Disco music developed in the early 1970s to cater to nightclub audiences. For this reason, there is a mostly consistent beat to keep people moving on the dancefloor. The basic tempo of disco is approximately 120 beats per minute (that's about 2 beats per second), with alternating bass and snare drumbeats, and often cymbals filling the gaps between the beats. While most disco falls into the range of 115-130 beats per minute, disco can be as fast as 135-140 beats per minute, or as slow as approximately 100 beats per minute. At a minimum, in addition to the beat (which must be sustained at about 2 beats per second through substantial portions of the song, usually for at least 30 seconds worth), disco usually features a bass guitar player, and often a rhythm guitar player as well. This bass playing usually must be in a disco/funk style rather than the kind of rock style heard in songs like "How Long" by Ace or most of "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard. In the absence of the bass guitar or a synthesized sound indistinguishable from live bass to still qualify as disco the overall sound must trend towards disco rather than electro and there usually must be one of the following combinations: (a) prominent rhythm or rock guitar combined with horns and/or real strings, or (b) prominent real strings combined with two or more other real instruments. If any lyrics can be heard in the song, at least some of those lyrics have to be sung rather than spoken, or else the song is generally classified as rap. Songs are not disco if they have the pattern 2 standard beats per second then 3 beats in the next second and 2 and 3 in succession in the beat pattern that continues; exceptions are hustle-disco songs where the extra beat does not break the consistency in the timing of the other beats and does not sound the same because it is played on a different type of drum.
---- Examples of disco:
"Turn the Beat Around" by Vicki Sue Robinson (1976)
"Shake Your Groove Thing" by Peaches and Herb (1978)
"Pick Me Up, I'll Dance" by Melba Moore (1978)
"Dance With You" by Carrie Lucas (1979)
---- Examples of Eurodisco:
"Fly, Robin, Fly" by Silver Convention (1975)
"Spring Affair" by Donna Summer (1976)
"In the Navy" by the Village People (1979)
"Soy tu Venus" by Baccara (2004)
---- Examples of stripped-down
"Good Times" by Chic (1979)
"I Shoulda Loved Ya" by Narada Michael Walden (1979)
"Paradise" by Change (1981)
"Rock It" by Lipps, Inc. (1979)
This kind of disco lacks violins throughout the duration of the song but does have electronics or keyboards present.
DISCO-SOUL / R&B-DISCO
Since disco was largely born from African-American soul music, it is only natural for disco to draw from the soul tradition. Disco-soul tracks have noticeable roots in 1960s Motown and 1970s Philly soul. The singing is ultra-soulful and deep in meaning. The messages are often about romance.
"You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" by Lou Rawls (1976)
"Hold On I'm Coming" by Precious Wilson (1979)
"Can't Do Without You" by Eddie Horan (1978)
"Helpless" by Jackie Moore (1980)
These tracks are very soulfully sung, with religious themes drawn from the African-American church tradition. Sometimes a gospel chorus sings along.
"My Sweet Lord" by Roberta Kelly (1978)
"Sell My Soul" by Sylvester (1980)
"He's a Friend" by Eddie Kendricks (1976)
"God Helps Those Who Help Themselves" by the Gospelaires of Dayton, O. (1978)
The most distinctive element here is the extra-funky bass playing, more funky than usual! You may also find prominent horns.
This popular form of disco incorporates classic rock stylings. Usually the rock influence is the use of a prominent rock guitar, and often there's a 1970s hard rock attitude in the way the lyrics are sung. Altogether this style is gritty and raw. Many rock musicians during the 1970s appreciated disco and tried their hand at it, but somehow a sharp split emerged between rock fans and disco fans by the end of the 1970s, even though there was potential for additional cross-polination between the two genres.
"Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer (1979)
"Miss You" by the Rolling Stones (1978)
"Spacer" by Sheila and B. Devotion (1979)
"For Your Love" by Chilly (1978)
Punk rock fans usually didn't like disco, but at least one major punk band, Blondie, decided to experiment with disco anyway. The result was a number one hit on the Billboard Pop chart.
"Heart of Glass" by Blondie (1978)
These songs have a heavy metal sound, especially due to the aggressive guitars, making these songs edgy and loud.
"20th Century Foxes" by Angel (1980)
"I Was Made For Lovin' You" by KISS (1979)
"Fire" by Mantus (1980)
"Danger! High Voltage" by Electric Six (2001)
Based on country music from the American South, this style of disco is an unusual and rare blend. Did Americans really need to make such an abrupt change from "Saturday Night Fever" to "Urban Cowboy"? Maybe they could have mixed the two some more!
"Baby I'm Burnin'" by Dolly Parton (1978)
"Double S" by Bill Anderson (1979)
"I Can't Wait Any Longer" by Bill Anderson (1978)
"Yippy-i-aye Yippy-i-yo (Ghostriders in the Sky)" by Boots Clements (1981)
This music evokes the Appalachian Mountains region and Texas with its use of the banjo and traditional American bluegrass and folk melodies.
"Tennessee Waltz" by Silver Blue (1978)
"Disco Banjo (Mister Banjo, Yellow Rose of Texas, Oh Suzannah)" by Leslie O'Hara (1978)
CAJUN AND ZYDECO DISCO
This very rare kind of disco draws from the cajun and zydeco musical heritages of the French Cajun and Creole peoples of Louisiana, USA.
"Bayou Village" by Voyage (1978)
"Nuclear Night" by Crystal Disco Band (1979)
"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" by Silver Blue (1978)
Jazzy disco brings in another uniquely American style of music, jazz, along with the big band swing variety of jazz. Sometimes the singing is jazzy, but one constant is the emphasis on the horn section or (in the case of George Benson's music) the jazz guitar. Improvisation is one of the great things about jazz, and you can hear creative jazz musicianship in many of the songs in this sub-genre of disco. Some of these songs are original while others are disco remakes of jazz standards.
"Minnie the Moocher (Disco Version)" by Cab Calloway (1978) - old-fashioned jazz
"Cherchez la Femme/Se Si Bon" by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band (1976) - old-fashioned jazz
"Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye" by Tuxedo Junction (1979) - old-fashioned jazz
"Turn the Music Up!" by the Players Association (1979) - contemporary jazz
"Love X Love" by George Benson (1980) - contemporary jazz
The disco boom in India occurred several years after those in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, especially during 1982 and continuing until the late 1980s. Indian disco songs were often included on 1980s Bollywood film soundtracks. They often featured Indian instruments and Indian-styled sweeping violins and blaring horns. Sometimes extra drums give them that Indian flavor; other times Indian string or wind instruments do the trick, such as the sitar. Some of the tracks are in the English language, while others are in Hindi or another language of India.
"I am a Disco Dancer" by Vijay Benedict and the "Disco Dancer" Chorus (1982)
"Raat Baaqi Baat Baaqi" by Asha Bhosle, Bappi Lahiri, and Shashi Kapoor (1982)
"Yaar Mila" by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle (1983)
"Osa Osa" by Bappi Lahiri (1983)
PACIFIC ISLANDER DISCO
The tropical islands in the Pacific provided inspiration to several disco artists. Hawaiian disco songs, for instance, have Hawaiian themes, instruments, and patterns. The music evokes images of sandy beaches and dancing women in grass skirts.
"Tahiti, Tahiti" by Voyage (1979) - Tahitian flavored
"Blue Hawaii Disco" by Bart Bascone (1979) - Hawaiian flavored
"Moon of Monakoora" by Nohelani Cypriano (1979) - Hawaiian flavored
"Aloha-Oe, Until We Meet Again" by Goombay Dance Band (1980) - Hawaiian flavored
The European group Voyage explored many international styles of music, and among these were the Kechak (Kecak) dance songs of the Indonesian island of Bali. With Kechak, a choir of men sit in a circle and repeatedly chant something approximating "chak-a-chak-a-chak" in a hypnotic way.
"Kechak Fantasy" by Voyage (1979)
These songs draw from the traditional music of China.
"Take Me to Chinatown" by Ultimate (1979)
"Dheere Dheere" by Zoheb Hassan (1982)
"Let Me Be Your Radio (Radio Show)" by Red Dragon Band
"China-Na" by Jumbo (1976)
This very rare kind of disco utilizes instruments of Japan, such as the koto (a 13-stringed zither), to create a strikingly beautiful sound.
"Lion Dance" by Hiroshima (1979)
"Doctor Dragon Theme" by Doctor Dragon (1976)
MIDDLE EASTERN FLAVORED DISCO
This type of disco draws from the music of the Arabs, Persians, and Anatolian Turks.
"Sandstorm" by La Bionda (1978)
"Orient Express" by Voyage (1978)
Reggae music from Jamaica, with its characteristic staccato guitar chording, plays a role in several disco songs. The music of other Caribbean islands is also represented here, such as that of the Bahamas and of Trinidad. K.C. and the Sunshine Band was influenced by the junkanoo music of the Bahamas. You can hear prominent Trinidadian steel drums in the music of John Gibbs and the U.S. Steel Orchestra.
"Good Times" by Risco Connection (1979) - reggae-influenced
"I'm Caught Up" by Risco Connection (1980) - reggae-influenced
"Nassau's Disco" by Mucho Plus (1979) - Bahamas-influenced
"Trinidad" by John Gibbs and the U.S. Steel Orchestra (1978) - Trinidad-influenced
"Gotta Go Home" by Boney M (1979)
"Caribbean Girl" by Goombay Dance Band (1980)
"Praise Jah" by Oluko Umo
Latin American and Spanish influences are very prominent in latin-disco. This type especially draws from the music of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Spain. Sometimes the latin flavor manifests itself in the style of horn playing, other times with the Spanish guitar, often joined by castanets, and sometimes also the lyrics are in Spanish.
"Como Vamos A Gozar (Good Times)" by Charanga 76 (1979)
"Que Sera Mi Vida (If You Should Go)" by Gibson Brothers (1979)
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Santa Esmeralda (1977)
"Everybody Salsa" by Modern Romance (1981)
This crucial sub-genre of disco usually has an extra hustle drumbeat attached to the end of every 4 beats, and this extra beat doesn't sound like the other beats, hence maintaining the usual 4/4 disco bassdrum-snaredrum-bassdrum-snaredrum pattern. This music is often played for couples dancing to hustle steps. The hustle was a dance that developed among Latino communities in the USA in the early 1970s, and became popularized thanks to Van McCoy's monster hit "The Hustle".
"Hey Girl, Come and Get It" by the Stylistics (1974)
"The Hustle" by Van McCoy (1975)
"I'll Play the Fool" by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band (1976)
"Crying" by Instant Funk (1979)
This style of disco contains the rhythms and/or energetic style of jazz trumpet playing that are common in Brazil, especially in samba music. Some of these songs have typical Brazilian percussive instruments like cuicas, cowbells, claves, conga drums, etc. Others have a Brazilian style of horn playing. Some of the songs are sung in Portuguese. This music can evoke the spirit of Carnival.
"Disco Samba" by Two Man Sound (1979)
"Brazilian Lullaby" by the Mike Theodore Orchestra (1977)
"I'll Tell You" by Sergio Mendes Brasil '88 (1979)
"Mude o Baile" by BsB Disco Club (2002)
This type of disco is inspired by the traditional instrumentation of various European cultures, and is sometimes sung in European languages to enhance the regional flavor.
"Disco Bouzouki" by Disco Bouzouki Band (1977) - Greek flavor
"Marathon" by Neoton Familia (1980) - Greek flavor
"Stivali E Colbacco" by Adriano Celentano (1979) - Italian flavor
"Scotch Machine" by Voyage (1978) - Scottish flavor
"Rasputin" by Boney M (1978) - Russian flavor
These songs often feature African drumming patterns and may be sung in the Swahili language.
"A.I.E. (A'mwana)" by Black Blood (1975)
"Su Ku Leu" by Tantra (1980)
"Ashewo Ara" by Kabbala (1982)
"Shakara Oloje-Lady" by Ephraim Uzomechina Nzeka
Born from stripped-down disco (a specialty of groups like Chic and Change) and funk, with artists like the Fatback Band, Sugarhill Gang, and Kurtis Blow leading the way, mainstream rap soon lost its disco undercurrent, but during the 1980s there were some songs that still incorporated disco rhythms and sounds with a combination of sung and spoken lyrics. One minute the song is old-school rap, the next minute it's disco.
"Use Your Body and Soul" by Crown Heights Affair (1980)
"Queen of the Rapping Scene (Nothing Ever Goes the Way You Plan)" by Modern Romance (1981)
"Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" by Indeep (1982)
"Get Down to the Floor (Can You Feel It?)" by James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) featuring Roy Ayers (2003)
House music was largely developed in Chicago during the early 1980s. Many house songs incorporate the piano as a major instrument. The house beat is more mechanical and computerized than many kinds of disco beat, and generally louder, but with hybrid disco-house songs the overall sound remains disco at its core: there's still a real bass player and often a real rhythm guitar player and/or even a violin section. Sometimes there are computer-generated builds and fades within a song. Disco-house became very popular in nightclubs around the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some disco-house tracks include samples of old disco classics, while others are entirely original, and others still are remixes of current pop hits.
"I Don't Understand It" by Ultra Nate (2001)
"Don't Stop the Music" by Lionel Richie (2001)
"Love Don't Cost A Thing (Full Intention Club Mix)" by Jennifer Lopez (2001)
"Lady (Hear Me Tonight)" by Modjo (2000)
Conclusion: Far from being uniform, predictable, and boring, disco is in fact the most diverse music there is!
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