On the MisenPOPic Radio podcast yesterday, my buddy Mikey chatted some about his affinity for lists, some of which he has already put up on his own website. I’m a list guy as well, although maybe not to the extent he is. One of the lists he put up on his site was the 100 best disco songs of all time, and I have to admit: I saw “Disco Duck” on that list and I subconsciously felt like I was being challenged to make my own list. As I mentioned on our aborted Episode 3 last week, I have never actually heard “Disco Duck” in its’ entirety, but I’d also like to think I know enough about it to be pretty sure that it doesn’t belong anywhere near a list of 100 best ANYTHING. No disrespect, Mikey.
Anyway, there are a lot of folks out there who are quick to reject the genre of disco out of hand. It’s funny that I’m posting this two days after Doug Fieger of The Knack passed away, because “My Sharona” was widely considered “the song that killed disco”. Let’s stop for a second and consider two things-1) From a lyrical standpoint, “Sharona” was as silly as any disco record, and b) disco never died-it just mutated. Let’s face facts. We would never have had “Thriller” without disco. We would never have had hip-hop without disco, and the most successful singles artist of the past quarter-century (Madonna) is…a disco artist. Techno, house, drum-n-bass…Everything but the Girl 2.0, Portishead, Massive Attack, Lady Frickin’ GaGa-none of them would be in existence if not for the genre of disco. Maybe if disco had been the brainchild of a straight white dude instead of being associated with ethnic and sexual minorities, it would get a lot more respect.
When the genre was at its peak (roughly 1975-1982 or so), it produced a sea of classic singles, and those singles are what I want to celebrate with this list. When composing this list (which only took me a week or so!), I considered several things. I’m a big melody guy-so I considered whether these songs were singalong worthy. I took into account instrumental sophistication (check out a Philly soul record and let me know if your local rock band is capable of producing anything that sounds like that) or musical innovation as well, but the biggest factor was plain old danceability. How quickly do I rise from a sitting position when these songs come on? After all, disco and any type of dance music is about escapism. Going out after a rough week at work and leaving it all on the dance floor. A therapy of sorts. And while I was never much of a club-goer (and I’m a little ashamed to dance in public without alcoholic enticement), I totally understand why hardcore club kids viewed dancing almost as a religion of sorts.
Anyway, psuedo-intellectual noodling aside, I can tell you what you’re not gonna see here: you’re not gonna see a lot of the huge pop hits of disco. Quite simply, they don’t represent the best of the genre. So…no “Stayin’ Alive”. No “Ring My Bell”. No “Do the Hustle”. And for Chrissakes, no “Disco Duck”. Here are the ten songs that just missed the cut. My prelude (to quote the name of one of the great disco labels), if you will.
110. “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares
109. “Bad Luck” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass)
108. “Bra” by Cymande
107. “Best of My Love” by The Emotions
106. “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
105. “Don Quichotte” by Magazine 60 (this song is so fucking silly…that’s what makes it good!)
104. “Get Up Offa That Thing” by James Brown (how many degrees of separation are between funk and disco again?)
103. “Bon Bon Vie” by T.S. Monk (although I will forever associate that horn intro with Public Enemy)
102. “It’s a Love Thing” by The Whispers (Daphne Maxwell???-what the hell are YOU doing here??)
101. “Jump to the Beat” by Stacy Lattisaw (serious cowbell here…and the bass player? Randy “Dawg” Jackson)