Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!

Posted: August 25, 2011 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today at Run-DMSteve we contemplate disco. As the 1970s recede in our rearview mirror we should remind ourselves that the disco phenomenon did not engulf the entire decade. It wasn’t even around long enough to become the theme music to the Carter administration.

Disco had an intense but relatively short initial run, breaking upon the world in 1976 with the release of the film
Saturday Night Fever and cresting in ’77 as punk and New Wave appeared and people got tired of dressing like circus clowns and stuffing themselves into ice-fog-shrouded, money-sucking discotheques. (I miss the fog.)

Disco staggered on, too oblivious or coked-out to die, though the industry probably got some kind of message after Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979, when the White Sox blew up a pile of disco records while beer-soaked anti-disco fans rioted. This is probably not what Ronald Reagan meant by “Morning in America.”

You may believe that such acts as KC & The Sunshine Band (“Shake Shake Shake, Shake Your Booty”), Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”), The O’Jays (“Love Train”), and Chic (“Le Freak”) have had little impact on our civilization. If you believe that you are like so wrong.

This music dovetails to perfection with pop from the ’60s and the ’80s in any Golden Oldies format. You could easily bookend 15 minutes of British Invasion with Donna Summer on one side and Evelyn “Champagne” King on the other, or follow Frankie Goes to Hollywood with Kool & The Gang. The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” has become a traditional, and much-anticipated, part of baseball games, wedding receptions, corporate retreats, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and Christmas parties, whereas if you’d tried that in 1978 when the song was fresh you would’ve had a fight on your hands.

Burn baby burn! Disco inferno, yeah! Burn baby burn! Gonna burn that mama down!
My problem with disco is not that I regret loving it when I was 21 – I wore a leisure suit and I’m proud – but that I can no longer dance to it. Our dance standards have changed, altered by decades of electronica, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga. Here in 2012, disco sounds slow.

While disco was happening, dances with formal steps sprang up to match the music, but who dances like that anymore? Britney runs rings around Donna and Evelyn with “Womanizer.” Lady Gaga sprints past The Bee-Gees with “Born This Way.” You can get hours of nonstop, hands-in-the-air, jet-propelled glow-stick insanity from any trance artist. (Christopher Lawrence’s Un-Hooked is totally off the hook.) You can’t get any of that from “Well she’s a brick. HOUSE. The lady’s stacked and that’s a fact, ain’t holding nothing back.” Even The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno,” a signature event when they played it at discos in 1977, sounds today as if The Trammps were dragging their feet. Must’ve been the burden of that extra m.

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the 10th best-selling album of all time. Disco is part of our heritage, and though there are no post-graduate programs in Disco Studies (that I know of), the field probably has depths none of us suspect.

But I doubt it.

Get down, get down, get-down-get-down, get down tonight! Oh woo hoo oo hoo hoo hoo hooooo.

  1. Number 9 says:

    There may not be any post-graduate programs in Disco Studies (yet), but the subject does get a full hour’s coverage in the American Popular Music class at UW, the same, I might add, as the Beatles.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You could look at this as a travesty. Disco and The Beatles with equal time? Or you could look at it as an achievement. It takes all of disco to fill the same time allotted to The Beatles. Or you could listen to Revolver

  2. Excuse me, there’s a typo in your sentence about trance.

    In this context, the word “insanity” is spelled c-o-m-a.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I’m bringing this to my readers (all three of them) as a public service. There is no way I am following any link with the acronym SYTYCD in it. And don’t try to fool me with bit.lys, because I’ll know!!

  3. Sorry, I can’t help myself. Barry Gibb in the Stayin’ Alive video looks like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes. That is all.

  4. I wish we could discuss SYTYCD. Dancers have to try on different styles, and disco is one of them, and it is always really really sad. If you check Youtube for SYTYCD + disco, you’ll see what I mean!

    Side note #1: My mom took me to see SNF in the theater! I was seven. When calling the theater beforehand to see why it was rated R she was told it was just some bad language. Thinking that I’d already heard all I was ever going to hear in that department through the paternal lips, she took me. I was taking ballet and I loved to dance and that’s why she took me. Little did she know that SNF is actually one of the most depressing movies in the universe and that through it I would have my very fist exposure to suicide and birth control pills (she told me they were cough drops.)

    Side note #2: I loved the movie however and I had a tape of it that I listened to in our Jeep Wagoneer’s tape deck—I remember it so clearly, even down to the blurry printing on the cassette— that it finally wore out. My parents had NO intention of replacing it, I can tell you. I don’t know how my dad—who is blind and therefore had no visual escape and was a devoté of Beethoven—stood the disco version of Beethoven’s fifth on side 2. I told you I am the musical outcast in my family, but considering how fastidious they were musically, my folks were awfully tolerant of that tape.

    Side note #3: a friend of mine’s step dad had a fancy stereo system in his office in the barn where his glass-blowing studio was set up. She and I would crank the SNF soundtrack and dance it into oblivion.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      They weren’t cough drops?!

      Thanks for the wonderful story. Your poor Dad, silently coping with “A Fifth of Beethoven”! Yes, the movie is very depressing. This is why one of its biggest fans is John Sayles.

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