Thelma Houston, Any Way You Like It, review: A chance to revisit the disco diva's finest hour

Mississippi-born singer was no one-trick pony

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The Independent Culture

Disco, it’s a musical era that many of us would prefer to forget.

An aberration, when style, substance and talent were sacrificed on the altar of glitterballs, drum machines and pounding dancefloor beats – right?

Well, not quite. Like any trend, there was some bad stuff, some indifferent stuff, but quite a lot of decent stuff, too. So it's good to be reminded now and then that it wasn't all synthesisers, platform shoes and Studio 54.

Mississippi-born former gospel singer Thelma Houston had already proved her vocal prowess with the Jimmy Webb-produced but poor-selling Sunflower album when she was signed by Motown in the 1970s.

At first the label, then in as much in a state of upheaval as the music scene after its move from Detroit to LA, didn't know what to do with her. But it was with her second album, released in 1977 and reissued here with bonus cuts, that her producers hit paydirt.

Houston's revival of the two-year old Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes hit "Don't Treat Me This Way" fulfilled all the disco criteria with its relentless rhythm and through-your-skull beat, but it also boasted her joyous, commanding and soulful vocals soaring through the disco trappings. She was rightfully rewarded with a No 1 US hit (No 13 in the UK)

The album also revealed that she was no one-trick pony. There were other disco-styled numbers, such as the pulsating six-minute long title track but, other, more soulful cuts such as the upbeat Stevie Wonder-penned “Don’t Know Why I Love You” and a glorious rendition of a classic Sinatra number “If It’s the Last Thing I Do”.

The reissue’s six bonus cuts include the original version of a song about someone in a mental institution, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To”, which, rewritten and given a lighter treatment became a hit for Diana Ross and the theme of her second film Mahogany, plus “You’ve Been Do Wrong For So Long”, a gorgeous slice of Southern soul cut at the celebrated Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama that took Thelma straight back to church.

Thelma’s version of “Don’t Leave Me this Way” would, like all great songs, take on a life of its own, even becoming the unofficial theme song for US gay communities during the Aids epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, while Thelma herself continued to record and tour. Here’s a chance to revisit her greatest hour.

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