Aug 3, 2009
The following is reprinted from the May – June 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.
PARDON OUR FRENCH
What do D-Day and disco have in common, besides the letter D? Nazis,
of course! During World War II, when the Third Reich occupied Paris, jazz
clubs were closed and live music of a liberal nature was strictly verboten!
But Parisians couldn’t live without their jazz, so they took it underground,
opening illicit cellars where they could drink booze freely and listen
to pre-recorded music. One such club, on Rue de la Huchette, called itself
La Discothèque – coined from the French words for "record"
(disque) and "library" (bibliothèque).
ALWAYS STARTIN’ SOMETHIN’
Many elements of what we now call disco music appeared in songs like
The Jackson 5’s 1969 smash "I Want You Back" and Isaac Hayes’
1971 hit "Theme from Shaft." (Actual movie tagline: "The
mob wanted Harlem back. They got Shaft … up to here.") Chubby Checker
even released a song back in 1964 titled "At the Discotheque."
[YouTube link: Soul
Makossa live performance by Manu Dibango]
But most historians agree the first real disco record was 1972’s
"Soul Makossa" by the Cameroon-born sax player Manu Dibango.
In the song, Dibango can be heard chanting Mama-se, mama-sa, mama-koo-sa.
Sound familiar? It should. Michael Jackson used it 10 years later in his
song "Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’"
Oddly enough, members of the disco super-group The Bee Gees never dug
their moniker. In fact, after Robert Stigwood signed on as the band’s
producer in 1967, the group lobbied to change its name. But what could
possibly be better than The Bee Gees? The band suggested Rupert’s World.
Luckily, their manager nixed the notion. Years later, singer Barry Gibb
remarked, "It was like changing your name from Charlie S–t to Fred
IS FOR DISCO
The success of "Saturday Night Fever" changed the face of disco
forever. Suddenly, everyone was sporting white polyester suits – and not
just Travolta wannabes. Rod Stewart, Cher, Bette Midler, The Rolling Stones,
Dolly Parton, Andy Williams, David Bowie, Neil Diamond, and, yes, even
Cookie Monster all donned disco-wear.
(Disco Kermit via Jonathan
HEY MISSUS DJ, PUT A RECORD ON
Sometimes, bold experiments result in mundane things like polio vaccines
(yawn.) But other times, they result in wild, earth-shattering breakthroughs!
Case in point: 1953’s birth of the DJ. That’s when 24-year-old Regine
Zylberberg, manager of Paris’ famous Whisky a Go-Go, undertook an
experiment to replace the club’s jukebox with two turntables and a microphone.
In no time, DJs were pumping up the jam at parties the world over, as
was Zybelberg. By the 1970s, she was running 25 clubs across Europe and
the Americas. In fact, you could boogie down at Regine’s establishments
somewhere in the world 17 out of every 24 hours – assuming you could get
FIELD OF FLAMES
1970s discos were often frequented by African-Americans, homosexuals,
and working-class white women, the scene was perceived as a threat to
the rock ‘n’ roll community, which had long been a Viking ship of straight
white males. Their establishment’s witty, orginal slogan – "Disco
Sucks" – became popular in the later part of the decade and was available
for purchase wherever fine rock T-shirt were sold. (Photo: Rich.lionheart
Album-oriented rock (A.O.R.) stations also fueled the anti-disco fire.
On July 12, 1979, Steve Dahl, longtime DJ at Chicago’s WDAI, staged Disco
Demolition Night at Comiskey PArk, where the White Sox were playing a
doubleheader. Fans bearing disco albums were admitted into the stadium
for a mere 98 cents. Then, between games, they stormed the field to set
their records ablaze. Some even detonated them with bombs.
As the fires roared, the masses chanted "Disco sucks!", whipping
the stadium into a chaotic frenzy so threatening, the second game of the
doubleheader had to be cancelled. Fittingly, more records were broken
on July 12, 1979, than on any other day in baseball history.
"SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER": DISCO INFERNO OR DISCO INFURIATING?
IN THE FILM: Based on a 1976 article written by English rock critic
Nik Cohn and published in the New York magazine under the title "Tribal
Rites of the New Saturday Night."
IN REAL LIFE: In 1997, Cohn admitted the entire story was fabricated.
He knew nothing about the world of disco and interviewed no one for
IN THE FILM: The only two gay men in the movie appear in the basketball
court scene, when Tony’s cronies verbally harrass them.
IN REAL LIFE: Discos helped establish an openly homosexual community
for thousands of gay men (not just the Village People).
IN THE FILM: Blacks appear on screen a whopping three times.
IN REAL LIFE: Discos were nothing if not places where blacks (and
gays) went to escape the oppression of the straight, white world of
rock ‘n’ roll.
IN THE FILM: The Bee Gees hold court – an all white, Aussie-Brit pop
band that cut its teeth writing soft-rock ballads in the 1960s.
IN REAL LIFE: Discos were thumping to the groove of African-American
soul and funk bands like The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue
Notes, Love Unlimited Orchestra, and The Jackson 5.
The article above is reprinted from Scatterbrained
section of the May
– June 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.
Be sure to visit mental_floss‘
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