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September 20, 2019

X-Rated Disco: Get Up to Barbara Markay’s Disco Album Covers

Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Barbara Markay was something of a classical music prodigy, starting piano lessons when she was four and, at just ten years old, winning a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. By 11 she was studying violin at the Manhattan School of Music, which led to her touring southern Italy as a violinist with the American Festival Orchestra and playing piano with their chamber music group.

Barbara returned to Juilliard, where she graduated with a degree in piano and composition, but her taste in music was already changing. After graduation she formed female vocal group The Girl Scouts: the band’s performance at the Ryker’s Island Women’s Prison almost sparked a riot, with the self-composed ditty “Women In Jail” inciting inmates to each the stage and guards to draw weapons. Barbara continued to write risque material for her next group, Little Lulu and The Humpers: their show was previewed in the Miami News (in January 1975) as an “exotic rock opera... featuring such dubious songs as “The Vibrator Blues” and “You Jist Luv Me Fer My Body””, which no doubt helped the revue to sell out for two months. Her experience in writing and performing with the Girl Scouts and Little Lulu led directly to the release of Barbara’s most infamous, and outrageous, composition, “It’s All Rite (To Fuck All Night)”.

“I started listening to pop music in college,” she told Darryl W Bullock, author of The World’s Worst Records: An Arcade of Audio Atrocity. “I wrote “It’s Allrite” (her preferred title) when I was 19 years old.” She didn’t turn her back on her classical roots entirely though, establishing, in 1974, an old-fashioned salon for young classical musicians in New York.

Versions of “It’s All Rite” and it’s follow-up “Give Your Dick To Me” originally appeared on her self-financed 1976 album Hot Box (which also featured the tracks “Hot Chocolate Cock” and “Sesame Snatch”). An odd album, Hot Box — described on the cover as “the zany debut album by America’s new female Lenny Bruce - is a slice of comedy-cabaret and more akin to early Bette Midler than the orgiastic Sodom-a-thon that “It’s All Rite” was to become; on Hot Box, “It’s All Rite” is delivered in a style similar to Carole Bayer Sager’s “You’re Moving Oct Today”, a UK Top Ten hit and Australian Number One which, coincidentally, was co-written by Midler. Sold by Barbara via ads in softcore porn mag Hustler, a contemporary review (in Playgirl Magazine) described Hot Box as “a collection of the worst material I’ve heard since fingernails on a chalkboard, although I will admit there’s a certain amount of ingenuity on the part of the ‘artist’.”

“At the time that I put out “It’s All Rite”, there weren’t too many people anywhere in the world who put out their own record. It just wasn’t done. I wrote, recorded, performed and produced “It’s All Rite”, then got independent distributors to get it out there.” – She said.

Described by Billboard’s Roman Kozak as an “off-color rendition of a parody anthem to promiscuity”, the disco version of “It’s All Rite” was originally issued as a privately-pressed seven-inch single playing at 33 1/3 rpm, financed and distributed entirely by Barbara and her manager, Roger Easter. Stocks soon ran out and the enterprising couple paid to have 15,000 copies of a 12-inch version pressed. These too were soon snapped up. “The record pools of the time loved it and the DJs all played it in their clubs,” said Barbara. “It became an overnight sensation and became the Number One record on all the club charts for many, many weeks.

“I think calling “It’s All Rite” pornographic is really incorrect; the only thing that’s risque is that I used the word ‘fuck’ in a humorous way throughout the song and that’s it. It was written as a comedy song, not a porno fest. The whole point of it was the language itself. That’s what was so funny. “Give Your Dick To Me” and the Hot Box album were all risque comedy, not ever intended to be considered as having any kind of sex/porno/dark/nasty message at all. It was all about freedom of speech. And compared to the stuff that’s being written and performed today, sty stuff is like a G rated movie: general audiences, all ages admitted. But I guess that everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of it.”

After releasing “Give Your Dick To Me” (issued in Japan in the freakish cover) she resurrected the Girl Scouts for the funk-inspired 45 “I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie/Hometown Girl”, which went to Number Two on the French dance chart, before returning to the U.S and continuing to explore her musical universe, working with artists including Carly Simon, Michael Jackson and Bruce Willis as well as on fabled TV show Saturday Night Live. The success of “It’s All Rite” and “Give Your Dick To Me” re-ignited interest in Hot Box: the famed Paradise Garage disco in New York playlisted tracks from Barbara’s magnum opus and a troupe of transvestite performers from Atlanta were often to be seen in local gay bars lip-synching to songs from the album.

“Give Your Dick To Me” cover

“Give Your Dick To Me” Japanese version

In 1985 Barbara met a meditation teacher and completely changed track, re-establishing herself in the World Music field. “After I returned to New York City, I met my first meditation teacher in 1985 and it completely changed the personal and musical path I was on.” Since then she’s utilized world rhythms, new-age, zen, and spiritual vibes to all of her records. She has matured as a musician so much to where she does acknowledge only a drop of her former musical past but refuses to go any further about it.

In 1994 she recorded her second album, Change To Come, and released it on her own My Thing Music label. Heart Like A Song followed in 2000, and five years later she released Shambhala Dance.

She released her last album, Heaven And Earth, a collection of music for meditation and relaxation, in 2008.

In the past few years Barbara has been influenced more and more by world music artists including Jai Uttal, Sheila Chandra, Chebi Sabbah, Buena Vista Social Club, Coyote Oldman, Caetano Veloso, Natacha Atlas, Angelique Kidjo, and Irakere.


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