Let’s talk about 1980s jeans culture, shall we? Dungarees have mad cultural significance through the ages, and music is threaded through the historical pantaloons for sure. Personal recollections of my blue jean past include going with my mom to buy new, most likely highly discounted, Lee jeans out of a friend’s dad’s garage (yikes, what was going on there?). The one fancy pair of jeans I ever owned were made by a company called Goldigger. Weirdly, they were denim knee-length knickers, and I wore them as a costume when playing a street urchin extra in a local theater guild production of Oliver.
Fear not, this space will not be devoted to the music of Broadway composer Lionel Bart. It is high time to focus on the titans of industry in the disco denim world, Sasson, and their famous “Ooh La La Sasson” commercial theme song. It was ubiquitous on boob tube airwaves in the early ’80s, and for some strange reason the aired ads starred sports impresarios from professional hockey and baseball teams inexplicably goofing around. It’s always my hope that all musical inroads in life lead to dynamic offerings with fascinating cultural context and this jingle delivers. Pause for dramatic effect—the commercial tune in question was originally recorded by Sarah Dash of LaBelle!
During the recent pandemic, I rediscovered this advertisement of my youth and offhandedly surmised its soundtrack might be a lost Giorgio Moroder piece. But while stuck in my apartment with only my records as company this past year, I went through Dash’s catalog for fun and audibly gasped, overly thrilled when I recognized from whence the TV tune came. Lyrically renovated to reflect the brand name and recorded by unnamed studio vocalists, the thirty-second, frenetic, vaguely French disco–inflected earworm is a delightful window into Dash’s own sophisticated sound.
Patti LaBelle’s innocent girl group cum interplanetary funk outfit LaBelle made wildly outrageous and occasionally socially conscious funk perfection from 1971 through 1976. What’s really intoxicating (and enabling) for fans of this band of lamé ladies is that the trio also spawned three solo careers by members LaBelle, Dash, and Nona Hendryx. All of these outings are worth exploring on vinyl, and Sarah Dash truly stands out though she sadly had little commercial success in her independent career.
Jersey girl Dash stepped out on her own in 1978, releasing three albums on Kirshner, a label founded by Brill Building publishing impresario and stiff host of a ’70s late-night TV show, the eponymous Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Even putting the dazzling denim fun fact related to her song “Oo-La-La Too Soon” aside, this 1980 LP is the jewel of her oeuvre. Primarily produced by small-time shlock and rock producers, Jay Siegel and Wally Gold, the album contains a mixture of song styles, but several classy boogie numbers make it what one might call a “five dollar holler”—a cheap but fierce find for diggers. The title track was the singular contribution on the LP by studio wizard Tom Anthony, and features an all-star backing vocal gang including Lani Groves, Phyllis Hyman, and Diva Gray. “Your Love Left Its Mark on Me” is a deadly, sultry testament to fiery romantic chemistry. Another hypnotic winner here is “Do What You’re Doing,” encouraging true dance-floor freedom—not the most intellectual topic, but the delivery is dynamic.
Powerhouse Patti’s sparkle may have eclipsed the individual talents within the LaBelle organization but Dash deserves recognition as a force within this epic musical landscape of the times. Tom Moulton helped introduce Dash as a solo artist with the monster track “Sinner Man” that he worked up on her 1978 debut, but it’s worthwhile to stay with her for the trifecta of goodness her own albums deftly delivered.