Armagideon Time

Do K-Tel #17: High Energy (1979)

September 18th, 2017

If you’ve been reading this site, following my twitter feed, or engaged in conversation with me, then you’ll be well aware about my long-standing fascination with the “death of disco.” It was a social-cultural shift wrapped up in musical one, whose impact still echoes through the present day. It was the culmination of multiple interwoven trends and events, resulting in scores of conflicting (and incomplete) narratives about what happened and why.

In short, it’s the type of event that I love to ponder and pontificate about. There are so many threads to unravel and myths to explode, and childhood memories to reexamine as well. After Star Wars, disco’s demise was the biggest cultural event I can still recall with any degree of first-hand detail — the bumper-stickers, t-shirts, mass media jabs, and playground taunts lobbed towards the few remaining Bee Gees fans.

Despite the high levels of after-the-fact hyperbole, the death of disco was indeed akin to a cultural extinction event — which makes High Energy a significant artifact in the historical record (no pun intended).

It also had one of the strongest first sides of any K-Tel release, ever.

A1 Blondie – Heart Of Glass
A2 Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood
A3 Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
A4 Peaches & Herb – Shake Your Groove Thing
A5 Instant Funk – I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)
A6 Chic – Le Freak
A7 Foxy – Hot Number
A8 G.Q. – Disco Nights (Rock Freak)

B1 Pointer Sisters – Fire
B2 Foreigner – Double Vision
B3 Orleans – Love Takes Time
B4 Pablo Cruise – Love Will Find A Way
B5 Farragher Bros – Stay The Night
B6 Captain And Tennille – You Never Done It Like That
B7 Gino Vannelli – I Just Wanna Stop
B8 Styx – Renegade

The one-two electrodance punch of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Amii Stewart’s spaced-out cover of my favorite Sixties soul track was reason enough to buy a copy. Throwing in the apex disco of “I Will Survive” plus the party jam combo of “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Le Freak” bumped High Energy into the stratosphere.

That power frontloading came at a cost, with a flip side that’s all over the place yet never manages to hit anything close to a sweet spot. In a broader context, disco’s death was a single component of a wider extinction pulse across a bloated and complacent music industry. Even when the effects weren’t immediately lethal, they heralded a looming shake-up of the status quo. Hard rock, soft rock, easy listening pop, mellow soul, jazz rock — all would stagger into the new decade of diminishing returns and increasingly fractalized formatting and marketing practices.

Punk’s contribution to the process is, again, one of those aspects prone to inflationary mythmaking, but there is a severe cognitive dissonance to be found in a year that produced Pablo Cruise’s “Love Will Find A Way” or “Stay The Night” by the Farragher Brothers…

…and Magazine’s Real Life.

That awareness adds to High Energy‘s fin de si├Ęcle vibe, where the only tracks that exhibit any form of evolutionary momentum happen to come from the scene that would take the biggest hit in the catastrophe to come.

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