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Disco is an up-tempo style of dance music that originated in the early 1970s, mainly from funk and soul music, popular originally with gay and black audiences in large U.S. cities, and derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning nightclub), coined from bibliotèque by La Discothèque in Rue Huchette (Jones and Kantonen, 1999).

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 Popularity
3 Popular disco artists
4 DJs and Producers
5 Backlash
6 Descendents, influence, and revival
7 Instrumentation
8 Format
9 Discos
10 See also
11 Source


Like all such musical genres, defining a single point of its development is difficult, as many elements of disco music appear on earlier records (such as the 1971 theme from the movie Shaft by Isaac Hayes) (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). In general it can be said that first true disco songs were released in 1973, however, many consider Manu Dibango's 1972 "Soul Makossa" the first disco record (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Initially, most disco songs catered to a nightclub/dancing audience only, rather than general audiences such as radio listeners.

Social trends that contributed to disco music include the surpassing of white people by racial and ethnic minorities, black and hispanic people, in the purchasing of records and sound equipment, the increased independence of women in finance and leisure, gay liberation, and the sexual revolution. (Jones and Kantonen, 1999)

Musical influences include funk, soul, and salsa and the latin or hispanic musics which created salsa.

Pre-disco soul records include:

Philadelphia International Records defined Philly soul and help define disco (ibid) with records such as: Pre-disco TK Records tracks: Early disco hits include:


1975 was the year when disco really took off, with hit songs like Van McCoy's "The Hustle" and Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby" reaching the mainstream. 1975 also marked the release of the first disco mix on album, the A side of Gloria Gaynor's Never Can Say Goodbye (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Disco's popularity peaked in the so-called Disco era of 1977 - 1980, driven in part by the late-1977 film "Saturday Night Fever". Disco also gave rise to an increased popularity of line dancing and other partly pre-choreographed dances; many line dances can be seen in films such as Saturday Night Fever which also features Hustle.

Popular disco artists

Among the most popular disco artists of the 1970s were Abba, The Bee Gees, Chic, Sister Sledge, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Boney M, The Village People, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Voyage, Salsoul Orchestra, The Trammps, and Barry White. However, many disco fans would agree that "for every chart hit pounded into the public's consciousness, fifty far superior tracks from all over the world were being played at some hard-to-find basement club" (Jones and Kantonen, 1999). Many rock artists, from The Eagles to The Rolling Stones, from Can to The Clash, discofied some of their songs. Blondie disappointed the majority of their fan base (including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe) by releasing songs such as "Heart of Glass".

DJs and Producers

Disco music diverged from the self-composed and performed rock of the 1960s, seeing a return (though not universally) to the influence of producers who hired session musicians to produce hits for different artists whose role was purely to sing and market the songs. This may explain some rock critics vitrolic hate of disco, as it lacks the same "cred". Top disco music producers/mixers included Patrick Adams, Biddu, Cerrone, Alec R. Costandinos, Gregg Diamond, Bernard Edwards, Rick Gianatos, Quincy Jones, François Kevorkian, Meco Monardo, Tom Moulton, Kenton Nix, Boris Midney, Vincent Montana Jr, Giorgio Moroder, Rinder and Lewis, Nile Rodgers, and Michael Zager. However, what was seen by some rock critics and fans as a loss of authenticity and credibility may have marked not a return to producer driven music, but a return to listener driven music, as fans participated through dancing.

Outside the recording industry proper many DJs, most of whom also eventually worked in studios as producers or mixers, were hugely influential. Records sales were often dependent, though not guaranteed by, floor play in clubs. Notable DJs include Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, Francis Grasso (Sanctuary), Larry Levan (Paradise Garage), Ian Levine (Heaven), David Mancuso (The Loft), and Tom Moulton.


There are many reasons for the backlash against disco in the extreme late seventies witnessed by the phrase "Disco is dead."

Motivations of the anti-disco backlash ranged from simple personal taste and loyalty to rock, to positions involving not-so-subtle anti-gay and racist feelings; disco music and disco dancing were depicted as not only silly (witness Frank Zappa's satirical song "Dancin' Fool), but effeminate.

In Britain, however, during the same year as the first American anti-disco demonstrations, see below, The Young Nationalist publication of the British National Party reported that "disco and its melting pot pseudo-philosophy must be fought or Britain's streets will be full of black-worshipping soul boys," though this had been true for twenty years with many white male English teens considering themselves "soul freaks".

Disco's core audience

As the minority audiences that originally created and consumed disco watched its appropriation into the mainstream many of them changed their interests and affiliations to other forms of dance music, sometimes simply disco with a new name.

Rock vs Disco

Avid disapproval of disco among some rock fans, who perceived rock as more serious and valuable, existed throughout the disco era, growing as disco's influence grew, such that the expression "Disco Sucks" was common by the late 1970's.


One example of this backlash occurred in 1979, when a Chicago rock radio station staged a promotional event with an anti-disco theme, "Disco Demolition Night", between games at a major league baseball doubleheader. The event involved exploding disco records with a bomb, and ended in a near-riot.

Descendents, influence, and revival

In the early 1980s, George Benson, Patrice Rushen, Brothers Johnson, Commodores, The S.O.S. Band, and many other artists created disco classics. After 1980, however, disco music morphed into other forms, including house and Hi-NRG.

In the 1990s a revival of the original disco style began and is exemplified by such songs as "Spend Some Time" by Brand New Heavies (1994), "Cosmic Girl" by Jamiroquai (1996), "Never Give Up on the Good Times" by The Spice Girls (1997), and "Strong Enough" by Cher (1998) who had also released disco songs in the seventies.

During the first half of the 2000s, there were disco releases by a number of artists including "I Don't Understand It" by Ultra Nate (2001), "Love Foolosophy" by Jamiroquai (2001), "Murder on the Dancefloor" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (2001), and "Love Invincible" by Michael Franti and Spearhead (2003).


Instruments commonly used by disco musicians included the rhythm guitar, bass, strings (violin, viola, cello), string synth (a type of organ), trumpet, saxophone, trombone, piano, and drums (sometimes using an auxiliary percussionist as well as somebody on a drum kit). Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat (sometimes using a 16-beat pattern on the hi-hat cymbal, or an eight-beat pattern with an open hi-hat on the "off" beat) and a heavy, syncopated bassline. Disco also had a characteristic electric guitar sound.

Generally, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or popular song is that in dance music the bass hits "four to the floor", at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), while in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four. (Michaels, 1990)


Initially singles were released on 7-inch 45-rpm records, 45s, which were shorter in length and of poorer sound quality than 12-inch singles. Tamla Motown was the first to market these through their Eye Cue label, but these and other 12-inch singles were the length of the original 45s until Scepter/Wand released the first 12-inch extended version single in 1975: Jesse Green's "Nice and Slow" btw Sweet Music's "I Get Lifted" (engineered by Tom Moulton). The single was packaged in collectable picture sleeves, a relatively new concept at the time. 12-inch singles became commercially available after the first crossover, Tavares' "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel." 12-inch singles allowed longer dance time and formal possibilities. (Jones and Kantonen, 1999)


See also


Electronic music | Genres
Ambient | Breakbeat | Electronica | Electronic art music | House | Techno | Trance | Industrial | Synth pop