Toronto or Montreal. While Canada never experienced quite the same boom that took over the United States in the 1970s, the culture did make its way north of the border and spread to multiple cities.
While very few Canadian disco records went on to become massive hits, serious collectors have discovered some gems, especially on the left-field end of the spectrum. We reached out to ten of our favourite crate-diggers to find out their top tracks, and here's what they responded with.
Ramm, "Spark The Universe"
"I was listening to this bootleg compilation of 'dark disco' years ago, and this familiar voice from my youth stood out. It sounded like Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club but not in the context I was familiar with. It turned out that it was indeed her, and that she had teamed up with producer Ken Ramm and legend Daniel Lanois to produce this Canadian disco song. Here they deliver a percussion-driven mix of disco, punk, new wave, and funk that continues to excite, and has me longing for more material from this unlikely team."
Martha and the Muffins, "Black Stations/White Stations"
"In hindsight, it feels like a cynical call to arms to get on both major US radio formats, and sure it might be indebted to the worldly groove of "Tongues"-era Talking Heads. But the production is so massive (thanks to Daniel Lanois) and the rhythm's so slamming, that Martha's song has stood the test of time to my ears. It hit #2 on the American dance charts, too, so I guess the band's little radio gambit worked after all."
Gino Soccio, "Dancer"
"Unsurprisingly, I would choose "Dancer" by Gino Soccio as the greatest Canadian disco track. The Montreal scene with Gino Soccio and Pierre Perpall (and even early Gino Vanelli) must have been pretty exciting. "Dancer" is the best though. When that spacey breakdown happens in the middle of the track, I could listen to that all day!"
- Jeremy Greenspan is one half of Hamilton electro-pop duo Junior Boys.
Smash, "Chicken Stomp"
"Appropriately, I bought this record when I lived in Toronto during its budding rare groove scene around 1998. The title track ["Wipe Out"] was made popular by the Surfaris in 1963. This version is an Italo take on the original mega-classic. But for me the magic lay on the flip side, a literal "Chicken Stomp." Laced with a funky guitar line that emulated the sound of a clucking chicken, what's more disco than that? According to Discogs—and I didn't know this—this is an undercover project by G.B. & The Tracks. In a nutshell, it really represented what I loved in a tune at the time: dubbed out elements and stabs, an aggressive synth lead, with a chugging beat, and a sense of humor."
- Brennan Green is a Canadian DJ, musician, and producer living in NYC, and the founder of Chinatown Records.
Francine McGee, "Feelin' Good
"This went on to be on the top best 20 dance tracks in the UK in 1977. This is a record that gets the remix/re-edit treatment every year and has a cult following, especially in Europe. It had a big impact in the European market, but it was done here, and is still present today with new disco remixers and re-editors. Shameless self-promotion—I did the remix."
- Robert Ouimet is a veteran Montreal DJ often called the "Godfather of Canadian Disco."
Kebekelektrik, "War Dance"
"One of my favourite records of all time, produced and arranged by the man himself, Gino Soccio. This one came out in '77 on the Directions Label out of Montreal, then it was picked up by Salsoul in 1978. To this day, a lot of DJs worldwide still play it when the time is right. I still play it when I get a chance, and the young'uns think it's a house record when I do."
- Gene King started DJing Montreal clubs in 1982, has produced house since the early 90s, and is the founder of Shines Records.
Gino Soccio, "Remember"
"I found this deep in the basement of a record store in Montreal, when record hunting in the summer of 2003. The $2 bin comes through with this gem. The whole album is great. A true Quebec disco darling."
Cheri, "Murphy's Law"
"I moved to Montreal in 2005, and was pretty much only into hip-hop at the time, but I could see the remnants of a disco scene everywhere I dug for records. There were more 12-inch singles than I had ever seen in any other city. One that always caught my eye was "Murphy's Law" by Cheri because a) that's my last name, b) the label (6 AM) had a unique look, and c) it seemed to be in every used record store in the city. Turns out it was quite popular, and Cheri was a somewhat local group—half Canadian, half American. It's catchy as hell, and is written in swing time (like "Searching" by Change or "The Whole World" by Outkast), with sped-up chipmunk-y background vocals. It's more of an early set or last song of the night type joint —a fun song that lifts me up when feeling the effects of said law."
- Skratch Bastid is a Toronto-based DJ and producer, originally from Nova Scotia.
Nancy Martinez, "Hold Your Horses Baby"
"Martinez is a pop singer originally from La Prairie, Quebec, sometimes stylized as Nancy Martin. While this wasn't exactly a hit single back in 1983, that heavy synth bass line alone deserves way more views on YouTube. It was a welcome surprise I found digging around Montreal. Neige Records is a really great name for a label."
- Cadence Weapon is a Toronto-based rapper and writer, originally from Edmonton, Alberta.
Phill & Friends Band "This Man"
"I chose one that has still eluded me to this day. Even if I suffer from the-one-that-got-away syndrome, which I certainly do, I stand behind this comic chugger as one of the best Canadian disco 12"s ever. It has it all for me: totally weird other-worldly vocals, wicked programming, and epic pads. It has great sleaze appeal too. Even though it is pretty slow it also sounds great on the dance floor. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to hear this in a Montreal disco in 1980."
- Brandon Edward Hocura is one half of Invisible City, a Toronto DJ duo and record label.
Benjamin Boles is on Twitter.