No genre in the history of contemporary music has been more thoroughly maligned than disco has. Mirror balls, polyester bell-bottoms and the Village People spring to mind at the mention of the word, but the music – and its impact – shouldn’t be dismissed in one fell swoop. Many terrific artists – including some great guitarists – dabbled in or even embraced the genre, and emerged with their musical integrity intact. Below are 10 songs that give credence to that assertion.
“Good Times” (Chic)
It’s hardly surprising that this 1979 Chic single is one of the most sampled songs in music history. Bernard Edwards’ snappy bass and Nile Rodgers’ irresistibly funky rhythm guitar even impacted Queen, who borrowed liberally from “Good Times” for “Another One Bites the Dust.” Rodgers, of course, went on to distinguish himself as a versatile player-producer, manning the boards for such essential albums as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and backing Robert Plant in The Honeydrippers.
“Hot Stuff” (Donna Summer)
Donna Summer proved she could incorporate some serious rock and roll into her disco sound with this 1979 smash hit. Featuring a sizzling guitar solo by ex-Doobie Brother and Steely Dan guitarist Skunk Baxter (who claimed to revile disco), the song also gave producer Giorgio Moroder great credibility in the rock world. Rock-dance hybrids such as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” have their roots in this track, which even earned Summer a Grammy for “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.”
“I Was Made for Lovin’ You” (KISS)
Released just one month after Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” (and on the same record label, no less), this 1979 KISS hit resulted from a conscious effort by Paul Stanley to write a disco song. Producer and co-writer Desmond Child later told Billboard, “Paul and I talked about how dance music at the time didn’t have any rock elements. We made history, because we created the first rock-disco song.” Summer may beg to differ, but in any case, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” went on to become a staple of KISS’s live shows.
“Miss You” (The Rolling Stones)
Mick Jagger and Ron Wood have suggested otherwise, but Keith Richards cops to the fact that this Stones’ classic was conceived as a disco song. “‘Miss You’ was a damn good disco record; it was calculated to be one,” Richards said, in 1997, according to Timeisonourside.com. Years later, drummer Charlie Watts concurred, saying, “A lot of those songs like ‘Miss You’ … were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear it a lot in those four-on-the-floor rhythms and in the Philadelphia-style drumming.”
“Heart of Glass” (Blondie)
Deborah Harry’s affinity for Giorgio Moroder’s “Euro-disco” sound was the driving force behind the disco treatment given to this 1979 hit. Guitarists Chris Stein (who co-wrote the song with Harry) and Frank Infante (whose choice guitar in Blondie was a Les Paul Standard) kept the band’s rock cred intact, while keyboardist Jimmy Destri provided the synth-based hook. Some new wave fans cried “foul,” but there was always a glint of irony in Blondie’s best songs.
“Tears Are Not Enough” (ABC)
This 1981 debut single by ABC illustrates the enormous impact disco music had on the new romantic movement in Great Britain. Manically infectious, funky as hell and sporting rhythm guitar (by Mark White) that would make Nile Rodgers proud, the single served as a gateway to The Lexicon of Love, an album that remains a cornerstone of ’80s music. At their best, ABC sounded like a mash-up of James Brown, Roxy Music and Lawrence Welk.
“Rock with You” (Michael Jackson)
This classic 1979 Michael Jackson song, one of the last big hits of the disco era, was written by Rod Templeton, who also penned “Thriller.” Amazingly, Templeton first offered the song to Karen Carpenter, who turned it down. (He also offered Carpenter “Off the Wall.”) No less an iconoclast than Alex Chilton performed a sizzling version in his latter-period live shows, giving the song a lounge-rock treatment on his beautiful ES-337.
“Stay” (David Bowie)
David Bowie had flirted with disco as early as 1974, when he recorded the decidedly “Theme from Shaft”-like “1984” for his Diamond Dogs album. 1975’s Young Americans signaled his “plastic soul” phase, but nothing on that disc was a powerful as this Euro-disco number from 1976’s Station to Station. Powered by Les Paul devotee Earl Slick, the song blended funk and kraut-rock more effectively than ever before.
“Fire” (Ohio Players)
The disco charts had only recently been established when the Ohio Players unleashed this sensational blast of power-funk in 1974. Peaking at #10 in the newly-established genre (and at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100), the song remains one of the band’s signature songs. Several artists have since sampled “Fire”’s classic guitar-solo break.
“Goodnight Tonight” (Wings)
Paul McCartney and Wings hopped onto the disco bandwagon (sort of) with this 1979 hit. Sporting a percolating bass line and a swing-jazz vibe, the song boasts terrific guitar work and a spirited flamenco break. As he had often done before, McCartney incorporated current stylistic goings-on into his distinctive talents as a composer, without selling out in the process.