Thursday, February 16, 2023

Book Review: When Rock Met Disco

Disco began as a gay, black, and brown underground New York City party music scene, which alone was enough to ward off most rockers. The difference between rock and disco was as sociological as it was aesthetic. At its best, disco was galvanizing and affirmative. Its hypnotic power to uplift a broad spectrum of the populace made it the ubiquitous music of the late '70s. Disco was a primal and gaudy fanfare for the apocalypse, a rage for exhibitionism, free of moralizing. Disco was an exclamatory musical passageway into the future.

For all its apparent excesses and ritual zealotry, disco was a conservative realm, with obsolete rules like formal dress code and dance floor etiquette. When most '70s artists "went disco," it was the relatively few daring rockers who had the most impact, bringing their intensity and personality to a faceless phenomenon. Rock stars who "went disco" crossed a musical rubicon and forever smashed cultural conformity. The ongoing dance-rock phenomenon demonstrates the impact of this unique place and time. The disco crossover forever changed rock.

When Rock Met Disco by Steven Blush will be released on April 7, 2023. Rowman and Littlefield provided an early galley for review.

The heyday of disco ran from 1974 to 1980. I was still a pre-teen for most of that time period. Thus, I never set foot into an actual disco during that time. The closest I ever got was an afterschool disco dance in our middle school gym. However, I was fully fascinated by the music, the culture and the allure of it all. By the time I was old enough to go out clubbing in the early 80's, discos had evolved somewhat. But all the same aesthestics still remained - people getting dressed up to dance to rhythmic beats and to try to make those connections with others.

Blush takes the time to lay the foundations of the culture before focusing on his topic of the rock crossovers. This is important. Readers who were not there at the time need to know the whys, the hows and the wheres to get the full picture. One entire chapter is devoted to talking about several of the most famous New York City discos and how each had their own unique vibes and flavors. The back half of the book focuses on the rockers who ventured into the disco waters and then the extreme backlash that the dance genre received come 1979. Blush's writing style is engaging and creative.

I liked the added touch of quotes from folks who were part of the scene back in the day as well as song lyric snippets that are sprinkled in along the way.

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