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Disco Sucks!
July 14, 2004 8:21 AM   Subscribe

25 years ago a Chicago radio disc jockey had an idea for a promotional event. Steve Dahl invited his listeners to bring a disco record to a double-header White Sox game. Between games he was going to blow them up. What happened was a full scale riot that caused the White Sox to forfeit and disco to die.
posted by Bonzai (117 comments total)

 
[evil laugh]

In honor of that day....
posted by jonmc at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2004


Being fewer than twenty-five years old, I've never understood why disco was hated so vehemently. I mean, I've heard theories about the American tendency to greedily fill one's face with popular culture until one is gagging on it and thus hates it, but there haven't been reactions like this to any other passing fad—have there?
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2004


Last I heard Disco Duck was living off of welfare and addicted to huffing paint.
It is so sad. Nobody talks about the tragedy of our fallen disco heroes.

I mean it used to be about the music, man. THE MUSIC.
posted by Peter H at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2004


Not dead. Just resting.
posted by dobbs at 9:01 AM on July 14, 2004


DrJohnEvans, I'm not really sure it was actually hated that much. To me at least the Stamp out Disco movement seemed like a parody more than anything else. It was big in the Detroit area with both WLLZ and WRIF having anti-disco bumper stickers. One of the main DJs in the area who took part in it was Dick T Bruiser (I forgot his real name) who would stand and be counted for a lot of fictional but humorous causes.

As with anything some people get too involved with a promotional stunt.

I'm a fervent supporter of Rock and Roll and even I fondly remember girls with tight asses in satin pants that seemed to be a part of the disco scene.

To an extent disco was seen as a movement as well which in part helped out with the anti-disco movement.
posted by substrate at 9:02 AM on July 14, 2004


DrJohn - To actually give you the clinical explanation, Disco was hated because it was essentially club music, and very homosexual club music. I don't mean the music sounded gay, but it was music created by gay society (trying to say this delicately) in eastcoast gay clubs. It celebrated being gay. Some people hated disco simply because it was music from gay culture. And as we all know, when people hate gays they can really get out of hand hating gays.

Others hated it because it was redundant unfamiliar and annoyingly electronic (remember new wave hadn't even happened yet) and melodramatic and the antithesis of gutural rock music like Nugent or Lynyrd Skynyrd. And also, similar to any dance craze, disco has about four or five kinds of drum and rhythm loop noises which become instantly recognizable and annoying. But this isn't disco's fault. It would be like trance music suddenly becoming mainstream. Of course it would get tiresome.

Things got tricky with disco once women started getting into it, forcing straight men to have to listen to it and dance in a very gay way to it. Deprived of their rock, and confined to things like baseball, obviously tempers heated and, naturally, soon there was violence.
posted by Peter H at 9:04 AM on July 14, 2004


I thought Disco just morphed into (the equally bad) House music?
posted by PenDevil at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2004


DrJohnEvans: Disco was a bit too black & a bit too gay for some folks. You're dead right about the popular culture overdose bit tho'.

As someone who's loved both electronic/club music & the geetar stuff I always find it a bit weird when some folks 'pick sides'. Bit sad really but I s'pose it matters to them.

Thankfully disco influenced hip hop, house, techno and beyond so the legacy was never destroyed by that bunch of prejudiced lunkheads.
posted by i_cola at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2004


oop - excuse my post piggybacking substrates. It reads like I'm correcting him. When I clicked -post- his comment wasn't there.
posted by Peter H at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2004


May it rest in peace (and never arise from its grave).

The late 70's were rock's darkest hour. Punk finally attacked the bloated stadium so-called rockers and Dahl killed disco. We almost got our music back, but it started to slip away until an unlikely superhero came to our rescue.
posted by caddis at 9:08 AM on July 14, 2004


DrJohnEvans: Disco was a bit too black & a bit too gay for some folks. You're dead right about the popular culture overdose bit tho'.

Ehh. It wen't from interesting to ridiculous awful quick. I think it was less than two years from Chic to "Disco Duck." That sets the record for quick decline methinks.

on preview:

[sarcasm]

Gee, caddis, that's a totally original an insightful perspective on things.

[/sarcasm]
posted by jonmc at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco was really a victim of its own success. The country needed a break from butt-rock, but then it went to far and spawned atroicities like this. (Yes, I've heard it, and even the vinyl version is at least as bad as it seems conceptually.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:14 AM on July 14, 2004


Ha, caddis. I think you mispelled superhero
posted by Peter H at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2004


Actually, I think it diificult to separate the offensiveness of Disco from the offensiveness of dancing; at least any dancing with "steps" to it.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco never died--they started calling it Dance music (and urban contemporary, and other things), and it's more popular than ever.

And you're right--it was too black and too gay for many straight white boys.
posted by amberglow at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2004


Also? Happy Music is feminine and/or gay; music about unhappy sentiments is meaningful, masculine, good.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:26 AM on July 14, 2004


And you're right--it was too black and too gay for many straight white boys.

For some. But there are plenty of other reasons not to like it. For someone who's hardcore into rock-and-roll, it's kind of the musical and cultural antithesis, as someone said earlier. Disco was all about dancing and clubs and Studio 54 exclusivity and materialism, which was kind of an anathema to rock people.

Imean plenty of people who did like Stax/Volt, Motown, Sly Stone and P-Funk didn't like disco, so it's kind of a strawman to say that being anti-disco can only be explained by racism and homophobia.
posted by jonmc at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2004


Peter H: And me the both of you ;-)

jon: 25 years ago puts us at 1979. Disco broke cover into the mainstream around '76. But it morphed out of funk & soul in the early 70s. Have a read here.

ParisP: Upright dancing (especially funk, disco & the like) has always been a substitute/prelude to the horizontal kind ;-)

For anyone, rockist or clubber alike, interested in the history of DJed music - and this includes RnR - have a read of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. It plots a great line thru all the various strands of music & how they influenced each other. And if nothing else it has some great sex 'n' drugs stories
posted by i_cola at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco was hated because it was bad music. Very bad music. It had about zero musical and artistic integrity. Yeah, so too does a good portion of Top40 from the last three decades. But much of this other crap pretends to be good—either technically in some sense, or via supposed lyrical relevance, or something. Disco had the bad luck to be "feel good" music that was very self-evidently mechanical, artless, formulaic, and culturally dominant at a time when popular music was, for most people, more often listened to than danced to. Note that contemporary dance music lives as a subgenre or in a ghetto—it's not Top40 music. Disco was meant to be danced to, not listened to. As listening music, it's awful.

Being a teen at the end of that era, I can say that disco's "gayness" was never a consideration for the people I knew. If anything, due to Saturday Night Fever and the like, we associated it with het promiscuity. And it certainly isn't that the music was too "black"...please. Quite the opposite, I'd wager. Disco was black music completely devoid of its soul.

Disco sucks.

On Preview: what jonmc said. I think the racism and homophobia claim against anti-discoism is mostly or completely false.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2004


music about unhappy sentiments is meaningful, masculine, good.

No one is ever going to convince me that the music of The Cure is "masculine." (whether it's "meaningful" or "good" is not a discussion I'm going to get into, right now)

I think you're confusing "unhappy sentiments" with "dark themes."
posted by deanc at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2004


I grew up with an aunt on one side of the family who was way disco and an uncle on the other who was of the disco sucks variety. The Christmas of '78 was a great example of how family puts the fun in disfunctional as the two of them nearly came to blows in our livingroom. My youngest cousin got the same display in the summer of '94 when my way grunge step-sister and way pop sister had a verbal falling out.

Where was I?

I still have my disco sucks button and hate having any cultural trend run through the commercializer.

Oh, and to nitpick, it wasn't Steve Dahl's idea so much as that of Bill Veeck of the batting midget fame.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2004


EB: Read the link Grandad...
posted by i_cola at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco was hated then for the same reasons that J Lo and Xtina and the like will be hated in, oh, about 15 minutes....

It pretty much lives on, as strong as ever though. Just substitute X for cocaine, put a rubber on it, and call it techno.
posted by spilon at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2004


music about unhappy sentiments is meaningful, masculine, good

I knew PP was an emo kid.
Only by killing disco could rock affirm its threatened masculinity and restore the holy dyad of cold brew and undemanding sex partners. Disco bashing became a major preoccupation in 1977. At the moment when Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54 achieved zeitgeist status, rock rediscovered a rage it had been lacking since the '60s, but this time the enemy was a culture with "plastic" and "mindless" (read effeminate) musical tastes. Examined in light of the ensuing political backlash, it's clear that the slogan of this movement--"Disco Sucks!"--was the first cry of the angry white male--Jahsonic's history of disco
I love the smell of rockism in the morning.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:45 AM on July 14, 2004


err, mea culpa: It was Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, Jr.

*hangs head in shame*
posted by Fezboy! at 9:47 AM on July 14, 2004


"I think you're confusing "unhappy sentiments" with "dark themes."

Actually, I'm not sure of the difference--please explain. But yes, I guess it's really not masculine-feminine so much as happy v. dark/unhappy--very good point.

But certainly, another aspect was the lack of originality/talent reflected in most of disco.

I graduated high school in 1981, and just the mention is disco still makes me cringe with disgust. And yes, there are elements of pop culture that are at least as bad today, but the tyrany of Top 40 radio and monolithic pop culture means they're not as unavoidable.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:49 AM on July 14, 2004


Emo kid?
posted by ParisParamus at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2004


"Disco Sucks!"--was the first cry of the angry white male

And this is a bad thing?

I mean really, what was so terriffic about disco, musical taste aside? It stood for decadence, materialism, trend-mongering, and status-worship. These are plastic and mindless values and tastes.

I love the smell of rockism in the morning.

Breathe deep, dude.
posted by jonmc at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2004


i_cola, I can tell you that in 1976 I could easily tell the difference between funk and disco and thought that the former was arguably "good" (even if I didn't like it) and the latter arguably "bad". The author makes two points that support my argument, not his! The first is that where disco came from was a fair bit different than what it became. It was very urban black. The second is that he says that disco was Europe's version of funk. Well, yeah, exactly. That's why it sucked.

It was bad, bad music.

If you listen to contemporary dance music, it seems to me that it's far more aware that it's dance music, and sexualized, too. Contemporary dance music is about almost nothing but the dance, the beat, whatever. Disco, on the other hand, was music only good for dancing dressed up as popular music—with a lot of the pop music tropes—supposedly worth listening to. It had the inauthenticity and triteness of Top40 pop music without any of the musicianship (such as it was/is in Top40 pop music). It candy-coated the raw sexuality of funk.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:58 AM on July 14, 2004


Thanks for the responses, all; it's good to see that there's actually reasonable debate to be had beyond the somewhat limited "DISCO SUCKS" tagline. I guess when ninety-eight percent of today's musical landscape stands for decadence, materialism, trend-mongering, and status-worship in a much more blatant manner than anything in recent music history, it's pertty easy to see disco as just another trend, not necessary deserving as the cause of a MLB game forfeit.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:00 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco wasn't too black, it was too white. It killed funk and replaced it with a mechanical beat that didn't swing at all. People who were into early hip hop hated disco as much as the rockers. Funk and soul didn't make a comeback for 10 years, until hip hop rediscovered James Brown, who was way too "black" for the disco era.

Disco wasn't the precursor of underground techno and hip hop, it was the beginnings of bling and processed dance pop. By the late 70s, disco was about glitzy marketing, rehearsed dance steps and fancy costumes. It was upwardly mobile, materialistic, and fueled by cocaine. It celebrated looking good, spending money, and thinking as little as possible. The disco crowd had no trouble becoming the Reagan-era money-and-fashion crowd once AIDS destroyed the part that was about sexual liberation.

The backlash had political overtones. It united working class people who wanted their music to celebrate "average guy" values with left-leaning people who wanted their music to celebrate political opposition and the freedom to look however you wanted. Neither one of those groups wanted pop culture to tell them that they had to spend lots of money on dressing up and going out dancing.

I've got to admit that the disco revival of the last few years has made me remember that there were a few good songs, but the disco culture of the late 70s was pure reactionary suck.
posted by fuzz at 10:02 AM on July 14, 2004


It's been articulated by better men than I.

I guess when ninety-eight percent of today's musical landscape stands for decadence, materialism, trend-mongering, and status-worship in a much more blatant manner than anything in recent music history

And disco is where that began, and that's why some of us are still angry at it.
posted by jonmc at 10:03 AM on July 14, 2004


it's pertty easy to see disco

Funny typo!
Disco wanted nothing but to be pertty, truth be told I think. Fabulous, at least.
posted by Peter H at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2004


It stood for decadence, materialism, trend-mongering, and status-worship.

And this was different from the Rolling Stones, how?
posted by octobersurprise at 10:10 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco's not dead it just deserves to die when it becomes another stale cartoon

- Jello Biafra in a parallel universe
posted by vbfg at 10:12 AM on July 14, 2004


The Stones could be decadent to be sure, but you can't accuse them of trend-mongering, they've been playing the same Chuck Berry based sound for 40 years. And an ugly street guy like Keith is the antithesis of disco pretty-boyism

And it was Mick's embrace of those disco-type values is what caused the rift between him and Keith all those years.
posted by jonmc at 10:13 AM on July 14, 2004


What fuzz wrote.

I can't shake the sense that the defense of disco comes from a) contrarians, b) people with no musical taste, c) people with strong emotional attachments to disco for whatever reason, and/or d) the few people for whom disco truly was socially liberating. And the last would be gays, mostly. That's an important subcultural context, and the only one within which I will defend disco...but it absolutely is not valid to apply that to the American cultural context as a whole. Nationally, that's just not what disco was about.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:13 AM on July 14, 2004


octobersurprise - The rolling stones did a disco song, and mick was gay (at least sexually as much as he was straight, if you believe the rumors) too.

Actually, one sad note about disco is that, at its roots, it really was a subculture. I'm being completely honest. It just got hijacked. The same thing's happening to rap right now with hip-pop.

Pop culture, eat its own tail, shit out, add spice of another small subculture, re-consume, repeat.
posted by Peter H at 10:15 AM on July 14, 2004


fuzz has it right. Disco failed musically because it lacked a soul. It was music made by machine. It was too mechanical. Disco made a great party, but mostly the music was awful.
posted by caddis at 10:17 AM on July 14, 2004


The "too gay" and "too black" ideas are interesting, but I don't think that caused the riot in '79. The anti-disco thing seemed to reflect the general mood at the time. I wasn't that old, but even I remember how depressing it was--politically, culturally, and economically.

Maybe some of the old-timers around here can help me recreate the atmosphere. Inflation and the energy crisis were in full effect then (that meant keeping off "unnecessary" lights in the house, planning your trips to the gas station, etc.) We'd lost our first war at the beginning of the 70's and were getting into even shittier situation at the end (the Cold War heating up and the Iranian embassy hostages). The idealism of the civil rights movement and peace-love thing were just . . .gone. Do you remember the television shows then? Good Times, Barney Miller, WKRP -- depressing! The world sucked. Kind of like now but if I could try to put my finger how it was different, I'd say people were angrier. And the clothes were uglier.

Your "Disco Sucks" bumper sticker was a way of saying that you were pissed off at the status quo (and maybe you didn't appreciate the glam party scene when your factory had just closed down). And then - poof!- Reagan and punk rock showed up.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:26 AM on July 14, 2004


Disco was revolutionary because it interrupted the hagiography of musicians and made the audience the stars. Punk and its offshoots, on the other hand, simply replaced one set of rock gods with another.

As to the racism angle, the death of disco was also the death of integrated popular radio.

People who were into early hip hop hated disco as much as the rockers.

Then why did they sample it so much?
posted by timeistight at 10:29 AM on July 14, 2004


Funny, the most interesting and intelligent music of the punk era evolved out of disco: PIL, Gang of Four, the Slits, A Certain Ratio, New Order, Fad Gadget, Talking Heads - to name but a few. These and similar artists understood something that the whole 'disco sux' crowd was either to stubborn or too stupid (or both) to get: in order for music to progress, it has to grow. I can almost guarantee that the 'fuck disco' set weren't interested in punk or musical growth - they were interested in keeping bloated drek like Boston, Styx, and Pink Floyd alive.

Does a hell of a lot of disco suck? Yes. Does an equal amount of punk suck? Probably.
posted by item at 10:32 AM on July 14, 2004


on preview: what timeisitght said.
posted by item at 10:33 AM on July 14, 2004


I've never understood why disco was hated so vehemently

[shrugs]

you know how you all hate nickelback and britney, or say, boy bands these days? same difference.
posted by quonsar at 10:34 AM on July 14, 2004


item, I hated disco, and I love punk (although I lean more towards stuff like the Ramones, Pistols, Clash, and The Damned). Traditional rock had become bloated and complacent by the late seventies, but disco responded by pissing all over everything that was great about it, punk responded by giving it a shot of adrenaline. There's a huge difference.
posted by jonmc at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2004


I'd like to believe punk pissed on radio-rock just as much as disco did.
posted by item at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2004


I'd like to believe punk pissed on radio-rock just as much as disco did.

Yes, but punk was rock. And it returned rock to it's original verities of aggression, anger, brevity, connection with the street, tunefulness etc. Disco did none of these things. It was the beginning of something that continued with techno, house, goth, and the artier post-punk that handed popular music over to the dimwits and art farts.
posted by jonmc at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2004


Rock and Roll was originally music for dancing. When it got away from those roots (it's pretty hard to dance to Led Zepplin) it left a dance music vacuum which disco filled, just as jazz turming into Bop in the '40s and '50s left a vacuum for R and B to fill.

Its true that disco simplified and regularized contemporary R and B rhythms so white people could dance to them, but so did Motown in the '60s and Rock and Roll in the '50s.
posted by timeistight at 10:53 AM on July 14, 2004


that handed popular music over to the dimwits and art farts

I'm not gonna be the one to tell 50Cent that he's an art fart.
posted by deadcowdan at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2004


"Disco was revolutionary because it interrupted the hagiography of musicians and made the audience the stars."—timeistight
A Narcissist Revolution. What brave new world would that produce? Oh, yeah, the 80s.
"Its true that disco simplified and regularized contemporary R and B rhythms so white people could dance to them, but so did Motown in the '60s and Rock and Roll in the '50s."—timeistight
...also much to the worse. That point doesn't help your case.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2004


Please, jon - do you honestly believe that popular music was 'handed over' to the art-farts? I thought Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Styx, and Pink Floyd had already claimed popular music as their own by the end of the 70's.

You're right - punk WAS rock. And now it is rock. In my opinion, disco just might've done a helluva lot less damage to pop culture than punk did. Disco never claimed to be anything it wasn't, while punk evolved into the radio friendly jackoff that it is today. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love punk and, yes, 'artier post punk' and I can't say I care for much, if any, straight-up disco. I suppose I get fed up with dinosaurs still grasping at the 'disco sucks' notion because the balding-and-ponytailed sad sacks have had nothing new to offer us in the last couple of decades. Punk was the last step in the evolution of popular guitar-based music.
posted by item at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2004


As to the racism angle, the death of disco was also the death of integrated popular radio

Yeah, 'cuz post disco, you'd never hear Madonna and any of the various combinations of Jacksons, or Lionel Ritchie, on the same radio station. Or Journey and James Brown.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2004


I was in 8th grade when I first saw the phrase "Disco Sucks" (on a classmates Mead notebook) so I won't pretend I knew what was going on at the time, but I remember how I felt about it.

I didn't like disco, it wasn't fun and it was weird. Rock and Roll I understood. Plus, spending a studyhall erasing a slogan on your notebook was a pretty easy way to be "rebellious and cool".

Of course during my high school years I decorated everything with the big Anarchy "A" cause I was so cool.
posted by Bonzai at 11:10 AM on July 14, 2004


Punk was the last step in the evolution of popular guitar-based music.

I've been hearing this for almost thirty years now and I still don't get it. Could someone please explain to me the musical differences between Nirvana (for instance) and the Yardbirds? I'm not talking about lyrics or "attitude" (or haircuts and shoes for that matter); musically it's the same stuff.
posted by timeistight at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2004


Creed still suck harder than the worst corporate bastardisation of Disco.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:25 AM on July 14, 2004


EB: I can't shake the sense that the defense of disco comes from a) contrarians, b) people with no musical taste...

Or the realization that the most vocal critics (with the possible exception of jonmc who will skewer almost any musical partisanship) are rather like little kids sitting on hobby horses championing their own little imaginary Camelot of musical good taste. In fact, the criticism that disco is so much worse than rock because it was "very self-evidently mechanical, artless, and formulaic" is laughable because this describes the vast majority of "rock" produced over the last 30 years. On another day the same people blasting disco for its shallow, artless, mechanical formula would be lamenting the downfall of rock for the same reasons.

And the funny thing is that it has not changed much. "This is Spinal Tap" is just as funny today as a skewering of rock bands that rose to the top like scum on the surface of a seething modern culture, then outlived their talent, as it was when it was first produced.

quonsar: you know how you all hate nickelback and britney, or say, boy bands these days? same difference.

Actually, I think there is a pretty hefty difference because we are not talking about specific people or songs, but championing an entirely artificial grouping of music into a "genre" and flushing it down the toilet while setting an entirely different grouping of music onto a pedestal. Pop music does create some great music on occasion, and I would argue that there are some disco recordings that are among the best produced in the 20th century.

jonmc: Yes, but punk was rock. And it returned rock to it's original verities of aggression, anger, brevity, connection with the street, tunefulness etc. Disco did none of these things. It was the beginning of something that continued with techno, house, goth, and the artier post-punk that handed popular music over to the dimwits and art farts.

I think there are two fallacies here. I don't think that disco ever pretended to be rock. The second is the claim that popular music was at one point, the domain of "rock." As much as we like to claim that the 60s and early 70s were a revolution in terms of culture and music, large chunks of America were more interested in hearing highly produced crooners and feel-good poppy formula dance music than the blues/soul-influenced rock. Elvis was beloved by some for his laid-back gospel recordings rather than his rock-in-roll.

The myth here is that popular music has ever been, for an extended period of time, dominated by the kinds of music that you champion. Instead, it has been dominated for a fairly long time by commercial interests.

"Goth" is an interesting little thing slipped in there because the bands that are most influential to it never or rarely have claimed that for themselves. It spans quite a big range from the more "artier" rock-derived music to stuff that fits well alongside punk. But, blaiming the entire notion of art-rock on disco rather than a tradition of experimental music existing on the edge of rock and roll going back to psychadelia, the Beatles, the stream of consciousness narratives of the beat writers and musicians, or more pertinent contemporary influences such as the Velvet Underground seems a bit disjointed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:32 AM on July 14, 2004


timeistight:
I didn't say anything about Nirvana. Nirvana were a product of another generation. There's an enormous difference between, say, the Yardbirds and the Fall, or the Yardbirds and Television, or the Yardbirds and Crass.

True, first-wave punk bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols were sort of an update (with different lyrics, attitude, haricuts, and shoes) on basic rock n roll. Punk evolved very quickly, however, thanks to the 'art-farts' that weren't afraid to explore and expand on the speeded-and-slopped up rock music that unfortunately became known as classic punk.
posted by item at 11:39 AM on July 14, 2004


As a young man of dating age during the Disco era, I thought of it as a necessary evil. I was a guitar-playing southern rock wannabe but the reality of it was girls danced to Disco. If you wanted to dance with girls, you didn't have a lot of choice. But why hate something that worked?

I will be honest, though, while I can remember the southern rock songs I listened to in those days almost word for word (and chord for chord in some cases) I can't for the life of me remember more than a snippet or two of most Disco hits.
posted by tommasz at 11:41 AM on July 14, 2004


I expect jonmc and I disagree on almost everything about music post-1982. True, in 1978, "disco sucks" was, for me, as much a defense of what I thought didn't suck as much as it was an indictment of what I thought did.

Today, that's not the case. But I still think disco sucks.

Disco sucks because it's bad music. It's objectively bad. When I was younger, I also thought that rap sucked and lots of other genres sucked. I was wrong. In fact, pretty much every popular music genre that I previously thought "sucked" I now realize probably doesn't. With the important exceptions of most of top40 rock and top40 country. And it is worth repeating that disco was top40 pop.

For me, anyway, this is no longer a cultural matter—I don't have a horse in this race. (If you exclude my deep antipathy for pop pablum in all its manifestations.) Disco came at a time when rock and roll was splintering, each genre exploring a particular technical or expressive possibility. A lot of the stuff that timeistight is saying was bad really was bad in a lot of ways—but it was good, musically, artistically, expressively, in a few. Disco wasn't. Disco's only virtue was as dance music, and it wasn't really very good dance music. Having been there at the time, and dancing to it and knowing people that danced to it, I have a very hard time believing that people then truly enjoyed dancing to disco as much as they had earlier to swing, to early rock-n-roll, or even at raves today. Disco was the grown-up, cocaine inflected version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand: white people dancing to sanitized music, with an explicit dose of consumerism. What is there not to hate?

On Preview: "I'm not talking about lyrics or 'attitude'"...if you can't tell just how greatly "attitude" inflects all artistic expression...well...um...whatever. And KJS, I think I answer some of your implicit criticisms in this post. It's certainly not the case that I, at least, am defending some Camelot of musical greatness of times past against disco.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2004


KirkJobSluder: great comment. What you said is the reason why I've been wondering about this.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:49 AM on July 14, 2004


The Stones could be decadent to be sure, but you can't accuse them of trend-mongering

Ok. I'll spot you that one. My point was that nearly every pop or rock band or artist has been called decadent, materialist, trend-mongering, or status worshipping at some time or another and most of them have lived up to the accusations. That's rock and roll. So it's hardly a criticism of disco.

I can't shake the sense that the defense of disco comes from a) contrarians ...

So we're either faking, lacking in musical taste, or defending a gay historical artefact? Sure. Meanwhile, timeistight and KirkJobSluder and item have already said better what I would've.

Disco was the grown-up, cocaine inflected version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand: white people dancing to sanitized music, with an explicit dose of consumerism

I wasn't there. So who am I to argue with experience? But I think you're conflating several things here: the disco lifestyle, disco music played in clubs, and disco music as popularized in the top 40 lists and in American culture more generally.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2004


I'll have to take your word there item; I don't know any of those bands. To me punk is the Clash (who were pretty good) and the Sex Pistols (who sucked).

Of course I'm leaving out New Wave, which is in the whole seperate category of skinny-tie music.

A lot of the stuff that timeistight is saying was bad really was bad in a lot of ways

You're misinterpretting me, EB. I never said that Motown and Rock and Roll were bad; I just said they were simple. I love them.

And I can't believe that anyone who's actually listened to the incredibly in-the-pocket playing of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards on scores of disco records could claim that it wasn't good artisically and expressively.
posted by timeistight at 12:01 PM on July 14, 2004


Disco sucks because it's Entartete Kunst.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:01 PM on July 14, 2004


The Stones could be decadent to be sure, but you can't accuse them of trend-mongering

She's Like A Rainbow
Their Satanic Majesties' Request
Miss You
Shattered

J'accuse! (I love the Stones, BTW.)
posted by timeistight at 12:06 PM on July 14, 2004


EB: Disco sucks because it's bad music. It's objectively bad.

Ohh, there is a really good sign of posturing, an overgeneralization combined with a claim to objectivity.

As an example of how we let our blinders affect our judgement, the Bee Gees continued to create best-selling, critically acclamed albums after disco imploded, the primary difference was that their names appeared in the liner notes as "writer" and "producer" rather than on the front cover of the LP.

And it is worth repeating that disco was top40 pop.

About once a blue moon, top40 pop does produce music worth listening to. Perhaps once a year or so.

timeistight: And I can't believe that anyone who's actually listened to the incredibly in-the-pocket playing of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards on scores of disco records could claim that it wasn't good artisically and expressively.

At least one of the things that sucks about Rock is the decline of the really good vocal performance. John Mellancamp once expressed embarassment about his early work because he sold millions of records without being able to sing. I'd throw in Martha Wash as one of the best female vocalists of the 20th century.

For some reason, I seem to watch VH1 a lot at my parents' house and one depressing thing about the whole music scene is how the average weight of female performers has dropped about 40lbs in 30 years. Wash's vocals are typically lipsynched by a fashion model in videos.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:14 PM on July 14, 2004


... Note that contemporary dance music lives as a subgenre or in a ghetto—it's not Top40 music.
Um, have you seen the Top40 lately? Most of it is dance music of one form or another. It's been that way for ages.

But I think you're conflating several things here: the disco lifestyle, disco music played in clubs, and disco music as popularized in the top 40 lists and in American culture more generally.
Exactly. Disco is what everyone danced to--it was fun, sexy, and a million times better than the pop alternatives of the time.
posted by amberglow at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2004


Disco might have been simplistic and formulaic, but there was still enough funk and groove in the better songs to help them outlast a lot of other "competing" music from the time.

This was the end of a decade when R+B was among the most innovative of pop and rock music. (This was definitely not true in the 1980s.) Stevie Wonder, the Brothers Johnson and many others were writing interesting songs that fans of Yes, Rush and Genesis overlooked to their own detriment.

I was ashamed to own "Saturday Night Fever" for a while, but not now. There's some good stuff there, and some interesting music to go along with the beat. And top-40 music from c. 1985 onward makes the Bee Gees sound like the Beatles (or Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
posted by kurumi at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2004


Um, have you seen the Top40 lately? Most of it is dance music of one form or another. It's been that way for ages.

Yeah, and it sucks much the same way that disco sucked. By "dance music" I meant explicitly dance music—club music in its variations.

Ohh, there is a really good sign of posturing, an overgeneralization combined with a claim to objectivity.

Well, the "overgeneralization" may just be an accurate generalization and the claim of objectivity might be valid. In which case it's not "posturing" but what is technically known as a "fact".

On Preview: I have not, and am not, arguing that none of disco was good music. "Car Wash" comes to mind. But in that I will admit that it's "good", I also think it's less disco-like. That is, it sounds like another genre with a disco veneer. Disco sounds like the void with a disco veneer.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:31 PM on July 14, 2004


EB: Well, the "overgeneralization" may just be an accurate generalization and the claim of objectivity might be valid. In which case it's not "posturing" but what is technically known as a "fact".

It is a fact that many dropped objects accelerate towards the groud at 9.8 m/s^2 .

The claim that one music is better than another, is not a fact but a matter of opinion with varying levels of reasonable support.

Certainly, you can cop to a claim of an objectivity here while using such fuzzy subjective qualifications such as "Disco sounds like the void with a disco veneer." By all means, contine to do so and cement your status as one of the many for whom discussion of music is primarily a way to position ones self into a subcultural box that depends on establishing a "them" to maintain an "us."

Of course I do it as well with my dislike of popular country and top 40 music. However, unlike you I'm pretty darn honest that my tastes are subjective and based on certain culture biases.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2004


I know I'm 28 posts behind jon here, but --

How can any of you possibly say that disco was soulless? Sure, Gloria Gaynor wasn't Mavis Staples, but you mean to tell me that that groove didn't come from someplace?

And how can you possibly say that disco died because it was too mechanical and electronic? First of all, the groove was played by real people, not machines, and even most of the keyboard parts were not synthesized. The organ was usually a real organ, the horns and strings were real horns and strings, and the singers weren't tracked and note-corrected like they are today, no matter how off-key or coked-out they might have sounded.

And punk rock made barely a dent in the pop charts at all before Nirvana and Green Day, so if we're talking mainstream popularity, that conversation ends now.

Thing is, as has been said more than once in this thread, disco didn't die. It didn't even slow down. It's more popular now than ever, and it's always been popular. There have been a huge number of great disco songs-as-songs, and I could hum a hundred of 'em for you off the top of my head. Give disco its due; it did change things, as much as punk did if not way, way more.

I can't believe I'm defending disco. The credibility council is gonna rip the safety pin right out of my cheek.
posted by chicobangs at 1:03 PM on July 14, 2004


I don't know if it's true in other parts of the country, but the radio stations here that cater to the "middle-aged-or-approaching-it women office workers" demographic still play a LOT of disco.

Disco may not be produced anymore, but it's hardly "dead."
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:07 PM on July 14, 2004


the "disco sucks" == racism/homophobia always cracked me up. i was barely a toddler when the death to disco hit the fan, but from this perspective it always seemed like the vitriol was aimed at the bee gees.

is it okay to be enamored of chic? they were funky, and they played their own instruments (no recorded back up tapes). "le freak" still makes it onto my mix cds.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2004


I buy the disco-hating-as-fear-of-gay-culture angle a little bit. The Bee Gees sang so high you didn't know if they were boys or girls without checking the pictures, and even then they were so poofy-headed and pretty, and the gurls all loved them anyway... I know. I hated it as much as anyone.

(Tracey Stockwell wouldn't talk to me, because I didn't have roller skates! She'd rather go to the rink with Morris Austin on Sunday afternoons! I know it was only the fourth grade, but -- that fucker! He was, like, totally gay!)

I don't think the homophobia was overt, for damn near anyone, then or now. But I do think it was there, and it may have been the initial spark that set off the fire in Comiskey Park that day.
posted by chicobangs at 1:30 PM on July 14, 2004


well, the overgeneralization may just be an accurate generalization and the claim of objectivity might be valid. in which case it's not posturing but what is technically known as a fact.
You are generalizing your experience and your opinion as if they were representative of something other than what it is - your opinion. Though it may be accurate for you and for those who agree with you, you're opinion is but one amongst an enormous number of opinions on the subject. Your claims are blatantly subjective and to call them anything else is intellectually dishonest.

You repeatedly state your opinion as if its fact in this thread. Though it may be your experience and based on facts, it is still your opinion.
I have not, and am not, arguing that none of disco was good music.
Looking at the following statements you've made in this thread, I was under the impression you were, in fact, arguing that there was no good disco music.
  • "Disco was hated because it was bad music. Very bad music. It had about zero musical and artistic integrity."
  • "As listening music, it's awful."
  • "Disco sucks."
  • "That's why it sucked"
  • "It was bad, bad music."
  • "Disco sucks because it's bad music. It's objectively bad. "
Your posts in this thread are awash with the prejudice of personal experience and you foolishly present it as something objective. It's very clear you don't like or respect most, if not all, of disco.
I can't shake the sense that the defense of disco comes from a) contrarians,
That's a cop out. Calling those who choose to oppose you contrarians is low and is blatantly not the case here.
b) people with no musical taste,
No one is devoid of musical taste, just different tastes. Another low blow. So what if someone likes dicso. What does it matter?
c) people with strong emotional attachments to disco for whatever reason, and/or d) the few people for whom disco truly was socially liberating
There were more than a few people who found the culture of the seventies, including disco, liberating. I can't count the number of people who fondly and openly recount their experiences of the seventies. Neither group of people can be discounted because they had a possitive experience any more than you can be discounted for your opinions or experiences.
posted by sequential at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2004


I think it's interesting that several posters here have decried disco as "music made by machines," implying that drum machines and computers and their like were used to create and produce it.

That's not the case. There were no such things as drum machines in the mid-1970's, although there were various electromechanical metronomes and rhythm creators - like the ones you'd find on a Wurlitzer home organ of 70's or 80's vintage, for example. Devices like that were used as timekeepers for recording of course...

But the original disco stuff like "Fly Robin Fly," the many Donna Summer hits, Bee Gees, the Village People, KC and the Sunshine Band, etc. were all recorded and performed by REAL LIVE MUSICIANS. In some cases, pretty large ensembles, with string sections, horn sections, woodwinds, several percussionists, and your standard backup vocalist troupe on top of bass, drums, guitar and keys. Drum machines, synthesizers and sequencers (and later samplers) didn't start replacing human musicians until the 80's came around.

IIRC, even synth-pop pioneers like Gary Numan and Human League employed human drummers. :)

So next time you're shakin' booty to "Boogie Oogie Oogie" or "Thats The Way (uh huh) I Like It," remember it's actual people playing all that music, and give 'em some props.

BTW, I liked the disco version of the Theme from S.W.A.T. better than the actual show title theme. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 1:44 PM on July 14, 2004


sequential: "There were more than a few people who found the culture of the seventies, including disco, liberating."

Those must have been the people who had enough cash to afford all the cocaine but avoided getting addicted, and who got laid all the time with dozens of partners but avoided catching herpes. :)

/tongue in cheek
posted by zoogleplex at 1:50 PM on July 14, 2004


zoogleplex, all of those people had slept at some point with either Margaret Trudeau, or Mick Jagger, or both.
posted by chicobangs at 1:56 PM on July 14, 2004


Heck, I remember 'round about 1978 having a music teacher who was really into Walter (now Wendy) Carlos sythesized Bach records with the huge mass of electronic equipment behind him.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:05 PM on July 14, 2004


I think it's interesting that several posters here have decried disco as "music made by machines," implying that drum machines and computers and their like were used to create and produce it.

I think it's more interesting that 'they', and you, are implying that there's something wrong with music played on machines.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:07 PM on July 14, 2004


Shit, they even play punk on machines these days.
posted by chicobangs at 2:14 PM on July 14, 2004


You know, music snobs were really critical of the saxophone when it was first invented. (What is it, woodwind or brass?) And lets not talk about the stir that was created when people actually composed for the paper-reel player piano. Unfortunately, some of those compositions for synchronized player pianos and percussion had to wait until midi controlled pianos were invented.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2004


I've been hearing this for almost thirty years now and I still don't get it. Could someone please explain to me the musical differences between Nirvana (for instance) and the Yardbirds? I'm not talking about lyrics or "attitude" (or haircuts and shoes for that matter); musically it's the same stuff.

Forget the Yardbirds -- try playing the Sonics' version of Louie Louie (circa 1965) back to back with Smells Like Teen Spirit. The Sonics were punk well before the rest of the world, and Nirvana is just further along the same spectrum.
posted by litlnemo at 2:52 PM on July 14, 2004


Or the realization that the most vocal critics (with the possible exception of jonmc who will skewer almost any musical partisanship) are rather like little kids sitting on hobby horses championing their own little imaginary Camelot of musical good taste.

Can't really claim guiltlessness there, dude. You should see me in the Van Halen thread.

She's Like A Rainbow
Their Satanic Majesties' Request
Miss You
Shattered


Well, to be fair those songs are aberrations. The basic rock stuff is what their remembered best for.

Please, jon - do you honestly believe that popular music was 'handed over' to the art-farts? I thought Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Styx, and Pink Floyd had already claimed popular music as their own by the end of the 70's.

Oh, I'd definitely agree that the overblown pretensions of seventies prog were as much a betrayal of basic trad rock as disco or any other genre I've skewered (although I believe that all genres & periods have lost gems worth seeking out), but while punk returned us to the basics admirably, there was plenty of pretentious twaddle in much post-punk music too, just different pretensions.

But you know what all musical partisanship including my own ultimately does? Turn what basically amounts to "different stroke for different folks" into a life or death struggle.

There'll always be some kind of disco/contemporary dance because there'll always be people who wanna shake their ass, there'll always be hard rock/ metal/punk cause there's always teenage boys fulla testosterone, there'll always be art rock/goth because there'll always be angsty types who need to comisserate.

This is ultimately a good thing I suppose.
posted by jonmc at 3:47 PM on July 14, 2004


it is.
posted by amberglow at 3:54 PM on July 14, 2004


i can't even tell who's serious in this thread. people who say disco wasn't real music sound like grandpa simpson to me. I FEEL LOVE.
posted by jcruelty at 4:02 PM on July 14, 2004


jcruelty: I used to be with "it," but then they changed what "it" was. N ow what I'm with, isn't it; and what "it" seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you!

Now, did I ever tell you about the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville? I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ‘em. ‘Give me five bees for a quarter,’ you’d say......
posted by keswick at 4:38 PM on July 14, 2004


inph, one of my favorite toys is my Roland R-8 Mk II, which is a hell of a lot more reliable than any human drummer I ever played with. It's always on time for practice, doesn't show up drunk, and it's never tried to fuck one of my girlfriends. :)

... so I don't have any problem with music made on machines. You still have to have some talent to program a drum box WELL. :) So let me not imply that I think the computer music devices are teh suck.

However, others certainly seem to believe so.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:47 PM on July 14, 2004


oh, geez ... as someone who has the sex pistols and k.c. and the sunshine band in his vinyl collection i find this argument very amusing

i was something like 20 then and i was into both of them ... and still am

"no future" ... "get down tonight" ... cool

it's funny how the clash started experimenting with disco beats in sandinista, isn't it? ... "call up" ... "the magnificent seven"

there was some bad, bad disco ... silver connection drives me up a wall ... but so do journey
posted by pyramid termite at 5:29 PM on July 14, 2004


it's funny how the clash started experimenting with disco beats in sandinista, isn't it? ... "call up" ... "the magnificent seven"

And isn't it funny that Sandinista is their hardest album to listen to? Actually, it wasn't disco so much as Paul had finally figured out how to play the bass a little bit.

Seriously, what made The Clash great is that they got sick of punk's limitations after one album and spent most of the rest of their career merging punk's sensibilities with every genre, including disco, and it mostly worked. "Rock the Casbah" from Combat Rock is actually about people in Iran being jailed for owning disco albums.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:17 PM on July 14, 2004


I'm not in the "there is no objective quality of art" camp. I do acknowledge that evaluations are notoriously difficult and inherently suspect. Per my comment in the other thread, I can (somewhat) tell the diffence between my subjective experience of something and my objective evaulation of it. While it's true that I don't "like" disco, it's also true that I think it's far worse, as music, than I dislike it.

I read a Grisham novel a couple of weeks ago. I liked it. That doesn't mean it wasn't a bad book (it was).

The two criteria I use to evaluate art are, roughly, technical quality and expressive quality/honesty. The first is much easier to objectively analyze, and disco doesn't rate so well. The second is much more difficult to rationalize, a gestalt property that I deeply intuit. That could mean it's very subjective. But it doesn't necessarily mean that it's very (or at all) subjective. (Most people deeply intuit the existence and experience of gravity, for example, without rationalizing it at all.) Disco, taken as a whole, relative to other genres, is soulless. Particular examples are not; but, as I said earlier, to my mind the degree to which they're not is the degree to which they belong in another genre.

Also as I said, I listen to many types of music, my listening habits and tastes have changed and evolved as I've gotten older, and I'm not defending any particular era/genre of rock music because I closely identity, culturally, with it. (If I did, it'd probably be the indie rock that jonmc hates; but it can never have my allegience the way that genres have the allegience of many people because, basically, altrock wasn't my teenage experience.) When I listen to a song, in any genre with which I'm even marginally familiar, I believe that I can tell if there's a "there" there. I've found artistic quality in many places that, perhaps, I'd rather not. Eminem, for example. But disco, taken as a whole, is notably lacking.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:14 PM on July 14, 2004


Even today Disco is making a comback. well at least in a more rock punk way. ie. Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, DFA records, Chik Chik Chik.
posted by mary8nne at 8:27 PM on July 14, 2004


Could someone please explain to me the musical differences between Nirvana (for instance) and the Yardbirds?

Here's how I figure it: the 60's guys were listening to black music, blues and R'n'B, to which they added amplification; and 70s punks were listening to white music, 60's rock, from which they eliminated the black influences, like blues rhythms, I-IV-V chords, and solos.
posted by dydecker at 8:35 PM on July 14, 2004


technical quality and expressive quality/honesty. The first is much easier to objectively analyze, and disco doesn't rate so well

No? Arthur Russell was a classically trained cellist and part of the New York music avant-garde of his time. And a disco DJ. You think he didn't bring "technical quality" to his mixes? Larry Levan worked three turntables and a mixer and danced while he did so. He was also a producer. That isn't "technical quality"? Unless you define "technical quality" a little more clearly, I think it's too vague to mean anything other than "something I like."

expressive quality/honesty

I don't know what this means either, but I'm guessing that you mean that you privilege a representational art (or music) strongly marked by a specific, romanticized, non-anonymous artist which thereby claims "authenticity" or "sincerity." I'm not convinced that either quality is a necessary condition for art to be meaningful, much less for it to be entertaining.

to my mind the degree to which they're not is the degree to which they belong in another genre.

And I gotta call you on this, too. Don't you really mean "the degree to which you convince me that X isn't as bad as I think is the degree to which X isn't [the category I've decided to dislike]"?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 PM on July 14, 2004


The Stones could be decadent to be sure, but you can't accuse them of trend-mongering

Practically everything they did after Brian Jones died was trend-mongering. That doesn't mean it was bad, necessarily -- just look at the Gram Parsons-inspired Exile on Main St..
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:51 PM on July 14, 2004


If I did, it'd probably be the indie rock that jonmc hates;

Actually I don't hate indie rock, I just hate the posturing of a lot of the audience and scenesters. Back in the late 80's & early '90's I spent a lot of time in dank bars and dusty record stores listening to incredibly weird shit that made many of my more mainstream freinds consider me a weirdo. Bands like the Fastbacks, the Melvins, Mudhoney, E*I*E*I*O, The Replacements, Black Flag, Husker Du, Young Fresh Fellows, The Muffs, Das Damen, The Poster Children and countless others meant a lot to me too. I just never saw a reason why digging that stuff meant i had to abandon the old butt-rock (or any other kind) of music I'd loved previously. Hell I often liked punk bands and metal bands for the same reasons, namely, they were loud and wild and agressive and fun--in a word, they rocked. A lot of the indie press and and hangers on seemed to imply that they were diametrically opposed. Or maybe I just read them wrong, who knows. I also spent tons of time searching the nooks and crannies of old genres that it seemed no one else my age was interested in. I'm not some guy defending the old guard against the new invaders. I'm just saying don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I also find the term "indie rock" a bit strange since it tells me nothing about what the music actually sounds like. Back in the day, "indie" just meant you weren't on a major label. I mean Raven recorded on Megaforce Records, but you wouldn't call them indie rock, right?
posted by jonmc at 9:08 PM on July 14, 2004


zoogleplex: But the original disco stuff like "Fly Robin Fly," the many Donna Summer hits, Bee Gees, the Village People, KC and the Sunshine Band, etc. were all recorded and performed by REAL LIVE MUSICIANS.

While your point stands, it may be worth remembering that Donna Summer's influential "I Feel Love" (1975) was AFAIK the first all-electronic dance music album. I was about 5 years old when that came out, and I got my mom to buy me the 45, and I think that's honestly where my love for electronic music began.
posted by boredomjockey at 9:18 PM on July 14, 2004


BTW I grew up in the Chicago area, so I remember listening to Steve Dahl all the time on WLS, and I vaguely remember hearing about the disco demolition, and I thought it was cool because it involved blowing things up, and I decided that disco did indeed suck because I saw "disco sucks" spraypainted on stop signs and I figured other kids would think I was cool if I agreed, yet I still loved my KC and the Sunshine Band LP, so in short I'd have to say that all of this was a bit above my 9-year-old head at the time.

None of this mattered once the early-mid 80s came around and I got to listen to house music on WBMX and WGCI every Friday and Saturday night -- how lucky I was to grow up in Chicago at that time!
posted by boredomjockey at 9:33 PM on July 14, 2004


I was five and a half years old at the time this happened. Our next door neighbors just happened to be Steve Dahl and his wife. I remembered watching this happen on TV and getting absolutely freaked out thinking that Steve Dahl was going to come into my house, take my Sesame Street Fever record (with the cover that looked like the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) and burn it like he was doing with the records at the ballpark. My mom had to get him to come over and tell me he wasn't going to take my record. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 10:25 PM on July 14, 2004


I had become disenchanted with rock and had moved completely away from it by the mid-eighties, for reasons discussed in the VH thread. What had been good, stopped being good and became radio crap. I started listening to jazz and some other stuff.

There were a few "rock" artists I discovered at that time that I liked, Laurie Anderson comes to mind; but for the most part I had written rock music off entirely. That was ignorance on my part. I wasn't aware that there was a lot of good stuff happening I didn't know about.

I completely missed out on the whole American punk thing, to my great regret. Some of those bands mean something to me now, only from later discovery.

My ex-wife, an inveterate Toronto hipster and six years my junior, introduced me in 1989 to what we're calling "indie/alternative music", which was, at the time, both indie and alternative. From 1989 to 1995 or so, I was pretty involved and knowledgable about that scene—Shelley and I never came to SXSW, but we talked about it and even in 1991 it was sort of a Mecca to her. (We talked about moving to either Austin or Seattle. She's in Seattle, I'm in Austin.) Anyway, I think there was a lot of really good music happening during that time, in all sorts of subgenres.

Without her influence, and my increasing age (I turn 40 this year), I've stopped being able to be anything close to current in music like I once was. As mentioned previously, these days I think of "current" music (and some of my favorite bands) as Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey, System of a Down, etc., all of which are considered ancient by many.

Anyway, to answer your point, discovering new music never meant for me discarding old music. I always have had disdain for those who get stuck with whatever they listened to in high school and who claim that all other music is crap. Partly that's a response to my dad's such assertions about all rock music post-1964. When I listen to the metal bands that I liked from the late-70s, early 80s era, I find that many of them are still listenable, but many are not. I'm not terribly suprised to discover that the ones that aren't, aren't.

Boredomjockey: as a (nearly) lifelong musician, especially as a percussionist, I used to really disdain "electronic" music as "soulless". I don't think that's true anymore, though it can be (and live music can be soulless, too). You get back out what you put in, whether it's an acoustic intstrument, a sequencer, or a home computer.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:41 PM on July 14, 2004


I used to really disdain "electronic" music as "soulless". I don't think that's true anymore

There is hope!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:48 AM on July 15, 2004


Well, hell, some of my favorite bands are Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, and Aphex Twin, among others.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:35 AM on July 15, 2004


I stay away from heavy metal discussions because though I dislike much of it, I know only what has filtered through to me. As someone once said, "Don't criticise what you can't understand".

As a straight, white, english man – Oh, to have been black/hispanic and gay in New York in the mid seventies – forget the Bee Gees, Disco Duck and the ridiculous Disco sucks campaign. Levan, Mancuso, Kevorkian, Regisford, Tee Scott, etc... these names are still revered amongst many (including plenty of 'rock' stars, fans and producers) – legends all of them.
posted by niceness at 3:27 AM on July 15, 2004


If

disco = girls and homosexuals
rock = sweaty pogoing boys

I'll take the disco option.

What a wierd world it must be for those of you who cannot listen to music because you have decided that you dislike the genre in entirety, without knowledge of the entire genre.

Punk funk is this years prescribed flavour in the UK, as performed by the likes of The Rapture, The Scissor Sisters(?), Franz Ferdinand and DFA types.

I have recently purchased a new single by 'junior boys', which is a electro-punk kind of thing. I can reccomend this un-natural sounding combination, although I do not spend much time listening to electro-clash.

Oh, and Suicide. Vega coined/used the word 'punk' first in the early 70's, at least that's what he remembers.

Another reason that the 'rock world' (read corporate bean-counter music moguls) hated the 'disco world' (read independent black adn hispanic producers) was that they could not sell the product in the same way. The music was different in enough ways that they felt threatened by it. The bland euro-disco sago was the industries response to this. This is not the disco you are looking for (unless you are a pop maven, in which case you are welcome to it).

EB, I got into percussion after years of listening to electronic music and thinking that anything that you could do with a machine must be better than anything played by a person. It just sounded cleaner. Now I am in the process of learning about how a vocal can add to the qualities of a song, rather than limiting them, as I had previously believed. Live and learn, eh.

One of the challenges for music is to include a rocking groove, entrancing rhythms, hooky melodies and sincere lyrical content and delivery. Not many genres manage to cover all bases. Except cuban music and its relatives. YMMV.
posted by asok at 4:19 AM on July 15, 2004


'junior boys', which is an electro-indie
posted by asok at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2004


asok, I don't hate the genre in it's entirety (I don't hate anything really, there are some things I find intolerable but that's different from hate) but part of the problem with your statement (or anybodies statement about any musical genre, type of literature) is that nobody gets to hear a wide variety of anything. The average teenager who saves up for a pair of tickets and a bag of weed to the next stadium rock concert isn't going to hear any disco other than what's played at the local roller rink that some girl they were trying to dip their fingers into dragged them to. If you're in a predominantly white and blue collar area that is going to be the dreck.

I think Disco had mostly faded by the time I got into high school (my cousin who lived with us was leaving for university near the tail end, I think I was in grade 7 or 8 at the time come to think of it, she was very into Disco). I do remember that most of what my teenage ears heard at the roller rink wasn't terribly thrilling. I got into Blondie (and still drag her out from time to time) and a few others but most of it just wasn't very good in my opinion.

I'm learning guitar now and my teacher drags out different musical styles for me to chew on. One of the recent styles was funk and I found I enjoyed it. It reminded me of what I heard in the roller rink only somehow it had more feeling to it. If what I had heard had been more like that rather than a plasticized approximation of it maybe I'd have liked it more. So part of the problem in my opinion is that people settle for the light-beer version of their favourite genre of music out of convenience. It doesn't matter if there are stunning tracks or not if the light-beer version turns somebody off in the first place. There's no incentive for somebody to say "Well, that sure sucked but I bet there's something good out there. I'll randomly listen to albums to find them".

I lived across the river from Detroit so I bet that there was some good disco to be heard (but I won't promise I would have liked it). It's sort of like asking somebody what there thoughts are on popular music based on a top-40 station. To my ears I hear 40 songs all more or less alike. The sex of the singer may change but for the most part they sound alike.
posted by substrate at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2004


jonmc (assuming you read this far down in the thread, in which case you get a cookie): i'm thinking the reason why metal and punk/"indie" rock were considered diametrically opposed was that the attitudes of many prominent metal bands and musicians was sexist and homophobic (bikini girls in motley crue videos, the cover and gatefold of warrant's cherry pie, and sebastian bach's "aids kills fags dead" tee shirt). many punkers and indie folk wanted to differentiate themselves from this attitude. they were somewhat more successful in inclusivity (look at the rash of female bass players in 90s alt.rock bands).

i bet jonmc is now saying "yeah, tell me something i don't already know." :)
posted by pxe2000 at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2004


Here's how I figure it: the 60's guys were listening to black music, blues and R'n'B, to which they added amplification; and 70s punks were listening to white music, 60's rock, from which they eliminated the black influences, like blues rhythms, I-IV-V chords, and solos.

That's the way it always seemed to me too. My problem is that those were the things I liked about rock and roll music.

Practically everything they did after Brian Jones died was trend-mongering.

Yeah, right.
posted by timeistight at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2004


i'm thinking the reason why metal and punk/"indie" rock were considered diametrically opposed was that the attitudes of many prominent metal bands and musicians was sexist and homophobic (bikini girls in motley crue videos, the cover and gatefold of warrant's cherry pie, and sebastian bach's "aids kills fags dead" tee shirt).

Well, yeah there's definitely some truth to that. There were definitely somemetal bands who were misogynistic (a word I don't throw around lightly). Some were sexist in that they constantly sang about women as lust objects, although I still maintain that's a legitamite thing to sing about, since rock and roll's a very sexy thing. Although, If you're a woman I can see how that might get tiresome.* But the better practicioners, like Van Halen and Faster Pussycat, kept it playful and humorous. And it's possible to decry the sexism in a song and still love the tune anyway; witness "Stay With Me" by the Faces, or "The Wanderer" by Dion, "My Michelle" by GNR.

But there were also plenty of Metal bands who almost never sang that kinda stuff and tried to write songs of substance, like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Rush and Judas Preist. Not to mention, Rob Halford's coming out has not affected his royalty status in the Metal community one iota. And one of those female bass players was in White Zombie, don't forget.

Where's my cookie?

*although I did once read an article by a female indie writer, who almost sheepishly admitted that while she loved a lotta things about indie-rock guys, she lamented the fact that they never did overheated odes to lust a la DLR, the old school Steven Tyler and Robert Plant. There's always a place for it.
posted by jonmc at 9:03 AM on July 15, 2004


I'd also add Kiss to the list of playful practicioners of cock rock bove. How can you listen to "Calling Dr. Love" and not see ot as (tuneful) goof?
posted by jonmc at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2004


EB: The two criteria I use to evaluate art are, roughly, technical quality and expressive quality/honesty. The first is much easier to objectively analyze, and disco doesn't rate so well.

But again, part of the issue here is championing rock compared to disco which rates even lower on the technical quality scale. There is a strong arugment that technical musicianship died in the 1920s along with classical performance. I won't go that far but I will point out that at least the disco tracks I grew up with were quite a bit more demanding than than the rough-sounding rock tracks. Punk especially prided its self on being anti-technical.

In fact, there is a bit of a contradiction in your post. "Souless" is usually synonymous with slick, technically precise, and well produced when we are talking about music.

Disco, taken as a whole, relative to other genres, is soulless. Particular examples are not; but, as I said earlier, to my mind the degree to which they're not is the degree to which they belong in another genre.

And there we have the soul of the posturing. A no true scotsman fallacy. Disco is bad and souless. If a particular performance is not bad and souless, then it must not be disco!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:27 AM on July 15, 2004


Oh, and in the spirit of "turnabout is fair play" the excellent female british metal outfit Girlschool did a cover of ZZ Top's Tush that manges to be both toungue in ..cheek and full bore lusty at the same time.
posted by jonmc at 11:24 AM on July 15, 2004


Rock and roll's a very sexy thing

I am the only person who thinks rock'n'roll, and indeed music in general, as completely unsexy? I don't mean the singers, I mean the sound of it. Sound does nothing for me. When it's time to have sex, I reach for the off button.

Roger Daltrey's braying and Donner Summer's moaning stir me not a jot.

Which is why I like punk: it doesn't pretend music is sexy.
posted by dydecker at 11:30 AM on July 15, 2004


Well, I don't listen to music during sex either (although I did once attempt to screw to Sly Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher." The chick danced naked for a few minutes and then we gave up), but there's plenty of music that makes we want to go fuck.
posted by jonmc at 11:41 AM on July 15, 2004


I did once attempt to screw to Sly Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher."

You just had the wrong Sly tune, jonmc. Next time try "Sex Machine" off the Stand! album.
posted by timeistight at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2004


Well, hell, some of my favorite bands are Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, and Aphex Twin, among others.

Aphex Twin (occupies the same musical niche as)-> Luke Vibert (who released)-> Kerrier District (which sounds like)-> D I S C O

also

Aphex Twin (owns label)-> Rephlex (who released)-> Black Devil : Disco Club (which is classic underground)-> D I S C O

I can probably get from Disco to Industrial via TackHead (which brings in Dub Reggae, another important mixing desk / production-centric genre)
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:38 PM on July 15, 2004


Well, hell, some of my favorite bands are Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, and Aphex Twin, among others.

And once again, this displays how entirely subjective musical taste is. Having listened to Skinny Puppy and seen them live I can say that personally I regard them as one of worst examples of manufactured nonsense I've ever had the displeasure of knowing and hearing. They're worse than Avril Lavigne, but that's just me.

As for technical quality and ability, where do you draw the line? If you compare say Brahms or Debussy to Skinny Puppy the technical quality and ability of the later is rather pathetic, no? Pavement vs. the Beatles vs. Skinny Puppy, technically that is. Who wins? By what criteria? Complexity of composition? How do you divorce the technical from the emotional effect and why would you want to? Does this make Skinny Puppy, by your own claims and criteria, objectively hideous, to me (even though such a statement is obviously subjective)? Certainly, technically, they are all in different leagues.

Fortunately, reasonable persons don't make ridiculous and pompous claims like music genre x is objectively bad, but realize that music is one of the most subjective of the arts and the technical quality and ability of a genre, a band, or a song, can vary greatly. I like the music of the Wedding Present for example even though it's lacks the wonderful depth of say the Beatles.
posted by juiceCake at 3:18 PM on July 16, 2004


Hah, you old fools. When you're dead and gone I'll still be around telling people what disco was despite the fact I was born past the turn of 1980. The cheese, the over-saturation, and the atmosphere will have dropped away, and it'll just be some token names, some pictures, and a few movies.

Every year the "classic rock" station starts playing more songs from not-so-long ago. Songs from different decades and societies. A lot of the listening audience doesn't care, and accepts it as canon. They probably hated some of these songs when they came out, or wondered why some guy had funny hair or screamed so much.

I'm pretty sure that there were some complaints about Motown and Stax, about the "hit factories" they were at the time. I mean, there were focus groups to crank out Top 40 hits and super-producers to write songs for half a dozen girl/boy groups at any given time. I can picture people shaking their fists, wondering how people could like that crap when there's big band, damn it.

Disco, punk, rock, reggae, give it all to me. At the same time, digested or regurgitated, distorted and filtered. Just don't make it too technical so I can't dance. Or too repetitive and dancey so I can't stand there immersed in the sound. Just push the boundaries. Make them use another word to love or hate.
posted by mikeh at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2004


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