Since man began
recording time, human beings have danced. They danced to
appease gods. They danced to attract rain clouds. Danced
to celebrate. Danced for pleasure, recreation-and to attract
the opposite sex.
instruments replaced crude drumbeats. Each culture developed
its own distinct style of music and rhythm. Impassioned pleas
for good crops were replaced by waltzes and minuets, which in turn
gave way to jitterbuggin' and sock-hoppin'.
In the modern
era-the 20th century-each decade was defined by a dance craze.
The '40s had the big band sound. We twisted and rocked 'n'
rolled in the '50s. The Motown sound ushered in the early
'60s. The 1970s belonged to disco.
And while many
rockers hated disco, they inadvertently helped to create and
perpetuate it. Tired of the peace-and-love war protest songs of
the late '60s and early '70s, the younger generation was restless to
get back to the dance floor. And let's be honest here: the
likes of James Taylor and Led Zeppelin simply weren't giving us much
to dance to. As Richard Nixon's reign ended, a new sound was
heard on the airwaves. Black artists like Ohio Players and
Earth, Wind And Fire were crossing over into mainstream Top 40 radio
while Giorgio Moroder (Donna Summer's producer) was fiddling with
synthesizers in Germany. Latin rhythms merged with urban funk
and a steady, pounding beat to produce a new form of music called disco.
not begin with disco music. Discotheques, literally, were bars
where a disc jockey played records, as opposed to live
entertainment. The city of Buffalo, N.Y., was introduced to the
discotheque concept in 1970 when band manager Marty Angelo convinced
a local bar owner to shut off his juke box and allow Angelo to
records on two turntables through his group's sound system. The
concept swept Buffalo like wildfire. Bar owners loved the idea
of saving hundreds of dollars on bands while providing non-stop
musical entertainment for their patrons. By the mid-'70s, the
disco craze had erupted from its hip roots in New York, Los Angeles
and Miami and flowed across mainstream America. Soon, every
Holiday Inn lounge and singles bar from Oregon to North Carolina
boasted a "live DJ." Naturally, live bands-suddenly
shut out of their regular gigs-hated the idea of being replaced by a
young kid playing 45s and LPs.
As the decade wore
on, the music evolved. The music itself was special.
Since much of it was not played on the radio, you had to seek it
out. Some of the lower-tempo, funky records were played on
"urban contemporary" (a.k.a. "black") radio
stations, but for the most part, hardcore disco was absent from
mainstream AM and FM airwaves. Records were now being produced
solely for the purpose of nightclub play. The songs grew longer
as the beat became heavier. Many times, these longer versions
were not available to the public. DJs formed record pools and
associations to secure and distribute these club-only
recordings. Artists like Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer and
K.C & The Sunshine Band emerged as disco superpowers while older
acts such as Johnnie Taylor ("Disco Lady") and James Brown
enjoyed rejuvenated careers as young adults practiced the eight-count
on the dance floor. Rockers scoffed at disco's harmless
lyrics. They just didn't get it-we wanted to have a good time,
not raise social consciousness. Disco music was made purely for
dancing. If it wasn't about dancing all night, or making love
all night-or both-we simply didn't need to think about it.
Freestyle arm-wavin' and foot-stompin' was replaced by regimented
dance routines: the Latin Hustle, New York Hustle and those famous
line dances, the L.A. Walk and the Bus Stop.
Disco evolved from
an entertainment form into a lifestyle. Dancers, eager to see
and be seen, abandoned barber shops for salons. They shopped
for the latest fashion. They took dance lessons. The
hippie '60s-long hair, tie-dyes and ripped jeans-gave way to the GQ
look. Nightclubs enforced dress codes: no jeans, no sneakers,
no shirts without collars. We were peacocks, strutting our
stuff on the dance floor. (One friend-now himself a venue manager-admits
to driving to clubs in '77 sans trousers, his pants swinging from a
hanger in the back seat to avoid wrinkles.)
social centers (some referred to them as "meat markets"
during America's promiscuous, pre-AIDS days) which reflected our
escapist, ego-fueled moods. If you danced well and dressed
right, you "got lucky." Those who lacked rhythm and fashion
sense often "went home with the Courier" (the now-defunct
Buffalo Courier Express hit the newsstands at 4:00 a.m., just as the
bars were closing). Cocaine use was glamorous, DWIs were
reserved for only the most seriously drunk and the worst STD you
could catch was "the clap." Many a nine-to-fiver
called in sick Thursday mornings after barely surviving Buffalo's
infamous "drink 'n' drown" Wednesday nights (which were
immediately followed by post-party taco munching). The
Salvation Army ran TV commercials, offering crisis counseling for
those who had trouble with the disco lifestyle ("¦the
coupling, the drinking"). It was a different era, a
different time. Erie County's legal age for drinking was 18,
which meant that clever 16-and-17-year-olds always found a way inside.
Disco was good
business. Girls wanted to dance. Guys naturally wanted to
meet girls. Club owners levied cover charges and inflated drink
prices to allow both genders to have their fun. Sound systems
and lighting effects improved. DJs became local and national
celebrities. Theme discotheques flourished (in Buffalo, you
could dance inside an airplane, then drive a few miles and party at a
Jaws-inspired underwater playground).