History

Panic at the Anti-Disco Rally

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Thirty years ago today, a riot broke out at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Steve Dahl, a rock DJ, had organized a Disco Demolition Night at the stadium, at which he blew up a crate of disco discs. The crowd then…well, let's cut to the video:

At the time the riot was widely seen as a moment of rock'n'roll rebellion. Since then, as disco's image has been rehabilitated, critics and historians have noted that the music was associated closely with blacks, Hispanics, and especially gays. So now you're more likely to hear the riot described in terms of intolerance. Something I haven't seen anyone explore—if you know of someone who has, please tell me—is the fact that this happened around the same time that elements of the Christian right had revived the practice of burning rock records. Such rituals date back to rock'n'roll's initial burst of popularity in the 1950s, but Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave report in Anti-Rock that the "first major record burning of the 1970s" came in 1976, when Rev. Charles Boykin—who once told Mike Royko that "There's a definite relationship between illicit sex and any music with a syncopated beat"—torched $2,000 worth of music. The record-burning fad lasted into the '80s, so the anti-disco riot erupted right in the middle of the mania. I'd love to see a cultural historian fit the two phenomena together.

(While I'm at it: The first rock'n'roll was heavily influenced by the music of the Pentecostal church, as anyone who's spent much time listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe play an electric guitar can tell you. Long before there were moral panics over rock, there were moral panics over Pentecostals and their ecstatic style of worship. Our hypothetical cultural historian ought to look into which denominations were most prone to attacking Elvis and co. in the '50s, during that first wave of record-burning. While it's reasonable to expect to find Pentecostals who resented hearing their music in secular form—call it the Jimmy Swaggart/Jerry Lee Lewis dynamic—I wonder if there's also a strong continuity between the churchmen who attacked the holy rollers and the churchmen who attacked the rock'n'rollers.) (By the way, why hasn't there been a hip revival of snake handling? You'd think some offshoot of the punk movement would get into it.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah: disco. Did you know that Nik Cohn's 1976 New York article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"—the basis for Saturday Night Fever, and thus probably for everything you think you know about disco—was a fabrication? Instead of investigating the discotheques of America, the Brit writer conjured up a story inspired by his homeland's Mod subculture. So Saturday Night Fever is really Quadrophenia. Jive, reign o'er me.

NEXT: Paul Krugman, the Doctor, Concedes the Existence of Retrenchment

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  1. About an hour before Swaggert comes on here. He may be a whore-monger but he sure can sing. Wolfgang’s vault has a pretty good Quadrophenia concert href=”http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/dt/the-who-concert/20051332-7962.html”>here.

  2. First link attempt, total fail.

  3. Disco Sucks

    There should be no difficulty in connecting record burning by Christians and anti-disco rockers.Both camps viewed the music they destroyed as corrupting the culture.At the core it was an aesthetic revulsion to the “beat”.

  4. Having grown up as a suburban midwestern white kid in the early 80s (basically the younger brothers of the kids who rioted on disco demolition night), I can say with confidence that Jessee is totally out of his tree in trying to link religion to hatred of disco. Disco was the music of fags. I don’t think it was racism as much as hatred of gays that drove the backlash against disco. The really bad disco was more associated with black people. It was associated with gay people. That and of course the fact that 90% of it was terrible music that was shoved down the nation’s throat in a four year orgy of disco feaver. Ethel Mermon did a disco record. There was actually something called disco duck. They had disco Christmas shows. You name it, it was disco. Thirty years on, Jesse can now sit back and appreciate the well made pop groves of a few of the better disco records. But, if he had lived through the musical hell that was the late 70s, he would have been out there blowing up those records with the rest of them.

  5. the only intolerance here is peoples intolerance of shitty music.

  6. trying to link religion to hatred of disco

    I didn’t claim Disco Demolition Night was organized by evangelists. But it’s interesting that rock fans did this to disco records at the same time that evangelists were doing something similar to rock records.

  7. I think it was 1979 when I gave my BeeGees album (a gift from my cool aunt) to my youthgroup to be burned.

    It’s amazing to me that I did that. Kids can be pretty stupid.

  8. If your Aunt was actually “cool” she would have given you records by the Ramones AC-DC or the Clash in 1979.

  9. We didn’t hate disco because it was fag music or black music. In fact, I know of no one who thought that. Maybe that’s just because we were oh so progressive out here in California, or maybe that’s because people who weren’t alive during the disco craze have decided that disco hatred was all about intolerance.

    Plain and simply, disco was dance music that was fully embraced by white suburban twenty-somethings who wanted to snort coke and party.

    My biggest complaint (besides the music itself) was that disco killed live music in nightclubs. Why hire a band when you can hire a DJ with a mirrored disco ball for less than half the cost of a band. So, after a while, many of us just quit going out to clubs.

    BTW, disco isn’t dead, it’s just morphed into something a little more palatable.

  10. By the way, why hasn’t there been a hip revival of snake handling?

    Because getting bitten by a rattlesnake sucks. And once bitten, there’s no way to wear it as a fashion statement.

  11. There certainly has been a revival in snake handling but since it is illegal in many of the stated where it is most popular it is done on the QT.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling

    I discoed. I hated disco, but it was what you did. Cotillion.

  12. The first rock’n’roll was heavily influenced by the music of the Pentecostal church

    I would think so. All the Sun boys were pewrunners. You might have a point about the mainstream clergy attacking the gyrating rockers because of their background.

  13. I graduated from high school in 1979, so I well remember the late 70s (most of it anyway). I don’t recall disco as being thought of as gay music at all–most of the “popular” crowd at my high school went discoing frequently. The rest of us smoked a lot of weed and listened to punk and reggae. I think it’s just more that mainstream rock was running out of new ideas at the time and people were starting to explore other forms/genres more.

  14. The whole idea that the anti-disco movement was anti-black or anti-gay is revisionist bullshit. I won’t say that no one who hated disco had anti-black or anti-gay feelings, but the idea that it fueled the backlash is incredible.

    As anyone who was alive during the late 70’s can attest, disco was fucking everywhere. You couldn’t get away from it unless you spent all your time in a subculture that totally rejected it. Kiss, the Rolling Stones, and lots of other groups did disco songs because they thought they had to. Even the Eagles had a song or two that were disco influenced.

    Anything that ubiquitous will generate a backlash. And I say this as someone who never really hated disco (I was a little kid at the time, and heard it while I was still impressionable.)

  15. There certainly has been a revival in snake handling but since it is illegal in many of the state[s] where it is most popular it is done on the QT.

    I said a hip revival of snake handling. In a non-religious context. It’s dangerous, it’s weird, it’s reputed to be consciousness-altering — you’d think it would be popular with the same folks who thought trepanation might be fun.

  16. BP is right. Disco was awful. Yes there were some good disco records. But for every good one there were hundreds of horrible ones done by people who had no business doing disco records. It was shoved down the country’s throat until people finally gagged. Disco demolition night was just the first of the gag reflex.

  17. Jessee,

    There are plenty of “hip snake handlers”. You can buy deadly poisonous snakes and many states have pretty lax liscensing requirements. There really are freaks out there who own mambas and cobras as pets.

  18. “Raaaaaaaacist!”

  19. There are plenty of “hip snake handlers”. You can buy deadly poisonous snakes and many states have pretty lax liscensing requirements. There really are freaks out there who own mambas and cobras as pets.

    Do they pull bunches of them out at public gatherings and let anyone who wants to handle them, like they do at snake-handling churches?

  20. Count me in with those who lived through the disco craze and utterly reject racist explanations to a riot that I laughed about.*

    Rockers hated it because it was, for the most part, fluff. The music sucked and you had to actually learn dance steps in order to succeed at the local meat market. I won’t even go into the effeminate clothing, long since deposited in landfills or burnt in shame, the craze required young men on the make to purchase.

    Middle and upper class fans have a long history going back to rock and roll’s inception of embracing minority musicians who actually make, y’know, good music.

    * Standard Libertarian disclaimer about property rights.

  21. Do they pull bunches of them out at public gatherings and let anyone who wants to handle them, like they do at snake-handling churches?

    No. But why on earth would you own one? The only reason I can see is to show off or think that you attain some kind of awareness being that close to death. Private snake owners provide no scientific data or use and contribute nothing to ecology. It is not like the snake loves them or something. No, they do it for the same twisted reasons religous snake handlers do it; the thrill of being that close to death.

    1. Also, the only reason one could even want to have a venomous snake as a pet would be to use as an assassination weapon (although that would be hard to do in most cold climates, or in an urban setting like a big city) as shown to great effect in the Sherlock Holmes story The Speckled Band and the movie The Mighty Quinn (as well as the scene in the movie The Arrival).

      That’s NOTHING compared to the stupidity of the producer of a Japanese game show which had a group of actresses (and one guy in drag) put their bare feet down into an area shown on camera (which they could not see, of course!) to guess what was there by feeling it with their bare feet. What was there was a non-venomous snake, but it could just as well have been venomous, or at least the bite from the snake could have been deep enough and painful enough to cause a loss of blood to the person in question. Why anybody would even be playing with snakes in such a manner as I’ve described or having them as pets, I’ll never know.

  22. No. But why on earth would you own one? The only reason I can see is to show off or think that you attain some kind of awareness being that close to death. Private snake owners provide no scientific data or use and contribute nothing to ecology. It is not like the snake loves them or something. No, they do it for the same twisted reasons religous snake handlers do it; the thrill of being that close to death.

    Never let facts get in the way of having a strongly-held opinion, John. Oh, you never do. Never mind.

    I’ve kept many snakes in my life. I own one now. I’ve never kept venomous snakes, but many friends of mine do, and I’ve been with them on collecting trips. We’ve caught timber rattlers, pygmy rattlers, eastern coral snakes, eastern diamondback rattlers and western diamondback rattlers. A friend of mine published a book on rattlesnakes through the Smithsonian press, despite not being an academic. He’s also published a book on keeping scorpions and published many magazine articles on nature trips. He doesn’t have a death wish, he doesn’t run around bragging about his snakes and scorpions or showing them off.

    Another friend of mine has successfully bred pygmy rattlers and Uracoan rattlers. He did it for his own edification, and released them later, well away from human habitation.

  23. The indominate one,

    Timber Rattlers are a threatened species in most of the Northeast. Your friend had no business capturing one and depending on what state he was in may have broke the law.

    “We’ve caught timber rattlers, pygmy rattlers, eastern coral snakes, eastern diamondback rattlers and western diamondback rattlers.”

    Why? You are not a professional herbatologist. Further, those species of snakes are well known and studied. You are not contributing anything. Even from the snakes’ perspective, you and your friends did nothing but terrorized an animal. The snake had no way of knowing that you meant it no harm. Whenever a human captures a snake, he is just basically terrorizing the poor animal.

    Lastly, had one of you dumb asses fucked up and one of those coral snakes nailed you, it would have costs untold thousands to evacuate you from where you were and you probably would have died anyway. Even the rattlers, while unlikely to have killed you, would have left you hospitalized and depending on where you got bit looking at loosing the use of a limb.

    Capturing poisonous snakes is a pointless and stupid hobby. Sorry but you and your budies are dumbasses for doing it.

  24. +1 to J sub D

    In 1979, I was a 15 year-old into stuff like Rory Gallagher and The Ramones. Back then, it never even occurred to me that homosexuals listened to disco – I just didn’t like it because it was a silly trend. A year later, everyone threw out their tight bellbottoms and bought tight Wranglers, joining the Urban Cowboy trend.

    Nevertheless, a lot of self-professed hip people can be pretty bigoted when it comes to music. My friends used to thumb through my record collection and the reaction would something like this:

    “Ted Nugent. Rad! Kraftwerk. Huh? AC/DC. Rad! Frank Zappa. Huh? Judas Priest. Rad! The Dead Kennedys? What the hell is this faggot shit?”

  25. The Dead Kennedys were gay?

  26. You’re right, I’m not a professional herbatologist. Except the word is herpetologist. And I’ve taken a graduate course in herpetology. And I have a B.Sc. and M.S. in biology. and I’m working on my doctorate in biology. and I’ve been employed to survey habitats for T&E species, including various species of herps and also to trap and relocate T&E herps (with permits, of course).

    Wait, I am a professional herpetologist! Or biologist, really.

    We were in South Carolina, 12 years ago. Timber rattlers weren’t protected by law. When we went to Texas, we purchased the required hunting permits. I own a copy of A Field Guide to Reptiles and the Law, thanks.

    Your fear of venomous snakes is as laughable as your fear of terrorists. You must wear Depends throughout your daily routine, John. We manipulated the snakes with hooks and elk hide gloves. Yes, it’s stressful for the snakes, but less stressful than the people who just blow their heads off with shotguns because the only good snake is a dead snake and I have kids and why are there so many damn rats around here?

    Yeah, the guy who publishes books and nature articles doesn’t make any contribution to knowledge. The guy who breeds snakes and releases them doesn’t contribute to conservation.

    The coral snake I caught while wearing elkhide snakeproof gloves to keep it from killing or being killed by my cat – my herpetology professor picked it up with his bare hands.

    Again, feel free to have a strongly held opinion with no basis in fact or knowledge. Also, feel free to call me a dumbass while you thoroughly and repeatedly demonstrate your inability to spell.

  27. Yeah, count me with the people who think Jesse’s off base here.

    I was just about old enough to notice this kind of thing, and I think it was more a matter of people getting annoyed that something they didn’t like had taken over the airwaves and was presented in the media as the dominant lifestyle trend. If you were a metal kid, or even just a suburban white kid who listened to classic rock stations, I have to imagine the late 70’s felt like the media was taking one long pee on you: “This other stuff is what hip, important urban kids like”.

    I have to imagine something like that is going on right now. There has to be – HAS to be – a large mass of kids who think that the Jonas Brother suck, that Miley Cyrus sucks, that High School Musical is the gayest crap ever, etc. All those kids are a giant orgy of IPod smashing and burning waiting to happen.

  28. I have to side with John here, for the simple reason that snakes need killin’.

    All snakes. Everywhere. Big ones, small ones. Venomous and non-venomous. Even the snakes in the sea need to go.

    The problem with catching and releasing snakes is the releasing part. If you had caught them and burned them up in trash can fires I would have applauded you.

    The person who kept that python that killed that kid in Florida should get a lethal injection for it. If that snake had been properly fucking dead, it couldn’t have constricted on anybody.

    Sure, dogs kill kids too. But I would rather get chomped to death by a dog, re-animated, and then chomped to death again, followed by 100 repetitions of that process, than get constricted to death by a snake, and I have to imagine the toddlers of America agree. Snakes = should not live.

  29. Jesse’s not way off base. There was definitely a tribalism to the “disco sucks” phenomenon. It was white heterosexual (or deeply closeted) males hating on a minority friendly scene.

  30. I figured Jesse would be celebrating this anniversary. The video was hilarious.

  31. fluffy – Room 101 is ready for you.

  32. Since then, as disco’s image has been rehabilitated, critics and historians have noted that the music was associated closely with blacks, Hispanics, and especially gays. So now you’re more likely to hear the riot described in terms of intolerance

    History grad students are desperate to be noticed so they stand an outside shot of getting a job. Writing a thesis on how some notable event of the past, generally thought to be benign, was really a festival of intolerance presses all the right buttons on the people who typically hire history faculty (ie, other history faculty).

    I wasn’t yet alive during the Disco Era, so I don’t know, but this seems far-fetched.

  33. Hey Jesse! There’s a racist hiding under the bed! Better go catch him!

  34. Fluffy – what happened to that child was horrible, and her parents are idiots, particularly her father. (I assume the snake is his.)

  35. Jesse’s off base here.

    Careful readers will note that I expressed no opinion as to whether the animus towards disco was motivated by bigotry, by simple distaste for the music, or by other factors. I reported two views and left it at that.

    As it happens, I think it was a mix of all of the above. If you look at the artifacts of the period, it’s not hard to find anti-disco sentiment that was clearly motivated by prejudice. That doesn’t mean that all opposition to disco was fueled by prejudice. (Not everyone even understood that sexual orientation was an issue. There were people out there who could watch the Village People in full regalia and still not get the joke.) Most if not all of the writers who point to the homophobia in the anti-disco backlash will also concede that the market was flooded in 1979 with crappy disco records produced by hacks trying to jump on a trend. So it isn’t an either/or.

    Me, I think “Car Wash” is a great song and “Do the Hustle” is crap. The rest falls somewhere in-between.

  36. The Gibbs all sang like girls, but that has nothing to do with why another lover of Rory Gallagher can hate disco music.

  37. I like snakes. I got some cool pictures of a diamond back right after it ate a rabbit.

  38. highnumber | July 12, 2009, 5:13pm | #
    Jesse’s not way off base. There was definitely a tribalism to the “disco sucks” phenomenon. It was white heterosexual (or deeply closeted) males hating on a minority friendly scene.

    Real tricky for all those breeders to lie and say they didn’t like the music.

  39. Wow, thanks J sub, that is a pretty snake.

  40. What was I, born yesterday to click on that link?

    Yup, there are definitely snakes in Room 101. Everyone knows that.

    I have to keep in mind if I am ever trapped in a totalitarian dystopia and panopticon society, it will be very important for me to loudly pretend in front of all security cameras that I love snakes, but have a nearly unbearable phobia of getting lap dances from Miss World finalists.

  41. Just thought I’d mention that I just got a free scorpion yesterday from a local couple who found it in their house. Pretty fun to watch that fucker destroy a cricket. Bark scorpion, odd to find it coastal S.C.

  42. As between the rock-fan record-burners and the evangelical Protestant record-burners, I believe that while both groups tended to burn their own rock records (i.e., their own property or that of their families, like with theOverkiller), it was the rockers who did so in a near-rioutous manner. So it was the evangelicals who did what they wished with their own property without breaching the peace – libertarian role models.

    ‘I said a hip revival of snake handling. In a non-religious context. It’s dangerous, it’s weird, it’s reputed to be consciousness-altering’

    Why limit hipness to non-religious contexts? From reading Reason, I learn that religion (not just the snake-handling kind of religion)is dangerous and weird. And of course religion is reputed to be consciousness-altering ( I can attest to that myself).

    In fact, Christain religious orthodoxy is the latest hip thing among many people.

    ‘Middle and upper class fans have a long history going back to rock and roll’s inception of embracing minority musicians who actually make, y’know, good music.’

    Middle and upper class fans also have a history of embracing minority rap artists, who did a great service to diversity by refuting the racist assumption that *all* black people are musically talented.

    ‘Sure, dogs kill kids too. But I would rather get chomped to death by a dog, re-animated, and then chomped to death again, followed by 100 repetitions of that process, than get constricted to death by a snake, and I have to imagine the toddlers of America agree. Snakes = should not live.’

    I think we could kill two birds with one stone – force the snakes to listen to disco.

  43. Listen with their tongues, of course.

  44. Why limit hipness to non-religious contexts?

    Yeah, OK. If a Christian punk band starts hauling out snakes at its shows, that counts too.

  45. I was at a cool Christian event this morning – not a punk band, but there were special effects like incense smoke, weird chants, songs with lyrics some people find offensive and disturbing, not to mention what some critics have referred to as ritual cannibalism. It was awesome.

  46. And the artwork on the walls was awesome – torture implements and skulls were portrayed.

  47. Like, there was this artwork with a guy being tortured to death, and under this torture implement was some other guy’s skull.

    And like, one of the songs mentioned some guy and his whole army being, like, drowned in the sea.

  48. I don’t know why exactly people started hating disco, or when it occurred to Joe Sixpack that maybe the Village People were a bit peculiar, but I do know that the results were wonderful for a college freshman in 1986 — Salvation Armies just jammed with 25-cent Bee Gees records, leisure suits, and Denny Terrio guides to disco dance instruction. A lot of pretty damned great music was shunned for well over a decade, while freaks like me built up ginormous and great vinyl collections based on the collective self-revulsions of the early ’80s.

  49. I was at a cool Christian event this morning – not a punk band, but there were special effects like incense smoke, weird chants, songs with lyrics some people find offensive and disturbing, not to mention what some critics have referred to as ritual cannibalism. It was awesome.

    If you’re willing to travel to the center of that whole scene, there are naked women, too.

  50. …in 1986 — Salvation Armies just jammed with 25-cent Bee Gees records…

    I was doing a lot of vinyl trading between 1984 and 1988, and I remember you still couldn’t give away anything related to disco. Village People, BeeGees, or anything on the Casablanca or Sugar Hill labels was just death.

    I still don’t get the “anti-gay” aspect that was part of the disco backlash. I suppose because I mainly always associated disco with promiscuous heterosexuality. Songs like Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell”, Musique’s “(Push Push) In The Bush”, Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Babe”, were pretty clear in what they were going after.

  51. BakedPenguin: Disco emerged largely (though not entirely) from gay clubs, with gay DJs spinning records for gay dancers. Then the genre crossed over and you got stuff like “(Push Push) In the Bush” — along with explicitly gay stuff like the Village People and androgynous stuff like the dueling male- and female-vocal versions of “Is It All Over My Face” (widely believed to be a song about cum shots). So it’s complicated.

    Re: vinyl trading: In the mid-’80s, my younger brother bought a bunch of cheap copies of the Sgt. Pepper soundtrack, because he didn’t realize the Bee Gees weren’t popular anymore and he thought he could resell the records for a small profit. He quickly learned that he needed to pay more attention to pop music trends if he was going to be a pop music speculator. Many of us got Sgt. Pepper for Christmas that year.

  52. I prefer rap.

    P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs, thereby conceding my points and showing the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians. Most libertarians are juvenile and cowardly. Rather than attempting to engage me in debate (and losing), they choose to smear.

    P.P.S. Apropos of nothing in particular, someone who used an IP address in Knoxville and another from the University of Tennessee has engaged in childish smears. And, on a completely unrelated note, Glenn Reynolds is promoting mocking politicians behind their back rather than engaging them in debate. Smart and honorable! And, Dave Weigel wrote about me on his site and then refused to approve my reply showing he was wrong.

  53. I graduated high school in 1980. I hated disco and so did most of my friends and acquaintances. It had nothing to do with race or sexuality; we just liked plain rock. Interestingly, my generation in the narrowest sense was also very wary of glam rock and hair bands, yet my 18-year-old son and his friends are huge fans of the hair bands (but also classic rock like AC/DC, Aerosmith and Ozzie Osbourne); they also universally despise disco.

    (To make it even more strange, my son and his friends can’t stand rap music [neither can I], yet his sister two years older and her friends listened to a whole lot of it in high school. On the other hand, my daughter’s iPod has very little rap on it now.)

  54. Chicks did look hot in the spandex.

  55. No, no, no! Disco was not so much associated with gays (in the ’70’s gays pretty much kept to their own clubs) but was heavily associated with getting laid on a Saturday night. That was the draw, baby. One night stands, after dancing the night away.

    Oh, and quaaludes. Disco biscuits. 714 Rorer’s at $5 a pop.

    Disco was a tool, a fad; something that you used then moved on. I graduated HS in ’76 and watched Disco come and go. In the end I helped kill Disco.

    Long live Frank Zappa, who drove a stake in the heart of Disco~!!

  56. Disco was a tool, a fad; something that you used then moved on. I graduated HS in ’76 and watched Disco come and go.

    If you graduated from high school in 1976, you were far too late to see it come. Unless you were showing up way underaged in those gay nightclubs.

    You may have seen disco come and go from the mainstream. But that’s rather different.

  57. By the way, you have to love the un-self-consciousness of Lonewacko’s comments. The guy actually believes it’s the other guys who engage in ad homs and smears and who constantly refuse to engage people’s arguments.

  58. I always thought the record burning was done by 60s lovers who just couldn’t stand the idea that the 60s were over and that our culture was moving on.

    Sure, I heard the excuse that disco was putting musicians out of work, but it just sounded like a rationalization to me.

    1. >I always thought the record burning was done by 60s lovers who just couldn’t stand the idea that the 60s were over and that our culture was moving on.

      Sure, I heard the excuse that disco was putting musicians out of work, but it just sounded like a rationalization to me.

      You hit the nail on the head. That, and the fact that some of these idiotic so-called liberal left wing ‘revolutionaries’ who were against disco the other half of the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement) forgot something said by Emma Goldman 50 years previous to this bullshit event:

      ‘If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!
      If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!
      If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
      A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.
      If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.

      http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman#Living_My_Life_.281931.29

      Unfortunately, they succeeded, to the point where the unneeded and now onerous ‘Classic Rock’ (I prefer the term ‘Classic Rot’) radio format has destroyed and made radio redundant, and has also cause what ever stations that do play new music to play only all of the pop music that everybody hates (and wants to destroy in that same manner as disco!) Maybe we should have a ‘Classic Rock Demolition Night’, instead-where all classic rock is destroyed and and most of the stations are forced to convert to a contemporary rock format, or what I’d like to call an ‘alternative dance format (electronica).

      Wonder how most of the (white) people would feel then?

  59. As somebody who attempted to go to Disco Demolition I have to say that there was really nothing racist about the thing, at least among people I knew. Comiskey Park is near downtown Chicago and that night traffic was terrible, we were still on the Dan Ryan when they shut the gates for the first Sox sellout in years. The anti-disco thing, the Insane Coho Lip Army I think Steve Dahl (the organizer of the Demolition) called it wasn’t racist as much as it was a push back against the then ever-present pre-packaged, repetitive bubble gum version of dance music that disco so often was. People didn’t bring Hot Buttered Soul or Coltrane to be burned, we brought the Bee-Gees, the Village People and Donna Summers. And the anti-gay thing is interesting as many rocker’s collections back then contained the likes of David Bowie, the New York Dolls, Lou Reed…

  60. Rock and roll racist? Loud and dumb, definitely; Devil-worshipping maybe; but racist, no. Disco just sucks. Death before Disco! (Written listening to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”)

  61. Jesse Walker is, as usual, an idiot. When I post a comment, I stand behind it with one or more links (three in the case of the comment above). I don’t hide behind fake names. I also don’t engage in smears: when I call someone an idiot that’s because they’re acting like an idiot and because I can provide evidence that they’re acting like an idiot. It’s only an ad hom if your argument rests on some unrelated personal characteristic. My arguments are valid and rest on things people say and do; the occasional ad homs are just frosting.

    In the case of Jesse Walker, his one and only bugbear is a LogicalFallacy. He thinks because I don’t have video of me doing what I urge others to do, that somehow makes my proposal invalid. That is a LogicalFallacy, but Walker can’t figure it out. Even if I did the opposite of what I suggest, that doesn’t mean that my proposal wouldn’t work and wouldn’t be a good thing for others to do. Yet, Jesse Walker can’t figure that out.

    On a lighter note, here are two Reason favorites, together again.

  62. steve Dahl was brought to Chicago to work at WDAI. A day later it went to a Disco format and Dahl was out of a job until WLUP hired him. So Steve in an attempt to get back at ‘DAI started the anti-disco movement in Chicago.

  63. No way the anti-Disco movement was racist. Rap music started in the Bronx and Harlem in the late 1970s as a reaction against the over-produced, soul-less commercialized pap that Disco had become. Break-dancing, scratching, and rap were young black kids rebelling against Disco. Was that racist ?

  64. He thinks because I don’t have video of me doing what I urge others to do, that somehow makes my proposal invalid.

    It is true that I have asked you why you don’t follow your own advice. This is because I am genuinely curious to learn the answer. I have never once claimed or even implied that your hypocrisy invalidates your proposal. When you nonetheless accused me of making such an argument, I explained patiently that you were wrong.

    The fact that you continue to insist that this was my motive suggests that your notoriously lousy reading comprehension skills are even worse than we thought. Or, more likely, that you’re just lying. Either way, it’s rich that you’d make this accusation in the very same comment in which you claim not to engage in smears.

  65. If Jesse Walker thinks there’s a racial angle to disco-bashing, I invite him to watch the original “The Blues Brothers.” He might even develop a sense of humor out of the experience.

  66. Apologies to Mr Walker – got the credits for this whole article confused. Mea culpa.

  67. Rap music started in the Bronx and Harlem in the late 1970s as a reaction against the over-produced, soul-less commercialized pap that Disco had become. Break-dancing, scratching, and rap were young black kids rebelling against Disco.

    Um, no. Disco and rap had overlapping origins, and early hip hop DJs frequently used disco records in their mixes. The very first rap record to chart, the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” was built on a base of Chic’s “Good Times.”

    That isn’t to say there weren’t rappers who hated disco, of course. Just that it’s inaccurate to write that rap was born as a rebellion against disco.

  68. I graduated from HS in 1976. I was the “head” carving “Disco Sucks!” into school desktops… with my Boy Scout pocketknife (OK, so who isn’t a little conflicted at that age? We went camping and got high when I was in Scouts).

    Me and my dudes and dudettes were into Hendrix, Zep, The Who, Pink Floyd… and pot. Our anti-disco rage had nothing to do with racism or ant-gay bigotry, we just hated it because it was inferior to the music we listened to. There weren’t any guitar solos, bass solos, or even dreaded drum solos, for crying out loud. It was just commercial crap, and hundreds of live music venues converted into discos during that time. It ticked us off.

    Seriously, how could we have been racist? We hip rockophiles knew the roots of what we liked came from the blues, and we flocked to hear blues music whenever the greats played nearby: B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and on and on. Black blues and R&B acts opened rock concerts regularly back then!

    And as for disco being associated with gay culture, I wasn’t even aware of that until several years after I graduated from high school. I’m not afraid to point out, however, that gays clung to disco in their clubs long after it was generally over with, which – along with show tunes – casts the musical taste of gay culture in a negative light at the very least. LOL!

  69. Baked Penguin –

    I couldn’t stand most of disco, consumed as I was at the time with Skynyrd and Bob Seeger.

    I do have one comment though. For years and years I believed the theory that the Donna Summer number “Love to Love You Baby” was a recording made while she was in the midst of a rather involved sexual experience. I now have evidence this was not true.

    At the time this was recorded, Ms. Summer was in the midst of a serious bout of over indulgence in cheese, and not enough water in her diet. As a result she was seriously constipated the day this music (sic!) was recorded. Rather than her experiencing orgasmic throes she was in the midst of what was described in legal depositions as a “serious three-grunter”.

    Please keep that in mind when listening to this song again.

    Cheers,
    Boomer

  70. I can’t believe I showed up late to this fnatastic thread.

    This (SIV | July 12, 2009, 9:39am | #) reminds me of Mr. Boats.

    Much disco was vapid and overly trend-oriented, true, but some of the more important disco acts (obviously) influenced the new wave and synth-pop acts that I cherish so.

    Also, LoneWacko, journalist in his own mind, engages (and fails miserably) in an argument with Jesse Walker. Yes!

    Sorry I can’t add anything else, but I’m far too young for any memories regarding the disco.

  71. I was born in 71 so i have no idea what disco is or was…

    That said ABBA made some pretty good music that is still good today.

  72. I graduated from high school in 1979, so I well remember the late 70s (most of it anyway). I don’t recall disco as being thought of as gay music at all

    Yeah i have to agree with this even though i was a wee child…..i didn’t know the village people were actually gay until the late 80s.

    Disco was just something you heard on the radio and on weird chipmunk records.

    Also you really can’t link gaydom to Disco singularly and “gays” in music was more a sign of the times rather then a music genre….metal had Iron maiden and rock had Queen and both existed in roughly the same time frame.

  73. “Did you know that Nik Cohn’s 1976 New York article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” — the basis for Saturday Night Fever, and thus probably for everything you think you know about disco — was a fabrication?”

    Makes sense that it was all based on a lie.

    Reasons I hated disco:
    1.) Almost of my high school dances featured live bands. The older generation thought we should have orchestras, but at least we hired 5 musicians to do the entertaining. Disco replaced talented musicians with “personalities” who put records on a turntable.
    2.) The club atmosphere of disco, with their sexist age limits (girls 18, guys 21), dress codes (no jeans) and Club 54 style exclusivity led me to rebel against them, not the “corporations”.
    3.) YMCA – What? That song still makes me cringe. It is not in any way homophobic to not like bad music and really weird lyrics.

    I survived disco, rock and roll did not. Anti-disco was a rebellion against packaged music and stupid songs, not racism. I was there and they can’t change history, unless we let them.

  74. joshua corning, as far as gay lead singers, you meant Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, not Iron Maiden, right?

    As far as that NYT article, I guess fake articles usually make better films than real ones.

  75. There was actually something called disco duck.

    Disco Duck wasn’t the nadir of popular music, believe it or not. There were actually worse things than disco.

    -jcr

  76. Steve Dahl was a genius, way ahead of his time. Props to Gumble for trying to bail him out. Although it is funny that the white midwestern guys who hated “Gay Music” would have such femme hair and eagerly run around shirtless. “Fabulous” as they say.

  77. FWIW, I never hated disco any more than I hated many other things I ignored. Very few things are important enough to hate. Sure it’s crap, but so what? There’s always been crap, and there always will be crap.

    -jcr

  78. I guess you can revise history to say anything. We hated disco because it was crappy music, it was the death of human-generated music and replaced it with drum machines and synthesizers playing autorepeated loops.

  79. *gasps*

    And all this time I thought *rock and roll* was heavily influenced by African Americans. Isn’t that so?

    So if white youths trash records influenced by blacks out of allegiance to another style of music influenced by blacks, then .. they … *struggling* … must … *sweating* … be …. *straining* … racists? Right …? [God I’m glad I had that liberal epiphany!]

    It reminds me of people saying white baseball fans were racist for rooting against Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s HR record because they didn’t want to see a black man on drugs break … (wait, get this) … a pioneering black man’s clean record. Can you believe the racism of it all?

    And as for anti-disco being anti-gay, wow, was it just me or during the 70s weren’t Queen and Elton John big rock and rollers? Or were they secret disco types all along and I was just too evangelically stupid to notice it? Burn a disco record and you must be ready to lynch Matthew Shepherd, q.e.d.

    This is what America has descended to in the Age of Obama. Rather than lead us to a post-racial Brave New World, everything now is seen through a racial lens (or a homosexual one), no matter how inane, insipid or anti-intellectual the alleged connection. Can’t we all just get along?

    We will, we will, rock you!

  80. man, you guys (and me) are in for it for the next few years as hip hop and most mainstream pop starts overtly drawing from disco. i’ve already heard the rumbles and lordy are they hi-hatty.

    the whole throwback to classic electro thing, though? that’s pretty neat. drexciya, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  81. Racism as a cause of anti-disco fever!!! Who are you kidding? disco sucked, disco still sucks. rockers were left adrift in the late 70’s and this is their reaction. Here is some alternate revisionism for you…….

    Disco required irresponsible use of large quantities of hydrocarbon fueled polyester clothing ….. this led to increased worldwide depletion of fossil fuels…leading to the rise of global warming just when we thought the next ice age was coming. Yes, disco caused global warming.

    The rockers at Comisky Park were lucky the Chicago cops didn’t crack all their heads open. Of course on the south side the police didn’t like disco either.

  82. hey, come on! Didn’t anybody else think the neatest part of the vid was seeing and hearing young Bill Kurtis. I mean, I did…

    *kicks pebble*

  83. I was a young man that was having fun at the YMCA, by that I mean I was about 10 years old and playing basketball and swimming at the Y. Disco was what was on the radio before I became old enough to be a music purchaser. When I reached the age where I was buying and playing my own music MTV was here and that changed a lot of things.

    My church youth group burned my copy of Queen’s “The Game” after my mom discovered the lyrics sheet on the record liner. I have also sat through church services where records were spun backwards to reveal the satanic messages in “backmasking” and sat through a word by word examination of how Hotel California is a tribute to satanic culture.

    I wonder if there was any connection between what seemed at the time as the ever-present threat of nuclear holocaust (see most movies of the early ’80s) and the obsession of my church and many like it with end-of-times and Satanism. In recent years, those same churches have been doing more things like “prosperity theology.” Will it turn back? Does doom and gloom in the economy lead to doom and gloom in the pulpit?

  84. Why? You are not a professional herbatologist.

    Total RC’z Law moment, John. That I am so stealing.

  85. If there is a common thread between the evangelical record-burners and the revisionist view of why disco fell on its azz, it would be this: we tend to see the things for which we are looking.

    Hip-hop is heading for the same fate as disco, and for much the same reasons, IMHO – it’s everywhere, and for every good/original song there are a hundred bad/recycled ones.

  86. Sorry, but an actual look at the alternatives pushed by those opposed to disco belies the claims Mr. Walker is citing.

    Racist: Well, of course the problem is that the most direct opposition to disco came from those favoring a sound much more derivative of traditional blues. While some of the better disco might be identified as funk, classic rock is pretty plainly variations on older sounds that were equally “black”.

    Homophobic: Wasn’t the musical reaction to disco punk/new wave? Yeah, no sexual ambiguity there.

  87. You may have seen disco come and go from the mainstream. But that’s rather different.

    But Jesse, it’s in the white mainstream where disco had its impact. Most disco was little more than crappy funk music, but the uncut funk never crossed the racial line (well, not until years later) the way disco did.

    The Disco Demolition was all about the mainstream, not about what was going on in a few underground clubs in major cities.

    The suburban kids who trashed disco did so because they were rock fans, not because they were hating on any minority group.

    To me, disco is interesting primarily as the first instance of a musical idiom being prepackaged by the industry and foisted off on America as a Big Deal. In that way, it was a test run for what would happen with MTV in the next decade.

  88. Rockers HATED disco. You couldn’t be in a band and hope to play a club or have any success unless you had some disco songs.

    Disco probably killed hundreds of great rock albums from getting made.

  89. A friend of mine worked at a college radio station in the late-70’s at a large public university. The Black Student Union contacted the station and requested a meeting with management because of the lack of “Black” music being played. This came as a surprise because the station schedule included a Motown show, a Blues hour, a roots of Rock and Roll show, a Gospel show, and quite a bit of jazz programming, all of which featured Black performers. At the meeting with the BSU leaders, there was a good deal of talking around the issue, but finally their intent was laid bare: they wanted Disco programming. Fat chance. As a policy, the station did not play mainstream popular music and it wasn’t going to change that policy to placate what they viewed as the shallow and culturally illiterate tastes of the BSU. Was it bigoted of them to play John Coltrane and Bo Diddley, instead of Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band as the BSU demanded?

    1. Was it bigoted of them to play John Coltrane and Bo Diddley, instead of Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band as the BSU demanded?

      What do you think, dufus? The truth is what somebody said above-the rest of America (most non-whites and most gay people) had moved on musically and culturally from just only John Coltrane and Bo Diddley to disco. Only problem is, most straight white people like yourself and your supposedly liberal fellow students couldn’t move forward, stuck in the past as you were, and so you turned down their request.

      Just goes to show how race relations between blacks & whites still had (and still have) a long way to go, not to also forget not letting nostalgia fuck up things.

  90. First, let me preface this by saying I was there that night.

    Second, I am appalled by the revisionist history making Disco Demolition Night into a racist and homophobic backlash. It was nothing of the sort.

    Third, it had everything to do with the phony and superficial disco lifestyle. Blowdried hair and three piece polyester leisure suits did not sit well with the jeans and t-shirts rock & rollers.

    Finally, a thought from a banner hanging from the upper deck at Disco Demolition Night: What do Linda Lovelace and disco both have in common?

  91. Oh, and one more thing: DISCO SUCKS!

  92. I don’t think anyone is saying that Disco Demolition Night was itself racist or homophobic, but rather that the backlash against disco had some racist and homophobic elements to it. Yes, you could hate disco just to hate disco or because you liked loud, crunchy guitars, but a lot of the haters were freaked out by the whole scene. It was too “other” for them. I don’t recall any other music scene getting such a drubbing from rock fans.

    (Although, now I’m thinking of Quadrophenia and the Mods vs Rockers battles – that was fueled by some racism, too. The Mods were a little too deep into Black culture for the Rockers. Then the skinhead subculture grew out of some of the working class Mods who got into reggae. And the Rockers were more or less the precursors to the Oi! skins some of whom turned out to be the nazi skins…I’m rambling.)

  93. The Mods were a little too deep into Black culture for the Rockers.

    I thought it was the other way around; the Mods were listening to bleached-out psychedelic speed music while the Rockers were still getting their rocks off to Little Richard and “Be-Bop-A-Lula”.

  94. “Maximum R&B” was a Mod expression, wasn’t it? And I’m pretty sure the Mods were into ska early on, too. So if there was a racial divide there, highnumber (kind of a Mod name, that) is probably right about where the Mods stood.

  95. It’s amazing looking back at this event 30 years now in this day and age how this easily could backfired in the faces of the “Disco Sucks” (and would have if it happened today) movement. All the disco people could have done is portray “Disco Sucks” as a movement of rioters and drunken hooligans. But at the time disco had its own problems at the time (Studio 54, Ethel Merman, Disco Duck).

    (Notice how all the revelers got their arses back in their seats when the Chicago Police showed up. A decade after the DNC of 1968, no matter how stoned or drunk they were even they knew not to mess with a group of individuals who would gladly shove their night sticks up the rioters’ pie-holes if they could get away with it.)

    The reason this did not happen I believe was due to the surprise at how many people showed up for Disco Demolition Night. Even Steve Dahl and Loop 98 co-workers were stunned at the crowd size. At best they thought maybe an extra 12,000 might show up that wouldn’t normally go to Comiskey Park to watch a bad baseball team play a doubleheader. There was a lot of anger in the summmer of 1979. Don’t forget at that time there were gas shortages and long lines at the pumps. This was also the month of Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech. Perhaps this was an expression of it.

    Also too, looking at all the faces in the crowd, this was clearly a working class/young adult audience. While they were for rock and roll, what they did was very punk even if they didn’t have mohawks and thus one can draw a connections between themselves and their working class counterparts in England at that time (London’s Burning anyone?) The sense of anarchy, rebellion and wild exuberance even if substance fueled may have very well have started rock’s resurgence.

    Did Disco Sucks have anti-homosexual/anti-black connentations? Maybe subconciously. I don’t know. I can’t speak for everyone there at Comiskey Park as to their true feelings. But is it their fault many of the best disco artists were black and many homosexuals hung out at Studio 54? Go watch “Saturday Night Fever” once again and see if any of main characters in that movie liked disco dancing because it made them more tolerant of blacks and homosexuals. Did Steve Dahl ride around Comiskey Park screaming “Death to Faggott/Nigger music!”? No. Growing up, I don’t think anyone knew the Village People originally performers at gay bars in the Village? We all thought it was cool they dressed up like Cowboys and Indians and Sailors and Construction Workers. For a while.

    What killed disco was not a homophobic/racist backlash but the fact what was once an underground, out-of-the-spotlight subculture that developed as mid-1970s escapism (Saturday Night Fever) from the grittiness of life in the 70s became so popular that even my little old blue collar hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin had a disco in it. Disco went boogewah and mainstream and became so prevelant in the culture that it was corrupted by the culture and vise-versa and became a target for rebellion. Ultimately the larger culture spewed it out.

    Although one could say its rare to see such a culture become so despised as disco was throughout much of the 1980s and early 1990s. The rejection was so utter and so complete. As it was said in the 1980 movie Airplane! “You’re listening to WZAZ where disco lives forever!” before the plane kn

  96. While I agree with a number of your points, Sean, I have to dispute this:

    Go watch “Saturday Night Fever” once again and see if any of main characters in that movie liked disco dancing because it made them more tolerant of blacks and homosexuals

    You can’t use Saturday Night Fever as a data point that way. It’s a fictional movie based on a fabricated article based on a subculture that had thrived in a completely different time and place. It may have been the juggernaut that thrust disco into the mainstream, but its characters were never the typical disco fans.

  97. Third, it had everything to do with the phony and superficial disco lifestyle. Blowdried hair and three piece polyester leisure suits did not sit well with the jeans and t-shirts rock & rollers.

    I take it you didn’t see what the hair metal and arena rock bands of the 80s dressed like or how the were coiffed. Real and deep is not how I would describe them.

  98. Thanks for comments Jesse but I can’t believe that someone like Tony Monero never existed in outer boroughs. In fact Studio 54 founders Steve Rubel and Ian Schrager were both club owners in Queens before heading to Manhattan. It couldn’t have been a total fake or movie wouldn’t have had the impact that it did.

  99. I thought it was the other way around; the Mods were listening to bleached-out psychedelic speed music while the Rockers were still getting their rocks off to Little Richard and “Be-Bop-A-Lula”.

    The Mod scene sort of split into two camps, the dandyish “smooth” Mods and the working class “hard” Mods. The smooth Mods grew their hair and got into the psychedelics. See the Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. The hard Mods shaved their heads and grooved to reggae. See Symarip’s Skinhead Moonstomp.

  100. The hard Mods shaved their heads and grooved to reggae. See Symarip’s Skinhead Moonstomp.

    And the intro to “Skinhead Moonstomp” parodies the beginning of Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You,” which was co-written by Isaac Hayes, who could be heard in many a disco. So we come full circle.

  101. “But it’s interesting that rock fans did this to disco records at the same time that evangelists were doing something similar to rock records.”

    Not very interesting: The rock DJ’s were merely staging a stunt for fun and attention, whereas some of the evangelists really wanted ban disco (and rock, and etc.)

  102. “critics and historians have noted that the music was associated closely with blacks, Hispanics, and especially gays. So now you’re more likely to hear the riot described in terms of intolerance.”

    My friends were all rock fans, not disco, and I never, ever heard disco denigrated on racial or sexual grounds. It was always that the music was shallow, mindless fluff. But I guess progressives never rest in their efforts to rewrite history to suit their propagandistic purposes.

  103. After blowing up the records the crowd of anti-disco supporters rushed the field and began starting fires and throwing LP’s like Frisbees. The game was canceled due to the hysteria

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