I’ve written about the “death of Disco” more than a few times over the course of Armagideon Time’s lifespan. Though not as flashy a topic as z-list funnybook characters or Atomic Age anxieties, that fad’s late Seventies flameout touches upon several points of retrological interest. Disco bubbled up from the fringes of pop culture, steamrolled past an initial peak to become a megamarket phenomenon, then imploded amidst diminishing returns and venomous backlash. Its collapse perfectly aligned with the malaise-tinged fatigue that closed out the Seventies and set up the retrograde shifts of the Reagan/Thatcher Era.
It passed from history into the stuff of myth, either in its own right or as part of some other cycle. It spawned countless narratives in the public consciousness. Some were mournful, some cackled with vicious glee, but all were selective in their analysis of What Actually Happened. That’s what makes disco’s so-called demise such a rich topic to delve into, the multi-layered interactions between commerce, culture, and community. So much so, in my case, that the sound of the music became secondary to parsing conflicting patterns.
I was seven when Disco Demolition Night gave the “disco sucks” backlash a profile boost. In a matter of weeks, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack went from a sing-a-long staple to an invitation for peer ridicule. North Woburn was already a stronghold for Zep/Stones/Sabbath fandom, jean jackets, and reflexive homophobia, so slagging anything with a suspicious beat and a strings section came easy.
Disco was relegated to the stuff of lazy referential humor and embarrassed memories — using “I’ve got looks, I’ve got brains, and I’m breaking these chains” to mock an over-enthusiastic audition for the senior play while praying no one will ask why you still remember the lyrics to “Makin’ It” in 1990. I steered clear of it during my trash culture twenties. The stock was cheap and plentiful, but it was also tied too closely to the Seventies revival nonsense whose passage from ironic camp to blind acceptance is one of my generation’s greatest crimes. It was far easier and truer to my roots to embrace bubblegum pop and corporate rawk instead. I didn’t hate disco — even at the height of my punk phase — but it never managed to accrue the nostalgic appeal other retro artifacts held for me.
None of this really explains how I went from owning zero to three dozen disco seven-inch singles in the space of six months.
K-Tel certainly had a hand in it, thanks to some period compilations that framed the songs in their contextual moments. Maura was a bigger influence, shouting out recommendations for “good disco” (as opposed to “crap disco,” determined by some inscrutable personal metric) singles to add to the growing library. It also helped that I’ve hit an age where “coolness” is no longer a pressing concern, linked to the long-overdue, stone cold obvious epiphany about having a lifelong affection for catchy dance tracks.
Most of the purchases have come from either the funky early phase or synth-heavy final days of the disco scene, filled out by handful of classic diva jams and boogie standards. There are no Bee Gees or KC & the Sunshine Band singles to be found among them, because heavy rotation during their heyday turned them into sonic wallpaper where my ears are concerned…
…though the bleep-bleep effects have got me half-considering “Jive Talkin'” as a potential future purchase.