Record executives are muttering about disco being the goose that laid a leaden egg, and the big backlash seems to be under way. Typically they only ever saw disco as a bandwagon on which to jump, and are to be blamed if the expected sales didn’t materialise.
In the USA, disco – or, as it ought to be, “Disco” – became the great white hope after radio stations found that by playing nothing but dance music their audience ratings improved dramatically. This is not so surprising in view of the appallingly dull state of normal US radio output – “disco” by virtue of being lively became the new rock ‘n roll.
In this country, thankfully, radio is more varied and jumbles in enough exciting records not to need disco as anything more than another lively link in its normal programming. However, thanks to the buzz caused Stateside by the “disco” radio ratings, the US record industry got geared up to flood the market with what it presumed was wanted . . . and this oversupply of “disco” product swept over into Britain too.
The trouble was, here we are less enamoured of US style “disco” and still like our dance music to have a root in good old US style “soul”. Further, the UK disco market is still only really capable of buying a hit into the 40s on the pop chart – the big chart disco hits are in fact often tainted with the dreaded “disco” zinginess but rely on Wally rather than club-goer sales. The British club-goer does exactly that, goes to clubs, dresses up and spends money on these activities probably in far greater proportion than on actually buying records.
Let’s face it, today’s disco records sound great at a club, but as so many of them are structured primarily for DJ’s to play and mix into others just like them, the average club-goer can not be blamed for preferring to hear them in their correct context rather than in all their naked thump-thump-thump isolation at home.
But when the shocking truth comes out, that a legitimate Top 10 hit in all the disco charts can’t even sell 4,000 copies (which was the recent case with one particular record), the blame must surely be directed at the nation’s disc-jockeys. When a record is evidently that popular, what the hell are all you 30, 60, or however many thousand DJ’s doing? Not buying it and catering to your dancers’ needs, it seems, and certainly not helping improve relations with the record companies.
No wonder that mailing lists are being suspended, pruned and chopped. It would be no bad thing if every company stopped sending out promos in one fell swoop. That would soon sort out the men from the boys, put up running costs, and force DJ’s to go out (as of course the vast majority do) to – horror of horrors! – actually BUY their records.
This could have two effects: it might finally raise the money earned by most DJ’s, and it might make them even more aware of imports. If you’re in an import-stocking record shop, the difference in price between a hot import 12in and its less-fresh UK version is not so great, especially when the UK version comes out weeks later.
Disco is not dead, whatever the record companies may think, but if in thinking that they reduce the number of their disco releases it should help everyone. Those who want a record badly enough can always get it on import, those who don’t want to spend their money can always get out of the disc-jockeying business and work for Leyland. If it means a rationalization and re-think, then I for one say, DISCO IS DEAD, LONG LIVE DISCO!
More clubs next week, but right now seems an appropriate point to talk about disco radio in New York City. You have to realise that there is a ludicrous number of radio stations beaming all sorts of programme formats at the population of New York (all US radio is local), with the result that if a station gets just 4 per cent of the available audience it’s probably the market leader. This is the sort of percentage that WKTU-FM gained when it switched formats to become WKTU (“Disco 92”) – it being at 92 on the dial – playing nothing but disco (and lots and lots of “disco”!). Also on FM, the more soul-orientated WBLS had been programming in a disco style for several years already, but with a blacker sound (it still remains by far the more listenable of the two!); however, it was the more blatantly white-orientated “disco” crud that won the ratings war for WKTU.
Although both stations’ jocks do a certain amount of mixing, they are by no means up to club DJ standards, and the overall presentation is surprisingly slip-shod. The buzz for a British visitor is immense, though, as just by turning on the radio you can hear pretty well all the soul and disco material denied us on the airwaves here! 24 hours a day, in unending rotation! Yes, it actually wears off after a time, and by tuning along the FM band you then find WRVR playing nothing but jazz and jazz-funk, or some indecipherable Latin station (as well as all the rock, pop, MoR, religious, news, country, classical and minority interest stuff), while over on the heavily compressed and sizzling AM band are the sadly fallen from grace WWRL soul station (my fave in the ‘60s) and the great reggae/calypso/funk/jazz/disco of WLIB, aimed at New York’s large enough Caribbean population. Drool, drool?!?
ASHFORD & SIMPSON: ‘Found A Cure’ (Warner Bros. K 17422T) (BNDA debut 7/14/79)
Superb thumping strutting 124bpm 12in with searing soul wailing in bursts between intense instrumental sections.
IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS: ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3’ (Stiff 12BUY 50) (BNDA debut 10/20/79)
Foiled at every attempt to include this review, it’s less late than it looks! Thought you ought to know the funkily jittering 12in thudder is 122-123bpm, with sorta Instant Funk influence!
STANLEY CLARKE: ‘Just A Feeling’ (from LP ‘I Wanna Play For You’, Nemperor/Epic EPC 88331)
Dynamite happily jiggling jittery 110bpm vocoder and chix-chanted jazz-funk strutter, hopefully for singles release as this is a double LP (with plenty of good listening). Continue reading “August 25, 1979: “Record executives are muttering about disco being the goose that laid a leaden egg, and the big backlash seems to be under way.””