by Kevin Burton
Found another story last week on the animosity toward disco from rock and rollers in the 1970s. This one contained a little surprise.
The story was under the headline, “Surviving the 70s: 12 disco songs even rock fans enjoy.”
It was written by Greg Brodsky on the Best Classic bands website.
It wasn’t quite the story I was looking for. What I would be very interested to see is an argument against disco based solely on musical merit, having nothing to do with leisure suits or Studio 54. I think much of the bile launched at disco came because of the skin color of the people who were making disco records.
When I saw the headline I wondered if Brodsky would list “Turn The Beat Around,” by Vicki Sue Robinson as one of the disco tunes rockers could tolerate, even like. I wrote about that tune a few months ago (“The Infectious Rhythm Of A Disco Classic,” May 31).
But Robinson’s one-hit wonder was not listed. My surprise came from one that was, “Funkytown” by the band Lipps Inc.
If I were making a musical court case against disco, Funkytown would be exhibit A.
From the synthetic voices to the unrelenting disco beat, the nothing lyrics and the brainless idea of a place called Funkytown, this is one song that has nothing to offer humanity but danceability.
I just listened to it again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. It was all I could do to keep from pulling the plug on it.
“Disco as a genre has been maligned by rock enthusiasts pretty much since dance music began to evolve in the early 70s,” Brodsky writes. “When Top 40 radio was still playing music by rock acts, it was fairly common to hear songs by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Barbra Streisand, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, and the latest disco music discovery played back-to-back-to-back.”
“But as with any genre, for every song that you’d be happy to never hear again, there are scores of disco classics that will get rock die-hards on the dance floor at Cousin Eddie’s wedding.”
“Here are a dozen disco classics from the 70s that never make us want to change the station,” Brodsky wrote before starting into his list.
Change the station is exactly what I want to do when the song comes on oldies radio and I am riding to work in a van with my ride service. But I don’t control that all-important knob.
This is especially galling because one driver is a channel flipper, cutting in and out or the three or four stations that play his kind of music. This guy cuts away from great stuff like “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray and “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits and lets that Funkytown noise play out its nearly four minutes.
That’s four minutes I’ll never get back.
I can get behind most of the other songs on Brodsky’s list as songs with broad appeal. “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps contains a superior vocal performance by Jimmy Ellis. Brodsky writes that it was released twice, missing the top 40 entirely in 1977 but reaching number 11 after it was included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1978.
There is nothing quite like “Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees. It was the song that signaled their switch to disco.
“The rhythm was inspired by the chunka-chunka-chunka sound of a car rolling over a bridge crossing Biscayne Bay near Miami; the Bee Gees went over it on their way to Criteria Studios, where they were recording the Main Course album,” according to SongFacts.
“Jive” was a big 70s slang word, as was “bad” meaning good or bodacious. “Rock the Boat” by Hues Corporation is a likable song remembered for the “rock on with your bad self” line in the outro.
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor tells a story most of us (unfortunately) can relate to at some point in life. Disco ties it to the 70s but the story is timeless.
“Love Train” by the O’Jays is not a disco song so I’m not sure how it made this list. It’s just a gem of a song. Is there still time for humanity to get on board?
Any sort of music fan would be hard pressed to talk bad about “September” by Earth Wind & Fire or “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. There’s just too much fun to be had. I think if you weren’t digging those songs you’d probably keep that fact to yourself.
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer and “Le Freak” by Chic are two I would put closer to the Funkytown category. I like them but would think rockers who hate disco would want to turn away from them.