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Why Disco Never Died

Barry Lederer writes about where Disco is now?

After the fiasco in Caminsky Park in Chicago where there was a "Disco Sucks" day and people came and burned their disco records, many thought that this was the end, but it wasn't. It was just the dawn of a new name... The following hopefully illustrates my point.

The most obvious of disco's continuing sucesses is house music. Ironically, the style was born in Chicago, the same city that served as the place of the "Disco Sucks" movement that hosted a record burning rally in Caminsky Park by burning tons of vinyl.

But former New York DJ Frankie Knuckles was determined to keep disco's flame blazing in a more positive way. At the Warehouse where he played (hence the name house music) is where he was a staple for 5 years.

Starting in 1978, Frankie Knuckles kept his crowds of dancers in a frenzy by playing up-tempo. R & B flavored songs. As Knuckles and his fellow DJ Ron Hardy fine tuned their sounds, the relentless sound of the kick drum became synonymous with this new form.

But that was hardly new: Giorgio Morodor had used it even before in "I Feel Love" and so had the Philadelhia based musicians particularly Earl Young. Young backed such known disco artists as the O'Jays and the tHree Degrees.

DJ Danny Krivit of NYC says "That house music was built from that beat. n fact most of today's dance music is based on it."

Disco and hip-hop have always been joined at the hip. The two styles evolved almost simultaneously during the 70's and both introduced the idea of the DJ as a star. The key overlap is the fact thast many early rap classics were little more than MCs rapping over proven disco dance floor hits: Most famously, Chic's "Good Times" is heard in both Sugarhills "Rappers Delight' and Grandmaster Flash's 'Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel."

Less known to many is the fact that this cross breeding has never really stopped. In the late 80's classics like Roy Ayers" Running Away" and "Don't Make Me Wait" by the Peech Boys were showing up in the songs of a Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah. Later Puff Daddy would delve into the disco archives as he did with other styles of music. Diana Ross' hit " I'm Comimg Out" was seen in Notoriousd B.I.G.'S "No Money No Problems"

"I Did It For Love" by The Love Unlimited Orchestra underscored "It's All About The Benjamin's" and Unlimited Touch's " I Hear Music In The Streets" was felt in Faith Evan's 'All Night Long".

In England, the overlap was even more obvious. Disco influences are prevalent in the Human League, Soft Cell as well as some of early songs of Depeche Mode.

New Order's 1983 hit, Blue Monday, is loaded with disco references and I quote "We ripped off the arrangements from "Dirty Talk" by Klein and M.B.O." as stated by singer Bernard Summer in 2000. "We stole the best from Donna Summer's "Our Love Will Last Forever" And the bass line came from Sylvester's "Mighty Real."

All of this is not lost on one of disco's founding fathers. Although technology has evolved immensely since the Donna Summer's days, her old producer doesn't detect much variation between the music he laid down then and the music he hears today. And i quote "It's interesting to hear not just the sounds but the exact notes and rhythms I used on my albums, used now as they were 25 years ago." Moroder says with a smile "on almost every disco-dance-pop song, they used the the sounds I used for the first time in "I Feel Love."

Need i say more.

And the beat, as they say, goes on.

*Paraprashed and quoted from an article by kurt B. Righley 2000

About the author:
Barry Lederer is a former writer for Billboard's "Disco Mix" column during the 1970s as well as being a principal owner in Graebar Sound, which outfitted many top clubs in the 70s and 80s with critically acclaimed sound systems. He is still involved in dance music by way of the Dance Music Hall of Fame and regularly contributes articles and various commentary for DiscoMusic.com. You can find out more about him by reading this interview.

By Barry Lederer


Your Comments

Thanos |

Disco never died.Maybe died commercially for a period(from late 80's till late 90's) but proved its strength after,with the short disco revival of the late 90's and now with the nu-disco movement.I don't consider house,techno,trance sounds as a mutation of disco.House yes sampled disco mostly during its first period(the second half of 80's) but soon decided to follow different steps as a new genre.Today house has no future so dj's invented the house/disco combination but for me will expire soon.The real disco sound of today is the nu-disco born in Uk few years ago.Shena,Hercules and Love Affair,Lindstrom,Tensnake,Faze Action,Aeroplane,Escort and the scandinavian group Ytre Rymden Dansskola among others are doing good job.Now mostly.this is an underground club scene but soon THIS will bring disco back as the sound of the future.Kylie Minogue ,Sophie Ellis Bextor,Dannii Minogue and Alcazar follow this genre.Hip hop has no future.Disco soon will rule the world.

Taylor |


bryce harrell |

yes its true and very true disco does seem to be immortal-thank God! but its a real shame that a lot of todays leading artists and music moguls are reluctant in admitting that they so heavily sample the disco sounds of yesterday,which just serves as proof that only the term "disco" died and that thankfully the genre itself never will.

Cédric Van der Hauwaert |

Disco is alive and well:

It morphed into newer forms such as high energy and of course, house music.
The transformation into high energy is a white thing. It emphasized the beat, the electronic aspect that became very prominent in the late seventies/early eighties. Except for the tribal percussion, most of the blackness got filtered out to make it more the sound of the white gay men at the Saint. By black elements I mean the funk/RnB/Philly and Motown sounds. The black divas stayed but where obviously whitened and this happened for two decades: Donna Summer was a product made by white gay men for white gay men, the same thing happened with Whitney Houston some decade later.
High energy is the sound of Shep Pettibone and of course the producer who created the track that gave the genre its name and thrived at the Saint where it was still mixed with older seventies and more black sounds.
House music lends its name to Chicago’s Warehouse and Frankie Knuckles. Techno is from Detroit and is less warm and less black.
So disco definitely never died whatsoever.

JR |

Although a disco fan I have to nonetheless point out one reason for the backlash. When 'Fever' came out it didn't accelerate a trend, it created a tsunami that CRUSHED almost all other forms of nightlife and music. In the SF Bay Area all the soul, R&B & jazz stations, and quite a few rock ones, went all-disco, all-the-time. Just about every bar with a dance permit stopped booking live rock acts, hired a DJ, and rebranded itself a disco. Even many bars without dancing started playing disco all the time. Major rock acts felt compelled to put out a 'disco' cut, like the Rolling Stones & 'Miss You'. TV shows found the slightest pretext to work a (cheesy) disco scene into the plot. It was disco-this, disco-that, etc., etc., etc. You couldn't get away from it, hence the backlash.

vyniljunkie |

I started as a mobile deejay at age 15 in 1971. The term DISCO referred to the Night Clubs, by 1972 it was also the term to describe the music played there. I believe that started with The Trammps and "Zing went the strings of my heart". That song changed the way the music played was referred to. As the years passed and the DISCO sound spread world wide, the jealousy of those who couldn't dance started the anti-disco movement. When Rick Dees, a deejay who hated the disco trend, made fun of the music, he started making parodies of disco. DISCO DUCK was born, and the laughter was deafening. This stupid song that dancers a deejays embraced, was a Trojan Horse. We accepted it, when in reality, it was made to embarrass and humiliate DISCO. The fact that it became a hit, gave ammunition to the DISCO SUCKS fanatics. The negativity increased daily, weekly, monthly. Soon after a few years, the term DISCO was like a four-letter word, a cancer. The backlash was too much when coupled with some mistakes that the record companies made. The death of the term DISCO arrived in late 1979. But Barry is right, it didn't really die, it changed names. It was like the public divorced the term, and now used DANCE MUSIC, HIP HOP, HOUSE MUSIC, TECHNO, EURO-DISCO, FREESTYLE and others. We evolved. It became a part of all music. Even Country music. Ever hear some of BROOKS and DUNN's music. There is a definite DISCO drum beat throughout. No DISCO didn't die, like all of us, it changed as it grew older.

Dean Smith |

Just a slight correction for the article.
The ballpark was Comiskey Park and the event occurred in between a double-header
between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Interestingly enough a Chicago newspaper reported the incident as "the most disgraceful night in the long history of major league baseball in Chicago!" As a disco fanatic and die-hard baseball fan, I remember that eveving all too well.



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