Welcome to “I’m With The Band.” In this column, I’ll teach you how to become a fan of all the iconic bands that you have always heard of, but may not truly know yourself. I’ll introduce you to some deep-cut songs that’ll elevate your status from “surface level fan” to “real fan,” and explain why, in my humble opinion, these bands are worth getting to know. Hopefully by the end of this series, you’ll see why you should become a fan of them, too.
When the Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack was released in 1978, it quickly became the top-selling album of all time. Just two years later, during a particularly rowdy Chicago White Sox game, thousands of disco records were blown up in a violent explosion that marked the official night that disco was “dead.”
Today, more than five decades later, the buried genre of disco has started to rise from the grave to become one of the most relevant slices of music today thanks to TikTok. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering, how on Earth did this happen?
I’m not going to dive into too much of a deep history of the Bee Gees. The HBO documentary “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” does a better job of telling the story of the most influential disco group better than I ever could. If you haven’t already seen it, please do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible.
What you should know, however, is that the Bee Gees formed in Australia in 1958, and consisted of three of the Gibbs brothers — Barry, Robin and Maurice. Although they gained their initial popularity in the 1960s classic rock scene, it wasn’t until they moved to Miami in 1975 (a suggestion of fellow musician Eric Clapton) and released “Jive Talkin” that they began to formulate their new sound. By trademarking their one-of-a-kind falsetto harmonies with Black soul-inspired R&B beats, they quickly became the face of the American disco craze.
But what exactly is disco, why did society swear it off with such disdain, and why is it now coming back?
Going as far back to Nazi-occupied France during the 1940s, the word “disco” originates from the French word “discotheque,” which referred to the secret underground clubs that permitted music and dance during a time where neither was legally allowed. Since live music wasn’t an option, people decided to utilize their record players and dance to pre-recorded music. This idea of partying to pre-recorded music rather than live songs continued to evolve as it made its way over to the United States in the following decades.
Fast-forward to the early 1970s, groups of oppressed and marginalized communities in America began to gather in underground clubs on the weekends to form a night culture of their own. This was particularly prominent in the Black, Latin-American and LGBTQ communities. Disco heavily pulled on influences from Black soul singers and made room for many female singers to obtain mass popularity. Whereas 1970s rock n’ roll fanbases were predominately white, male and heterosexual, the disco community created some of the first safe spaces for people of color and queer individuals alike.
Disco was glamourous, sexual, hedonist and overall — escapist. It gave oppressed communities an opportunity to dress up extravagantly in sequined jumpsuits and live fabulously. Disco was one of those genres where its influence relied much more on the people who listened to it rather than the artists who created it (not that Donna Summer isn’t incredibly talented). Everything about the disco club environment was built by the oppressed, for the oppressed.
These underground clubs birthed the notion of modern sound-mixing, remixing and DJing. In fact, the whole concept of DJ sets at these clubs was designed to make these areas a safe space for queer people to dance together. Prior to DJ sound mixing, most songs had a notable gap of silence that existed between the transition of one song to the next. This gap, even if just three seconds, gave the space for the lights to brighten and for people to look around at who was dancing with who. But in disco clubs, DJs began to mix songs together seamlessly with each other, reducing any self-consciousness or notable moments for clubbers to judge who was dancing with who.
But of course, anything that gains global obsession is inevitably commercialized.
In the late 1970s, disco amassed an obscene amount of popularity, posing a huge threat to the rock n’ roll genre. It quickly became the enemy of many rock radio hosts and artists. Disco was inescapable. You couldn’t flip to a radio station that wasn’t playing it, or listen to a commercial that didn’t have a featured disco song in the background.
Eventually, this mass popularity met its resistance during the turn of the 80s. On July 12, 1979, Steve Dahl, a local rock DJ, hosted a “Disco Demolition Night” at a Chicago White Sox game, where the entrance fee was one disco record for burning. The night had a massive turnout and turned incredibly violent, resulting in nine injuries and 39 arrests. Thousands of disco records were blown up in the middle of the field while people stormed the field in protests of the genre.
Although Dahl advertised disco demolition night to be anti-disco commercialism, it quickly turned into an anti-Black, anti-gay statement. Yes, many of the records brought in to be burned were disco records, but a significant number of records weren’t disco; they were R&B, funk and other records that had strong ties to Black musicians.
To this day, it remains unclear whether disco demolition night was in protest of the music itself, or the people who influenced and created the music.
The Bee Gees, despite having existed long before the American disco craze, were unfortunately caught up in disco’s downfall, and witnessed their popularity dissipate just as quickly as it rose. After this night, disco was shortly proclaimed to be “dead” and was shunned from popular culture.
Today, disco is seen as a total fad. When we think of disco, we think of outlandish 70s hair and disco balls and John Travolta strutting down the streets of New York City with “Stayin’ Alive” thundering in the background.
But what we don’t think of is how influential it’s been to the democratization of today’s music industry. Disco is responsible for modern club culture, with song remixing, colored dance floors and flashing lights. Even more importantly, TikTok has evolved disco into a post-modern era that is increasing in global popularity by the day.
Of course, with algorithmic methods, dance trends and even remixed mashups, TikTok has been known to repopularize old songs that have been off the charts for years, as experienced by the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman.” But TikTok has done more than just repopularize 1970s disco; TikTok has become a vessel for a new generation of disco to shine.
Popular artists like Dua Lipa and Doja Cat, known for their musically catchy hooks, danceable beats and visual-oriented trends, have become the face of the 21st-century disco era. Both of these artists have amassed popularity on TikTok and are able to release songs that gain hundreds of millions of streams in a matter of days. Just like 70s disco, a large part of their popularity can be attributed to the dances that have gone viral with the songs. Once again, music is seeing a resurgence in its ties to the material world, where it is intended to be listened to and shared with one another as a multi-sensory experience.
Both Dua Lipa’s and Doja Cat’s music even pays homage to the past, with many of their songs recycling the sounds of nostalgia. Dua Lipa’s song “Break My Heart” is a direct sample of INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” and “Freak” by Doja Cat is a modernized rendition of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka.
So, despite the world’s attempt to rid our culture clean of disco, the genre is hardly dead. It’s merely just taken on a new face, with the same sequins and dancing as before. Only time will tell us whether this 21st-century world of disco will follow in the same fad footsteps as its predecessor. But until then, we can be sure of one thing: the world hasn’t killed off disco quite yet.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.