Saturday, July 12, 2014

35 Years Ago Tonight...

Disco wasn't so much a music genre as it was a lifestyle. Disco music itself may be dead but the lifestyle goes on. The places and styles may have changed but it's still there. It occurs to this day in urban dance clubs where women go to get picked up and men go to pick them up. It's about dressing up is some trendy costume, altering your mind with some illegal substances and acting out a ritualistic form of tribal dance. After last call the participants then go off to practice procreation. Like it to not, that's all it is.

Disco music was at at it's peak in 1979 and I remember the era very well. In my observation women liked it more than men. I must admit, the women in their outfits looked hot but the guys looked like gay dorks.

We went to discos a few times. Neither of us liked disco music. A few of her friends liked it so I and their guys were forced to go along. We hated it. It was presumptuous, obnoxious and phony. Going to a disco cost a lot of money which we didn't have. And I hate, hate, hate to dance. My excuse was and still is knee or back injury, doctor's orders.

In 1979 she and I lived in a small apartment in Park Forest IL. I was on my way to a career downtown and she was working in the Park Forest Mall creating retail window displays for the Marshall Field store. No kids at the time. We only had one vehicle so she had to pick me up at the 211th Illinois Central commuter station each night. We lived a frugal life in order to save enough money to buy a home.

Each and every summer night was a rerun for me back then. Ride the train to work downtown. Work. Ride the train back home. Open a cheap crappy beer. Start the Weber. Open another cheap crappy beer. Grill something cheap. Open another cheap crappy beer. Eat. Open another cheap crappy beer. Watch White Sox baseball on the UHF channel of our 19" color RCA. Consume copious amounts cheap crappy beers. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat. On weekends we broke the summer monotony by going to Michigan for a cheap camping and fishing trip. FYI one case of 16oz. Stroh's in returnable bottles cost $3.75 at the Formost Liquor Store in Chicago Heights in 1979.

The 1979 White Sox were a lousy baseball team caught in the middle of decades of being putrid. We both enjoyed watching the games because the two announcers (Harry Caray & Jimmy Piersal) were very entertaining. On top of that Bill Veeck owned the team and made oddball decisions on all aspects from the dumb uniforms to installing a shower spigot in center field stands. This added to the game experience without placing an expensive quality team on the field. Here's a sample of what a great broadcast team can bring to a boring game.

An upstart radio personality worked in my same building. I had read about his arrival from Detroit and his wacky antics in the newspaper. Morning Zoo radio was unknown at that time. When he began at WLS-FM music radio I would see him some mornings out on the corner of Wacker and Michigan trying to attract attention. He was a fat nerdy kid with a remote microphone wearing a bright blue satin baseball jacket with the radio station ID on the back. He seemed to be having a hard time getting noticed. I passed right on by along with most of the other pedestrians. I was usually in too much of a hurry getting into the building for work.

Over time I listened to this guy on the radio and wasn't too impressed with his imaginary character voices but the current hard rock music was why I had the radio station playing in my office. I would see him in the elevator often. Newspaper critics panned him.

One day without warning the same FM radio station suddenly changed music formats from contemporary rock to disco. Disco was very popular with a certain demographic at the time and the station wanted to cash in on it. As with most young men Disco sucked as a listening choice to me.

I switched channels on the office radio to another pop/rock station with the call letters WLUP. I discovered they broadcast a harder rock playlist so I was pleased to have found it. One day that same upstart chubby guy left the disco station and joined the Loop, as the station called itself. He and his sidekick added a sarcastic and humorous punch to air time between tunes. It was a good background noise for the office which was a crazy place on it's own.

One particular topic that these two hammered on was about the radio station they had worked at and how they were fired for making fun of the disco music they were forced to play. These guys were very funny and had an axe to grind. This was a great schtick. I mean, disco was more despised overall than it was popular. Even the guys I knew who went out to discos hated disco music. All they were after was the…you know. And if it meant suffering through crappy music and dancing like a fool to "git some" than so be it. It was then when I became a daily listener of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier and their ongoing crusade to end disco as we knew it.

They did a lot of crazy stunts and soon were talked about a lot in the local media. Everyone my age listened and those ratings skyrocketed but the old local radio purists hated those two, another reason for their popularity. They parodied the old purist radio types in creative ways unheard of before in any broadcast media. It was rebellious.

So what does a radio station do with a hot property? They market the crap out of them using them for personal appearances at local nightclubs, neighborhood fests and then professional sports franchises. On air they would play the intro of a disco recording and soon the sound of an explosion would end it. They took that bit on the road to local bars for personal appearances where they broke disco records over their heads, threw disco records against the wall and found other creative way to destroy those records. They had lightning in a bottle. And then this happened on July 12, 1979.

Here is what she and I watched on television that night. They refused to broadcast all the insane activity on the field.

From then on my office radio was always tuned into WLUP and I laughed all through the morning while sketching ads and making money at the same time. This guy was that funny.

The following is a recording of a broadcast of The Tomorrow Show soon after disco died. It aired on NBC directly following Johnny Carson. Tom Snyder, Steve Dahl and Meatloaf. Funny, funny stuff.

After that demolition stunt at Comiskey Park disco music popularity was doomed. Disco officially died 35 years ago today July 12,1979. These days when I hear disco music I can appreciate it. The sound sure brings back some funny memories.

But Disco Still Sucks.

Here's another video on Disco Demolition, a special done by the Eastern Seaboard Programming Network.


Carl from Chicago said...

Thanks for putting this up. I have never seen the video of everyone running around on the field.

The only video I have ever seen prior to this is in the "montage" that the White Sox have before the game where they show the explosion on the field which I presume is the disco records.

Another famous guy that you know! Steve Dahl...

Dan from Madison said...

Awesome post. I can identify with the young men trying to get some - I once sat through a Clint Black concert for the same reason.

And they just don't make announcers like Harry and Jimmy anymore. Uecker comes very close. It is a pleasure listening to him on the radio.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Never spoke with Dahl, just shared the elevator with him a number of times and saw him doing live remotes on the street corner. Famous People Gerry Has Met should officially apply only to those I spent time with.