The ceiling of an Arlington, Texas discothèque
|Cultural origins||Mid-1960s – early 1970s, East Coast of the United States|
Disco is a music genre and subculture that emerged in the mid 1960s and early 1970s from America's urban nightlife scene. Disco started as a mélange of music from venues popular with African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Italian Americans, LGBT people (especially African-American and white gay men), and psychedelic hippies in Philadelphia and New York City during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Disco can be seen as a reaction to both the dominance of rock music and the stigmatization of dance music by the counterculture during this period. Several dance styles were also developed during this time, including the Bump and the Hustle.
The disco sound is typified by "four-on-the-floor" beats, syncopated basslines, and string sections, horns, electric piano, synthesizers, and electric rhythm guitars. Lead guitar features less frequently in disco than in rock. Well-known disco artists include Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Village People, Thelma Houston, and Chic, and many at the height of the genre's popularity, many non-disco artists recorded disco songs. While performers and singers garnered public attention, record producers working behind the scenes played an important role in developing the genre. Films such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Thank God It's Friday (1978) contributed to disco's mainstream popularity.
By the late 1970s, most major U.S. cities had thriving disco club scenes, and DJs would mix dance records at clubs such as Studio 54 in New York City, a venue popular among celebrities. Discothèque-goers often wore expensive, extravagant and sexy fashions. There was also a thriving drug subculture in the disco scene, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine and Quaaludes, the latter being so common in disco subculture that they were nicknamed "disco biscuits". Disco clubs were also associated with promiscuity.
Disco was the last popular music movement driven by the baby boom generation. It began to decline in the United States during 1979-80, and by 1982 it had lost nearly all popularity there. Disco Demolition Night, an anti-disco protest held in Chicago on July 12, 1979, remains the most well-known of several "backlash" incidents across the country that symbolized disco's declining fortune.
Disco was a key influence in the development of electronic dance music and house music. It has had several revivals, such as Madonna's highly successful 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor, and again in the 2010s, entering the pop charts in the US and the UK.
Origins of the term and type of nightclub
The term disco is derived from discothèque (French for "library of phonograph records", but it was subsequently used as a term for nightclubs in Paris). By the early 1940s, the terms disc jockey and DJ were in use to describe radio presenters. During WWII, because of restrictions set in place by the Nazi occupiers, jazz dance halls in Occupied France played records instead of using live music. Eventually more than one of these jazz venues had the proper name discothèque. By 1959, the term was used in Paris to describe any of these type of nightclubs. That year, a young reporter named Klaus Quirini started to select and introduce records at the Scotch-Club in Aachen, West Germany. By the following year the term was being used in the United States to describe that type of club, and a type of dancing in those clubs. By 1964, discothèque and the shorthand disco were used to describe a type of sleeveless dress worn when going out to nightclubs. In September 1964, Playboy magazine used the word disco as a shorthand for a discothèque-styled nightclub.
Usage in the United Kingdom in the early to mid-1970s
In 1974 there were an estimated 25,000 mobile discos and 40,000 professional disc jockeys in the United Kingdom. Mobile Discos referred to Disc Jockeys for hire that brought their own equipment to office parties, weddings and the like. "Disco Dance Music" referred to glam rock. Simon Reynolds has described Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll Part 2 as the first hybrid disco-rock song.
1966–74: Proto-disco and early history of disco music
In Philadelphia, R&B musicians and audiences from the Black, Italian, and Latino communities adopted several traits from the hippie and psychedelia subcultures. They included using music venues with a loud, overwhelming sound, free-form dancing, trippy lighting, colorful costumes, and the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Psychedelic soul groups like the Chambers Brothers and especially Sly and the Family Stone influenced proto-disco acts such as Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and the soul style known as the Philadelphia Sound. In addition, the perceived positivity, lack of irony, and earnestness of the hippies informed proto-disco music like MFSB's album Love Is the Message. To the mainstream public M.F.S.B. stood for "Mother Father Sister Brother"; to the tough areas where they came from it was understood to stand for "Mother Fuckin' Son of a Bitch", a reference to their playing skill and musical prowess.
A forerunner to disco-style clubs was the private dance parties held by New York City DJ David Mancuso in The Loft, a members-only club in his home in 1970. When Mancuso threw his first house parties, the gay community (members of whom comprised much of The Loft's attendee roster) was often harassed by police in New York gay bars and dance clubs. But at The Loft and many other early, private discotheques, men could dance together without fear of police action thanks to Mancuso's underground business model. The first article about disco was written in 1973 by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone magazine. In 1974, New York City's WPIX-FM premiered the first disco radio show.
Philadelphia soul and New York soul were evolutions of the Motown sound, and were typified by the lavish percussion, lush string orchestra arrangements and expensive record production processes that became a prominent part of mid-1970s disco songs. Early songs with disco elements include "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (the Supremes, 1966), "Soul Makossa" (Manu Dibango, 1972), "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder (1972) Eddie Kendricks' "Keep on Truckin'" (1973) and "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (1973). "Love Train" by the O'Jays (1972), with M.F.S.B. as the backup band, topped the Billboard pop chart in March 1973, and has been called "disco".
Early disco was dominated by record producers and labels such as Salsoul Records (Ken, Stanley, and Joseph Cayre), West End Records (Mel Cheren), Casablanca (Neil Bogart), and Prelude (Marvin Schlachter), to name a few. The genre was also shaped by Tom Moulton, who wanted to extend the enjoyment of dance songs—thus creating the extended mix or "remix", going from a three-minute 45 rpm single to the much longer 12" record. Other influential DJs and remixers who helped to establish what became known as the "disco sound" included David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, and Chicago-based Frankie Knuckles. Frankie Knuckles was not only an important disco DJ; he also helped to develop house music in the 1980s, a contribution which earned him the honorific title of "Godfather of House".
"The [disco] DJ was central to the ritual of 1970s dance culture, but the dancing crowd was no less important, and it was the combination of these two elements that created the conditions for the dance floor dynamic." In disco parties and clubs, a "...good DJ didn't only lead dancers...[to the dance floor,] but would also feel the mood of the dance floor and select records according to this energy (which could be communicated by the vigor of the dancing, or level of the crowd's screams, or sign language of dancers directed towards the booth)." Disco-era DJs would often remix (re-edit) existing songs using reel-to-reel tape machines, and add in percussion breaks, new sections, and new sounds. DJs would select songs and grooves according to what the dancers wanted, transitioning from one song to another with a DJ mixer and using a microphone to introduce songs and speak to the audiences. Other equipment was added to the basic DJ setup, providing unique sound manipulations, such as reverb, equalization, and echo effects unit. Using this equipment, a DJ could do effects such as cutting out all but the throbbing bassline of a song, and then slowly mixing in the beginning of another song using the DJ mixer's crossfader.
Disco hit the television airwaves with the music/dance variety show Soul Train in 1971 hosted by Don Cornelius, then Marty Angelo's Disco Step-by-Step Television Show in 1975, Steve Marcus' Disco Magic/Disco 77, Eddie Rivera's Soap Factory, and Merv Griffin's Dance Fever, hosted by Deney Terrio, who is credited with teaching actor John Travolta to dance for his role in the film Saturday Night Fever, as well as DANCE, based out of Columbia, South Carolina.
1974–77: Rise to the mainstream
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From 1974 to 1977, disco music continued to increase in popularity as many disco songs topped the charts. In 1974, "Love's Theme" by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra became the second disco song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, after "Love Train". MFSB also released "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", featuring vocals by the Three Degrees, and this was the third disco song to hit number one; "TSOP" was written as the theme song for Soul Train.
The Hues Corporation's 1974 "Rock the Boat", a US number-one single and million-seller, was one of the early disco songs to reach number one. The same year saw the release of "Kung Fu Fighting", performed by Carl Douglas and produced by Biddu, which reached number one in both the UK and US, and became the best-selling single of the year and one of the best-selling singles of all time with eleven million records sold worldwide, helping to popularize disco music to a great extent. Another notable chart-topping disco success that year was George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby".
In the northwestern sections of the United Kingdom, the Northern Soul explosion, which started in the late 1960s and peaked in 1974, made the region receptive to Disco, which the region's Disc Jockeys were bringing back from New York City. George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" became the United Kingdom's first number one disco single.
Also in 1974, Gloria Gaynor released the first side-long disco mix vinyl album, which included a remake of the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye" and two other songs, "Honey Bee" and her disco version of "Reach Out (I'll Be There)", first topped the Billboard disco/dance charts in November 1974. Gaynor's number-one disco song was "I Will Survive", released in 1978, which was seen as a symbol of female strength and a gay anthem. Also in the mix, Vincent Montana's Salsoul Orchestra contributed with their 1975 Latin-flavored orchestral dance song "Salsoul Hustle", reaching number four on the Billboard Dance Chart and the 1976 songs "Tangerine" and "Nice 'n' Naasty".
Swedish pop group ABBA was a major contributing factor to the popularity of disco during 1970s as several of their songs dominated the international charts during the 1970s. Their 1976 single Dancing Queen was a global hit, plus their elaborate stage costumes became synonymous with the genre.
Formed by Harry Wayne Casey ("KC") and Richard Finch, Miami's KC and the Sunshine Band had a string of disco-definitive top-five singles between 1975 and 1977, including "Get Down Tonight", "That's the Way (I Like It)", "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty", "I'm Your Boogie Man" and "Keep It Comin' Love". Electric Light Orchestra's 1975 song "Evil Woman", although described as Orchestral Rock, featured a violin sound that became a staple of disco. In 1979, however, ELO did release two "true" disco songs: "Last Train To London" and "Shine A Little Love".
In 1975, American singer and songwriter Donna Summer recorded a song which she brought to her producer Giorgio Moroder entitled "Love to Love You Baby" which contained a series of simulated orgasms. The song was never intended for release but when Moroder played it in the clubs it caused a sensation. Moroder released it and it went to number 2. It has been described as the arrival of the expression of raw female sexual desire in pop music. A 17-minute 12 inch single was released. The 12" single became and remains a standard in discos today.
In 1977, Summer released "I Feel Love", which combined disco with its subgenre Hi-NRG and electronic music, was a massive worldwide success. In 1978, her multi-million selling vinyl single disco version of "MacArthur Park" was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Summer's recording, which was included as part of the "MacArthur Park Suite" on her double album Live and More, was eight minutes and forty seconds long on the album. The shorter seven-inch vinyl single version of the MacArthur Park was Summer's first single to reach number one on the Hot 100; it does not include the balladic second movement of the song, however. A 2013 remix of "Mac Arthur Park" by Summer topped the Billboard Dance Charts marking five consecutive decades with a number-one song on the charts. From 1978 to 1979, Summer continued to release singles such as "Last Dance", "Bad Girls", "Heaven Knows", "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", "Hot Stuff", "Dim All the Lights", and "On the Radio", all very successful songs, landing in the top five or better, on the Billboard pop charts.
The Bee Gees used 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 singles such as "I Just Want to Be Your Everything", "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" and "Shadow Dancing". In 1975, songs such as Van McCoy's "The Hustle" and Summer's version of "Could It Be Magic" brought disco further into the mainstream. Other notable early successful disco songs include The Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" (1974), Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (1974), Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" (1975), Silver Convention's "Fly, Robin, Fly" (1975) and Johnny Taylor's Disco Lady (1976).
1977–79: Pop pre-eminence
Yvonne Elliman – "If I Can't Have You" (1977)
Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You," written by the Bee Gees (1977) from Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track, the best-selling soundtrack album of all time.
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In December 1977, the film Saturday Night Fever was released. It was a huge success and its soundtrack became one of the best-selling albums of all time. The idea for the film was sparked by a 1976 New York magazine article titled "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" which supposedly chronicled the disco culture in mid-1970s New York City, but was later revealed to have been fabricated. Some critics said the film "mainstreamed" disco, making it more acceptable to heterosexual white males.
Chic was formed mainly by guitarist Nile Rodgers—a self-described "street hippie" from late 1960s New York—and bassist Bernard Edwards. "Le Freak" was a popular 1978 single of theirs that is regarded as an iconic song of the genre. Other successful songs by Chic include the often-sampled "Good Times" (1979) and "Everybody Dance" (1979). The group regarded themselves as the disco movement's rock band that made good on the hippie movement's ideals of peace, love, and freedom. Every song they wrote was written with an eye toward giving it "deep hidden meaning" or D.H.M.
Sylvester, a flamboyant and openly gay singer famous for his soaring falsetto voice, scored his biggest disco song in 1979 – "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", and "Dance (Disco Heat)", his singing style was said to have influenced the singer Prince. At that time, disco was one of the forms of music most open to gay performers.
The Village People were a singing/dancing group created by Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo to target disco's gay audience. They were known for their onstage costumes of typically male-considered jobs and ethnic minorities and achieved mainstream success with their 1978 hit song "Macho Man". Other songs include "Y.M.C.A." (1979) and "In the Navy" (1979).
The Jacksons (previously "the Jackson 5") did many disco songs from 1975 to 1980, including "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (1978), "Blame it on the Boogie" (1978), "Lovely One" (1980), and "Can You Feel It" (1980)—all sung by Michael Jackson, whose 1979 solo album, Off the Wall, included several disco hits, including the album's title song, "Rock with You", "Workin' Day and Night", and his second chart-topping solo hit in the disco genre, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".
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At the height of its popularity, many non-disco artists recorded songs with disco elements, including Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" (1978), Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" (1978) and "Boogie Wonderland" with the Emotions (1979), Blondie's "Heart of Glass" (1979), Cher's "Take Me Home" (1979), Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" (1978), David Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing (Again)" (1979), Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (1979), Frankie Valli's "Swearin' to God" (1975) and "Grease" (1978), George Benson's "Give Me the Night" (1980), Diana Ross's "Love Hangover" (1976), M's "Pop Muzik" (1979), Barbra Streisand's "The Main Event" (1979), Dan Hartman's "Instant Replay" (1978). The biggest hit by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, best known as a new wave band, was "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" (1978), featuring a strong disco sound.
Even mainstream rock artists adopted elements of disco. Progressive rock group Pink Floyd used disco-like drums and guitar in their song "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" (1979), which became their only number-one single in both the US and UK. The Eagles referenced disco with "One of These Nights" (1975) and "Disco Strangler" (1979), Paul McCartney & Wings with "Goodnight Tonight" (1979), Queen with "Another One Bites the Dust" (1980), the Rolling Stones with "Miss You" (1978) and "Emotional Rescue" (1980), Electric Light Orchestra's "Shine a Little Love" and "Last Train to London" (both 1979), Chicago did "Street Player" (1979), the Kinks did "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" (1979), the Grateful Dead did "Shakedown Street", and the J. Geils Band did "Come Back" (1980). Even hard rock group KISS jumped in with "I Was Made For Lovin' You" (1979). Ringo Starr's album Ringo the 4th (1978) features a strong disco influence. The disco sound was also adopted by "non-pop" artists, including the 1979 U.S. number one hit "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" by Easy listening singer Barbra Streisand in a duet with Donna Summer. Country music artist Connie Smith covered Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" in 1977, Bill Anderson did "Double S" in 1978, and Ronnie Milsap recorded "Get It Up" and covered Tommy Tucker's "Hi-Heel Sneakers" in 1979.
Also noteworthy are John Paul Young's "Love Is in the Air" (1977), Patrick Hernandez's "Born to Be Alive" (1978), Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real" (1978), Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Shame" (1978), Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (1979), Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell" (1979), Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown" (1979), Geraldine Hunt's "Can't Fake the Feeling" (1980), Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife" (1978) and Walter Murphy's various attempts to bring classical music to the mainstream, most notably his disco song "A Fifth of Beethoven" (1976), which was inspired by Beethoven's fifth symphony.
Pre-existing non-disco songs and standards would frequently be "disco-ized" in the 1970s. The rich orchestral accompaniment that became identified with the disco era conjured up the memories of the big band era—which brought out several artists that recorded and disco-ized some big band arrangements including Perry Como, who re-recorded his 1945 song "Temptation", in 1975, as well as Ethel Merman, who released an album of disco songs entitled The Ethel Merman Disco Album in 1979.
Myron Floren, second-in-command on The Lawrence Welk Show, released a recording of the "Clarinet Polka" entitled "Disco Accordion." Similarly, Bobby Vinton adapted "The Pennsylvania Polka" into a song named "Disco Polka". Easy listening icon Percy Faith, in one of his last recordings, released an album entitled Disco Party (1975) and recorded a disco version of his famous "Theme from A Summer Place" in 1976. Classical music was even adapted for disco, notably Walter Murphy's "A Fifth of Beethoven" (1976, based on the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony) and "Flight 76" (1976, based on Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee"), and Louis Clark's Hooked On Classics series of albums and singles.
Notable disco songs based on film and television themes included a medley from Star Wars, "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" (1977) by Meco, and "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" (1979) by the Manhattan Transfer. Even the I Love Lucy theme was not spared from being disco-ized. Many original television theme songs of the era also showed a strong disco influence, such as "Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow" (theme from Baretta, performed by Sammy Davis, Jr. and later a successful single for Rhythm Heritage), "Theme from S.W.A.T." (from S.W.A.T, original and single versions by Rhythm Heritage), and Mike Post's "Theme from Magnum, P.I.".
Several parodies of the disco style were created. Rick Dees, at the time a radio DJ in Memphis, Tennessee, recorded "Disco Duck" (1976) and "Dis-Gorilla" (1977); Frank Zappa parodied the lifestyles of disco dancers in "Disco Boy" on his 1976 Zoot Allures album, and in "Dancin' Fool" on his 1979 Sheik Yerbouti album; "Weird Al" Yankovic's eponymous 1983 debut album includes a disco song called "Gotta Boogie", an extended pun on the similarity of the disco move to the American slang word "booger". Comedian Bill Cosby devoted his entire 1977 album Disco Bill to disco parodies.
Reasons for popularity
By the mid-1970s, the United States was dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Also by this time the economic prosperity of the previous decade had declined, and unemployment, inflation and crime rates had soared. Disco music and disco dancing provided an escape from these negative economic issues. As well, in the 1970s, the key counterculture of the 1960s, the hippie movement, was fading away. The disco movement was far more than just music. It was also a subculture based around nightclubs, dance clubs, and DJs. In Beautiful Things in Popular Culture, Simon Frith highlights the sociability of disco and its roots in 1960s counterculture. "The driving force of the New York underground dance scene in which disco was forged was not simply that city's complex ethnic and sexual culture but also a 1960s notion of community, pleasure and generosity that can only be described as hippie," he says. "The best disco music contained within it a remarkably powerful sense of collective euphoria."
Film critic Roger Ebert called the popular embrace of disco's exuberant dance moves an escape from "the general depression and drabness of the political and musical atmosphere of the late seventies." Pauline Kael, writing about the disco-themed film Saturday Night Fever, said the film and disco itself touched on "something deeply romantic, the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you'd like to be. Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary."
1979–81: Backlash and decline
By the end of the 1970s, a strong anti-disco sentiment developed among rock fans and musicians, particularly in the United States. Disco was criticized as mindless, consumeristic, overproduced and escapist. The slogans "disco sucks" and "death to disco" became common. Rock artists such as Rod Stewart and David Bowie who added disco elements to their music were accused of being sell outs.
The punk subculture in the United States and United Kingdom was often hostile to disco (although in the UK, many early Sex Pistols fans such as the Bromley Contingent and Jordan quite liked disco, often congregating at nightclubs such as Louise's in Soho and the Sombrero in Kensington. The track "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross, the house anthem at the former, was cited as a particular favourite by many early UK Punks. Also, the film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and its soundtrack album contained a disco medley of Sex Pistols songs, entitled Black Arabs and credited to a group of the same name.) 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 era. New Jersey rock critic Jim Testa wrote "Put a Bullet Through the Jukebox", a vitriolic screed attacking disco that was considered a punk call to arms. Steve Hillage, shortly prior to his transformation from a progressive rock musician into an electronic artist at the end of the 1970s with the inspiration of disco, disappointed his rockist fans by admitting his love for disco, with Hillage recalling "it's like I'd killed their pet cat."
Anti-disco sentiment was expressed in some television shows and films. A recurring theme on the show WKRP in Cincinnati was a hostile attitude towards disco music. In one scene of the 1980 comedy film Airplane!, a wayward airplane slices a radio tower with its wing, knocking out an all-disco radio station.
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 disco records, ended with a riot, during which the raucous crowd tore out seats and pieces of turf, and caused 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.
Six months prior to the chaotic event (in December 1978), 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. WDAI, who despite surviving the backlash and still had good ratings at this point, continued to play Disco until it flipped to a short-lived hybrid Top 40/Rock format in May 1980. Another Disco outlet that also competed against WDAI at the time, WGCI-FM, would later incorporate R&B and Pop Songs into the format, eventually evolving into an Urban Contemporary outlet that it continues with today. The latter also helped bring the house music genre to the airwaves, ending the backlash somewhat with Chicago emerging as the birthplace of house.
On July 21, 1979, the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs. By September 22, there were no disco songs in the US Top 10 chart, with the exception of Herb Alpert's instrumental "Rise," a smooth jazz composition with some disco overtones. Some in the media, in celebratory tones, declared disco "dead" and rock revived. Karen Mixon Cook, the first female disco DJ, stated that people still pause every July 12 for a moment of silence in honor of Disco. Dahl stated in a 2004 interview that disco was "probably on its way out [at the time]. But I think it [Disco Demolition Night] hastened its demise".
Impact on music industry
The anti-disco backlash, combined with other societal and radio industry factors, changed the face of pop radio in the years following Disco Demolition Night. Starting in the 1980s, country music began a slow rise in American main pop charts. Emblematic of country music's rise to mainstream popularity was the commercially successful 1980 movie Urban Cowboy. The continued popularity of power pop and the revival of oldies in the late 1970s was also related to the disco backlash; the 1978 film Grease was emblematic of this trend. Somewhat ironically, the star of both films was John Travolta, who in 1977 had starred in Saturday Night Fever, which remains one of the most iconic disco films of the era.
During this period of decline in disco's popularity, several record companies folded, were reorganized, or were sold. In 1979, MCA Records purchased ABC Records, absorbed some of its artists, and then shut the label down. Midsong International Records ceased operations in 1980. RSO Records founder Robert Stigwood left the label in 1981 and TK Records closed in the same year. Salsoul Records continues to exist in the 2000s, but primarily is used as a reissue brand. Casablanca Records had been releasing fewer records in the 1980s, and was shut down in 1986 by parent company PolyGram.
Many groups that were popular during the disco period subsequently struggled to maintain their success—even those that tried to adapt to evolving musical tastes. The Bee Gees, for instance, had only one top-10 entry (1989's "One") and three more top-40 songs (despite recording and releasing far more than that and completely abandoning disco in their 1980s and 1990s songs) in the United States after the 1970s, even though numerous songs they wrote and had other artists perform were successful. Of the handful of groups not taken down by disco's fall from favor, Kool and the Gang, Donna Summer, the Jacksons—and Michael Jackson in particular—stand out: In spite of having helped define the disco sound early on, they continued to make popular and danceable, if more refined, songs for yet another generation of music fans in the 1980s and beyond. Earth, Wind & Fire also survived the disco backlash and continued to produce successful singles at roughly the same pace for several more years, in addition to an even longer string of R&B chart hits that lasted into the 1990s.
Factors contributing to disco's decline
Factors that have been cited as leading to the decline of disco in the United States include economic and political changes at the end of the 1970s, as well as burnout from the hedonistic lifestyles led by participants. In the years since Disco Demolition Night, some social critics have described the backlash as implicitly macho and bigoted, and an attack on non-white and non-heterosexual cultures. The backlash also made its way into US politics with the election of conservative Ronald Reagan in 1980 which also led to Republican control of the United States Senate for the first time since 1954, plus the subsequent rise of the Religious Right around the same time.
In January 1979, rock critic Robert Christgau argued that homophobia, and most likely racism, were reasons behind the backlash, a conclusion seconded by John Rockwell. Craig Werner wrote: "The Anti-disco movement represented an unholy alliance of funkateers and feminists, progressives and puritans, rockers and reactionaries. Nonetheless, the attacks on disco gave respectable voice to the ugliest kinds of unacknowledged racism, sexism and homophobia." Legs McNeil, founder of the fanzine Punk, was quoted in an interview as saying, "the hippies always wanted to be black. We were going, 'f**k the blues, f**k the black experience'." He also said that disco was the result of an "unholy" union between homosexuals and blacks.
Steve Dahl, who had spearheaded Disco Demolition Night, denied any racist or homophobic undertones to the promotion, saying, "It's really easy to look at it historically, from this perspective, and attach all those things to it. But we weren't thinking like that." It has been noted that British punk rock critics of disco were very supportive of the pro-black/anti-racist reggae genre as well as the more pro-gay new romantics movement. Christgau and Jim Testa have said that there were legitimate artistic reasons for being critical of disco.
In 1979, the music industry in the United States underwent its worst slump in decades, and disco, despite its mass popularity, was blamed. The producer-oriented sound was having difficulty mixing well with the industry's artist-oriented marketing system. Harold Childs, senior vice president at A&M Records, told the Los Angeles Times that "radio is really desperate for rock product" and "they're all looking for some white rock-n-roll". Gloria Gaynor argued that the music industry supported the destruction of disco because rock music producers were losing money and rock musicians were losing the spotlight. However, disco music had some successful songs in the early 1980s, with songs like Irene Cara's "Flashdance... What a Feeling", K.C. and the Sunshine Band's last major single, "Give It Up", and Madonna's first album had strong disco influences. Record producer Giorgio Moroder's soundtracks to American Gigolo, Flashdance and Scarface (which also had a heavy disco influence) proved that the style was still very much embraced. Queen's 1982 album, Hot Space was inspired by the genre as well.
In the 1990s, disco and its legacy became more accepted by music artists and listeners alike, as more songs and films were released that referenced disco. Examples of songs during this time that were influenced by disco included Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart" (1990), U2's "Lemon" (1993), Blur's "Girls & Boys" (1994) & "Entertain Me" (1995), Pulp's "Disco 2000" (1995), and Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" (1999), while films such as Boogie Nights (1997) and The Last Days of Disco (1998) featured primarily disco soundtracks.
2000–present: Success of nu-disco and disco revival
In the early 2000s, an updated genre of disco called "nu-disco" began breaking into the mainstream. A few examples like Daft Punk's "One More Time" and Kylie Minogue's "Love At First Sight" became club favorites and commercial successes. Several nu-disco songs were crossovers with funky house, such as Spiller's "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)" and Modjo's "Lady (Hear Me Tonight)", both songs sampling older disco songs and both reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in 2000. Robbie Williams' disco single "Rock DJ" was the UK's fourth best-selling single the same year. Rock band Manic Street Preachers released a disco song, "Miss Europa Disco Dancer", in 2001. The song's disco influence, which appears on Know Your Enemy, was described as being "much-discussed". In 2005, Madonna immersed herself in the disco music of the 1970s, and released her album Confessions on a Dance Floor to rave reviews. In addition to that, her song "Hung Up" became a major top-10 song and club staple, and sampled ABBA's 1970s song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)". In addition to her disco-influenced attire to award shows and interviews, her Confessions Tour also incorporated various elements of the 1970s, such as disco balls, a mirrored stage design, and the roller derby.
The success of the "nu-disco" revival of the early 2000s was described by music critic Tom Ewing as more interpersonal than the pop music of the 1990s: "The revival of disco within pop put a spotlight on something that had gone missing over the 90s: a sense of music not just for dancing, but for dancing with someone. Disco was a music of mutual attraction: cruising, flirtation, negotiation. Its dancefloor is a space for immediate pleasure, but also for promises kept and otherwise. It’s a place where things start, but their resolution, let alone their meaning, is never clear. All of 2000s great disco number ones explore how to play this hand. Madison Avenue look to impose their will upon it, to set terms and roles. Spiller is less rigid. 'Groovejet' accepts the night’s changeability, happily sells out certainty for an amused smile and a few great one-liners."
In 2013, several 1970s-style disco and funk songs charted, and the pop charts had more dance songs than at any other point since the late 1970s. The biggest disco song of the year as of June was "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, featuring Nile Rodgers on guitar. Random Access Memories also ended up winning Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammys. Other disco-styled songs that made it into the top 40 were Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" (number one), Justin Timberlake's "Take Back the Night" (number 29), Bruno Mars' "Treasure" (number five) and Michael Jackson's posthumous release "Love Never Felt So Good" (number nine). In addition, Arcade Fire's Reflektor featured strong disco elements. In 2014, disco music could be found in Lady Gaga's Artpop and Katy Perry's "Birthday". Other disco songs from 2014 include "I Want It All" By Karmin and 'Wrong Club" by the Ting Tings.
Other top-10 entries from 2015 like Mark Ronson's disco groove-infused "Uptown Funk", Maroon 5's "Sugar", the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" and Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me" also ascended the charts and have a strong disco influence. Disco mogul and producer Giorgio Moroder also re-appeared with his new album Déjà Vu in 2015 which has proved to be a modest success. Other songs from 2015 like "I Don't Like It, I Love It" by Flo Rida, "Adventure of a Lifetime" by Coldplay, "Back Together" by Robin Thicke and "Levels" by Nick Jonas feature disco elements as well. In 2016, disco songs or disco-styled pop songs are showing a strong presence on the music charts as a possible backlash to the 1980s-styled synthpop, electro house and dubstep that have been dominating the current charts. Justin Timberlake's 2016 song "Can't Stop the Feeling!", which shows strong elements of disco, became the 26th song to debut at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the history of the chart. The Martian, a 2015 film, extensively uses disco music as a soundtrack, although for the main character, astronaut Mark Watney, there's only one thing worse than being stranded on Mars: it's being stranded on Mars with nothing but disco music. "Kill the Lights", featured on an episode of the HBO television series "Vinyl" (2016) and with Nile Rodgers' guitar licks, hit number one on the US Dance chart in July 2016.
Role of Motown
Diana Ross was one of the first Motown artists to embrace the disco sound with her successful 1976 outing "Love Hangover" from her self-titled album. Her 1980 dance classics "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" were written and produced by Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards of the group Chic. the Supremes, the group that made Ross famous, scored a handful of hits in the disco clubs without Ross, most notably 1976's "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking" and, their last charted single before disbanding, 1977's "You're My Driving Wheel".
At the request of Motown that he produce songs in the disco genre, Marvin Gaye released "Got to Give It Up" in 1978, despite his dislike of disco. He vowed not to record any songs in the genre, and actually wrote the song as a parody. Stevie Wonder released the disco single "Sir Duke" in 1977 as a tribute to Duke Ellington, the influential jazz legend who had died in 1974. Smokey Robinson left the Motown group the Miracles for a solo career in 1972 and released his third solo album A Quiet Storm in 1975, which spawned and lent its name to the "Quiet Storm" musical programming format and subgenre of R&B. It contained the disco single "Baby That's Backatcha". Other Motown artists who scored disco hits include: Robinson's former group, the Miracles, with "Love Machine" (1975), Eddie Kendricks with "Keep On Truckin'" (1973), the Originals with "Down to Love Town" (1976) and Thelma Houston with her cover of the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes song "Don't Leave Me This Way" (1976). The label continued to release successful disco songs into the 1980s with Rick James' "Super Freak" (1981), and the Commodores' "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (1981).
Several of Motown's solo artists who left the label went on to have successful disco songs. Mary Wells, Motown's first female superstar with her signature song "My Guy" (written by Smokey Robinson), abruptly left the label in 1964. She briefly reappeared on the charts with the disco song "Gigolo" in 1980. Jimmy Ruffin, the elder brother of the Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, was also signed to Motown, and released his most successful and well-known song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" as a single in 1966. Ruffin eventually left the record label in the mid-1970s, but saw success with the 1980 disco song "Hold On (To My Love)", which was written and produced by Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, for his album Sunrise. Edwin Starr, known for his Motown protest song "War" (1970), reentered the charts in 1979 with a pair of disco songs, "Contact" and "H.A.P.P.Y. Radio".
Kiki Dee became the first white British singer to sign with Motown in the US, and released one album, Great Expectations (1970), and two singles "The Day Will Come Between Sunday and Monday" (1970) and "Love Makes The World Go Round" (1971), the latter giving her first ever chart entry (number 87 on the US Chart). She soon left the company and signed with Elton John's The Rocket Record Company, and in 1976 had her biggest and best-known single, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", a disco duet with John. The song was intended as an affectionate disco-style pastiche of the Motown sound, in particular the various duets recorded by Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell and Kim Weston. Michael Jackson released many successful solo singles under the Motown label, like "Got To Be There" (1971), "Ben" (1972) and a cover of Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin" (1972). He went on to score hits in the disco genre with "Rock with You" (1979), "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (1979) and "Billie Jean" (1983) for Epic Records.
Many Motown groups who had left the record label charted with disco songs. Michael Jackson was the lead singer of the Jackson 5, one of Motown's premier acts in the early 1970s. They left the record company in 1975 (Jermaine Jackson, however, remained with the label) after successful songs like "I Want You Back" (1969) and "ABC" (1970), and even the disco song "Dancing Machine" (1974). Renamed as 'the Jacksons' (as Motown owned the name 'the Jackson 5'), they went on to find success with disco songs like "Blame It on the Boogie" (1978), "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (1979) and "Can You Feel It?" (1981) on the Epic label. the Isley Brothers, whose short tenure at the company had produced the song "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" in 1966, went on release successful disco songs like "That Lady" (1973) and "It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop)" (1979). Gladys Knight and the Pips, who recorded the most successful version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (1967) before Marvin Gaye, scored commercially successful singles such as "Baby, Don't Change Your Mind" (1977) and "Bourgie, Bourgie" (1980) in the disco era.
The Detroit Spinners were also signed to the Motown label and saw success with the Stevie Wonder-produced song "It's a Shame" in 1970. They left soon after, on the advice of fellow Detroit native Aretha Franklin, to Atlantic Records, and there had disco songs like "The Rubberband Man" (1976). In 1979, they released a successful cover of Elton John's "Are You Ready for Love", as well as a medley of the Four Seasons' song "Working My Way Back to You" and Michael Zager's "Forgive Me, Girl". The Four Seasons themselves were briefly signed to Motown's MoWest label, a short-lived subsidiary for R&B and soul artists based on the West Coast, and there the group produced one album, Chameleon (1972) – to little commercial success in the US. However, one single, "The Night", was released in Britain in 1975, and thanks to popularity from the Northern Soul circuit, reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart. The Four Seasons left Motown in 1974 and went on to have a disco hit with their song "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" (1975) for Warner Curb Records.
Norman Whitfield was a producer at Motown, renowned for creating innovative "psychedelic soul" songs. The genre later developed into funk, and from there into disco. The Undisputed Truth, a Motown recording act assembled by Whitfield to experiment with his psychedelic soul production techniques, found success with their 1971 song "Smiling Faces Sometimes". The disco single "You + Me = Love" (number 43) in 1976, which also made number 2 on the US Dance Charts. In 1977, singer, songwriter and producer Willie Hutch signed with Whitfield's new label. He had been signed to Motown since 1970, scored a successful disco single with his song "In and Out". The group Rose Royce produced the album soundtrack to the 1976 film Car Wash, which contained the commercially successful song of the same name.
Singer Stacy Lattisaw signed with Motown after achieving success in the disco genre. In 1980, she released her album Let Me Be Your Angel, which spawned the disco singles "Dynamite" and "Jump to the Beat" on the Cotillion label. Lattisaw continued to enjoy success as a contemporary R&B/pop artist throughout the 1980s. She signed with Motown in 1986, and achieved most success when teaming up with Johnny Gill, releasing the 1989 song "Where Do We Go From Here?" from her last ever album, What You Need, before retiring. In addition, her first ever single, back in 1979, was a disco cover of "When You're Young and in Love", which was most famously recorded by Motown female group the Marvelettes in 1967.
Additionally, the debut single of Shalamar, the group originally created as a disco-driven vehicle by Soul Train creator Don Cornelius, was "Uptown Festival" (1977), a medley of 10 classic Motown songs sung over a 1970s disco beat.
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As disco's popularity sharply declined in the United States, abandoned by major U.S. record labels and producers, European disco continued evolving within the broad mainstream pop music scene. European acts Silver Convention, Love and Kisses, Munich Machine, and American acts Donna Summer and the Village People, were acts that defined the late 1970s Euro disco sound. Producers Giorgio Moroder, whom AllMusic described as "one of the principal architects of the disco sound" with the Donna Summer song "I Feel Love" (1977), and Jean-Marc Cerrone were involved with Euro disco. The German group Kraftwerk also had an influence on Euro disco.
By far the most successful Euro disco act was ABBA. This Swedish quartet, which sang in English, found success with singles such as "Waterloo" (1974), "Fernando" (1976), "Take a Chance on Me" (1978), "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" (1979), and their signature smash "Dancing Queen" (1976)—ranks as the eighth best-selling act of all time. Other prominent European pop and disco groups were Luv' from the Netherlands and Boney M., a group of four West Indian singers and dancers masterminded by West German record producer Frank Farian. Boney M. charted worldwide with such songs as "Daddy Cool", "Ma Baker" and "Rivers Of Babylon". Another Euro disco act was the French Amanda Lear, where Euro-disco sound is most heard in Enigma ("Give A Bit Of Mmh To Me") song (1978).
In France, Dalida released "J'attendrai" ("I Will Wait"), which also became successful in Canada, Europe and Japan. Dalida successfully adjusted herself to disco era and released at least a dozen of songs that charted among top number 10 in whole Europe and wider. Claude François, who re-invented himself as the king of French disco, released "La plus belle chose du monde", a French version of the Bee Gees song "Massachusetts", which became successful in Canada and Europe and "Alexandrie Alexandra" was posthumously released on the day of his burial and became a worldwide success. Cerrone's early songs, "Love in C Minor", "Give Me Love" and "Supernature" were successful in the US and Europe.
In Italy Raffaella Carrà is the most successful disco act. Her greatest international single was "Tanti Auguri" ("Best Wishes"), which has become a popular song with gay audiences. The song is also known under its Spanish title "Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur" (which refers to Southern Europe, since the song was recorded and taped in Spain). The Estonian version of the song "Jätke võtmed väljapoole" was performed by Anne Veski. "A far l'amore comincia tu" ("To make love, your move first") was another success for her internationally, known in Spanish as "En el amor todo es empezar", in German as "Liebelei", in French as "Puisque tu l'aimes dis le lui", and in English as "Do It, Do It Again". It was her only entry to the UK Singles Chart, reaching number 9, where she remains a one-hit wonder. In 1977, she recorded another successful single, "Fiesta" ("The Party" in English) originally in Spanish, but then recorded it in French and Italian after the song hit the charts. "A far l'amore comincia tu" has also been covered in Turkish by a Turkish popstar Ajda Pekkan as "Sakın Ha" in 1977. Recently, Carrà has gained new attention for her appearance as the female dancing soloist in a 1974 TV performance of the experimental gibberish song "Prisencolinensinainciusol" (1973) by Adriano Celentano. A remixed video featuring her dancing went viral on the internet in 2008. In 2008 a video of a performance of her only successful UK single, "Do It, Do It Again", was featured in the Doctor Who episode "Midnight". Rafaella Carrà worked with Bob Sinclar on the new single "Far l'Amore" which was released on YouTube on March 17, 2011. The song charted in different European countries.
The music typically layered soaring, often-reverberated vocals, often doubled by horns, over a background "pad" of electric pianos and "chicken-scratch" rhythm guitars played on an electric guitar. "The 'chicken scratch' sound is achieved by lightly pressing the strings against the fretboard and then quickly releasing them just enough to get a slightly muted scratching [sound] while constantly strumming very close to the bridge." Other backing keyboard instruments include the piano, electric organ (during early years), string synth, and electromechanical keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, and Hohner Clavinet. Synthesizers are also fairly common in disco, especially in the late 1970s.
The rhythm is laid down by prominent, syncopated basslines (with heavy use of broken octaves, that is, octaves with the notes sounded one after the other) played on the bass guitar and by drummers using a drum kit, African/Latin percussion, and electronic drums such as Simmons and Roland drum modules. The sound was enriched with solo lines and harmony parts played by a variety of orchestral instruments, such as harp, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn, tuba, English horn, oboe, flute (sometimes especially the alto flute and occasionally bass flute), piccolo, timpani and synth strings, string section or a full string orchestra.
Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat, a quaver or semi-quaver hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a heavy, syncopated bass line. Other Latin rhythms such as the rhumba, the samba and the cha-cha-cha are also found in disco recordings, and Latin polyrhythms, such as a rhumba beat layered over a merengue, are commonplace. The quaver pattern is often supported by other instruments such as the rhythm guitar and may be implied rather than explicitly present.
Songs often use syncopation, which is the accenting of unexpected beats. In general, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or popular song is that in dance music the bass drum hits four to the floor, at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), whereas in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four (the "backbeat"). Disco is further characterized by a 16th note division of the quarter notes as shown in the second drum pattern below, after a typical rock drum pattern.
The orchestral sound usually known as "disco sound" relies heavily on string sections and horns playing linear phrases, in unison with the soaring, often reverberated vocals or playing instrumental fills, while electric pianos and chicken-scratch guitars create the background "pad" sound defining the harmony progression. Typically, all of the doubling of parts and use of additional instruments creates a rich "wall of sound". There are, however, more minimalistic flavors of disco with reduced, transparent instrumentation, pioneered by Chic.
In 1977, Giorgio Moroder again became responsible for a development in disco. Alongside Donna Summer and Pete Bellotte he wrote the song "I Feel Love" for Summer to perform. It became the first well-known disco song to have a completely synthesised backing track. The song is still considered to have been well ahead of its time. Other disco producers, most famously Tom Moulton, grabbed ideas and techniques from dub music (which came with the increased Jamaican migration to New York City in the 1970s) to provide alternatives to the "four on the floor" style that dominated. DJ Larry Levan utilized styles from dub and jazz and remixing techniques to create early versions of house music that sparked the genre.
The "disco sound" was much more costly to produce than many of the other popular music genres from the 1970s. Unlike the simpler, four-piece band sound of the funk, soul of the late 1960s, or the small jazz organ trios, disco music often included a large pop band, with several chordal instruments (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer), several drum or percussion instruments (drumkit, Latin percussion, electronic drums), a horn section, a string orchestra, and a variety of "classical" solo instruments (for example, flute, piccolo, and so on).
Disco songs were arranged and composed by experienced arrangers and orchestrators, and record producers added their creative touches to the overall sound using multitrack recording techniques and effects units. Recording complex arrangements with such a large number of instruments and sections required a team that included a conductor, copyists, record producers, and mixing engineers. Mixing engineers had an important role in the disco production process, because disco songs used as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments. Mixing engineers and record producers, under the direction of arrangers, compiled these tracks into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with orchestral builds and breaks. Mixing engineers and record producers helped to develop the "disco sound" by creating a distinctive-sounding, sophisticated disco mix.
Early records were the "standard" 3 minute version until Tom Moulton came up with a way to make songs longer. Moulton wanted to make longer songs, so that he could take a crowd of dancers at a club to another level and keep them dancing longer. He found that was impossible to make the 45-RPM vinyl discs of the time longer, as they could usually hold no more than 5 minutes of good-quality music. With the help of José Rodriguez, his remasterer/mastering engineer, he pressed a single on a 10" disc instead of 7". They cut the next single on a 12" disc, the same format as a standard album. Moulton and Rodriguez discovered that these larger records could have much longer songs and remixes. Twelve-inch records, even for singles, fast became the standard format for all DJs of the disco genre.
Because record sales were often dependent on dance floor play by DJs in leading nightclubs, DJs were also important to the development and popularization of disco music. By selecting and playing disco songs, DJs helped to make certain songs more or less popular. Notable disco DJs include the first female disco DJ in the US, Karen Mixon Cook, and many other DJs, such as Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Richie Kaczar of Studio 54, Rick Gianatos, Francis Grasso of Sanctuary, Larry Levan, Ian Levine and David Mancuso. DJs not only played songs in clubs; they also remixed, looped and live-mixed these songs from the DJ booth, changing the ways songs sounded. For example, a DJ might use the intro or bassline from a popular disco track and beatmatch and layer the vocals from a second song over top. As well, some DJs were also record producers who created and produced disco songs in the recording studio. Larry Levan, for example, is as well known for his prolific record producer work as for his contributions as a DJ.
Disco clubs and culture
By the late 1970s most major US cities had thriving disco club scenes, but the largest scenes were in San Francisco, Miami, and most notably New York City. The scene was centered on discotheques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco tracks from discs and records through PA systems for the patrons who came to dance. Powerful, bass-heavy, hi-fi sound systems were viewed as a key part of the disco club experience. "Mancuso introduced the technologies of tweeter arrays (clusters of small loudspeakers, which emit high-end frequencies, positioned above the floor) and bass reinforcements (additional sets of subwoofers positioned at ground level) at the start of the 1970s in order to boost the treble and bass at opportune moments, and by the end of the decade sound engineers such as Richard Long had multiplied the effects of these innovations in venues such as the Garage." The DJs played "... a smooth mix of long single records to keep people 'dancing all night long'". Some of the most prestigious clubs had elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the beat of the music.
In the 1970s, notable discos included "Artemis" in Philadelphia, "Studio One" in Los Angeles, "Leviticus" in New York, "Dugan's Bistro" in Chicago, and "The Library" in Atlanta. In the late 70s, Studio 54 in New York City was 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. The Copacabana, another New York nightclub dating to the 1940s, had a revival in the late 1970s when it embraced disco; it would become the setting of a Barry Manilow song of the same name.
In the early years, dancers in discos danced in a "hang loose" or "freestyle" approach. At first, many dancers improvised their own dance styles and dance steps. Later in the disco era, popular dance styles were developed, including the "Bump", "Penguin", "Boogaloo", "Watergate" and the "Robot". By October 1975 The Hustle reigned. It was highly stylized, sophisticated and overtly sexual. Variations included the Brooklyn Hustle, New York Hustle and Latin Hustle.
During the disco era, many nightclubs would commonly host disco dance competitions or offer free dance lessons. Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools, which taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing, "the hustle, and the cha cha. The pioneer of disco dance instruction was Karen Lustgarten in San Francisco in 1973. Her book The Complete Guide to Disco Dancing (Warner Books, 1978) was the first to name, break down and codify popular disco dances as dance forms and distinguish between disco freestyle, partner and line dances. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list for 13 weeks and was translated into Chinese, German and French.
In Chicago, the Step By Step disco dance TV show was launched with the sponsorship support of the Coca-Cola company. Produced in the same studio that Don Cornelius used for the nationally syndicated dance/music television show, Soul Train, Step by Step's audience grew and the show became a success. The dynamic dance duo of Robin and Reggie led the show. The pair spent the week teaching disco dancing to dancers in the disco clubs. The instructional show which aired on Saturday mornings had a following of dancers who would stay up all night on Fridays so they could be on the set the next morning, ready to return to the disco on Saturday night knowing with the latest personalized dance steps. The producers of the show, John Reid and Greg Roselli, routinely made appearances at disco functions with Robin and Reggie to scout out new dancing talent and promote upcoming events such as "Disco Night at White Sox Park".
Some notable professional dance troupes of the 1970s included Pan's People and Hot Gossip. For many dancers, a key source of inspiration for 1970s disco dancing was the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). This developed into the music and dance style of such films as Fame (1980), Disco Dancer (1982), Flashdance (1983), and The Last Days of Disco (1998). Interest in disco dancing also helped spawn dance competition TV shows such as Dance Fever (1979).
Disco fashions were very trendy in the late 1970s. Discothèque-goers often wore glamorous, expensive and extravagant fashions for nights out at their local disco club. Some women would wear sheer, flowing dresses, such as Halston dresses or loose, flared pants. Other women wore tight, revealing, sexy clothes, such as backless halter tops, "hot pants" or body-hugging spandex bodywear or "catsuits". Men would wear shiny polyester Qiana shirts with colourful patterns and pointy, extra wide collars, preferably open at the chest. Men often wore Pierre Cardin suits, three piece suits with a vest and double-knit polyester shirt jackets with matching trousers known as the leisure suit. Men's leisure suits were typically form-fitted in some parts of the body, such as the waist and bottom, but the lower part of the pants were flared in a bell bottom style, to permit freedom of movement.
During the disco era, men engaged in elaborate grooming rituals and spent time choosing fashion clothing, both activities that would have been considered "feminine" according to the gender stereotypes of the era. Women dancers wore glitter makeup, sequins or gold lamé clothing that would shimmer under the lights. Bold colours were popular for both genders. Platform shoes and boots for both genders and high heels for women were popular footwear. Necklaces and medallions were a common fashion accessory. Less commonly, some disco dancers wore outlandish costumes, dressed in drag, covered their bodies with gold or silver paint, or wore very skimpy outfits leaving them nearly nude; these uncommon get-ups were more likely to be seen at invitation-only New York City loft parties and disco clubs.
Drug subculture and sexual promiscuity
In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving club drug subculture, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud, bass-heavy music and the flashing coloured lights, such as cocaine (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite "poppers", and the "... other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and gave the sensation that one's arms and legs had turned to "Jell-O." Quaaludes were so popular at disco clubs that the drug was nicknamed "disco biscuits".
Paul Gootenberg states that "[t]he relationship of cocaine to 1970s disco culture cannot be stressed enough..." During the 1970s, the use of cocaine by well-to-do celebrities led to its "glamorization" and to the widely held view that it was a "soft drug". Cocaine was also popular because its stimulating effect "...fueled all-night parties" at disco clubs. LSD, marijuana, and "speed" (amphetamines) were also popular in disco clubs, and the use of these drugs "...contributed to the hedonistic quality of the dance floor experience." Since disco dances were typically held in liquor licensed-nightclubs and dance clubs, alcoholic drinks were also consumed by dancers; some users intentionally combined alcohol with the consumption of other drugs, such as Quaaludes, for a stronger effect.
According to Peter Braunstein, the "massive quantities of drugs ingested in discothèques produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of 'main course' in a hedonist's menu for a night out." At The Saint nightclub, a high percentage of the gay male dancers and patrons would have sex in the club; they typically had unprotected sex, because in 1980, HIV-AIDS had not yet been identified. At The Saint, "...dancers would elope to an un[monitored] upstairs balcony to engage in sex." The promiscuity and public sex at discos was part of a broader trend towards exploring a freer sexual expression in the 1970s, an era that is also associated with "swingers clubs, hot tubs, [and] key parties."
Famous disco bars included the Paradise Garage and Crisco Disco as well as "... cocaine-filled celeb hangouts such as Manhattan's Studio 54," which was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Studio 54 was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon.
Influence on other music
1982–1990: Post-disco and dance
The transition from the late-1970s disco styles to the early-1980s dance styles was marked primarily by the change from complex arrangements performed by large ensembles of studio session musicians (including a horn section and an orchestral string section), to a leaner sound, in which one or two singers would perform to the accompaniment of synthesizer keyboards and drum machines.
In addition, dance music during the 1981–83 period borrowed elements from blues and jazz, creating a style different from the disco of the 1970s. This emerging music was still known as disco for a short time, as the word had become associated with any kind of dance music played in discothèques. Examples of early-1980s' dance sound performers include D. Train, Kashif, and Patrice Rushen. These changes were influenced by some of the notable R&B and jazz musicians of the 1970s, such as Stevie Wonder, Kashif and Herbie Hancock, who had pioneered "one-man-band"-type keyboard techniques. Some of these influences had already begun to emerge during the mid-1970s, at the height of disco's popularity.
During the first years of the 1980s, the disco sound began to be phased out, and faster tempos and synthesized effects, accompanied by guitar and simplified backgrounds, moved dance music toward the funk and pop genres. This trend can be seen in singer Billy Ocean's recordings between 1979 and 1981. Whereas Ocean's 1979 song American Hearts was backed with an orchestral arrangement played by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, his 1981 song "One of Those Nights (Feel Like Gettin' Down)" had a more bare, stripped-down sound, with no orchestration or symphonic arrangements. This drift from the original disco sound is called post-disco. In this music scene there are rooted subgenres, such as Italo disco, techno, house, dance-pop, boogie, and early alternative dance. During the early 1980s, dance music dropped the complicated song structure and orchestration that typified the disco sound.
During the 1970s, many TV theme songs were produced (or older themes updated) with disco influenced music. Examples include S.W.A.T. (1975), Wonder Woman (1975), Charlie's Angels (1976), NBC Saturday Night At The Movies (1976), The Love Boat (1977), The Donahue Show (1977), CHiPs (1977), The Professionals (1977), Three's Company (1977), Dallas (1978), NBC Sports broadcasts (1978), Kojak (1977), The Hollywood Squares (1979). The British science fiction program Space: 1999 (1975) also featured a soundtrack strongly influenced by disco, especially in the show's second season.
The rising popularity of disco came in tandem with developments in the role of the DJ. DJing developed from the use of multiple record turntables and DJ mixers to create a continuous, seamless mix of songs, with one song transitioning to another with no break in the music to interrupt the dancing. The resulting DJ mix differed from previous forms of dance music in the 1960s, which were oriented towards live performances by musicians. This in turn affected the arrangement of dance music, since songs in the disco era typically contained beginnings and endings marked by a simple beat or riff that could be easily used to transition to a new song. The development of DJing was also influenced by new turntablism techniques, such as beatmatching, a process facilitated by the introduction of new turntable technologies such as the Technics SL-1200 MK 2, first sold in 1978, which had a precise variable pitch control and a direct drive motor. DJs were often avid record collectors, who would hunt through used record stores for obscure soul records and vintage funk recordings. DJs helped to introduce rare records and new artists to club audiences.
In the 1970s, individual DJs became more prominent, and some DJs, such as Larry Levan, the resident at Paradise Garage, Jim Burgess, Tee Scott and Francis Grasso became famous in the disco scene. Levan, for example, developed a cult following amongst club-goers, who referred to his DJ sets as "Saturday Mass". Some DJs would use reel to reel tape recorders to make remixes and tape edits of songs. Some DJs who were making remixes made the transition from the DJ booth to becoming a record producer, notably Burgess. Scott developed several innovations. He was the first disco DJ to use three turntables as sound sources, the first to simultaneously play two beatmatched records, the first user of electronic effects units in his mixes and an innovator in mixing dialogue in from well-known movies into his mixes, typically over a percussion break. These mixing techniques were also applied to radio DJs, such as Ted Currier of WKTU and WBLS. Grasso is particularly notable for taking the DJ “profession out of servitude and [making] the DJ the musical head chef”. Once he entered the scene, the DJ was no longer responsible for waiting on the crowd hand and foot, meeting their every song request. Instead, with increased agency and visibility, the DJ was now able to use his own technical and creative skills to whip up a nightly special of innovative mixes, refining his personal sound and aesthetic, and building his own reputation. Known as the first DJ to create a take his audience on a narrative, musical journey, Grasso discovered that music could effectively shift the energy of the crowd, and even more, that he had all this power at his fingertips.
About five years after the disco era came to a close in the late 1970s, rave culture began to emerge from the acid house scene. Rave culture incorporated disco culture's same love of dance music played by DJs over powerful sound systems, recreational drug and club drug exploration, sexual promiscuity, and hedonism. Although disco culture started out underground, it eventually thrived in the mainstream by the late 1970s, and major labels commodified and packaged the music for mass consumption. In contrast, the rave culture started out underground and stayed underground. In part this was to avoid the animosity that was still surrounding disco and dance music. The rave scene also stayed underground to avoid law enforcement attention that was directed at the rave culture due to its use of secret, unauthorized warehouses for some dance events and its association with illegal club drugs like Ecstasy.
Hip hop and electro
The disco sound had a strong influence on early hip hop. Most of the early hip hop songs were created by isolating existing disco bass-guitar lines and dubbing over them with MC rhymes. The Sugarhill Gang used Chic's "Good Times" as the foundation for their 1979 song "Rapper's Delight", generally considered to be the song that first popularized rap music in the United States and around the world. In 1982, Afrika Bambaataa released the single "Planet Rock", which incorporated electronica elements from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and "Numbers" as well as YMO's "Riot in Lagos".
The Planet Rock sound also spawned a hip hop electronic dance trend, electro music, which included songs such as Planet Patrol's "Play at Your Own Risk" (1982), C Bank's "One More Shot" (1982), Cerrone's "Club Underworld" (1984), Shannon's "Let the Music Play" (1983), Freeez's "I.O.U." (1983), Midnight Star's "Freak-a-Zoid" (1983), Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" (1984).
House music is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago in the early 1980s. It was initially popularized in Chicago, circa 1984. House music quickly spread to other American cities such as Detroit, New York City, and Newark – all of which developed their own regional scenes. In the mid-to-late 1980s, house music became popular in Europe as well as major cities in South America, and Australia. Early house music commercial success in Europe saw songs such as "Pump Up The Volume" by MARRS (1987), "House Nation" by House Master Boyz and the Rude Boy of House (1987), "Theme from S'Express" by S'Express (1988) and "Doctorin' the House" by Coldcut (1988) in the pop charts. Since the early to mid-1990s, house music has been infused in mainstream pop and dance music worldwide.
Early house music was generally dance-based music characterized by repetitive four on the floor beats, rhythms mainly provided by drum machines, off-beat hi-hat cymbals, and synthesized basslines. While house displayed several characteristics similar to disco music, it was more electronic and minimalistic, and the repetitive rhythm of house was more important than the song itself. As well, house did not use the lush string sections that were a key part of the disco sound. House music in the 2010s, while keeping several of these core elements, notably the prominent kick drum on every beat, varies widely in style and influence, ranging from the soulful and atmospheric deep house to the more minimalistic microhouse. House music has also fused with several other genres creating fusion subgenres, such as euro house, tech house, electro house and jump house.
The post-punk movement that originated in the late 1970s both supported punk rock's rule breaking while rejecting its move back to raw rock music. Post-punk's mantra of constantly moving forward lent itself to both openness to and experimentation with elements of disco and other styles. Public Image Limited is considered the first post-punk group. The group's second album Metal Box fully embraced the "studio as instrument" methodology of disco. The group's founder John Lydon, the former lead singer for the Sex Pistols, told the press that disco was the only music he cared for at the time.
No wave was a subgenre of post-punk centered in New York City. For shock value, James Chance, a notable member of the no wave scene, penned an article in the East Village Eye urging his readers to move uptown and get "trancin' with some superadioactive disco voodoo funk". His band James White and the Blacks wrote a disco album Off White. Their performances resembled those of disco performers (horn section, dancers and so on). In 1981 ZE Records led the transition from no wave into the more subtle mutant disco (post-disco/punk) genre. Mutant disco acts such as Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Was Not Was, ESG and Liquid Liquid influenced several British post-punk acts such as New Order, Orange Juice and A Certain Ratio.
In the early 2000s the dance-punk (new rave in the United Kingdom) emerged as a part of a broader post punk revival. It fused elements of punk-related rock with different forms of dance music including disco. Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, Death From Above 1979, the Rapture and Shitdisco were among acts associated with the genre.
Nu-disco is a 21st-century dance music genre associated with the renewed interest in 1970s and early 1980s disco, mid-1980s Italo disco, and the synthesizer-heavy Euro disco aesthetics. The moniker appeared in print as early as 2002, and by mid-2008 was used by record shops such as the online retailers Juno and Beatport. These vendors often associate it with re-edits of original-era disco music, as well as with music from European producers who make dance music inspired by original-era American disco, electro and other genres popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is also used to describe the music on several American labels that were previously associated with the genres electroclash and French house.
References and notes
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- Amyl, butyl and isobutyl nitrite (collectively known as alkyl nitrites) are clear, yellow liquids inhaled for their intoxicating effects. Nitrites originally came as small glass capsules that were popped open. This led to nitrites being given the name 'poppers' but this form of the drug is rarely found in the UK. The drug became popular in the UK first on the disco/club scene of the 1970s and then at dance and rave venues in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Beatport is launching a new landing page, dedicated solely to the genres of "nu disco" and "indie dance". ... Nu Disco is everything that springs from the late '70s and early '80s (electronic) disco, boogie, cosmic, Balearic and Italo disco continuum ...
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Disco|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Disco.|
- Andrea Angeli Bufalini & Giovanni Savastano (2014). La Disco. Storia illustrata della discomusic. Arcana, Italy. ISBN 978-8862313223
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