Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When poppers and rockers went disco

I was reading something in FriendFeed on Wednesday morning in which the discussion turned to Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." While portions of the discussion focused on the lyric content, I remembered that "Copacabana" happened to be the one time that Barry Manilow stepped out and recorded a disco song.

For those who weren't alive in the 1970s, Manilow wasn't the only one. Several pop and rock stars took note of the disco craze in the late 1970s and ended up recording one-off disco songs.

Back in March 2006, a message board included a thread which listed a number of disco songs performed by non-disco artists. Some of the named songs included:
  • Blondie, "Heart of Glass." Blondie is an interesting case, for two reasons. First, "Heart of Glass" was the first Blondie song that I ever heard, which is probably true of many people, so most people probably assumed that Blondie had been a disco band all along. Second, as time went on, it became more and more apparent that Blondie did not have a single musical style. And that they were into eating cars. (For the history of the song, see Tom Maginnis' review.)

  • Elton John, "Philadelphia Freedom." Perhaps a little earlier than some of the other songs, but this song truly had a dance beat. Elton was another musical chameleon of sorts - his "Bennie and the Jets" made the soul charts if I remember correctly - so this song didn't really sound like a huge musical departure for him. (While some disagree about whether this is a disco song or not, MCA obviously thought so.)

  • Kiss, "I Was Made For Lovin' You." The same cannot be said of Kiss' foray into the disco world. However, in my opinion they pulled this one off spectacularly. I happen to maintain that you could enjoy Kiss with your eyes closed, but perhaps their use of makeup made it seem that a move into disco wasn't entirely out of the question. But heck, it wasn't RAWK. (Which angered some.)

  • Rod Stewart, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." And if some Kiss fans didn't like it when Kiss ventured into disco, imagine how some Rod Stewart fans felt. If you listen to the lyrics, they have the same humor (whoops, "humour") that Stewart's earlier songs did, but some people were disconcerted when Mr. Soft Rock started staring at shiny disco balls. Eventually Rod would become Mr. Standards. (Incidentally, Steve Dahl recorded a parody of the song. And you know what happened next.)

  • Rolling Stones, "Miss You." I was in high school in 1978, and this (and the whole "Some Girls" album) was VERY big at the time, and in some ways resurrected the Stones' career and made them relevant again. However, this was the last time that they would really be relevant - the song "Emotional Rescue" sends me into fits of laughter, like much of the Pet Shop Boys' work. (Check Charlie Watts' comments at the time.)

  • Wings, "Goodnight Tonight." As I noted in FriendFeed, this wasn't one of Paul McCartney's best songs. And I'm not one who considers McCartney's post-Beatles output worthless - I was a Wings fan before I ever heard of the Beatles - but he put out better songs than this. At least it's better than "Wonderful Christmastime." (By the way, Jason Hare believes that "Goodnight Tonight" fits in with some of McCartney's other songs of the period, such as "Coming Up," "With a Little Luck," and the aforementioned Christmas monstrosity.)

  • Yes, "Owner of a Lonely Heart." This one's a little later than the other ones on the list, but I included it here because it was also a dramatic change from the band's previous output. If you were to say "Yes" to me, I'd immediately think "Doo doo, doo doo, doo doo, doo doo doo," with all of the keyboards and everything swirling around. Compared to their previous output, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" sounds positively minimalistic. (The story of how Yes 2.0 became Yes, instead of Cinema, is particularly fascinating.)
blog comments powered by Disqus