Audio: The Ohio Players “Funky Worm” (1972

MUSI 2007 W12
Funk in the 70s, Disco, etc.
• Funk continued to be a popular style into the 1970s, but also
changed in some important ways during this period.
• Listen to the following and ask yourself: (i) How is it similar to
the 1960s James Brown examples? (ii) What new elements
are added? (iii) Is it returning any elements that early funk left
out from earlier styles? (iv) What later styles is it seeming to
move towards?
• Audio: The Ohio Players “Funky Worm” (1972).
• Probably the most distinctive and one of the most successful
mid-70s funk bands was Parliament/Funkadelic (the name
varied) led by George Clinton.
• They had many of the features we’ve already mentioned, but
added other important things as well…
• DVD: Parliament Funkadelic “Dr. Funkenstein” (1976)
• The elaborate stage shows drew largely on a mythical
scenario Clinton invented that combined elements of science
fiction, fantasy, and psychedelia. (Note that Sly and the
Family Stone had already had a lot of influence combining
funk with psychedelia in the late 1960s).
• Besides setting up grooves and visuals, Clinton was good at
inventing catchy phrases. Two of the best-known were “one
nation under a groove” and “free your mind and your ass will
• Question: Is this kind of funk still politically activist? If
so, is it active in the same way as 1960s funk was, or
have the politics changed somehow?
• The last 1970s style we need to discuss is disco.
• Disco was hugely successful for a time in the late 1970s, and
it continues to be musically influential. But equally significant
is the way that disco helped to move different value systems
to the forefront of popular culture, challenging the assumed
hegemony of rock culture.
• While rock had become predominantly white, male, and
hetero-normative, disco was substantially black/Hispanic,
female, and gay in its associations. Also, while rock continued
to be invested in ideologies of seriousness and social
significance, disco culture was openly hedonistic and mostly
apolitical. Also, while rock placed a great deal of value on
individual celebrity and instrumental virtuosity, disco
producers and DJs were usually comparatively anonymous,
and relied on skills other than traditional performance skills.
For all these reasons, disco and dance culture represented a
major new perspective.
• As early as the 1940s, the name discothèque was used for
European bars where there was dancing to recorded music.
By the 1960s, the format was catching on in the U.S.
• By the 1970s, dance clubs were becoming central to gay,
black, and Hispanic subcultures in New York and some other
major cities. The DJs at these clubs leaned heavily towards
soul (especially Philadelphia style), Latin music, R+B, and
funk. So this particular mix of styles became typical of the
dance culture overall.
• Also, DJs were developing techniques of mixing and remixing,
which led to a whole new style of composition and
performance. These techniques were pushed much farther in
later hip-hop and various kinds of 1980s electronic dance
music, but they began in 1970s discos.
• By the mid-1970s, it was becoming common for producers to
make disco records, which tried to capture the same mood
and style as was being explored by the DJs
• Crucial elements of this early disco sound can be divided up
according to the styles which most inspired them…
• From funk it borrowed prominent, syncopated bass lines and
extensive use of synthesizers (and a little later, drum
• From Afro-Cuban (Latin) music it borrowed the distinctive
percussion sound (layered with drum kit), and the vocal
technique of repeated chants.
• From sweet soul it took the lush production values, especially
the strings, and also the vocal style.
• The other most prominent feature of disco was the disco beat.
At it’s simplest, it is a straight back-beat on the bass drum and
snare (the same as in R+B and in the ‘big beat’ of Motown). In
early disco records this mostly provides counterpoint to
syncopations from other drums, bass, etc., but it’s always
• Audio: The Trammps “Disco Inferno” (1977).
• In the late 1970s, and peaking in 1978 with the release of
Saturday Night Fever, disco was hugely successful. Almost
overnight, all-disco radio stations appeared and even
established rock acts like The Rolling Stones incorporated
elements of disco into their music.
• For the most part, when we compare hit disco singles of this
era to earlier disco, we see something similar to what
happened with the cover phenomenon in the 1950s.
• Audio: The Bee Gees “Staying Alive” (1978).
• What changes can we notice here relative to earlier disco?
Why might these have been made?
• The other noteworthy thing about disco is how much rock fans
tended to dislike it. “Disco Sucks” became a common phrase
on T-shirts, etc.
• The peak of the backlash was on July 12, 1979, when a
Chicago DJ blew up a mound of disco records on the field at a
White Sox game (billed as a Disco Demolition Night).
• So why did rock fans react so violently to disco?
• By the mid-1970s heavy metal had largely ceased to break
new ground stylistically and commercially. But that changed
dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
• In a very short period, there appeared several major new
subgenres of metal, including thrash, glam/pop, and the New
Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). It was at this point
that metal both re-emerged as a major cultural influence and
at the same time fragmented into subgenres which often
seemed mutually exclusive.
• Audio: Metallica “Master of Puppets” (1986).
• Looking at thrash in particular, what elements does it share
with earlier metal? What is different? How, in particular, does
it draw both from progressive rock and from punk?