Pop Life

Disco Sucks, Long Live Disco: Your Essential Disco Playlist

Disco, that uniquely '70s, coke-laden, soulful, brash and flamboyant genre, was Public Enemy #1 for rockers and punks in the latter half of the Me Decade. Hippies and suburbanites cut their hair, stuffed their noses and took to the dance floors, tripping the light fantastic in their best polyester until the sun came up or the clown powder out.

Disco is dying. Long live disco. Within the past few days, both Donna Summer and Bee Gee Robin Gibb have succumbed to cancer at the ages of 63 and 62, respectively.

The only living Bee Gee left is brother Barry; brother Maurice died back in 2003. Summer said months before she died that she thought her lung cancer was due to exposure to dust from the 9/11 attacks.

Of all the popular genres over the past few decades, disco seems to have the highest death rate. Nickolas Ashford of duo Ashford & Simpson passed away last summer.

Chic's Nile Rodgers hasn't been doing too hot lately, still fighting the cancer he announced he had in 2010. He keeps fans updated through his Web site, and offers expert music-scene commentary when he can.

Look at just a small bit of the fallen so far. Glenn Hughes, the Village People's original "biker," died in 2001 and was buried in his leatherman outfit. Sylvester, one of the first openly gay artists, passed on in 1988. Van McCoy, who is best known for "The Hustle," suffered a fatal heart attack in 1979 just as his star was setting.

Vicki Sue Robinson, Edwin Starr and Luther Vandross all died within a matter of years in the early '00s. Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell went to the big afterparty in the sky in 1989 after a battle with AIDS, a disease that felled many in the disco scene as the '80s went on.

Earlier this year Don Cornelius, who was a big supporter of disco on his syndicated TV series Soul Train, died by his own hand after becoming discouraged by his declining health.

For good measure, maybe The Simpsons producers should kill off the character Disco Stu this next season. You can still see douchebags dressed like Stu or Tony Manero at most any Halloween party.

Of course disco is no different from any other musical fad, with its steadfast devotees. I grew up with a treasure trove of disco albums my folks had collected, and played them nonstop, not knowing that they were supposed to be reviled, or that it was "gay" to like the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, until I got older. You may argue that it's not so much "gay" as that it just really fucking sucks.

Ever since 1979 and the Chicago White Sox's ill-fated "Disco Demolition Night," the genre has been on the run. Some say that the hate for disco was really masked homophobia, since the scene around it was queer-friendly, from the costumes to the wanton decadence that applauded drug use and promiscuity.

For rock purists, it was the Great Satan, even as some of their heroes dipped into the sound with great success. The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Kiss and even Pink Floyd are just some of the names that added a dance beat to their tunes to reel in new listeners.

I never understood how a song like Musique's "In the Bush" was allowed on the charts, until I realized that ZZ Top's "Pearl Necklace" was twice as profane.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty