Music has always been a journey. The journey to our modern dance music had many foundations that have been shared in this column. Soul, funk, R&B, jazz, and rock all have played a key role as singers, songwriters, producers and DJs have “packed their musical luggage” on the way to Disco, Hip Hop, House and Techno destinations.
Related to Disco, influences from Europe firmly established club and dance movement and culture… especially from ’76-’79. One of the lesser-known groups (in name) made our journey extra special as they made it a… “bon” VOYAGE!
One look at the fifteen #1 hits that comprised Billboard’s “Hot Dance/Disco Club Play” charts for 1978 indicates that for ten weeks in that year, a “Euro-disco” artist or band ruled the club dance floors… where it mattered. That year, Disco stalwarts Cerrone, Alec B. Costandinos & the Syncophonic Orchestra, USA European Connection, and this “new” group – VOYAGE (pronounced vOY-aj) held those coveted #1s. What was even more unusual was that during Voyage’s reign at #1 and for the rest of the TWENTY-SIX weeks that they charted, it was for “all cuts,” as the Billboard chart read. Let me spell that out a bit more: not just one or two songs… but ALL seven songs on their first and self-titled album!
To understand why their success came quickly and sustained itself over four albums in five years, we must first go back and dissect this French band. I cheated a bit in that, technically, for our four Disco heroes (Andre “Slim” Pezin, Marc Chantereau, Pierre-Alain Dahan, and Sauveur Mallia) actually worked together in a seminal Disco band called V.I.P. Connection. One of the reasons you probably never heard of it was because they only produced one 12″ single in ’76 – but it was a hot one! “Please Love Me Again” was a landmark underground disco hit and it was backed with the cool, jazzy and laid-back “West Coast Drive.” You’ll pay big $$$ for that 12″ and I won’t sell you my copy.
Back to our voyage of VOYAGE. Our four amigos had done extensive work as studio musicians for the aforementioned Alec Costandinos and Cerrone as well as for Manu Dibango and even the “grandfather of Jazz violinists” – Stephane Grappelli. So the diversity of Jazz, Rock, Pop, Disco and World Music had already lined their individual and collective journeys. Voyage then added Sylvia Mason-James who was a British lead and backing vocalist (for Cerrone as well) and history was about to be made… but not before some non-traditional business moves.
Back in ’77-’78, there may have been “buzz” about a song and you might have even heard it in a club but unless you were a top DJ or in a record pool, you probably could not get it… or even hear it on radio. The VOYAGE album started out as an import-only in late ’77 but by February ’78, the “buzz” was enormous as the industry’s “must read” each week – Vince Aletti’s “Disco Files” column in Record World – detailed the release in nearly half of a page worth of praise. Ray Caviano (Rolling Stone/T.K. Disco/Warner Brothers) shared with me that the signing of Voyage was “T.K.’s counter-response to the huge Euro-disco trend with Cerrone, Don Ray, and Alec R. Costandinos.” He also said that, “T.K. went outside of the musical box, since we were the label that made the Miami sound famous. In fact, we made a deal for the group in less than 48 hours!” The album was also unique in that each side was a medley (really more “cut-mixed” than “blended”) and it musically took you on a “voyage” around the world. In fact, some DJs even played a full side for a cool “mini-journey.”
Even while the success of the first album was still in full bloom, the crew went to work on album two, Let’s Fly Away, which also reached the top of the charts with the enviable moniker of “all cuts” charted! In parallel with that project, some of the boys did back-up work on another classic Euro-disco album (Garden of Love) for Raymond Donnez aka Don Ray. Guess who Don worked closely with? Cerrone and Costandinos! A clearly incestuous Euro-disco family was continuing to pollinate the world with hits!
On the next two albums, Voyage 3 and One Step Higher, core band member Dahan took over the lead vocal duties as the band continued to morph its sound (in most cases, very nicely) as the industry and tastes changed. Thankfully, they did not try to extend their run too long, as many others of the generation did so painfully. However, among the many “best of” compilations are three “should haves”: Voyage – Special Instrumentals (Volumes 1, 2, 3). The V.I.P. Connection/Voyage quartet came around full circle as each member went on to individual success as soloists and backing musicians in France and around the world including some work with movie soundtracks (with Cher, Bruce Willis, and others).
Caviano feels strongly that “among my many signings and promotional projects, there is no question that Voyage is way up on the top of my list as an absolute timeless dance classic.” Sometimes you may want a simple musical journey and instead you are delighted by a surprise VOYAGE!