Disco. Just the word is instill enough to anger rock and rollers who came up during the 1970's. Why should that be? How can you get so upset about a style of popular music? Like you'd like to stamp it out Like you wished it had never existed in the first place, well it's kind of an interesting story what happens with disco at the end of the 19070s. It's a kind of dance craze to be sure. It maybe rejected some important elements of the hippie aesthetic and the rock and roll hippies of the 1970s didn't like it, not one bit. I think also, the reaction may have something to do with a misunderstanding of black pop. As we've been talking through these lectures this week, I've come back again and again to the idea that most white rock listeners didn't know much black pop music. The black pop music they knew was maybe they'd heard the Ohio Players Funky Worm. They'd seen Curtis Mayfield on TV, talking about Freddy's Dead or the Pusher Man, or something like that. They'd heard Isaac Hayes talking about Shaft. Can you dig it? they, they, t hey knew some Stevie Wonder. But they didn't really, they would listen to some average white band. but they didn't really know the music, and so in many ways disco was misunderstood by the rock audience. So let's get into the story of disco. Disco's early days Fed an idea for a dance craze. I mean, the, the idea of disco not unlike what was happening at American bandstand, and when you went to a disco, people played records. and you danced. There might not be a guitar or a drum set or a base guitar anywhere to be found. Now this situation is very very familiar to people now how haven't necessarily had dance clubs that people go to for years. But back in 70's it wasn't so much that way, when you went to a club you went to see the band. You went to see the people performing. In fact, one of the, one of the reasons why disco evolved the way it did was because within the gay community, if you would go to a gay club, the people that ran that gay club would, would want there to be music for dancing. But a lot of bands wouldn't play those gigs. They wouldn't play gigs in a gay club so they were in many ways sort of forced To use to use records for dancing because the bands wouldn't do those gigs. Now there were other reasons, but that was, that was an important one. And so this culture developed in, in urban areas, New York being an important one, of having clubs where records were played. Well now once those records were played, it was possible to find particular recordings that were better for dancing than others. And then labels began to discover that well, they could create extended versions, if people were going to be on the dance floor, they could create special disco versions that would be Would longer than that. And that was sort of the beginning of it in the underground kind of sign. But, these, these records started to pop up onto the pop charts, almost as novelty records at first. So, Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, had a number one hit with Love's Theme in 1973. And people said, well that's a disco record, but they didn't think of disco as a style that really threatened anybody. It was kind of a novelty record, it was kind of, kind of cute the way it kind of did this disco beat kind of thing and all that. But it didn't really sort of get anybody too upset. Even when Van McCoy in 1975 came along with The Hustle, which was number one both on the pop charts and the R&B charts. That didn't really get anybody too riled up. I mean it was just another one of these sort of AM hits. who cares? They say the style is disco, people like to dance to it, whatever. KC and the Sunshine Band come along with a song That's the Way huh, huh, I Like It in 1975. A number one hit on the pop charts, number one on the R and B charts. Still. That still seems like a harmless stuff. But then in 1977, there's a film. The film is Saturday Night Fever and it features a young John Travolta. Who knew John Travolta could dance? At the time, in 1977, he'd been a character on a television comedy show called Welcome Back Kotter. But here he is, in Saturday Night Fever And boy can he dance. And boy is he looking good. And what's interesting about Saturday Night Fever from the perspective that we were talking about before is that so many commentators say that their reaction against disco had to do with the fact that it arose from the gay community. But the fact is most people didn't become aware of disco until Saturday Night Fever came along in 1977. And that's a markedly heterosexual film. So a lot of people were really sort of unaware Of the, of the roots of Disco in the gay culture. Nevertheless, that film really launched Disco as a major deal in the United States. I mean, then all of a sudden, De-, Disco was THE craze. the soundtrack album With featuring music mostly by the Bee Gee's, though there were other artists. It went to number one in this country. It number one, went to number one in the UK. Featuring big hits from the Bee Gee's, Stayin' Alive, How Deep is Your Love, Night Fever. All tracks that are, are very, very well-known to us now still as, you know, important disco hits. Also a hit By Yvonne Elliman called If I Can't Have You. Yvonne Elliman is kind of interesting in another kind of way because she had been part of the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and had also appeared on the Eric Clapton album, 461 Ocean Boulevard which had I Shot The Sheriff on it. So she has a hit on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack as well. And when the disco craze Breaks, all of a sudden a lot of artists are running for their own disco hit. Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones, yes, even KISS had a disco single during these years. It was like disco was taking over the world, at least that's the way a lot of rock fans saw it. One thing about disco, it really was a return Of the producers. In other words, in many cases I've, I've talked about acts that you know, the Bee Gees importantly Rod Stewart, Rolling Stones, we talk about that, as, as artists. But a lot of the Disco records that came out Were by artists you didn't really know who they were, you never saw a picture of them. It wasn't important. The important thing was the record itself and the producers controlled that. So in many ways, we're sort of back to the kind of sort of faceless quality of a lot of the girl groups who really knows who's in these groups, it doesn't really matter anyway. And that's the way it was. A couple of important producers Jacques Morali, a French Composer in Giorgio Moroder both of them took a kind of a Euro disco approach in a lot of ways that was maybe less funk based, and more kind of rhythmically precise. The kind of music, where, you might want to have a drum machine that could do the beats exactly metronomically, rather than the kind of drummer that might have been in part funkadelic. Or in, in James Brown group who could not only do the beat, but give a little bit of feel, where it wouldn't be action metronomic but it would be hipper because these guys were about the actual sort of metronomic rhythm precise kind of approach. So here are the artists that they worked with, Donna Summer Donna Summer, a very, very important artist in disco at the end of the 1970s. She sort of gets her start with a track called Love to Love You Baby in 1976. Number two on the pop charts, two on the R&B charts, two on the UK charts. produced by Pete Bellotte and Giogio Maroder, this is a patently Sexual peace. Love to Love You Baby features Donna Summer enjoying the sexual, you could sort of hear her enjoying this sort of sexual act. It is a kind of it's meant to be heard as something that draws you in. It's almost. Pornographic in a certain kind of sense. There is a 17 minute extended mix that what does, that was done especially for disco dance floors, but when that record hit and you heard all that sort of moaning and groaning a lot of people turn the radio on What the heck is that on the radio, this kind of thing it was a big shocking in its day. in 1979 she comes along with Bad Girls at number 1 album for her both on the pop charts and r&b charts. Bad Girls is a disco. Concept album. What could seem more incongruous than a disco concept album. But in fact that's exactly what the record is. It's about ladies of the night and the various sort of situations and things that they find themselves in. That record not only being a number one album had three number one hits on it, Hot Stuff Bad girls and dim all the lights again produced by [UNKNOWN] and Giorgio Maro so Donna Summer a very important act in the disco movement at the end of the 70's. Also the village people. This is one of the most interesting stories that I get to tell when I talk about the history of rock music because its its just its ironic how the whole thing works out. It was assembled and produced by Jacques Morali who some reports say didn't speak much English. So a lot of people had to sort of translate things for him, but anyway he was responsible for this group And it was brought together as a kind of gay Monkees. I mean, in the sense that it was based the characters in the Village People were all based on fantasy, gay stereotypes drawn from Greenwich Village in New York City. And the idea was that it should be obvious to anybody. Who knew the gay community in the village, that this was a kind of a, I wouldn't say a send-up, but you, they weren't taking it entirely seriously, and, and where all of these images came from. but, most people didn't know what was going on there. I mean, there was an Indian. There was a cop. There was a construction worker. There was a cowboy. And they were all basically sort of professional dancers, and so It's so obvious once you know what that is. But most people didn't know. They were like oh, that's interesting, I like those costumes. They had no sense that the village people had anything to do with gay couple. It was a very sort of playful approach to the gay underground that mostly went over the heads of most White, middle-class listeners who listen to those records. It, it was so it was so not understood that the song YMCA, which was a number two hit from 1978, which is essentially about gay guys. Hooking up at the YMCA was not understood that way at all. It still isn't. In this country if you go to a minor league baseball game during the seventh inning, something called the seventh inning stretch they will play YMCA over the stadium speakers and everybody, mom, dad, grandma, the kids, will all stand up and sing YMCA without the slightest idea it has anything to do... With gay culture. And they, people still don't really sort of, they still haven't sort of gotten the joke yet. Another big hit hit for them, Macho Man. In the Navy, from 1979, even more interesting because the United States Navy licensed the tune for recruiting and again, these guys couldn't believe this was happening, you know, they thought it was a fantastic. They licensed the tune for recruiting and they said, well okay, you can license it, but we want to be able to do a music video on one of your Navy boats, a Destroyer or whatever, so sure fine that would be fantastic and they finally get there and they see what's going on and they were, hey, they pulled the plug on it so it didn't actually work out then, but it's interesting that it ever got to that point. and bringing us to the discussion of the backlash against disco. What happens with the backlash against disco is the rock stations with all of this disco excitement, start to change format from rock to disco, and this is happening all around the country, and now the rock fans are thinking, hey what's going on they're taking our stations away and it's all going to this disco stuff. Steve Dahl Who had a sort of a Howard Stern type of, sort of shock jock, had just moved from Detroit to Chicago in 1978, and it was a, you know a big high-profile sort of a gig for him. he, he went for months there, in Chicago, and he around Christmas time of 1978. He was fired because the station he was at changed formats from rock to disco. So he went to another area Chicago station. And that summer a baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park they, in 19, so the July of 1979 They organized the anti disco rally. Here's the idea they would take up in center field between the two games of a double header. When they play two games on the same day and so there's a time in between where the players have to back and rest and there's you know they try to provide entertainment. They put all this out in center field, they put a big box Full of disco records there's some dynamite underneath the disco records. And on a countdown they blow all those records up I mean [NOISE] the disco records. And this was supposed to just destroy disco forever. Well what happened is, there were a lot of drunken fools and crazy people and stuff like that at this thing. And when, after they blew the records up, people started streaming onto the field and they were, there was all kinds, sort of stepped on, and there were fights. And the cops had to come in with their paddy wagon and they pulled people away, and people were injured. The second, the second game of the double header had to be cancelled, because the field was in such disarray, and it was a riot situation that they had to cancel the game. Ultimately the game was officially forfeited by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, giving the game to the Tigers, who were the visiting team. Nevertheless, this made all of the newsreels, and this sort of spurred this whole notion of disco sucks, disco sucks. This is what you heard everywhere across the country, this kind of rallying cry against disco music. So what upset these white rockers so much about disco? There are a couple of things Couple of reasons that have been forwarded. Maybe it was a reaction against the promiscuity of disco. After all in a lot of disco clubs, when we'd go to a disco club it was really just about finding somebody in many cases for a one night stand. In the disco dancing was really just a prelude to something a little bit more intimate. But look... When have rock fans been against promiscuity, really? So, that's probably not a very good that's probably not a very good explanation. Maybe it was homophobia. They understood that this music came from the gay community, and so when they saw peop-, that acts like The Village People, they were outraged. Well, that would be frightening if anybody realized that the Village People or groups like that had anything to do [LAUGH] with the gay community. But as we've already said, they really had no idea that's what was going on. So, that's not really a very good explanation either. Was it racism? Well, that one I think is a little bit worth thinking about. Not sure if it was racist, but it was certainly racial in the sense that I think that a lot of white rockers thought that disco was black music because they didn't know much black music and it seemed to share a lot of the change features. Most black musicians at the time Parliament Funkadelic those [UNKNOWN] didn't want to be thought of as being, having anything to do with disco because it was about a mechanical beat and not about the very thing that was so what the heart of what their music was, which was a very kind of human kind of feel in the music, right? Now the mechanical beat of a drum machine or a metronome or something like that. But never the less, I think the idea that we came to this point In 1978, 1979 where some rock listeners could be rejecting music because they saw it as music of black America. There's probably not a real proud moment in the history of rock music. When we go back to 1955, it was all about bringing black and white audiences together, and that's what the fight was about. By the time we got to 1979, people not liking a style because it's associated with black Public, that's probably not a great theory. But I think what really fueled this reaction was that disco was a music that was fun rather than about serious issues. It was music that was about the producers and not about the artist. It wasn't about artistic anything. In, in, in the way that the, the rockers thought of it and so it was an assault on the hippie aesthetic. Almost all elements of the hippie esthetic which held this music together starting at about 1966 and going up to Pink Floyd's The Wall from 79, 1980, were under assault with disco and it seemed to be gaining ground, with radio stations changing format and this kind of thing and this I think Whether they understood it in this way or not they understood that there was something about this disco music that was very threatening to the aesthetic they held for rock music and I think that blended with the racial misunderstanding really accounts for the kind of deeply held sort of reaction that the disco sucks movement was about. What's interesting About the disco sucks movement is at about the same time that was happening in 1977, punk was arising in England in 1977 and then into 1978 in this country, and punk was also a rejection of the hippie aesthetics. You have disco on one front rejecting the hippie aesthetic and punk on the other front rejecting the hippie aesthetic. In the end of this, at the end of the 1970s. Rock and roll was really struggling to maintain the ground that it had. So next wekk we're going to talk about what was happening in rock and roll in the second half of the 1970's.