Disco Duck, Redux
From July 2000
If we take a look back at the Twentieth Century (Which, technically, isn't over for six months), I think we can easily trace the major movements in music. Around the turn of the century, we find American Popular Song, the Tin Pan Alley tradition which includes Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Roughly around the 1920s, we see the development of Blues, Jazz and Country. Following World War II, Jazz and Blues combine to form Rhythm & Blues (I know, I'm being simplistic here, but I'm deliberately trying to keep it simple). R&B and Country combine to form Rock.
Rock then spins off in its fashion: Roots Rock, Folk Rock, Psychedelic, Heavy Metal, Punk, and so on. Jazz goes through Bop, Hard Bop, Fusion, etc. Country develops too, but not in ways that interest me. Let's look exclusively at the popular forms of African American musical expression.
Black culture has always thrived on innovation. Retro retreads are mainly the province of White America (In the Sixties, while the Stones and Eric Clapton were worshipping the Blues Gods, Jimi Hendrix was busy pushing the art to another level). Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, George Clinton and others pushed the envelope and created new forms.
It's easy to chart the progression that includes Jump Blues, Doo Wop, Soul and Funk. But then we hit the wall: Disco, the music everyone loves to hate. Between 1973 and 1976, Disco was confined to Blacks, Puerto Ricans and gays, and it could be ignored. Then around '76, Disco went mainstream. James Brown and Aretha went Disco, as did Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones.
Between 1976 and 1981, things stagnated and Disco was blamed. In truth, I feel it has a lot more to do with how the recording industry was being run at the time. Disco ruled because that's all that was played on the radio or released to stores. During this same period, hip-hop was evolving on the streets; it would rise up in the Eighties and take over in the Nineties.
What about Disco? Remember "Disco Sucks" and the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park? A funny thing happened. Disco never left. Mainstream Disco did degrade. But Giorgio Moroder showed the way to the future. Between 1974 and 1980, he worked successfully with Donna Summer, creating hits like "Love to Love You Baby" and "Hot Stuff." But it is their 1977 hit "I Feel Love," that I think is important. It took the synth-pop sound of Hot Butter's 1972 hit "Popcorn" and made it throb.
This sound can be heard in New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. It's a more distant and cool sound than the Disco of the Seventies. But the beat is still there. By the late Eighties, Disco really came back with a vengeance.
House music developed in Chicago, from DJs that liked to play harder-edged Disco. Not long afterwards, Techno started in Detroit. In 1987, the first hit from these new forms came with "Pump Up the Volume" from the supergroup M/A/R/R/S. Today, there is a bewildering array of styles: Drums 'n' Bass, Big Beat, Trance, Jungle, and so on.
The rave scene is nothing if not Disco reborn. Freedom, sex and drugs set to a throbbing bass line and pounding drum beats. Seventies revivalism has also brought proper Disco back from the dead. And I, for one, am okay with that (See my earlier comments). Disco sucks? No, I say, "Bad music sucks. And good Disco rules."