Disco thumps back to life in this pulsating look at the culture and politics that gave rise to the music.
In the 1970s, as the disco tsunami engulfed America, the question, “Do you wanna dance?” became divisive, even explosive. What was it about this music that made it such hot stuff? In this incisive history, Alice Echols reveals the ways in which disco, assumed to be shallow and disposable, permanently transformed popular music, propelling it into new sonic territory and influencing rap, techno, and trance. This account probes the complex relationship between disco and the era’s major movements: gay liberation, feminism, and African American rights. But it never loses sight of the era’s defining soundtrack, spotlighting the work of precursors James Brown and Isaac Hayes, its dazzling divas Donna Summer and the women of Labelle, and some of its lesser-known but no less illustrious performers like Sylvester. You’ll never say “disco sucks” again after reading this fascinating account of the music you thought you hated but can’t stop dancing to.
As American studies professor and Janis Joplin biographer (Scars of Sweet Paradise) Echols succinctly states, "Nothing seems to conjure up the seventies quite so effectively as disco." But while the decade's weltanschauung is often dismissed as merely polyester and platform heels, Echols aims for and thoroughly achieves a range of higher cultural insights. Using an encyclopedic knowledge of the eras' biggest stars, she shows how all sorts of musical disco styles played a "central role" in broadening the contours of "blackness, femininity, and male homosexuality" in America. She brilliantly explores the many ways that early disco clubs created new spaces "where gay men could safely come together in a large crowd," at the same time often masking an early strain of the racial and class exclusion that dominated disco's later years. She brings to light the influence of underground legends such as club deejay Tom Moulton, who first remixed popular records to make them longer for dancing and "created the model for the 12-inch, extended play disco single." Best of all is Echols's revelatory look at how the "critique of racism and sexism" in the film Saturday Night Fever offers "a richer portrait of the disco seventies" than its critics have granted.