Suffocated By Disco [part 2]

A scene from Disco Demolition Night in Chicago's Comiskey Park, July 12, 1979

A scene from Disco Demolition Night in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, July 12, 1979

When I saw Nile Rodgers speak on a panel at Moogfest, he took particular pains to refer to the anti-disco backlash and how it meant the end of CHIC in the marketplace. Their last smash single, “Good Times,” was released just a month prior to Disco Demolition Night, a strange baseball promotion done by the Chicago White Sox on July 12, 1979. Baseball fans could bring a disco record and get $0.98 admission to the baseball game and see WLUP-FM DJ Steve Dahl blow up the collected records on the field. The White Sox expected 20,000 attendees.

DISCO DEMOLITION DISC JOCKEY STEVE DAHL IN 1979What they got instead was 50,000 people ready to see some disco records blow up reeeeeal good. The explosion damaged the field and a riot ensued afterward. The White Sox had to forfeit the game to the Detroit Tigers. Following that event, CHIC never had another chart hit, and they had three years of precious metal chart hits prior. “Le Freak” sold seven million copies. For his part, Rodgers took the anti-disco backlash very personally, and it certainly hit him in the wallet. It precipitated the end of CHIC but fostered his move into the even more lucrative production field, so it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to him.

But obviously, public sentiment had turned on disco, seemingly overnight. But by the summer of 1979, I had already gotten off of the disco bus for a year and a half. It was early 1978 when late on a Sunday night I chanced upon something on the radio dial that caught me ear. It was a radio show that only played comedy and novelty records’ the Dr. Demento show. I enjoyed the show but was amazed to discover FM Rock at the same time.

I had been an unadventurous radio listener throughout my childhood. Top 40, first on AM but then on FM from around 1975 or so. I listened to the FM affiliated station of my favorite AM channel as I got older. Better reception. The notion of album rock had not previously occurred to me, but here it was. In my face and wha…? No disco of any kind, so was I ever ripe for that change. They played all sorts of bands who may have had a single top 40 hit [or two] that I had known growing up [Yes, Bowie, Pink Floyd] but here were what seemed like lots of other songs by these people getting airplay.

At the same time, the school tribes were split into distinct Rock/Disco camps. Truth be told, I didn’t really fit into either, though having been suffocated by disco* during the last two years for what it was worth, I stuck in the anti-disco camp, even though I was not an abuser of quaaludes and in fact, I really liked getting an education! And I preferred more erudite art rock to The Nuge, or Molly Hatchet. Central Florida had two FM Rock stations, and I soon discerned that WDIZ-FM [where I had heard Dr. Demento] was the more “blue-collar” of the two, with WORJ-FM being more my cup of tea. But that’s not to say that it was all skittles and beer in my disco-free world.

I quickly sussed that no matter which FM Rock station I listened to, I was going to get really tired of a force-fed diet of the latest [weak] albums by The Stones and The Who, not to mention the elephant in the room, Led Zeppelin! Oh my goodness, I might have not had to contend with disco every other song on the radio, but “Stairway To Heaven” was just as bad. It was after about another year and a half of this that I came to the conclusion that what I really hated wasn’t disco, but a lack of variety! WDIZ-FM must have been trouncing WORJ-FM in the ratings, because the latter ended up closely following the lead of the dumber station, to my dismay. If I thought I was weary of disco, then brother, Southern Rock got just as insufferable and onerous in record time! Gaaah! The unholy alliance of heavy metal and country music was just about the worst thing I could have imagined! And even at this stage of the game, I still managed to hold a torch for Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” as the “one great disco song.”

Fortunately, in the summer of 1978, I begged my parents for my first stereo, and at that point could begin building my nascent Record Cell in earnest. By the time I had several dozen albums the time came, some time in early ’80 to cut free from the radio, since I realized that it was not going to give me what I wanted. In the meantime, the scant crumbs of commercially acceptable New Wave that had filtered into FM Rock illuminated a path that I wholeheartedly took to exploring to my unceasing delight. And then in 1981 I chanced to pick up a college radio station and then the rehabilitation of disco began in earnest as New Wave cross-pollinated with disco to create new and exciting hybrids. Ze Records plowed fearlessly into new realms they called “Mutant Disco.”

Nearly 40 years later, disco is just another color in pop’s palette. I can enjoy music of any stripe now because I have disengaged entirely from pop culture**. I have no idea what was in the charts for the last 20 years. No matter what they’re overplaying, I have not heard it, so that keeps me pure and naive in my listening. Because I’d probably dislike whatever I’m overexposed to.

– 30 –

 

* Did you like how I worked that title in?

** Editor’s note: I stopped watching all television 21 years ago, so no MTV for me, which was my last, dwindling tie to the popular culture by the late 80s – when by that time all that I could stand was 120 Minutes. I guess that dates me right there. MTV? Playing music??!

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Suffocated By Disco [part 2]

  1. johnnydark says:

    Another great post. I too grew up in the states and while I liked a few disco songs, generally listened to early metal and post punk. In Europe it was a little different. I was an exchange student to Yugoslavia in 1984. I once asked another student what she listened to and her reply was “You know, Disco.” I laughed and said “Saturday Night Fever.” She said “No. Duran Duran, ABC, Culture Club. You know. Disco.” … since that’s what they played at the Diskotek…

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      johnnydark – For a little while, in 1978, my listening encompassed disco and groups like Van Halen as I made the shift from top 40 disco to FM Rock in the early part of the year. While I never lost the respect for “I Feel Love” I also had my ear turned by Eddie Van Halen. In ’78-’80 I had the first three Van Halen albums before they became indigestible to me and were the first albums that I ever sold off [to schoolmates – this was pre-used record stores]. In 2014 I have “Born To Be Alive” on 12″ Disco Single as well as the remaster of “Van Halen” in my Record Cell. But neither will be in my escape pod.

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  2. Great post, Monk. I lived about 100 miles due west of WORJ and ‘DIZ and put up the biggest outdoor antenna I could manage just to pick up those stations. Lot’s of fun in late ’70s and early ’80s listening to those two along with WUSF’s “Underground Railroad” in Tampa.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Dave Morrison – I remember listening to either WUSF-FM or WMNF-FM in 1981 on a Friday Night and hearing Yello for the first time when they aired the “Bimbo” 7″ from Ralph Records! Also, I remember hearing the 10″ version of OMD’s “Souvenir” there before “Architecture + Morality” was released! Heady times.

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  3. Brian Ware says:

    Two very interesting posts Mr. Monk, and the comments were spot on. Even though we grew up in the same town and I shared your contempt for Orlando radio, somehow my path in the 70s was a parallel universe where I pretty much bypassed disco entirely. Perhaps being several years older made the difference, but I gave up on Top 40 radio early in the decade. I honestly don’t know half the songs and groups you’re referencing. I’ve had more exposure to disco classics at recent wedding receptions than I did back in the day.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian Ware – Being just eight years older than I am made a huge difference when comparing ages to pop cultural responses! You were graduating when I was still in elementary school. You didn’t miss much. Too bad you have to attend weddings with disco classics. I’m betting they play the less interesting stuff in such settings!

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  4. Echorich says:

    The best thing that ever happened to disco is that it went way back underground as the 80’s began. Well in the US in any case. This provided dance music with the fertile soil to grow new shoots and and graft other music genres to the 4/4 beat. New Wave had a wonderful influence on Disco, injecting it with synths and techno beats. Listen to Blancmange or Depeche Mode in the early 80’s and you are hearing the influences which were being imprinted on dance music producers and djs in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Newark and of course New York City. This influence would shape House music as it came above ground in the late 80’s and came to World Domination in the 90’s. That same underground disco scene also informed the likes of New Order, Yazoo, and other — Yes the 80’s was a wonderful musical landscape of cross pollenation in which Disco played an important role.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You hit that nail on the head. Disco was an important foundation for realms of music, but in order to flourish, first it had to be severely pruned back. Sort of like a shrub. Then the new shoots had to be grafted to other genres for new, hardier species to result.

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