Disco For Beginners - Part 3: 1978, Momentum Builds


To brighten up the dull days between Christmas and New Year, Jimmy Hunter hustles us onto the pulsating dance floors of the past to give us a short history of disco. Part Three gets us to 1978 and the tempo starts to build...

Disco had gone mainstream and many were getting in on the act. There was also hostility towards it from the mainly American rock crowd and there’s fairly substantial evidence that this feeling had is roots firmly embedded in homophobia. Although nobody foresaw how this growing feeling would manifest itself.

For now, however, more and more artists were coming to the fore, new artists and artists with R&B/funk backgrounds were experimenting with the sound and a crossover sound – though this had been happening for some time. Quite a few one-hit-wonders (Alicia Bridges – I Love The Nightlife) were happening yet there was much more still happening away from commercial sales. People were going to discos to hear new dance music because they certainly couldn’t hear it on the radio. And so, momentum was building ever more.

In the UK and Europe less commercial stations were playing more and more disco – Radio Luxemburg was one of them. In the late 70’s, on a Sunday night after the chart show on BBC Radio 1, I’d scour the AM dial on wireless to find medium wave frequency of 208 metres (1439 kHz) and listen to my favourite disco records in all their 12” extended glory – albeit through a very scratch speaker. The quality of the output depended on the quality of the signal, which depended on the weather!

It wasn’t only in New York and San Francisco that the mega club was appearing. In London Bang had opened its doors in 1976 and with a capacity of 1000 it was the biggest gay club in the UK and one of the biggest full stop. Followed by The Embassy Club and soon after, the legendary Heaven, thousands of gay men were dancing the weekends away yet very few of them talking to their workmates about it on Monday morning.

Disco was approaching its crescendo, at least in its current form and, more than ever, gay men were associated with disco music. Harvey Milk became San Francisco’s first ever openly gay man to join the board of the City’s Supervisors. His story is told very accurately in the highly acclaimed Dustin Lance Black 2008 film, Milk. Openly ambiguous groups were becoming noticed, such as Macho with the record I’m a Man and of course, the Village People with YMCA.

And, of course, Sylvester. Donna Summer may have earned the title of Queen of Disco, but Sylvester was definitely its Diva. Sylvester James shared a birth year with Ms Summer and similarly came from a devoutly religious background – neither of them forgot or lost this. But while one renounced Disco and the success it gave them, the other positively revelled in it.

(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real (this official video shot in The Embassy Club in London’s Bond Street) has stood the test of time and it really is one of my all time favourite feel-good records. Sylvester was one of my early (music) heroes (that’s a whole other story) because he simply did what he felt his music demanded and he never sold out, keeping his integrity and his views without compromise. And because I’ve had a glass of wine [just the one?? – Ed], here’s another version of that track. I once read a review in the New Musical Express (NME) of a gig that Sylvester did at London’s Marquee club and the reviewer commented that after the gig, “a couple of pissed-up lads behind me asked if he was a poof”.

1978 didn’t escape the Disco themed film either. Thank God It’s Friday, starring Donna Summer, was rather less successful than the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever but it did spawn several incredibly successful records and a Grammy award for Summer herself with the brilliant Last Dance.

I’m avoiding chart-related discussion here and there’s a good reason for that. Though in the US and Europe many disco-esque records were enjoying commercial success, for me the real gems never got near the charts – or if they did, they didn’t overly trouble them. Those records were mainly being bought by fans who had already heard them in discos.

Around this time the music papers such as The Record Mirror were publishing more than the top 75 singles and album charts. Dance/disco charts that came from the DJs were published from both here and abroad. These early charts were compiled by a select few music journos like James Hamilton in the Record Mirror – a leader in the pack and yet it fed hungry people like me – hundreds of miles away from the action (and a few years too young too, but that would not have stopped me!!)

Take a little boogie with me down memory lane with some of my favourites from 1978 …

Alec R. Costadinos – Romeo and Juliet (all parts)
Love and Kisses - Thank God It's Friday
Linda Clifford – Runaway Love
Donna Summer – MacArthur Park Suite
Diana Ross - Lovin' Livin' and Givin'
Norma Jean Wright - Saturday
Candi Staton - Victim
Voyage - Souvenirs
Paul Jabara - Disco Queen
Chic - Le Freak
Mick Jackson - Weekend
Giorgio Moroder - Chase
Edwin Starr - Contact

[To get the party started, we've created a YouTube Playlist below of ALL the songs that Jimmy has mentioned in the article to Le Freak out (Chicly) to.   So put on your dancing trousers and get down... - Ed]