In looking back to disco and the 1970s, nobody is arguing that there weren’t excesses. “Disco Duck,” that song about CB radios, Barry Gibb’s chest hair. But don’t let one or two — OK, a teetering truckload — of bad apples spoil the whole batch. The decade had its moments. Even amidst those dark days when pointing straight up counted as a dance move.
Here are five examples of disco songs that don’t, you know, suck …
This track, which lumbered to No. 1 in 1974, created the disco template — somehow both danceable, but at the same time wide-lapel mellow. Truth is, though, Barry White had me from the first thunderous clackety-clack riff. The after school-special orchestration on his aptly titled Rhapsody in White album? Well, that was gravy. Great, greasy brown gravy. Rarely has a band’s name sounded so much like its biggest hit single. This was love. Grown-up love, too. And it was unlimited.
Oddly, when this song comes on, even now, I still hear the deleted 45 version — with the pain-in-the-ass lyric deleted. Yes, kids, it was a simpler time. Originally written by Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry with guitarist Chris Stein in 1974, “Heart of Glass” was long referred to during its rehearsal stage simply as The Disco Song. Finally released five years later, it topped the charts and was later ranked No. 225 on Rolling Stones’ Top 500 rock tunes of all time. It’s special, too, for the video — which was shot at New York’s infamous Studio 54 disco-tarium: Harry’s toss-off 1950s-redo hairdo and glassy-eyed detachment (maybe drug induced, more likely an embedded big-city disdain for you and every loser just like you) set the stage for the pasty retro-obsessed nihilism of the decade to follow.
Leave it to the 1970s to combine jazz and disco. The result, as Brick so deftly reminds in a champagne glass-shattering falsetto, is “Dazz.” Instantly forgettable lyrics concerning your booty and shaking couldn’t keep this convulsive, ‘fro-shiveringly funky track from reaching No. 3 on the pop charts, and No. 1 R&B, in 1976. Similarly, you might have come this far thinking that Jethro Tull was the only band with the nerve to chart a pop song featuring a flute. You would be wrong. Dude, lead singer Jimmy Brown rocks that stick. (Brick later tried to rekindle the magic with a tune called, and we’re not making this up, “Dusic.” OK, that was quite enough, thank you.)
I struggled with this one. After all, there was Heatwave’s No. 2 hit “Boogie Nights” to contend with. It has, you know, boogie in the title. That has to count for something. But “Grooveline,” Johnnie Wilder’s quippy-keyboard driven No. 7 hit tune, wins out. Not because it is better to groove than it is to boogie — even though, yeah, it is — but because this is the first time I heard that familiar raise-the-roof hooah-hooah call that has somehow endured across the decades. Heatwave may have come and gone, but they’re never far away. Not as long as there is somebody, somewhere, who hoot-owls their way through a liquor-fueled hip-bumping retro dance night. And … there is.
Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were the shag-carpeted Babyfaces of their day, talented musicians with a golden touch at producing, too. This 1979 hit was actually their second consecutive No. 1 (topping both the pop and R&B lists) for Chic, and it went on to become perhaps the most sampled song in hip-hop history — starting with “Rapper’s Delight,” from later that same year. And, yeah, it also made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest rock songs ever, at No. 224. Even so, there are those who will quibble. We all have our favorites. But I always respond the same way: Clams on the half shell … and rollerskates. Rollerskates!