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Patrick Hernandez

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Patrick Hernandez didn’t have one of the biggest, most iconic one-hit-wonder disco smashes, but he did have one of the best. 1979’s hypnotic, gold-selling “Born to Be Alive” reached number 16 on the Top 40 pop chart, yet it’s not often cited as one of the genre’s definitive songs. It doesn’t show up on many disco compilations either, with 1993’s Double Knit Dance Hits being an exception. The song is, of course, the centerpiece of its parent album, Born to Be Alive. With the full seven-and-a-half minute album version, you get more of what makes the swirling song a winner over the edited single. The vocals of Hernandez (a Frenchman of Spanish, Austrian, and Italian heritage) are infectious, but the deftly arranged musical hooks tie the song together — nimble guitar lines and dramatic dive-bomb power chords, three-chord piano fills, pulsating synthesizer, multi-tracked handclaps, hyperactive percussion, crisp strings, and siren-like horns. Most disco artists’ albums tended to have the hit surrounded by filler, professionally performed by studio musicians and expertly crafted by the producer and arranger, but filler nonetheless. Born to Be Alive basically follows that well-worn path. “You Turn Me On,” a duet with Herve Tholance, is brightly tinged with calypso and Latin touches, but it only temporarily delays the descent of Born to Be Alive into repetitive formula. But give the title track its due. On a historical note, Madonna performed with Hernandez as a dancer early in her career before achieving superstardom.

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