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Thursday, March 9, 2017

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DISCO

Disco appeared in the mid-70's and disappeared less than a decade later, except discotheques continued to be popular throughout the Orient into the early 90's.  I'm beginning to think that I favor certain genres and time periods only because songs from those eras just don't get played on radio or TV.  For example, there is no channel for baroque music, and only rarely do I hear songs from 1946-55, a decade which was meaningfully emotional for me.  There is a disco station on iTunes, but you need to pay for it, something I'm at present unwilling to do.

I began my regular world travels in the 1980's, and many of the major hotels in cities like Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei had discotheques.  I mostly sat in these sound palaces with a drink, watching the swirl of life around me, surrounded by pounding music and blinking lights.  This was thus a memorable period for me, but those songs just aren't played in the various media.  For the past hour, for example, I've been listening to Music Choice '70s, and not one disco tune.  Mind you, they have stations for:  Max, Dance, EDM, Indie, Hip Hop, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop Classics, Throwback Jamz, R&B Classics, R&B Soul, Gospel, Reggae, Rock, Metal, Alternative, Adult Alternative, Rock Hits, Classic Rock, Soft Rock, Love Songs, Pop Hits, Party Favorites, Teen Beats, Kidz Only, Toddler Tunes, '90's, '80s, '70s, Solid Gold Oldies, Pop & Country, Today's Country, Country Hits, Classic Country, Christian, Latino, Urbana, Mexicana, Tropicales, Romances, Stage and Screen, Smooth Jazz, Jazz, Blues...  Yes, there is my list of 4,000 iPod songs, but, fewer than one percent can be considered to be disco.

Disco is a contraction from discotheque, French for library of phonograph records, a term used in Paris nightclubs as early as the '40s with a disc jockey (DJ).  Germany picked the concept up in the '60s, soon thereafter in the U.S. as more informal dance nightclubs.  The melange of R&B, Latino, psychedelia and the like led to free-form movement with trippy lighting.  In many ways Sly and the Family Stone started this all in San Francisco of 1968 with Dance to the Music and Everyday People.

Philadelphia and New York soul, influenced by Motown, produced Superstition by Stevie Wonder and Love Train by The O'Jays in 1972.  DJ's like David Mancuso began to produce extended mixes.  Consult Billboard's Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003 for all the details.  

Pioneers like the Hues Corporations' Rock the Boat and Gloria Gaynor's  (Can you believe she is now 68?Never Can Say Goodbye, in 1974 began to hit the charts, and 1975 might have been the early peak with KC and the Sunshine Band's That's the Way and Get Down Tonight, The Hustle with Van McCoy, Love Machine by the Miracles, Love to Love You Baby (17-minute long version, said to contain simulated orgasms) of Donna Summer (passed away of cancer 5 years ago) and Lady Marmalade by Labelle.  

The Bee Gees in 1976 came out with You Should be Dancing, followed by the seminal Saturday Night Fever in 1977, here with John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney to the left.  No doubt this film officially kicked-off disco.

To the right Gorney at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from PBS's Get Down Tonight:  The Disco Explosion.  She co-hosted with K.C.

In 1978 Chic released Le Freak, Alicia Bridges did I Love the Nightlife and The Village People, a group of gay male singers, recorded YMCA, which became a theme for their cause.  Pop singers joined:  Barry Manilow (Copacabana), Elton John / Kiki Dee (Don't Go Breaking My Heart), Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Diana Ross (Upside Down).  Or, at least the beat qualified their songs to be used by discos.  1979  into 1980 saw Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 (their only #1), Queen's Another One Bites the Dust, Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue and Sister Sledge's We Are Family.

One list of ten best disco hits has #1, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, with #4 the Trammps' Disco Inferno and #7 ABBA's Dancing Queen.  Here is a Top 100, with, again, Gaynor's at #1.  Soul Tracks has Donna Summer's Last Dance at first and Rolling Stone has the Bee Gees Staying' Alive at the top.

Absolute final disco hit?  Well, Justin Timberlake's Can't Stop the Feeling from the recent Trolls (Rotten Tomatoes:  74%/69%) at the Academy Awards ceremony last month could well have been it.  Then again, anything with that beat will always have roots in disco.

Did you realize that just in the 70's, in addition to Saturday Night Live, these were considered, sort of for some, disco themed:  Thank God It's Friday (Donna Summer), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, Meat Loaf), Car Wash (Danny Devito), Roller Boogie (Linda Blair), Skatetown (Patrick Swayze), The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (Julius Erving), Disco Godfather (Rotten Tomatoes reviewers gave it can 80 rating, but looking at who were in the film, I don't recognize even one name of the 20+), Disco Fever (Casey Kasem, Fabian), Can't Stop the Music (Bruce Jenner, Village People....hmmmmDisco 9000, (strange, but neither Wikipedia or Rotten Tomatoes bothered to cover this film), The Bitch (Joan Collins, written by her younger sister, Jackie Collins, and on the soundtrack are 20 songs, including by Gonzalez, Blondie, and Leo Sayer), ABBA and The Stud (Joan Collins, and there were a lot more disco songs, including by Leo Sayer, Manfred Mann, KC and the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, etc.)

The last disco movie was The Last Days of Disco in 1998, with Chloe Savigny.  The soundtrack featured, Sister Sledge, Evelyn Champagne King, Alicia Bridges, Chic, and the O'Jays, with Love Train.

Here is Roy Orbison's Oh, Pretty Woman, not a disco song, as it came out in 1964, but the 1988 Black and White Night long version with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Rait and k.d. lang, was on PBS last night, and deserves a repeat here.

There is a future tropical cyclone loitering in the Indian Ocean, and I mention it because I know lots of people in Reunion and Mauritius.


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