Any Major Disco Vol. 1
The Any Major Funk series might have ended, but that does not mean that we must pack away our dancing shoes. So here we begin a new series of disco mixes, drawing from the various strands in the genre, using 1982 as an approximate cut-off date.
The first mix coincides roughly with the 36th anniversary of the record burning bonanza at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on 12 July 1979, which gave full expression to the Disco Sucks movement. Several students of music, such as the British journalist Simon Price, have charged that the the anti-disco movement was driven by elements of racism and homophobia. While not all who invaded the pitch in Chicago for the Disco Demolition Night (or applauded from afar or donned their Disco Sucks t-shirts) were motivated by bigotry, the charge has some merit.
The negative reaction to disco was not invariably racist, of course. For starters, a lot of disco was produced by white people; including the unlikely poster boys of disco, The Bee Gees. Just as disco was a diverse collective, so were there different reasons for rejecting it. But at Comiskey Park there was a distinct racist dimension as the mob of sonic reactionaries incinerated records not only by disco acts such as Sister Sledge and Chic, but also those by artists such as Marvin Gaye and, unbelievably, Bill Withers. Records by any black artist who wasn’t Jimi Hendrix were liable to fuel the pyre.
The charge of homophobia is more difficult to substantiate, even if some Village People albums found their way on to the pyre. Nonetheless, let me try.
Disco was a broad movement borne of gay and soul-funk clubs alike. Sartorial flamboyance, funky basslines and synth experiments tended to blend across the sub-genres of what would become known as disco. The homophobia in anti-disco sentiments was not necessarily of a gay-bashing kind, but arguably was grounded in the disco culture’s threat to the prevalent models of masculinity.
When the mob at Comiskey Park burnt Earth, Wind & Fire records — possibly while humming Emerson, Lake & Palmer — a dimension of their unarticulated objection related to flamboyant costumes worn by men who sang in feminine voices. Disco challenged the traditional models of manhood (and, in the case of the Village People, satirised them), and it subverted prevailing social (and sonic) norms. Comiskey Park and the Disco Sucks movement were, in part, a reaction to that.
A few years later this threat to conventional masculinity found expression again when many believed Prince, who already had a prodigious track-record of heterosexual behaviour, to be gay on grounds of his Purple Rain stylings. The effete Prince subverted the standard notions of masculinity. The only explanation many could find for that was to believe Prince was gay.
Across the musical fence, the camp exploits of Dee Snider and David Lee Roth, or indeed Kiss, did not cause infernos of vinyl. But these acts performed their shtick with a nod and a wink which their rock fan constituency could understand and even relate to. The same sort of fans denied, at the pain of death, that Freddy Mercury was gay, and the Kiss make-up was considered not camp but an extension of the members’ individual personae. There was nothing here that threatened concepts of masculinity in the way the unironic flamboyance of many disco stars did.
But homophobia and racism surely were not the primary incitement for the Disco Sucks movement. Disco supposedly sucked not because the music was bad (though some of it indisputably was) or because Verdine White played the bass while sporting silver flamingo wings. It sucked because, like punk, it ate itself culturally. The exclusivism of clubs such as Studio 54 caused resentment – even among those who produced disco music. Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernie Edwards wrote Le Freak after they were denied entry to Studio 54; the original title was Fuck Off. And yet, how could the artists be blamed for the behaviour of those who played their records? Effigies of nightclub owners, not records by the artists, might have made for more appropriate burning matter at Comiskey Park.
The anti-disco sentiment was fed by disco’s ubiquity, starting with Saturday Night Fever (a gritty film which disowns the phoniness associated with the Studio 54 culture, a message usually overlooked in favour of Barry Gibb’s sterility-inducing trousers on the cover of the mega-selling soundtrack). Disco Sucks was also a reaction to the hegemony of the genre and its culture. It was a reaction to the Saturday Night Fever poster and Travolta’s white suit, to Ethel Merman and Sesame Street recording “disco” albums, to acts like Blondie and the Rolling Stones dabbling in disco sounds, to the hedonism of the élite, and to the occasional musical horror produced by cash-in corporates which was falsely considered to be representative of disco.
And here we enter the final error of the Disco Sucks movement: the false notion that disco is a single, homogenous genre. As in rock music, there are common elements. Most disco songs have a 4/4 beat, basslines tend to drive the songs, and so on. And yet, take songs like, say, Love To Love You Baby by Donna Summer and Shoulda Loved Ya by Narada Michael Walden (on Any Major Funk Vol. 3). Both fall broadly within the disco genre, but one is Euro-Disco and the other is what one might call Disco-Funk. They are as different as Sweet Home Alabama is from A Whole Lotta Rosie.
Then there was the pop-disco stuff such as Y.M.C.A. (though I’d be reluctant to call it disco), which is quite different from either Summer or Walden. Blondie’s disco stuff, Heart Of Glass or Atomic, represents yet another separate genre; it’s disco, of a sort, but not in the way Cheryl Lynn’s Got To Be Real (on Any Major Funk Vol. 1) is disco. Like rock, disco is a collective term for many sub-genres.
This series will, I hope, demonstrate just how diverse disco was as a genre — and why the Lynyrd Skynyrd fans at Comiskey Park were thoroughly mistaken: disco never sucked.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-bootyshaken covers. PW in comments.
1. Bee Gees – You Should Be Dancing (1976)
2. Vicki Sue Robinson – Turn The Beat Around (1976)
3. Chic – Everybody Dance (1977)
4. Carol Williams – More (1976)
5. Don Ray – Got To Have Loving (1978)
6. Loleatta Holloway – Hit And Run (1977)
7. Brenda And The Tabulations – Let’s Go All The Way (Down) (1977)
8. Musique – In The Bush (1978)
9. Michael Zager Band – Let’s All Chant (1977)
10. Dan Hartman – Relight My Fire (1979)
11. Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (1977)
12. Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing (1975)
13. Patrick Juvet – I Love America (1978)
14. Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose (1977)
15. Donna Summer – Love To Love You Baby (1975)
16. Rose Royce – Is It Love You’re After (1979)
17. Ben E. King – Music Trance (1980)
18. KC & the Sunshine Band – (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty (1976)
19. Andrea True Connection – What’s Your Name, What’s Your Number (1977)
20. Odyssey – Use It Up And Wear It Out (1980)