There was no escaping disco music in its heyday. In 1979, the Disco Music Awards singled out its best and brightest, including Donna Summer, Teddy Pendergrass, Chic, Rod Stewart and G.Q.
There was even a very special disco “lifestyle” honor for Sammy Davis Jr., according to a newspaper article published in the Ellensburg, Wash., Daily Record on June 2, 1979. Really. And, no, it’s not just a bit on “The Bob & Tom Show” (which you can listen to if you click here.) Don’t believe us? See the newspaper article for yourself: http://bit.ly/16agTgC.
By Lee Zimmerman
No, we don’t have Sammy Davis Jr. in the house, singing how wants to disco-marry us, but that won’t stop us from doling out a few Disco Lifestyle Awards of our own.
The Disco Music Awards
Best Battle Cry: The Trammps, “Disco Inferno.” Granted, the lyrics, which include such poetry as “Burn, baby, burn/Disco inferno/Burn, baby, burn/Burn the mother down!,” don’t offer much more than the usual forward thrust required on the dance floor, but this 1976 gem also represented a call to arms, a militant rallying cry that was both effective and affecting. No dance lessons required.
Best Song To Hum Along To: Bee Gees, “Night Fever.” Although the Bee Gees were often blamed for instigating the rise of disco via the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, it didn’t negate the brothers Gibb’s inherent talent for writing catchy melodies. Even with its faithfulness to form, there’s something undeniably compelling about this tune, a track that’s almost anthemic in its execution. It also possesses a quality that’s rare when it comes to music designed strictly for dancing — an irresistible invitation to hum along.
Best (And Most Painful) Use of Falsetto: Bee Gees, “Nights On Broadway.” Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb chalk up another classic in the run up to “Saturday Night Fever,” a song that predates the disco era but hints at the propulsive drive that would be incorporated later on. Barry adopts the first hints of falsetto in that surefire chorus, making for a relentless refrain that garnered love from both dance hall denizens and those with fist pumping intentions.
Best Girl-Power Anthem: Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive.” Gloria Gaynor hit the heights of the Billboard charts the first time out with an anthem that offers testament to the ability to regain one’s dignity and self esteem even in the aftermath of a devastating break-up and accompanying humiliation. Segueing from an uncertain beginning to an increasingly confident declaration of purpose, it evolves into a tale of personal affirmation that’s both riveting and resolute, a message that gave (and still gives) hope to many.
Best Disco Cover: Thelma Houston: “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Another song seething with emotion and desperation, proving that given the chance, even disco could rise above mere sensual pleasure and propulsion. Houston’s 1977 No. 1 hit, a remake of an earlier version first procured by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, garnered her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal while providing proof positive that no matter what the genre, it still takes talent to make music this memorable. Houston had it, and this tune provided the resounding results.
• Earth Wind and Fire, “September:” A song that sweeps the listener along through the power of sheer exhilaration.
• Andrea True Connection: “More, More, More.” A guilty pleasure to be sure — hedonistically fitting for a one-time porn actress —but still catchy as hell.
• Alicia Bridges: “I Love the Night Life.” The ultimate escapist song. If only it was easy to get past our real-life problems by hitting the dance floor and declaring, “I love to boogie.”
Worst One-Hit Wonder: Wild Cherry, “Play that Funky Music White Boy:” This was the song that made Wild Cherry a one-ºhit wonder and gave cover bands an excuse to reach for the lowest common denominator. The politically correct among us ought to nail this one for reverse racism. Disco be damned, this is a crappy song by any definition.
Worst Use Of A Really Promising Guitar Introduction: KC & The Sunshine Band: “Get Down Tonight,” Admittedly, any KC song might fit here, so take your pick. We chose this one because basically they all sound alike anyway, all being equally inane. Get down tonight, throw up instantly Sadly, the KC canon is hard to avoid, given that his songs show up in countless films, TV shows and commercials. Kinda like a plague…
Worst Earworm: Rod Stewart: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” No Rod, we think you’re obnoxious as hell, and as long as you insist in including this song in your set list, that opinion won’t change. The nadir of Rod’s career – “Hot Legs” does come close — it proved a classic case of narcissism taken to a nauseating extreme.
Worst Leap Onto The Disco Bandwagon: Rolling Stones: “Miss You:” We certainly wouldn’t miss this even if we were given the blessing of never having to hear this pap again. Why would the world’s greatest rock and roll band want to debase itself in order to appeal to Disco’s dregs? Consider Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” and The Kinks’ “Superman” as similar attempts to renouncer rock in a vain attempt to win new favor and court new cred.
Worst Name (both song and group): Lipps Inc.: “Funkytown” We don’t know where Funkytown is situated, but no matter; I hope to never find myself stranded there. It’s hard to decide which entity claims the dumbest name – the song itself or the group responsible, Lipps Inc. Okay, we get it – Lipps Inc., Lip Sync… It’s hard to warm up to the concept either way.
Worst G-Rated Diss Turned Attempted Dance Craze, Chic: “Le Freak:” Legend has it that the band came up with the song as a kind of revenge anthem after Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards were refused entrance to famed disco Studio 54. The original chorus was far pithier, pairing the F-bomb with the word “off.” After tempers cooled a bit, Chic made the refrain more radio friendly and turned lemons into lemonade, but they didn’t exactly write the great American opus. And to think, some disco detractors referred to dance music as mindless and mundane.
• Silver Convention: “Fly Robin Fly:” Credit Germany’s Silver Convention with one of the Motherland’s worst atrocities of the 20th century — only a hair behind Hitler, the Hindenburg and glockenspiels. Fly, drive, take a boat… do whatever you have to, but get the hell outta here!
• A Taste of Honey: “Boogie Oogie Oogie:” Basically the equivalent of disco baby talk, this sugary song seems to exist purely to rot your mind.
• The Village People: “YMCA:” The song that paved the way for the Macarena, its mindless mimicry alludes to the dangers of a mob mentality.
The Disco Movie Highs and Lows
By Gillian G. Gaar
When “Saturday Night Fever” arrived in 1977, it opened the floodgates to disco — and disco-themed movies. Sure, John Travolta’s smooth moves on the dance floor as Brooklynite Tony Manero led to skyrocketing sales of pristine white suits.
But the movie was a lot deeper and darker than its soundtrack suggests. There are assaults, a rape, a death.
And where “Saturday Night Fever” simply used the dancing to advance the plot in this coming-of-age movie, the films that followed it in the hopes of finding box office gold were more focused on the trend itself.
Most failed, but today even the films that flopped enjoy cult status — at least among those who have a taste for unrelenting camp, ’70s fashions, and feathered hairdos.
“Thank God It’s Friday” (1978): It’s a night at The Zoo — the hottest disco in town.
Every night-at-a-club cliché you can imagine is part of the storyline: the womanizing club owner (Jeff Goldblum); the square married couple trying to make the scene; the blind date that verges on disaster; the anti-disco rockers who are won over by the beat (and turn their backs on KISS!) by the film’s end.
But all is forgiven when, in an equally clichéd development, an aspiring singer crashes the party and wins over the crowd with her singing — not too hard to do if you’re Donna Summer, and the song you’re singing is “Last Dance.”
“Roller Boogie” (1979): Linda Blair is poor little rich girl Terry, who wants to throw over her rising career as a classical flautist to hang out on Venice Beach with ace skater Bobby (real-life competitive skater Jim Bray).
Because that’s a pretty slim storyline even for a teen flick, there’s a subplot involving mobsters who want to tear down the local roller disco, meaning Linda and Jim won’t get to show off their newly acquired moves in the annual Boogie Contest.
Never fear, all is well by the film’s end. There are some choice nuggets of dialogue as well, as when Terry’s father gripes about her neglecting her flute playing: “It’s the skating isn’t it? It’s that insane disco music thing!”
“Skatetown, U.S.A.” (1979): This film is “Thank God It’s Friday” for the teen set, with two rival groups of skaters facing off at the titular roller disco.
There are various negligible subplots you can tune out. It’s the skating sequences that make this a kitschfest.
In his first film role, Patrick Swayze, dressed like a member of “The Warriors,” plays a tough guy skater named Ace. Scott Baio is the manager of rival skater Stan (Gary Bradford, who skates to “Macho Man”); Maureen McCormick is Stan’s little sister.
Flip Wilson (both in and out of drag) and Ruth Buzzi also turn up. In her memoir, McCormick offered her theory behind the film’s nonstop high spirits: “Like a disco, there was a lot of cocaine being done on the set.”
“Can’t Stop the Music” (1980): These days, it seems antiquated that the Village People had to be so coy about the gay slant of their songs. They’re not even the stars of their own movie, pushed into the background by a love story between Valerie Perrine and Bruce Jenner, with Steven Guttenberg as goofy sidekick and songwriter Jack Morell (a play on the name of the man who created The Village People, Jacques Morali).
If you can’t take the flabby storyline — the love scenes between Perrine and Jenner are especially painful — just watch the over-the-top music numbers, including “YMCA,” filmed in a gym and locker room filled with strategically-placed steam.
“Xanadu” (1980): It’s hard to relate the basic plot of “Xanadu” with a straight face. Kira (Olivia Newton-John), a Greek muse, comes to earth and takes up with an aspiring artist (Michael Beck) whose day job is painting oversize album covers for in-store displays. (Remember them?)
She gets him to team up with a former song-and-dance man (Gene Kelly) and start a roller disco! This attempt to rekindle the fizzy fun of 1940s-era musicals fell flat; the film only did so-so business, although the soundtrack produced some hits. GM