disco – the 70s phenomenon
Disco bopped in in the 70s and bopped straight back out before the decade was over. And riding the crest of the wave were The Bee Gees. Up until Disco they were a pop band. Three brothers, born in The Isle of Man, emigrated to Australia, started a musical career, moved back to the UK, made it as a pop band, moved to the US and made it big there as Disco kings – that’s The Bee Gees’ story.
disco – you either loved it, or you had some sense of decent musical taste
Disco was a phenomenon some loved but most of us detested. Today Disco seems to merge with so much other music but, at the time, it cut through the existing genres and polarised listeners.
That The Bee Gees were so eager to jump on the Disco bandwagon was a mystery to many. They were pop singers and, early in their career, produced some fabulous songs as Spicks and Specks (their first song), Massachusetts, I Started a Joke (a wonderful song), and Words.
The story goes that, after some disagreement in the group about the band’s management seeming to prefer Barry as the lead singer over the other two, and after a couple of break-ups and getting back togethers, the boys felt they were in a rut. Eric Clapton suggested they relocate to Florida, USA.
Once on the left side of the Atlantic, the band produced more rhythmic songs such as Jive Talkin’ and Nights on Broadway. Then came the movie, Saturday Night Fever.
and here’s the bit that will surprise many people
The “Disco break” came for The Bee Gees with the release of the movie, Saturday Night Fever. But, surprisingly, The Bee Gees were not involved in the movie until it was completed. Originally the dance scenes featured songs by people like Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs. When the decision was made to create a soundtrack comprising new songs, The three Gibb brothers were commissioned. They were given a basic script and sent away for the weekend. The songs were written almost entirely in those three days.
What happened next is history. Disco took off. Although Bill Oakes, who supervised the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, insists that, contrary to popular opinion, the movie had nothing to do with creating the Disco craze.
Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole Disco thing–-it really didn’t. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying.
Whatever the truth is, three Bee Gees singles from the movie – Night Fever, How Deep Is Your Love, and Stayin’ Alive – reached #1 in the United States and charted highly in most countries around the world. Disco may have been dying but, thanks to Barry, Robin, and Maurice, it was about to enter its most popular period. (The album also contained Yvonne Elliman’s #1 hit, If I Can’t Have You).
a final word on disco
Disco polarised music fans in a way few other genres – if any – ever have. Some stars embraced elements of it. e.g. Rod Stewart and David Bowie. Others, particularly New Wave and Punk devotees, were derisive of it. So much so that, as the Disco light dimmed bands such as New Zealand’s Hello Sailor loudly proclaimed, Disco’s Dead.
July 12, 1979 came to be known as “the day Disco died.” Believe it or not, an anti-Disco demonstration was held in Chicago. The Chicago White Sox baseball team were playing a double header and, between games, a couple of local DJ’s staged what they called, Disco Demolition Night.
The stadium was declared a Disco free zone and Disco records were set fire to. Others were fired out of cannons and exploded. Unfortunately, the crowd got a little carried away. They tore out seats and invaded the pitch. In short, there was a riot! People were arrested and so much damage was done that the White Sox were forced to default their second game.
and then it was gone…
On July 21 1979 all songs in the top six of the US singles chart were Disco. Two months later, there were no Disco songs in the Top 10. The media pronounced that Disco was dead and Rock ‘n’ Roll was back where it belonged.
stayin’ alive fax
- Stayin’ Alive was released on December 13, 1977. It sat at #1 on the American charts from February 4, 1978 until February 25, 1978 – four weeks. It also reached #1 in twelve other countries including, Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, and South Africa.
- Stayin’ Alive plays over the opening credits of the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever while John Travolta’s double (no, it’s not really him) struts through the streets of New York City.
- Stayin’ Alive’s tempo was deliberately set at 103 beats per minute because that’s the average standard tempo of walking pace. A team from the University of Illinois medical school suggested that this would be the ideal song to listen to while performing chest compressions on someone who’s just suffered a heart attack. The American Heart Association stated that the optimum tempo at which to perform CPR on someone is 100 beats a minute. The research team highlighted this song because, at 103 beats per minute, it has almost the perfect rhythm to help jump-start a stopped heart. BTW – Queen’s, Another One Bites The Dust, has the same tempo but it doesn’t seem quite as appropriate.
- Stayin’ Alive and the majority of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was recorded in France for tax reasons.
- The mother of The Bee Gees’ drummer, Dennis Byron, died in the middle of recording the movie soundtrack. They couldn’t find a replacement. A drum machine was used but didn’t sound right. In the end, the producer selected two bars from the song Night Fever. He re-recorded them to a separate track, and those two bars are repeated over and over in “Stayin’ Alive”. Hence, the unchanging rhythm throughout the song.
- As a joke, the Bee Gee’s listed the drummer as Bernard Lupe. Bernard became a highly sought-after drummer – until it was discovered that he didn’t exist. (He ‘played’ on three songs on Barbara Streisand’s album, Guilty, also).
- The record company wanted the song to be called, Saturday Night. The band refused. They felt the album already had a song with the word “night” in the title and there were too many well known songs with “Saturday” in their titles.
- The Gibb brothers confess to having mixed feelings about the song. Sure, it brought them incredible fame (and cash!) but it also led to their being stereotyped as a Disco act.
- Stayin’ Alive provided the title to a follow-up movie to Saturday Night Fever. The movie came years after Disco had faded and it bombed.
- Stayin’ Alive was recorded by Dweezil Zappa for his album Confessions. Ozzy Osbourne provided led vocals. Ozzy’s record company didn’t want it released, however, so Donny Osmond’s vocals were used instead. An audio track of Ozzy’s version can be found on YouTube.
- Stayin’ Alive lyrics.