Joey & Norman Jay
Good Times 4
s there a place left in social culture for the Puritans? A bizarre alternate reality where partying is all about fun, friendship and togetherness, and where alcohol, sex and snobs don’t exist? And if such an option existed, would it even be able to satisfy or fulfill us in this hypermedia age? Norman Jay might not be praising the Shaker chair, but for the past seven years, he has continued to compile collections of dance music that aim to warm the heart through a groove, without sacrificing to schmaltz or hipster one-upmanship.
Along with the late John Peel and Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay is one of the most respected DJs and tastemakers in Britain, and is probably the only DJ to be made an official member of the British Empire. Norman and his brother Joey have been holding block parties at London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival since the 80’s, and the Good Times series acts as an aural souvenir of the genre-hopping music they play. You’ll find an assortment of all things body-moving from the past five decades here, ranging from the soul/funk/disco trifecta to hip-hop, house, jazz fusion, reggae and anything in between.
The way the Jays can turn such a mélange of styles into a cohesive set is through the common thread each song carries: positivity and good times. You won’t find anyone brooding or cursing here; the furthest from a smile you get is some sun-kissed sighing on Matthew Herbert’s big band remix of “Refugee” by Oi Va Voi. Weighing in at over 2 hours long, with a total of 27 tracks on two CDs, the average person is not going to like every track the Jays present, but catch yourself in the right moment and it is hard not to be swept away by all the feel-good enthusiasm.
As you would assume from such an eclectic selection, it takes a least a few good listens for all the songs to sink in. Once you’ve cracked the nutshell and made your way inside, there are plenty of highlights to choose from. Two of the biggest discoveries are Jakki’s “You are the Star”, an early West End record which is a sweet snapshot of that moment in 1976 when Philly soul was morphing into disco, and Ten City’s “Superficial People“, a dramatic disco epic updated with early 90’s hip-hop grooves. There are a couple of well-known selections too, like James Mason’s acid-jazz classic, “Sweet Power Your Embrace”, the lean summertime hip-hop of “Bug Powder Dust” by Bomb The Bass, and James Brown’s “Don’t Tell It”, which has the kind of scratchy funk riff you’ll find all over Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk series. The Jays also throw down two great interpretations of Johnnie Taylor’s disco-esque R&B hit “What About My Love”, in the form of Shapeshifters’ recent single “Lola’s Theme”, and an obscure cover version from gospel singer Damaris Carbaugh. I must say I’m also partial to the synth-heavy R&B of “Best Part of The Night” by Jeff Lorber, even if the chorus is total cheese: “This is the best part of the night / The part when I hold you tight”. It makes sense it was produced by The System, who were responsible for such 80’s hits like “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan and (gah!) Phil Collins' "Sussudio.”
So perhaps it is possible, for a couple of hours, to sneak into a party where everyone is dancing and caring for one another, instead of staring apathetically at each other from opposite sides of the room. This is the vibe that the Good Times series creates, and it is to the Jays’ immense credit that they don’t come off as smug or syrupy, they actually come off as being pretty hip. And that’s quite a task.