The 1970s were a great time for music. Punk and new wave were the genres that dominated the landscape of music at the time, but disco was slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Disco was filled with funky grooves, bass-heavy sound, and an atmosphere that anyone could feel welcome in. Disco was dynamic and gave birth to so many great sounds for us to enjoy today.
Although disco has been co-opted by modern pop music, back in the 70s disco referred to a specific form of dance music from New York City that was heard primarily in gay clubs and racially diverse discotheques. Disco arose out of the glam rock and funk movements of the 1960s. It was heavily influenced by soul music, but also had an underground aesthetic due to its roots in the black DJ scene.
In the early 70s, disco music began to take off in the United States. Initially an underground phenomenon, disco music was also more than just dance beats and catchy dance singles — it provided an outlet for marginalized communities during a time when hatred was at its height. Early discotheques provided a safe space for marginalized communities to feel included and the disco music genre became a vehicle for expressing personal freedom and dancing to one’s self. By the late 70s, disco had become an intersection for the oppressed to explore their identity. Many LGBTQ people, people of color, and other historically oppressed individuals participated in discotheque culture during disco’s rise in popularity.
Disco gained popularity in the early 70s and quickly escalated from a niche genre to the most popular music in the nation. The music’s popularity coincided with a significant rise in dance culture in America, which can also be attributed to repressed emotions of social upheaval within the previous decade. Disco allowed people from all walks of life to enjoy music like never before, which led to its rapid rise in popularity. Related social and political events of the era helped propel disco’s success, which it would eventually no longer be able to sustain over the next few years.
Many people associate the end of disco music with the disintegration of Studio 54 in New York, but there’s more to this story. In fact, one of the biggest factors that contributed to disco’s decline was the same historic racism and homophobia that helped give rise to the genre in the first place. This was partly because of the multi-cultural and homosexual culture within disco music that mainstream society felt was a threat to “American family values.” Shortly after, the feelings about disco seemed to shift, with “disco sucks” becoming the new national tone and radio stations gradually dropping their disco playlists from their lineup. By 1980, it seemed people were sick of disco.
Although the disco age was a relatively short period of time characterized by massive popularity, it left a lasting impact on music history. This playlist highlights disco songs and disco-adjacent sounds from the 70s and beyond, helping draw a connection between the disparate strains and genres that can all be traced back to the disco sound. It’s also a great playlist for getting a party started, so strap on your dancing shoes and dig in!