James Brown – “Jam 1980s” (1978)

Just in case James’ sparkly lightning bolt outfit and mustache didn’t make it clear, the jacket reverse of Jam 1980s tells you exactly what you’re in for – “JAMES BROWN – NEW DISCO SOUND”. The Godfather of Soul taking a stab at being The Godfather of… Disco?? And there’s also a statement from the man himself.

Here I am back where we all started because now people want real dance music. I am so glad that the public got wise to the electronic sounds! Either you can or you cannot. I thank God they say I can. Here it is so spank your butt off.


All that being said, the opening track “Jam”, all 11+ minutes of it, is not disco. Like, not at all. It’s actually moderately funky. Not heavy funk to be sure, and the guitar solo is pretty rock ‘n’ roll, but hardly disco. Brown still does call-and-responses with the band and belts out his trademark “Ha ha!”s. This ain’t no Bee Gees, that’s for sure.

Jam 1980s was the 24th album Brown put out… in just the 1970s (he’d close out the decade with The Original Disco Man in 1979). That’s insane, and certainly fits his title of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

“Saturday Night Fever” Soundtrack (1977)

Mock this album and these artists all you want, but this thing sold like nobody’s business. It held down the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 for 24 straight weeks during the first half of 1978. As near as I can tell only one other artist managed to tie that feat since then – Prince with Purple Rain. Thriller probably had more weeks at the top, but not consecutively. It has sold 16 million copies in the US alone. That’s insane. Plus over one million in sales in at least five other countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. It’s a double album, and if you’re of a certain age you’ll probably recognize almost every song on it.

Laugh if you like, but this is arguably the definitive disco record. Sure, that may be a dubious distinction, but there aren’t too many many musical movements that burned as bright and hot and then disappeared in such a short amount of time.

Village People (1977-78)

I was just a kid when disco came and went, that flash-in-the-pan of excess and cocaine and polyester. For a long time disco, like Nickelback, was one of those things that you could profess to hate and no one would even bother to ask why – it was just accepted as a fact in much the same as gravity or partisan politics. Plenty of people were obviously way into it, though, as is evidenced by record sales of the top artists of the era. One of those groups, of course, was the Village People.

We seem to have reached a time when it’s become OK to occasionally do the YMCA at a sporting event or quietly sing along to “Macho Man” (or do so much more loudly when no one else is around). In fact, the hatred of disco seems to have faded, and while I’d hardly say anyone is nostalgic for it, the hits are more visible within mainstream culture than they have been in decades. The “Disco Sucks” and “Death To Disco” movements are now more a part of disco’s history then they are statements that anyone would accept on face value. Today if you said something like that, you’d either get a polite laugh or maybe a confused raised eyebrow. Plus as ever wedding DJ knows, the quickest way to get a bunch of middle aged (and older) white people onto a dance floor is to play some disco. The smiles will come out immediately and everyone will hit the floor, much to the embarrassment of their children.

The first three Village People albums came my way as part of a collection a couple of months back and this is the first time I’ve heard anything other than their mainstream hits. And I’ll tell you right now that the fours-song debut Village People (1977) is absolutely killer, basically a dance 12″. None of their hits are on this record, but in a way it may be their very best – not yet caught up in its own image and fame, a simple disco dance record intended to get bodies moving.

Life’s too short to expend any energy “hating” a type of music. Get dancing.

Wild Cherry – “Electrified Funk” (1977)

wildcherryelectrifiedfunk.jpggTake blues, funk, and disco, cram them into the blender with some Jack Daniels and a dash of cocaine, and you get Electrified Funk.  Wild Cherry are generally regarded as one-hit-wonders, having released the mega-hit “Play That Funky Music” on their 1975 self-titled debut.  That song took Wild Cherry platinum and garnered two Grammy nominations as well as awards from Billboard and an American Music Award.  But after rocketing to stardom they found it difficult to replicate that success and by 1980 the band was no more.

It’s kind of odd, because there are some great jams on Electrified Funk, songs like “Dancin’ Music Band” and “Hole In The Wall” that seem like they should have become hits.  Sure it’s dated, but if this record doesn’t make yo want to put on some polyester and hit the dance floor then you might be dead.  It may not have the band’s big hit, but Electrified Funk is a good time just waiting for a needle drop, so if you find a clean copy cheap, pick it up.

“Disco Party” Compilation (1978)

Disco is, arguably, the most maligned of musical genres.  Sure, hardly anyone under the age of 60 listens to classical any more, but there aren’t wide swaths of the population who actively proclaim to hate it and pontificate about it’s utter lack of social and musical value.  Plenty of people “don’t get jazz” or make fun of country because of it’s proclivity for songs about trucks, beer, and dogs, but those some folks generally don’t actively hate on those genres.  Certainly rock was hated by the older set back in the 1950s, but now it’s ubiquitous – you’re more likely to hear AC/DC than Frank Sinatra playing at the supermarket.  Hip hop too was widely derided as lacking merit in the 1980s, but clearly that isn’t the case now after 30 years of hip hop music and culture infusing itself into society.

But people will tell you that they hate disco.  They fucking hate it.


On the surface, I get it.  The disco era is stereotypically described as full of bad fashion, cocaine, and general vapidity, a form of escapism during the economically depressed 1970s.  Films like Saturday Night Fever certainly embraced this image, and if any movie has ever come to complete define a moment in time, it’s that one.  It’s the genre that prompted the infamous Disco Demolition Night in Chicago, with it’s literal blowing up of disco records and the resultant storming of the field by White Sox fans during the intermission between games in a double-header.  Even in 1979 people hated disco.  What disco is to genres Nickelback is to bands, the thing that is popular to hate.  But let’s not forget what else they have in common – they both sold a ton of records.

There’s something else I know, too.  I know that the fastest way to fill up the dance floor at your office holiday party is to start playing some disco.  Many of the dancers will claim that they’re being ironic, but the huge smiles on their faces betray them – secretly, in their most private heart of hearts, they love it.  Kids will dance to it.  Middle-aged couples will dance to it.  Grandparents will dance to it.


So when I saw this two-LP comp from 1978 in the used bin for four bucks the other day I figured “why not”.  I only recognized one of the 14 songs, K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”, but I just kinda knew this would be cool.  Plus I just bought an Okki Nokki record cleaner and I needed some cheap, grubby vinyl to try it out with, so why not?  (Note – the Okki Nokki cleaned the hell out if it and it sounds clean)  The tracks seem to be vintage remixes, and each side plays seamlessly as if it was actually spinning at a club.  And you know what?  It’s rad as hell.  And I have no problem admitting it.  If you want to come over here and dance, feel free.  I’ll put it on and we’ll spin on the floor like we’re at Studio 54.