While the soothsayers of popular music are predicting the demise of disco (too artificial and monotonous to last indefinitely, they say), two of the genre's most acomplished craftsmen are holding the fort at the top of the charts in both single and album sales.
Michael Jackson and Harry Wayne Casey, the latter better known as KC, have struck platinum -- not because they are flukes in an industry's game of chance, but because their music reminds listeners of the glory of mindlessness. Each recording seems a carbon copy of the previous one.
This quality is most evident on the work of KC and the Sunshine Band. Beginning with "Get Down Tonight," with its bizarre introduction of a speeded-up guitar, through "Do You Wanna Go Party," an exercise in inarticulation, KC and band have exploited the same hook to the point of redundancy. One hardly even acknowleges their music anymore, perhaps because it has been piped into every elevator and airport across America.
Nevertheless, KC is an auteur, if pop music is allowed such a being, who transcends the disco market by putting so much warmth into his one hook that he could inspire even Oscar the Grouch to dance. He's an artist who understands the underlying principle of pop creation: overkill. It's easy to see how the band does it to death by simply lining up the titles of its songs: "I Like to Do It," "That's the Way (I Like It)," "Keep It Comin' Love," "Oooh, I Like It."
In short, KC's band plays sunshine rhythms from the Sunshine State, and that's a respectable mission.
Their latest album, "Do You Wanna Go Party" (T.K. 611), may seem like more of the same, but it is a change of pace. To call it a progression, though, would be like betting on the tortoise.
The album's most suprising moment is "Please Don't go," a sleeper hit undoubtedly because it lacks KC's standard hook. Instead of the usual zeal of a pep rally, the song drags with the melodramatic yearning that Barry White shaped into a hypnotic form. Despite its empty sorrows, however, it's alluring in a way -- the aural equivalent to an episode of "Knots Landing."
Yet, overall, "Do You Wanna Go Party" is a perfect album for any wild occasion. On the record jacket, KC, snuggled up against a bathing beauty, rides a champaign cork across the midnight sky -- an apt image for a band spreading the message that life is simply a party. For, whether they're backing up Teri DeSario on her current cover of Barbaara Mason's "Yes, I'm Ready" or performing "I'm Your Boogie Man" and "Boogie Shoes" for the hundreth time on "Midnight Special," that's essentially all KC and the Sunshine Band have to say. Which, at a party, should be enough.
Like KC, Michale Jackson is a veteran of the disco army. But, as with a five-star general, his prestige gives this otherwise ignoble association an aura of class.
Prior to 1972, Michael and his four Jackson brothers were pegged as practitioners of bubblegum soul ("ABC," "I Want You Back"); in '73, to escapte their teeny-bopper fate, the Jackson Five went disco, releasing their finest single, "Dancing Machine," and album, "Get It Together," of the '70s. Then, in '76, the Jacksons left Motown for Epic, and, after two years of aimless grooving, they scored with "Shake Your Boody," and "Blame It on the Boogie" from their album, "Destiny."
Michael Jackson's current solo album, "Off the Wall" (Epic FE 35745), is a refinement of the sleek sound of "Destiny," swarming with hooks that are always in motion. On "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," Michael squeals, pants and sighs with a passion that transforms the song into an unrestrained hosanna. "Heartbreak enemy despise/Eternal (ah, eternal) love shines in my eyes" -- surely here's a heartfelt couplet that echoes the lyricism of Smokey Robinson.
"Rock With You," a seductive No. 1 hit, blends tastefully into "Working Day and Night," the sexiest cut on the album. On his cover of McCartney's "Girlfriend," Michael expresses the kind of wide-eyed innocence that one wishes today's adolescents shared with one's own youthful romances.
From "Get on the Floor," the catchy proposition that gets the party moving, to "Burn This Disco Out," the climax to a thousand and one boggie nights, the message of "Off the Wall" is as simple as KC's -- party, party, (don't stop) party. Compared to whatever pompous project Stevie Wonder, the world's first singing plant, is blessing us with these days, that message may seem rather paltry.
But it isn't. There's nothing trivial about the way Michael Jackson lipsyncs his hits on television, employing the sophisticated mannerisms of a young, skinny Frank Sinatra.
Although it may be a thoughtless celebration of empty-headed hedonism, "Off the Wall" is a marvelous work by a pop performer having a good time with nothing less than a complete confidence in his own ability to strut his stuff. And that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, we like it.