Template:Disco Disco is an style of dance music (generally between 110 and 136 beats per minute) that originated in the early-1970s, a derivative of funk and soul music, popular with audiences in larger cities all over the world. It derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning a nightclub where the featured entertainment was recorded music rather than an on-stage band), a portmanteau coined around 1941 from disc and bibliothèque (library) by La Discothèque, then located on the Rue de la Huchette street in Paris (Jones + Kantonen, 1999).


As with all such musical genres, defining a single point of disco's development is difficult, as many elements of disco music appear on earlier records (such as the 1971 theme from the film 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, but there are many aspects proving opposite tendencies as well; popular radio-hits were being played in discothèques, as long as they had an easy to follow rhythmic base-pattern close to 120 BPM (beats per minute).

Musical influences include funk, soul music, and salsa and the Latin or Hispanic musics which influenced salsa.

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)

Soul and funk records that influenced disco include:

Philadelphia International Records defined Philly soul and helped define disco (ibid) with records such as:

Pre-/Early-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 1977 classic 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 the Hustle.

In 1975, the pop star Dalida was the first to make disco music in France with her song "J'attendrai" which was a big hit there as well as in Canada and Japan in 1976. She also released many other disco hits between 1975 and 1981, including "Monday, Tuesday... Laissez-moi danser" in 1979, translated the same year as "Let Me Dance Tonight" for the USA, where she was their "French diva" since her late-1978 performance at the Carnegie Hall). Soon after Dalida's pioneering French disco work, other French artists recorded disco: Claude François, in 1976 with his song "Cette année-là" (a cover of The Four Seasons' disco hit "December 1963 (Oh what a night)"), then the famous "yé-yé" French pop singer Sheila, with her group B. Devotion, who even had a hit in the USA (a rarity for French artists) with the song "Spacer" in 1979. Many other European artists also recorded disco music.

Popular disco artistsEdit


File:Saturday night fever.jpg

The most popular disco artists of the 1970s include The Bee Gees, A Taste of Honey, Cerrone, ABBA, Chic, Sister Sledge, The Jacksons, Claudja Barry, Linda Clifford, Teri DeSario, Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stephanie Mills, Carol Williams, Sylvester, Gloria Gaynor, Boney M, Village People, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Vicki Sue Robinson, MFSB, Loleatta Holloway, France Joli, Evelyn 'Champagne' King, Yvonne Elliman, Tavares, Salsoul Orchestra, Phyllis Hyman, The Emotions, Thelma Houston, Cheryl Lynn, The Trammps, Love and Kisses, Barry White, Silver Convention, Kool & the Gang, Michael Jackson, and Dalida. 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). There appeared many non-disco artists, which included The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, KISS, The Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, Cher, Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Leif Garrett, Toto, Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys, Billy Preston, Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, The Pointer Sisters, Elton John, James Brown, Bette Midler, Prince, Helen Reddy, Carly Simon, Diana Ross, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rod Stewart, Queen (with the bass guitar riffs emulating those of Chic in their hit Another One Bites The Dust), Blondie, Bryan Adams, as well as veteran entertainers such as Paul Anka, Ann-Margret, Charo, Frankie Avalon, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ethel Merman, Wayne Newton, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, and Frank Sinatra.

Many disco novelty songs sold well and were popular. Rick Dees, at the time a radio DJ in Memphis, Tennessee, recorded what is considered to be one of the most popular parodies of all time, Disco Duck.

DJs and producersEdit

Disco music diverged from the rock of the 1960s, elevating music from the raw sound of 4-piece garage bands to refined music composed by producers who contracted local symphony and philharmonic orchestras and session musicians. For the first time in three decades, orchestral music became the preeminent sound in the popular-music scene. Top disco music producers included Patrick Adams, Biddu, Cerrone, Alec R. Costandinos, John Davis, Gregg Diamond, Kenneth Gamble, Norman Harris, Leon Huff, Sylvester Levay, Ian Levine, Mike Lewis, Van McCoy, Meco Monardo, Tom Moulton, Boris Midney, Vincent Montana Jr, Randy Muller, Laurin Rinder, Richie Rome, Warren Schatz, Harold Wheeler, and Michael Zager, whose roles involved every aspect of production, from composing the arrangements to conducting the 50- to 100-member orchestras from Los Angeles to New York, from Chicago to Philadelphia, from Detroit to Miami, from London to Berlin, from Vancouver to Montreal, from to Paris to Milan.

With as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments to be compiled into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with orchestral builds and breaks, the mixing engineers became an important fixture in the production process, and, as a result, were most influential in developing the "sound" of the recording through the disco mix. Record sales were often dependent on, though not guaranteed by, floor play in clubs. Notable DJs include Jim Burgess, Walter Gibbons, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Rick Gianatos, Francis Grasso (Sanctuary), Larry Levan (Paradise Garage), Ian Levine (Heaven), John Luongo, and David Mancuso (The Loft).

Descendents, influence, and revivalEdit

The year 1980 was a transitional time for music, especially dance music, which lost its disco sound, as complex melodic structures and plush elements of the symphony orchestra gave way to a diminutive, street sound. In the early-1980s, George Benson, Rick James, Patrice Rushen, The Brothers Johnson, The Weather Girls, Madonna, Kool & the Gang, Miquel Brown, Teena Marie, The Commodores, The S.O.S. Band, and other artists continued to create many disco-enthused hits. At the same time new styles emerged - Italo Disco and Euro Disco.

Also in the early-1980s, House music was forged in the underground clubs of Chicago and New York, when the first drum machines were introduced into disco tracks.

In the 1990s, a revival of the original disco style began and is exemplified by such songs as "Lemon" by U2 (1993), "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 releases by a number of artists including "Spinning Around" and "Love at First Sight" by Kylie Minogue (2001), "I Don't Understand It" by Ultra Nate (2001), "Crying at the Discoteque" by Alcazar (2001), "Love Foolosophy" by Jamiroquai (2001), "Murder on the Dancefloor" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (2001), and "Love Invincible" by Michael Franti and Spearhead (2003) that channeled classic disco music.

Most recently, Madonna has used disco themes in her latest album, Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). Her single "Hung Up", notably samples ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)".


Instruments commonly used by disco musicians included the rhythm guitar (most often played in "chicken-scratch" style, usually through a wah-wah or phaser), bass, piano and electroacoustic keyboards (most important: the Fender-Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos and the Hohner Clavinet), harp, string synth, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn, tuba, English horn, oboe, flute, piccolo, and drums, timpani, as well a drum kit. Electronic drums were making a debut during this era, with Simmons and Roland drum modules appearing as pioneers in electronic percussion. 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.

In general, 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), whereas in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four. (Michaels, 1990) Disco is further characterized by a sixteenth note division of the quarter notes established by the bass as shown in the second drum pattern below, after a typical rock drum pattern:

Characteristic rock and disco drum patterns

This sixteenth note pattern is often supported by other instruments such as the rhythm guitar (lead guitar parts are rare), and may be implied rather than explicitly present, often involving syncopation. As a simpler example, bass lines often use the following rhythm:

Characteristic disco bass rhythm

The orchestral sound usually known as "disco sound" relies heavily on strings and horns playing linear phrases, in unison with the soaring, often reverberated vocals or playing instrumental fills, while electric pianos and chicken-scratch guitars create the background "pad" sound defining the harmony progression. Typically, a "wall of sound" results. There are however more minimalistic flavors of disco with reduced, transparent instrumentation, pioneered by Chic.


At first, singles were released on 7-inch 45-rpm records, 45s, which were shorter in length and of poorer sound quality than 12-inch singles. Motown Records 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 1976: Jesse Green's "Nice and Slow" b/w 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)

Backlash in U.S. and UKEdit

The popularity of the film Saturday Night Fever prompted the major record labels to mass-produce hits, however, as some perceived, turning the genre from something vital and edgy into a safe "product" homogenized for the mass audience. Though disco music had several years of popularity, an American anti-disco sentiment was festering, marked by an impatient return to rock (loudly encouraged by worried rock radio stations). Disco music and dancing fads 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 demonstration (see below), The Young Nationalist publication of the far-right 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".

Rock vs. discoEdit

Strong disapproval of disco among some rock fans existed throughout the disco era, growing as disco's influence grew, such that the expression "Disco Sucks" was common by the late-1970s among these fans.

In 1979, Chicago rock deejays Steve Dahl and Garry Meier along with Michael Veeck (son of legendary sports markerter Bill Veeck) staged a promotional event with an anti-disco theme, Disco Demolition Night, between games at a White Sox doubleheader. The event involved exploding disco records, and ended in a near-riot. The second game of the doubleheader had to be forfeited.

White male rock fans who spoke out against the music were sometimes accused of prejudice for objecting to a musical idiom that was strongly associated with both black and homosexual audiences. To further complicate matters, several prominent, popular rock artists recorded songs with audible debts to disco, sometimes to strong critical and commercial response. David Bowie's "Golden Years," and The Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and "Emotional Rescue," are distinguished examples of these disco-rock fusions, and artists such as The Who, Rod Stewart, and to a lesser extent Queen and The Clash also recorded disco-informed songs. Since the advent of disco and dance music in general, many have argued that more and more rock music has absorbed the rhythmic sensibilities of dance.

The disco-vs.-rock dynamic was parodied in the 1999 film Detroit Rock City (set in 1978) when the main characters (all KISS fans) get into an altercation with some disco fans, who destroyed their KISS tapes. In retaliation, the KISS fans knock the disco fans unconscious and paint their faces to look like the members of KISS (at this point, "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath is playing, in a show of rock's supremacy over Disco).


Currently, most radio stations that play dance music or '70s-era music will play this music and related forms such as funk and Philadelphia soul at some point in their playlists; both major satellite radio companies also have disco music stations in their lineup. However, dance music stations in general are not known for having high ratings.

See alsoEdit



  • Michaels, Mark (1990). The Billboard Book of Rock Arranging. ISBN 0823075370.
  • Jones, Alan and Kantonen, Jussi (1999). Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. Chicago, Illinois: A Cappella Books. ISBN 1556524110.
  • Brewster, Bill and Broughton, Frank (1999) Last Night a DJ Saved my Life: the History of the Disc Jockey Headline Book Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0747262306
  • Lawrence, Tim (2004). Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979 . Duke University Press. ISBN 0822331985.