I’m with the band: The Bee Gees
Welcome to “I’m with the band”. In this column, I’m going to teach you how to become a fan of all the iconic bands you’ve always heard of, but might not really know. I’m going to introduce you to some deep songs that will elevate your status from “surface fan” to “true fan”, and tell you why, in my humble opinion, these bands are worth knowing. Hopefully by the end of this series you will understand why you should become a fan of it too.
When the Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack was released in 1978, it quickly became the best-selling album of all time. Just two years later, in a particularly rowdy Chicago White Sox game, thousands of disco records were exploded in a violent outburst that marked the official night disco was “dead”.
Now, more than five decades later, the buried genre of disco has begun rising from the grave to become one of the most relevant slices of music today thanks to TikTok. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how did this happen?
I’m not going to dive too deep into the deep history of the Bee Gees. HBO’s documentary “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” does a better job of telling the story of the most influential disco band better than I ever could. If you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favor and watch it ASAP.
What you need to know, however, is that the Bee Gees formed in Australia in 1958 and consisted of three of the Gibbs brothers – Barry, Robin and Maurice. Although they gained their initial popularity in the classic 1960s rock scene, it wasn’t until they moved to Miami in 1975 (a suggestion from fellow musician Eric Clapton) and released “Jive talkin” that they began to formulate their new sound. Marketing their one-of-a-kind falsetto harmonies with black soul-inspired R&B beats, they quickly became the face of the American disco craze.
But what exactly is disco, why did society swear to it with such disdain, and why is it coming back now?
Dating back as far as Nazi-occupied France in the 1940s, the word “disco” originates from the French word “discothèque,” which referred to secret underground clubs that allowed music and dancing at a time when neither was legally permitted. Since live music was not an option, people decided to use their record players and dance to pre-recorded music. This idea of partying to pre-recorded music rather than live songs continued to evolve as it made its way to the United States over the following decades.
Fast forward to the early 1970s, oppressed and marginalized community groups in America has begun meeting in underground clubs on weekends to form their own nightlife culture. It was particularly prominent in Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities. Disco drew heavily on black soul singers and made room for many female singers to gain mass popularity. While 1970s rock n’ roll fans were overwhelmingly white, male, and heterosexual, the disco community created some of the first safe spaces for people of color and gay people.
Disco was glamorous, sexual, hedonistic and above all — escapism. This gave oppressed communities the opportunity to dress extravagantly in sequined jumpsuits and live fabulously. Disco was one of those genres where its influence lay much more with the people who listened to it than the artists who created it (not that Donna Summer wasn’t incredibly talented). Everything in the nightclub environment was built by the oppressed, for the oppressed.
These underground clubs gave birth to the notion of mixing, remixing and the modern DJ. In fact, the whole concept of DJ sets in these clubs was designed to make these areas a safe space for queer people to dance together. Prior to DJ sound mixing, most songs had a noticeable silence gap that existed between the transition from song to song. This gap, even though it was only three seconds, allowed the lights to come on and people to look around who was dancing with whom. But in the discos, the DJs started to mix songs together seamlessly with each other, reducing any awkwardness or notable moments allowing clubbers to judge who was dancing with whom.
But of course, anything that becomes a global obsession is inevitably commercialized.
By the late 1970s, disco had gained obscene popularity, posing a huge threat to the rock n’ roll genre. He quickly became the enemy of many rock radio hosts and artists. The disco was a must. You couldn’t switch to a radio station that didn’t play it, or listen to an ad that didn’t have a disco song featured in the background.
Eventually, this mass popularity met its resistance at the turn of the 80s. On July 12, 1979, Steve Dahl, a local rock DJ, hosted a “Demolition Disco Partyat a Chicago White Sox game, where the entrance fee was a burning disco record. The night was massive and turned incredibly violent, resulting in nine injuries and 39 arrests. Thousands of disco records exploded in the middle of the pitch as people stormed the pitch to protest the genre.
Although Dahl advertised the disco wrecking party as anti-disco commercialism, it quickly turned into an anti-black, anti-gay statement. Yes, many records brought to be burned have been disco records, but a significant number of records were non-disco; they were R&B, funk, and other records that had strong ties to black musicians.
To this day, it remains unclear whether the disco wrecking party was a protest against the music itself or against the people who influenced and created the music.
The Bee Gees, although they existed long before the American disco craze, unfortunately were overtaken by the fall of disco and saw their popularity dissipate as quickly as it had grown. After that night, disco was quickly proclaimed “dead” and banished from popular culture.
Today, disco is considered a total fad. When you think of disco, you think of extravagant ’70s hairstyles and disco balls and John Travolta strutting down the streets of New York with “Stay alive” thunder in the background.
But what we don’t think about is how influential this has been in democratizing the music industry today. Disco is responsible for modern club culture, with remixed songs, colorful dance floors and flashing lights. More importantly, TikTok has evolved the disco into a post-modern era whose global popularity is increasing day by day.
Of course, with algorithmic methods, dance trends and even remixed mash-upsTikTok is notorious for repopularizing old songs that have been off the charts for years, as the Bee Gees experienced”more than a woman.” But TikTok has done more than just repopularize 1970s disco; TikTok has become a vessel for a new generation of disco to shine.
Popular artists like Dua Lipa and Doja Cat, known for their catchy musical hooks, danceable beats and visual leanings, have become the face of the 21st century disco era. Both of these artists have gained popularity on TikTok and are able to release songs that gain hundreds of millions of streams within days. Much like 70s disco, much of their popularity can be attributed to the dances that went viral along with the songs. Once again, music reconnects with the material world where it is meant to be listened to and shared as a multi-sensory experience.
The music of Dua Lipa and Doja Cat even pays homage to the past, with many of their songs recycling sounds of nostalgia. Dua Lipa’s Song”break my heart” is a direct sample of INXS “need you tonight,” and “Freak” by Doja Cat is a modern take on “Put your head on my shoulderby Paul Anka.
So, despite the global attempt to rid our culture of disco, the genre is barely dead. He just got a new face, with the same glitter and the same dance as before. Only time will tell if this 21st century disco world will follow in the same fashion footsteps as its predecessor. But until then, we can be sure of one thing: the world hasn’t killed disco yet.
Editor’s note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, reflections and criticisms.