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by Nick Dedina

July 20, 2010

Coup De Stereo: When Rockers Went Disco

by Nick Dedina  |  July 20, 2010

Back in the late 1970s, every adult rock fan cried foul whenever one of their heroes released something with a dance beat. Today, almost all of the songs from that strange era actually hold up pretty well. The Bee Gees had already transitioned into an R&B outfit when Saturday Night Fever turned them into the biggest band on the planet. That said, they, like Rod Stewart, did not really survive the disco era with their reputations intact. I am not sure exactly why "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" was considered such an egregious sin that all of Rod's pure rock solo albums (and records with The Faces) suddenly became null and void. Other bands -- like ELO (who actually merged The Beatles with the Bee Gees a number of times), The Clash and Kiss -- could go disco at will and were always thought of as rock acts (or even punk rock acts!). As it stands, Kiss have the only song on the list that I actively dislike, and even its inflated ridiculousness, Giorgio Moroder-style production and attempted falsettos somehow make me happy that it exists. It makes Queen sound like Motorhead. Blondie's "Heart of Glass" is produced as a very by-the-numbers disco song; on the other hand, there was something in David Bowie's Euro-croon and emotional remoteness that lent a disenchanted dimension to his dance songs, which blossom into New Wave, new romantic and post-punk (i.e., dance music for people who don't dance). Likewise, Robert Palmer and Boz Scaggs can ironically name-check lounge lizardy Disco Dans with "Every Kinda People" and "Lowdown" and seem committed to the idea. Roxy Music's art school inclinations are made plain by the empty-eyed party mannequins on the cover of their comeback album, Manifesto (which, shades of Bowie, also features music for a post-punk future).

Bands like Pablo Cruise and Dr. Hook prove that even soft rockers could go disco and damn if their songs here don't pretty much rule in completely different ways. Even ex-Beatles like John and Paul went disco, with top marks going to Macca's "Coming Up", which sounds like he's being backed by Chic, Devo and a kazoo section from The Muppets.

Click here to dig in and see if these songs still cause old rockers to go completely insane and burn their record collections or if they have mellowed so much that they find themselves walking around whistling "Sexy Eyes" (warning: do not attempt this in the workplace as restraining orders may be issued). Here are ten examples of the freakish wonders of the Disco/Rock Era:

Blondie"Heart Of Glass"
Blondie gets everything right with this one. The synthy Disco production, the tight electro beat and the unstoppable chorus. And, they put it on an album that still spellbinds with their NYC art-punk roots.

David Bowie"Golden Years" 
On the otherwise avant-rock album Station To Station, Bowie kept one foot in the mainstream wave with this eternal hit. Oddly, it is played constantly on FM classic rock radio.

The Rolling Stones: "Emotional Rescue"  In my village at least, rockers loved The Stones' other disco-rock wonder "Miss You" hated this song. I can't really figure out why, other than the fact that "Miss You" is the better song.

Paul McCartney"Coming Up"
Macca was already in hot water with the rockers and his disco-rockers didn't do him any favors. That said, this is a great tune - even John Lennon loved it. Like Bowie, Macca used this to sweeten a forward-thinking synth-pop album.

Boz Scaggs: "Lowdown"
Everything about this song RULES: the high-hat drum action, the Philly Soul strings, Bud Shank's flute part, the weird synths, the standard studio guitar whiz solo, Boz's uptown vibe. Like "Golden Years" this one is now embraced on classic rock radio.

The Clash"Train In Vain"
Here's an example of a band who "went disco" and actually got some FM rock cred. The rest of The Clash's stuff was "too farout" for most rock formats (it really wasn't) but "Train In Vain" was there first song to make it on mainstream American rock radio since their cover of "I Fought The Law."

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