Stayin' Alive through the 70s: Disco
Alana Edmond

What is Disco?

Disco is a form of nightlife dance music and culture that emerged in the 1970s. This genre is known for its syncopated basslines, synthesizers, electric pianos, and electric guitars which derived from funk. Moreover, many popular dances emerged from disco music and culture.


Disco can be traced back to urban cities with high Black, Latin-American and Gay populations such as New York City. Disco is said to be a product  of counterculture in the 1960s such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Hippie Movement, and anti-war movements; all which challenged societal status quos. Disco represented euphoria in a time period when so many injustices and tragedies were occurring. The disco sound can be traced back to R&B, soul, and funk. 

Popularity and Mainstream Attention

Disco was not always the powerhouse genre of the 70s. Initially, during the 60s, disco was ignored, but through “invitation only” parties, combatting gay harrasment in night clubs, Disco gained popularity among the gay community. It was not until the mid to late 1970s, however, that disco gained international popularity and commercial success. By 1974-76, disco has stormed the airwaves with major hits such as “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby”, Barry White’s “You’re My First, My Last. My Everything” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” By the late 70’s disco reached its peak popularity especially with the prominence of Disco superstar, Donna Summer and her hits “I Feel Love”,“Hot Stuff”,and “Bad Girls.”  

Notable Artists & Songs

Donna Summer: The Queen of Disco
"I Feel Love" "Hot Stuff" "Bad Girls" "MacArthur Park" 'Dim all the Lights"
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Social Implications

Disco had a major societal effects during the time period and even has a lasting legacy we can still feel today. Firstly, Disco was not just a genre, but it was a culture as well. Disco culture changed the world of dance, fashion, attitudes and more all while fostering a sense of connectedness throughout many marginalized groups globally. However disco was not all sunshine. With the theme of freeness, euphoria and sexual promiscuity disco culture promoted, drug abuse and STDs, especially HIV/AIDS spread rampantly during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Aside from this, Disco was met with heavy criticism and anti-disco movements including Disco Demolition Night, backlash from Rock Artists, as well as homophobia and racism. Regardless of the negative criticism disco and it’s participants faced, disco still remains one of the most influential African American genres. Disco influenced many succeeding genres such as house, techno, electro and even hip hop.