Did Disco Die in 1979? And Why?

Yeah, I know. Disco sucked, and the world improved when it died at the old Comisky Park that summer day in 1979 after the first game of a Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers Doubleheader (BTW…thanks for the win, Dahl).

But…why did Disco “die” in 1979? And Why, if it did?

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Thing is, music isn’t just music. A music scene also takes on a form of dress, a form of dance, a form of relating to the opposite sex, a flavor of political identity (and level of involvement in addition)…in other words, a worldview.

So how does Disco relate in each of these ways (especially in relation to Rock in the Seventies, the musical form which it was a response to)?

  • music: Disco was made to be danced to, whereas Rock had long developed into the sort of music that you sat down and listened to.
  • dress: Disco required people to dress up to involve themselves into the music, whereas Rock merely required jeans and a T-shirt.
  • dance: At a rock concert? Heck, Punk had more dancing than Rock in the Seventies, and it was sometimes dangerous for woman to be punk.
  • the opposite sex/desire: As an example of Rock’s Misogyny: how many female Rock singers do we know of? Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks (Solo pushes her over the brink), Joan Jett, Patty Smythe (was asked to replace David Lee Roth when he left Van Halen, so she counts), Sharon Osborne (include because she’s the power behind Ozzy), maybe the Go-Gos as a group. Otherwise, women were better off to the side, stripped for easy access.  Disco, on the other hand, had no problem with women singers, and women were especially catered to.
  • political identity/level of involvement: Rock was mildly homophobic and linked to the status quo (although more by omission than commission, it could take properly leftist stands when it felt the need); Disco was obstensively politically neutral, but knew its debt to gays (which in some ways was duly noted).

In other words, it was a threat to a group of men who had grown used to being catered to (if only through their fantasies). Steve Dahl, who found his job in Chicago because his Los Angeles girlfriend had to get creative to get rid of him (and sleep peacefully at night), understood this: “The average guy…didn’t have the right clothes, couldn’t get into the right clubs, and thought he’d never get laid again because of disco,” was his comment in reaction to what happened.

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Now before I declare what I think the “disco scene” died from, let it be known that there were other things going on.

First off, disco was being worked to death. As a rockist with an open ear opined, “While Disco paved the way for Donna Summer and other good singers, it also butchered a lot of other formerly good singers with its touch.” Not only that, but the audience was changing (and the sound with it).

Part of the issue with Disco was that it wasn’t so much the scene of the young and hip as it was the scene of an older group of people living out the adolescence they felt they were denied in their rush to get married and raise children. Older women were dressing up and putting themselves out onto the meat market, and the men who wanted to be there had to learn how to dress, dance and shmooze for their chance. And when those women (and the men who chased them) decided to settle down and do other things, the scene had to change.

And then there was all that hatred of Disco. Mind you, it wasn’t just Dahl and the Chicago people; there was a lot of Disco Hatred even before 1977. Casey Casem actually apologized when “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty” made #1 in the AT Top 40 Countdown. I know I hated Disco from 1976 through 1980, through four different school districts, and while it was a hard time, the rough times started AFTER I started hating Disco.

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But I believe that Steve Dahl had a major hand in killing Disco in America and pushing the dance scene back underground. Not so much because of his act, but because of what it showed Disco to be, in some ways.

Simply put, Disco proved to be the province of wimps. Rock had its long period of fighting for acceptance (and actual defeat), Punk had its active opposition to the mainstream, Rap came from the Black experience AKA the American Underclass (as did Jazz, Soul, Blues and R&B), Alternative took Punk’s path and pains for its own at the start, and Country spent decades in a southern/rural exile before rising to its present-day prominence. Disco didn’t have to deal with any real opposition until Disco Demolition Night; in many ways this was its first true dealings with hate…and it folded. Clubs closed, stations changed formats, and fans hid away in a newfound “appreciation” of domestic “bliss;” all because of a bit of hatred thrown their way.

I know of other views; but to me this is the best.

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2 thoughts on “Did Disco Die in 1979? And Why?

  1. DISCO WAS DOO WOP WITH ORCHESTRAL BACK UP MUSIC .
    THERE WAS R & B DISCO PHILLIY STYLE MFSB AND SAL SOUL ..
    THERE WAS MOTOWN WITH THE FUNK BROTHERS ORCHESTRA BAND BACKING UP MANY SMOOTH DANCE TUNES.
    THERE WAS A HIGH ENERGY MUSIC ERA WHERE THE BPM WENT UP AND STAYED AT 136 COMPAIRED TO DISCO 120-126.. AND KEEPT GETTING HIGHER..
    COME 1980 THINGS CHANGED AND AFTER A DISCO SUCK BUT ROCK GOBBLES IT DOWN.
    DANCE MUSIC FROM ENGLAND CAME TO THE U S A .. THIS WAS 4/4 TIME REINVENTED DISCO ALL OVER AGAIN .. I LOVED ALL OF IT …
    INBETWEEN HIGH ENERGY AND DANCE THERE WAS THE UNDERGROUND HOUSE MUSIC..
    EVOLUTIONS WERE STILL GOING ON TECHNO ..HOUSE AND Y2K DANCE SURVIVED AND THERE ARE STILL D J`S AND CLUBS … ITS NOT LIKE BEFORE THE THRILL IS GONE ..

    THE U .S. A. AND LOS ANGELAS IN PARTICULAR IS THE CRAP NOISE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD ..
    FEAR NOT THERE ALSO IS RAGATON NOISE FOR EVERY HOMLY BOY ..

    THE MONKEY HAND SHAKE AND HAT BACK WARD CROWD ARE OUT IN FORCE ..LETS TAP KNUCKELS AS A SIGN OF STUPIDITY HOLMS ..

  2. I came across this article rather late but I’d like to comment. Your description of what happened to Disco, in my opinion, is accurate. But you’re wrong about being dressed up to meet women at the Disco bars. I’m not gay, I’m not a wimp and I’m not a phony. But I did frequent the Disco bars and you could meet a lot of friendly women there, unlike rock clubs and concerts where the women (groupies) slept with the band members and their friends. I remember a local Disco bar I hung out at and it was loaded with women and not airhead groupie women, these women were real and had brains and you could date and have fun with them. You needed to give Disco a chance and go to a club for a while and then you would have seen how much better Disco people are when compared to rock fans. I still get a laugh when I go to a rock bar and people request that the band play the Grateful dead song Shakedown Street. Even funnier it’s one of the most requested songs.

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