Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Stylistic origins:||Funk and soul music|
|Cultural origins:||Early 1970s|
|Mainstream popularity:||1970s in the United States|
Euro Disco Italo Disco
|List of disco artists|
Disco is an up-tempo style of dance music that originated in the early 1970s, mainly from funk and soul music, popular originally with gay and black audiences in large U.S. cities, and derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning a nightclub where the featured entertainment was recorded music), coined from disc + bibliothèque (library) by La Discothèque in Rue Huchette (Jones and Kantonen, 1999).
Like all such musical genres, defining a single point of its development is difficult, as many elements of disco music appear on earlier records (such as the 1971 theme from the movie Shaft by Isaac Hayes) (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). In general it can be said that first true disco songs were released in 1973, however, many consider Manu Dibango's 1972 "Soul Makossa" the first disco record (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Initially, most disco songs catered to a nightclub/dancing audience only, rather than general audiences such as radio listeners.
Social trends that contributed to disco music include the surpassing of white people by racial and ethnic minorities, black and Hispanic people, in the purchasing of records and sound equipment, the increased independence of women in finance and leisure, gay liberation, and the sexual revolution. (Jones and Kantonen, 1999)
Brenton Monroe Wilson once used the term "DISCO" as an alternate meaning of cool.
Influential soul or funk records that influenced disco include:
- Sly and the Family Stone - "Dance to the Music" (1968), "Everyday People" (1968) (Jones and Kantonen, 1999)
- Stevie Wonder - "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday" (1969), "Superstition" (1972) (ibid)
- Incredible Bongo Band - "Bongo Rock" (1973) (ibid)
- Average White Band - "Pick Up the Pieces" (1974), "Cut the Cake" (1975) (ibid)
- Three Degrees - "When Will I See You Again" (1974) (ibid)
- Intruders - "I'll Always Love My Mama" (1973) (ibid)
- O'Jays - "I Love Music" (1975), "Love Train" (1972) (ibid)
- MFSB - "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" (1974) (ibid)
Pre/Early-disco TK Records tracks:
- Betty Wright - "Clean Up Woman" (1972) (ibid)
- George McCrae - "Rock Your Baby" (1974) (ibid)
- KC and the Sunshine Band - "Get Down Tonight" (1975) (ibid)
- KC and the Sunshine Band - "That's the Way (I Like It)" (1975) (ibid)
Early disco hits include:
- Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - "The Love I Lost" (1973)
- Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Love's Theme" (1973) (ibid)
- The Jackson 5- "Dancing Machine" (ibid)
- Barry White - "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" (1974) (ibid)
- Shirley and Co. - "Shame, Shame, Shame" (1974) (ibid)
- Hues Corporation - "Rock the Boat" (1974) (ibid)
- LaBelle - "Lady Marmalade" (containing the lyric: "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?") (1975) (ibid)
- Van McCoy - "The Hustle" (1975) (ibid)
- Andrea True- "More More More" (1975) (ibid)
- Dalida- "J'Attendrai" (the first french disco song and first hit in Europe) (1975) (ibid)
1975 was the year when disco really took off, with hit songs like Van McCoy 's "The Hustle" and Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby" reaching the mainstream. 1975 also marked the release of the first disco mix on album, the A side of Gloria Gaynor's Never Can Say Goodbye (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Disco's popularity peaked in the so-called Disco era of 1977 - 1980, driven in part by the late-1977 film Saturday Night Fever. Disco also gave rise to an increased popularity of line dancing and other partly pre-choreographed dances; many line dances can be seen in films such as Saturday Night Fever, which also features the Hustle.
In 1975, the pop star Dalida was the first to make disco music in France with her song "J'attendrai" that was a big hit there as well as in Canada and Japan in 1976. She also released many other disco hits between 1975 and 1981, including "Monday, Tuesday... Laissez-moi danser" in 1979, translated the same year as "Let Me Dance Tonight" for the USA, where she was their "French diva" since her late-1978 performance at the Carnegie Hall). Soon after Dalida's pioneering French disco work, other French artists recorded disco: Claude François, in 1976 with his song "Cette année-là" (a cover of The Four Seasons' disco hit "December 1963 (Oh what a night)"), then the famous "yé-yé" French pop singer Sheila, with her group B. Devotion, who had a hit even in the USA (and that was rare for French artists) with the song "Spacer" in 1979-1980. Many other European artists also recorded disco music.
Popular disco artists
Among the most popular disco artists of the 1970s were ABBA, The Bee Gees, Chic, Sister Sledge, The Jacksons, Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stephanie Mills, Sylvester, Gloria Gaynor, Boney M, The Village People, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Vicki Sue Robinson, MFSB, Loleatta Holloway , France Joli, Evelyn 'Champagne' King , Yvonne Elliman, Tavares, Salsoul Orchestra , Phyllis Hyman, The Emotions, Thelma Houston, Cheryl Lynn , Taana Gardner , The Trammps, Barry White, and Dalida. However, many disco fans would agree that "for every chart hit pounded into the public's consciousness, fifty far superior tracks from all over the world were being played at some hard-to-find basement club" (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Many non-disco artists, which included The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, KISS, The Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, Cher, Aretha Franklin, Cheap Trick, Isaac Hayes, David Bowie, Leif Garrett, Toto, Chaka Khan, Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, The Pointer Sisters, Dusty Springfield, Frankie Avalon, Elton John, James Brown, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Prince, Carly Simon, Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rod Stewart, and many more discofied some of their songs. Even Queen attempted to emulate the bass guitar riffs of Chic in their hit Another One Bites The Dust. Blondie disappointed many of their existing New Wave fan base (including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe) by releasing songs such as "Heart of Glass", though Debbie Harry and her band picked up an even larger fan base as a result.
Many disco novelty songs sold well and were popular. Rick Dees, at the time a radio DJ in Memphis, Tennessee, recorded what is considered to be one of the most popular parodies of all time, Disco Duck . Stars on 45 were the handiwork of Jaap Eggermont , a former rock drummer and producer. The series included remakes of songs by Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others mixed together over an unwavering bass beat.
Veteran entertainers such as Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Mae West, Eartha Kitt, and Frank Sinatra jumped on the disco bandwagon just for publicity purposes. Drag queens Divine and Dame Edna Everage also recorded parody disco songs. Their efforts were only moderate.
DJs and Producers
Disco music diverged from the self-composed and performed rock of the 1960s, seeing a return (though not universally) to the influence of producers who hired session musicians to produce hits for different artists whose role was purely to sing and market the songs. This may explain some rock critics vitrolic hate of disco, as it lacks the same "cred". Top disco music producers/mixers included Patrick Adams , Biddu, Cerrone, Alec R. Costandinos , Gregg Diamond, Bernard Edwards, Rick Gianatos , Quincy Jones, François Kevorkian, Meco Monardo , Tom Moulton , Kenton Nix , Boris Midney , Vincent Montana Jr , Giorgio Moroder, Rinder and Lewis , Nile Rodgers, and Michael Zager . However, what was seen by some rock critics and fans as a loss of authenticity and credibility may have marked not a return to producer driven music, but a return to listener driven music, as fans participated through dancing.
Outside the recording industry proper many DJs, most of whom also eventually worked in studios as producers or mixers, were hugely influential. Records sales were often dependent, though not guaranteed by, floor play in clubs. Notable DJs include Jim Burgess , Walter Gibbons , Francis Grasso (Sanctuary), Larry Levan (Paradise Garage), Ian Levine (Heaven), David Mancuso (The Loft), and Tom Moulton .
Mainstream American popular culture briefly embraced disco. The popularity of the film Saturday Night Fever prompted the major record labels to mass-produce hits, turning the (largely European and largely Gay-influenced) genre from something vital and edgy into a safe "product" homogenized for the mass audience. The disco music that caught public attention had its fifteen minutes of fame, but after the novelty faded, the public lost its taste for disco.
The public seemed to blame the genre as a whole for their dissatisfaction, since the bland, dumbed-down mass-market product was all they were aware of). Meanwhile, the original Gay, Black and Euro artists continued to produce hits for the dance clubs. Anti-disco sentiment was marked by an impatient return to rock (loudly encouraged by worried rock radio stations). The public seemed suddenly embarrassed by its brief flirtation with Gay and Black culture. Disco music and dancing fads were depicted as not only silly (witness Frank Zappa's satirical song "Dancin' Fool"), but effeminate.
In Britain, however, during the same year as the first American anti-disco demonstrations, see below, The Young Nationalist publication of the British National Party reported that "disco and its melting pot pseudo-philosophy must be fought or Britain's streets will be full of black-worshipping soul boys," though this had been true for twenty years with many white male English teens considering themselves "soul freaks".
Disco's core audience
As the minority audiences that originally created and consumed disco watched its appropriation into the mainstream many of them changed their interests and affiliations to other forms of dance music, sometimes simply disco with a new name.
Rock vs Disco
Avid disapproval of disco among some rock fans, who perceived rock as more serious and valuable, existed throughout the disco era, growing as disco's influence grew, such that the expression "Disco Sucks" was common by the late 1970s.
One example of this backlash occurred in 1979, when a Chicago rock radio station, deejayed by Steve Dahl, staged a promotional event with an anti-disco theme, "Disco Demolition Night", between games at a White Sox doubleheader. The event involved exploding disco records with a bomb, and ended in a near-riot. The second game of the doubleheader had to be forfeited.
Descendents, influence, and revival
In the early 1980s, George Benson, Patrice Rushen, Brothers Johnson, Commodores, The S.O.S. Band, and many other artists created disco classics. After 1980, however, disco music morphed into other forms, including house and Hi-NRG.
In the 1990s a revival of the original disco style began and is exemplified by such songs as "Spend Some Time" by Brand New Heavies (1994), "Cosmic Girl" by Jamiroquai (1996), "Never Give Up on the Good Times" by The Spice Girls (1997), and "Strong Enough" by Cher (1998) who had also released disco songs in the seventies.
During the first half of the 2000s, there were disco releases by a number of artists including "Spinning Around" by Kylie Minogue (2000), "I Don't Understand It" by Ultra Nate (2001), "Love Foolosophy" by Jamiroquai (2001), "Murder on the Dancefloor" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (2001), and "Love Invincible" by Michael Franti and Spearhead (2003).
Instruments commonly used by disco musicians included the rhythm guitar, bass, strings (violin, viola, cello), string synth (a type of organ), trumpet, saxophone, trombone, piano, and drums (sometimes using an auxiliary percussionist as well as somebody on a drum kit). Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat (sometimes using a 16-beat pattern on the hi-hat cymbal, or an eight-beat pattern with an open hi-hat on the "off" beat) and a heavy, syncopated bassline. Disco also had a characteristic electric guitar sound, usually from the heavy use of the wah-wah pedal.
Generally, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or popular song is that in dance music the bass hits "four to the floor", at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), while in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four. (Michaels, 1990) Disco is further characterized by a sixteenth note division of the quarter notes established by the bass as shown in the second drum pattern below, after a typical rock drum pattern:
This sixteenth note pattern is often supported by other instruments, and may be implied rather than explicitly present, often involving syncopation. As a simpler example, bass lines often use the following rhythm:
Initially singles were released on 7-inch 45-rpm records, 45s, which were shorter in length and of poorer sound quality than 12-inch singles. Tamla Motown was the first to market these through their Eye Cue label, but these and other 12-inch singles were the length of the original 45s until Scepter/Wand released the first 12-inch extended version single in 1975: Jesse Green 's "Nice and Slow" b/w Sweet Music 's "I Get Lifted" (engineered by Tom Moulton). The single was packaged in collectable picture sleeves, a relatively new concept at the time. 12-inch singles became commercially available after the first crossover, Tavares' "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel." 12-inch singles allowed longer dance time and formal possibilities. (Jones and Kantonen, 1999)
Open from about 1975 to 1980, Ones Discotheque at 111 Houston St. in NYC advertised itself as having the "world's biggest sound system". Tuesday nights were "reggae night". Studio 54 in New York is perhaps the best known of the 70s disco venues internationally. The disco song "Le Freak" by Chic includes the lines "So come on down/ To the 54/ Find a spot/ Out on the floor..."
Other notable discos:
- 12 West
- The Loft
- Paradise Garage
Currently, most radio stations that play dance music or 70s-era music will play this music at some point in their playlists.
- Michaels, Mark (1990). The Billboard Book of Rock Arranging. ISBN 0823075370.
- Jones, Alan and Kantonen, Jussi (1999). Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. Chicago, Illinois: A Cappella Books. ISBN 1556524110.
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