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Alex Newell & DJ Cassidy (with Nile Rodgers) – Kill the Lights


HBO’s Vinyl was supposed to be the breakout television hit of 2016.  Created by A-list heavyweights in the music, television and movie industries – including Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter (of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire fame) – the show was an attempt to recreate the drug-filled, creatively dynamic and turbulent world of the early 1970s record industry, as seen through the eyes of a record industry executive (played by Bobby Cannavale). With a blue-chip cast (including Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple, Ray Romano and Mick Jagger’s son James), fantastic and lovingly recreated era-appropriate sets and costumes, a two-hour premiere directed by Scorsese and a rumored budget of $100 million, how could this show miss?

Well, miss it did. Vinyl was a colossal failure, achieving dismal ratings and cancellation after its first season of ten episodes. What went wrong? Well for starters, the show was a colossal bore. Full of stereotypical characters, historical anachronisms and tired clichés, it suffered from terrible writing and grating performances. From the record man bitching about “processed” artists like ABBA and lamenting about the death of “real” music, to the coke-heavy freak out scenes in clubs that all looked like Studio 54, everything about Vinyl felt like it had been created by a committee of wanna-be hipsters in their twenties who learned about the era from watching reruns of Starsky and Hutch and That 70s Show.  Nothing about the show felt original or authentic.

Except for the music, that is.  What Vinyl did get right was its selection of great covers and original tunes that captured the spirit and flavor of the decade and provided the perfect accompaniment for the otherwise flavorless show. While finding pre-existing songs for a film or show that convey a sense of history and place is quite easy (as the use, over and over again, of For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield in every Vietnam or 60s movie exemplifies), it’s much trickier to create an original song that honors the spirit of a particular time without sounding derivative or potentially copyright-infringing (Blurred Lines, anyone?). The music creatives on Vinyl, however, did a spectacular job of hiring songwriters who produced music featured on the show that was both time-appropriate and fresh-sounding.  The best example?  The very, very, very disco Kill the Lights.

In one of the sub-plots on Vinyl, a young A & R executive named Clark Morelle (played by Jack Quaid, the son of actors Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid) is tasked with breaking new artists. Having no luck finding any such artists that his label head likes, Clark discovers that one of the artists already on the label – the fictional band “Indigo” – has made a great dance soul-record. Wanting to generate interest in this band (who is about to be dropped from the label), Clark takes the record to an “underground dance club” and asks the resident DJ to play “track 4” as a favor. The DJ puts the record on, and after a brief period where it looks like the song is bombing with the crowd, several dancers take a shine to it and in a few moments the whole club is bumping and shaking its groove thing to the record. And that, Vinyl would have us believe in its completely historically shaky way, is how and when disco was born:

Although the scene is completely unbelievable, the song – Kill the Lights – is an absolute corker. With vocals performed by the huge-voiced Alex Newell – aka Unique from Glee – and production by DJ Cassidy and signature Chic guitar licks from Nile RodgersKill the Lights captures all of the best things about disco-era records. Starting with the slow-burning minor chord verses, to the giddy build-up of the bridge, and then the exploding joy of the chorus, the song reels you in from the beginning and basically dares you not to dance. Handclaps? Check. Bells, swelling strings, arpeggio slides? Check, check, check, they are all here too. All that is missing is the polyester and platforms, and luckily the official video for the song has those too:

By the time the Vinyl episode featuring Kill the Lights aired in April 2016 and the song was simultaneously released as a single, the show’s ratings had plummeted to an all-time low and there was little hope that the song would actually find an audience. Atlantic (the label for the song), however, wouldn’t give up on the record, and commissioned a remix by American record producer Audien that added Jess Glynne to the vocals:

The remix and Glynne’s vocals, while modernizing the production, did little to improve upon an already great record, and by then it was too late: neither version of the song graced the British or US singles charts. The song, however, did hit no.1 on the US dance chart, which was somehow perfectly fitting for a record that captured the sound of an era without shamelessly ripping it off. Which, sadly, was not true of the show that birthed it.

20836ce73059fcf03d34489f5b649d9f-500x500x1Entered chart: did not chart

Who could sing this today and have a hit? RuPaul. This song was MADE for sashay-ing and chantay-ing

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