Noël "Is There More To Life Than Dancing" (1979)

For Record Store Day 2024, an interestingly conceived double-LP is being issued, pairing two related disco albums from 1979. The first of the two vinyl LP's in the set is No. 1 in Heaven by Sparks, which was Ron and Russell Mael's foray into electronic music. The other LP in the set is an album by a mysterious female singer named Noël, written and produced by the Mael brothers, titled Is There More To Life Than Dancing. This 2-LP set will be limited to 1,500 copies. Both albums will reportedly be reissued on CD one month later, on May 17th.

If there was any such thing as "alt-disco" or "alternative dance" circa 1979, it was arguably created the previous year by either Blondie or Kraftwerk. But 45 years later, this RSD release makes a case for the duo of Ron and Russell Mael as similar pioneers when it came to bridging the gap between new wave and dance-pop in the late-1970's.

First off, the Sparks album No. 1 In Heaven, which is currently available digitally, was an attempt by the unclassifiable cult band to break into the then-dominant disco genre -- not for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, but for the purpose of redirecting their creative technique away from guitar-based rock and toward technology-based music. The album was produced by disco guru Georgio Moroder, but it did not sound like just any disco album from the time period. You probably guessed as much, right? Anyone who is familiar with the long, strange career of Sparks knows that the eccentric Mael brothers have never played by the rules of the mainstream. Instead of sounding dated, No. 1 In Heaven now seems like it was ahead of its time. The Maels imparted a then-unusual brand of electronic experimentalism to the often repetitive disco genre, making an album that was both danceable and individualistic. When heard today, No. 1 In Heaven now bears more resemblance to what we call "synth-pop", and the album has its rightful place in history as a work which influenced such artists as Joy Division, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and Erasure. Does that make it a great album? Not exactly. But No. 1 In Heaven is a seminal work that is worth hearing for those who appreciate Sparks' adventurous tendencies. It is not one of the best albums in the long and inconsistent career of the Mael brothers, but it is nowhere near their worst.

The singer Noël was a fashion model based in Los Angeles. According to the internet, her real name was never revealed to the public. Her 1979 disco album Is There More To Life Than Dancing was produced and composed by Ron and Russell Mael. Although the electronic instrumentation (presumably provided by Ron Mael) bears some resemblance to that of No. 1 In Heaven, the Maels gave Noël's album a less offbeat and more mainstream type of disco sound. However, the album doesn't sound like run-of-the-mill product from the era. Although the tracks tend to be long and the dance grooves have much of the typical disco repetition, the album is never boring. Noël's vocals have a surprising amount of soul for those of a singing model, and the energy level of the material is quite consistent. And the album does possess just enough quirkiness to attract lovers of synth-pop. Is There More To Life Than Dancing is a good rarity to unearth.

So, was this mysterious Noël person ever heard from again? Yes, at least one more time. In 1982, she recorded an album titled Peer Pressure with a backing band called the Red Wedge. This album purveyed the type of synth-rock which was becoming prominent at that point in time, using both guitars and synthesizers. The keyboards were played by co-producer Mitchell Froom; the drums were credited to Thom Mooney (ex-Nazz) and Frankie Banali (of Quiet Riot). Noël did some of the writing this time, as did Froom. The album sounds something like the work of a new wave Pat Benatar, or a harder-edged Missing Persons. Peer Pressure is well-produced by Froom and Ron Kramer, and it might have been a decent vehicle for a stronger singer -- but that just wasn't who Noël was. Her voice was well-suited for her earlier disco record, but on this one, she merely came across as an untrained vocalist, struggling to rise to the quality of the presentation.

Sparks "No. 1 In Heaven" (Elektra 6E-186) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Tryouts For The Human Race
2. Academy Award Performance
3. La Dolce Vita
4. Beat The Clock
5. My Other Voice
6. The Number One Song In Heaven

Nöel - Is There More to Life Than Dancing?

Noël "Is There More To Life Than Dancing" (Virgin V 2126) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Dancing Is Dangerous
2. Is There More To Life Than Dancing
3. The Night They Invented Love
4. Au Revoir
5. I Want A Man

Noël & The Red Wedge - Peer Pressure

Noël and the Red Wedge "Peer Pressure" (Scotti Bros. ARZ 37944) 1982

Track Listing:

1. Special To You
2. Act Of Love
3. She's A Big Girl Now
4. Stranger
5. Tell Me Why
6. Peer Pressure
7. Still Life With Luger
8. Slow Motion
9. Waiting (I'm Not)
10. Specimen