Feel that Disco Beat
Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture
by Alice Echols; c.2010
W.W. Norton; $26.95; 338 pages, includes notes & index
Either you had It, or you didn’t.
If you had It, you moved across the floor as if your feet were greased; graceful, in unison with the thump-thump-thump reverberating in your stomach. If you didn’t have It, your legs tangled like cheap rubber bands, which sorta made you sick to your stomach.
If you had It, you loved the whole dance scene. If you didn’t have It, disco sucked.
No matter what your opinion may (still) be on platform shoes, shiny shirts, and dance music, there’s no denying the strong impact disco had on the way we spent our 1970s Saturday nights. Read more about It in Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols.
Though most people probably think “late Seventies” when they think of disco, the odd truth is that disco began about decade earlier.
Echols says that Discotheques were wildly popular in Europe quite awhile before we donned Qiana shirts and handkerchief-hemmed dresses. Americans traveling overseas in the late 1960s brought that influence back home with them, but black R&B singers had already started to release songs with the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa beat that was impossible to resist.
Disco might have stayed a largely unnoticed fad, had it not been for the Gay Revolution. As recently as 1969, it was illegal in most major cities for men to dance together. The law was ignored, broken, violently protested, and eventually repealed and by 1970, most gay bars allowed dancing and disco took hold.
But disco dancing couldn’t have become the phenomenon it was without someone to spin the records. Prior to the club deejay, dancers stood around for long, awkward seconds between songs while the juke box cycled through. With deejays, though, songs were seamless and seemingly never stopped.
At the close of the 1970s, disco was so ingrained in the culture that a movie was being made from a fabricated magazine article, songs from fabricated groups were topping the charts, and disco mania was “thrown into overdrive.” But it couldn’t last: a backlash swept across the country, cries of “Disco Sucks” were loud, and gay men were dying of AIDS, which shut down many clubs.
Still got your dancing shoes? You’ll want to put them on one more time when you read this book, but keep them handy. Author Alice Echols says that disco is enjoying a resurgence. It’s possible that it never really went away.
As someone who bought her first disco dress at the then-scandalously ridiculous price of $68, I really enjoyed this book. But memories of that (pink!!) dress made me notice that there’s a lot missing in Hot Stuff; namely, the fashions, the non-musician celebs, and the famous clubs. Studio 54 barely garners a mention, as does Hollywood and its residents. I liked this book, but I wanted “More, More, More.”
For anyone who looks upon the Disco Years with fondness, regret, or a wish to have been there, Hot Stuff is a fun trip back. If you love the seventies, you gotta have it.
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