Boogie 2018: A brief reflection on the Disco era

Inside us all, there is a person who’s keen to to throw on some flared pants and some wedge-heeled boots and head on down to the lit-up dance floor.

I would like to thank the family of D. and M. H— for their festive gift of the Walt Disney “Mickey Mouse Disco” album, which arrived at our household for our dancing and listening pleasure.

This classic piece of vinyl was released in 1979, at the high-water mark of the classic Disco (with a capital d) era. I’m a child of the ‘70s myself, but was just a little too old to groove out to “Mickey Mouse Disco.”

And besides, amongst the small social milieu I called mine, Disco was considered uncool. “Disco Sucks” was something one saw on T-shirts at the time, and something the lead singers of bands said at the high school dance, before breaking into another ‘70s rock song that was, in retrospect, pretty undanceable.

Instead, my eight-track tape machine vibrated to the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Rush, April Wine, et al — when I could get my eight-track machine working, that is (I had to wedge a book of matches underneath a tape to get it to play properly).

But in the late ‘70s, Disco dominated the radio, and those tunes conquered my hippocampus in a way that Rush never could, and are lodged there still. While dancing was never my thing, “The Hustle” is one of those melodies my brain defaults to when my mind goes blank. Which is often.

This four-on-the-floor beat, with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, a syncopated bass line, swelling orchestration and lyrics about dancing and/or love was exemplified by the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and great performers like the Bee Gees, Tavares, Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, Lipps Inc, Earth, Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang, a Taste of Honey, et al.

Looking back, it is surprising how short-lived was Disco’s reign at the top of the pops. Incidentally, my first ever listen of “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” — and the advent of anti-disco Punk Rock — was also on eight-track, that magnificent recording technology that we all yearn for today.

In any case, back at home, we slapped our new vintage copy of “Mickey Mouse Disco” on the turntable, seeking bemusement — as well as for that secret love of Disco that we all of us share, but never admit.

Being Walt Disney, the production values were high. Quality musicianship as far as it goes. I could just imagine kids of the late ‘70s, of the age of those I used to babysit when I was a teenager, dancing around the rumpus rooms of the nation to songs like “Mousetrap,” “Watch Out For Goofy,” “Disco Mickey Mouse” and discofied versions of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” “It’s a Small World After All” and “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee.”

One song in particular caught my ear: “Macho Duck.” We found it interesting how the melody line was torqued just enough to be sightly different from “Macho Man” of the Village People fame. It probably wouldn’t pass the plagiarism test these days, but you can bet that anyone trying to take Disney to court would need a battery of lawyers such as the world has never seen.

Listening to “Macho Duck” reminded me of another hallmark of the 1970s, and that was the people who had a talent for talking like Donald Duck. Every social circle had one Donald Duck tribute artist, who would crack up the gang by breaking into duckspeak at opportune moments, like during class, assembly, or in detention.

Although people still talk like Donald Duck today, the golden age of talking like Donald Duck was in the 1970s, and this singular talent found its apex, I imagine, when the cabal of record industry executives, sitting around the table in their secret meeting room, wondered what could be done to monetize the phenomenon that people enjoyed talking like Donald Duck, and hearing people talk like Donald Duck.

The result was the worst song of all time — “Disco Duck,” a Disco song created around someone talking in Donald Duck’s voice. You can google it if you’ve forgotten how it goes.

Coincidentally or not, “Disco Duck” marked the beginning of a backlash against the Disco era. Disco crept off the radio playlists, we put away our Boney M albums, and stopped talking about the proper way to do the “Bus Stop.”

Full disclosure: The whole purpose of this column was to start your 2018 off by putting those songs into your head — “Disco Duck,” “The Hustle,” “That’s The Way, Uh Huh, Uh Huh” … that perhaps you’d rather leave forgotten. I don’t think there’s anything in the Journalism code of ethics that forbids this.

And inside us all, there is a person who’s still keen to to throw on some flared pants, preferably white, and some wedge-heeled boots and head on down to the lit-up dance floor.

Boogie on, Dear Reader, and Happy New Year.


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