One summer night in 1979, 50,000 people got together at a baseball stadium to kill disco. And it worked. Kind of. In this first episode of “Undone” we meet someone who worked as an usher at Disco Demolition Night and played a vital role in keeping the spirit of disco alive today.
Go to GimletMedia.com/FallSeason to subscribe to Undone and Gimlet’s other new podcasts.
Undone is hosted by Pat Walters.
This episode was produced by Julia DeWitt and Emanuele Berry. Our senior producer is Larissa Anderson.
Editing by Alan Burdick and Catlin Kenney.
Fact checking by Michelle Harris. This episode of Undone was mixed and scored by Bobby Lord. With additional music by Matt Boll.
Special thanks to … Alice Echols, Sasha Frere-Jones, AJ Cervantes, Giorgio Moroder, Bob Esty, and Jesse Rudoy for putting us onto this story. Thanks also to Renee Graham and Vince Lawrence who made Spotify playlists to go along with this episode.
We also have a playlist with disco songs and disco inspired tunes that were used in this episode.
Undone was conceived in collaboration with our friends at Retro Report, the documentary film series that connects iconic news events of the past to today. You can find them here.
PAT WALTERS: Hi. I’m Pat Walters.
And before we get started I just wanted to tell you that the idea for this show came out of conversations with our friends at Retro Report, the documentary film series that connects iconic news events of the past to today. You can check them out at retro report dot org.
From Gimlet Media, I’m Pat Walters and this is Undone. It’s about how big news stories we thought were over were often the beginning of something else.
We’ll go back to one of those big news stories each episode …
and tell you about the surprising things that happened when everybody stopped looking.
This is our first episode. It starts on a hot summer night in Chicago, Illinois: July 12th, 1979.
[ARCHIVAL TAPE: It’s a make-up game, it rained earlier in the year and we lost a
game with Detroit]
We’re at Comiskey Park on the southside of Chicago. And the White Sox are playing a double header against the Detroit Tigers. The place was packed.
PAUL: They completely sold out the stadium and there were another 20,000 people wandering around in the street trying to get in
PAT: There were many people who couldn’t even get in?
PAUL: Yeah, yeah, they were climbing the drainpipes.
This is Paul Natkin. He was there that night. But he wasn’t there for the baseball game. Nobody was really there for the baseball game. They were there for this promotion that was being put on by a big rock radio station in town called The Loop.
PAUL: If you brought a disco record, you got in for 98 cents.
Now the thing you have to understand is, disco was everywhere that summer.
[RING MY BELL MUSIC]
The station said bring your Anita Ward …
[SISTER SLEDGE MUSIC]
Your Sister Sledge.
[DONNA SUMMER MUSIC]
Your Donna Summer.
Bring all the disco music you can find.
So that we….can destroy it.
This was supposed to be a wacky stunt. But it ended up becoming something so much bigger than that.
PAUL: It became this huge thing. Front page of the Sun Times, front page of the Tribune. It made world wide news. It’s a Trivial Pursuit question.
On this week’s episode we’re taking a look at this night, when 50,000 people showed up to a baseball game in Chicago to rage against disco music. We’ve spent the past several months sifting through the craziness of that night, trying to make sense of what happened. We found out a lot. And along the way, we came across a guy named Vince, an usher at the game, whose story shows how this night connects to so much of the music we listen to today.
To get things going, here’s Vince, the usher.
VINCE: Well, when I got there, you know we set up the gates as usual, and there were lines around the block.
Vince was 15 that summer, and he’d gotten a job with this company that provided ushers to big venues in Chicago.
VINCE: Take a guy to his seat. Watch the concert.
Not a bad job. He’d gotten to see …
VINCE: Abba. Michael Jackson. Kiss. The Funk Fest at Soldier Field. I saw the Rolling Stones, with this incredible guy, Prince, opening for ‘em.
And this would have been amazing for any kid. But it was especially so for Vince, because he’d decided that year, that he was going to be a musician.
It had happened when his dad’s friend took him to see this funk artist named Captain Sky whose band had a synthesizer in it.
VINCE: And at that point, that’s what I was gonna do, I was gonna be the synthesizer guy.
Which was a totally new thing at that time.
And that’s why he took this usher job, to save money to buy his first synthesizer. So on this night, it’s not a concert, it’s a baseball game. Or it was supposed to be anyway. Vince is out at the front gate
VINCE: Taking tickets, watching records pile up at the gate. And I had strict intentions of keeping disco records that I thought were good that I didn’t have.
So Vince is a disco fan taking tickets at an anti-disco event. Which sounds like it’d be a real bummer, but Vince says he was actually really excited to be working that night. Because the DJ hosting the promotion was someone that he liked.
VINCE: I knew about Steve Dahl, and Teenage Radiation, his band. And I thought they were pretty cool.
Steve Dahl is the DJ at the Loop, the big rock radio station that was putting on this promotion at the baseball game.
[DO YOU THINK I’M DISCO PLAYS]
And Vince says he had this band that did parodies of disco songs.
VINCE: He did this cover of Do You Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart.
Which Vince noticed had some synthesizer in it.
VINCE: So I was like, wow, you know he’s cool. He’s a futurist just like me.
But unlike Vince, Steve Dahl had been on this anti-disco crusade that summer. Making fun of disco on his radio show. Doing public appearances where he’d smash disco records over his head. And that night at the baseball game, his plan was to blow up all the disco records people brought to the stadium. But as Vince was sifting through these records as he was collecting them at the gate, he noticed something strange. A lot of them weren’t actually disco records.
VINCE: There’s Marvin Gaye records. And Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. Records that were black records. And I was like, you can’t get in, to people to have tickets ‘cause this record isn’t a disco record, you have to have a disco record to get in for a dollar.
But his boss came over and said no …
VINCE: He says, look if they bring a record, if it’s something in that area, you gotta let ‘em in.
Which Vince says he thought was weird, but at the time he really didn’t think that much of it.
So, the first game starts. It’s a double-header, so there’s two games. And that first one is pretty uneventful.
Diane White, another person who was in that crowd that night.
DIANE: I wouldn’t say it was like a mood of riot-ousness during you know the game.
But after that first game ended…
DIANE: Things changed.
PAUL: This big door opened in center field and the Jeep rolled out.
That’s Paul Natkin again.
DIANE: Like a WWII Jeep with the top down, you know where they had the canvas tops.
And Steve Dahl, the anti-disco DJ, was standing in the back shouting into a megaphone.
[ARCHIVAL STEVE: Hey, it’s because of you this is happening tonight, ok not because of us. We’re merely a vehicle for your thoughts. Disco suck! Disco sucks!]
DIANE: He was wearing his ROTC jacket. And a Hawaiian shirt.
PAUL: With an Army helmet.
DIANE: People are screaming and they’re going nuts.
Steve Dahl pulls the Jeep up next to a dumpster.
PAT: Do you have any sense of how many of them were in there?
PAUL: It was a big dumpster.
And it was full.
[STEVE ARCHIVAL: Well listen, we took all the disco records that you brought tonight. We got ‘em in a giant box. And we’re gonna blow ‘em up real good.]
And this was the big moment, what all those thousands of people had come to see that night, and what was about to make them all go crazy.
[STEVE ARCHIVAL: Alright, we’re gonna count to three and go boom. One, two, three, boom!]
DIANE: All of a sudden there’s like stuff shooting up in the air.
PAUL: Crowd goes out of their minds.
[STEVE ARCHIVAL That blowed up real good]
VINCE: I was working the boxes along the third-base line. We were very quickly overrun. Because there just weren’t enough of us.
DIANE: They’re getting out of their seats and they’re jumping onto the field.
Thousands of people storming the field. And at first, it all looks pretty fun. You see kids chasing each other around. Sliding in the grass. Climbing on each others’ shoulders. I talked to this newspaper reporter named Dave Hoekstra who was there who had told me that the owner was out on the field.
DAVE: And he was old and he had a pegleg…
PAT: He had a pegleg?
DAVE: Yeah he lost his leg in the war.
And he kept getting stuck in the mud. The whole thing is zany, real-life slapstick routine.
Until all of a sudden it’s just not.
DIANE: People started ripping up the bases. The batting cages.
VINCE: All hell broke loose.
All of the sudden you see a cloud of smoke.
[ARCHIVAL NEWS CLIP: Right, what happened was the fans stormed the field and they set a bonfire in centerfield.]
DIANE: And people are dancing around it.
VINCE: Yelling disco sucks.
DAVE: There was a section behind the bullpen where some people lit the um seats on
PAT: The seats in the stands on fire?
DAVE: Yeah, yeah.
[ARCHIVAL NEWS TAPE: I was standing on the field with our camera crew shooting this, and it was one of the most horrifying sights you can imagine. Steve Dahl, the disc jockey was nowhere to be found.
The game delayed over two hours.
Jim, yes what’s the current situation? They just called the second game.]
VINCE: My chief usher came to me and says, hey, they’re telling us that we have to go home, they’re calling the police to protect the park.
[ARCHIVAL TAPE: Police have set up barricades now to keep people out of the
So at this point Vince it trying to get out of there.
VINCE: On my way to the locker room, there were just angry people running up to me, getting in my face saying disco sucks, disco sucks. And I remember saying, hey, look at my shirt.
He was wearing a t-shirt with the logo of The Loop, the rock station that had put on the event that night.
VINCE: And I had to show them, like, hey, I’m not you know hey I’m not, you know, a bad person, look at my shirt. Feeling like they thought I was disco. And a kid came up to me and took a 12-inch disk and broke it right in my face. It was like a Marvin Gaye 12-inch or something like that. And I didn’t understand it, ‘til much later, that that was just hate, and that they were directing it at me because I was black and the record was black. I didn’t get that at that time.
By the end of the night 39 people had been arrested. The cops even had to bring in horses. And this became a huge news story. And the pictures of it that went all around the world are disturbing. You see a crowd of thousands of white kids, out on this field, smashing and burning records by primarily black artists. And to a lot of people who saw those images in the paper and watched them on television the next day, this didn’t look like a wacky radio stunt.
RENEE: It looked really, it looked scary to me, it looked really frightening.
This is Renee Graham, she’s a columnist for the Boston Globe who writes about music and culture. But when all this happened she was a teenager.
RENEE: What it reminded me of, even then, was I remember seeing films of these sort of white citizens councils in the 50s who disliked Rock ‘n Roll. Now what they really disliked was the fact that this was a music that was bringing together blacks and whites.
Renee says the backlash against disco seemed similar.
RENEE: This wasn’t just oh we don’t like this music. This wasn’t just that. This was we don’t like these people who listen to this music.
And to understand that, Renee says, you need to know who these people were. She says it all started in June of 1969, with the riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. After that riot, the cops scaled way back on their raids on gay bars in the city.
RENEE: It wasn’t like the old days where the windows are blacked out and there was no name on the door and you had to know where it was. Suddenly places were quite open. You know, I remember going to one of the big big clubs in the 70s downtown and I was 16 years old, so I really didn’t have any business being in there anyway, and I wasn’t out, so going to those clubs was, I felt like I’d come home.
As a gay woman of color, the clubs became a safe place for Renee. And for lots of people.
They called the clubs discos, because everybody was dancing to records, instead of a band. At first they were dancing to all different kinds of music — funk, soul, R&B. But then in the early 1970s, a new style of music started coming out.
[LOVE TRAIN MUSIC]
This is Love Train. Came out in 1972. By a band called The O’Jays.
It’s one of the first disco songs. And Renee says she remembers hearing disco music and thinking
RENEE: It was clearly different from all the R&B and soul I’d been listening to up to that point.
It had some elements of that other music
RENEE: You know the bulk of the artists who were out there got their start singing in church, so these were church-trained voices. Big gospel trained you know black voices.
But it also pulled in all this other stuff.
RENEE: Salsa which was really big in New York in the 1970s. Put behind it usually you know an orchestra.
And a lot of percussion.
RENEE: With the drums, it’s like that hissing sound that hsst hsst hsst.
But the most defining element, the thing that was new and really set disco apart from things before it was the beat.
RENEE: You have to have say 120 beats per minute.
It was just a lot faster than music before that.
RENEE: It was sort of like R&B but on steroids.
They called it four on the floor … which just means that the music was written in 4/4 time, 4 beats per measure and where the drummer would hit the bass drum on every single downbeat.
RENEE: You know there was something about the propulsion of that sound that was really intoxicating.
This beat was brand new. Even though it’s such a simple idea. And the thing about this beat is that
RENEE: It just made you dance. That was the thing different from all the other music. You could sing along to other things, you could dance, but disco was built to be danced to.
And because of that disco took over the gay dance clubs that were flourishing in New York. And other big cities across the country, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago. And as it spread the music got woven together with the movement for gay rights, for openness, for inclusivity.
The music became the culture. And by the mid-70s, disco had made it out of the gay clubs and into the homes of teenagers like Vince, the usher we talked to before.
[ANITA WARD MUSIC]
VINCE: There was disco on the radio and disco in my house.
This is Ring My Bell, by Anita Ward, and it would later become one of Vince’s favorite songs.
VINCE: The reason I remember that record so much at that time is because it had that one cyndrum sound. Boooo! And I learned how to make that sound at Captain Sky’s rehearsals.
Through 73, 74 and 75, the scene kept growing. But it didn’t quite go mainstream.
RENEE: If you wanted to hear disco you were listening to the black radio stations nobody else was playing it.
And then, in 1977 …
[SNF HEY TONY]
Saturday Night Fever comes out. And disco is everywhere.
RENEE: Everybody was wearing polyester white suits and the BeeGees were all you heard, nothing against the BeeGees.
[60 MINUTES TAPE: More and more Americans are getting more and more into the disco scene]
RENEE: It was this trendy thing and suddenly people started flooding into disco who had never gone to disco before.
[MORE 60 MINUTES: This is the scene outside a New York disco called STUDIO 54]
RENEE: It was almost like musical gentrifications if you will. Kind of pushing the pioneers and the originators out of the way and letting in all these new people who decide it’s their thing and that they created it.
And not only was everybody listening to disco music …
Everybody seemed to be making it, too.
[THE STONES MISS YOU MUSIC]
This is The Rolling Stones.
[DO YA THINK I’M SEXY]
Rod Stewart had a disco song.
By the spring of 1979, there were 20,000 disco clubs in America. Half the Grammy awards that year went to disco. And dozens of huge mainstream radio stations, stations that previously played rock music, switched formats to play all disco 24 hours a day.
So this is what’s happening in 1979 and just a couple months late the Loop and Steve Dahl hold their big event at Comiskey Park to destroy disco records. And Renee says that night’s impact wasn’t just about how scary it looked to her on TV. It was bigger than that.
RENEE: Well I mean you know after that disco kinda becomes a four-letter word. People weren’t getting played, people weren’t getting booked, the records weren’t selling as well.
Renee says it happened shockingly fast. In 1979 disco was everywhere. And by late 1980
RENEE: Disco dies.
That night at the baseball game became known as Disco Demolition Night, and over the years, a lot of people have said it’s the night disco died.
JANICE-MARIE: It’s like pulling the rug out from under you, you have to kind of rebalance. Ok, what are we gonna do now? How do I stay afloat?
This is Janice-Marie Johnson, and she had this band Taste of Honey that had a big disco hit.
JANICE-MARIE: Boogie Oogie Oogie.
[BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE PLAYS]
In 1978 the song had gone to number one on the pop, R&B, and disco charts.
Sold two million copies. And that summer they were playing stadiums.
JANICE-MARIE: 80,000 people. Outdoor concert. Chicago. Singing my song.
They won a Grammy for best new artist. 1978 was a great year for them.
JANICE-MARIE: Our second album was released in 1979 and I think it was July 12, 1979, where they were burning disco records and we had just had a new release categorized as disco. So how does that work for ya girls? [LAUGHS] Not well!
By the end of that summer,
JANICE-MARIE: I’m noticing the radio stations that I used to listen to have changed formats.
And it turned out this was happening all across the country.
JANICE-MARIE: Just like that. Disco is dying. Overnight.
Taste of Honey broke up in 1983. And Janice-Marie switched careers.
JANICE-MARIE: I drove a limo. Would you believe that? People said you can’t drive a limo. I said why not? What are you talking about?
After a quick break, we talk to Steve Dahl, the radio DJ behind Disco Demolition Night
And Vince Lawrence, the usher we heard from earlier, explains how the place that killed disco accidentally helped give birth to a whole new kind of music. We’ll be right back.
STEVE: Well, it was December 24, 1978.
This is Steve Dahl, the DJ who some people say killed disco music. He’s in his 60s now, still making radio in Chicago. And he says Disco Demolition Night all got started because of this crappy thing that happened to him the Christmas before that summer.
STEVE: I had been down on Wacker Drive dressed as Santa.
Live broadcasting from down on the street…
STEVE: We had a studio on the third floor so we would just drop a mic out the
End of the day,
STEVE: Came back upstairs and they said hey uh Jack wants to see you. Jack was the general manager of the station, Jack Minkow. Uh, walked into his office, and he had an automatic door closer.
Apparently this used to be a thing.
STEVE: He hit the automatic door closer, and when that happened when the door closed behind you automatically, you knew something bad was gonna happen to you. And he informed me the station was changing their format to disco.
Effective that night.
STEVE: I drove home in my Santa suit, walked in and told my wife that you know, I didn’t have a job.
Steve had actually just moved to Chicago. His wife was pregnant. And now he was fired.
And he blamed it on disco. Steve says, before that Christmas Eve firing, he didn’t have any strong feelings about the music at all. He wasn’t even really that into music. He was a talk guy. Ranted about the news, told stories about his life. And he was kind of a shock jock. He made fun of stuff in pop culture. But after Steve got fired, from a station that had turned to disco, the music became one of his main targets.
Steve hated that rock artists — like Rod Stewart — were making disco songs. He thought it was phony. Like Stewart was just cashing in on a trend. So he started that band, Teenage Radiation …
[DO YOU THINK I’M DISCO MUSIC plays]
To make fun of disco.
STEVE: I kinda made fun of the Tony Manero, and the Saturday Night Fever lifestyle, with the white three-piece suit, and all that.
And when he got a new job on the radio, which happened very quickly, he kept making fun of the music, and also started talking about destroying it.
[STEVE ARCHIVAL: So what we do every morning is blow up a disco record we that hate.]
This is Steve on the radio in 1979.
[STEVE ARCHIVAL: If you’re ready to go shorty, start it up.]
He started doing this thing where every morning he would play a disco record, and then …
Blow it up.
And Steve says his intention with all this was just to be absurd. He would go out and play shows with his band,
STEVE: I used to wear Hawaiian shirts.
Just cause he thought it was funny.
STEVE: At some point that just switched over to me wearing this uniform and a
Which he says was not intended to seem violent or militaristic. He says a veteran just handed it to him at a show once.
STEVE: None of this is, there’s no master plan behind any of this, this is all just you know me trying to make a living.
And his fans loved it.
STEVE: The crowds just started to get bigger.
He held anti-disco events all over the city. All leading up to that White Sox game on July 12th. And when Steve looks back on that night, what he sees isn’t a racist and homophobic riot, the way lots of people have in the years since then, but rather a big crowd of middle-class rock fans reacting against the phony, Studio 54, Saturday Night Fever scene, saying,
STEVE: Hey we want to wear our t-shirts and our jeans. And we don’t want to have to wear white three-piece suits to get laid.
And he says he didn’t see the whole thing as a very big deal.
STEVE: There happened to be smoke and fire because they put too much of a charge in the box that blew up the records. And they had too many records in there. But you know, I don’t really think that it was anything other than youthful exuberance.
PAT: It feels hard for me to imagine that like people were going that crazy just because they don’t like disco music. Like what was going on do you think?
STEVE: I get what burning things look like, ya know, burning records, burning books, whatever. It looks – I understand how, in hindsight, people say it was racist and homophobic, especially based on the identity politics of you know, the present day. But at the time it never occurred to me, cause that was really not the intent of it.
PAT: You really didn’t see that, that didn’t sort of cross your mind, like oh this might look like that.
STEVE: No, it absolutely did not. Most of the people who make that statement weren’t around for the run-up to it and it was essentially just harmless, ya know we were having some fun.
Now Vince Lawrence, the usher that we talked to earlier, was there for the run-up to that night. And to him, it was not fun. And the people that broke a Marvin Gaye record in his face didn’t seem harmless. But Vince doesn’t blame Steve Dahl for what happened to him that night. He even still listens to the Loop. He thinks what happened probably had as much to do with the place where the event was held as the event itself. Vince says the neighborhood around there had a certain reputation.
VINCE: There were stories that, you better not get caught in Bridgeport after dark.
Bridgeport is where the stadium was.
PAT: There was a sandwich place called Ricobene’s. And it was like, oh you better not be running, going to Ricobene’s after dark. Because that was on the edge of Bridgeport, and you could get your ass whopped.
If you were a black person.
And this neighborhood is what brings us to the last turn in the story. Where the place the place that killed disco, helps give birth to a whole other kind of music. Just a quick warning, this next part contains some strong language.
Not long after that night at the stadium, something awful happened to Vince in Bridgeport.
VINCE: On my birthday, I was coming home from school, I went to Lakeview high school. And occasionally I would end up taking the Wentworth bus. Which put me in the neighborhood of Bridgeport.
And a teenage boy driving a I don’t know a pickup truck of some sort pulled up next to me and said hey, the fuck are you doing here? And I said I’m just walking home. And he said no coons live in this neighborhood. And you better get the fuck out of here nigger. And I just took off running.
And they drove and they caught up with me and beat my face ‘til it looked like a potato and I went back to my friend’s house and they called the police and the police came and they said well let’s drive around and see if we can find him and funny enough first gas station there is the truck and there is the guy who beat me up and they arrested him.
My mother got a call from this kid’s lawyer saying hey we’ve got a court date that’s gonna to come and we don’t want to ruin this kid’s life. We were hoping that you could forgive this guy, he made a mistake, he’s really sorry. Can we work something out and get you guys to drop the charges? And I said, you know, I have photographs of what my face looked like that day. He didn’t seem at all sorry. I think that I should go to the news and I should tell the news that what happened in the South is still happening in Chicago in your neighborhood. He said, no, no, no we don’t – we’re trying to make peace with this. I understand that you know you were hurt, and we want to maybe pay your for your trouble.
And lightbulb in my head just went off. Because remember I was saving for my first synthesizer. I knew the price list at Biasco Music by heart and I very quickly added up what it was going to cost me to get my three favorite synthesizers. And I’m like ok well if he doesn’t want me to show up in court, it’s going to cost him 6,500 dollars [LAUGHS] And we settled for five, right then and there.
First I needed to heal physically. And then after that I wanted to get my mind right. I was so eager to put it behind me. And I thought one way to forget about it would be to get on with my music-making, which was the only thing I thought about all the time.
So that’s what Vince did. He bought two synthesizers. And he started writing songs.
VINCE: I made a record not too long after that with my band Z-Factor. All made with
[Z-FACTOR SOUND PLAYS]
With those very synthesizers, those very same synthesizers, I went on to make
“On and On.”
That’s this song. Vince made it with his friend Jesse Saunders, and it is widely recognized as one of the very first songs in a whole new genre of music called House.
House is a lot like disco but stripped down …
VINCE: So everything that’s good about disco, the driving beat, the passion, the energy, it’s all there.
Get rid of the big bands, the soaring lyrics, the string sections.
VINCE: We just liked the part that was post the breakdown. Skip all that drama at the beginning. All the foreplay. I guess I would say that house is to disco as Tang is to orange juice. It’s got the flavor of oranges, just intensified and crammed into a little space.
RENEE: It’s a sort of evolution of disco.
Renee Graham again. As she started writing about music professionally, she watched this evolution from disco to house unfold.
RENEE: The great, late great DJ Frankie Knuckles you know called house music disco’s revenge.
[FARLEY JACKMASTER PLAYS]
Frankie Knuckles is known as the godfather of house music. He DJed at a black gay club in Chicago called the Warehouse, which is why it’s called house music. As more and more artists started making this new music, you could see house start to fill in the space disco once occupied. Vince was too young to get into the Warehouse. So he and his friends started throwing their own parties. These semi-legal all-ages, DJ parties at warehouses.
VINCE: The energy was insane. It was incredible.
You know just imagine, you put 1500 17-year old kids in a room with music unattended.
And these parties started multiplying like crazy, in Chicago and in other cities across the country.
This is Love Can’t Turn Around by Farley Jackmaster Funk. Which is a really famous house song, but you probably haven’t heard of it. Because house kinda stayed underground in the US. But by the mid-80s, it started its own disco-like crescendo into the mainstream …
[SWEET DREAMS PLAYS]
You start hearing stuff like this on the radio. This is the Eurythmics.
You’d never call it disco. Or house. But it’s built on both of them. And through the 80s and 90s you hear the influence of this music Vince helped create and the disco that inspired it in pop music everywhere.
[BOWIE LET’S DANCE PLAYS]
This is Bowie in 1983.
[JANET JACKSON PLAYS]
Janet Jackson in ‘86.
VINCE: Vogue by Madonna. Built to make you dance.
It’s got the four-on-the-floor beat from disco. The synthesizers from house.
And it sounds more like those two genres of music than anything else that came before disco did.
And Vince says if you look at the songs that top the charts now it’s still going
[DAFT PUNK PLAYS]
VINCE: All of these new pop mainstream songs that are favorites of the world over are built on disco records, or built on house music.
[KYLIE MINOGUE PLAYS]
VINCE: Kylie Minogue. Can’t Get You Out of my Head.
VINCE: Justin Bieber, What do you Mean.
VINCE: And we Found Love by Rihanna.
[THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FROM PLAYS]
Some of the most popular artists in the world are DJs like Calvin Harris, Diplo, Skrillex. You can hear house, and disco, in all their music, as they play stadiums in front of 10s of thousands of people.
So when Vince thinks back on what happened that night in July of 1979
VINCE: I would say if someone said disco died that night. Wow, it’s like, ok um dance music culture is bigger than it ever was.
[GET LUCKY PLAYS]
At one point it was the favorite of a very small group of people, which Steve Dahl drew affectionate little circles around and scorned and ridiculed.
And now it’s the music everyone likes. It’s the music of our generation.
Hearing Vince say all this I found myself thinking like dance music is kinda right where disco was in 1979. So I asked Renee Graham, the music writer from before.
PAT: Are we gonna have another disco demolition night? Are we coming up on that?
RENEE: You know it’s not like you know in the 70s you had only so many radio stations. So that’s when it became a problem when people felt like they weren’t hearing this song because they were again playing KC and the Sunshine Band. You know, you’re not gonna have that now.
Because people don’t get music from a single source anymore. There’s Spotify, and iTunes, and Pandora.
RENEE: You know, you can listen to music all day and never ever hear a Taylor Swift. So I don’t think there’s going to be that kind of an issue where people feel like this thing has kind of taken over. I don’t necessarily think the world is more accepting of dance music. I just think there’s just a kind of for lack of a better term, the way music is now kind of segregated and particularly the way we listen to it, I don’t think we’re gonna have a dance music demolition night.
Undone is hosted and produced by me Pat Walters, along with Julia DeWitt and Emanuele Berry. Our senior producer is Larissa Anderson. We are edited by Alan Burdick and Caitlin Kenney.
Special thanks to Alice Echols, Sasha Frere-Jones, AJ Cervantes, Giorgio Moroder, Bob Esty, and Jesse Rudoy for putting us onto this story in the first place. Thanks also to Renee Graham, who made a Spotify playlist to go along with this episode. Check it out at gimlet media dot com slash undone.
We’ll also have a little surprise right after the credits, so stick around for that.
Undone was conceived in collaboration with our friends at Retro Report, the documentary film series that connects iconic news events of the past, to today. You can find them at retro report dot org.
This episode of Undone is mixed and scored by Bobby Lord. With additional music by Matt Boll.
Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.
If you want to get in touch, follow us on twitter @undoneshow or e-mail us at undone@ at gimletmedia dot com. Subscribe to Undone on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you like what you heard, please write a review — it really helps out.
We’ll have a new episode next week. See you then.
JULIA: Hi, Pat
PAT: Hi, Julia, producer at Undone. [LAUGHS]
JULIA: Hi, host Pat Walters. So I have one last song I want to play for you because I was really bummed we couldn’t get it into the story.
JULIA: This song was at the top of the charts for a whole week in 1976. And it’s called Disco Duck.
[DISCO DUCK PLAYS]
PAT: Oh this is terrible.
JULIA: It was a hit in 1976.
PAT: Oh my god! Why were you sad that we weren’t able to include this?
JULIA: So like we just told this story about how disco died and kind of people killed it. But the other part of it is that when disco had gotten really popular it also you know got kinda bad.
Disco Duck was like the first time the world had seen something so bad.
JULIA: I think so.
PAT: If you have a different idea of what was the patient zero of horrible pop culture music send us an email.
JULIA: Or write a review in iTunes.
PAT: That’s the best way to get in contact with us actually we’re shutting down our email. The only way to contact us is iTunes reviews. Alright thanks julia.
JULIA: Alright, thanks, Pat. Bye!