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This weekend I’ll be mostly listening to… The Last Days of Disco December 12, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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It’s party time, well, it would be if I were ten years younger, there wasn’t a recession and I didn’t have responsibilities. Okay, granted at such events the kitchen has always been my chosen destination. And what’s not to like? Food, beer and a place to sit. And let’s be honest, there are few who think of Hole in the Sky by Sabbath as… party music. So my taste tends not to intersect, or at least not until more recently when I found that ferociously hip people were devoting far too much time to collating unfeasibly esoteric playlists on their iPods for just that purpose. Still, no Sabbath though.

And yet, that said, there is a part of me that sort of enjoys parties. And it’s that part which having seen the movie the Last Days of Disco way back when said, feck the plot although Whit Stillman’s movie is good. But the soundtrack and the music on it is great…

It’s great in a way that the Fleshtones or Chic are great. And that’s not coincidental, because Chic are on the soundtrack.

I don’t mean this in a kitsch or ironic way. I love these tracks. I really do. I think they’re excellent music, and even if in genres which I’m not usually into that much – although I note I’m very slightly more partial to the soul tracks, and that makes sense being already hugely into Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield by the time I heard this sound track – doesn’t diminish my love for them. In part perhaps due to the way in which all good music of a certain time makes you want to have been there, however briefly – and yes, I was there in the sense of being alive, but I sure as hell wasn’t hanging around outside Studio 54 in 1978.

It’s a classic collection of soul and disco. You know it is.

Trailer from the movie…

I’m coming out… [Live – donchaknow…]

The O’Jays…

Evelyn King – Shame

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes – The Love I Lost

Alicia Bridges I Love the Nightlife

Knock on Wood – Amii Stewart

Comments»

1. splinteredsunrise - December 12, 2009

One of these days I’m going to steal this feature…

Some of the old classics there. I always associate I Love The Nightlife with George Hamilton (as Dracula) doing his Travolta act to it in Love At First Bite. And Harold Melvin, Amii Stewart… what’s not to like?

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2. WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

And you’d be welcome to… then we can put our collective thoughts together, write a book and retire in the luxury to which we will by then be entirely accustomed to 😉

I’d forgotten the George Hamilton bit… or should that be bite?

In a way looking at this it’s very clear that disco allowed for a refurbishing, in a good way, of an awful lot of more soul like acts… I wouldn’t stretch the point too much, but it’s not absolutely different from what punk did for bands like the Only Ones, etc who in truth were a lot more traditional than they first seemed (and not just because they were filled to the brim with ex Spooky Tooth members)… it allowed them to tweak their sound and then move forward. Not that far it has to be admitted in the case of The Only Ones.

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3. splinteredsunrise - December 12, 2009

Well, there were those two sides of punk, weren’t there? There was the “no Elvis, Beatles or Stones in 1977” attitude, and then you had bands like Generation X who loved their classic rock ‘n’ roll.

I was thinking about this the other week when I saw the Damned playing – it seemed a bit incongruous that they would be on tour with Motorhead, but I suppose both bands tie in to something older.

Knock On Wood also being an old soul standard of course…

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WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

Incongruous yes, but that’s it, isn’t it, there’s a lot of Motorhead in the Damned, and vice versa. I haven’t seen either of them in three or four years, were they good?

That two sides also allowed a lot of good stuff to happen… and some pretty bad stuff too…

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splinteredsunrise - December 12, 2009

They were pretty good and energetic, the Damned. Lemmy has developed this slightly annoying habit of saying “Here’s one for the older members of the audience…” but is the same as always. And of course Girlschool on the bill too. I always have fun going to Girlschool, there’s something very heartwarming about a bunch of middle-aged women playing metal.

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4. The Cappucino Kid - December 12, 2009

Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’ is a classic too. The youngsters all associate the tune with Will Smith who robbed it for one of his forgettable hits.

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5. The Cappucino Kid - December 12, 2009

Did Lemmy join Girlschool for ‘Don’t you touch me baby, cos I’m shakin too much’?

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splinteredsunrise - December 12, 2009

Originally by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, yes.

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6. WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

Motorhead and Girlschool as I recall. They did a number of joint songs…

Girlschool are still cool… 🙂

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7. EamonnCork - December 12, 2009

Wonderful stuff. There is something heart warminglt utopian about the polysexual and multi-racial nature of disco (there was a lot more to it than turning people away from Studio 54). It provided probably the first opportunity for gay culture to enter the mainstream, paving the way later for house, originally associated solely with gay discos, to become the template for most dance music in the nineties. An awful lot of what is played in the most run of the mill disco these days has its roots in the high NRG sound of the times. That whole Disco Sucks movement now looks an awful lot like a right-wing backlash movement, there is a kind of homophobia and racism about its desire to take back music for the macho heads down boogie which was ousted by disco.
There’s a fantastic history of disco, and the NY club scene in general, by an English writer Tim Lawrence called Love Saves The Day. And perhaps the best disco compilations are the recently released and horribly named Disco Discharge series.
One good thing about disco is that it is very hard to imagine either Enda Kenny or Brian Cowen getting down to it. Guitar, bass and drums for those boys. Though I could see Mary Coughlan enjoying Sheila B Devotion. He’s A Spacer would have been a nice musical accompaniment to Paul Gogarty’s Hugh Grant says fock moment in the Dail.
The Last Days of Disco is good but Stillman’s first film Metropolitan is a small masterpiece. The earnest anarchist seduced by the world of rich youngsters may remind the odd CLR contributor of their younger selves. Or maybe that’s just me.
The this weekend I’ll be mostly listening to series would make a fine book or at the very least a fine playlist. Here’s to more unearthed obscurities in 2010. And if anyone here knows WBS I think the new Island Records post-punk set, Out Come The Freaks, would make him a very nice Xmas present.

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WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

That’s very good of you Eamonn…
I like Metropolitan a lot. But I always figured that sort of anarchist would turn out as a libertarian in the end…

Got to agree, there was something creepily narrow minded about Disco Sucks etc… sort of partial puritanism…

I’ll try to check out the Lawrence book. I’ve criticised most music writing but good music writing is… well … good. Perhaps an open thread some day soon on good music writing!

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Shane - December 13, 2009

It was out and out homophobia. From my recollection of it, the Lawrence book tells of how on his Radio show, ‘shock jock’ Dahl created an ‘Army’ whose literature declared itself
dedicated to the eradication of the dreaded musical disease known as DISCO’! On the night in question (the incineration of disco records at the baseball stadium) the burning was conducted by Dahl in an army uniform while thousands of his followers screamed along in ‘regulation black shirts.’
It all finished badly as the crowd invaded the pitch and set fire to most of the field I think.

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WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2009

Shane, that’s a terrible history. And distressing. I agree, simple homophobia in there.

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Eagle - December 13, 2009

Hmm.

I’m not so sure. Maybe I was just too naive, but to my mind the Disco Sucks was really not much more than that.

I knew quite a few people who would have espoused such notions and their distaste for disco was more about the clothes (you had to have style) and dancing (you had to be able to do it) than anything political or whatever. If it was homophobia, I don’t remember hearing that. Again, maybe I was just naive. Maybe

The whole Saturday Night Fever thing may have touched a nerve amongst gay people, but it was just as popular with the macho Italians I knew at the time. Us Irish guys couldn’t dress, couldn’t dance and, therefore, gravitated towards the music that required neither. (And, when I say “Italians” that means Italian New Yorkers and when I say “Irish” I mean Irish New Yorkers.)

One more thing, like most of my friends who weren’t keen on disco, we all seemed to love soul music.

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Eagle - December 13, 2009

I’m going to check with a friend of mine whose politics and views are a much better fit here than are my own. Also, he was a lot less naive than I was then (and am now!).

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WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2009

I guess then it might be fair to say that there were competing currents as regards disco… I’m also interested at how much soul was grand…

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8. splinteredsunrise - December 12, 2009

And indeed, here’s George.

Good music writing, yeah. I want to be Chuck Klosterman. Maybe I already am…

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WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

🙂

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9. sonofstan - December 12, 2009

Also a good book on Disco is Turn That Beat Around by Peter Schapiro.

Haven’t seen Last Days…but loved the other two Stillman’s – Metropolitan was best, but my fave line is from Barcelona, where the slightly dim best friend asks the main character “so you know, what’s like, on top of a sub-text?”

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10. WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2009

Thanks for that sonofstan…

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11. David - December 13, 2009

Nice videos you gathered there.

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12. sonofstan - December 13, 2009

On the ‘Disco Sucks’ thing: in Shapiro’s book, which I referenced above, if i recall, he says the whole schtick, and particularly the event in Chicago had a massive, immediate, effect on radio play and very quickly on record sales and thus on investment – so ‘Disco’ artists, who were beginning to sell albums, such as Chic and family found themselves back at the end of the line very quickly, and a new era of Hair metal and heritage rock dawned.

So the effect was to – again – cut off Black artists from serious investment and throw them back to the indies (Salsoul, Prelude and the like) – and it ought to be noted that the two most successful Black artists of the ’80s were Prince, who played guitar and could ‘pass’ as rock, and MJ, whose breakthrough from very big to stupendously big, involved a) Eddie VanHalen, and b) MTV. Rock’s normativity was restored.

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WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2009

I like to think Prince subverted that somewhat though…

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Eagle - December 14, 2009

I don’t know who Shapiro is and I obviously haven’t read his book, but I don’t know that I buy the whole race angle here. Look, music, clothes, movies, etc. they all run in fads. Disco was a fad and it ended. When it was over, people turned to other music. U2 anyone?

And to blame the Chicago thing is to really invert cause and effect. The reason the event in Chicago was popular was because Disco’s moment had already passed. It was organized for between games of a baseball doubleheader. Those are not moments for new cultural shifts. The owner of the team just went along with it because he was told it would fill the stadium. They averaged about 10,000 fans for a mid-week game. That night the stadium was full – 55,000 or so – and they could have sold another 50,000.

To blame the event is to ignore the obvious question: why was it so popular an idea?

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sonofstan - December 14, 2009

Yeah, maybe….. but you have to ask why there was never a ‘hair metal sucks’ movement? (because surely it did)

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Eagle - December 14, 2009

I would say that the “Disco Sucks” thing was just another fad. Nothing more. And, hair metal was never as mainstream or popular as disco, which may explain why there was no “hair metal sucks” movement. {And hair metal was awful. I actually preferred disco.}

It’s also possible that the whole music industry just fragmented from that moment on. What I remember around that time was a lot of new FM stations coming on air (changes in regulations? don’t know} & MTV starting up.

One thing I remember clearly when I first came to Ireland was realizing that college kids listened to what I would have called Top 40 radio. I didn’t know anybody who listened to those teeny boppers stations when I was a student in NY or at home. Even in the suburbs of Albany, NY where I grew up we had a far greater selection of radio stations than existed in Dublin at the time. (And that’s still the case today.}

Now I have to admit I was never much of a student of the music. I took my cues from a few friends whose judgment I trusted. I didn’t spend a lot of money on records and never bought music magazines. I always preferred politics and sports, which is why I remember that promotion at Comiskey Park so well.

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Eagle - December 14, 2009

Hey sonofstan, here’s something that just popped into my head that might fit the racial angle somewhat:

At the time I was a teen it was just after the so-called “white flight” out of the cities that took place after the race riots in the late 60s. Maybe what happened was that white and black kids were more separated than they’d been in the cities during the 60s? Maybe that might explain the divergence in musical tastes?

I have no idea if that makes any sense at all, but I figured I’d toss it out there.

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13. Eagle - December 14, 2009

Wow. I suppose over the whole decade Prince sold more, but I’m still surprised Run DMC didn’t outsell him. I bet they did from ’85-90.

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14. sonofstan - December 14, 2009

Eagle,

I think you right about white flight as a factor in the divergence of white and black taste through the 80s.

Another idea, one that you might be sympathetic too: ‘Disco sucks’ exploded the idea – never all that convincing of ‘rock’ as a socially progressive, liberal by its nature. From the late 60s onwards, the music industry had begun to centralise in California, and away from the South and the Northern cities. Given the political situation at the time, it was natural that an adversarial, engaged political identity would emerge, but as the 70s went on, as the war ended, and as cocaine began to dull sensibilities, this became indistinguishable form ‘Hollywood liberalism’ – a liberalism that moved further and further from the interests and sensibilities of working-class, urban, or suburban audiences.

Disco, meanwhile, represented ‘inauthenticity’ to both camps, although, at the beginning it was more political in many ways that ‘rock’ – central to gay rights, but also with deep roots in black radicalism – Nile Rodgers of Chic, for example, was a teenage Black Panther. And what Eamonn, above, called its ‘multi-racial, poly-sexual make up was way in advance of SoCal mellow, but very white male, ‘vibe’.

So ‘disco sucks’ could be seen as the ‘return of the repressed’ as an affirmation by an essentially conservative constituency that ‘just wanted to rock’ of conservatively essentialist core values…….

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