Stylistic origins Funk[1] • Various soul styles[2]
Psychedelic[3][4][5] • Latin (especially salsa)[6][7]
Pop rock
Secondary: Afro-Cuban music (furthest Soca)[8]ClassicalGospel[9]Swing[8] • Blues[9]
Cultural origins Late 1960s – early 1970s; US and Canada[10]
Typical instruments KeyboardDrumsDrum machineSynthesizerViolinElectric guitarBass guitarPianoString sectionHorn sectionOrchestral solo instruments (e.g., flute) • Percussion
Mainstream popularity Most popular in the mid-1970s to early 1980s
Derivative forms Afro-funkyHi-NRGHousePost-disco • Hip-hop • New WaveGarageNu-disco
Italo disco • Eurodisco • Space discoDisco polo
Fusion genres
Disco-punkDisco houseManila Sound
Regional scenes
US: NYCPhiladelphiaAtlantaMiamiLA
Canada: TorontoMontrealVancouverOttawa
Other topics
Discothèque • Nightclubs
OrchestrationDisco artists
Stylized images of disco dancers are silhouetted against a starlit sky in this graphic design.

Disco is a genre of dance music. Disco acts charted high during the mid-1970s, and the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1970s. It had its roots in clubs that catered to African American, gay, psychedelic, and other communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Disco also was a reaction by New York City's gay, as well as black and Latino communities against both the domination of rock music and the stigmatization of dance music by the counterculture during this period. Women embraced disco as well, and the music eventually expanded to several other popular groups of the time.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] In what is considered a forerunner to disco style clubs, in February 1970, the New York City DJ David Mancuso opened The Loft, a members-only private dance club set in his own home.[18][19] Allmusic claims some have argued that Isaac Hayes and Barry White were playing what would be called disco music as early as 1971. According to the music guide there is disagreement as to what the first disco song was. Claims have been made for Giorgio Moroder's "Son Of My Father" (1972) Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" (1972), Jerry Butler's "One Night Affair" (1972), the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" (1974), George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" (1974).[6][20] and "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974) by Biddu and Carl Douglas.[21] The first article about disco was written in September 1973 by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone Magazine.[22][23] In 1974 New York City's WPIX-FM premiered the first disco radio show.[19]

Musical influences include funk, Latin and soul music. The disco sound has soaring, often reverberated vocals over a steady "four-on-the-floor" beat, an eighth note (quaver) or 16th note (semi-quaver) hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a prominent, syncopated electric bass line sometimes consisting of octaves. The Fender Jazz Bass is often associated with disco bass lines, because the instrument itself has a very prominent "voice" in the musical mix. In most disco tracks, strings, horns, electric pianos, and electric guitars create a lush background sound. Orchestral instruments such as the flute are often used for solo melodies, and unlike in rock, lead guitar is rarely used. Some disco songs employ the use of electronic instruments such as synthesizers.

Well-known late 1970s disco performers included Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Trammps, Van McCoy, Gloria Gaynor, The Village People, Chic, and The Jacksons. Summer would become the first well-known and most popular disco artist (eventually having the title "The Queen of Disco" bestowed upon her by various critics) and would also play a part in pioneering the electronic sound that later became a prominent element of disco. While performers and singers garnered the lion's share of public attention, producers working behind the scenes played an equal, if not more important role in disco, since they often wrote the songs and created the innovative sounds and production techniques that were part of the "disco sound."[24] Many non-disco artists recorded disco songs at the height of disco's popularity, and films such as Saturday Night Fever and Thank God It's Friday contributed to disco's rise in mainstream popularity. According to music writer Piero Scaruffi the disco phenomenon spread quickly because the "collective ecstasy" of disco was cathartic and regenerative and led to freedom of expression.[11] Disco was the last mass popular music movement that was driven by the baby boom generation.[25]

An angry backlash against disco music and culture emerged in the United States, hitting its peak with the July 1979 Disco Demolition Night riot. While the popularity of disco in the United States declined markedly as a result of the backlash, the genre continued to be popular elsewhere during the 1980s. Because the term "disco" became unfashionable at the start of the 1980s it was replaced by "dance music" and "dance pop" which described music powered by the basic disco beat.[20] In the decades since, dance clubs have remained highly popular, and the disco beat has informed the sound of many of music's biggest stars. Disco has been influential on several dance music genres that have emerged since, such as House, Nu-Disco, Hi-NRG, Italo Disco, Eurodisco, Disco-Funk and Latin Freestyle.[20]



Pre 1974: Early history

The term "discotheque" was coined in Europe to describe clubs where there was no live music played. Jimmy Saville played records of big band music in dance halls in Leeds, England during World War Two [26]. These types of clubs emerged in the United States where they were also described as "Discotheques" following the 1960 popularity of dance "The Twist" which emerged from a Chubby Checker hit of the same name.[citation needed] "Disco" which is shorthand for "Discotheque" emerged as the preferred name for this type of club and the music genre associated with these clubs after the Rolling Stone magazine article described above.[citation needed]

During the 1960s and 70s in New York City, musicians and audiences from the female, homosexual, black, and Latino communities, who were marginalized at the time, adopted several traits from the hippies and psychedelia. They included overwhelming sound, free-form dancing, "trippy" lighting, colorful costumes, and hallucinogens[11][12][15][16] Psychedelic soul groups like the Chambers Brothers and especially Sly and The Family Stone influenced proto-disco acts such as Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and the Philadelphia Sound.[27] In addition, the positivity, lack of irony, and earnestness of the hippies informed proto-disco music like M.F.S.B.'s "Love Is the Message".[12]

Philly and New York soul were evolutions of the Motown sound. The Philly Sound is typified by lavish percussion and lush strings, which became a prominent part of mid-1970s disco songs. Early songs with disco elements include "Bla, Bla Diddly" (Giorgio Moroder (1966), "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (The Supremes, 1966), "Only the Strong Survive" (Jerry Butler, 1968), "Message to Love" (The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1969),[28] "Soul Makossa" (Manu Dibango, 1972), Eddie Kendricks' Keep on Truckin' (1973) and "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, 1973).

The early disco sound was largely an urban American phenomenon with producers and labels such as SalSoul Records (Ken, Joe and Stanley Cayre), West End Records (Mel Cheren), Casablanca (Neil Bogart), and Prelude (Marvin Schlachter) to name a few.

The disco sound was also shaped by Tom Moulton who wanted to extend the enjoyment of the music — thus creating the extended mix or "Remix". This has influenced many other latter genres such as techno, and pop. DJs and remixers would often remix (that is,, re-edit) existing songs using reel-to-reel tape machines. Their remixed versions would add in percussion breaks, new sections, and new sounds. Other influential DJs and remixers who helped to establish what became known as the "disco sound" included David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Shep Pettibone, the legendary and much-sought-after Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, and later, New York–born Chicago "Godfather of House" Frankie Knuckles.

Disco was also shaped by nightclub DJs such as Francis Grasso, who used multiple record players to seamlessly mix tracks from genres such as soul, funk and pop music at discothèques, and was the forerunner to later styles such as house. Women also played important roles at the turntable. Karen Cook, the first female disco DJ in the United States, spun the vinyl hits from 1974 to 1977 at 'Elan, Houston, TX, and also programmed music for clubs throughout the US that were owned by McFaddin Ventures.

Disco hit the television airwaves with Soul Train in 1971 hosted by Don Cornelius, then Marty Angelo's Disco Step-by-Step Television Show in 1975, Steve Marcus' Disco Magic/Disco 77, Eddie Rivera's Soap Factory and Merv Griffin's Dance Fever, hosted by Deney Terrio, who is credited with teaching actor John Travolta to dance for his upcoming role in the hit movie Saturday Night Fever.

1974–1978: Chart-topping songs

From 1974 through 1978, Disco music continued to increase in popularity as many disco songs topped the charts. The Hues Corporation's 1974 "Rock The Boat", a U.S. #1 single and million-seller, was one of the early disco songs to hit #1. The same year saw the release of "Kung Fu Fighting", produced by Biddu and sung by Carl Douglas, which reached #1 in both the U.K. and U.S., and became the best-selling single of the year[29] and one of the best-selling singles of all time with eleven million records sold worldwide,[21][30] helping to popularize disco music to a great extent.[21] Other chart-topping disco hits that year included "Walking in Rhythm" by The Blackbyrds, "Rock Your Baby" by George McCrae, and "Love's Theme" by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. Also in 1974, Gloria Gaynor released the first side-long disco mix vinyl album, which included a remake of The Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye" and two other songs, "Honey Bee" and "Reach Out (I'll Be There)". MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) released TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), a 1974 hit recording featuring vocals by The Three Degrees, which became the first disco song to reach number one, after Love's Theme, on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1978 Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr performed one of the best singles of all time in disco music "Shine on Silver Moon" from the album "Marilyn and Billy". Also significant during this early disco period was Miami's KC and the Sunshine Band. Formed by Harry Wayne Casey ("KC") and Richard Finch, KC and the Sunshine Band had a string of disco-definitive top-five hits between 1975 and 1977, including "Get Down Tonight", "That's the Way (I Like It)", "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty", "I'm Your Boogie Man" and "Keep It Comin' Love".

The Bee Gees used Barry Gibb's falsetto to garner hits such as "You Should Be Dancing", "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever" and "More Than A Woman". Andy Gibb, a younger brother to the Bee Gees, followed with similarly-styled solo hits such as "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" and "Shadow Dancing." In 1975, hits such as Van McCoy's "The Hustle" and Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" and "Could It Be Magic" brought disco further into the mainstream. Other notable early disco hits include The Jacksons’s "Dancing Machine" (1974), Barry White’s "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (1974), LaBelle’s "Lady Marmalade" (1975) and Silver Convention’s "Fly Robin Fly" (1975). Chic's "Le Freak" (1978) became a classic and is heard almost everywhere disco is mentioned; other hits by Chic include the often-sampled "Good Times" (1979) and "Everybody Dance" (1978). Michael Jackson also scored his second chart-topping solo hit in the disco genre with "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" (1979). Martin Dow, an influential DJ at the time in Key West, FL was the resident DJ at The Monster, who pioneered the NYC sound across the state and was a recipient of the IRAA Gold Record for the Atlantic Records hit single "Dance, Dance, Dance" by Chic. He was influenced by Roy Thode, a NYC DJ who played in many NYC clubs at the time and was a close friend of Jim Burgess. Roy and Martin were notable for their ability to phase and mix three turntables simultaneously.

Diana Ross was one of the first Motown artists to embrace the disco sound with her hugely successful 1976 outing "Love Hangover" from her self-entitled album. Ross would continue to score disco hits for the rest of the Disco era, including the 1980 dance classics "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out", (the latter immediately becoming a favorite in the gay community). Ironically enough, the group Ross led to superstardom during the 1960s, The Supremes, scored a handful of hits in the disco clubs without Ross, most notably 1976's "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking" and, their last charted single before disbanding, 1977's "You're My Driving Wheel". Also noteworthy are Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real" (1978), Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Shame", (also 1978), Cher's "Take Me Home" (1979), Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (also 1979), Geraldine Hunt's "Can't Fake The Feeling" (1980), and Walter Murphy's various attempts to bring classical music to the mainstream, most notably his hit "A Fifth of Beethoven" (1976).

The rich orchestral accompaniment that became identified with the disco era conjured up the memories of the big band era which brought out several artists that recorded and disco-ized some big band arrangements including Perry Como, who re-recorded his 1929 and 1939 hit, Temptation, in 1975, as well as Ethel Merman, who released an album of disco songs entitled The Ethel Merman Disco Album in 1979. The disco fad was even picked up by more unexpected musicians, such as country artists Bill Anderson (Double S), Connie Smith (with her cover of Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" and Ronnie Milsap (High Heel Sneakers). Myron Floren, second-in-command on The Lawrence Welk Show, released a recording of the Clarinet Polka entitled "Disco Accordion." Even the I Love Lucy theme wasn't spared from being disco-ized. Other notable disco hits based on movie and television themes included the medley from Star Wars, "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" (1977), by Meco, and "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" by The Manhattan Transfer (1979).

Prominent European pop and disco groups were Luv' from the Netherlands and Boney M, a group of four West Indian singers and dancers masterminded by West German record producer Frank Farian. Boney M charted worldwide hits with such songs as "Daddy Cool", "Ma Baker" and "Rivers of Babylon". In France, Claude Francois who re-invented himself as the king of French disco, released "La plus belle chose du monde" a French version of the Bee Gees hit record, "Massachusetts" which became a big hit in Canada and Europe and "Alexandrie Alexandra" was posthumously released on the day of his burial which became a worldwide hit; "Dalida released "J'attendrai", which became a big hit in Canada and Japan, and Cerrone's early hit songs – "Love In C Minor", "Give Me Love" and "Supernature" – became major hits in the U.S. and Europe.


Eurodisco was not as funky, more pop oriented, and less soul influenced than American styled disco. European acts Silver Convention, Love and Kisses, Munich Machine, and American acts Donna Summer, and the Village People were acts that defined the late 1970s Eurodisco sound. Producers Giorgio Moroder whom Allmusic described as "one of the principal architects of the disco sound" and Jean-Marc Cerrone were involved with Eurodisco.[31] The highly influential German group Kraftwerk is regarded by some as the first Eurodisco act.[20]

1978–1980: Pop pre-eminence

In December 1977 the film Saturday Night Fever was released. The film was marketed specifically to broaden disco's popularity beyond its primarily homosexual and black audience. It was a huge success, helping to make disco a worldwide phenomenon, and became the best-selling soundtrack of all time.[11]

Disco's popularity led many non-disco artists to record disco songs at the height of its popularity. Many of their songs were not "pure" disco, but were instead rock or pop songs with (sometimes inescapable) disco influence or overtones. Notable examples include Blondie's ""Heart of Glass" (1978), Cher's "Hell on Wheels" (1979), The Rolling Stones' "Miss You" (1978), Barry Manilow’s "Copacabana" (1978), David Bowie "John I'm Only Dancing (Again)" (1975), Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (1979), The Kinks's "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" (1979)[citation needed], Electric Light Orchestra’s "Shine a Little Love", "Don't Bring Me Down", and "Last Train to London" (1979), George Benson's "Give Me the Night" (1980), Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" (1980), Paul McCartney & Wings' "Goodnight Tonight" (1979), and Kiss' "I Was Made For Lovin' You" (1979).

Several parodies of the disco style were created, most notably "Disco Duck" and "Dancin' Fool". Rick Dees, at the time a radio DJ in Memphis, Tennessee, recorded "Disco Duck"; Frank Zappa parodied the lifestyles of disco dancers in "Dancin' Fool" on his 1979 Sheik Yerbouti album.

1979–1981 Backlash and decline

Though disco music had enjoyed several years of popularity, an anti-disco sentiment manifested itself, particularly in America. Many musicians and fans of a variety of rock music styles expressed strong disapproval of disco throughout the height of its popularity.[20] Among these critics, the slogans "disco sucks" and "death to disco"[20] were common by the late 1970s and appeared in written form in places ranging from tee shirts to graffiti.[32][33] Radio DJs organized mass burnings of Bee Gees albums and posters.[34] Rock artists such as Rod Stewart and David Bowie who added disco elements to their music were accused of being sell outs.[33][35]

The punk subculture both in the United States and United Kingdom[20] was often very critical, and even downright hostile towards disco. Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys likened disco to the cabaret culture of Weimar Germany for its apathy towards government policy and its escapism (which Biafra saw as delusional). He sang about this in the song "Saturday Night Holocaust", the B-side of the song "Halloween". Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo has said that Disco was "like a beautiful woman with a great body and no brains" and a product of political apathy of that era.[36] Aside from Mothersbaugh's and Biafra's criticism, punk fans shared the "disco sucks" sentiment of other rock fans. New Jersey rock critic Jim Testa wrote "Put a Bullet Through The Jukebox", a vitriolic screed attacking disco that was a punk call to arms.[37]

Man wearing Disco Sucks T-Shirt

July 12, 1979 became known as "the day disco died" because of an anti-disco demonstration that was held in Chicago.[38] Rock station DJs Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, along with Michael Veeck, son of Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, staged Disco Demolition Night, a promotional event with an anti-disco theme, between games at a White Sox doubleheader for disgruntled rock fans. During this event, which involved exploding disco records, the raucous crowd tore out seats and turf in the field and did other damage to Comiskey Park. It ended in a riot in which police made numerous arrests. The damage done to the field forced the Sox to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers who won the first game. The stadium suffered thousands of dollars in damage.

On July 21, six days after the riot, the top six records on the U.S. charts were of the disco genre. By September 22, there were no disco records in the top 10. The media, in celebratory tones, declared disco dead and rock revived.[25]

The anti-disco backlash, combined with other societal and radio industry factors, changed the face of pop radio in the years following disco-demolition night. Top 40 radio stations avoided playing music by black artists in an effort to prevent their stations from being labeled with the dreaded "disco" tag. One of the more popular of these formats, country music, rose into favor when Saturday Night Fever star John Travolta had a hit with the film Urban Cowboy, a movie that has been perceived as a rejection of disco.[dead link]

The television industry, taking a cue from the music industry, responded with an anti-disco agenda as well. A recurring theme on the television show WKRP in Cincinnati was a hateful attitude towards disco music. The comedic trio Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker also lampooned the anti-disco sentiment in their 1980 smash comedy film Airplane! In one scene, there is a city skyline featuring a radio tower with a neon-lighted station callsign. A disc jockey voiceover then says: "WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever!" Then the wayward airplane slices the radio tower with its wing, the voiceover goes silent, and the lighted callsign on the tower goes black.

It was during this backlash and decline that several record companies were folded, reorganized or sold. In 1979, MCA Records bought ABC Records and shut it down. Casablanca Records' founder Neil Bogart was forced out in 1980 by label owner PolyGram. RSO Records founder Robert Stigwood left the label in 1981. TK Records closed in 1981. Salsoul Records managed to hang on until 1984.[39]


A bad economy, political chaos that led to the election of Ronald Reagan,[34] and burnout brought on by the hedonistic lifestyles led by participants (along with the emergence of AIDS) have been cited as factors leading to the decline of the disco genre.[34] Gloria Gaynor argued that the music industry supported the destruction of disco because rock music producers were losing money and rock musicians were losing the spotlight.[40] Disco was criticized for being elitist. Songs such as Frank Zappa's satirical song "Dancin' Fool" and Steve Dahl's "Do Ya Think I'm Disco?" described patrons of exclusive discos as being overdressed and vapid.[35]

"The attacks on disco gave respectable voice to the ugliest kinds of unacknowledged racism, sexism and homophobia."

Craig Werner, A Change Is Gonna Come[41]

In January 1979, rock critic Robert Christgau wrote that homophobia, and most likely racism, were reasons behind the backlash.[33] a conclusion seconded by John Rockwell in The New York Times. In the years since Disco Demolition night, social critics have described the backlash as implicitly macho and bigoted, and an attack on non-white and non-heterosexual cultures.[20][35][38] Legs McNeil, founder of the fanzine Punk, was quoted in an interview as saying, "the hippies always wanted to be black. We were going, 'fuck the blues, fuck the black experience'." He said that disco was the result of an unholy union between homosexuals and blacks.[42] Harold Childs senior vice president at A&M Records told the Los Angeles Times "radio is really desperate for rock product", "they're all looking for some white rock-n-roll".[38] Steve Dahl has denied the charges, saying "It's really easy to look at it historically, from this perspective, and attach all those things to it. But we weren't thinking like that."[35] It has been noted that British punk rock critics of disco were very supportive of the pro-black/anti-racist reggae genre.[20] Both Christgau and Testa acknowledged that there were legitimate artistic reasons for being critical of disco.[33][37]

1990–Present: Resurgence

In the late 1980s and increasingly through the 1990s, a revival of the original disco style began to emerge. In the early 2000s, the disco-influenced genre known as dance-punk enjoyed increased popularity. Dance-punk bands fused seemingly ideologically contradictory elements of punk rock with different forms of dance music, especially disco (Post punk took influences from disco, either as experimentation or as parody).

In the mid to late 2000s, many disco-influenced songs have become hits. Music producer Ian Levine has also produced many new songs for the compilation album Disco 2008, a tribute to Disco music using original material. Disco tributes continue to be popular draws. The World's Largest Disco, an annual celebration held over Thanksgiving weekend in Buffalo, New York, draws thousands of disco fans in 1970s-era attire. In addition to playing disco hits of the era, artists from the 1970s perform live. One place where disco has never gone away is English Junior schools. By 1975 discos began for young children, and are still an annual feature in many schools today.

Musical characteristics

Disco bass pattern
Rock & disco drum patterns: disco features greater subdivision of the beat, which is four-to-the-floor

The "disco sound", while unique, almost defies a unified description, as it is an ultra-inclusive art form that draws on as many influences as it produces interpretations. Jazz, classical, calypso, rock, Latin, soul, funk, and new technologies — just to name a few of the obvious — were all mingled with aplomb. Vocals can be frivolous or serious love intrigues — all the way to extremely serious socially-conscious commentary.

The music tended to layer soaring, often-reverberated vocals, which are often doubled by horns, over a background "pad" of electric pianos and wah-pedaled "chicken-scratch" guitars. Other backing keyboard instruments include the piano, organ (during early years), string synth, and electroacoustic keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, and Hohner Clavinet. Synthesizers are also fairly common in disco, especially in the late 1970s. The rhythm is laid down by prominent, syncopated basslines (with heavy use of octaves) played on the bass guitar and by drummers using a drum kit, African/Latin percussion, and electronic drums such as Simmons and Roland drum modules). The sound is enriched with solo lines and harmony parts played by a variety of orchestral instruments, such as harp, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn, tuba, English horn, oboe, flute (sometimes especially the alto flute and occasionally bass flute), piccolo, timpani and synth strings or a full-blown string orchestra.

Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat, a quaver or semi-quaver hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a heavy, syncopated bass line. This basic beat would appear to be related to the Dominican merengue rhythm. Other Latin rhythms such as the rhumba, the samba and the cha-cha-cha are also found in disco recordings, and Latin polyrhythms, such as a rhumba beat layered over a merengue, are commonplace. The quaver pattern is often supported by other instruments such as the rhythm guitar and may be implied rather than explicitly present. It often involves syncopation, rarely occurring on the beat unless a synthesizer is used to replace the bass guitar. In general, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or popular song is that in dance music the bass hits four to the floor, at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), whereas in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four. Disco is further characterized by a 16th note division of the quarter notes established by the bass as shown in the second drum pattern below, after a typical rock drum pattern.

The orchestral sound usually known as "disco sound" relies heavily on strings and horns playing linear phrases, in unison with the soaring, often reverberated vocals or playing instrumental fills, while electric pianos and chicken-scratch guitars create the background "pad" sound defining the harmony progression. Typically, a rich "wall of sound" results. There are, however, more minimalistic flavors of disco with reduced, transparent instrumentation, pioneered by Chic.

In 1977, Giorgio Moroder again became responsible for a development in disco. Alongside Donna Summer and Pete Bellotte he wrote the song "I Feel Love" for Summer to perform. It became the first well-known disco hit to have a completely synthesised backing track. The song is still considered to have been well ahead of its time. Other disco producers, most famously Tom Moulton, grabbed ideas and techniques from dub music (which came with the increased Jamaican migration to New York City in the seventies) to provide alternatives to the four on the floor style that dominated. Larry Levan utilized style keys from dub and jazz and more as one of the most successful remixers of all time to create early versions of house music that sparked the genre.[43]


The "disco sound" was much more costly to produce than many of the other popular music genres from the 1970s. Unlike the simpler, four-piece band sound of the funk, soul of the late 1960s, or the small jazz organ trios, disco music often included a large pop band, with several chordal instruments (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer), several drum or percussion instruments (drumkit, Latin percussion, electronic drums), a horn section, a string orchestra, and a variety of "classical" solo instruments (for example,, flute, piccolo, and so on.).

Disco songs were arranged and composed by experienced arrangers and orchestrators, and producers added their creative touches to the overall sound. Recording complex arrangements with such a large number of instruments and sections required a team that included a conductor, copyists, record producers, and mixing engineers. Mixing engineers had an important role in the disco production process, because disco songs used as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments. Mixing engineers compiled these tracks into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with orchestral builds and breaks. Mixing engineers helped to develop the "disco sound" by creating a distinctive-sounding disco mix.

Early records were the "standard" 3 minute version until Tom Moulton came up with a way to make songs longer, wanting to take a crowd to another level that was impossible with 45-RPM vinyl discs of the time (which could usually hold no more than 5 minutes of good-quality music). With the help of José Rodriguez, his remasterer, he pressed a single on a 10" disc instead of 7". They cut the next single on a 12" disc, the same format as a standard album. This method fast became the standard format for all DJs of the genre.[44]

Because record sales were often dependent on floor play in clubs, DJs were also important to the development and popularization of disco music. Notable DJs include Rex Potts (Loft Lounge, Sarasota, Florida), Karen Cook, Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Richie Kaczar of Studio 54, Rick Gianatos, Francis Grasso of Sanctuary, Larry Levan, Ian Levine, Neil "Raz" Rasmussen & Mike Pace of L'amour Disco in Brooklyn, Preston Powell of Magique, Jennie Costa of Lemontrees, Tee Scott, Tony Smith of Xenon, John Luongo, Robert Ouimet of The Limelight, and David Mancuso.

Disco clubs and culture

In October 1975 notable discos included "Studio One" in Los Angeles, "Leviticus" in New York and "The Library" in Atlanta.[45]

Blue disco quad roller skates

By the late 1970s most major U.S. cities had thriving disco club scenes, but the largest scenes were in San Francisco, Miami, and most notably New York City. The scene was centered on discotheques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco hits through powerful PA systems for the patrons who came to dance. The DJs played "...a smooth mix of long single records to keep people 'dancing all night long'".[46] Some of the most prestigious clubs had elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the beat of the music.

At the height of the disco era, McFaddin Ventures were operating many successful and profitable nightclubs. In an effort to maximize profit, McFaddin Ventures in Houston, Texas commissioned a study on the stimulation of males and females during the playing of music. They accordingly custom tuned their speakers to make their numerous clubs more exciting.

In the late 1970s, Studio 54 was arguably the most well known nightclub in the world. This club played a major formative role in the growth of disco music and nightclub culture in general.

Disco dancing

In the early years dancers in discos danced in a "hang loose" style. Popular dances included "Bump", "Penguin", "Boogaloo, "Watergate" and the "Robot". By October 1975 The Hustle reigned. It was highly stylized, sophisticated and sexy. Variations included the Brooklyn Hustle, New York Hustle and Latin Hustle.[45]

During the disco era, many nightclubs would commonly host disco dance competitions or offer free instructional lessons. Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools which taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing", "the hustle" and "the cha cha". The pioneer of disco dance instruction was Karen Lustgarten in San Francisco in 1973. Her book The Complete Guide to Disco Dancing (Warner Books, 1978) was the first to name, break down and codify popular disco dances as a dance form and distinguish between disco freestyle, partner and line dances. The book hit the New York Times Best Seller List for 13 weeks and was translated into Chinese, German and French.

Some notable professional dance troupes of the 1970s included Pan's People and Hot Gossip. For many dancers, the primary influence of the 1970s disco age is still predominantly the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). This developed into the music and dance style of such films as Fame (1980), Flashdance (1983),"The Last Days of Disco"(1998). It also helped spawn dance competition TV shows such as Dance Fever (1979).

Disco fashion

Disco fashions were very trendy in the late 1970s. Discothèque-goers often wore expensive and extravagant fashions for nights out at their local disco, such as sheer, flowing Halston dresses for women and shiny polyester Qiana shirts for men with pointy collars, preferably open at the chest, often worn with double-knit polyester shirt jackets with matching trousers known as the leisure suit. Necklaces and medallions were a common fashion accessory.

Hedonism: drug subculture and sexual promiscuity

In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving drug subculture, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine[47] (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite "poppers",[48] and the "...other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and gave the sensation that one’s arms and legs had turned to Jell-O."[49] According to Peter Braunstein, the "massive quantities of drugs ingested in discotheques produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of 'main course' in a hedonist’s menu for a night out."[49]

Famous disco bars included the very important Paradise Garage and Crisco Disco as well as "...cocaine-filled celeb hangouts such as Manhattan's Studio 54", which was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Studio 54 was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon.

Influence on other music

1982–1990: Post disco and dance

The transition from the late-1970s disco styles to the early-1980s dance styles was marked primarily by the change from complex arrangements performed by large ensembles of studio session musicians (including a horn section and an orchestral string section), to a leaner sound, in which one or two singers would perform to the accompaniment of synthesizer keyboards and drum machines.

In addition, dance music during the 1981–83 period borrowed elements from blues and jazz, creating a style different from the disco of the 1970s. This emerging music was still known as disco for a short time, as the word had become associated with any kind of dance music played in discothèques. Examples of early 1980s dance sound performers include D. Train, Kashif, and Patrice Rushen. These changes were influenced by some of the notable R&B and jazz musicians of the 1970s, such as Stevie Wonder, Kashif and Herbie Hancock, who had pioneered "one-man-band"-type keyboard techniques. Some of these influences had already begun to emerge during the mid-1970s, at the height of disco’s popularity.

During the first years of the 1980s, the disco sound began to be phased out, and faster tempos and synthesized effects, accompanied by guitar and simplified backgrounds, moved dance music toward the funk and pop genres. This trend can be seen in singer Billy Ocean's recordings between 1979 and 1981. Whereas Ocean's 1979 song American Hearts was backed with an orchestral arrangement played by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, his 1981 song "One of Those Nights (Feel Like Gettin' Down)" had a more bare, stripped-down sound, with no orchestration or symphonic arrangements. This drift from the original disco sound is called post-disco. In this music scene there are rooted sub-genres, such as italo-disco, techno, house, dance-pop, boogie, and early alternative dance.[50] During the early 1980s, dance music dropped the complicated melodic structure and orchestration which typified the disco sound.

TV themes

During the 1970s, many TV theme songs were produced (or older themes updated) with disco influenced music. Examples include S.W.A.T. (1975), Charlie's Angels (1976), NBC Saturday Night At The Movies (1976), The Love Boat (1977), The Donahue Show (1977), CHiPs (1977), The Professionals (1977), Dallas (1978), Kojak (1978), and 20/20 or Mike Post & Pete Carpenter's Showtime (1983) from The A-Team, which kept the disco sound throughout the 1980s. The British Science Fiction program Space: 1999 (1975) also featured a soundtrack strongly influenced by disco. This was especially evident in the show's second season.

DJ culture

The rising popularity of disco came in tandem with developments in turntablism and the use of records to create a continuous mix of songs. The resulting DJ mix differed from previous forms of dance music, which were oriented towards live performances by musicians. This in turn affected the arrangement of dance music, with songs since the disco era typically containing beginnings and endings marked by a simple beat or riff that can be easily slipped into the mix.

Rave culture

As the Disco era came to a close in the late 1970s, Rave culture began to see significant growth. Rave culture incorporated Disco culture's same love of dance music, drug exploration, sexual promiscuity, and hedonism. Although disco culture had thrived in the mainsteam, the rave culture would make an effort to stay underground to avoid the animosity that was still surrounding disco and dance music.

Hip hop and electro

The disco sound had a strong influence on early hip hop. Most of the early rap/hip-hop songs were created by isolating existing disco bass-guitar lines and dubbing over them with MC rhymes. The Sugarhill Gang used Chic's "Good Times" as the foundation for their 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight", generally considered to be the song that first popularized Rap music in the United States and around the world. In 1982, Afrika Bambataa released the single "Planet Rock", which incorporated electronica elements from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and "Numbers" as well as YMO's "Riot in Lagos". The "Planet Rock" sound also spawned a hip-hop electronic dance trend, electro music, which included songs such as Planet Patrol's "Play At Your Own Risk" (1982), C Bank's "One More Shot" (1982), Cerrone's "Club Underworld" (1984), Shannon's "Let the Music Play" (1983), Freeez's "I.O.U." (1983), Midnight Star's "Freak-A-Zoid" (1983), Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" (1984).

Post punk

The Post Punk movement that originated in the late 1970s both supported Punk Rock's rule breaking while rejecting its back to raw rock music element.[51] Post Punk's mantra of constantly moving forward lent itself to both openness to and experimentation with elements of disco and other styles.[51] Public Image Limited is considered the first Post Punk group.[51] The group's second album Metal Box fully embraced the studio as instrument methodology of disco.[51] The group's founder John Lydon told the press that disco was the only music he cared for at the time. No Wave was a sub genre of post punk centered in New York City.[51] For shock value, James Chance who was a notable member of the No Wave scene penned an article in the East Village Eye urging his readers to move uptown and get "trancin' with some superadioactive disco voodoo funk". His band James White and the Blacks wrote a disco album Off White.[51] Their performances resembled those of disco performers (horn section, dancers and so on.).[51] In 1981 ZE Records led the transition from No Wave into the more subtle Mutant disco (post-disco/punk) genre.[51] Mutant disco acts such as Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Was Not Was, ESG and Liquid Liquid influenced several British Post Punk acts such as New Order, Orange Juice and A Certain Ratio.[51]


Nu-disco is a 21st century dance music genre associated with the renewed interest in 1970s and early 1980s disco,[52] mid-1980s Italo disco, and the synthesizer-heavy Eurodisco aesthetics.[53] The moniker appeared in print as early as 2002, and by mid-2008 was used by record shops such as the online retailers Juno and Beatport.[54] These vendors often associate it with re-edits of original-era disco music, as well as with music from European producers who make dance music inspired by original-era American disco, electro and other genres popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is also used to describe the music on several American labels that were previously associated with the genres electroclash and deep house.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ (2003) A history of rock music 1951–2000, ISBN 9780595295654, p.152: "Funk music opened the doors to the disco subculture"
  2. ^ (2003) Out of the Revolution, ISBN 9780739105474, p.398 : "Funk, disco, and Rap music are grounded in the same aesthetic concepts that define the soul music tradition."
  3. ^ (2000) Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, ISBN 9780802136886, p.127: "Its [disco] music grew as much out of the psychedelic experiments ... as from ... Philadelphia orchestrations"
  4. ^ (2008) The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism, ISBN 9781416532187, p.140: "Disco, which emerged from the psychedelic haze of flower power infused with R&B and social progress that was being cooked up at the Loft"
  5. ^ Disco Double Take by The Village Voice: "And the scene's combination of overwhelming sound, trippy lighting, and hallucinogens was indebted to the late-'60s psychedelic culture". Retrieved on November 29, 2008
  6. ^ a b Disco: Encyclopedia II - Disco - Origins. Experiencefestival.com. Retrieved on November 29, 2008
  7. ^ (2001) American Studies in a Moment of Danger, ISBN 9780816639489, p.145: "It has become general knowledge by now that the fusion of Latin rhythms, Anglo-Caribbean instrumentation, North American black "soul" vocals, and Euro-American melodies gave rise to the disco music"
  8. ^ a b (2003) The Drummer's Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, ISBN 9781884365324, p.67: "Disco incorporates stylistic elements of Rock, Funk and the Motown sound while also drawing from Swing, Soca, Merengue and Afro-Cuban styles"
  9. ^ a b (2006) A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America, ISBN 9780472031474, p.207: "A looser, explicitly polyrhythmic attack pushes the blues, gospel, and soul heritage into apparently endless cycle where there is no beginning or end, just an ever-present "now"."
  10. ^ a b (2007) The 1970s, ISBN 9780313339196, p.203–204: "During the late 1960s various male counterculture groups, most notably gay, but also heterosexual black and Latino, created an alternative to rock'n'roll, which was dominated by white — and presumably heterosexual — men. This alternative was disco"
  11. ^ a b c d The History of Rock and Dance Music by Piero Scaruffi
  12. ^ a b c Disco Double Take: New York Parties Like It’s 1975 – Village Voice.com. Retrieved on August 9, 2009.
  13. ^ What's That Sound? • W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.. What's That Sound? • W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. wwnorton.com. Retrieved on August 4, 2009
  14. ^ MacArthur's Disco : Disco Clubs at DiscoMusic.com. Discotheques and Clubs of the 1970s/80s: "MacArthur's Disco". DiscoMusic.com. Retrieved on August 4, 2009.
  15. ^ a b (1998) "The Cambridge History of American Music", ISBN 978-0-521-45429-2, 9780521454292, p.372: "Initially, disco musicians and audiences alike belonged to marginalized communities: women, gay, black, and Latinos"
  16. ^ a b (2002) "Traces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimensions of Popular Music", ISBN 978-0-8147-9809-6, 9780814798096, p.117: "New York City was the primary center of disco, and the original audience was primarily gay African Americans and Latinos."
  17. ^ (1976) "Stereo Review", University of Michigan, p.75: "[..] and the result – what has come to be called disco – was clearly the most compelling and influential form of black commercial pop music since the halcyon days of the "Motown Sound" of the middle Sixties."
  18. ^ Disco: A Decade of Saturday Nights, empsfm.org Past Exhibitions
  19. ^ a b Disco Roots | Disco Timeline, discomusic.com
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i Allmusic Disco Genre
  21. ^ a b c James Ellis. "Biddu". Metro. http://www.metro.co.uk/showbiz/interviews/412-biddu. Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  22. ^ ARTS IN AMERICA; Here's to Disco, It Never Could Say Goodbye, The New York Times, December 10, 2002
  23. ^ Vince Aletti (1940 – ), Excerpt from first article about disco
  24. ^ Disco, allmusic
  25. ^ a b From Comiskey Park to Thriller: The Effect of “Disco Sucks” on Pop by Steve Greenberg founder and CEO of S-Curve Records July 10, 2009.
  26. ^ Interview with Jimmy Savile DJhistory.com 20 May 2004
  27. ^ Psychedelic Soul Allmusic
  28. ^ CANOE – JAM! Music – Artists – Album Review: THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE. Canoe.ca: JAM! Music – Artists – Album Review: THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE. Retrieved on August 4, 2009.
  29. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 344. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  30. ^ Malika Browne (August 20, 2004). "It's a big step from disco to Sanskrit chants, but Biddu has made it". The Sunday Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/article471655.ece. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  31. ^ Giorgio Moroder Allmusic.com
  32. ^ (2001) "Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Culture", ISBN 978-0-415-16161-9, 9780415161619, p.217: "In fact, by 1977, before punk spread, there was a "disco sucks" movement sponsored by radio stations that attracted suburban white youth, who insisted that disco was escapist, synthetic and overproduced."
  33. ^ a b c d Robert Christgau: Pazz & Jop 1978: New Wave Hegemony and the Bebop Question Robert Christgau for the Village Voice Pop & Jop Poll 1978 January 22, 1979
  34. ^ a b c Allmusic BeeGees bio
  35. ^ a b c d Disco demolition: Bell bottoms be gone! ESPN August 11, 2004
  36. ^ DEVO and the evolution of The Wipeouters interview with MARK MOTHERSBAUGH Juice Magazine
  37. ^ a b Mark Andersen; Mark Jenkins (1 August 2003). Dance of days: two decades of punk in the nation's capital. Akashic Books. pp. 17–. ISBN 9781888451443. http://books.google.com/books?id=CU1jKq0TlvQC&pg=PA17. Retrieved 21 March 2011. 
  38. ^ a b c Campoin (2009), p. 82–84.
  39. ^ Salsoul Records @. Disco-disco.com. Retrieved on 2011-03-21.
  40. ^ empsfm.org – EXHIBITIONS – Featured Exhibitions
  41. ^ Disco Inferno, Daryl Easlea, The Independent, December 11, 2004
  42. ^ Rip it Up and Start Again POSTPUNK 1978–1984 by Simon Reynolds p154
  43. ^ Shapiro, Peter (2000). Modulations: A History of Electronic Music. Caipirinha Productions, Inc.. pp. 254 pages. ISBN 978-0-8195-6498-6.  see p.45, 46
  44. ^ The Disco History page !, Disco-Disco.com
  45. ^ a b Everybody's Doing The hustle, Associated Press, October 16, 1975
  46. ^ The Body and soul of club culture
  47. ^ Gootenberg, Paul 1954– – Between Coca and Cocaine: A Century or More of U.S.-Peruvian Drug Paradoxes, 1860–1980 – Hispanic American Historical Review – 83:1, February 2003, pp. 119–150. "The relationship of cocaine to 1970s disco culture cannot be stressed enough ..."
  48. ^ Amyl, butyl and isobutyl nitrite (collectively known as alkyl nitrites) are clear, yellow liquids which are inhaled for their intoxicating effects. Nitrites originally came as small glass capsules that were popped open. This led to nitrites being given the name 'poppers' but this form of the drug is rarely found in the UK. The drug became popular in the UK first on the disco/club scene of the 1970s and then at dance and rave venues in the 1980s and 1990s.
  49. ^ a b Peter Braunstein DISCO, American Heritage Magazine
  50. ^ "Explore music…Genre: Post-disco". Allmusic. http://www.allmusic.com/explore/style/d13417. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  51. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rip It Up and Start Again POSTPUNK 1978–1984 by Simon Reynolds
  52. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2001-07-11). "Disco Double Take: New York Parties Like It's 1975". Village Voice. http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2008/06/disco-double-take-new-york-parties-like.html. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  53. ^ Beta, Andy (February 2008). "Boogie Children: A new generation of DJs and producers revive the spaced-out, synthetic sound of Eurodisco". Spin: 44. http://spin-cdnsrc.texterity.com/spin/200802/?pg=48. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  54. ^ "Beatport launches nu disco / indie dance genre page" (Press release). Beatport. 2008-07-30. http://www.beatportal.com/feed/item/beatport-launches-nu-disco-indie-dance-genre-page/. Retrieved 2008-08-08. "Beatport is launching a new landing page, dedicated solely to the genres of “nu disco” and “indie dance”. … Nu Disco is everything that springs from the late ′70s and early ′80s (electronic) disco, boogie, cosmic, Balearic and Italo disco continuum…" 

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