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Friday, November 23, 2012

I love music. Sweet Sweet Music

 When I think back to that time when disco was popular (1974-1980), my memories are of...

High school dances

Dancing with girls, having a good time. No games, no pretensions. You wanted to dance, you asked,  they danced. Maybe you could say that about all music,  but disco was different. It was safe in many ways.  No touching, but still so much fun. I am sure many of our parents and grandparents have that same memory of the music they used to dance to as teens. The Jitterbug or the dances of the rock and roll era, like the Twist.


Listening to the radio

Disco was plastered on the radio. With very few exceptions, it was on every station. Those that didn't have a format suitable to it converted to it. My local station, 1050 CHUM, the biggest station in Canada to that point,  made a point to announce that they would stop playing disco all together when that became necessary.
It was always there for you, and you couldn't get enough of it. When the new Bee Gees came out, just a year before, they played every song on that album, hour after hour. Disco was great music to listen to, and people wanted to hear it. You can't change history just because you now don't agree with it.


Saturday Night Fever and Discos

I have vivid memories of discos, and strobe lights and a night out on the town. I was only 15 when disco died in 1980, so I didn't get to go out and enjoy all of it. But high school dances tried to replicate this phenomenon, and they did it quite well. I did get to go to some true discos, so I also know what that experience was like. The movie Saturday Night Fever certainly captured it well, albeit Hollywooded up.
Brings back a time

 A lot of us were younger in those days. No kids,  no mortgage, no crappy job we hate to go to so that we don't starve. We didn't have those cares when our biggest worry was likely if we would pass Grade 7 Geometry. Or if Becky with the developing body was interested in us. Listening to disco, to songs like "The Hustle" or "I Will Survive" brings back those memories of a carefree time for us. You can't detach those memories and when you hear those songs, it takes you back. In the same ways our parents listened to Elvis and The Beatles when we were growing up and felt the same way. We all like to go back and think of simpler times. Disco is the music that does that, for most of us.


We just loved to dance to it

 More than anything, disco was fun to dance to. That will always hold a place in our minds and hearts. Even today,  people who don't like listening to disco will readily dance to it. I know that for a fact. If dancing is fun for you, and disco was really your first chance to dance with others of your age group, and possibly the other sex, then it will hold a place for you. It does for me, and I don't even like to dance.

Disco is much maligned. There is no doubt about that. If you defend disco on any level, the supporters who agree with you, or have your back, are few and far between.
I get that. People are sheep. Disco has a bad reputation as crappy, not well constructed music. It is easy to knock it and agree with those who don't remember how it was when it came out and all that it did to and for those who experienced it. It is easy to just agree that it was mostly all crap.
But many of us love disco, even to this day. Why is that?
Glad you asked. I will attempt to answer that. I love disco. Did then. Do now. Will always. But I more than love it, I appreciate it, for various reasons which I will flesh out in this blog. Happily.
I proposed some reasons why many still love it, above. So, I will now state my case for why I think it is actually also just plain good music.
Most will not agree, but although fairly simple and not that innovative from song to song, disco is and was well composed music when done well. That is why many of the classics of that era stand up 40 years later. I will give you a few examples.

K.C. and The Sunshine Band- The Use of Horns

1) The mix of swing with modern music in a way you can listen to it and dance to it. It was pure genius. That is why K.C. and the Sunshine Band (outside of maybe Donna Summer and The Bee Gees) is the group thats music is still most heard these days. The songs are very creative and danceable.
In this same way,  the Bee Gees took their pop style, hit making machine and just used disco as a backdrop to frame the songs. Either way,  they are great songs.

2) The songs speak directly, with a very direct message.

"I will survive"

"I'm your boogie man, that's what I am"

"Love to love you baby"

"Give it to me baby"

"Voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?"

"celebrate good times, come on"

When music can do that, it resonates with the listeners. The folk/rock music of the 60' also did that, with Bob Dylan and many others employing that same thing, but their message was not as fun as disco. That is the only difference. If you want your music to endure, you have to state the message,  very clearly.  And in a way it can be remembered. 

3) For the same reason that surfing music from the 60s is still loved to this day. The Beach Boys understood that. They are revered, and their songs aren't terribly clever, not anymore than any disco songs are. But they are fun songs and they make you feel good. Isn't that what music is supposed to do? Making statements like the Woodstock era songs did is great, but they don't conjure up fun in your mind. People want entertainment from their music. Surf songs gave that to them, and so did disco.

4) There was a gap there, from about 67 to 74, when the world was turbulent, and it was hard to have fun. Disco came along and made music and life, fun again, even if just for a few hours on a Friday or Saturday night.
The 70s were a very turbulent time. Vietnam War. Oil Crisis in 73. Watergate in 74. Very bad economy for most of it. The riots and blackout in New York in 77, a city that was bankrupt. The Iran hostage crisis of 79. People were sick of it. They were just looking for an outlet to have fun. They were not going to find that in the Woodstock music, nor the hard rock anthems. Not much dancing to be done to Black Sabbath or Harry Chapin. But you could certainly get it with this.

5) Both grannies and teens could and wanted to dance to it, and many times, they danced together. I went to many weddings, bar mitzvahs, and even high school dances where that happened. 

Anybody could dance at least reasonably well to disco, for the most part. Sure, most of us were no Tony Manero's. But we could style our hair like him, and dance good enough to have a great time. Everyone could participate. Very much like the early Rock and Roll of the Elvis era, disco was for everyone. It broke down barriers. In the early days,  for the Rock and Roll era, that was black and white. For the disco era, in many ways,  that was gay and straight. There was much more to it than that,  and it is more complex, but that is what it did, and what music can do,  when it isn't divisive like the folk/60s movement was. It was great music, but it was divisive, and not fun.

I had the Travolta, 70's hair for most of my youth.
It brought people together not drove them apart. That was the important message that disco brought to the table. It might not be the profound message that Dylan had, or Crosby, Still and Nash, or even Harry Chapin in Cats In The Cradle, but still, it was a great message. To deny that, is to ignore the actual content. Which is easy to do, when you let others make up your mind for you.
Those of us who lived in that time, and remember it, are not going to let that happen, even if others try to convince us of that


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