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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses see Disco (disambiguation)

Disco is a genre of music that originated in discothèques. Generally the term refers to a specific style of music that has influences from funk, soul music, and salsa and the Latin or Hispanic musics which influenced salsa.


Elements of disco music appear on records from as far back as the early 1970s such as 1971's Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes. In general, it can be said that the first disco songs were released in 1973, although many consider Manu Dibango's 1972 "Soul Makossa" the first disco record. A September 13, 1973 article in Rolling Stone Magazine entitled "Discotheque Rock '72: Paaaaarty!" by Vince Aletti [1] about the New York nightclub scene is considered to be the first to use the terminology "disco".

Initially, most disco songs catered to a nightclub/dancing audience only, rather than general audiences such as radio listeners, but there are many aspects proving opposite tendencies as well; popular radio-hits were being played in discothèques, as long as they had an easy to follow rhythmic bass-pattern close to 120 BPM (beats per minute). Most 1970s Disco genre songs had a distinctive four/four bass drum beat.

Soul and funk records that influenced disco include:

  • Sly and the Family Stone - "Dance to the Music" (1968), "Everyday People" (1968), "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" (1970) and "Family Affair" (1971)
  • Hugh Masekela - "Grazing in the Grass" (1968)
  • The Honey Cone - "Want Ads" (1971), "Stick Up" (1971)
  • Isaac Hayes - "Theme from Shaft" (1971) and "Hung Up On My Baby" (1974)
  • Incredible Bongo Band - "Bongo Rock" (1973)
  • Eumir Deodato - "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (1973)
  • Average White Band - "Pick Up the Pieces" (1974), "Cut the Cake" (1975)
  • James Brown - "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" (1970), "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" (1971), "Get On The Good Foot" (1972)

The Motown Sound also featured many elements that would be associated with the disco sound:

  • Martha & The Vandellas - "Dancing In The Street" (1964)
  • The Temptations - "Since I Lost My Baby" (1964), "Cloud Nine" (1968), "I Can't Get Next to You" (1969), and "Papa was a rolling stone" (1972)
  • The Four Tops - "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" (1965)
  • The Supremes - "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (1966) and "Reflections" (1967)
  • Jackson 5 - "I Want You Back" (1969), "ABC" (1970), "The Love You Save" (1970), and "Mama's Pearl" (1971)
  • Stevie Wonder - "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" (1970), "Superstition" (1972) and "Higher Ground" (1973)
  • Diana Ross - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1970)

Philadelphia International Records exemplifies Philly soul, which helped define disco (ibid) with records such as:

  • The Three Degrees - "When Will I See You Again" (1973)
  • First Choice - "Armed and Extremely Dangerous" (1973)(recorded for Philly Groove records but featuring the key players in the Philly Soul Sound: Baker, Harris, Young, and Montana, among others)
  • The Intruders - "I'll Always Love My Mama" (1973)
  • The O'Jays - "Love Train" (1972), and "For the Love of Money" (1973)
  • MFSB - "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" and "Love is the Message" (1973)

Pre-/Early-disco TK Records songs:

  • Betty Wright - "Clean-Up Woman" (1971)
  • George McCrae- "Rock Your Baby" (1974)
  • KC and the Sunshine Band - "Queen of Clubs" (1974), "Get Down Tonight" (1975) and "That's the Way (I Like It)" (1975)

Early-disco hits include:

  • Nelson James - "I Have An Afro" (1972)
  • Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - "The Love I Lost" (1973) and "Bad Luck" (1975)
  • Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Love's Theme" (1973)
  • The Jackson 5- "Dancing Machine" (1973)
  • Barry White - "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby" (1973), "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" (1974), "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (1974)
  • Shirley & Company - "Shame, Shame, Shame" (1974)
  • The Hues Corporation - "Rock the Boat" (1974)
  • The Commodores - "Machine Gun" (1974)
  • Frankie Valli - "Swearin' To God (1975)
  • Dalida- "J'Attendrai" (the first French disco song and first hit in Europe) (1975)
  • LaBelle - "Lady Marmalade" (1974)
  • The Four Seasons - "Who Loves You" and "December '63 (Oh What A Night)" (1975)
  • Silver Convention - "Fly Robin Fly" (1975)
  • The Bee Gees - "Jive Talkin' " (1975)


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 remake of The Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye". Disco's popularity peaked between 1976 - 1979, driven in part by films such as 1977's classic Saturday Night Fever and 1978's Thank God It's Friday. 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. Disco was also popular among the gay subculture.

Internationally, the pop star Dalida was the first to make disco music in France with 1975's "J'attendrai" which 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 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)"), "Alexandrie, Alexandra" and "Les Magnolias", then the famous "yé-yé" French pop singer Sheila, with her group B. Devotion, who even had a hit in the USA (a rarity for French artists) with the song "Spacer" in 1979.

Many other European artists also recorded disco music; in Germany, Frank Farian formed a disco band by the name Boney M around 1976. They had a string of number one hits in a few European countries which continued into the early 1980s, with songs such as "Daddy Cool", "Brown Girl in the Ring" and "By the Rivers of Babylon". Still today, the trademark sound of Boney M is seen as emblematic for late 70's German disco music.

Disco fever reached a . peak in South Asia after the release of the Bollywood film Disco Dancer in 1982. It stars Mithun Chakraborty as an Indian disco champion who is out to get revenge on P. N. Oberoi (Om Shivpuri), a rich industrialist who once slapped and insulted his mother.

Japan also boasted a number of homegrown disco artists. The nation's top-selling female duo of the late 1970s, Pink Lady, incorporated disco music into their sound with hits like "Monday Mona Lisa Club" and "Kiss In The Dark" (the latter of which was their only U.S. hit, breaking into Billboard's top 40 in 1979).

Popular disco artists

Main article: List of disco artists

The most popular disco artists of the 1970s included:

  • Amanda Lear
  • Arabesque
  • The Bee Gees
  • Boney M
  • Cheryl Lynn
  • CHIC
  • Claudja Barry
  • Donna Summer
  • Evelyn 'Champagne' King
  • France Joli
  • Gloria Gaynor
  • Grace Jones
  • The Jacksons
  • K.C. and the Sunshine Band
  • Kool and the Gang
  • Linda Clifford
  • Loleatta Holloway
  • MFSB
  • Patsy Gallant ("From New York To L.A.", "O Michel", "Are You Ready For Love?")
  • The Raes ("We Only Wanna Get Up And Dance", "A Little Lovin' Keeps The Doctor Away")
  • Salsoul Orchestra
  • Silver Convention
  • Sister Sledge
  • Sylvester
  • A Taste of Honey
  • Tavares
  • Thelma Houston
  • The Trammps
  • Vicki Sue Robinson
  • Village People
  • Yvonne Elliman

Popular non-disco acts who made disco songs

Many non-disco artists recorded disco songs at the height of its popularity, most often due to demand from the record companies who needed a surefire hit. These acts included (note that many of these songs were not "pure" disco, but rock or pop songs with disco overtones):

  • The Rolling Stones - "Miss You"
  • Graham Bonnet - "Warm Ride"
  • Eagles - "The Disco Strangler" and "Funky New Year"
  • Air Supply - "Just Another Woman"
  • KISS - "I Was Made For Lovin' You", "Sure Know Something", and "Dirty Livin'"
  • Grateful Dead - "Shakedown Street", "Dancing in the Street"
  • Quincy Jones - "Ai No Corrida"
  • Alain Chamfort - "Manureva", "Bébé Polaroid"
  • Dolly Parton - "Two Doors Down", "Baby I'm Burnin'", "I Wanna Fall in Love", "Potential New Boyfriend", a cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown", and "Save the Last Dance for Me"
  • Cher - "Take Me Home" and "Hell on Wheels"
  • Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
  • Ringo Starr - "Drowning in a Sea of Love"
  • Barry Manilow - "Copacabana (At The Copa)" and "You're Looking Hot Tonight"
  • Aretha Franklin - "Jump to It"
  • Alice Cooper - "(No More) Love At Your Convenience", and "You Gotta Dance"
  • Plastic Bertrand - "Tout Petit La Planète"
  • Yes - "Don't Kill The Whale"
  • Soul Children - "Can't Give Up A Good Thing"
  • Barclay James Harvest - "Love On The Line"
  • Deep Purple - "Lady Luck"
  • Isaac Hayes - "Don't Let Go"
  • Cold Chisel - "Showtime"
  • Uriah Heep - "What D'ya Say"
  • Shalamar - "Uptown Festival", "Take That To The Bank", "Right In The Socket", and "The Second Time Around"
  • Leif Garrett - "I Was Made For Dancing"
  • Toto - "Georgy Porgy" and "Love Is A Man's World"
  • Bryan Adams - "Let Me Take You Dancing"
  • Chaka Khan - "I'm Every Woman", "Papillon" and "Clouds"
  • Santana - "One Chain" and "Stand Up"
  • Michael Jackson - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", "Rock With You", and "Off the Wall"
  • Jackson Five - "Moving Violation" and "Dancing Machine"
  • The Supremes - "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking"
  • The Beach Boys - "Here Comes the Night"
  • Billy Preston - "Disco Dancin'", "Go for It (with Syreeta), "Give It Up Hot" and "Just for You"
  • Bay City Rollers - "Don't Stop the Music"
  • Chicago - "Street Player"
  • Electric Light Orchestra - "Last Train to London", "Shine a Little Love", "All Around the World", "Don't Bring Me Down"
  • The Pointer Sisters - "Happiness", "I'm So Excited", "Jump (For My Love)", and "Neutron Dance"
  • Teddy Pendergrass - "Only You"
  • Phyllis Hyman - "You Know How To Love Me"
  • The Emotions - "Best Of My Love"
  • Elton John - "Johnny B.Goode", "Warm Love In A Cold World", "Born Bad", "Thunder In The Night", "Spotlight", "Street Boogie", "Victim Of Love", "Are You Ready for Love" and "Mama Can't Buy You Love"
  • Carole King - "Disco-Tech"
  • James Brown - "It's Too Funky In Here"
  • Barry White - "Your Sweetness is My Weakness"
  • Bette Midler - "Strangers In The Night", "My Knight in Black Leather", "Hurricane", "Hang On In There Baby", "Married Men", and "Only in Miami"
  • Prince - "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and "Sexy Dancer"
  • Helen Reddy - "I Can't Hear You No More", "Make Love to Me", "Take What You Find", and "Imagination"
  • ABBA - "Dancing Queen", "Voulez Vous", "Summer Night City", "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)"
  • Stephanie Mills - "What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'", "Put Your Body In It", "You Can Get Over", "Sweet Sensation", "Never Knew Love Like This Before", and "The Medicine Song"
  • Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - "Who Loves You" and "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)"
  • Diana Ross - "Love Hangover", "The Boss", "I'm Coming Out", and "Upside Down"
  • Earth, Wind and Fire - "September", "Let's Groove" and "Boogie Wonderland"
  • Rod Stewart - "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and "Standing In The Shadows Of Love"
  • David Byron - "African Breeze"
  • Olivia Newton-John - "Deeper Than The Night", "Totally Hot", "Xanadu", and "Physical"
  • Bill Withers - "You've Got the Stuff"
  • Dionne Warwick - "Once You Hit the Road", "Track of the Cat", and "Got a Date"
  • Queen - "Another One Bites the Dust"
  • Blondie - "Heart of Glass" and "Rapture"
  • The Tubes - "Prime Time"
  • Paul McCartney and Wings - "Goodnight Tonight" and "Coming Up"
  • Dead Kennedys - A "Disco Version" of their song "Kill the Poor" can be found on the album "Live at the Deaf Club".
  • Hank Marvin and The Shadows - "Ghost Riders In The Sky"
  • Surf Punks - "Surf Instructor"; the band makes an explicit reference to this marketing-driven "cross-over" phenomenon in the intro to this song, where a gruff male voice (perhaps that of a record-company executive) says "We need a goddam disco hit!", to which the lead singer replies "O-kayyy" in time with the opening beat of the song

Even adult contemporary vocalists were sucked into the disco machine. Those artists included:

  • Johnny Mathis - "Gone, Gone, Gone"
  • Melissa Manchester "Pretty Girls", "You Should Hear How She Talks About You", "City Nights", "Thief Of Hearts" (produced by Giorgio Moroder)
  • Rita Coolidge "One Fine Day"
  • Paul Anka - "Make It Up to Me Love"
  • Ann-Margret - "Love Rush", "Midnight Message" and "Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime"
  • Charo - "Dance a Little Bit Closer" and "The Love Boat Theme"
  • Frankie Avalon - "Venus", "You're the Miracle", and "Innocent"
  • Ethel Merman - "There's No Business Like Show Business" - In 1979, Merman released an entire album of disco covers of some of her signature Broadway show tunes. This album is now a collector's item, though it has received mixed reviews from Merman fans.
  • Wayne Newton - "You Stepped Into My Life"
  • Barbra Streisand - "The Main Event/Fight" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (with Donna Summer)
  • Eartha Kitt - "Where Is My Man"
  • Andy Williams - "Love Story (Where Do I Begin)"
  • Frank Sinatra - "All of You"
  • Engelbert Humperdinck - "I Can't Live a Dream" and "Loving You Too Long"

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", and even Frank Zappa famously parodied the lifestyles of disco dancers with "Dancin' Fool", on his Sheik Yerbouti album.

DJs and producers

Disco music diverged from funk, soul and jazz of the 1960s, elevating music from the raw sound of 4-piece garage bands to refined music composed by producers who contracted local symphony and philharmonic orchestras and session musicians. For the first time in three decades, orchestral music became the preeminent sound in the popular-music scene. Top disco music producers included Giorgio Moroder, Patrick Adams, Biddu, Cerrone, Alec R. Costandinos, John Davis, Gregg Diamond, Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff, Norman Harris, Sylvester Levay, Ian Levine, Mike Lewis, Van McCoy, Meco Monardo, Tom Moulton, Boris Midney, Vincent Montana Jr, Randy Muller, Freddie Perren, Laurin Rinder, Richie Rome, Warren Schatz, Harold Wheeler, and Michael Zager, whose roles involved every aspect of production, from composing the arrangements to conducting the 50- to 100-member orchestras from Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to Detroit, and Miami as well as internationally in London, Berlin, Vancouver, Montreal, Paris, Milan and New Zealand.

With as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments to be compiled into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with orchestral builds and breaks, the mixing engineers became an important fixture in the production process, and, as a result, were most influential in developing the "sound" of the recording through the disco mix. Record sales were often dependent on, though not guaranteed by, floor play in clubs. Notable DJs include Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Rick Gianatos, Francis Grasso (Sanctuary), Larry Levan, Ian Levine, Neil "Raz" Rasmussen, Mike Pace (L'amour), Preston Powell (Magique), Jennie Costa (Lemontrees), Tee Scott, John Luongo, Robert Ouimet (Limelight), and David Mancuso.


Instruments commonly used by disco musicians included the rhythm guitar (most often played in "chicken-scratch" style, usually through a wah-wah or phaser), bass, piano and electroacoustic keyboards (most important: the Fender Rhodes piano and Wurlitzer electric pianos and the Hohner Clavinet), harp, string synth, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn, tuba, English horn, oboe, flute, piccolo, and drums, African/Latin percussion, timpani, as well a drum kit. Electronic drums were making a debut during this era, with Simmons and Roland drum modules appearing as pioneers in electronic percussion. Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat, a quaver (or occasionally semi-quaver) hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the "off" beat, and a heavy, syncopated bassline.

This quaver pattern is often supported by other instruments such as the rhythm guitar (lead guitar parts are rare), and may be implied rather than explicitly present, often involving syncopation and rarely simply on the beat unless a synthesizer is used to replace the bass guitar.

The orchestral sound usually known as "disco sound" relies heavily on strings and horns playing linear phrases, in unison with the soaring, often reverberated vocals or playing instrumental fills, while electric pianos and chicken-scratch guitars create the background "pad" sound defining the harmony progression. Typically, a "wall of sound" results. There are however more minimalistic flavors of disco with reduced, transparent instrumentation, pioneered by CHIC. Dramatic minor and major seventh chords and harmonies predominate in much disco.

Giorgio Moroder's hit singles such as "From Here to Eternity" (1977) introduced electro-disco music for audiences. Recordings such as this were crucial for the latter birth of house and techno music. Latter electric dance music also borrowed monotonous bass drum based rhythm from disco.

Regional styles of disco

Main article: disco orchestration

As with many forms of art, music contains many types, of which there are distinct genres, and within which there are various styles. The sound of a disco song, as with the sound of a song of any genre of music, depended on the particular tastes of the artists, and the arrangers, producers, and even the orchestra conductors and concertmasters dictating the type of stylized playing method of each section of the orchestra, down to the engineers and mixers who assembled all the elements to make a fluid, cohesive sculpture of sound through melodic continuity. Even without a very knowledgeable ear for music, one can distinguish the stylings of Van McCoy's "The Hustle" (1975) from those of Silver Convention's "Get Up and Boogie" (1976), and from those of Chic's "Good Times" (1979), and Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (1979).

As such, many regional sounds of disco developed during the mid-1970s, as a result of collaborative efforts of many individuals with a legacy of formal education and training in music theory and orchestration, whose educational backgrounds laid the foundation for the musical genre that was to burst forth onto the dance-music scene into what would come to be regarded as designer music. It can be noted that many of the conductors and players of the large city symphony and philharmonic orchestras responsible for the grand productions of disco were seasoned veterans of orchestras throughout the country, some even going back to the big-band era.

Some of the different regional sounds include:

  • The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra as heard by groups such as MFSB, The O'Jays, The Three Degrees, and The Ritchie Family.
  • The New York Philharmonic Orchestra was the foundation of the New York Sound, which included
    • Van McCoy - "The Hustle" (1975)
    • Odyssey - "Native New Yorker" (1977)
    • Gerri Granger - "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" (1976)
    • Vicki Sue Robinson - "Turn the Beat Around" (1976)
    • Roberta Flack - "Back Together Again" (1979)
    • LaBelle - "Lady Marmalade" (1974)
  • The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra was the foundation of the Los Angeles Sound, which included
    • Carrie Lucas - "Dance with Me" (1979)
    • Love Unlimited Orchestra - "My Sweet Summer Suite" (1976)
    • Tavares - "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" (1976)
    • Phyllis Hyman - "You Know How to Love Me" (1979)
    • High Inergy - "Shoulda Gone Dancing" (1979)


At first, singles were released on 7-inch 45-rpm records, 45s, which were shorter in length and of poorer sound quality than 12-inch singles. Motown Records 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 1976: Jesse Green's "Nice and Slow" b/w Sweet Music's "I Get Lifted" (engineered by Tom Moulton). The single was packaged in collectible 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.

Backlash in U.S. and UK

The popularity of the film Saturday Night Fever prompted the major record labels to mass-produce hits, however, as some perceived, turning the genre from something vital and edgy into a safe "product" homogenized for the mass audience. Though disco music had several years of popularity, an American anti-disco sentiment was festering, marked by an impatient return to rock (loudly encouraged by worried rock radio stations). Disco music and dancing fads were depicted as not only silly (witness Frank Zappa's satirical song "Dancin' Fool"), but effeminate. Others objected to the perceived wanton sex and drugs that became associated with music while others were put off by the exclusivity of the disco scene symbolized by doormen who kept people out of discos that did not look or dress correctly while still others objected to the then new idea of centering music around a computerized beat instead of people.

In Britain, however, during the same year as the first American anti-disco demonstration (see below), The Young Nationalist publication of the far-right 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". The emergence of the punk and goth scenes contributed to disco's decline.

Hard Rock versus Disco

Strong disapproval of disco among many hard rock fans existed throughout the disco era, growing as disco's influence grew, such that the expression "Disco Sucks" was common by the late-1970s among these fans.

  • Music historians generally refer to July 12, 1979, as the day disco died. [2]

In 1979, DJs Steve Dahl and Garry Meier along with Michael Veeck (son of the Chicago White Sox owner at the time Bill Veeck) 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, and ended in a near-riot. The second game of the doubleheader had to be forfeited.

White American male hard rock fans who spoke out against the music were sometimes accused of prejudice for objecting to a musical idiom that was strongly associated with minority - especially black and/or gay - audiences. To further complicate matters, several prominent, popular hard rock artists recorded songs with audible debts to disco, sometimes to strong critical and commercial response. David Bowie's "Golden Years," and The Rolling Stones' "Miss You," "Emotional Rescue" & Dance pt.1 are distinguished examples of these disco-rock fusions, and artists such as The Who, with their song "Eminence Front", Rod Stewart, with his song "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and to a lesser extent Queen (whose "Another One Bites The Dust" was flavored with a bass line reminiscent of Chic's "Good Times"). The Clash also recorded disco-informed songs "Magnificent Dance" and "Radio Clash". However, many of these artists were viewed as sell-outs by their once fiercely loyal fanbase and were mocked by their rivals within the hard rock genre. Since the advent of disco and dance music in general, many have argued that more and more rock music has absorbed the rhythmic sensibilities of dance, but have still remained distictly different both in lifestyle and in musical complexity.

The disco backlash also helped change the landscape of Top 40 radio. Negative responses from the predominantly white listenership of many Top 40 stations encouraged these stations to drop all disco songs from rotation, filling the holes in their playlists with new wave, punk rock, and AOR cuts. WLS in Chicago, KFJZ-FM in Dallas/Fort Worth (changing into KEGL), and CHUM-AM in Toronto were among the stations that took this approach. Interestingly, WLS continued to list some disco songs on its record surveys in the early 1980s while refusing to play them (for example, "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc.). Other stations (for example, New York City's WABC) became softer instead of harder, taking an adult contemporary approach that was equally hostile to dance music, though less hostile to black artists who recorded ballads such as Smokey Robinson and James Ingram. It would be several years - until MTV's championing of Michael Jackson and Prince - before many of these stations would allow urban-flavored music on their playlists again.

On the other side of the coin, many all-disco radio stations on the FM dial continued to serve the black community by evolving into urban contemporary formats. KKDA in Dallas/Fort Worth began as a disco station in the late 1970s, then found even greater success after tweaking to urban contemporary in the early 1980s.

Did Disco Really Die? A Transatlantic Divide

In some respects the "death of disco" debate is purely academic, because in truth disco never died - it simply fell out of popularity with mainstream radio and returned to its nightclub roots.Music historians generally refer to July 12, 1979, as the day disco died.[3] Nightclubs continued to flourish throughout the early 1980's, and there is no question that the music being played, while sometimes rebranded as "synth" or "dance" or "euro", was clearly disco in evolved form. By the year 1989, with the phenomenal explosion of the UK club scene, disco was well and truly back. Not only was club music mainstream again, but the proliferation of dance music genres as divergent as house, techno, trance and drum and bass proved that modern "disco" was hotbed of musical creativity, and had incorporated many other styles into its soulful roots.

The use of the term "disco" is fairly commonly used in the UK to refer to dance music and nightclubs, with few or none of the negative connotations associated with the word as in North America. This is largely attributable to the flourishing nightclub scene in the UK - which outside specialist audiences has no real US equivalent - but may also reflect deeper cultural differences. Surprisingly progressive club tracks regularly feature in the top 10 UK charts, while in the USA, dance/disco music is mainly represented in the form of "urban" artists. Interestingly however, while the popular Brit Awards still have no category dedicated to dance music, the American Grammy Awards have come closer to officially re-embracing disco with the introduction of two "dance" music categories since 2003.

Transition from the disco sound of the 1970s to the dance sound of the 1980s

The transition from the late-1970s disco styles to the early-1980s dance styles can be illustrated best by analysis of the work of specific artists, arrangers, and producers within each region, respective to the timeperiods. Complex musical structures, usually symphonic based (using full classical orchestras and many recording tracks)gave way to a "one-man-band" sound produced on synthesizer keyboards. (This was cheaper than hiring so many session musicians!!) Also, the increased addition of a slightly different harmonic structure, with elements borrowed from blues and jazz, (such as more prominent chords created with acoustic or electric pianos) created a different style of "dance music" in the 1981-83 period. But by this time, the word "disco" became associated with anything danceable, that played in discothèques, so the music continued for a time to be called "disco" by many. Examples include D. Train, Kashif, and Patrice Rushen. Both changes was influenced by some of the great R&B and jazz musicians of the 70's, such as Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, who had pioneered and perfected "one-man-band" type keyboard techniques.

Time of transition

The gradual change that occurred in the late-1970s pop-disco sound included:

  • Foxxy - "Get Off" and "Sex Symbol" (1978)
  • Donna Summer - "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff" (1979)
  • Rod Stewart- "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"(1978)
  • Patti LaBelle - "Joy To Have Your Love" (1977), "Music Is My Life" (1978)
  • Amii Stewart - "Knock On Wood" (1978)
  • Thelma Houston - "Don't Leave Me This Way (1976), "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" (1977), "I'm Here Again" (1977)
  • The Bee Gees - "Tragedy", "Search, Find", "Love You Inside Out", "Living Together" (1979)

The aforementioned songs foreboded the events of the next decade, as the year 1980 was a transitional time for music, especially dance music. As the "disco sound" was phased out, faster tempos and synthesized affects during the early-1980s dance sound, accompanied by simplified backgrounds and guitars, directed dance music toward a more funky and pop genre. Songs included:

  • Brothers Johnson - "Stomp" (1980)
  • Bee Gees - "Living Eyes", "He's a Liar", "Soldiers" (1981)
  • Earth, Wind & Fire - "Let's Groove" (1981)
  • Donna Summer - "Looking Up" (1980), "Mystery Of Love" (1982), "Love Is In Control" (1982)
  • Diana Ross - "Mirror Mirror" (1983), "Swept Away" (1984), "Touch By Touch" (1984)
  • Olivia Newton-John & ELO - "Xanadu" (1980)
  • George Benson - "Give Me The Night" and "Love X Love" (1980)
  • Boz Scaggs - "Miss Sun" (1980)
  • Teena Marie - "Behind The Groove", "I Need Your Lovin'" (1980) and "Square Biz" (1981)
  • Patrice Rushen - "Haven't You Heard" (1980) and "Forget Me Nots" (1982)
  • Gayle Adams - "Your Love Is A Lifesaver" (1982), "Love Fever" (1982) "Streching Out" (1983)
  • Yarbrough & Peoples - "Don't Stop the Music" (1981)
  • Sharon Redd - "Beat The Street" (1982), "In The Name of Love" (1982)
  • Kool & the Gang - "Celebration" (1980), "Let's Go Dancin' (Oooh La La La)", and "Get Down On It" (1982)
  • The Commodores - "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (1981)
  • Rick James - "Dance Wit Me" (1980), "Give It To Me Baby", "Super Freak" (1981) and "Cold Blooded" (1983)
  • Grace Jones - "Pull Up to the Bumper" (1981), "Nipple To The Bottle" (1982) "My Jamaican Guy" (1982)
  • Boystown Gang - "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (1981)
  • Roni Griffith - "(The Best Part of) Breaking Up" (1981)
  • Sylvester - "Do Ya Wanna Funk" (1982)
  • Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean", "Baby Be Mine", "P.Y.T." and "Thriller" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (1982)
  • The Jacksons - "Lovely One" (1980) and "Can You Feel It" (1980)
  • The Weather Girls - "It's Raining Men" (1982), "Santa, Bring Me A Man For Christmas" (1983)
  • Prince - "Uptown" (1980), "Dirty Mind" (1980), "Controversy" (1981) and "1999" (1983)
  • Miquel Brown - "So Many Men, So Little Time" (1983), "He's A Saint, He's A Sinner" (1984)
  • The Pointer Sisters - "He's So Shy" (1980), "I'm So Excited" (1982), "Automatic", "Jump (For My Love)" and "Neutron Dance" (1983), "Dare Me" (1985)
  • Thelma Houston - "If You Feel It" (1981) "96 Tears (1981), "You Used To Hold Me So Tight" (1984)
  • Madonna - "Everybody" (1982), "Holiday", "Borderline", "Burning Up", and "Lucky Star" (1983)
  • Irene Cara - "Flashdance(what a feeling)" (1983)

Those aforementioned exemplified the emerging dance-music form that dropped the complicated melodic structures of the disco style, as woodwinds, horns, and strings were replaced by synthesizers, which mimicked their sound. Here, one can readily experience the drastic changes, from the musical arrangements - missing all signs of symphony-orchestration, including orchestral builds and breaks - to the melody - missing all signs of the complicated structures of the typical disco sound, including multiple bridges and fanciful refrains.

Disco "spinoffs": rap and "house" music

Disco was largely succeeded for younger listeners by rap, which had started, by rapping over disco tracks. The first commercially popular rap hits were "Rapper's Delight" (which borrowed the bass line from Chic's "Good Times") Jimmy Spicer's Super Rhymes & Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks". The two styles existed side by side for a few years, with rap sometimes being used in disco songs such as Blondie's "Rapture", Teena Marie's "Square Biz", and Indeep's "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life". Another style of music influenced by disco was "House Music" with such legendary innovators such as Larry Levan in New York, and Frankie Knuckles in Chicago in the early 1980's. Legendary clubs associated with the birth of house included New York's 'Paradise Garage' and Chicago's "Warehouse" and "The Music Box". Mixes incorporated here included various disco loops overlapped with a strong bassbeat, usually computer driven, and with longer segments intended for mixing. Afrika Bambataa released the 1982 single "Planet Rock", which drew several elements from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and the previous year's "Numbers". Electronic sounds in rap were eventually discarded in favor of a more "raw" hip-hop sound in songs such as "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. However, the "Planet Rock" sound also spawned a non-"hip-hop" electronic dance trend, with such follow-ups as Planet Patrol's "Play At Your Own Risk", the same year, followed by "One More Shot" by C-Bank; and the following year, its popularity skyrocketed with Shannon's "Let The Music Play" Freeze's "I.O.U.", Gwen Guthrie's "Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent", Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You", and Midnight Star's "Freakazoid". Electronic Dance music or House Music had now emerged as its own genre, and this became the new "disco", even though it was not addressed as such.


"Retro" revival

In the 1990s, a revival of the original disco style began to emerge and is exemplified by such songs as "Lemon" (1993) by U2, "Spend Some Time" (1994) by Brand New Heavies, the album "Tales Of Acid Ice Cream" by Awaken (1996), "Cosmic Girl" (1996) and "Canned Heat (1999) "by Jamiroquai, "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Never Give up on the Good Times" (1997) by Spice Girls (1997) and "Strong Enough" (1998) by Cher.

During the first half of the 2000s, there were releases by a number of artists including "Spinning Around" and "Love at First Sight" by Kylie Minogue (2001), "I Don't Understand It" by Ultra Nate (2001), "Crying at the Discoteque" by Alcazar (2001), "Little L" and "Love Foolosophy" by Jamiroquai (2001), "Voyager" by Daft Punk (2001), "Party In Lyceum's Toilets" by Awaken (2001), "Murder on the Dancefloor" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (2001), and "Love Invincible" by Michael Franti and Spearhead (2003) that channeled classic disco music. More recently, Madonna has used classic disco themes in her album, Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). Her single "Hung Up", notably samples ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)".


Currently, most radio stations that play dance music or '70s-era music will play this music and related forms such as funk and Philadelphia soul at some point in their playlists; both major satellite radio companies also have disco music stations in their lineup. However, dance music stations in general are not known for having high ratings in the USA. This is in contrast to the large number of popular dance-oriented radio stations in the UK.

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • List of disco artists (A-K), List of disco artists (L-Z)
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Disco orchestration
  • Repetitive music
  • Number-one dance hits of 1978 (USA)
  • Number-one dance hits of 1979 (USA)

External links

  • Real Top 200 Disco Song chart"
  • Disco record discography and Top 700 Disco songs chart"
  • Internet radio stations playing disco music from
  • Who invented Disco?


  • Michaels, Mark (1990). The Billboard Book of Rock Arranging. ISBN 0-8230-7537-0.
  • Jones, Alan and Kantonen, Jussi (1999). Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. Chicago, Illinois: A Cappella Books. ISBN 1-55652-411-0.

Further reading

  • Brewster, Bill and Broughton, Frank (1999) Last Night a DJ Saved my Life: the History of the Disc Jockey Headline Book Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7472-6230-6
  • Lawrence, Tim (2004). Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979 . Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3198-5.
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