The day the music died
5 Think of the 705. Think of a decade so utterly, utterly tasteless that its
only lasting contribution to the world of pop was the Bee Gees. Craig McLean remembers with
‘Captain‘s log. stardate nineteen hundred and
3 seventy eight. About April. It would appear from v visual records of the time that the early part of the latter quarter of the twentieth century was a time
' ofgreat scientific advancement. For example, the
evidence suggests that contrary to the accepted
wisdom ofthe 22nd century. the pioneers of the ; 19705 had already perfected genetic cloning.
Witness the unqualified success ofthe mass public experiment known by its codename ‘Operation Bee Gees‘. Three matured embryos. cloned from a solitary cell. were let loose on the world‘s population. And despite obvious defects — the cloning process resulting in over-developed
molars and a sexual confusion in the vocal
department — the experiment was accepted on a massive scale. These ‘Bee Gees‘ became an icon of their times. and the trio‘s existence was firmly established; note their proclamatory. triumphal cry of‘Hi hi hi hi. stayin‘ alive. stayin‘ alive . . .‘ Indeed they did. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, this is unfortunate. The experiment widened, became known as ‘Disco’, and mass
LISTINGS: GLASGOW 78 EDINBURGH 79
Shaft gets retro at Edinburgh’s Moray House
cultural suicide was committed. Let‘s abandon this God-forsaken decade where the ﬂower of a nation‘s youth perished. Warp factor four. . .!‘
With the chilling rationality of retrospect. disco has only marginally less cred than the Black Death — and probably caused slightly more fatalities as middle-aged groovers tried to ape John Travolta’s more extravagant struts. This was a musical form so crap it had a brand ofcrisps named after it. And they were foul too.
Saturday Night Fever was the cultural benchmark that came to characterise disco music. Disco as foreplay. a rhythmic precursor to coitus non-stopus. Just as you could tell by the way that he used his walk that he was a woman’s man, so
l you could tell by the way that he moved his feet I that he had fire in his loins. Disco was rampant
hormones set to a luscious beat.
Which is all rather ironic. As the recent Channel 4 documentary The Rhythm Divine pointed out, disco was a phenomenon that started in the gay clubs of New York in the mid~7()s. It was this subtle strand of the whole movement that reached its apotheosis with The Village People. that memorable bunch revelling in their own stereotypical campness. Their homages to the love that dare not speak its name spawned a Number One single in YMCA in early 1979 and a Number Two follow up with In The Navy. Clearly pop kids of the disco era would rather dance themselves
, dizzy than worry about the foibles of sexuality. - Which is as it should be, right daddio?
Then there was Chic and Sister Sledge and Tina Charles and Donna Summer, whole bevvys of predominantly female stars making a killing from the newly-emergent synthesiser technology. Disco was the first step in a Darwinian dance progression that would later evolve into Hi-NRG, Eurobeat, Chicago House and countless other variations. Over ten years later we‘re back to where we started, with Massive currently employing the slick string parts that characterised the chic sound ofChic, and Intastella and Dee-Lite sending up all the glitzy tack of the period in a 905 stylee.
Thus disco‘s current status as the genre that came in from the cold. Once again the music and its attendant paraphenalia — jumble sale reject gear, lager, pina coladas etc. — are very big and very clever and well, everybody always loved Stayin ' Alive anyway, didn‘t they?
But some things can never be forgiven. Step forward the bizarre phenomenon that was Ottowan. Guadaloupe‘s (true!) finest summed up the inanity and simplistic eack ofdisco in their obtusely-titled 0.]. S. C. 0.. Altogether now, ‘She is D, dyslexic, she is I, incontinent . . .‘
I— THE WAY we WORE
Most people's abiding memory of groovy 70s chic is provided by John Travolta in the disco flick Saturday Night Fever. Who could forget seeing him strutting his funky stutt in that cream suit; pants skimming over hips , then flaring tioorwards, wide-collared f black shirt open to navel revealing a l gold medallion nestling among a ' tangle of chest hair. Small wonderthat The Face labelled this ‘the decade taste forgot.‘ l The prospect oi a revival oi such ,: sartorial lnelegance is generally ,‘ greeted with less than boundless ; , enthusiasm. It is not hard to see why. Atterthe beautiful idealism of the 60s came a growth oi youth culture based on indulgent consumerism of the worst possible kind. As the aftermath oi hippy style merged with the new chain-store
trendiness, some very, very peculiar combinations of clothing hitthe '
This was due in part to the emergence of a new musical hedonism. Large 5 glossy discotheques were opened for the first time, and to meet the subsequent demand for quantities of faceless dance music, record ‘; companies launched into mass
course, the kids loved it.
lntastella: 70s buffs
production, turning out pretty, sexually-unthreatening young men by the dozen —the original teenyboppers. David Cassidy, The Osmonds, The Bay City Rollers: this was bubblegum pop at its most disposable, and demanded a different type of fashion. Trash aestheticism was burn. it was, scorned critics, not so much like rock ’n' roll was dead, but as though it had never existed in the first place. But, of
Glam rock moved on, through high camp with Bolan and Bowie to the very edge oi transvestitlsm. Both males and females followed. Sexual ambiguity was chic. Then pop's flirtation with decadence was interrupted. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood began selling S & M nihilism from a boutique called ‘Sex’ in London’s Kings Road, and punk was born. But even this soon went overground, helped along by Zandra Rhodes, and tack became the order of the day once more.
The move was made from
self-destructive anarchy to narcissistic
escapism; Nik Cohn wrote a seminal
essay propounding his Perception of the Importance of Disco, it was turned into a film starring John Travolta, and the soundtrack ‘Saturday Night Fever’ became the best-selling album in ten years. it was like, wow! Afro hair,
5 glitter eyeshadow, lip gloss, satin
T hotpants, lurex, crochet, hipster loon
; pants, platform shoes, crimplene
’ trouser suits, tank tops; all were
essential elements of the new style.
' Never before had so many people been
so badly dressed.
_ And it is this which is being revived. After the elitist designer dressing of the past decade, the public just can't wait ‘to embrace the old tastelessness once
more. But just remember- if you think John Travolta’s suit was bad, then console yourself with the thought that New Romanticism was even worse. At least nobody’s asking you to wear frilly
shirts and satin knickerbockers again.
i (Avril Mair)
The List l7—30May 199177