Exactly what was so horrible about disco?

Inspired by the recent American Idol discussions.

Okay, I was born in the 70’s, so obviously I don’t have any memories of what American culture was like in that era. However, I understand the horrors of the Vietnam war, why it completely polarized our country, and why so many people were against it. I know that the infamous bra burning never happened. I know all about the struggles the movie industry went through, and how they eventually overcame them. I even know where all those lame Gerald Ford falling down gags came from.

But the nearly universal loathing…not just dislike, flat-out loathing…of disco has always baffled me.

It’s dance music. It’s music designed to get people to dance. Yes, the songs are incredibly long and repetitive…all dance music is like that. That’s the point. No, it’s not deep or meaningful. A lot of music isn’t like that. I don’t expect intelligence and meaning and purpose in every damn song I listen to. Yes, there’s an undercurrent of drugs, sex, debauchery, sin, shame, wrong etc. That’s part of the culture, and no one’s holding a gun to your head.

Annoyance, tedium, even disgust, I can understand, but utter hatred?

It’s the life style associated with it. Or the perceived life style, anyways. Even tho it wasn’t that different from the free love 60s, it seemed a whole lot more selfish.

Plus those shirts.

Do you like the Backstreet Boys/N*Sync/98 Degrees…etc?

Having been there, I think it’s important to consider the zeitgeist. Music had been something that was socially significant. It was about civil rights, the Vietnam war, spiritual fulfillment, and the dawn of a new age for man, an age of reconciliation and enlightenment called Aquarius. Then, suddenly, America is integrated, the National Guard murders its own citizens, and the war ends with desperate people scrambling on top of a building to get on the last helicopter out of Saigon. Music becomes an eight-beat, repeating, machine-cloned background noise for coke-heads. The richness of expression is reduced to a poverty of ideas. It is an abrupt dietary change, from Auguste Renoir to Thomas Kincade.

It’s not that their was anything so bad about it. There was just a lot of jealousy by a certain segment of the population when they found out that. . .

Straight white guys can’t dance.

All those people that say disco sucks? They never made it to Flanigan’s in Miami back in '78. :wink:

I’ve always been a lounge rat. I liked the disco scene and still like the music. I don’t know why so many people profess a hatred for disco, unless maybe hating disco has now become a “cool” thing to do.

Earl, this is the SDMB Dude! You can’t paint with that broad a brush and get away with it. Those of us that can liked disco.

Maybe it goes like this: Those that could, did. Those that couldn’t now say they hate disco.

“Do it right
Take me through the night
Shadow dancin’”

Andy Gibb

Disco isn’t music that you can just sit and listen to for very long. Since it is dance music, you have to dance. And if you didn’t have the talent for complicated moves, or the time to practice said moves, or the money for the clothes, you looked like a bumbling idiot on the dance floor. With rock and roll you can pretty much get out on the floor and do anything and no one will pay any attention to you. But disco tends to make everyone a “star”…the whole purpose is to get people to watch your skills, and the more complicated the routine the better. I’d rather dance to music that allows me to connect to a partner on a simpler level.

It seems to be that the loathing had mostly faded into kitschy amusement by the late '90s. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in the modern day say they like disco in and of itself (and, as kittenblue points out, it’s not well suited for sitting around and listening to at home), but I’ve seen plenty of people willing to dance to it in clubs or at parties.

I do. Really :). I own the big four disc Rhino Disco Box. But then I like most types of music, from punk to classical to country to world music to jazz and blues and said Disco Box sits comfortably right next to stuff by the Dead Kennedys, Neil Diamond, the Dead Boys, the Deftones, Desmond Dekker, Miles Davis, Dinosaur Jr., Eric Dolphy, Nick Drake, Dr. John, Paco DeLucia, etc.

Like many musical genres it had its limitations, but I find the better stuff fun, energetic and well-crafted. I’m not a big fan of the disco accoutrements and accessories and I don’t dance ( evil stuff, dancing :smiley: ). But I can appreciate disco’s finer qualities as a musical form, much as I can that of electronica or other dance-oriented genres.

I do not, however, like the various “Boy Bands”, such as N’Sync - amusingly since a friend helps run a website based in part on appreciation of that sort of pop ( of course in the case of her and her friends that also ties into slash and other sorts of appreciation that I am also not a consumer of :wink: ). My interest in light pop probably ends with 60’s/ early 70’s groups like The Association and Tommy James and the Shondells. Once you get to stuff like Air Supply a few years later and similar AOR, it had pretty much lost me.

  • Tamerlane

I think Lib nailed a big part of it here.

But another major factor was the idea that disco might replace rock. This made rock fans see disco as an invading force, rather than just another form of pop music.

I remember my parents friends passing around a Newsweek(?) cover with a picture of Donna Summer or somebody, and the huge headline “Rock is Dead.” Rock was a major player in the top 40 through the '70s, and disco did start to displace it to some extent. This idea that the coming of disco might lead to the decline of rock was given some credence by the fact that quite a few rock bands did some very disco-ish stuff, or even converted to disco entirely. Rod Stewart did “Do ya think I’m sexy?” Blondie did “Heart of Glass.” The Bee Gees considered themselves a rock band who somewhat inadvertently found themselves as the disco kings. The fact that they were in the Sgt. Pepper movie certainly didn’t help matters much. In fact, I remember magazines questioning who was the greatest band of all time–the Bee Gees or the Beatles. Huh wha?

In retrospect, we see that it was never a competition between them. Yeah, the coming of disco did mark a change in the pop music scene, but rock didn’t fall down the charts because of disco. All these decades later, we’re used to rock being just one major genre of popular music, rather than the dominant genre. We’re used to dance music being a major player in the top-40. So we can see disco for what it was–good fun dance music.

-Dancing in ‘stacks’
-Polyester and rayon EVERYTHING
-Seamless pants
-The ‘Hustle’
-‘Wings’ and ‘feathered’ hair.
-Kung Fu Fighting
-Convincing your buddies to dress like the Village People for Halloween.
-Sucky home-made mirror-balls using styrofoam and glitter.
-Lighted dance floors that nearly induced seizures.
-White three-piece-suits with black open-collar-to-the-navel shirts.
-Being told “That’s not how they danced in Saturday Night Fever.”
-Overuse of the word “foxy”.

Ridiculous. Disco was like any other genre of rock or R&B -wherever you place it- in that it had songs that were piffle and songs that endure. The Bee Gees, to name just one group, were very talented craftsmen, and their songs hold up (yes, they hold up!) because they cared about the same things most good pop writers care about- strong melodies, memorable hooks, etc. What remains fixed in a lot of peoples’ minds, though, was the silly falsetto stuff, which admittedly they overdid. (Whoever told Barry Gibb that because you can hit those notes means that you should?)

Also unfounded is this idea that disco isn’t easily enjoyed unless you’re dancing. That’s like saying you can’t really enjoy a good indie rock or punk song unless you’re moshing. If the song is good, it’s irrevelant whether you’re moving your whole body or simply tapping your foot.

Well, aesthetically, disco really does suck. It may not suck quite as bad as Jamaican hip-hop, but if you have the misfortune to be working within hearing distance of some person who has the radio tuned to a disco-themed radio station, it annoys you as bad as a perpetual chorus of video-game beeps and cell phone rings.

But yeah, what Lib said. It’s also cultural. The visceral hatred stuff is far out of proportion to simple aesthetic distaste.

PS: Earl Snake-Hips Tucker, I might’ve been more inclined to dance if I could go to dances and they were playing music that I liked. The main reason I don’t do dances is that I hate the music.

[Frank Zappa]

[/Frank Zappa]

I was a hard core, long haired, twenty-something rock and roller back in the disco era. Saying that, I did like a few disco songs, though my official party line was “disco sucks.” Now I often grow nostalgic hearing songs from that era, even ones I didn’t like back then. I even have Saturday Night Fever on both Laserdisc and DVD.

There’s an interesting book called Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco by Alan Jones and Jussi Kantonen. If you have more than a passing interest in disco it’s essential reading. The authors put the blame for the “Disco Sucks” movement squarely at the feet of heterosexuals who, as disco (which originated as so many cultural phenomena do in the gay communities) became more mainstream it moved homosexuality more toward the mainstream, which led to an increase in homophobia and a heightened sense of threat to straight men’s masculinity. The clones of the gay community, with their hypermasculine man drag, probably didn’t help matters. Like all social theories holes can be riddled through this one but it makes sense to me.

While I can’t stand the Bee Gees, I love disco, and disco never really went away anyway. It morphed into “dance” music which is nothing but disco without the cultural baggage. Besides, how can anyone truly hate a musical genre that gave us not one, but two of the highest of high camp movies of all time, Can’t Stop the Music and Thank God It’s Friday?

I think these lines from The Smiths’ “Panic” are fairly representative of a lot of the anti-disco sentiment of the '80s:

It also think it’s safe to consider Morrissey (the former Smiths singer and songwriter) as a non-heterosexual denouncer of disco (though admittedly Moz refuses to identify himself with any particular of sexuality).

This is another excellent point.

It’s important to remember that at the time, most of us who were in our teens (and yes, I was one such), got music from Top-40 AM radio. There were some FM stations, and while they were quickly gaining popularity, it was Top-40 AM you listened to if you wanted to know what was current.

One day, it seemed to be impossible to turn on the radio without hearing disco. Where was the rock, the country crossovers, the pop, the bubblegum, and the other genres one heard on 1970s AM radio? There seemed to be only disco. I should point out that this was our perception; it wasn’t necessarily reality, as a review of the charts at the time reveals. Still, to us, this removal of rock from the airwaves in favour of disco was not a good sign. We wanted our rock music back. (This situation also prompted many of us to explore the FM dial.)

I also became old enough to drink during that time (the age was 18 then), and so I could go to a disco if I wanted to. Which I did, out of curiosity, a couple of times with friends–hey, maybe there was something to this disco stuff; and besides, some great-looking girls went to discos. But all was found was another revelation–if you didn’t have the right clothes, if you couldn’t dance, then you were nothing. Again, not something your average 18 to 21-year-old wants to find out about himself.

To us, disco had replaced rock, and it had instituted a set of conditions that had to be met if one was to be cool, to be accepted, and to get the girls–yes, there was going to be a backlash, and it was going to come from us, and those like us.

I won’t discount this possibility, but I don’t recall any of us thinking it at the time. We (that is, my friends and I; I certainly cannot speak for all) didn’t see any connection between disco and homosexuality. History tells us that there was one, but at the time, we didn’t know about it.

However, what we did see was indeed a movement of homosexuality towards the mainstream, as the authors say. Whether this was due to disco, I can’t say one way or the other. Perhaps the connection was there, but by the time the “disco sucks” movement really got rolling, the connection was likely buried under the other concerns. As you note, Otto, the theory can be riddled with holes, but I’ll certainly agree with you that the theory makes sense.

I’m not sure of influence this factor had, but I always wonder about the “author factor”. Rock is artist-driven. For the most part, the group or individual recording a song also wrote the lyrics and music. The really notable exceptions like Bernie Taubman are few.
Disco was producer-driven. They assembled the musicians and vocalists for each single in a mix-and-match way. Even on an album, the singers on one track might be different from the singers on another. The musicians were all studio musicians. The producers might hire lyricists and songwriters, or might write part or all of it. A hit like “The Hustle” isn’t identified with an artist, and becomes more anonymous to the audience.
Like I said, I don’t know how much of an effect this had, but I think it had some effect. Instead of liking The Who because you thought “Baba O’Reilly” was a great song, “The Hustle” was adrift of context. Or perhaps more accurately, tied to the context of the club, and lacking context outside it.

Well, they’re full of crap. Unless you lived in NYC, you never knew that disco had any gay component. I knew plenty of people at the time who hated it solely for the sound and had no idea there was a homosexual angle. I certainly never heard anything about that aspect until long after disco was deservedly dead.

Liberal is close – music in the early 70s was becoming sophisticated and ambitious; Disco was mindless dance music. It had no place to go and was clearly a musical dead end. Luckily, punk and New Wave came along to put an end to it.

Well, all of the good points have already been touched upon, so I’ll just chime in to note that I actually had a “DEATH BEFORE DISCO” t-shirt back in the day … Heck, I may still have it back in some closet somewhere …