THE GENIUSES I hear putting down disco these days sound like the jerks I used to hear putting down rock 'n' roll.
Where are they now, those sanctimonious schmos who used to break Buddy Holly records in front of cameras to the thunderous applause of the dinosaurs of yesterday? Rock is boring, they said. It's repetitious. It isn't music, it's noise. It's just a fad. It'll go away. They wish.
Where are they now, those creeps from central casting, like the chairman of the Alabama White Citizens Council, immortalized denouncing rock as "animalistic nigger bop?" Rock is dirty, they said.It's immoral. It leads to sex and drugs.
That's okay, kids. Your parents didn't know how to raise the next generation any better than you do.
Where are they now, those fools who cut off Elvis Presley at the hips the first time he played the "Ed Sullivan Show" because they thought the rest of him was too obscene? To anyone born since then, how could disco be dumber than that kind of censorship? Every generation tries to freeze-frame culture in its own image. We insist that our kids make the same mistakes we did. What does a fool care if history laughs at him? But isn't that history I hear repeating itself?
"It's boring." "It's repetitious." "It isn't music, it's noise." "It's immoral." "It leads to sex and drugs." "It's just a fad." "It'll go away." "It's disco."
What was rock but a quickening of the pace? With a technology that can already think faster than he can, man is in a constant state of acceleration. Seventy-six years after the invention of the airplane, we're sending guided satellites to Jupiter. It only took us 5,000 years to get from the wheel to the automobile.
Don't you get the feeling that the acceleration is accelerating? With power plants that can contaminate a quarter of a continent at a time, with atomic bombs available to any petty despot who can gouge his people for the price, we're obviously building to some kind of climax. Disco is the next generation's higher gear. It may be chaos that we're building to, but don't blame that on disco.
They keep trying to define disco by the number of drum beats per minute, somewhere between 125 and 138 at last count.But the best definition has been provided by WKTU, a New York FM station that switched from mellow rock to the first disco format in the country last July 24 and promptly jolted the broadcasting industry by overcoming WABC's 50,000-watt AM signal to become the Big Apple's No.1 music station. No. 1 in the ratings ever since, WKTU defines disco as what you hear on it.
"We don't play any slow ones." Michael Ellis, WKTU's 24-year-old acting program director says. "The beat is always the same. We don't brake the pace in New York City. Other cities do, but we don't."
It's easy for musicians to be offended by such cramped rhythmic quarters for creativity. Is the ballaed really dead? Not according to disco pioneer Barry White, who sings ballads all the time. Any song can be played to a disco beat, including Stravinsky's "Firbird Suite." Inevitably, disco will be put through changes by time, usage and the rush of genius attracted by disco's explosive cash promise. With WKTU's Cinderella success story too spectacular to be dismissed as a quick craze, disco stations have begun to proliferate. In New York conductors started imitating WKTU's all-night Puerto Rican disc jockey on the public address systems aboard the subway trains. In Washington, WKYS now calls itself disco.
"I think that's a mistake," says Scott Shannon, program director at WPGC, Washington's top rocker. "We play at least 50 percent disco, but we never use the term disco on our radio station. You'll see a kid wearing a T-shirt that says "Disco Sucks," but the chances are that his favorite record is disco. It's a word that makes to many people arch their backs."
As word, disco was imported from France at the beginning of the '60s. One of the advantages of the long-playing record was that dance-club owners could fire their bands, put in turntables and save money. Before long word was drifting into New York that these clubs, called discoteques, were the rage of Paris. Soon New York had its own discos, plush nighteries where the house DJs mixed MOR with rock, and you couldn't get in without a jacket and tie.
Beatlemania brought live music back. The Cavern Club in Liverpool was a disco, even though it didn't call itself that. Disco is synonymous with dance. By the mid-'60s, New York was crawling with discos in which the house DJ would spin records in between the live sets. These house DJs have been central to the development of disco as a musical genre.
Music junkies to their marrow, they have usually been record collectors who dreamed of being DJs on radio stations but has to settle for discos. They could tell a hit by the crowd a record brought to the dance floor. It was up to them to keep the dancers kicking. They were the ones who perfected the disco segue. That's when you hear the "chiga-chiga-boom" of the next record over the "ssst-click, ssst-click" of the last one.
Soon managers of unknown rock groups were bringing their records to disco DJs just for exposure. I know because I was one of those managers. Records you never heard on the radio became hits on the disco circuit. In 10 years, this kind of exposure had grown so important that record companies hired promo men just to get disco play.Suddenly the disco DJs found they had leverage.*tThey demanded that the record companies give them test pressings of new records instead of dubs, which wore out too fast. They demanded that the test pressings, like the dubs, be cut on 12-inch discs at 33 1/3 rpms instead of the usual 45 rpms for singles, because they didn't like changing turntable speed when they segued. And they demanded that the tunes run for marathan dance lengths.
Record company A&R departments, which had been splicing 4-minute tapes to 2 1/2 minutes for radio stations, now had the added task of stretching those same 4 minutes to 8. They did it by looping the instrumental bridges and vamps, which means they just kept repeating what the band had recorded. That was the origin of the disco disc.A new musical art form had been created.
Naturally the disco frequenters all wanted their own 12-inch disco discs. A major record company like Columbia can't make any profit pressing 2,000 12-inch disco discs, but an independent operator can. Before long assorted entrepreneurs were hiring anonymous studio musicians like Boris Midney to produce 10-minute disco discs under names like USA-European Connection or Beautiful Bend, which would get on disco turntables. A strickly disco hit today might sell more than a hundred thousand.
Like rock did, disco will improve. There has to be more imaginative way of filling a 10-minute record than by looping the instrumentals. Disco is starting to make enough money to buy all the genius it needs. Look what happened when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones applied their talent to disco.
But then I'll bet you didn't realize that "Miss You" was disco, did you? CAPTION: Illustration, no caption