The Short Life and Death of Disco

If you’ve had your fill of slavering or revisionist fifty-year-anniversary reviews of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, then advance a decade and reminisce about the seventies. “Saturday Night Fever” hit the movie theatres nearly forty years ago, in late 1977. Produced for an estimated $3 million, within a year it grossed more than $125 million. (These days, John Travolta commands a salary estimated at $20 million per movie.) The soundtrack album, featuring the Australian Gibb brothers – The Bee Gees – sold 25 million copies.

The movie was based on what may or may not have been a factual article in New York magazine, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.”  Travolta’s character, Tony Manero, had ambitions to move beyond the narrow confines of a working-class Brooklyn dance hall and move across the East River for a richer life in Manhattan. Ironically, millions of moviegoers wanted to be like the Brooklyn Tony.

Disco music, which had been bubbling under the surface of mainstream pop music but gaining fans, suddenly became huge, the predominate genre on AM radio. Although big names ranging from Diana Ross to Blondie to the Rolling Stones released disco-styled songs, a backlash came from rock ‘n’ roll purists as well as those who identified the dance music with gays and blacks.

Disco music officially died at Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979. A double-header between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers was promoted as “Disco Demolition Night.” Between games, a box of disco records contributed by fans was blown up on the field. The promotion filled the stadium and ended in a riot. Flying vinyl discs filled the air, fans ran on to the field and the White Sox forfeited the game.

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