The following is reprinted from the May - June 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.
PARDON OUR FRENCH
What do D-Day and disco have in common, besides the letter D? Nazis, of course! During World War II, when the Third Reich occupied Paris, jazz clubs were closed and live music of a liberal nature was strictly verboten! But Parisians couldn't live without their jazz, so they took it underground, opening illicit cellars where they could drink booze freely and listen to pre-recorded music. One such club, on Rue de la Huchette, called itself La Discothèque - coined from the French words for "record" (disque) and "library" (bibliothèque).
ALWAYS STARTIN' SOMETHIN'
Many elements of what we now call disco music appeared in songs like The Jackson 5's 1969 smash "I Want You Back" and Isaac Hayes' 1971 hit "Theme from Shaft." (Actual movie tagline: "The mob wanted Harlem back. They got Shaft ... up to here.") Chubby Checker even released a song back in 1964 titled "At the Discotheque."
But most historians agree the first real disco record was 1972's "Soul Makossa" by the Cameroon-born sax player Manu Dibango. In the song, Dibango can be heard chanting Mama-se, mama-sa, mama-koo-sa. Sound familiar? It should. Michael Jackson used it 10 years later in his song "Wanna be Startin' Somethin'"
Oddly enough, members of the disco super-group The Bee Gees never dug their moniker. In fact, after Robert Stigwood signed on as the band's producer in 1967, the group lobbied to change its name. But what could possibly be better than The Bee Gees? The band suggested Rupert's World. Luckily, their manager nixed the notion. Years later, singer Barry Gibb remarked, "It was like changing your name from Charlie S--t to Fred S--t."
"D" IS FOR DISCO
The success of "Saturday Night Fever" changed the face of disco forever. Suddenly, everyone was sporting white polyester suits - and not just Travolta wannabes. Rod Stewart, Cher, Bette Midler, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Andy Williams, David Bowie, Neil Diamond, and, yes, even Cookie Monster all donned disco-wear.
(Disco Kermit via Jonathan Mc [Flickr])
HEY MISSUS DJ, PUT A RECORD ON
Sometimes, bold experiments result in mundane things like polio vaccines (yawn.) But other times, they result in wild, earth-shattering breakthroughs! Case in point: 1953's birth of the DJ. That's when 24-year-old Regine Zylberberg, manager of Paris' famous Whisky a Go-Go, undertook an experiment to replace the club's jukebox with two turntables and a microphone.
In no time, DJs were pumping up the jam at parties the world over, as was Zybelberg. By the 1970s, she was running 25 clubs across Europe and the Americas. In fact, you could boogie down at Regine's establishments somewhere in the world 17 out of every 24 hours - assuming you could get in.
FIELD OF FLAMES
Because 1970s discos were often frequented by African-Americans, homosexuals, and working-class white women, the scene was perceived as a threat to the rock 'n' roll community, which had long been a Viking ship of straight white males. Their establishment's witty, orginal slogan - "Disco Sucks" - became popular in the later part of the decade and was available for purchase wherever fine rock T-shirt were sold. (Photo: Rich.lionheart via Wikipedia)
Album-oriented rock (A.O.R.) stations also fueled the anti-disco fire. On July 12, 1979, Steve Dahl, longtime DJ at Chicago's WDAI, staged Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey PArk, where the White Sox were playing a doubleheader. Fans bearing disco albums were admitted into the stadium for a mere 98 cents. Then, between games, they stormed the field to set their records ablaze. Some even detonated them with bombs.
As the fires roared, the masses chanted "Disco sucks!", whipping the stadium into a chaotic frenzy so threatening, the second game of the doubleheader had to be cancelled. Fittingly, more records were broken on July 12, 1979, than on any other day in baseball history.
"SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER": DISCO INFERNO OR DISCO INFURIATING?
The article above is reprinted from Scatterbrained section of the May - June 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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