On Valentine’s Day in 1970, David Mancuso hosted a private party called Love Saves the Day in his loft at 647 Broadway in New York, a few blocks north of Houston Street. He was an audio obsessive with a voracious appetite for spiritual sounds and a profound sense of community, and the event was an opportunity to bring together friends in a setting unfettered by commercial demands, or the restrictions of their outside lives.
Mancuso, who died in November 2016 at 72, didn’t produce music on his own and didn’t think of himself as a D.J., preferring the term “musical host.” Yet the mix of unorthodox records played at what became known as the Loft, and the inclusive ethos that he and his devotees espoused, became cornerstones for dance music. And as one of the founders of the New York Record Pool — an organization that helped distribute promotional vinyl to D.J.s — in 1975, Mancuso was at the forefront of asserting the D.J.’s role as commercial and critical clairvoyant. The responses of the dancers at the Loft could reverberate throughout the city and beyond, reshaping the American pop charts.
Parties at the Loft were structured according to three “bardos,” a reference to the phases of an LSD trip — note the first party’s initials — which Timothy Leary took from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” First came “the calm,” giving way to “the circus” and finally “the re-entry.” Mancuso didn’t blend or beat match songs together, instead presenting them in their unadulterated form. But the Loft was still experienced as a succession of intertwined stories, each chapter crackling with an improvisatory energy and emotional heft. A single night might include jazz fusion, Broadway musicals, searing Latin funk, sumptuous disco, eerie psychedelia, exploratory African rhythms, shrieking post-punk and much more.
The eclectic selection of music wasn’t the only diversity embraced at the Loft. Riding the momentum of the 1960s’ progressive politics — and with the Stonewall uprising fresh in the minds of many attendees — the parties were far more mixed than most New York night life, and Mancuso’s dance floor became a comforting, transformative space that aspired to erase the racial or sexual oppression experienced elsewhere. Free to dance however and with whomever they wanted, the Loft was where many people found their chosen families.
The Loft has moved locations several times, but is still going strong with three parties a year in New York. To mark the 50th anniversary of that first Love Saves the Day event, here are 12 classics and comparatively unheralded gems that were heard at different periods on the Loft dance floor over the party’s lifetime.
Chuck Mangione featuring Esther Satterfield, ‘Land of Make Believe’ (A&M, 1973)
Many songs have lyrical messages that can be taken as mission statements for the Loft, but few match the impact of this live recording. Accompanied by the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Chuck Mangione’s luscious arrangement surges beneath Esther Satterfield’s soaring vocals, as she references “The Wizard of Oz” and Martin Luther King Jr. The lyric “Where everything is fun, forever” reflected “the spirit everyone wanted to tap into” when entering the Loft, said Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy in an interview. (Murphy, one of the party’s current musical hosts and a longtime collaborator with Mancuso, helped release two compilations of music from the Loft via the London label Nuphonic in 1999 and 2000.) “You were entering the safe land of make believe — you could be a child, be free.”
Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, ‘Missa Luba’ (Philips, 1958)
This recording — of a Latin Mass in Congolese musical styles featuring a children’s choir under the helm of a Franciscan friar named Guido Haazen — wasn’t released in the United States until 1963. Mancuso had been hosting unofficial parties as early as 1966, and this album appealed to his affection both for music with an explicit spiritual message and for African percussion.
Andwella, ‘Hold On to Your Mind’ (Reflection, 1970)
Although the Loft is typically associated with disco, its audiences’ tastes were omnivorous, extending to throbbing, piano-inflected jams such as this one by the Northern Irish trio Andwella. With a sinuous guitar and a ringing, short-lived break, it’s one of several harder-edge slices of psych-rock that Mancuso played in the party’s early days, alongside less sinister outings like Brian Auger and the Trinity’s “Listen Here.”
Nina Simone, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ (RCA/Victor, 1971)
A stark, sibilant cover with abundant harp and tape hiss, Nina Simone’s take on the Beatles was a mainstay of early mornings (and afternoons) at Loft parties. Some attendees remember it always being the last song of the night during the years at 647 Broadway, the Loft’s first location, and it’s easy to imagine the regulars floating comfortably back to their lives on the strength of the hopeful outro.
War, ‘City, Country, City’ (United Artists, 1972)
The twangy harmonica on “City, Country, City,” the track that closes out the first side of War’s 1972 album “The World Is a Ghetto,” might seem an unlikely candidate for dance floor impact. But the spiraling intensity of the saxophone, percussion and organ build toward a powerful climax. “Everybody downstairs knew it from the first chord and was running upstairs to it,” the New York D.J. and Body & Soul co-founder Danny Krivit said in a 2018 oral history of the Loft on Red Bull Music Academy Daily. “When I went upstairs and I saw this explosion as it got to this busy part of the song, it was something I had never experienced in a club before that.”
Manu Dibango, ‘Soul Makossa’ (Fiesta/Atlantic, 1972)
The inescapable refrain “mamako-mamasa-mako makossa” may never have infiltrated American popular music without the Loft. Mancuso originally uncovered this track in the racks of a record store in Brooklyn, and its addictive, memorable chorus and bleating saxophone earned a passionate response at Loft parties. In 1972, Atlantic licensed and rereleased the original version in America, where it reached No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and gave the Cameroonian Dibango one of the first mainstream disco hits. A number of citations and interpolations, legal and covert, have kept it in the bloodstream of American music ever since.
MFSB, ‘Love Is the Message’ (Philadelphia International, 1973)
This passionate fanfare and call to action has likely been heard at every Loft party since its initial release. It’s arguably Gamble & Huff’s most direct songwriting statement, and undoubtedly what many Loft devotees would play strangers to try to communicate the party’s philosophies, musical or otherwise.
Blackbyrds, ‘Walking in Rhythm’ (Fantasy, 1975)
The Blackbyrds’ plaintive, twinkling lament for a distant lover, with its repetitions of “walking in rhythm/moving in sound,” captured the essence of the freedom found at the Loft. “The music would not stay at one level all evening long,” Ernesto Green, who has attended the Loft since 1975 and now helps organize the parties, said in an interview. “This was one of the ones played as the music started getting more intense, to start you up on the climb.”
Ashford & Simpson, ‘Stay Free’ (Warner Bros., 1979)
The ecstatic interplay of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson was a regular presence on the New York club circuit from the time they first made their name as songwriters, and their own recorded music had a seismic impact, too. “Stay Free” is a slinky tour de force, with orchestral accents bouncing toward an instrumental peak. There are few sneakier and sadder kiss-offs than the duo’s melisma on the word “lonely,” which threatens to spin the song out of control before the rubber-band bass snaps back.
Steve Miller Band, ‘Macho City (Long Version)’ (Capitol, 1981)
“David never cut records or stopped them in the middle,” Green said. “He always felt the musician took their time to create this music, and they should be credited by hearing the entire recording played.” This was the case even with the 16-plus-minute version of “Macho City,” a slow-burning parody of American military intervention set in a psychedelic key. A riot of alien effects, dub affectations, skronking synths and an irresistibly funky bass line, it’s a laugh-out-loud indictment of a political establishment whose work could feel anathema to the Loft’s message of love and unity.
Code 718, ‘Equinox (Heavenly Club Mix)’ (Strictly Rhythm, 1992)
Released on an iconic house label, executive produced by the undersung Gladys Pizarro, written by the New York club mainstay Danny Tenaglia, and featuring piano by the future Hillary Clinton political adviser Peter Daou, “Equinox” samples the circular burble of Manuel Göttsching’s prog-ambient classic “E2-E4” and a terse Grace Jones vocal. It was a hit at the time when the Loft was operating in the East Village, on East 3rd Street between Avenues B and C, and is one of the many songs that reflects the party’s engagement with contemporary sounds.
Karma, ‘High Priestess’ (Groove Attack Productions, 1995)
“High Priestess,” a bit of Latin-inflected soulful house with ballooning bass, was the first-ever attempt by Lars Dorsch, the store manager of Groove Attack record shop in Cologne, Germany, to make music. But he wasn’t aware that the song had been getting play at the Loft — as well as other New York parties like Body & Soul — until 1998, when the licensing request came in for the song to be included on Nuphonic’s indelible compilation of Loft classics. “I was quite familiar with David’s legacy at that point already, and was totally blown away by the fact that he played it,” Dorsch said in an interview. “I’m still floored thinking that we shared a track list with music of that caliber.”