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DISCO: It Never Really Died, Did It? Pt. 1
'70s Dance Craze Lives On In Many Different Forms
By John Bisci 

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.

Musical 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.

Discotheques did 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.)

Nightclubs were 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).





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