If you’ve seen the latest 30-second advertisement for retailer Target, you know that it features a handful of women shaking and shimmying around in colored prints against backgrounds straight out of a kaleidoscope. It’s promoting a new line from womenswear brand PETER PILOTTO, a partnership between designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos that’s been around for a few years now. However, it’s the energetic dance song used in it that’s catching a lot of buzz, a new remix of an old disco classic that conquered the clubs and is now conquering the world of commercials.
This is the story of one of the songs by the “Queen of Disco”, the performer best known as Sylvester. Born Sylvester James, Jr. in Watts, CA in 1947, his looks were flamboyant and his falsetto was exquisite. From the earlier days of singing in church to performing with drag troupes and then eventually to his own recordings, he had a clear image and a voice, one that meant a lot particularly within the gay community during a wave of change during the 70’s. In 1977, he joined Harvey Fuqua and Fantasy Records in taking his brand of music into the mainstream. By 1978’s Step II, that dream was fully realized, and with disco music filling up the pop charts, his sound caught on and swept the nation.
Today back in 1979, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” climbed from 44-40, becoming the performer’s second top 40 hit on the Hot 100. It would climb to #36 the next week, stay there for another frame, and then fall down at a rapid pace. It last appeared on the chart dated March 17 at position #100. The peak was achieved nearly six months after it topped the Hot Dance/Club Play survey for six weeks in a double a-side release with “Dance (Disco Heat)”, which peaked at #19 on the Hot 100 in 1978. It also climbed to #8 in the U.K., spending three weeks in the top ten.
The song’s legacy in the dance community remains high in the decades since it was first released. The bass line of it heavily influenced New Order‘s 1983 classic “Blue Monday”, which has also been widely sampled. Then, in 1990, Jimmy Somerville, vocalist for Bronski Beat and The Communards, peaked at #87 on the Hot 100 with his version. (In the U.K., it landed at #5.) Two other 90’s remakes also ranked on the Dance/Club Play chart, by actress Sandra Bernhard (#13, 1994) and singer Byron Stingily (#1, 1998). It was also featured in the 2008 film Milk.
Sylvester‘s career after mid-1979 was almost exclusively found on the Dance surveys, which he continued to enter regularly, and the occasional European hit, like a feature on Patrick Cowley‘s 1982 single, “Do You Wanna Funk?” The singer signed to Warner Bros. for his last album, 1986’s Mutual Attraction, which garnered him his second of two Dance #1’s and a top 20 R&B hit, “Someone Like You”. He died in December 1988 due to complications from AIDS.
He’s no longer with us, but his musical legacy lives on for generations to enjoy, even if they’re doing it while shopping for the latest apparel. Not only is it on TV, but it’s enshrined in the Dance Hall Of Fame and that’s mighty real good.