Remembering the days when disco was a mainstream, mass-mediated, popular form of American music, Gloria Gaynor and The Village People are probably the most commonly remembered artists. Saturday Night Fever, “the hustle,” and the television show, “Disco: Step-by-Step” are also part of the contemporary memory of what disco was. The documentary titled Disco: Spinning the Story highlights these important elements of disco culture, but also reconstructs a much more detailed and comprehensive history of disco in the context of 1970s urban America.
The film is hosted by Gloria Gaynor and features informative interviews with George Clinton, Randy Jones of The Village People, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rogers, Kurtis Blow, Tom Moulton, Karen Lynn Gorney from Saturday Night Fever, and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. The film recognizes the prominence of African American and Latino culture in the creation of disco music highlighting many of the African American performers in the 1970s, like Donna Summer, Chic, Trammps, Rose Royce, Labelle, Hues Corporation, and others. The documentary situates disco in the revolutionary atmosphere in many urban centers in the United States during the 1970s. Gaynor describes the revolutionary philosophies and activities of many involved in civil rights, women’s liberation, and gay liberation, the latter of which played a major role in influencing and defining the new musical style that was disco.
Disco also traces the history of the music into the previous decade to soul music of the late 1960s, namely that of Motown and the “Philly Sound” of Philadelphia International. A high point in the film is the discussion by Tom Moulton of his unintentional discovery of the 12-inch record, on which there is only one song on each side. Pressing a single song onto a 12-inch record made the sound much more vibrant and lively, and it increased the volume. This had a major impact on sound systems in dance clubs. The film concludes with a look at the final days of disco, including the racist and homophobic sentiments of the motto: “Disco Sucks!”, and ends appropriately with Gloria Gaynor discussing her performance of “I Will Survive” as one of the last disco songs of that era.
Posted by Denise Dalphond