Rotation

The Disco Box
Discs 1 and 2
Rhino Records

My ideal life has been lived out by an impostor. I've always thought the cowbell player in KC & The Sunshine Band should've been me. There's no question I could've done as serviceable a job as anyone else in a sequined orange jumpsuit (feathers across the groin) with said instrument. So why wasn't it me? Was it because I was five years old at the time KC was burning up the charts, so to speak, or because I had no idea what "shake your booty / do your duty" really meant?

Whatever the case, nothing stopped me from at least pretending. Same goes for today. So when I open my brand-new Disco Box and plop in Disc 2 -- of four -- and hear the first track, "Shake Your Booty," I'm right back in the disco that was my attic bedroom, circa 1976. But instead of a pot and wooden stir spoon, I actually have my very own drumstick and cowbell. Where the hell's KC and his "band" when they need you?

"Shake Your Booty" is one of four KC & The Sunshine Band tunes on this 80-song disco compilation, which comes to us by way of Rhino Records, of classic pop music reissue fame. However, for as many KC tunes and Kool & The Gang tunes and Chic tunes as are included on these discs, there are some dastardly omissions. The names Barry, Robin and Maurice, for three, might ring a bell.

In addition to the Bee Gees, who scored more No. 1 disco hits than any other act of the day, Earth, Wind & Fire and Grace Jones -- without whose beauty and talent no gay disco or neopunk disco movement would've ever taken shape -- are also conspicuously absent. But let's not dwell on this box's deficiencies, which probably have as much to do with purchasing rights as they do taste. No one buys music for what's not there. So for as far as what's on these discs, many dancing nights lie ahead for us all.

There's at least one CD's worth of reason to get hold of this set, which retails for about $60. As for the still-breathing tunes, "standards," anything by KC, the bizzaro James Brown, is the tops. Of "Get Down Tonight," "That's the Way (I Like It)," "Shake Your Booty" and "Keep It Comin' Love," only "That's the Way" could make even the stodgiest tough guy shake his booty. And though it's easy to think nothing can surpass the sonic whirlwind that is "That's the Way," "Get Down" comes awfully close. One can only imagine how bell-bottomed revelers twirled beneath mirror balls as "do a little dance / make a little love / get down tonight" in KC's very monotone voice, the plunky keyboards and, of course, the cowbell coursed through the bright lights and swanky atmospherics of the disco.

When folk from different backgrounds, ethnicities and sexes (of the big three) found space, usually on the lit dance floor, in these discos to celebrate their lives through music, beautiful things resulted. Casual sex. Casual drug use. Casual escapist fantasies. This was a hedonism not so much unlike that of the late '60s. But instead of a collective push toward a better society, disco said, Let's make ourselves better, and the community will follow. (Hear the fascist direct address commands of the songs "Rock the Boat," "Turn the Beat Around," "Play That Funky Music," "Get Up and Boogie," "Get Down Tonight," "Get Dancin'," etc.)

As the apotheosis of disco music, "Boogie Nights" is simply a culmination of all things polyester. The song incorporates almost every necessary piece of what disco music should be. There are the strings. There's the high-low singing. There's the sashy high hat. The jangly, muted guitar work. The occasional tambourine. The lyrics about dancing and partying.

And then there's all of this at once. The song. It begins with a flighty harp and jazzy percussion intro over which the band wonderfully harmonizes to the phrase "boogie nights / whoah-WHOAH-whoahhhhhh." Then snap. A boingy bass line propels the song into a foot-stomping rush of funky synth sounds, hand claps and clean, fast chord strumming. The phrase "got to keep on dancin' / keep on dancin'" sung repeatedly in a bass, provides great counterpoint to the airy refrain and the anchor line, "if you wanna boogie / boogie / boogie, boogie nights." As all this is sung in a round toward the end of the three-and-a-half-minute song, the effect is brilliantly hypnotic.

Other popular gems on Discs 1 and 2 of The Disco Box include the "I believe in miracles" song, "You Sexy Thing," by Hot Chocolate, "Everybody Dance," by Chic, "Shame," by Evelyn "Champagne" King and -- my personal fave -- "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)," by Alicia Bridges. I'm embarrassed to say I always mistook her talent for corniness the way she sang, "Ahhhhk-shawn!" Now I know better.

As for a song on this record that is great for its, well, greatness and uniqueness, there is the Giorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte-produced "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer. While the tune could probably be considered the first electronica dance tune -- what with its mechanized beat(s), wind cries and Summer's otherworldly, whispery "ooooooooooh"s and "watcha do, watcha do, watcha do, watcha do to me"s -- it received little rotation or attention anywhere outside of the disco itself. Unlike every KC hit today, it has never been heard by most patrons of Poly Esther's or Have A Nice Day Cafe, either.

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