The Great Unsung Disco Study Guide

TV One is going all out tonight with their first two-hour episode of Unsung ever as they spotlight the Disco era – the artists, the music, the entire scene as a whole. For those who don’t know what to expect or who aren’t too hip to disco, this will hopefully serve as your study guide of sorts as far as what to expect tonight if you’re watching. Also, as soon as the episode is complete, I’ll hit the air on to discuss the episode on my podcast “All Subjects Everything.”
Before that however, here are some points of interest regarding disco.

1. This is the first time TVOne has done an entire movement. Sure they’ve done artists and linked them to their hometown and influences as they got started in the business, but this is the first time Unsung will take on an entire genre, an entire era and cultural movement. In this case, two hours certainly makes sense, so it should be interesting to see how behind the music (no pun intended) they go.

2. Disco’s impact on women’s and gay rights. It was no secret that disco’s heaviest supporters were women and gay men, as rock & roll and to a degree R&B/funk didn’t really cater to those two groups or make them feel comfortable. Disco clubs allowed women and gay men to have a place to go to listen to music, dance, have fun and enjoy each other’s company without fear of harassment.

3. Earl Young’s drums. Earl Young was THE lead drummer at Philadelphia International Records when they got on their initial roll in the early 70s, including improvising a pattern on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost” which was copied by disco producers worldwide. One could also make a case for the string and horn arrangements coming from the Sound of Philadelphia also being the basis for Disco’s up-tempo grooves.

4. The 12 inch single. Long vamp songs came to the forefront in the 1970s, with Isaac Hayes’ dynamite “Hot Buttered Soul” leading the way and Disco fell right in with super long instrumental breaks in the middle of songs that made them easier to dance to without having to flip the record, which kept party-goers in the groove.

5. The hatred for Disco. It got so bad for Disco that the Chicago White Sox hosted Disco Demolition night in the summer of 1979 and that turned into a mini riot that canceled the second game of a scheduled doubleheader. That was indicative of the rock influence that goes back to point Number Two – Disco confused and frightened a lot of people due to their core audience – women and gay men.

6. Post-Disco struggle. Many of Disco’s most popular artists struggled to chart after the era came to a screeching halt in the early 80s. Were those artists typecast? Even worse, were they blacklisted? Who knows for sure, but to go from top 10 on a regular basis to not charting at all in some cases had to raise some eyebrows.

7. The re-examination of Disco. This is just the most recent in a series of re-examinations of the Disco era over the last 15-20 years, which is amazing considering how people acted as if it never existed during the 80s. People are looking back at the era and thinking that while it may have seemed gimmicky and flamboyant, Disco still is important to a lot of people and to deny its influence is silly.

So with that in mind, be sure to watch TVOne starting at 9 Eastern if you have it and be sure to join me live at 11 p.m. Eastern on All Subjects Everything to discuss the Unsung episode. Hopefully these words have helped you understand disco and give you some help as to what to expect when TVOne dusts off the bell bottoms and platform shoes later on this evening.


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