100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #62 Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)

Released: 1978

Sylvester James was born in LA and grew up singing gospel in his local Pentecostal church, before as a teenage runaway fleeing to San Francisco. There he eventually became integral to the fabric of the city’s vibrant gay community and as a performer he majored in jazz, hung out with David Bowie, sung for Joe Cocker and the Pointer Sisters and released two largely forgotten rock orientated albums.

By 1976 disco was peaking commercially, but initially the singer took some convincing “When disco came I was sceptical..then all of a sudden, singing stars came in again, with disco stars and disco groups. And that’s when I started to like disco.” One of the other reasons to be excited was a partnership with synthesizer magus and kindred spirit Patrick Cowley. Fresh from a mind-bending remix of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, Cowley was using machines to replace the movement’s dated strings and simultaneously creating what would become known Hi-NRG, a sub genre that became musically emblematic of his own lifestyle.

Cowley began by reworking what had originally been a mid-paced gospel tinged number, increasing the tempo and employing a devilish range of effects and shimmering keyboards. Paired with the singer’s keening falsetto and words explicitly referencing sex for pleasure, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) purposefully had only one interpretation.

Contemporaneously the moment was largely written off as theatre, but since Cowley’s influence on electronic music has been reappraised and is now equated with the likes of Giorgio Moroder. The track however also captures a poignant snapshot of a generation on the verge of being tragically stricken down en masse, young men who deserved much better than the deadly institutional prejudice and ignorance their illness would subsequently be met with.

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