Inner Life was a supergroup that emerged during the death spasms of disco and gave us a tantalizing glimpse of what may have happened to the genre if not for the outright cultural pogrom that was taking place in the world outside their hallowed studio walls. It’s never been acknowledged as a supergroup, per se, but it’s pretty hard to find another word for a band fronted by Jocelyn Brown, with super producers Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, plus the legendary vocalist, pianist and songwriter Leroy Burgess and guitarist Stan Lucas, all at the peak of their creative powers.
Inner Life was a studio project but a uniquely cohesive one; the integrity of their music comes from the close relations between many of the members as part of “The P.A. System” collective whose members worked together on dozens of records over a brief period that overlaps with Inner Life’s lifespan. Lucas, Burgess and Adams collaborated in various configurations on a slew of projects, including the Burgess/Adams/Lucas band Dazzle, the Burgess/Lucas project Logg, the Burgess/Adams/Lucas project Phreek and Herbie Mann’s funk album Super Mann, among others.
Amidst that wild tempest of creativity, Inner Life would release three albums in four years with a slew of singles that kept Salsoul and disco itself hanging on by its fingernails. It was their second album, the self-titled Inner Life that is captures the band and the individual musicians in their stride. In fact, given that personnel, their ages and the closing of the age of disco right at this time, one can make a fair claim (or I will) that is one of the best albums ever released, period. Other than the opener (the sultry but out of place ballad “It’s You”) the record is a hit parade of classics from needle-drop to run-out.
The essential personnel were not limited to the group’s core members, however. Adams was listed as co-producer on two tracks but they’re the best: “Make It Last Forever” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Even the list of mixers for the album versions is a murder’s row of NYC’s finest circa 1981: John Morales (“It’s You”), Larry Levan (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Make It Last Forever”) and Tee Scott (“Live It Up,” “Pay Girl” and “(Knock Out) Let’s Go Another Round.”)
Most of Inner Life’s most well-known singles came from this LP (with the notable exceptions of “Moments Of My Life” and “I Like It Like That”), but following the tradition of the day most of the album cuts were not the versions that became hits. Were it released today, most of these songs would be released as “radio edits”; the DJ audience of the time and since then have looked to the 12 inches for what have become the definitive editions.
Salsoul (or now BMG which owns it) has gotten a huge amount of mileage out of Inner Life’s discography over the years. There are probably more than a dozen compilations, reissues and other label-oriented compilations to choose from. The 2018 Stars Of Salsoul: Inner Life gathered together a half dozen of the best 12″ singles in one double LP. They’re really that long — John Morales’ mix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” tops them all as one of the longest hit disco remixes of all time. Back when I first interviewed him a decade ago, John Morales talked about it in the context of the then-burgeoning field of disco edits (you’ll have to imagine the New York accent, of which John possesses one of the best):
“One guy sent me a re-edit of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,'” he told me, “and I just said, ‘Look, the digital download of that is 17 minutes long!‘ Even when I play it, I only do so for maybe 8 minutes. But you never find yourself glancing at your watch during that time and that’s what you’re looking for. When time is not an issue, you know you’ve got a good mix. If someone is feeling bored about 3 minutes in, that’s when you know that something is missing.”
Morales’ mix (all SEVENTEEN MINUTES LONG!) is not included on this expanded double 12″ reissue, which is an unfortunate omission. It does include Larry Levan’s 12″ Garage mixes of “Make It Last Forever” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” though, and that ain’t too bad.
There is also a relatively rare bonus track here — the Inner Life version of “Let’s Get This Thing Together.” An earlier, heavenly version by Debbie Hayes & The Universal Robot Band is itself an insanely rare record, frequently edited into extended, personal versions by some of the top disco jocks. Inner Life’s version appeared on the 2005 CD compilation, Inner Life & Jocelyn Brown: The Anthology and I don’t think has appeared on any of the various Inner Life comps BMG authorized since then.
I would never counsel anyone to not buy an Inner Life record. It’s better you have one you don’t need than need one you don’t have. But be aware that you’re getting about 50% or less of the total experience with album cuts like these. Maybe you don’t need seventeen minutes’ worth of “Ain’t No Mountain”; even for the man that made it, eight minutes is often enough, though it’s worth noting he’s taking those minutes from a mix that’s not on the album or this expanded reissue. For the disco-curious building their collection, it’s necessary to have the Levan mixes, though you can get them anywhere and the Stars of Salsoul compilation is probably a better solution for DJs.
Inner Life: Inner Life (Reissue) / Salsoul (March 2020/12″ Vinyl)
A1. Inner Life: “It’s You” (5:26)
A2. Inner Life: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (7:58)
A3. Inner Life: “Pay Girl” (5:54)
B1. Inner Life: “(Knock Out) Let’s Go Another Round” (7:28)
B2. Inner Life: “Live It Up” (4:07)
B3. Inner Life: “Make It Last Forever” (7:22)
C1. Inner Life: “Make It Last Forever” (12″ Larry Levan Paradise Garage mix) (12:51)
D1. Inner Life: “Let’s Get This Thing Together” (4:22)
D2. Inner Life: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (12″ Larry Levan Garage version mix) (10:28)