Disco For Beginners - Part 4: 1979 and Beyond

To brighten up the dull days between Christmas and New Year, Jimmy Hunter hustles us onto the pulsating dance floors of the past to give us a short history of disco. In the final part, he looks at 1979 and Beyond and asks is this the end?...

The winter of 1978/79 – the winter of discontent. Or one of them at least. A cold, hard winter as I recall with huge amounts of snow in January. People were shaking of the cold, literally, dancing to their favourite records in the clubs of their choice. Not only was it mainstream, it was de rigueur. Disco/diluted-disco records were filling the charts in the US and Europe had a specially select group of faux Disco artistes - Dschinghis Khan - Moskau (feat. Louis Hendrik Potgieter**) being one of them. (Fact: when I moved to Germany in 1999, this record was still a firm favourite in the Schlager pubs!).

Essentially 1979 is regarded as the year that “Disco died”. But did it? I don’t agree with that but what did happen was that it did begin to change. It began to slowly start to move on. From this pint we can see several branches stemming into the new decade: new wave; HI-NRG; Eurobeat and much more. Left behind were pop records that called themselves disco records, the artists (like Rod Stewart with the repulsive Do Ya Think I’m Sexy)* who adopted a style for a year or two, or just an album, moved on. Those that didn’t, many of them simply faded.

It’s assumed that Punk culture hated disco music but this really wasn’t true – it was the American rock movement that was providing the backlash – and how! I remember visiting relatives in Toronto in 1980 when my cousin, Jeff (“disco is definitely dead”) introduced me to the “comedy” programme WKRP in Cincinnati. Not only did I develop a crush on the lead, Gary Sandy, but I did find it rather amusing. Astonishingly I found it on UK TV after I returned home. However, I noticed that it was very anti-disco – but it was dead anyway, wasn’t it?

In December 1978 a very popular prog rock radio station in Chicago suddenly changed to an all disco format. Rock fans were bereft, and very angry. The disgruntlement came to a head in July 1979 at a baseball match in Chicago: several rock DJs staged an anti-disco demonstration that got way out of hand. It was named Disco Demolition Night and between games they exploded disco records on the pitch. A full-on riot ensued and the police made a number of arrests. The slogans “Disco sucks”, “Death to disco” that had been around for quite some time had helped to fuel this backlash but so did something that was ignored – the rampant, violent homophobia that went with it. This was primarily the reason for the event; a reason to hate Disco – because it was so popular with gay men. Though this was never actually acknowledged at the time.

But what of the music? It continued to flourish, clubs were opening and artists were being discovered and re-discovering themselves in a new genre. The summer of 1979 saw many established acts now, mainstream having come from a dance background and the commercial Queen of this was undoubtedly Donna Summer. Though she herself would renounce the movement and her own records in favour of being a born-again Christian, she did thaw some years later – probably because people wanted to hear those songs at her gigs and if she didn’t sing them, the people wouldn’t go. By renouncing her past it made it much easier for her to get over her addiction to prescription drugs – in my humble opinion.

All over Europe, Australia and the US disco artists were having amazing, and in most cases, albeit brief, successes. Successes on which they’d dine out for years to come. Many went with the flow, stayed with dance music and found success in the coming decade in other dance genres. Amii Stewart even made it onto The Royal Variety Performance in November of that year and sang live. German TV broadcast 75 minutes of a Disco special – ZDF's Disco! Disco! Disco! … but have a look at some of the artists!

Here are some of my top picks from 1979:

The Three Degrees - Jump The Gun/Red Light/Set Me Free

Love De-Luxe (and the Hawkshaw Discophonia) – Here Comes That Sound

Sylvester** - Stars

Dan Hartman** - Vertigo/Relight My Fire

Paul Jabara** - Foggy Day/Never Lose Your Sense of Humor (feat. Donna Summer)

Dennis Parker** - Like An Eagle/New York By Night (Written by Jacques Morali**)

Jimmy "Bo" Horne - Spank

Fern Kinney - Groove Me

France Joli - Come to Me

Bonnie Pointer - Heaven Must Have Sent You

Ashford and Simpson - Found A Cure

Amii Stewart - Knock On Wood/Light My Fire/137 Disco Heaven

Chic - Good Times

Donna Summer - Our Love/Lucky/Sunset People

Madleen Kane - Forbidden Love/Cheri/Secret Love Affair

Platypus - Dancing In The Moonlight

Diva Grey & Oyster - St. Tropez

And what of those artists? The decade that was about to dawn held in store something nobody could ever have imagined. A virus came along that would go on to kill almost 38 million people. Stars of Disco and later, HI-NRG would succumb as would the many people who wrote, produced, managed, danced with and helped those artists.

But nobody knew that then, so people continued to party and to dance to their favourite records.

* It’s so bad I’m not providing a link!!
** Lost to HIV/AIDS

[To get your Hogmanay party started, we've created a YouTube Playlist below of ALL the songs that Jimmy has mentioned in the article, finishing up with the full 75 minutes of Disco! Disco! Disco!  So put on your dancing trousers and get down... and we'll see you all in 2020 - Ed]

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