Rank the good, the bad and the downright ugly of disco music

They say there’s thin line between love and hate. We suspect that in the case of disco, that line might involve flashing lights a la the “Saturday Night Fever” dance floor — but the sentiment seems to hold true all the same. Goldmine’s writers Mike Greenblatt, John Borack and Dave Thompson share their list of songs that land on each side of the line (and, in Thompson’s case, a third list that appears to be straddling it.) And Chris M. Junior takes the opportunity to shine a light those memorable disco music unicorns known as  instrumentals.

Where do you weigh in on disco-era music? Share your feedback in the comments below!

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By Mike Greenblatt

Being born and raised on rock, I came late to the disco party, but I never subscribed to the subliminally racist “disco sucks” mentality. Everybody knows there’s only two types of music: good and bad. Here’s both in this particular genre.

THE GOOD:

Abba Dancing Queen“Dancing Queen,” ABBA: I confess, I’ve always been a closet ABBA freak and have loved everything they’ve ever done.

Bee Gees You Should Be Dancin'“You Should Be Dancing,” Bee Gees: Ditto for this Australian family act, who I loved right from the jump when I was 16 and “Bee Gees’ 1st” came out in 1967.

“I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor: Great opening salvo that makes the tune —when it kicks in — ignite big time. All that and a lesson in female empowerment too. And check out the alt.rock version by Cake.

Donna Summer Bad Girls“Bad Girls,” Donna Summer: She had major class in everything she did. This one was my favorite because I do love me some bad girls! Still makes my heart palpitate to this day. I’m such a mark for any bad girl who says, “Hey Mister …”

KC and the Sunshine Band Shake Your Booty“Shake Your Booty,” KC & The Sunshine Band: I sang this song in a New Jersey cover band and never got tired of it. Bruce Springsteen told me in 1978 that he loved it too, calling it the “Louie Louie” of its day.

THE BAD:

Rick Dees Disco Duck“Disco Duck,” Rick Dees: Pure garbage.

Silver Convention Get Up And Boogie“Get Up And Boogie,” Silver Convention: I got up and changed the dial on the radio
every time it was played.

“Venus (Disco Version),” Frankie Avalon: The most crass attempt ever to cash in on a craze.

The Miracles Love Machine“Love Machine,” The Miracles: Without Smokey Robinson, these limp dicks tried to approximate sex with robotic grunts.

Disco Tex and the Sex o Lettes Get Dancin'Get Dancin’,” Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes: The lowest moment for Bob Crewe (of 4 Seasons fame) producing and co-writing this total piece of crap from game show host Monte Rock III masquerading as a soul singer.

•••••

By John Borack

Abba Dancing QueenTHE GOOD:

“Dancing Queen,” ABBA: It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. You can also sing along to it, and the production (love those strings!) positively shimmers.

Dazz Brick “Dazz,” Brick: “Dazz dazz, disco jazz,” they sing, and they also throw a bit of funk into the mix to sweeten the pot. Killer falsetto vocals on the verses, and a hi-hat-heavy backbeat that you just can’t lose. Glorious.

Donna Summer Hot Stuff“Hot Stuff,” Donna Summer: It’s basically a four-minute plea for a booty call, but damn, what a plea.  And it rocks, to boot, particularly the guitar solo.

“(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” KC and the Sunshine Band: H.W. Casey’s ode to ass-wiggling is almost ridiculously repetitive, but it works, and better still, it holds up nearly 40 years after the fact. It seems rather naively innocent now, but back in the day, the lyrics actually caused some controversy.

Blondie Heart of Glass“Heart of Glass,” Blondie: The aural equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – “You got rock and roll in my disco!” “You got disco in my rock and roll!” This is a stone classic, propelled by Clem Burke’s monster drumming and Debbie Harry’s kitten-ish purring.

THE BAD:

Disco Lucy Wilton Place“Disco Lucy,” Wilton Place Street Band: Yes, it’s the beloved “I Love Lucy” theme dressed up in an obnoxiously stilted disco backbeat, with chipper female voices intoning “Let’s dance!” and “Dance, dance, disco Lucy” in a vain attempt to do…something.  Rather than ask the obvious question – is nothing sacred? – we’ll simply say “Ay, yi, yi … somebody’s got some ‘splaining to do.”

Beach Boys Here Comes The Night“Here Comes the Night,” The Beach Boys: The Beach Boys update one of their minor ‘60s tunes, and miraculously (OK, not so much) transform it into a disco-fied ’70s travesty. Say it ain’t so, Brian.

“Disco Duck,” Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiot: As if the female chorus rhyming “disco duck,” “try your luck” and “don’t be a cluck” isn’t bad enough, there’s the silly duck impersonation that was probably performed by some 7-year-old with a severe head cold. No truth to the rumor that the Cast of Idiots were the millions who purchased this record.

Kiss I Was Made For Lovin You“I Was Made For Loving You,” KISS: “Girl, I was made for you/girl, you were made for me/I was made for loving you, baby/you were made for loving me.”  Sure, rock and roll (dressed down as disco) ain’t supposed to be Shakespeare, but it’s not supposed to be this unrelentingly infantile, either.

Parick Hernandez Born to Be Alive“Born to be Alive,” Patrick Hernandez: Time can be very forgiving, and some one-off disco tunes from the ’70s that seemed silly at the time now seem rather quaint and catchy. This is not one of those songs.

•••••

By Dave Thompson

THE GOOD:

Cerrone Supernature “Supernature,” Cerrone: Because a good song can never go on too long. Disco prog starts here.

“I Feel Love,” Donna Summer: It’s a cliché to say a record changed someone’s life, but every electro band (and fan) of the late ’70s owes this one a drink.

Lipps Inc Funkytown“Funkytown,” Lipps Inc.: Irritating. Repetitive. The ultimate earworm.

“Turn The Beat Around,” Vicki Sue Robinson: For when you’ve just got to hear percussion.

Sarah Brightman I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper“I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper,” Sarah Brightman: With lyrics by Hawkwind’s Bob Calvert, it’s not “Spirit of the Age,” but the words are hilarious regardless.

THE BAD:

GloriaGaynor_IWillSurvive“I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor: The problem with any song becoming an “anthem” is simple: How many times do you really want to hear it?

Village People YMCA“YMCA,” Village People: It was a toss-up between this and the Floaters’ “Float On,” truly one of the worst records ever made. But, as this is probably the first time I’ve thought of that song in almost 35 years, it just seemed cruel to mention it now.

“Le Freak,” Chic: I didn’t want to freak out then, and I don’t want to freak out now, either,  thank you very much.Chic Le Freak

“Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” Meco: Hate the film, hate the soundtrack, hate disco. Put them altogether and – well, you can guess.

Wild Cherry Play That Funky Music White Boy“Play That Funky Music,” Wild Cherry: It could have been worse. they could have been in a jazz club.  Or a country bar.  But they didn’t have to write a song about it.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED:

Rolling Stones Miss YouGiven their white, middle-class Anglo parentage, these disco-flavored songs were a lot more appealing than they should’ve been.

• “Miss You,” Rolling Stones

• “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Rod Stewart

DavidBowie_Fame_German• “Stayin’ Alive,” the Bee Gees

• “Goodnight Tonight,” Wings

• “Fame,” David Bowie

•••••

by Chris M. Junior

Some of the best disco songs are all about the beat and the musicianship. These instrumentals and mostly vocal-free songs still have dance-floor appeal today.

Average White Band Pick Up The Pieces1. “Pick Up the Pieces,” Average White Band: A popular tune in select U.S. discos toward the end of 1974, the R&B-grounded “Pick Up the Pieces” (produced by Arif Mardin) also appealed to mainstream music fans, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s pop-singles chart in 1975. Average in name only, this Scottish collective exemplifies teamwork with its distinct instrumental parts.

MFSB TSOP The Sound of Philadelphia2. “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” MFSB: The longtime theme for TV’s “Soul Train” spent two weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s pop-singles chart in 1974. It’s propelled by the prototypical disco drumbeat. Earl Young, who played drums on this and many other Philadelphia International Records hits, is a founding member of The Trammps, best known for “Disco Inferno.”

Love Unlimited Orchestra Love's Theme3. “Love’s Theme,” Love Unlimited Orchestra: Oh, that Barry White. His music was undeniably seductive, with or without his distinctive voice. The romantic maestro’s string-laden backing ensemble glides gracefully through “Love’s Theme,” White’s first of two compositions — the other being “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” — to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974.

Commodores Machine Gun4. “Machine Gun,” The Commodores: Over time, Lionel Richie became the breakout star of The Commodores, but on this instrumental (the group’s first chart hit), composer and keyboardist Milan Williams shines the brightest. Williams’ crunchy clavinet playing reportedly inspired Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. to come up with the song’s title.

Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band Apache5. “Apache,” Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band: Released in 1972 and recorded by a bunch of session musicians, “Apache” technically predates the disco era, and it wasn’t a hit. But the music — thick keyboard flourishes and prominent horns over a funky drum pattern (played by Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame) that’s complemented by extended percussion sections (courtesy of bongo-conga standout King Errisson, a longtime Neil Diamond sideman) — is undeniably disco flavored. Its importance and influence has been recognized many times by the rap artists who’ve sampled it.

 

One thought on “Rank the good, the bad and the downright ugly of disco music

  1. This article has me convinced that the writers at Goldmine are idiots.

    Those who can….do. Those who can’t obviously become music writers.

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