If you were around in the 1970’s, there was a record label that you either loved or couldn’t escape, no matter how you tried. And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records (Backbeat) by Larry Harris is a first hand account of how a record label started out of the ashes from another, only to fade into an unfortunate dust, but not without releasing an amount of output that influences people to this day.
Harris is the cousin of Casablanca’s late founder, Neil Bogart, and was there for most of the label’s highs and unfortunate lows. What Harris reveals in the book is how the label started in a very humble manner, and through hard work, determination, and at times luck, they were able to sign artists who would help to define music of the 1970’s. These artists include Kiss, The Village People, Donna Summer and Parliament, and while the book doesn’t get in-depth with their individual histories, it does get into how the label worked with them to insure they would become and remain popular, even though the public was not aware of the mountain of hassles everyone was going through in order for the label to maintain its own public persona.
If you know about any aspect of Kiss’ history, you’ll know how they were a major part of Casablanca’s success, but so was Donna Summer, whose output from 1975-1979 made her the Queen of Disco. The Village People helped to create the power and elegance of a genre that had existed in the early 70’s, but was heavily pushed as a force to be reckon with through their label. Oddly enough, even with all of the tales of sex, cocaine, quaaludes, and payola, the person that is seen as the most sane is George Clinton, at least from Harris’ perspective. All of the artists on the label were hard working and determined to be active in order to have a career and maintain an income. The book touches on how no matter how lavish the request, Bogart would insure that all of them would be fulfilled, including creating a mothership for Parliament/Funkadelic and thousands of worshipping P-Funk fans. Harris admits that when Clinton had ideas and concepts to lay down, he was often as incoherent as anything. Weed, cocaine, potent wine, his substances were not described in detailed but for Clinton and friends, they were more than willing to tour and present an incredible show as long as they were paid. Perhaps this is what moved Clinton to be signed by multiple labels at the same time, so that he would have multiple sources of income. While I would have loved to have read more in-depth facts about Clinton and everyone within the P-Funk power, it seemed funny that for an artist who has always been perceived as being out there with his musical and social vision, he is viewed as the sanest of the bunch. Kiss, on the other hands, were always about the money and Donna Summer is viewed as someone who either loved drama or was surrounded by it, definitely fulfilling the diva persona many have placed on her in the last 35 years.
Harris touches on all of the meetings, promotional tactics, publicity moves, department growth, and everything that has to do with making one of the best record labels around remain to be the best, but the truth was that the lavish lifestyles people at the label were living was much greater than the reality of what was going on. The philosophy was very much based on “perception over reality”, in that as long as people felt you were going good, then you were good. The book also reveals a number of the label’s failures and shortcomings, and generally pops the bubble on the mystique Casablanca has had for so many years. Maybe the logos for the label and one of their subsidiary labels should have offered clues for some. A Casablanca design involved an illustration of the Casablanca in question, a white house in the desert that was actually depicting a scene out of a movie being shot, complete with cameras, microphones, and lights. It was portraying a scene. Casablanca would also distribute a label called Oasis, and while it was not their intention, maybe the oasis in Casablanca’s desert was also an oasis that they wanted everyone to believe.
One of the more interesting aspects is reading what Bogart wanted to do with various off-shoot divisions. Casablanca would eventually become known as Casablanca Records & FilmWorks, where they would dabble in making/distributing movies. But there were also moves to have divisions for artwork/paintings, cell phones, and home video, at a time when home video wasn’t seen as something worthy for public consumption. The one reason why there are so many Casablanca-related promotional film clips/music videos was that they were always creating documentaries and television shows to not only promote the artists, but their music and themselves. They were multimedia before multimedia was a buzzword, and as Harris reveals, a series of albums they pushed to be released by McDonald’s (yes, the fast food chain) were interactive, at a time when interactive meant wishing you had a remote control so you could turn channels from your sofa.
The story is told very well, with all of the excitement and delight any record company biography is expected to have. If you are a fan of the truth behind how the machine works, And Party Every Day will make you wonder how anything like this could ever happen again. People were willing to take more chances back then, and from afar it seemed like it was one hell of a ride. For the love of music, as well as the love of music, fame, success, women, and good ludes, Casablanca was a monster that ate itself foolishly. In retrospect, it reads like an oasis that vanished far too soon, but it’s fun to realize what went on in the sandstorms of the 1970’s.