Disco is a type of music merging elements of funk, soul, pop, salsa and psychedelic in a dance beat that was most popular between 1976 - 1980. Although it is considered a dead genre, it has enjoyed brief resurgences over the decades since with selected groups and songs that incorporate some, or all, of its features. The name 'Disco' is derived from the French word 'discothèque' which, when translated to English, means "library of phonograph records". The term, however, is most commonly used to describe any dance venue, taverns that predominately feature music at night, or nightclubs in general; the first use of the term was in Paris.
Philadelphia and New York style Soul music were offspring of the Detroit Motown sound; noted mostly for their lavish percussion and strings. By the mid-1970s this was a predominant feature in disco. The disco sound also utilized overwhelming sound, free-form dancing, flashing and laser lighting, colorful costumes and hallucinogens.
The style quickly spread across the USA to eventually be included in music by several other popular groups of the time. Disco's popularity led many non-disco artists to record disco songs at the height of its popularity. Many of their songs were not "pure" disco, but were instead rock or pop songs with, sometimes very obvious, disco influence or overtones. Notable examples include Mike Oldfield's "Guilty" (1979), Blondie's "Heart of Glass" (1978), Cher's "Hell on Wheels" and "Take Me Home" (both 1979), Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" (1978), David Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing (Again)" (1975), Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (1979), Electric Light Orchestra's "Shine a Little Love" and "Last Train to London" (both 1979), George Benson's "Give Me the Night" (1980), Elton John and Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (1976), M's "Pop Muzik" (1979), Barbra Streisand's "The Main Event"(1979) and Diana Ross' "Upside Down" (1980).
Even hard-core mainstream rockers mixed elements of disco with their typical rock 'n roll style in songs. Noted examples include Pink Floyd when they used disco components in creating their rock opera The Wall, specifically "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" (1979) that became the group's only #1 hit single (in both the US and UK). The Eagles also used disco in "One of These Nights" (1975) and "Disco Strangler" (1979), Paul McCartney & Wings did "Goodnight Tonight" (1979), Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" (1980), The Rolling Stones with "Miss You" (1978) and "Emotional Rescue" (1980), Chicago did "Street Player" (1979), The Beach Boys' "Here Comes the Night" (1979), The Kinks "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" (1979), and the J. Geils Band with "Come Back" (1980). Even heavy metal music group KISS jumped in with "I Was Made For Lovin' You" (1979). The Bee Gees were a noted example as well by using Barry Gibb's falsetto to garner hits such as "You Should Be Dancing", "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever", "More Than A Woman" and "Love You Inside Out". Andy Gibb, a younger brother to the Bee Gees, followed with similarly-styled solo hits such as "I Just Want to Be Your Everything", "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" and "Shadow Dancing". The Bee Gee's made so many disco styled hits that many believed they were, in fact, a disco act -- this was never the truth.
In 1975, hits such as Van McCoy's "The Hustle" and "Could It Be Magic" brought disco further into the mainstream. Other notable disco hits include The Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" (1974), Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (1974), LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" (1975) and Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly" (1975). Popular artists aside, there were plenty of bonified full-time disco acts that made it up the charts, including: Chic, Donna Summers, Abba, 5th Dimension, Boney-M, Diana Ross, Hot Chocolate, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Kool and the Gang, amongst many others.
In December 1977, the film Saturday Night Fever was released. The film was marketed specifically to broaden disco's popularity beyond its primarily black and Latin audiences. It was a huge success and its soundtrack became one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Because record sales were often dependent on floor play in clubs, DJs were also important to the development and popularization of disco music. Tom Moulton, who wanted to extend the enjoyment of the style, created the extended mix or "remix", for example. But other notable DJs include: Rex Potts (Loft Lounge, Sarasota, Florida), Karen Cook, Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Richie Kaczar of Studio 54, Rick Gianatos, Francis Grasso of Sanctuary, Larry Levan, Ian Levine, Neil "Raz" Rasmussen & Mike Pace of L'amour Disco in Brooklyn, Preston Powell of Magique, Jennie Costa of Lemontrees, Tee Scott, Tony Smith of Xenon, John Luongo, Robert Ouimet of The Limelight, and David Mancuso.
Indeed, by the late 1970s most major U.S. cities had thriving disco club scenes, but the largest were in San Francisco, Miami, and most notably New York City. By 1975 notable discos included: "Studio One" in Los Angeles, "Leviticus" in New York and "The Library" in Atlanta. "The Library" Disco chain had locations in New York City, Syracuse N.Y., Pittsburgh Pa., a short lived version in Denver, Co. as well as Atlanta Ga.
It was Studio 54, however, that became, arguably, the most well known nightclub in the world. This club played a major formative role in the growth of disco music and nightclub culture in general.
Disco is widely considered a product of the New York City homosexual community, and although, it is true that it became predominate in Gay clubs, Disco's initial audiences were a mix of club-goers from the African American, Italian American, Latino, women, homosexual and psychedelic communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It started as a reaction against both the domination of rock music and the stigmatization of dance music by the counterculture during this period.
However, Disco's reign supreme on the pop charts would be short lived for by the late 1970s a strong anti-disco sentiment developed among rock fans and musicians, particularly in the United States. The slogans, "disco sucks" and, "death to disco" became common. Rock artists such as Rod Stewart and David Bowie, both of who added disco elements to their music during the time, were accused of being sell outs.
Furthermore, the punk subculture in the United States and United Kingdom was often hostile to disco. Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, in the song "Saturday Night Holocaust", likened disco to the cabaret culture of Weimar-era Germany for its apathy towards government policies and its escapism. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo said that disco was "like a beautiful woman with a great body and no brains," and a product of political apathy of that period. New Jersey rock critic Jim Testa wrote "Put a Bullet Through the Jukebox," a statement attacking disco that was considered a punk call to arms.
July 12, 1979 became known as "the day disco died" because of Disco Demolition Night, an anti-disco demonstration in a baseball double-header at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Rock station DJs Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, along with Michael Veeck, son of Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, staged the promotional event for disgruntled rock fans between the games of a White Sox doubleheader. The event, which involved exploding a pile of disco records in the middle of the field, ended with a riot, during which the raucous crowd tore out seats and pieces of turf, along with other damage. The Chicago Police Department made numerous arrests, and the extensive damage to the field forced the White Sox to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers, who had won the first game. More to the point, and probably part of the motivation, six months prior to the chaotic event, popular progressive rock radio station WDAI (WLS-FM) had suddenly switched to an all disco format, disenfranchising thousands of Chicago rock fans and leaving Dahl unemployed.
In January 1979, rock critic Robert Christgau argued that homophobia, and most likely racism, were reasons behind the general nationwide backlash against disco, a conclusion seconded by John Rockwell.
On July 21, 1979, the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs. By September 22 (exactly 2 months later) there were no disco songs in the US Top 10 charts. Some in the media, in celebratory tones, declared disco "dead" and rock revived. Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", often considered a farewell song to disco, remained as one of the last mega hits disco had to offer. By 1980, disco disappeared off the charts altogether.
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