The Bee Gees – John Travolta – Donna Summer – the Village People.
These names became synonymous with the era of Disco, a music-oriented experience which took over the music and entertainment industries of the day. They also give a partial chronology of the rise and fall of the phenomenon.
Disco began in the gay nightclubs of New York City in the mid 1960s. In these clubs, the deejays played records by little known black artists and accidentally began channeling “underground” hits to the club patrons. Record companies quickly saw the deejays as a pipeline for feeding soon-to-be-hits through a club, which would become an automated, inexpensive promotional item and device. Quickly the disc jockeys became a very important commodity and they became celebrities in the entertainment world. They began overlaying prerecorded music with live music as well as mixing two or three records together at once. This sound became so popular that recording artists began composing these extended grooves and dance beats in the studios. One of the most successful groups to do this were the Bee Gees.
The Bee Gees were seen by many as the next coming of the Beatles but they really came into their own when they took on the disco sound and put out a string of number one hits.Three of their biggest hits were featured on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, which became the biggest selling album in history to that point. The movie featured actor John Travolta as a disco dancing New Yorker and became the biggest impetus for the disco craze among the mainstream public. Suddenly disco became acceptable amongst the music industry as established acts such as the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart tried their hands at the dance-oriented music. New artists appeared everyday, with most making it as one hit wonders, but some were able to extend their disco sound into a decent career. Donna Summer, for example, was seen as the Queen of Disco, establishing herself as a star with numerous number one records. Unfortunately, as with most fads, over-saturation became disco’s death knoll. When older singers such as Ethel Merman put out a disco record, it became clear that things had just become too ridiculous.
One group that came to be identified with disco was the Village People. Taking on the role of hunky calendar guys, the group was very popular among gay clubgoers and was able to attain enormous long term popularity in the mainstream. Their rise, however, coincided with the decline of the the music genre, as an angry backlash by blue collar citizens caused disco to be frowned upon. In one case, a Chicago radio personality organized a gathering of disco haters and planned to blow up disco records in Comiskey Park, after a Chicago White Sox game. The disco hating frenzy went overboard as a near-riot broke out causing extensive damage to the stadium.
While it is looked upon with disdain by most of the public today, disco was one of the most powerful fads of all time.