Commentary: This is hardly disco's 'Last Dance'

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverMay 27, 2012 

Forget Donna Summer, for a minute. The real disco diva was Sylvester.

Yeah, Sylvester was a dude, but he was as glamorous and self-appreciative as any female singer of the era who pulled on a sequined dress and moaned or yelped into a microphone.

On a fantastic live album, while introducing his backup singers, appropriately known as Two Tons of Fun, Sylvester scolded the audience with “Honey, your ear has to be in your foot to not hear these women can ‘sang.’ ”

Your ear would have to be in your foot to not know that Summer and Robin Gibb could sang, too. The recent deaths of the two, along with Chuck Brown, acknowledged guru of go-go music, mean a lot of happy music will now exist only on YouTube, CDs or, better yet, vinyl.

And while you’re taking a drink in remembrance of great musicians now gone, have one for Belita Woods, the female singer for Brainstorm – “This Must Be Heaven” – who died the same day as Summer.

Some of the songs Gibb and especially Summer performed were undeserving of their talents – Summer lending her pipes to “MacArthur Park” was akin to Picasso using his brush to paint a barn – but they could rise above middling-to-bad material.

You could say their deaths signaled the death of disco, but I wouldn’t. To real discophiles, the music will never stop. I proudly cop to being one of the biggest disco fans ever – and possibly one of the tallest. For when The Kid put on his six-inch stacked heels and fluffed up the old ’fro to peak height, he stood about 7 feet 2 inches. Disco Godfather, indeed.

No ‘Bee Gee-free’ for me

The backlash against the Brothers Gibb was so extreme that radio stations started trumpeting “Bee Gee-free” hours and then “Bee Gee-free” days. Next thing you knew, the stations that played anything with a hint of disco sound had turned into easy-listening or talk radio.

You mean to tell me that listening to “More Than A Woman” is more objectionable than listening to some loon rant against the government?

The Gibb brothers wrote or sang enduring songs that, whether they had a backbeat or not, were just good music. Before pigeonholing them into disco prison, listen to songs like “Massachusetts,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “I Started a Joke.” Man, that’s good music, I don’t care who you are.

With disco, as with any form of music, there was dreck. Some people cite the death of disco as beginning the day Ethel Merman cut a dance song. Others point to the despicable display of anti-disco hatred loosed in Chicago on July 12, 1979, when the White Sox held a “Disco Demolition Night” and a bunch of lunk-headed lemmings went onto the field and blew up disco albums.

There is only one kind of music that as a genre I can’t appreciate, but I’d never think of gathering up AC/DC and Twisted Sister albums and burning them.

They should be dancing

Some writers over the years have attributed much of the anti-disco sentiment to racism and homophobia. Perhaps, but I think even more of it was fueled by people who simply couldn’t dance and hated seeing others shake their groove thangs with such joyful abandon.

A popular song of the 1970s - Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” - had a line that went “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.”

That’s a questionable philosophy in most cases but not when it comes to the disco era and the music it spawned. How could anything that brought that much joy to people – and got them dressed up and on a dance floor – be wrong?

Of course, if you couldn’t dance, I understand.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service