I have been living with Deep Inside You, Gloria Ann Taylor’s claustrophobic 12″ soul-disco EP, for as long as I’ve been paying rent to negligent landlords. Six years into this suspicious arrangement–worrying over the legality of digital rips and lead paint chips–I’ve come to conclude that “it’s a mean world,” “love is a hurting thing,” and it’s time for a proper reissue.
Over the years, I’ve featured several selections from Gloria Ann Taylor’s genre-leaping career on my mixes. Her cover of “Jolene,” Dolly’s pleading anthem, anchored the initial song sequence on Tripping on You. An early 7″ version of “Love is a Hurting Thing” titled “How Can You Say It?” also appeared on funkrunt’s first blog mix, I Don’t Mind. Taylor’s husband Walter Whisenhunt produced both tracks. On his own, Whisenhunt’s name commands equal respect in collectors’ circles for his highly prized, left-field disco recordings.
Beyond the details in personnel, not much remains known about the haunting, enigmatic 12″ Deep Inside You. Experts speculate that the recording was released during the late 70s or early 80s in the husband-and-wife team’s bid to cantilever some of their old material to a dance crowd that had left them behind. Originally recorded in 1973, the three essential tracks on this mini-album appeared as 45 singles released on Whisenhunt’s Selector Sound label and Columbia Records. Songwriting credits for “What’s Your World” go to Leon Ware, and the legendary Dale Warren arranged the other two tracks, but in the transition to the recordings made for Deep Inside You, Whisenhunt and Taylor really stand apart as chief creative agents. Their remixed songs lap at listeners’ ears with irregular swells: dub beats and dolorous reverb. Whisenhunt’s engineering at the sound board provides as much tension and interplay as any other traditional instrument performed on this record. One feels his presence as at once meticulous but spaciously imprecise: the drums sometimes veer too close and then mysteriously recede; Taylor’s voice likewise sails through different levels on the mix; and an erratic, raspy hi-hat almost mars the otherwise majestic “Love is a Hurting Thing.”
Probably wisely, major label distributors passed on Deep Inside You. The curious imperfections and all-too-real lyrical pain on these tracks would have made for an uncomfortable disco burner. If the dance craze can be said to have rooted its social and aesthetic power in re-imagining sex, labor, and loneliness as a kind of theater, the stripped down material on Deep Inside You would have threatened to crash the genre’s affective magic. These songs do not mix well with other disco standards. Both in terms of playlists and audiences, Taylor’s music is best listened to alone.
It is for exactly these reasons that today’s collectors have enshrined Deep Inside You as the most revered private press album from the era. An accurate estimate of the album’s current value would be difficult to surmise–mostly because it never appears at auction–but copies used to sell for over $1200 when the record was still a secret among aficionados. Today, due to the peculiarities of our digital music culture, the rarest recordings often gain the widest casual audience. Deep Inside You, this 14 minute EP that only a small group will ever own, may serve broadly as a symbol for both the wise collector’s taste and the auratic value of his choicest collectables. Many people want the record for the simple reason that so few people have it.
Beyond the vinyl’s allure as commodity fetish, Deep Inside You offers a referendum on the endless cut-and-copy, recombinant aesthetics of contemporary pop music. The argument that soul music’s novel sounds–like nu-disco and dark r&b–have arisen to furnish previously unexplored emotions to old, sturdy genres falls apart when a little online sleuthing draws out neglected masterpieces that play with the same desired force, feeling, and conviction. New music today almost always builds on an unacknowledged past. (Consider the popularity of Daft Punk, for instance, as an example of an artistic collaboration that more accurately doubles as curatorial scheme, mining forgotten sounds with minimal attribution.) Of course, the artists’ tendency to exploit a marginal past comes as nothing new in pop music history. But since so much of this unacknowledged past exists with such easy access online, even the most haphazard listener gains some appreciation for the dialog that transpires between old and new sounds. The sum effect is that more old music sounds new today. Conventional Youtube user responses to popular, rediscovered classics–“so fresh!” or “someone sample this!”–attest to the sudden novelty of anything from the 70s-90s that contemporary producers have recently emulated. At the very top of the comments list, someone has usually written that an emerging recording artist or DJ has “sent them here.” This behavior reveals a greater desire among listeners for contextual understanding of new music but with less appreciative value for its native source.
Part of reason Deep Inside You holds tremendous power as a listening experience is that the music is impossible to generalize. Even by today’s mix-and-match standards, the music remains practically unclassifiable, more at ease with psychic pain than anything remotely similar on the disco scene. Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael may have created neurotic soundscapes, but they never allowed their songs’ lyrics to betray darker sentiments. Gloria Ann Taylor, on the other hand, “wants you to know [she] knows that love is a hurting thing.”
The titular track on Deep Inside You starts the record with a throbbing, obsessive sexual pathology masquerading as a floor-filler. From there, “What’s Your World” sets off with a similarly compulsive theme and then collapses, like a love that torments itself into fracturing the lock-steady groove that holds it all together. On the flip, “Love is a Hurting Thing” constitutes the powerhouse track on a mini-album already teeming with monstrously beautiful music.
While David Linden and Ben Raleigh certainly deserve their writing credit on “Love is a Hurting Thing,” Whisenhunt’s adaptation sounds so unlike the other, more popular recordings by Lou Rawls, Joe Tex, and The Temptations that to call it a “cover” would unfairly diminish the entire recording project. Whisenhunt’s excellent studio musicians, credited as “His Orchestra,” open the final number with some Isley-inspired electric shredding and a mantillo beat that quickly morphs, with dramatic strings and a few plinking keys, into the EP’s most memorable instrumental refrain. Taylor joins the mix, murmuring, “to hurt me, to hurt me,” either in memory of lovers past or to shield against future pain, while a hi-hat hisses over her words. Gaining momentum, her voice suddenly emerges, sharp, vulnerable, and resplendent, (“Can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel it?”) and just as quickly fades under Whisenhunt’s orchestral maneuvers.
An electric guitar drops some final riffs like metal sprockets on a machinist’s floor.