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Who's Afraid of Disco?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2012 inductees – and disco divas Donna Summer and Chaka Khan didn’t make the cut. We discuss modern-day perceptions of disco with Alice Echols, author of "Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture" and Dan Balis, co-founder of disco revival band Escort.


Dan Balis and Alice Echols

Comments [46]


So, I guess, Madonna is in the RRHOF because she changed music. If so, how did she do that, musically speaking? Seems to me, Madonna rode in on Donna Summer's coat tails.

Dec. 19 2011 07:29 PM
John from Jackson Heights

What about boney m? They are both a great group and cover several genres? Are they in the hall of fame?

Dec. 12 2011 10:24 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

@JimB: Not sure about that "precluded spontaneity" statement.

Dec. 12 2011 04:37 PM
Victor from Paterson

Did you ever listen to David Bowie's Fame and James Brown's Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin' ?

Dec. 12 2011 03:31 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

@Julia, glad you agree about a name change. Just reviewed this year's inductees. Laura Nyro, Donovan, The Beastie Boys are "rock and roll"? On what planet?

BTW, I'm a graphic designer with 30+ years experience designing logos and am of the opinion that the current RRHOF logo sucks. SO boring. If the name changes the Hall should give me a call. HA! I have better a chance of being inducted into the Hall myself.

Dec. 12 2011 02:52 PM
Jim B

Some criticisms of disco culture remain valid. It was apolitical, materialistic and precluded spontaneity for musicians. Following in the wake of the 60's, this was anathema.

Dec. 12 2011 02:42 PM
Asparagus from brooklyn

Good heavens, that Asher track is awful and shows how sorry this music industry is. Why are we mentioning this in the same breath where the great David Mancuso was mentioned? He would scratch his ears off if he heard that rubbish.

Dec. 12 2011 02:39 PM

I get your point, Alex, but I view it more as an industry move, residue of the race record period.

Stephen, I agrre that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in need of a name change and what you suggest is apropos.

@Fuva; Um-hum!

Dec. 12 2011 02:38 PM
Mike C from Manhattan

I have been listening to this type of music on and it seems like yes it is still alive over seas

Dec. 12 2011 02:37 PM
tony from fort lee

Don't forget the work Nile Rogers did with the B 52's Cosmic thing

Dec. 12 2011 02:37 PM
Len Maniace from Jackson Heights

The Kinks "Superman" was an early example of mainstream rock embracing disco. Superman and the Stones' "Miss you" were both late '77 if I recall.

Given the generous standards of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Donna Summer easily belongs in there. There clearly was at least a little racial animus in the Disco Sucks movement.

Dec. 12 2011 02:37 PM
Lex Leonard from NYC

Disco is simply too big and influential a genre to be considered a category of Rock. Disco is Dance Music that belongs in the world of House Music, Techno, Trance, etc.... I could see Disco artists being included in a Hall of Fame that included Paul Oakenfold and The Chemical Brothers but not The Stones.

Dec. 12 2011 02:35 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Nile Rodgers'/ Chic's music is, for the most part, a polyrhythmic feat. Nasty.

Dec. 12 2011 02:35 PM
clive betters

for better and or worse, there definitely was a nexus,musically and culturally, between salsa and disco,back in the early to mid seventies .

Dec. 12 2011 02:34 PM
siouxan from Bronx

For the record, way back (late 70s), Brian Eno told Bowie that he'd heard the future of music: Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer!

Dec. 12 2011 02:34 PM
Mike C from Manhattan

Alex is spot on target! Nuff said! I especially like the fact that he pointed out that they could not dance .. Disco is (was) Pop music plain and simple, and like that goth crowd on SouthPark, the out crowd always resents what's popular ...

Dec. 12 2011 02:34 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

"Disco Sucks" was primarily the cry of straight, white guys who had no rhythm and could not dance to save their lives. Period.

Dec. 12 2011 02:32 PM
Siouxan from Bronx

Nile Rogers helped Bowie jump the shark.

Dec. 12 2011 02:30 PM
Dave Darichuk from Manitoba Canada

Well another miss for the RRHOF! although a rock and roll artist they also have never considered Linda Ronstadt for the Hall. A heavy hitter recording act who could fill stadiums when it was unheard of for a female artist to do so. Although mostly known as a cover artist, she made the songs her own with her powerful voice and great arrangements, not to mention honing great musicians like jackson Browne, the Eagles and more.

Dec. 12 2011 02:30 PM
alex from Weehawken

Let me make it simple: At some point, white kids hijacked R & R and forgot its black roots.... If James Brown, the Bee Gees and David Bowie are in then Nile Rodgers MUST be in... I remember 'disco sucks' and I think a lot of it was fueled by white kids who couldn't dance being totally threatened by dance music. Yes there was horrible disco but does anyone remember Aereo Speedwagon? Should that define all white R & R?

from - a white boy

Dec. 12 2011 02:28 PM
Cousin Ken

Hi John

Can you ask your experts about the episode where Sirius XM has discontinued (and reinstated) the disco channel 3 times in the last 5 years? To me that's a clear example of bias. An entire genre is taken off the air while multiple stations are devoted to rock. As I understand it Sirius can't even measure listenership by channel

Dec. 12 2011 02:27 PM
clive betters

i think electronica,ambient music,afro-beat, and "world music",are, in many ways, what "disco" has morphed into.

Dec. 12 2011 02:27 PM
Kevin from Forest Hills

It occurs to me that I've always been into disco to dance to, but almost never to listen to....i never listened to the stones on Wnew-fm on the way to the disco, then danced to chic.

Dec. 12 2011 02:25 PM

And Madonna is a rock n roll artist. Right. As someone who was a DJ in another life who played all different types of songs and not just this generalized category that people think of when they hear the word "disco," I can tell you that Madonna's first tune that we got on 12" ("Everybody") would've fit perfectly into that category.

Please. Donna Summer's album "The Wanderer" contained more rock than anything Madonna has ever done in the span of her so-called career.

And if disco is so unpopular, why are so many artists today sampling disco songs or composing things that have a "retro" feel to them? Like Alice mentioned the other blonde... who is following in the footsteps of creating a career of what's the next conspiracy I can commit to keep me relevant even cranking out songs that have a disco "feel" to them.

Dec. 12 2011 02:25 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Talk about it, Julia!! Mind-blowin, cathartic polyrhythm.

Dec. 12 2011 02:25 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

Let's all remember that even The Rolling Stones had a disco phase and put out some great disco recordings.

Dec. 12 2011 02:25 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

What is and is not "rock n roll", by "Hall of Fame" standards, is soooo not cut and dry. I mean, are the Beastie Boys rock n roll? And that's just one example. Seems to me the "HOF" broadly considers most if not all rhythm and blues based music.
(Not listening cuz I'm at work, but in response to the comments here...)

Dec. 12 2011 02:24 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

The real problem is that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is stuck with the label "Rock and Roll" which excludes a lot of great recording artists. Why is punk or hip hop considered "rock and roll" but disco is not? I suggest the museum change its name to something more inclusive like The Recording Artists' Hall of Fame.

Dec. 12 2011 02:23 PM
Tony from UWS

I think that the "hatred" of disco is homophobia. To talk about the history of disco and not mention the big clubs like The Saint, leaves a lot out of this conversation.

Dec. 12 2011 02:22 PM
clive betters

the dance: "the hustle", is basically a fusion of, cuban, cha-cha-cha,and north american swing dancing.

Dec. 12 2011 02:22 PM

disco has made a comeback in the last 1-2 years, under the new genre title: 'nu-disco'.

There are many new electronic producers all over the world creating this new twist on the old sound. From The Magician in belgium, to plastic plates in Cali.

Dec. 12 2011 02:21 PM

Comment on r&B groups like the Temptations and O'Jay's who disco-ed up their fast tunes during that era, to successful results. What about Sylvester doing 'Just Us?"

Dec. 12 2011 02:21 PM
Renee from IL

It seems like disco was about partying and specifically DANCING. Many people are afraid of a transcendence thru the body, which is common in dancing. People are afraid of their own bodies, and the bodies of others.

Dec. 12 2011 02:20 PM
Vanessa Ray from Brooklyn

What about the gender issue? How many women get into the music hall of fame? And is disco perceived as more a women's music; and rock more a man's?

Dec. 12 2011 02:19 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I'm not buying these arguments. I actually LOVE disco, but I would never, ever call it "rock" music, any more than I would call any electronica bands I enjoy listening to today - such as Thievery Corporation - "rock."

The question should really be - why do disco musicians and lovers have such a chip on their shoulder? Start a new award category already!

Dec. 12 2011 02:18 PM
Rick from NYC

I'll keep it simple, John: I LOVE disco! but disco is...NOT...ROCK...AND...ROLL!!! thank you.

Dec. 12 2011 02:13 PM
clive betters

knocking disco-is sometimes a cryptic [or not so],pot shot at latinos,af/americans,and gays.

Dec. 12 2011 02:12 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Hey. "FOO-VAH". Thanks.

Dec. 12 2011 02:05 PM
clive betters

great point,fuva......

Dec. 12 2011 02:04 PM
fuva from Harlemworld


Dec. 12 2011 02:04 PM

Re: Hey Fuva ... how do you pronounce your name, if we read your comment on the air?

Dec. 12 2011 02:03 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

And to relegate Chaka/ Rufus to the "disco" bin is to not really know Chaka/ Rufus. (Not disco-hating here, but it -- using the common definition of "disco" -- by no means defines her/ them.)

Dec. 12 2011 01:57 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Good and "bad" 70s polyrhythmic music was given the blanket term "disco" by those with low poly/rhythm aptitude. Much of what is called "disco" is rhythmically virtuousic.

Dec. 12 2011 01:47 PM
Kevin from Forest Hills

It's morning, 1979, driving to Queens College early in my freshman year…..listening to WNEW-FM, Dave Hermann.

Dave is discoursing (bad for a morning DJ) --taking longer than any song except Stairway -- about giving the next song a chance, defending himself for playing something that most listeners would hate just hearing the singer's name.

it's rock! Dave says. You gotta listen to it! Open your ears!

It was Donna Summer, it was Hot Stuff.

And we're still talking about it!

Dec. 12 2011 01:35 PM
JAmes Shipp from Brooklyn

Disco's one of those styles that I seldom listen to, but I always enjoy playing. (It's a percussionist's playground.)

I think where I see the biggest divide between Disco and rock music is that I think of rock bands as forming when their members are young and inexperienced, and having had a long history of writing songs and playing together and toughing it out before a label gets ahold of them (ie the Beatles, the Stones, Nirvana, et al) whereas Disco, no matter how good or bad, always felt to me like music that a lot of money was put into in order to get a lot of money out.

But surely there's a history of early grassroots disco that was about dancing and sexiness and not marketing and expensive nightclubs... it doesn't sound to me like Disney-rooted manufactured for-profit boy band music at its core. Who are those rough-and-ready pioneer disco artists, and when did that happen?

Dec. 12 2011 01:33 PM
clive betters

many guys, especially,used their "disco-hate",to confirm and validate their allegiance to "tribal whitness" ,irrespective of whether or not they admited to it, or were even concious of it. to be fair,there was a lot of silly superficial,crap around the disco culture ethos. the mid seventies did a lot, to do in the counter culture,and set us all up, for the self-absorbed 80's. btw- i don't think you've got to have two left feet, to hate disco,but it doesn't hurt. i still like, and dance, to donna summer's music. her sound, is quite synthetic,yet strangely warm,dreamy and a bit haunting.

Dec. 12 2011 11:55 AM

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