The World According to Keitho

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disco fever

Posted by keithosaunders on February 13, 2011

I was listening to my Pandora today and for some reason it decided that I wanted to hear a set of disco music.   This got me to thinking what was it about disco that I liked and disliked.  Growing up in Van Nuys, California my friends and I hated it.  What did we care about dance music?  To us, the Stones and Zeppelin were real music.  I was just getting into jazz when disco hit and I found myself feeling removed from pop music.

It’s interesting to look  at disco music in the light of where pop music is today.  These were songs written by people who had a real sense of melody, harmony, and groove.  Contrast anything that the Bee Gees or Donna Summers did with the one chord hip hop vamps, or the wall of sound syntheziser-infused Disney channel pop machine.  The music of today is very much a corporate undertaking and the musicianship and craft is sorely missed.

One of the songs that Pandora played was K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight, an early disco hit.  When you listen to the funky clavinet comping, and the sparse, funky bass-line you can hear that these guys definitely checked out bands such as The Ohio Players and Sly and the Family Stone.  The music is not far removed from the early 70s soul groups and that spirit permeates the music. 

Disco was a bass player’s music.  The drummers all but had their balls in a vice.  They were tamped down, both in terms of what they could play and their presence in the mix.  For them it was four on the floor and not much else.   (not at first, but post Saturday Night Fever)  Gone were the days of  Stevie Wonder-esque earthy, swing-infused drumming, or those Earth Wind and Fire kicks on the last sixteenth of the measure.  Disco drummers were reduced to building a shed — Bam Bam Bam Bam — while the bass players had free-reign over the groove, sometimes taking part in the melody. 

Even with these inherent flaws there was plenty of good music to go around.  More importantly there was work for musicians.  String players, horn players, backing vocals — they all worked.  There were sessions galore, as well as gigs in town, and touring. 

Disco was ruined by the record companies who watered it down, codified it, and turned out factory records such as Disco Duck and Won’t You Take Me To Funky Town.  By the early 80s the discos began to close and people stopped buying the records.  Dance music would continue but the synth genie was out of the bottle.  One no longer needed to be a skilled musician in order to write or play a song.  The craft was lost and the record labels and corporate America had little interest in nurturing its return. 

Donna Summers


One Response to “disco fever”

  1. bkivey said

    I’m surprised at the music I hated as a teeneger that I like today compared with what’s extant. There’s much to be said for melody and lyrics. It must be age.

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