Thursday 26 April 2012

The Beginning of the End

By most accounts, today marks the 35th anniversary of the grand opening of Studio 54 in New York City. The club's heyday would -- depending on whose recollections you trust -- epitomize either the apex or the nadir of the disco era.

Hence the clips above. Chances are you know the song, which was a big smash at the time, for what would ultimately amount to one among many one-hit wonders of the time. I remember it very well. I was in seventh grade at the time, and the tune was pretty much the tune of the autumn of 1978, having followed hot on the heels of other era-defining hits like Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and Heatwave's "The Groove Line." All three songs were regularly a part of my junior high school's pep rallies that season; the cheerleading squad having worked out dance routines for each, with the Foxy tune usually being the 'big finish" number that got the kids in the bleachers the most worked-up.

So it came as some surprise seeing the clips above many years later, and finding out that the artist in question was another non-African American funk outfit of the White Wild Cherry variety. In actuality, Foxy was a Cuban-American outfit that hailed from Miami and landed themselves a spot on the roster of Miami-based TK Records, the label previously responsible for giving the world KC & the Sunshine Band. The band featured -- curiously enough -- a son of Tito Puente in its lineup, as well as one member and contributing songwriter who'd previously played in Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The reason for having two clips of the same track might be obvious once they've rolled. Viewing them many years after the fact, both strike me as deeply comical -- comical in a way that vastly exceeds the usual fashion hazards of period-specific quaintness. First, there's the way the song -- upon revisitation -- pimps certain formulaic clichés to optimal, cartoonish effect. Then there's the matter of the group itself -- the ill-advised shiny makeup and overdone pouting (grimacing?) of the first clip, the overdone (if not overcompensatory) thrusting boogie moves, the fact that the bass player vaguely resembles Borat. If there's one thing that unifies the two clips, its the very sketchy charade of pretending to play along to the song; especially the parts of pantomining along to the absentee female backing vocals (the one element of the thing that went the furthest toward putting the song over, making it a hit).

In a way, the whole thing is a shambles -- deliriously over-affected in a way that seems to carry the stench of the impending death of disco all over it. Inasmuch as it reeked of decadence, it wasn't so much decadence of the debauched variety as that of the aesthetically degenerative kind. Sure enough, the nine months that followed in the song's wake would bear this harbinger out. Chic's "Le Freak" would quickly follow, shooting to the top of the charts and making the group a huge success. (The irony being, of course, that "Le Freak" song started off as "Fuck Off," originally penned by songwriters Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers as a response to Studio 54's discriminatory door policy.) By mid-summer, jumpcut to Chicago's Comiskey Park where the unintended melee that was AM radio disc jockey Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition Night" gave testament to a growing public antipathy. Come autumn of 1979, the pop charts were starting to clutter with disco tunes by non-disco artists who were, under label duress, trying to poach a hit out of the "craze" while it lasted. But it was too late, the tide -- as such things happen -- had already turned.

Clams on the half-shell...and roller skates, roller skates.


David K Wayne said...

Disco was the last Utopian pop genre IMO. All (basically neo-disco) pop since then has actually been celebrating Dystopia, but in disguised form.

'Quality' aside, maybe Disco died so quick because (a) too many people unexpectedly wanted a slice of the Utopian, and (b) that idea was far too threatening to popular culture as whole?

Greyhoos said...

I just finally caught the movie Thank God It's Friday on TV some weeks ago, and if one were to take it as an accurate depiction of disco -- it would appear that the whole thing could be blamed on a lax door policy. By that it appeared that they were letting anyone into the club -- especially white rubes from the suburbs and wallflowering gawkers on safari.

But more seriously, as far as the second part of that is concerned, I just posted a few postscript thought son the matter at my own blog...