What is it that makes a grown man pull on a pair of Day-Glo socks, slip into satin shorts and a sequined vest and spend his evenings careering aimlessly around a dingy club, alternately being blinded by strobe lights and falling over people in the dark? What force can make a balding, middle-aged, middle-management type prance across a Formica dance floor made sticky by a million spilt cocktails, wearing a tight white suit two sizes too small, occasionally stopping to strike a pose and point randomly at the ceiling in a feeble approximation of some exotic terpsichorean discipline?
Even now the word sends shivers down the spines of many who fell under its spell. But what is disco, where is it, and why? And how many? According to Dr Wavy Collins of the Philadelphia Institute of Funkadelia we need to travel to the distant past to get some indication of the origins of this terrifyingly infectious blight on the music industry. Recent investigations into Cro-Magnon cave dwellings in France and Northern Spain reveal curious acoustic properties which Dr Collins suggests would facilitate some kind of primitive discothèque. What's more, examinations of rock art appear to depict coloured lighting, glitter balls and a woolly mammoth in a boob tube. However, several of Dr Collins' more vocal detractors have stated publically that they find it hard to trust the theories of a man who spent much of the sixties dressed in a thrift store cocktail dress and wacked out of his skull on floor cleaner.
More reliable theories date the origins of disco to the invention of glitter in 1968. Initially its devotees would gather secretly and with the aid of a few flashing lights and a rudimentary cardboard dance floor, they would bust moves to pioneers such as George McCrae, The Trammps and the Black Dyke Mills Band. In 1974 the movement suffered its first setback when at one impromptu gathering a disco inferno broke out, hospitalising fourteen people and causing over $30 worth of damage.
The incendiary nature of disco prompted new health and safety laws which effectively outlawed such gatherings, but in 1977 research chemist Freddie Butterworth developed a flame retardant coating that could be used to treat performers. This heralded the arrival of new fire-resistant artists such as Chic, KC and the Sunshine Band and The Wurzels and suddenly disco was bigger than ever. New clubs sprung up every week, the charts were dominated by disco artists and sales of sweat bands went through the roof.
'The Great Disco Rush' is the name usually given to the largest musical exodus in history, with artists from many other genres unable to resist the temptation to jump on the shiny polyester disco bandwagon. Disco blighted the careers of some of our most highly regarded and accomplished musicians, and the Bee Gees. With the benefit of hindsight it's easy to see why it destroyed the careers of so many artists. After all, who today has heard of acts like Martha Kemp and the Kemptations, The Electrified Fridays and Wombat Groovetown? I certainly haven't, that's why I had to make them up. And yet, had it not been for disco, these acts might be filling theatres today instead of cleaning them.
Even those who did make it through to the other side rarely acknowledge this shameful period of their careers. Does Peter Gabriel ever recall the time he spent prancing about on stage in gold lamé hotpants? Has Bob Dylan ever played 'Disco Trousers' in the last thirty years? Would Elton John... Oh, yes, actually he probably would.
July 12th, 1979 is now known as the day that disco died, and no one really seems to know why. Dr Wavy Collins believes that it was due to the telepathic influence of a cabal of shape-shifting alien dinosaurs from the planet Mongo - but, as it has been pointed out, he spent the greater part of the seventies drying out in a clinic for the victims of the misuse of cleaning products, and as such his opinions really don't count for much. Maybe the disco inferno just burnt itself out. We can only hope that it never happens again.
Of course, none of this is true.
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