Armagideon Time

The quack up

July 8th, 2013

“Disco Duck” is what happened when a regionally popular disc jockey leveraged his music industry connections against a mildly amusing concept and an immensely popular fad. It’s the old formula for what we currently know as “viral” success — the right gimmick at the right place at the right time — and one that is easier to notice after the fact than it is to predict or deliberate replicate.

It was also the 1970s, rx which is a phrase that can be used to explain a multitude of mindboggling sins.

The song had a brief stay at the top of the Hot 100 charts. Rick Dees’s fifteen minutes of fame was marked by ample televisual face time and inclusion into an inner circle of disco crossover/novelty “experts” alongside Ethel Merman and Debbie Harry at music industry forums.

While Dees was unable to recapture that animal-centric lighting in a funkified bottle, his feathered legacy lived on in the classroom and rumpus room and wherever else hungry-eyed bandwagon-jumpers sought to carve themselves a profitably tasty slice of discofied waterfowl.

Kiddie record purveyor Peter Pan ducked its own webbed toes in the water with a series of “Irwin the Disco Duck” compilations featuring re-recordings of contemporary pop favorites.

If you were hoping to hear a third-rate Donald Duck impersonator quack his way through the sweet Scandinavia sounds of ABBA, I regret to inform you that Irwin was relegated to hosting duties and the songs were session musician jobbers bearing as much relation to the originals as store brand cola does to The Real Thing.

Some of the song choices are a little unusual in hindsight, given the disco scene’s emphasis on…well…fucking, both of the gay and straight varieties.

Then again, it was a different era. Most of the sleazy subtexts passed over the heads of my co-generationalists and myself at the time (though we eagerly sought to project our own dirty toughts onto more wholesome works) and Irwin’s playlist wasn’t to thematically different than what gets unleashed on today’s tykes via Kidz Bop and the like.

It’s still odd to consider that an explicit (if easy listening) ode to nooners was considered appropriate for inclusion on a kiddie record and as the basis for a prime-time variety show.

After disco’s star faded in the face of market oversaturation and populist backlash, Irwin attempted to ride out the rough times by dropping his heavy quaccent and rebranding himself as “Irwin the Dynamic Duck.”

I guess “Irwin the Dignified Duck” would have been an orchestral bridge too far.

10 Responses to “The quack up”

  1. Zeno

    “Most of the sleazy subtexts passed over the heads of my co-generationalists and myself at the time…”

    Circa 1979 I thought The Village People’s gimmick was in a spiritual kinship with something you might learn on Sesame Street, i.e. – these men were representative of the different jobs you’d see being done by people who live in a village. There were naturally policemen and construction workers. Then things started to get a little abstract with the cowboys and Indian chiefs, but I lived in Wyoming at the time, so this seemed plausible. And maybe the biker was, um, someone for the policeman to chase down and arrest. What? What do you expect from a 3rd grader in Cheyenne?

  2. bitterandrew

    The same thing expected from a 3rd grader in the Boston suburbs who had a Village People poster hanging in his playroom!

  3. Cary

    Where the hell do you find this stuff? And who in hell posted those videos to YouTube?

  4. Jon H

    “Circa 1979 I thought The Village People’s gimmick was in a spiritual kinship with something you might learn on Sesame Street, i.e”

    Not to mention something carried on in boy- and girl- bands of today, and made explicit in the Spice Girls: the sporty one, the posh one, the young one, the redhead, and, uh, the “scary” black one.

  5. Zack Smith

    It could be worse. I only recently discovered Ray J. Johnson was a real thing and not a joke on THE SIMPSONS. Imagine if he and Dees had teamed up.

  6. Snark Shark

    “Irwin the Disco Duck”

    How did they NOT get sued by Disney? That’s DONALD with HAIR!

  7. Tristan

    Apparently NONE of the Village People actually were gay. The guys who wrote their songs were, and were putting that in there entirely on purpose, but the performers themselves? Through the magic of the 70s it somehow went over their heads too.

  8. Daniel O'Dreams

    “Apparently NONE of the Village People actually were gay. The guys who wrote their songs were, and were putting that in there entirely on purpose, but the performers themselves?”

    Two were the rest weren’t.

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Were_the_Village_People_gay

    Did Irwin turn into Scrappy Doo somewhere between Disco Duck and Dynamic Duck status?

  9. Daniel O'Dreams

    Oh I also thought the same thing about the Village People representing people in a, you know, village. Of course I was three.

  10. Frank

    Jesus fucking Christ. I owned the Duck Wars LP, and played it on my suitcase record player in the early 1980s until my shitty parents either sold it without my knowledge or lost it by not paying for a storage unit it got stuck in. They were crappy in general, not because they “deprived” me of this garbage* I forgot ever existed for the better part of thirty years and then subjected myself to again in a series of YouTube clips like I’m suffering from some sort of sonic Stockholm Syndrome. Thanks for that, Andrew.

    *Okay, the disco version of the “Close Encounters” theme wasn’t bad.

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