“Menergy” is a 1980 dance single by producer Patrick Cowley. Along with the song “I Want to Take You Home”.
Sylvester was San Francisco’s biggest star and Cowley’s muse – a larger-than-life presence around town, dressed to the nines and often carrying multiple shopping bags as he walked down Castro Street. Cowley most famously worked with Sylvester on the ecstatic mega-hit You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and was a pioneer of the genre known as hi-NRG, a relentlessly up-tempo variant of disco that gained serious traction, especially in the UK and Europe. Sylvester’s legacy still lives on today as before his death Sylvester had bequeathed all of his future royalties to local AIDS groups
“Menergy” spent two weeks atop the Billboard Dance/Disco chart in October and November 1981. It was Cowley’s most successful single of four Top 10 dance chart hits, all of which occurred within the span of 15 months. As with Cowley’s other singles, “Menergy” did not place on any other chart until 1984, when a version of “Menergy” was released where Sylvester’s vocals were featured and became a huge hit especially with the gay dance crowd.
“The boys in the barroom Living it up, Shootin’ off energy.
The guys on the sidewalk Workin’ it out, Talkin’ ’bout Menergy.”
Sylvester James, Jr. better known as just Sylvester, was an openly gay disco and soul singer-songwriter. Known for his flamboyant appearance Sylvester was responsible for a string of hit singles in the late 1970’s and became known in the United States under the moniker of the “Queen of Disco.”
Born in Watts, Los Angeles on September 6, 1947, Sylvester developed a love of singing through the gospel choirs of his Pentecostal church. Leaving the congregation after being persecuted for his homosexuality, he was an early founder of a group of black cross-dressers and trans women known as The Disquotays, who disbanded in 1970. Moving to San Francisco, he embraced the counterculture and joined drag troupe The Cockettes, eventually producing solo shows heavily influenced by female blues and jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. During their critically panned tour of New York City, Sylvester left the Cockettes to focus on his solo career.
Fronting Sylvester and his Hot Band, he released two commercially unsuccessful albums on Blue Thumb Records in 1973. Gaining new backing singers in the form ofTwo Tons O’ Fun and Jeanie Tracy, he obtained a recording contract with Harvey Fuqua of Fantasy Records. His first solo album, Sylvester (1977), was a moderate success, and was followed by acclaimed disco album Step II (1978), which spawned the hit singles “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” He recorded four more albums, including a live album, with Fantasy Records before signing to Megatone Records, the dance-oriented label founded by friend and collaborator Patrick Cowley, where he recorded four more albums, including the Cowley penned and produced hit Hi-NRG track “Do Ya Wanna Funk. (1982)”
An activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sylvester died from complications arising from the virus in 1988.
On September 20, 2004, Sylvester’s anthem record, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. A year later, on September 19, 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist.
This year’s inductees for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry include a speech from Sen. Robert Kennedy, the educational music of “Schoolhouse Rock!,” Jay-Z’s seminal album “The Blueprint,” soul, pop and disco songs that became anthems for underrepresented groups, and a number of other unique recordings. Every year, the registry preserves 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” American recordings that are at least 10 years old.
Some of the recordings, such as Sylvester’s 1978 disco hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 debut album “She’s So Unusual,” signaled a more mainstream acceptance of the LGBT community. Sylvester’s song, which according to the Library of Congress “reflected his childhood background in both African-American gospel music and his work as a drag performer in San Francisco,” has become an enduring LGBT anthem.
For those of you who don’t know Patrick Cowley was a gay disco and Hi-NRG dance music composer and recording artist. Besides Giorgio Moroder, he is often credited as a pioneer of electronic dance music of the 1980’s.
Cowley met San Francisco-based musician Sylvester in the late 1970’s. Sylvester had asked Cowley to join his studio band after hearing some of his early synthesizer recordings. He played synthesizer on Sylvester’s 1978 album Step II which included the hits “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)”. In addition he wrote “Stars” and “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” from his 1979 album Stars. Cowley also joined Sylvester’s live band and joined him on several world tours.
In 1979 Patrick was contacted by John Coletti, owner of famed gay porn company Fox Studio in Los Angeles. Patrick jumped on this offer and sent reels of his college compositions from the 70s to John in LA. Coletti then used a variable speed oscillator to adjust the pitch and speed of Patrick’s songs in-sync with the film scenes. The result was the VHS collections “Muscle Up” and “School Daze” released in 1979 and 1980.
Cowley’s own hits included “Menergy” in 1981, a celebration of the gay club scene, and “Megatron Man”, which hit #1 and #2 respectively on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1981. A collaboration with Sylvester, “Do Ya Wanna Funk”, made #4 on the Billboard dance chart that same year. Cowley also did a 15’45” long remix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, which is now a collector’s item. His final album, Mind Warp, was composed as he felt the increasing effects of HIV infection, and its songs reflect his increasing detachment from conventional reality as the disease progressed.
During a world tour with Sylvester in late 1981, Cowley complained of feeling increasingly sick. He was initially diagnosed with food poisoning and sent home by doctors. Weeks later, with his condition only worsening, doctors failed to identify what was wrong with him. At this early stage in the history of HIV and AIDS, misdiagnosis was very common. Cowley was discharged from the hospital after doctors could do nothing more for him.
Patrick Cowley died at his home, in San Francisco, on November 12, 1982. He was 32 years old.
Now almost 35 years later The third installment of his gay porn music trilogy — Afternooners — is about to be released.
“Afternooners” is the third collection of Cowley’s instrumental songs, recorded in May 1982. These recordings were culled from two 23-minute reels in the Fox Studio vaults. All songs were originally untitled, so the track titles are taken from Fox Studio’s 8mm film loops. This compilation also includes three bonus tracks found in the archives of fellow Megatone Records recording artist Paul Parker and the attic of teenage friend Lily Bartels. Influenced by Tomita, Wendy Carlos, and Giorgio Moroder,
Afternooners — will be released on Oct. 19 by Dark Entries and Honey Soundsystem Records. The date is special, because that would have been Cowley’s 67th birthday.
The late disco diva Sylvester James, a flamboyant and openly gay disco superstar from San Francisco died over 21 years ago at the age of 41 from complications due to AIDS Shortly before his death Sylvester had bequeathed his future royalties to local AIDS groups, but Sylvester died deeply in debt there was no money to distribute until the late 90s. Once his advances were repaid, his early-career label Fantasy Records then kept the money in an account until its proper recipient could be legally determined..
Last week that the AIDS Emergency Fund and Project Open Hand split a check from the drag performer’s estate totaling nearly $140,000. “When I came into this job seven and a half years ago, I inherited three bankers’ boxes filled with all of the early records from Sylvester’s estate. The documents were page after page of all the financial records of his estate, which clearly showed we had tremendous amounts of help with debt and a clear path to having them paid off,” said Mike Smith, executive director of the AIDS Emergency Fund. “AEF never expected this estate to pay out the way it just has.”
With he advent of iTunes and the recent usage of Sylvester’s music in movies means that more money will be coming. Project Open Hand reports that their 25% share of the first distribution will buy 13,000 meals for people with AIDS.