Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Boogie down at the UNT library!

One of the largest collections of disco music in the academic world can be found in the library of the University of North Texas. The Denton-Record Chronicle explains: 
Even Morris Martin, librarian of UNT’s music library, is unsure how many records are in the Bert Hile Collection, as it is formally known, though the number is probably well above the university’s Web site estimate of 2,500.
The amount of scholarly interest is easier to count.

"Hardly any, frankly," he said.

Part of the problem, Martin said, is that the collection has never been cataloged, which would make it more accessible to researchers. Another reason is that few musicologists are willing to invest their careers researching lyrics such as:

"Shake it/Doo, doo, doo, whoa/Shake it/Doo, doo, doo, whoa/Shake your groove thing/Shake your groove thing."

The tracks were donated by Bert Hile, who was a deejay at popular Dallas-area disco clubs in the late 70s. He reflects on the demise of the era of mirror balls and polyester leisure suits:
Disco is said to have died on Feb. 3, 1980, the day New York’s Studio 54 closed. But Hile said its fate was sealed by a movie released three years earlier.

"Saturday Night Fever is what killed disco. It ran it into the ground," he said. "You know how when you have a scratch and you keep itching and itching until it starts to bleed? Well, that’s what happened to disco. It got overplayed."

The article ends with Dallas Morning News music critic Mario Tarradell listing what in his opinion are the five best and five worst disco songs. The five best:
1. "Got to Be Real," Cheryl Lynn
2. "This Time Baby," Jackie Moore
3. "I Feel Love," Donna Summer
4. "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," Barry White
5. "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," Sylvester

And the five worst:
1. "Disco Duck," Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots
2. "Get Dancin'," Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes
3. "Ring My Bell," Anita Ward
4. "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," KC and the Sunshine Band
5. "Macho Man," Village People
Can't say I really disagree with any of Tarradell's picks - I especially agree with his selection of "I Feel Love" as one of the five best. Kraftwerk may have pioneered the genre of electronic music, but Giorgio Moroder gave it a sound with this song. The eerie synthesizer chords, the galloping baseline, Donna Summer's sparse yet sexy lyrics... An all-around awesome tune. Here are a few other tunes that would be on my personal list of best disco songs: 

"Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," Michael Jackson: the younger generation might not believe this, but a long, long time ago, before he became a bleached, plastic freak of nature who (allegedly) molested cancer-stricken young boys or dangled babies out of hotel windows, Wacko Jacko actually made some great music. If this whirlwind of a song didn't get you off the couch and onto the plexiglass dance floor with the blinking lights underneath, you simply didn't have a pulse.

"I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor: This disco standard had a message as well as a beat. Her man left her, but she "was strong, and learned how to get along" without him. When he returns, she tells him off with a voice and a brilliance that is nothing short of triumphant.

"Born to Be Alive," Patrick Hernandez: this is the quintessential disco song, incorporating a thumping beat, teeth-sucking cymbals, synthesized baseline, guitars, horns, strings, backing vocals, the nonsensical lyrics, the works. When this piece of vinyl hit the turntable, it was indeed "good to be alive." I'd have to say that this song is, in my 
opinion, the greatest disco song ever recorded.

Of course, I didn't exactly experience the disco scene first hand - I was a bit young for that, although I do remember, as a five or six year old kid, hearing a lot of these tunes on the radio as I rode around in the car with my mom. Throughout my childhood and teen years, disco was considered "trash" and nobody played it; it didn't get popular again until the early 1990s, and that's when I started paying attention to to the music. I realized that, contrary to what the bumper stickers of the early 80s claimed, not all disco sucked. 

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)