Hey 2013. We need to talk. You've already produced a number of good albums, some even by new bands. But I've got a bone to pick with you, and it's about this new song by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams. It's called "Get Lucky" and it's making waves with its disco revival sound that I'm guessing its 18 million viewers on YouTube thinks is revolutionary in some way.
Let's get this straight though. What Daft Punk has done here is not really new or revolutionary. In fact, it's a pretty huge step back for what were once innovators. Personally, I consider this a pretty big misstep in the Daft Punk canon. It's not that the song is awful, but for a group that did revolutionize electronic music at one time, it's amazing to me that they would make such a half-assed attempt at a genre filled with songs that make this one look so poor in comparison.
I could go on for days, but here's five to check out to put "Get Lucky" in context.
5. Marvin Gaye, "Got to Give It Up" At more than 11 minutes long, "Got to Give it Up" is a hell of a disco/funk workout. It was recorded for Gaye's Live at the London Palladium record and captures him and his band at the height of their power, playing in the studio but featuring an interesting use of simulated crowd noise throughout.
It was the only time Gaye really tried to jump into the disco market, but it showed that the man could master just about anything.
4. Prince, "Sexy Dancer" As someone whose Prince fandom is somewhat unhealthy -- let's not count the times I've seen Purple Rain -- it was a foregone conclusion that the Artist was going to make it on this list, but I decided to show off a little bit of his more obscure work.
From his 1979 self-titled record, "Sexy Dancer" is an understated disco-inflected single that unfortunately hasn't gotten a lot of play in the context of his larger discography, but it's yet another understated "should have been a bigger hit" deep cut from Prince.
3. Evelyn "Champagne" King, "Shame" Evelyn "Champagne" King had a lot of hits during the disco era, but none so enduring and perfect as her first hit, "Shame." The slick track predicts smooth jazz in its horns, but it has the bouncy, rough-hewn bass lines typical of the disco era and King's soaring, soulful vocals to carry it.
Note also the interplay of the guitar here with the strings and percussion that would come to influence the minimalistic playing style of artists like Prince throughout the '80s.
2. Michael Jackson, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" This funky six-minute jam from Thriller is just one of the many MJ tracks we could have grabbed. Having so overshadowed disco, and all other forms of music, it's hard to remember how rooted his earlier works like Off the Wall and portions of Thriller were in the long-form disco dance tunes of the late '70s.
You know, while we're at it, Justin Timberlake devotees could stand to give this one a re-evaluation as well, especially in comparison to The 20/20 Experience and songs like "Let the Groove Get In."
1. Donna Summer, "Last Dance" It's hard to top the King of Pop, but there's a reason they didn't call him the King of Disco. He may have made some awesome records in the genre, but there was only room for one regent in the genre and that was the Queen, Donna Summer.
The unfortunately departed singer who passed away last year ruled the genre during the '70s and on into the '80s. She produced hit after hit with superstar producer Giorgio Moroder, who would become a force to reckon with in '80s soundtracks just a few short years later.
Of all the amazing songs they produced together though, "Last Dance" has to be the best. It's the perfect combination of Summer's incredible vocal prowess with a sweeping chorus that predicts Moroder's major-key climactics for film scores. Not to mention the deceptive, sexual balladry that opens the song, then descends dreamily into the rollicking bass-driven dance track.
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It encapsulates everything that was great about disco while avoiding all of the genre's pitfalls that destroyed it in the first place. If artists like Daft Punk wish to revive it, here's where they should start their studies.