Do you remember disco music?
At one time, it seemed ubiquitous, didn’t it? By the mid 1970s, it was a dominant form of pop music, an underground phenomenon that crossed over and seized the mainstream. If you were listening to AM radio in those years, these song titles will spark your memory: “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation; “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas; “Rock Your Baby” by George McRae; “Get Down Tonight” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band; “Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer; among many others. (We can hear them in our mind, can’t we?)
Then the explosion: a series of hits by Ms. Summer; great orchestral tracks by Barry White and Isaac Hayes; the tight funk of Chic; the whit of the Village People. In ’77 came the soundtrack to the film “Saturday Night Fever” featuring eight songs composed by the Bee Gees – six they performed, “If I Can’t Have You” sung by Yvonne Elliman and “More Than a Woman” performed by Tavares. The album sold more than 15 million copies in the U.S. alone.
But, as so often happens in the pop arts, success bred an inferior strain. Soon, we had Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Perry Como and Ethel Merman released disco songs. An anti-disco backlash grew. Performers outside the culture mocked it, as did some TV programs and films. We remember friends who embraced the slogan “Disco Sucks.” By late September 1979, disco had lost favor with radio programmers and music consumers.
Were it not for a few special tunes and the memories of those of us who loved the music and the period, disco would recede into pop history along with many other trends. But there is a lesson to be learned from what happened to disco. Today the hottest sound is electronic dance music, known as EDM. Major festivals draw in excess of 100,000 EDM fans, and some top-shelf rock festivals now set aside a tent or a featured spot on the main stage for EDM acts. Once an underground movement, as disco was, EDM has moved into the mainstream. Now producers and DJs are making a milder form of EDM to appeal to a broader audience. Singers who not long ago were using hip-hop backing tracks on their songs are now singing to EDM beats. It doesn’t take a psychic to see a near future in which the pop charts are filled with pop EDM hits. (See http://on.wsj.com/L98ivG for more background.)
Is an EDM backlash similar to the one that damaged disco on its way? History suggest it might be. It’ll be interesting to see if EDM producers learn from the past we experienced.
What are your memories of disco? Pro? Con? What disco songs come to mind when you think of the era? Do you have any interest in the best of today’s EDM? If you do, let me know. I’ll slip you a few hot tracks.