Disco has always been an extension of r&b, derived from the smooth, production-oriented approach found in Philly soul – not much new, but presented as though it was, which is what made all the difference. But in the summer of 1979 , there was a backlash against the music that was summed up in two words: disco sucks.
The incident unfolded in Comisky Park in Chicago during half-time at a White Sox game. At the ‘disco sucks’ event, former fans burned records in what started as a cheap publicity stunt for a local radio station, and ended up being pretty ugly. The incident has been linked to cultural realization that because disco was in fact originally the music of gay culture, and black and Hispanic culture too, it was ultimately a threat. A threat to what and to whom is less clear, but shades of Third Reich book burning was hard to deny, no matter what you happen to think about the records. Starting off as a tongue-in-cheek joke, the encouragement of a large mass of people to be destructive in a public place was ill-conceived at best.
But, the passing years have allowed the music of that mid-70s to 1980 heyday to become appreciated even by rockists such as myself. The fact is, disco is about fantasy, that being a part of a nighttime culture of heroes made on a dance floor is, in the moment, more important than mundane real life to many people. And that’s why it thrived, and in some ways and in different forms, continued to thrive in Chicago house music in the late 80s, to rave culture into the 1990s, and beyond.
But for me, disco is the music of my childhood, or at least a big part of that tapestry of radio in the 1970s and early 80s. One of my favourites is the 1978 disco anthem ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, a hit single included on the group’s album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol.1.
Listen and watch this clip and try to deny that this tune is all about the joy of living, the warm feelings of remembering good times with friends, and the power found in dancing together.