I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

I Knew Disco Back When Horn Sections Were Real: A Review Of “Disco Bands"

by Ryk McIntyre
Aug. 26, 2017
I owe Disco an apology. I suspect that a lot of people my age do, and rightly so. Myself, I went to High School with Disco and I am shamed to say that I was kind of a bully. I gave Disco crap all the time, and while Disco brought some of that upon itself, what with the way it dressed and the subject matter of its almost hypnotic way of speaking to us of the boogie and of oogie, and the dancing... like it was an end in and of itself.

Watching this collection of music show appearances and proto-videos, puts payment on the rallying cry of the mid to late 70s: Disco Sucks! From the Big Apple Band’s “Get Away” it’s clear there was a level of musicianship that redeems the usually perfunctory lyrics (often about getting down and achieving a level of funkiness hitherto unseen) and makes similar music today seem so anemic and cold by comparison. “Oh sure,” you say to yourself, “old men always think the past was better than now!” Well, in this case, it’s true, and only sad in that we didn’t realize, at the time, what we had.

We had shows like “The Midnight Special” where live bands played and sung their hits – no tapes, no auto-tune, and a few of this collection (The Trammps “Disco Inferno” in particular) are taken from there. And they gave us this music, informed by funk and jazz that, under all it’s glittery trappings, was fundamentally about enjoying life, but in an almost spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m saying that Disco had/has an element of transcendentalism. What of it? Hey, throw you best counter-shot, I will survive.

This show includes many of the era’s signature, non-Bee Gee, songs, such as K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s spirited “Get Down Tonight” which, back in high school, we were pretty sure had to do with partying and sex.  Balancing “Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers, or “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward (which, while I personally find both mediocre and grating, the stuff of brain-worms, you have to admit: those are real voices, actually singing) is the raw, gritty Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” Of course, there is the immortal “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle, in their original sci-fi-informed costumes. Sadly we don’t have “More, More, More” by also-employed-as-a-Porn-actress Andrea True, but on the upside... no Bee Gees.

My favorite of the bunch has to be Chic’s “My Forbidden Lover.” Even back in high school, while I was hating on Disco like a good suburban rocker, I secretly enjoyed Chic every time I heard them. It wasn’t just that I could see what they were playing was well-thought out and complex, but I was, plain and simply, seduced by their cool. smooth awesomeness. This was also around the time my ProgRock-loving little brain was completely blown by a borrowed Parliament Funkadelic album, but that’s another story. Let Yes paraphrase Bhagavad Gita in a two-disc concept album, Chic was singing about sex. Again, this was back in high-school, so the Yes/Chic conundrum was of dire importance back then. When it comes to sex, I’d rather shout “Yes!” than listen to Yes, but that’s me.  I’m thinking the above conundrum could be resolved if only we could mate The Spinner’s “Rubberband Man” and Kate Bush’s “Rubberband Girl. The miracle child from that union could probably restart the Sun if it had to. Just a thought.

I know much of this comes across as an old man’s rant about how “everything was better back in the day than it is today” but consider this: if this music wasn’t so much better, so much closer to the earth, so organic, then why is so much of it sampled for today’s overly auto-tuned offerings? Algorithms and Blues? I don’t think so.

So, in summation: Dear Disco, I’m sorry I was such a jerk back in High School. I dissed you behind your back, and even to your face, And I’m sorry, you were, for the most part, better than that. In my defense, I did tease a lot of Heavy Metal fans by telling them the real reason they hated Disco was because your average Disco guitarist knew far more chords than your average rocker, and Disco drummers were better because they didn’t explode. But honestly, that was more of me just being contrary. The truth is I was the one who knocked your books out of your hands, even as I danced in my room to your music on the radio. The guilt is heavy, but I can get over it. You taught me this: I Will Survive.

Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals.  He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.