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Alec R. Costandinos/Love And Kisses

Reviewed on this page:
Love And Kisses - Sphinx - Romeo & Juliet - Magic Fly - Golden Tears - How Much, How Much I Love You - Paris Connection - Trocadéro Bleu Citron - Hunchback Of Notre Dame - Look Out - You Must Be Love - Winds Of Change: A Musical Fantasy - Featuring Alirol & Jacquet - Burnin' Alive - John & Arthur Simms - Americana - 1892 Once Upon A Village

Disco is often slammed for being unambitious and - to put it mildly - subintellectual, but you can't say that about the work of Egypt-born Greco-Armenian Parisian Alec R. Costandinos: his album-length, literature-based, classically-influenced epics are as far-reaching and grandiose as anything by art-rockers like Emerson Lake and Palmer or Yes. While so much disco, both European and American, relentlessly pounded listeners with the same groove for minutes on end, Costandinos continually varied his arrangements - making full, innovative use of orchestras and a small army of vocalists - and mastered the art of shading from one piece of music to another so gradually you never noticed what he was up to until it was over.

After a stint in Australia, Costandinos moved to Paris in 1966 at the age of 22, released a couple of orchestrated EPs under the name "Alec," then focused on writing, coming up with minor pop/folk hits for Dalida ("Il Y A Toujours Une Chanson") and Demis Roussos ("Velvet Mornings"). He hit his stride in 1976 when he wrote and arranged "Love In C Minor" with fellow Eurodisco auteur Cerrone. He quickly pressed his advantage, cranking out about a dozen LPs over the next three years under a variety of aliases. He faded around the same time disco faded, but more abruptly, releasing an LP or single here and there but mostly focusing on film: directing France Images D'une Révolution (1989) and exec producing True Vinyl (2000) and King Rikki (2002) - before briefly returning to music distribution via his own site. (DBW)

D'Amour Et De Musique

Initially Costandinos tried to make it as a Parisian chanteur, trying on various pop trends without making much impact, and then had more success crafting similar songs for more charismatic performers, mainly Demis Roussous.

Et Pendant Ce Tempa-la (Alec: 1968)
I haven't heard any of this EP, but I think it's Serge Gainsbourg-esque pop ballads like the following releases under the name Alec. (DBW)

Un Oiseau Sur New-York (Alec: 1969)
I've been clear that I'm not interested in this style, but "Les Mains D'un Homme" does have a nice melody. "Prete Moi Tes Clés Saint-Pierre" is upbeat, with a Fauxtown rhythm section. (DBW)

L'amour C'est Noir (Alec: 1969)
Like the previous EP but, judging from the two tracks I've heard, even less interesting. (DBW)

Jean Sebastien (Alec: 1970)
His last EP in this incarnation, but he put out a couple more singles as Alec over the next few years ("Dans Cent Vingt Semaines"/"L'Etranger"; "Bourg St. Esprit"/"Viens M’aider à Passer La Nuit"; "Le Jour Où Règnera L'Amour"/"D'Amour Et De Musique"). During the same period, he wrote a series of minor hits for more established singers, mostly under the name "Robert Rupen." (DBW)

Dolce (Milton Di São Paulo: 1973)
International man of mystery that he is, Costandinos stopped singing in French and instead posed as a Brazilian guitarist, mostly instrumental ("Dedicated To Anyone") with some pseudo-Portuguese vocalizing ("Santa Féfé"). I haven't heard most of this LP. Over the next few years Costandinos focused mainly on writing and producing for other acts. (DBW)

Dance And Leave It All Behind You

It's an oversimplification to say a chance encounter with Cerrone led Costandinos to dance music, first the percussion-heavy Kongas tune "Anikana-O" and then the full-on disco opus "Love In C Minor." One part of the story that usually gets overlooked is that the first disco hit Costandinos wrote was "You're All I Ever Dreamed Of" for Crystal Grass, arranged by future Cerrone associate Don Ray (as Ray Donnez), with Santa Esmeralda showrunner Nicolas Skorsky also close at hand. But there's no doubt that "C Minor" was the game-changer: For the rest of the decade, Costandinos focused almost exclusively on lengthy disco extravaganzas, only reverting to pop after those records stopped selling. (DBW)

Love And Kisses (Love And Kisses: 1977)
Love And Kisses isn't a real band, it's one of many front groups Costandinos devised so it wouldn't seem like he was cranking out half of Casablanca Records' catalog. This was his most pop-oriented unit, eschewing album-length concepts in favor of more standard romantic themes. The two side-long epics were both edited down and released as singles: "Accidental Lover" is rather annoying, with an overdone swooping string hook and a simplistic, sing-song lead vocal. The arrangement does drift into some groovy interludes, but keeps coming back to the weak main refrain. On the other hand, "I've Found Love (Now That I've Found You)" is wonderful: a bouncy, almost Motown-like female vocal chorus, Shaft-like wah wah guitar, unexpected syncopation, and a truly unique stuttering string segment. But with only two songs on an album, they'd better both be good or you're not going to get a high rating. Recorded in London's Trident Studios, and the core band for the next few releases was put in place here: Slim Pezin and Chris Rae, guitars; Alan Hawkshaw and Costandinos, keyboards; Mo Foster, bass; Peter Van Hooke, drums; and arrangements by Don Ray. The female lead on "Accidental Lover" isn't identified; contributing voices include Sue Glover, Stephanie DeSykes, Sunny Leslie, Vicki Brown and Joanne Stone (collectively known as the Birds Of Paris) and Costandinos himself. (DBW)

Sphinx (Sphinx: 1977)
Another pseudo-band, with the same personnel. Two side-long tunes, "Judas Iscariot" and "Simon Peter," telling the story of the betrayal of Christ. "Judas" features some monk-like chanting, and a pretty simple ascending and descending theme, but as usual it goes through a bewildering series of tranformations, including what sounds like a bouzouki duel, before climbing to a rousing finale. It's also a good case study in how Costandinos keeps the rhythm section pumping out dance beats no matter how overwrought the orchestra gets. "Simon Peter" explores similar territory; about seven minutes in, it breaks into the most furious, kick-ass disco you're ever going to hear, but naturally he can't bring himself to remain there, and next thing you know Costandinos appears in a cameo playing Jesus. I couldn't make this stuff up. Some days I think this is my favorite of his records, but it's off-putting enough that you should probably start with something more accessible. (DBW)

Romeo & Juliet (Alec R. Costandinos and The Syncophonic Orchestra: 1977)
A retelling of West Side Story, or David And Lisa, or something. The stark opening, with a sharply stated bass and keyboard theme over a merciless kick drum, is one of disco's great moments, and Costandinos continually revisits the theme over the next several minutes but without riding it so heavily it becomes grating: secondary and sub-themes appear and transform. He maintains the same high standard throughout: not every theme is brilliant, but the way he ties them together and develops them is. The album is divided into five acts - two on Side One, three on Side Two - and I'll be damned if he doesn't do a pretty good job of condensing the plot into a few paragraphs of lyrics. Herbie Flowers replaced Foster on bass; otherwise the personnel is stable. And yes, the creepy voice introducing "the most excellent and lamentable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, newly corrected, augmented and amended" is Alec himself. (DBW)

Magic Fly (Saturne Ea 1: 1977)
This is a space oddity, all right: writer/producer Ecama (real name Didier Marouani) had a huge instrumental disco hit with "Magic Fly" cut with his band Space. Raymond Knehnetsky rushed out his own version to capitalize (also covering Ecama's "Ballad For Space Lovers") and tried to fill out an LP with space-themed tunes, writing a couple himself. (Oddly, he's credited as "Ray Khinehtsky" - if you were trying to disguise your name, wouldn't you do a more thorough job?) Generally he imitates Space as much as he can: lots of mid-tempo numbers with a Moog blurping simple melodies, backed by a spare, repetitive rhythm section ("Gammaray Dance"). So far, so gimmicky and disposable. Fortunately, though, Knehnetsky was short of material and brought in Costandinos and co-writer Diego Forzay, whose six tracks took the proceedings in a bunch of different directions: "Saturn's Brass" is a fun, earthy tune driven by an enveloped guitar; "Meteor Chase" borrows a bunch of salsa motifs; That said, there's none of the dramatic sweep or bold orchestration that mark the main Costandinos contributions to Eurodisco, so it's more of a curiosity than anything else. I can't tell who the players are; it's possible if unlikely that Jan Hammer - who co-wrote "Hammerlo Bend" - is around somewhere. (DBW)

Golden Tears (Sumeria: 1978)
A concept album about a space alien falling in love with a young woman he meets at a disco, which is about as Late 70s as you can get. Four tunes per side, linked by some very silly voice-over dialogue, and stylistically it's a major departure from the three previous discs: songs vary from the blistering funk "Why Must There Be An End" to the space jazz "The Encounter" to the Kraftwerk-inspired (or was it Giorgio Moroder?) proto-techno "Cosmic Traveller." Throughout there's far less reliance on strings and more on squiggly keyboards than is found in his other work, and the only disco signatures are on the opening sounds-like-an-A-side "Dance And Leave It All Behind You," and the self-consciously weird, video game-sounding title track. Recorded in Paris, and Pezin aside, it's a new band: Chris Padovan (bass), Andre Sidebon (drums), Gerard Bikialo (keys). Vocalists include ace session singer Tony Burrows (whose uncredited hits include "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes" and the novelty song "Gimme Dat Ding"). (DBW)

How Much, How Much I Love You (Love And Kisses: 1978)
Back to London, and the usual Van Hooke-Hawkshaw band. The side-long title track isn't one of his best: the main theme is humdrum, and the arrangement leans too heavily on swirling strings... still, it does build to a satisfyingly grand climax, and he scores points for a constantly modulating development section, and for inserting a banjo into the neoclassical, minor-key secondary theme. The fourteen-minute adaptation of the fairy tale "Beauty And The Beast" is a masterpiece: simmering funk as the Birds Of Paris start telling the story, then strings and guitar growing more ominous as the Beauty's father falls into danger, a couple of new themes are explored as the Beast's courtship tests Beauty's feelings, and finally for the happy ending, the main tune is restated as triumphant disco. Unfortunately, he then blows the mood with a horrible, treacly ballad, "Maybe." The same year, Costandinos produced an album for Turkish star Ajda Pekkan, while Love And Kisses contributed two songs to the film Thank God It's Friday including the title track, the only US Top 40 hit Costandinos ever had. (DBW)

Paris Connection (Paris Connection: 1978)
Produced by Costandinos, but I'm not sure how involved he was: most of the disc was written by Knehnetsky (note divergent spelling), who also arranged. The first side has some of that trademark "blending imperceptibly from one song to another" magic, segueing from "Eloise" to "K's Theme" and back again, and though the tone is more Moroder robotic than Costandinos's usual rococo style, the tune builds up a genuine mood of romantic desperation. On the other hand, the medley of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "Unchained Melody" is probably the worst Costandinos track I've ever heard, camping up the two tunes without showing any sense of what made them classics. Then things get worse with a cheesy "La Bamba" ripoff ("Trident Suite"). Recorded in London, despite the title; for the first time, the musicians aren't credited. (DBW)

Trocadéro Bleu Citron (Alec R. Costandinos: 1978)
Soundtrack to a French film about skateboarding youth, with one side-length suite ("Trocadéro Suite") and five shorter pieces. Costandinos wrote everything - Knehnetsky arranged - but it's clearly a minor work, despite some bright spots. The title track is enjoyable kitsch, sung en français by greasy-voiced song stylist Shake. "Grooves" is catchy if insanely repetitive disco, driven by a keyboard bass that sounds like it escaped from "A Fifth Of Beethoven," while "Pupuce" is weird neo-classical dinner music, with a prepared piano battling strings to a standstill. The magnum opus, though, is deadly dull, with a simple theme stated incessantly by the strings, and an extreme overdose of guitar twiddling. And there's an excess of sappy ballads ("You and Me," the Bee Gees-styled "Moments Of Love," both sung by Arthur Simms). (DBW)

Hunchback Of Notre Dame (Alec R. Costandinos and The Syncophonic Orchestra: 1978)
In condensing a whole Victor Hugo novel into one disco record, Alec bit off more than he could chew: try as I might, I couldn't follow the story, despite intermittent narration and helpful song titles like "The Inconveniences Of Following A Pretty Girl In The Streets At Night." Musically, though, it's top notch. Instead of the usual side-long suites, the album is broken into thirteen relatively brief pieces, with a lot of variety: "The Pope Of Fools" and "Notre Dame" are pounding disco tracks; "Phoebus And Esmeralda" is lovely piano-and-strings mood music, somewhat like the slow stuff on Golden Tears but more moving; "Gringoire And The Duke Of Egypt" is spirited jazz disco, with exciting lead guitar and piano solos, after a church organ introduction. Arranged by Ray; lyrics by Costandinos and Michael Jouveaux; no musician credits. Also in 1978, Costandinos released a single under the name Mike Henson - "And The Music Played" (a discofied medley of Roussos hits) b/w "Almost Green" and "Amarna" - and contributed music to a French TV movie, Les Grandes Conjurations: L'Attentat De La Rue Nicaise. (DBW)

Look Out (Bad News Travels Fast: 1979)
An honest-to-Murgatroyd actual group, consisting of Bernie Arcadio (keys), Jaycee Chanavat (guitars) and Dede Ceccarelli (drums), plus Tony Bonfils and Manuel Roche adding bass and percussion respectively. They wrote the songs (Costandinos co-wrote only "1959 Mysterious Lady") and arranged (though Knehnetsky arranged the strings), and Arcadio sings half the leads (Arthur Simms is on the rest), so there are no points of interest for Costandinos fans. And no points of interest for anyone else either, because the tunes are either vapid disco (title track) or bathetic mush ("Play You A Love Song"), never memorable or catchy. The song with the most potential is "Virginia," which builds excitement with a snappy pop-jazz verse but blows it with a sappy crooned chorus. Guests include the Breckers, who add lengthy horn solos to "Here In The Night" and "1959 Mysterious Lady." (DBW)

You Must Be Love (Love And Kisses: 1979)
Side one is two tuneless disco numbers ("Ooh La La La La") and one horrendous ballad ("Find Yourself A Dream"), arranged by Arcadio with none of Costandinos's hallmarks, and performed by the same core group as Bad News Travels Fast. Fortunately, the second side is turned over to a fine love song suite, "You Must Be Love," featuring several stunning piano breaks from Hawkshaw. (DBW)

Winds Of Change: A Musical Fantasy (Alec R. Costandinos: 1979)
The soundtrack to a Sanrio animated movie based on stories by Ovid, narrated by Peter Ustinov. The title instrumental takes up the entire first side, and he works up a complex suite - with sections ranging from guitar-driven disco to Vangelis-like string stylings - out of a very simple main theme. Side two has one more instrumental, "Creation Of Man", and five pop songs with lyrics by Enoch Anderson: "Red Hot River Of Fire," belted out by Pattie Brooks; the Earth, Wind & Fire Lite "Where Are You Going, Perseus?" sung (as is the rest of side two) by the cloyingly smooth Arthur Simms. While Costandinos does disco like no one else, you can't say the same for his pop: aside from a couple of characteristic touches - a percussion break opposite a guitar and bass riff on "River Of Fire" - everything sounds like warmed-over Peabo Bryson. The core band is Bad News Travels Fast, plus Manuel Roche (percussion) and a horn section including the Breckers. (DBW)

Ordinary Man (Bad News Travels Fast: 1979)
Costandinos is listed as producer; however, he co-wrote only the title track. (DBW)

Featuring Alirol & Jacquet (Alec R. Costandinos and The Syncophonic Orchestra: 1979)
Mostly written by A. Jacquet and G. Alirol; Costandinos co-wrote just the last two tracks, both unremarkable ballads ("Mangareva," "Benedite"). Weirdest track is "For Amusement Only," with a mock-operatic arena rock quality reminiscent of Bat Out Of Hell; the rest is strident string-heavy disco (the single "Synergy," based on Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons"). I can't detect an overarching lyrical theme, and for that matter, does anybody know why "Pontius Pilate" didn't go on Sphinx? This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Arranged and conducted by Raymond Jimenez. (DBW)

Burnin' Alive (Tony Rallo & The Midnight Band: 1979)
Produced by Danny Goldschmidt and Costandinos; written and arranged by Rallo. Uptempo Eurodisco, no tricks, and the spacious production and memorable melodies resemble vintage Costandinos, but the arrangements never develop, so every tune outstays its welcome. Except for the concluding ballad "Say You Believe," every song has high-pitched group vocals (credited to The Midnite Voices) that become grating; since Arthur Simms has two co-writes, I assume he's in the mix somewhere. Some fun here for disco fanatics, but not recommended for general audiences. Also in 1979, Costandinos produced Tina Turner's Love Explosion. (DBW)

After The Dance

John & Arthur Simms (1980)
Produced by Costandinos, but everything was written by the Simms brothers and arranged by Greg Mathieson, and the musicians are L.A. studio sausages: Paul Jackson Jr., Jerry Hey, Larry Williams, Paulinho Da Costa. The result has nothing in common with ARC's classic Eurodisco opulence; it's just pop-R&B for the lowest conceivable denominator, and the Simms' bland voices (which I can't tell apart) don't help. The single "That Thang Of Yours" is based on the hook from Funkadelic's "The Undisco Kidd (The Girl Was Bad)," and it's all downhill from there. I don't know what's worse, the dull love songs ("Never Had A Dream Come True," not the Stevie Wonder song) or faux funk dance tune ("Can't Turn Back"). Okay, I'm exaggerating a little: the midtempo "I'm Gonna Miss You" is tuneful and tasteful, and could pass for an Ashford & Simpson outtake. (DBW)

Columbia: A Space Symphony (The Syncophonic Orchestra: 1981)
A concept album tracing a space shuttle mission, written by Costandinos (under his realonym Alexandre Kouyoumdjian) and arranged by Rallo. (DBW)

Americana (Alec R. Costandinos: 1981)
Despite the title, I don't think this was released in the US either. Though Costandinos was running out of gas by this point - it was his last full-length production - the album is as polished and varied as any of his work. The title track packs a pile of musical sections and memorable refrains into its eight-minute running time; "The Girl From N.Y.C." is a carefully arranged AM ballad. Even the Bohannonesque disco stomp "Something's Cookin'" includes chunky piano fills and concludes with a flurry of modulations. The only tossoff is the instrumental "The Mountain," with an electric guitar continually restating an unchanging theme. So the production is fine but the songwriting is lacking, both on the slow numbers ("Baby I Love You") and the dance tracks, so the album's not worth the effort you'd probably have to put into finding it. (DBW)

Je M'envole (Le Group: 1981)
Costandinos worked with Arcadio and Jeff Barnel on this one. "Midnite Melody" is classic orchestrated disco melodrama with a stirring guitar solo. On the other hand, "The First Time" is the kind of lame pop-rock Costandinos was messing around with pre-disco, and the fact that they cover the Simms brothers' "That Thang Of Yours" can't be a good sign. Costandinos and Arcadio re-teamed in 1982 for the single "Ça Va La Vie," credited to Full Moon Orchestra. (DBW)

In 1982, the final Love And Kisses single, "Bap Bap" / "Right Here In My World" was released (in France only) - it was supposed to herald a fourth LP, Force IV, but that was not to be. Costandinos was also involved with singles by Extellus, Mekanik Sideral and Neptune (the Meco-style "Theme From E.T.").

In 1983, Costandinos released two more singles under his own name, "Paese Mio" backed with "Plein De Choubidouwah" and "Les Routes D'Aeroports" / "Je N'Te Le Permets Pas," and wrote both sides of a single for Sumo, presumably another made-up group: "Sa-Bo-Bo" is probably the best post-70s record I've heard from Costandinos; I haven't come across the B side, "Imperial City."

In 1984, Costandinos wrote and produced "Fou, Fou, C'est Fou!" (arranged by Don Ray) for a Perrier ad, and it's appropriately trite and chipper; it was also released under the name Turbulent Blue (not to be confused with Turbulent Indigo). And I think he wrote the TV theme "Albator 84."

In 1989, Costandinos wrote music for a short film he directed, France: Images D'Une Révolution.

In 1991, Costandinos contributed music to another TV movie, L'Irlandaise.

In 2002, he wrote "Adagio del Ray" for King Rikki.

The V. Arrangements (2010)
After many years in the background, Costandinos set up a website and soon came up with a new release. This is ten compositions originally written with Lakis Vlavianos for Demis Roussos, arranged by Vlavianos for solo piano, and performed by Yves Henry. (DBW)

1892 Once Upon A Village (2010)
A new album, inspired by Bulgarian folk music and largely recorded in Sofia with the Pirin Ensemble ("Diri Diri Dai Da"); Costandinos integrates traditional instruments and melodic material ("Eid El Oud") into his spacious, carefully rendered orchestrated pop/dance schema without falling into reductive exoticism. While much has changed since the 70s - he eschews overt discoisms, and there are no symphonic epics - it's suprising what hasn't: He's still intent on pushing beat-driven music into atypical emotional ranges ("Better Days"), and unafraid to flirt with middlebrow bad taste. At moments, the glacial reserve, gently insistent percussion and soft sax may make you think you're listening to a Zalman King soundtrack ("Once Upon A Village"), while the love song "Two Lovers" has a Jim Steinman-esque grandiosity. More often, though, Costandinos stays on his tightrope, not only on the upbeat cuts ("Better Days"; "Once Upon A Desert") but also on affecting slow numbers ("Yerguir Tsirani"; "The Conquering Zourna"). Most unexpected is the French language rapping over an electrowhomp beat on "Jip-Ay-Ka-Dipe-Mwen" - not sure what he's doing here but I like it. (DBW)

Find yourself a dream.

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