There’s no shortage of rage in the Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) discography, but nowhere else does so much sorrow show itself than in Public Image Ltd’s Death Disco (aka Swan Lake because it cops a bit of the Tchaikovsky melody), a recorded recorded immediately after the death of his mother (she requested some disco for her funeral). It actually hurts to listen to it, but in a good way (not that the whole album doesn’t lean that way) — the punk is revealed as all too human, just in case there was any doubt.
“Call it bad timing. Disco erupted as I was finishing high school, jammed up all the available radio stations, transformed all the nightclubs (just as I finally had good, foolproof fake ID). Sure it probably served some greater service to the culture as a whole, gave all the former hippie freaks and rebels something to do in the wake of their failed revolutions and insurrections – just snort coke, shake their booties, lay the groundwork for yuppiedom, Reaganomics, Tom Cruise. Yeah, I blame disco for all of that. But I always liked Don’t Leave Me This Way. Thelma Houston had the big hit but nothing touches what Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes did with it, particularly the long version. Though that was actually Teddy Pendergrass singing lead. Things were a little confused in that outfit.” (Philip Random)
“Kool + the Gang are one of those bands that sadly had to change because of the Disco eruptions of the mid-1970s, which sucks. Because they had a great thing going (as Funky Stuff clearly indicates) before all dance music suddenly had to be 4-4, boomp-boomp-boomp with cheesy strings on top. Even James Brown was afraid of them, or so I’ve heard.” (Philip Random)
“I actually turned down a free ticket to see Tower of Power at a small club. It would’ve been about 1978. They probably would’ve played this song. And yeah, it would’ve blown me the f*** away. The towering power of it, and the tightness. What a band! But I was an idiot. I said no. Because I didn’t get funk in those days, or jazz, and how the two could brilliantly fuse. I had it all confused with disco. And I had all kinds of issues with disco. What can I say? I was young and foolish, not remotely hip.” (Philip Random)
“Some folks just can’t get enough Sparks, hence the twenty some albums going back to the early 1970s, and thumbs up to all involved, the culture is never weird enough. But I’ve personally been happy enough with the occasional gem of pure weird pop wonder. Like The Number 1 Song In Heaven, their big deal disco hit from 1979, which features actual changes in time signature, but apparently these didn’t clear the dance floor. At least that’s what I was told. Because I didn’t go to discos at the time. I was more inclined to the anything-but side. With occasional exceptions, because that’s the thing about truly great pop music – it tends to transcend all boundaries.” (Philip Random)
In which KC and his Sunshine Band remind us that all disco didn’t suck. In fact, most of it didn’t until Saturday Night Fever came along at which the powers that be suddenly seemed to think it was something you could base an entire culture on. So that which had once been a nice part of overall sonic stew suddenly became its dominant ingredient. Rather like putting too much cilantro in something.