Disco music is a blend of soul music and funk, set to 4/4 time syncopated rhythm, making it easily danceable. In the mid-1970s, it became the music to listen to, and the most often played in discotheques, or discos. New forms of dance, many of them based on ballroom dancing styles were adapted for disco, and for a while, most of the Western world was swept up in the style.
This genre of music had a lush orchestral sound, and bands often included several singers, the traditional bass, drums and guitar, and highly synthesized sounds. Full horn sections and string sections were not unusual in many bands, since synthesizers were still in their infancy and there was not much in the way of the sampling synthesizers that would eventually dominate the music of the 1980s. Vocals were an important aspect, with vocal tracks subject to heavy reverberation.
A few artists can be said to have dominated the disco era. The Bee Gees was a very popular group, which featured the singing trio of Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb. Not only did they record multiple platinum records, but they wrote numerous songs for other artists. Their popularity was greatly enhanced by the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever which celebrated the disco movement and ended up producing the second best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.
Other disco artists, more known for their disco music than any other style include Donna Summers and Barry White, and bands like Earth, Wind and Fire and ABBA. This genre is marked by many musicians from other genres jumping on the disco bandwagon to produce hits.
As disco music grew in popularity, plenty of artists, either from the soul, pop or contemporary music tradition recorded disco hits. Well-known artists to produce this style of include Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, and Eartha Kitt.
Disco music remained popular up to the late 1970s, when people began to hold anti-disco rallies. The amount of airplay devoted to disco, and the destructive nature of the lifestyle associated with it, especially on the east and west coast took its toll on many musicians. Hedonistic dance clubs like New York’s Studio 54 were sharply criticized because of the easily accessible and explicit use of drugs and sexual activity. Eventually, disco music gave way to several different forms of music in the 1980s, including the new wave movement, and numerous lighter rock bands like Journey, XYZ and The Tubes.
Disco left its indelible mark on the music to follow, especially in the power ballad vocals of rock bands and the highly synthesized music of the new wave movement. Yet there was a return to more elemental music with fewer musicians. Bands like The Police, U2, and artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp would become popular for using traditional rock ensembles of bass, guitar and drums with only light dependence on synthesizers.
A few of the great disco hits include the following:
- The Bee Gees—“Jive Talkin,” “You Should be Dancin,” and “Stayin’ Alive.”
- Donna Summers—“Bad Girls,” “Last Dance,” and “MacArthur Park.”
- Amii Stewart—“Knock on Wood”
- Gloria Gaynor—“I Will Survive”
- Earth, Wind and Fire—“September”
- KC and the Sunshine Band—“That’s the Way (I Like It),” and “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty”
- Thelma Houston--- “Don’t Leave Me This Way”