Country and western, rock’n’roll, punk, bhangra, indie, soul, acid house, R’n’B, d’n’b, grunge, hip hop, metal, jazz, baroque classical, folk… even those with the most catholic taste in music have a genre which they ultimately alight to first on their iPod when only their personal comfort listening will do.
The kind of music which can be telling us Love’s Unkind one minute, and stoking up a Celebration the next, disco works in the final hour of Saturday shopping time, last thing at night, in the early hours of the morning and to get you up and about before the impending doom of office hours.
It has also, as this excellent Guardian piece by Dorian Lynskey illustrates, informed the best part of the charts for the past 30 years. Michael Jackson and Madonna in the 80s, Kylie in the 90s and noughties, and David Guetta have as much of the dancefloor to their music as Van McCoy did. Whit Stillman may have made a movie called The Last Days of Disco, but these days remain far off even if it’s called pop, house or R’n’B: much of it is disco.
In the past few days, although Wagnerians may be more upset at the passing of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, it is two musical titans closely associated with disco who have hogged the headlines.
Both were so much more than that, of course. Robin Gibb was one third of the songwriting crack unit which led Elvis, Al Green, Kathryn Williams, Destiny’s Child and many others to cover songs he co-wrote.
Donna Summer’s voice transcended all sorts of genres. To categorise a masterpiece like State of Independence into one genre is to diminish it.
Disco, for reasons mainly due to modern music criticism and festival programmers being packed with white middle-aged males, elicited fewer magazine covers and five-star plaudits than rock’n’roll.
What the deaths of Summer and Gibb threw into sharp relief was that disco seems to have lost more of its living legends than the major players in rock’n’roll.
McCartney, Jagger, Berry, Richards, Watts, Wood, Townshend, Dylan are all, at time of writing, happily still with us. So many who have contributed prime slices of disco are not.
Dan Hartman, the main member of the Jackson 5, Bobby Farrell of Boney M, Loleatta Holloway, Edwin Starr, Sylvester, Teddy Pendergrass of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Nickolas Ashford of Ashford & Simpson, Barry White, Chic’s Bernard Edwards and now of course Summer and Gibb… all gone. Their music will of course outlive them as well as you and me.
So while the passings so close together of Summer and Gibb naturally suggest another welcome outing for their greatest hits, it’s also good to hold the glitterball up to others who have contributed fantastic nuggets of disco and who are still with us.
One half of Chic has documented his cancer diagnosis in a series of moving blogs, and the deaths of his two friends has clearly had an effect on him. A recent entry was entitled “I Know That I’m Dying”. Through all his pain and suffering, he continues to play live, and the infectious joy of so much of his music is inarguable.
Kool and the Gang
Some of the band have gone but the Celebration hitmakers stay on the road. They even started the year supporting Van Halen on tour, which only the fighting fit would undertake. Robert Bell and co’s Ooh La La (Let’s Go Dancing) received the ultimate accolade in 2007, played just before Scotland took to the pitch at the Parc des Princes.
KC and the Sunshine Band
They filled the dancefloor with many hits and Give It Up reverberates around sports stadia to this day. It also fills concert halls as Harry Wayne “KC” Casey reformed the band and plays around 200 dates a year.
Earth Wind & Fire
For a band as musically tight and talented as E, W & F, disco doesn’t cover it. Their music could legitimately be bracketed in the jazz, soul, funk and pop categories, but their hits were as worthy of Studio 54 as anyone else’s.
At first she was afraid, she was petrified. But instead of worrying about the company pension, she was as good as her word and survived, gigging to this day.
The sisters changed personnel in the family business but were performing in New Zealand and Australia in 2011 and in 2012 with June Pointer’s grand-daughter, Sadako Johnson. Her selection? Nepotistic, sure. But probably Automatic.
“Sir” Quincy is associated with jazz, swing, soul bossa nova, film soundtracks, even hip hop – but his biggest hits from Ai No Corrida to the pomp of Michael Jackson took his fans to the dancefloor. He is now touted as a potential Minister for Culture in Barack Obama’s government as well as updating We Are The World for Haiti. With his 80th birthday, he manages to live up to his middle name – Delight.