Craft Recordings are set to reissue Sylvester’s iconic 1978 album, Step II, with newly remastered audio.
Available this Friday, 19 June across all digital and streaming platforms, this classic disco album features Sylvester’s enduring anthem, ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),’ plus his very first Top 40 hit, ‘Dance (Disco Heat).’ The remastered album will be available digitally across all platforms, including hi-resolution for the first time.
By the late 70s, Sylvester (born Sylvester James Jr. in 1947) had been performing in San Francisco for nearly a decade – both as a part of the avant-garde drag troupe, The Cockettes, and as the frontman for a rock group, Sylvester and his Hot Band. Though he failed to find commercial success with the Hot Band’s two releases, he set his sights on a solo career and signed a deal with the Berkeley-based Fantasy Records.
Armed with new backing singers— Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes (better known as “Two Tons O’Fun,” who later became The Weather Girls)—Sylvester released his self-titled, disco debut in 1977. While Sylvester fared better across the Atlantic, it was clear that the artist had found his groove in the disco scene.
When he went into the studio to write his next record, the 30-year-old Sylvester was determined to score a hit song. His guitarist, James Wirrick, had been working on a melody for an R&B ballad. Sylvester saw its potential as a faster club track, however, and enlisted producer and electronic music pioneer Patrick Cowley to work his magic on the track.
The result was ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, a pulsating, effects-heavy tune with an irresistible hook. The song would not only become a disco classic, and an anthem within the gay community, but it is also considered to be a touchstone in the hi-NRG genre, following Donna Summer’s 1977 hit, ‘I Feel Love,’ and ushering in songs like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ in the 80s.
With the release of Step II in 1978 Sylvester’s dreams of stardom came true—and then some. Praised by Rolling Stone for being, “as good as disco gets,” Step II was certified Gold by the RIAA, broke the Billboard R&B Top 10, and peaked at No.28 on the Billboard 200.
The album’s first single ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’ marked Sylvester’s first Top 40 hit, peaking at No.19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.29 on the UK Pop chart. ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’ and ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ also both hit No.1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart, while the latter song would break the Top 40 in the US, and become his first Top 10 hit in the UK.
‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),’ however, would be Sylvester’s most enduring single. Initially, the song’s popularity led to sold-out shows, TV appearances, international tours, and opening spots for artists like Chaka Khan and The Commodores. In 1979, San Francisco even bestowed its “Queen of Disco” with the key to the city.
As the decades went on, the single remained a mainstay. In his 2005 book, Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro described the song as, “an epochal record in disco history” and “the cornerstone of gay disco.” The Library of Congress agreed, and inducted the song into their National Recording Registry in 2019, recognizing it for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Sylvester would go on to release seven more albums in his lifetime, including his 1979 follow-up, Stars, and 1982’s All I Need, which included the popular single ‘Do You Wanna Funk,’ another collaboration with Cowley, and ‘Hard Up’—which became the third music video by a Black artist to appear on the burgeoning MTV channel. Step II, however, would remain Sylvester’s pièce de résistance.
Step II is out on 19 June and can be pre-ordered here.