Remember how disco sucks? If you do, then I’ll ask that we instead speak of dance
Back in the day, I hated disco as much or more, than the next (white, straight) guy. Being
a very serious person, my music had to be serious, too. No fun allowed. Fun included
dancing, which wasn’t allowed the moment “Dancing in the Streets” finished playing.
I had my way for a few years when all those singer-songwriters came from out of the
woodwork, but then all of a sudden, another crowd began having a great time doing
something I couldn’t (dance) or wouldn’t (dress up) do. Obviously disco - oh, sorry,
dance music - had to be stopped.
I’m not saying that the music didn’t drive me up the wall. That big, steady beat seemed
to be aggressively stupid. Hey, what can I tell you? I’m a snob.
Looking back now, I’m sure that disco has as good a batting average as any other music
genre for having something interesting to say, even if it appeared to be designed to avoid
saying it at all costs. My personal taste prevented me from perceiving or even
experiencing a lot of it.
Bargaining, Depression, etc:
Cut to 1979, and I’m listening to “I Zimbra”, the opening track from Talking Heads “Fear
of Music”, a record I deemed somewhat inferior to the life-changing (mine, that is)
“More Songs About Buildings and Food”. There was more weirdness than melody this
time around, and “I Zimbra”, with its chanting and throbbing beat, seemed less like a
song than a novelty that happened to be good to dance to. I struggled to explain to
myself how Talking Heads – a band I loved – made a record that sounded a lot like music
I hated. This minor crisis threatened my enormous self satisfaction.
Jump now to the summer of 1980 when the Heads are playing around town at an outside
venue. I don’t actually get in, but I hear enough to be appalled. “I Zimbra” turned out
not to be a novelty but rather a new direction. And now at this show, instead of the spare,
angular minimal Talking Heads, I get a big band. There are about 10 people on stage,
including background singers (I hate background singers, by the way), and the guitar
player is actually shimmying. I left, disgusted.
Later that year, they came out with “Remain in Light”, which featured the new sound
they were previewing that summer - but for some reason by now I can handle it. In the
privacy of my apartment I can appreciate what I couldn't then. I hear the words and the
core sound of the Heads, and can better handle the new trappings. I also realize that they
wanted people to dance to their music, not just stand around being ironic.
Speaking of irony, I can now see a clear difference between disco and the newer Talking
Heads sound, but it's a good thing I couldn't then. It forced me to confront the likelihood
that I was just an uptight stick in the mud.
I also caught them again about a year later, and this time they sounded great, even though
the show wasn’t much different from the earlier one. So I guess they forced me out of
my comfort zone.
Once outside of it, it becomes much easier to enjoy other dance music (although I have
my limits – the Salsoul Orchestra Christmas Album still sucks). I negotiated a
compromise with myself, and have developed a tic when this music is on. I call it
dancing. My kids call it Tourettes.
So the following are some records that helped me in this transition. I have to stress that
these are not objects for study. They are extremely enjoyable records:
Substance - New Order
This greatest-hits-at-the-time is just the right blend of new wave and dance music. It
takes you from their dark Joy Division roots to the prime of their dance floor hit era.
Saturday Night Fever
Okay, the hits are way overplayed, and the filler is, well, filler, but attention must be paid.
Discography - Pet Shop Boys
So you can dance and be ironic at the same time!
Very - Pet Shop Boys
And then the irony wears away, to reveal actual feelings.
Friends laugh when I tell them how much I like this Eurodisco album. Is it because I’m a
dead ringer for the fella on the cover? Not.
Wise Guy - Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Between the carribean beats, the funny/intelligent lyrics and the tunes, this was one of the
greatest surprises of my record buying life.
The Immaculate Collection - Madonna
I don't even own this one yet, but I dare you to not like “Borderline”. Once you’ve done
that, there’s “Holiday”, "Vogue", etc. And before you know it, you’re practically gay.
At root, dance music encourages the display of a grace and self assurance that
I simply can’t identify with. It just isn’t modest or awkward enough for me. These
people are having way too much fun.
Stop me before I dance again!