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The History Of Soul Funk & Disco

The beginning

In trying to trace the origins of today’s dance music it is difficult to know when to stop going back in time. Dance of one sort or another has always been a part of life and, it could be argued, the origins date way back into history. However, we take the revolution that occurred in the 1960’s as a starting point.

Most of today’s dance sounds have evolved from an ever changing fusion of sixties soul (which itself was born out of rhythm & blues) and Latin jazz rhythms. Due to the changing political climate in the early 60’s, caused mainly by the civil rights movement in the States, black artists were finally given the recognition they deserved for their contribution to music. Not that they hadn’t been making great music in the past - it was just that most of the major labels had been substituting white singers to cover the originals and turning soul classics into white pop.

It must be noted that during this period the most powerful person in recorded music was the label boss. It was he who decided what music the public listened to and generally, if it didn’t fit his criteria, it didn’t happen! It wasn’t until much later when individuals were given the freedom to experiment with music that disco music finally appeared.

During the mid-sixties and early seventies major black music labels, like the Motown Group (Motown, Gordy and Tamla), Atlantic and Atco, and Stax dominated the soul dance scene and it was when they gave more freedom to individual producers and arrangers like Holland, Dozier & Holland, Norman Whitfield, Arif Mardin, Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and Steve Cropper (from Booker T’s MGs) that the creation of new sounds was to proliferate.

Early success

Since the late fifties Atlantic had been putting out records that achieved some success by black artists like the Drifters, The Coasters, Lavern Baker who’s 1960 song "Bumble Bee" has all the ingredients of being the first disco record (?), Solomon Burke’s classic "Everybody needs Somebody to Love", which lay hidden for years until the Blues Brothers later covered it, and Ray Charles’ double length "What’d I Say", which spawned at least half a dozen cover versions, while the Motown labels had also been having some success with the Miracles ("Shop Around", "Mickey’s Monkey"), Little Stevie Wonder ’s extended "Finger Tips", and The Contours ("Do You Love Me").

The change in attitude in the 60’s enabled these and other labels to reach a much wider audience which enabled many black artists and groups like Otis Reading, Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, The Supremes, The Vandellas, Ike & Tina Turner and a whole host of others to reach a much wider audience.

One of the major influences in the formation of disco music was the Chess Records Group, although they rarely seem to be given the credit for this. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s Chess had been a major player in the blues and r&b field (Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley etc.) and mainly continued in this vein even after the rise of Atlantic and others. During the seventies however, they made a big impact through their Checker, Cadet and Neptune offshoots, in shaping the dance music of the 80’s.

One of the least mentioned but most influential people to bring dance music to a wider audience was Phil Spector. In the 60’s he formed his own label "Philles Records" and released a whole bevvy of great dance tracks by artists like the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love. He was also responsible for the classic Ike & Tina Turner multi-hit "River Deep, Mountain High"

At the same time there were many small labels, as there always had been, struggling to make a living and turning out many classic tracks. Most of these were pure soul music but gradually moved into one of two new directions - disco or funk.

Increasing the tempo

The influence of the Motown sound and the uptempo Atlantic music of Wilson Pickett and others was used by these purist labels to add excitement and energy to soul music. This lead to a much more hectic brand of soul, bringing out the energy of the 60’s and 70’s, and led to an underground surge of music which was known in the UK as Northern Soul. This required a bpm of say 120 to 140, a good kicking snare drum and plenty of hi-hat and percussion. Generally this seemed to be more open to female vocalists than funk (see later).

Good examples of this new sound were Edwin Starr’s 1968 hits "Agent Double O Soul" and "SOS, Stop her On Sight" made for the independent label Ric Tic. Although a lot faster than most of the Motown sounds of the time the overall production was so much like their sound that Motown bought the label out!

One of the factors that made this music stand out was the use of strings to add to the excitement, and Ric Tic excelled at this with their house band, The San Remo Strings, and when Motown bought the label the formula was transferred to the mainstream production.

Of course, all the major labels had their in house orchestras which they employed to great effect mainly on soul ballads through the 50’s and 60’s (although one of the best uptempo string backed tracks of all time has to be the Drifter’s "When My Little Girl is Smiling" from 1962) but their use was gradually diminishing because of the increasing prominence of brass and horns through the 60’s. This new sound of strings for up tempo soul was to provide a huge boost for the string orchestras as they were used more and more on these uptempo dance tracks.

The formation of funk

Generally though this frenetic form of dance didn’t suit most tastes and didn’t become popular until much later. In the meantime mainstream soul music continued at a more sedate pace. In the early sixties artists began making instrumental r&b sounds but added a few extra ingredients.

The main components were a strong bass lead and a ponderous beat, say 90 to 115 bpm with a solid thudding drum sound. This sound was developed through the 60’s and into the 70’s by adding brass. Listen to the change from the 1962 "Green Onions" to Booker T’s protégés The Barkays version of "Soul Finger" from 1967. And, of course, vocals were also added. These sounds were further enhanced by various artists over those years.

A lot of groundwork for this came out of Memphis and was dominated by artists like Booker T and the MGs, who included the innovative Steve Cropper, and who's 1962 ground breaking "Green Onions" was a huge turning point in our story. Others like Willie Mitchell, Ace Cannon and Bill Black’s Combo sound clip (who originally backed Elvis) were developing a similar sound on the Memphis based Hi label.

In 1962 a group called the Mar-keys released a track called "Last Night" on the Satellite label, owned by Jim Stewart of the Satellite Studio and Record Shop. It’s success as a hit spurred the formation of Jim Stewart’s Stax and Volt labels, two of the most prominent labels of 60’s soul. In the band were Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck Dunn" and Wayne Jackson. They were later joined by Booker T Jones and became the backing band for most of the Stax artists through the 60’s and were also the resident tour band. It was this band that developed that distinctive brass sound that came to be heard on most Stax tracks throughout this period and was to have a huge influence on the later funk sounds . Cropper, Dunn and Jones still continued to record as Booker T & the MGs throughout this period.

One of the founding influences in this field was the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, who, under the name of James Brown and the Famous Flames, had been making great deep soul tracks for the King label since the mid 50’s. He later gathered a whole group of fine musicians, originally called the James Brown Band, but later shortened to the JBs. Amongst these was one of the most influential figures in the progression of funk, Bootsy Collins. Also, Maceo Parker, who’s distinctive sax sound led him to later fame with his own group Maceo & The Macks, and Fred Wesley, who later took the Brown band to be known as Fred Wesley and the JBs, after Brown went solo. Brown’s classic 1965 hit "Papas Got a Brand New Bag" was a major turning point in the progression of funk and is still heard today through innumerable samples.

Another big influence was Allen Toussaint who developed a whole new sound of Louisiana rock and soul for the likes of Lee Dorsey and later The Meters. He went on to produce the classic "Lady Marmalade" for Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles (Labelle). There’s an interesting progression through these 3 artists, all produced by the same guy, which charts the change from r&b of the early sixties, through soul of the mid 60’s, to 70’s disco.

From Beatles to Boystown

So far we’ve only discussed black music but what sets disco music apart from other sounds is the tremendous fusion of different cultures and sounds. Although it’s roots are firmly embedded in black music, pure soul and this new brand of funk were just too heavy for the upcoming mainly white audience to let their hair down to in the burgeoning number of night clubs (later to be known as discotheques), and there began a watering down of this heavy sound. This involved the merger of soul with Latin percussion and Jazz influences and a much more "poppy" feel.

Part of this process began in 1964 with the emergence of the British phenomena. Groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones formed a watered down, white version of r&b, and this quickly spread across the world. In particular the Beatles cover of the Isley’s "Twist & Shout" and the Stones original "I Can’t Get No Satisfaction" (covered by Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin among others) were landmarks in the progression toward this watered down sound. If you listen to the difference between the Stones version of "It’s all Over Now" compared to the original version by the Valentinos (who included Bobby Womack in their line up) you will find out that the white audience began to discover soul!

The jazz influence

Jazz based musicians had always had a part to play in popular rhythm music beginning with the rock and roll sounds of the likes of Ernie Fields, Cozy Cole and Bill Justis in the late 50’s. During the 60’s some of these jazz artists started to experiment with this new funkier sound. Very little credit is given for the influence of Richard Evans who’s classic 1979 jazz funk offering on A&M, "Burning Spear", was originally performed by himself under the guise of the Soulful Strings in the late 60’s for the U.S. Cadet label sound clip (a subsidiary of Chess). He went on to produce, amongst others, Ramsey Lewis’s late 60’s Cadet offerings like "If You’ve got it Flaunt It" and "Wade in The water", possibly the earliest examples of Jazz Funk! In 1971 Roy Ayers, who had been recording with Atlantic during the 60’s produced the milestone album "Ubiquity" and later went on to release the classic track "Running Away".

Funk influences

In the mid sixties a guy called Fred Smith, together with one James Carmichael (the Commodores, Atlantic Starr and others) and Charles Wright, put together an LP of instrumental soul tracks under the name of the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band. Included in this was a track called "Spreadin’ Honey" which became the blue print for the band’s style. In 1971 they recorded under the name Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Band. The band included James Gadson on drums, Melvin Dunlap on bass and Monk Higgins and Charles Wright on keys. Their album "You’re So Beautiful" included the classic funk groove "Express Yourself" successfully revived in 1988 by NWA. This was to become the formula for funk as we came to know it through the disco era.

The funk/soul fusion continued from the late 60’s into the 70’s with artists like Jimmy Castor, Gene Dozier, Junior Walker, the highly influential Sly Stone, Don Covay and even Ike & Tina Turner. New labels emerged in the UK like Minit (a subsidiary of U.A.) and Bell, both concentrating heavily on the new funkier soul grooves.

Disco takes shape

It is a popular misconception that disco music started in the gay clubs of America in the late 70’s. True, they were to have a major influence and change the course of events dramatically, but, as we’ve seen, disco music was around, and popular, long before this. It is also assumed that the films "Saturday Night Fever" and "Thank God It’s Friday" were major turning points. They may have been if you were a fan of pop dance music which became known as disco, (or if you were a BeeGees fan), but we’ll ignore those claims! (Incidentally "Saturday Night Fever" was based on a book written about the disco scene which obviously already had to be in existence in order to write about it!).

The definition of the genre known as disco is "anything that is played in a discotheque" which is where the term is supposed to have come from, but this would include the likes of Mud and The Sweet and even Mott The Hoople and I don’t really have much to say about that type of "disco music"! As anyone involved in dance music, either as a fan or in the business, from the end of the 60’s to the mid eighties will remember, there was always someone who would dance to anything, and there were always clubs willing to play anything!

We’ve seen the development of soul, and how it grew funkier. We’ve added a touch of jazz to this, and we’ve seen how the use of studio orchestras added that vital ingredient - the strings. What we haven’t seen is how these ingredients were put together to perfect the ultimate disco groove!

The label mainly responsible for this was to emerge from Philadelphia and was brought about by the merger of the talents of Leon Huff, Kenny Gamble, Thom Bell and later Vincent Montana Jnr. Thom Bell had studied classical piano from an early age and had joined up with Kenny Gamble's group the Romeos in 1959. He later went on to become conductor and arranger on Cameo Records for Chubby Checker, the King of the Twist, and soon became a session pianist with Cameo Records where he first worked with the local soul group the Delfonics. When their manager Stan Watson formed the Philly Groove label in 1968, Bell joined as producer. Bell used his classical training to infuse a whole new creation of lush strings into his productions and when he rejoined Gamble and partner Leon Huff at their newly formed Philadelphia International Records , the classic Philly Soul sound began to emerge. This was to become the major influence on the way soul music developed for nearly a decade and produced some of the earliest disco hits, in particular with the O’Jays.

In 1968 Minit released a track by the O’Jays (who had been together in one form or another since the late 50’s) called "Working On Your Case". Later the O’Jays were to move to the Chess banner under Neptune Records - the original "Sound of Philadelphia". They recorded among others "Deeper In Love with you", arranged by Bobby Martin and produced by Gamble-Huff, which was backed with "I’ve got the Groove" produced by Gamble & Huff and arranged by Bobby Martin and Thom Bell.

Of all the labels to produce disco sounds the most well known and, possibly most influencial, was Salsoul records. In the late 60’s and early 70’s three brothers, Joe, Ken and Stan Cayre had been running an independent company producing Latin American, and in particular Salsa, music, including tracks by Joe Bataan. Bataan had been recording for some time through the 60’s and had a fair sized hit for the Fania label in 1967 with "Gypsy Woman". This track fused the instrumental sounds of Salsa with Joe’s soulful vocals and formed the basis of his next album called "Salsoul" which he recorded for the Cayre Brothers Mericana label (who also released tracks by Silvetti). They employed the talents of composer, arranger, producer Vincent Montana Jr. who got the idea of blending this Latin/Salsa/Soul sound with the Philadelphia string sound he had been working on at Philly International.

This then led the brothers to form the Salsoul Records label and its first single release "The Salsoul Hustle" by the Salsoul Orchestra was a big hit, particularly in the clubs, with its unique sound that was to become the Salsoul trade mark. Vince Montana, Jr. also put together the players that formed the Salsoul Orchestra, many of whom had worked for him at Philly, and included: Don Renaldo; Norman Harris, guitar; Earl Young, drums; ; Ron Baker, bass; Bobby Eli, guitar; and Ron Kersey, keyboards. From this line up came the partnering of Harris-Baker-Young who went on to produce many classic Salsoul tracks.

The Salsoul label started to make great waves in disco circles, particularly in the clubs, which were becoming more and more sophisticated, and were the first label to officially release a 12 inch single (or giant 45) in 1976 - "Ten Per Cent", by Double Exposure.

Norman Harris, meanwhile, had started a new venture which he called Gold Mind Records, and was responsible for signing up two of the most influential acts of all time - Loleatta Holloway and First Choice.

They also spawned some of the most influential mixers and producers, in particular mix DJs Larry Levan, Shep Pettibone, and Walter Gibbons and producer Bunny Sigler who had worked at Parkway Records in the 60’s, a sister label to Cameo where Vincent Montana was working. He had also previously followed Montana to Philly International.

Salsoul and Gold Mind were to go on to produce some of the most known, copied, sampled and remembered disco music ever, and, although the labels have since disappeared (mainly due to poor management by their take-over company RCA) their legacy remains highly influential in today’s sounds.

Disco albums frequently didn't have many tracks -- they had a handful of long songs that kept the beat going. Similarly, the singles were issued on 12-inch records, which allowed for extended remixes. DJs could mix these tracks together, matching the beats on each song since they were marked with how fast they were in terms of beats per minute (BPM).

There were disco artists that became stars -- Donna Summer, Chic, the Village People, and KC & the Sunshine Band were brand names -- but the music was primarily a producer's medium, since they created the tracks and wrote the songs.

Disco music had well and truly arrived. More detailed information in our year-by-year overview.



Year by year overview



SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE release"Dance To The Music." Not one of their best songs, but one of the classic danceable funk hits of the late 60s that were the material in the first "disco" clubs. In this sense, the word "disco" meant dancing to recorded music, rather than live bands.


KOOL AND THE GANG formed (initially as "Kool and the Flames", and before that (since 1964) as the "Jazziacs"), later to become one of the most significant and best-loved disco groups.


JAMES BROWN releases the famous ten-minute "Sex Machine." The extended nature of Brown's work would have considerable effect on disco music, with records being extended specifically so that people could dance to it longer.

The JACKSON 5 shoot to the top of the charts in the US with "I Want You Back." The family would go on to be some of the most popular musical entertainers in the world, not just in the sphere of disco.

In late 1970, Barry and Robin Gibb meet up to try and patch up their differences that have split the BEE GEES since 1969. This is fortunate, for they are to become for many the epitome of disco (even though at this time they were mainly producing soulful ballads).


"Theme from Shaft" by ISAAC HAYES proves to be a great success, spurring on the rise of funk.


"Love's theme", from LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA and ELTON JOHN'S "Your Song", performed by BILLY PAUL, are considered by an incorrect minority to be some of the first "true" disco hits. However, the O'JAYS "Love Train" was a more significant indicator of things to come, combining a "message" song with a groove that was easy to dance to.


"Love's theme", by LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA, an instrumental song, went to the top of the charts.

THE ISLEY BROTHERS are joined by their three younger brothers for the album "3+3 featuring That Lady." The song "That Lady" becomes a funk classic. This group will remain as a sextet until 1984.


Disco by this time had not yet exploded into the mainstream. However, "disco" clubs had become firmly established on the west coast of the USA, and artists started to explore the possibilities of specific "disco" songs.

GLORIA GAYNOR becomes the first disco diva with the hit "Never can say goodbye." Donna Summer releases the album "Lady Of The Night."

ABBA achieved success with "Waterloo".

Kool and the Gang release the funky "Jungle Boogie", later to become famous in "Pulp Fiction."

Several other disco hits are released; THE COMMODORES - "Machine Gun"; SHIRLEY & COMPANY- "Shame Shame Shame"; THE HUES CORPORATION; "Rock the boat", CARL CARLTON; "Everlasting love", CAROL DOUGLAS; "Doctor's orders", BARRY WHITE:;"You're the first, the last, my everything"; GEORGE MCRAE: "Rock Your Baby".


This year is considered by most commentators to be the first true disco year, when disco music started to become a mainstream genre in its own right.

VAN MC COY sells millions of copies all over the world with "The Hustle", the first big disco hit. More than any other, this hit established the hallmarks of disco; mostly non-ethnic music (the main distinction between "disco" and "funk"] and easy- to- learn dance steps.

Kool and the Gang release the "Spirit of the Boogie" LP, featuring the disco gem "Open Sesame", which appeared later on in "Saturday Night Fever." However, at this time K&TG were still concerned mostly with funk, not mainstream disco.

THE BEE GEES are back to the charts with "Jive Talkin'" from the album"Main Course", which proves to be a radical departure from their previous ballad-orientated work. From 1975 on, they steadily grew in importance in the disco scene.

KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND achieve success with "Get Down Tonight", which introduced the concept of the "disco mantra" (hooks that could be shouted out by the dancers).

Earth Wind & Fire, Hot Chocolate and The Trammps have their first disco hits.

The so-called "Euro-Disco" movement appears with Silver Convention's lunatic song "Fly, Robin Fly"

Some other important disco-hits of the year: MELBA MOORE - "This is it"; PEGGY MCLEAN - "Lady Bop"; RETTA YOUNG - "Sending out a S.O.S"; THE SYLVERS - "Boogie Fever"; ABBA - "Mamma Mia"; CARL DOUGLAS - "Kung Fu Fighting".




Motown has its first disco hit: "Love Hangover", performed by DIANA ROSS. She becomes a disco diva.

The Bee Gee's "You Should Be Dancing" marks a further evolution in the group's progress to disco fame.

KC & The Sunshine Band's "That's The Way (I Like It)" continues their hallmarks - use of crashing cymbals, catchy mantras etc. Their lightweight style provokes concern from orthodox funk artists - this could be considered as an early sign of the anti-disco movement that would grow up as disco became a dominant force in music in the late 70s/early 80s.

HEATWAVE produce "Boogie Nights." Although not particularly significant in themselves, the founder of the band, Rod Temperton, would go on to become very influential in disco music, writing songs for George Benson and Michael Jackson.

RICHIE FAMILY with "The best Disco in town" and FIRST CHOICE with "Doctor Love", are the first disco girl groups that achieve notable success.

DONNA SUMMER becomes a diva with her classic album "LoveTo Love You Baby", considered scandalous at the time by moralists such as Jesse Jackson because of the "marathon of orgasms" in the title track.

ABBA is #1 for the first time in USA with "Dancing Queen".

THE ISLEY BROTHERS produce the protest song classic "Harvest For The World."

Produced by GREGG DIAMOND, the ex- X rated movie actress ANDREA TRUE CONNECTION is #1 with "More More More".

TINA CHARLES leaves 5000 VOLTS olts and goes to a solo disco career with the hit "I love to love."

SILVER CONVENTION continue their rise to disco fame with the simple yet compelling "Get Up And Boogie."

Some other important disco-hits of the year: VICKI SUE ROBINSON - "Turn the beat around"; THELMA HOUSTON - "Don't leave me this way"; JESSE GREEN - "Nice and Slow"; BACCARA - "Yes sir, I can boogie"; CERRONE - "Love in C minor"; KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND - "Shake Shake Shake"; BONEY M - "Daddy Cool".


Disco arrives at the cinema, with "Saturday Night Fever", starring John Travolta. As disco reaches begins to reach epic proportions, the Bee Gees becomes the biggest disco band of the planet with the hits "Stayin'Alive", "How deep is your love", "Night Fever" etc.

Tecnho music is born with the wonderful "I feel love", performed by Donna Summer

Chic records their first album, with the hits "Everybody Dance" and "Dance Dance Dance".

Salsoul Records has the first hit, the mediocre "Runaway", performed by Loleatta Holloway.

The first black model, Grace Jones, successfully goes to a singer career with her powerful voice. She has 3 hits in this year, including "La Vie en Rose".

Some other important disco-hits of the year: THE EMOTIONS - "Best of my love"; EARTH WIND & FIRE - "Fantasy", THE TRAMMPS - "Disco Inferno"; CARRIE LUCAS - "I gotta keep dancin'"; UNIVERSAL ROBOT BAND - "Dance and Shake your tambourine", ROBERTA KELLY - "Zodiacs"; JERMAINE JACKSON - "Let's be young tonight"; ODYSSEY - "Native New Yorker", ANDREA TRUE CONNECTION - "NY You got me dancing"; BONEY M - "Ma Baker"; THE COMMODORES - "Brick House"; DAVID SHIRE - "Night On Disco Mountain."


1978 and 1979 were the years in which funk and disco music arguably reached their peak in both quantity of music and development of the genres.

PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC, or P-FUNK, becomes a major force in hardcore funk music, becoming a massive ensemble of artists headed by GEORGE CLINTON.

THE JACKSONS release arguably their fines album, "Destiny." It includes the hits "Blame It On The Boogie" and "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).

The influence of gay culture in disco becomes evident with Sylvester, and the hit "You make me feel", and Celi Bee: "Macho (a real real one)".

Disco is also influenced by gipsy culture, with SANTA ESMERALDA: "Don't let me be misunderstood".

Produced by Jacques Morali, the VILLAGE PEOPLE produce the amusing party favourites "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A".

A Taste of Honey wins Grammy 1978 Best New Artist with "Boogie Oogie Oogie".

Euro Disco movement continues with Patrick Juvet: "I love America", Sheila & B. Devotion: "You light my fire", and USA-European Connection: "Come into my heart".

In the summer of 1978 also in Italy disco music became big. LA BIONDA had a smash hit all over the world; "One For You, One For Me".

Gloria Gaynor is back with one of the biggest disco hits: "I will survive".

Chaka Khan goes to a solo career from Rufus and has the hit "I'm every woman".

In the movies, "Thank God It's Friday", makes Donna Summer the biggest disco star, with the hit "Last Dance".

The movement "Disco sucks", organized by the disco enemies in USA. Fortunately it was not successful, at least not yet...

Some other important hits of the year: KAREN YOUNG - "Hot Shot"; MUSIQUE - "Keep on Jumpin'"; DEE D. JACKSON - "Automatic Lover"; CHIC - "Le Freak"; DONNA SUMMER - "MacArthur Park"; BLONDIE - "Heart of glass"; TAVARES - "More Than A Woman"; VOYAGE - "Souvenirs"; CHERYL LYNN - "Got to be real"; PEACHES & HERB - "Shake your groove thing"; EVELYN "CHAMPAGNE" KING - "Shame; FOXY - "Get Off"; ROBERTA KELLY - "Oh, happy day"; MICHAEL ZAGER BAND: "Let's all chant"; BEE GEES - "Tragedy"; HERBIE HANCOCK - "I Thought It Was You"; DAN HARTMAN - "Instant Replay";


The year of the one-hit disco wonders: ANITA WARD: "Ring my bell", ALICIA BRIDGES: "I love the nightlife", KELLY MARIE: "Feels like I'm in love", CHARO: "Dance a little bit closer", TATA VEGA: "I just keep thinking about you baby", and VIOLA WILLS: "Gonna get along without you now"

MICHAEL JACKSON begins his phenomenal solo career with the Grammy-winning album "Off The Wall" produced by QUINCY JONES.

Donna Summer has 5 hits in this year, including the now-cliched "Hot Stuff".

The youngest disco star, only 16, FRANCE JOLI, has the hit: "Come to me".

Several poignant duets were seen in this year: DONNA SUMMER & BARBRA STREISAND: "No more tears(enough is enough)", RICK JAMES & TEENA MARIE: "I'm a sucker for your love", and EARTH WIND & FIRE & THE EMOTIONS: "Boogie Wonderland".

Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers become famous disco producers. While Chic has its biggest hit: "Good Times", they produced SISTER SLEDGE "We are family", and SHEILA & B.DEVOTION: "spacer".

Rap music is born with SUGARHILL GANG: "Rapper's Delight", based on Chic's "Good Times." (look out history of rap for more information)

Now disco has many girl groups, including LOVE UNLIMITED: "I'm so glad that I'm a woman", and SAINT TROPEZ: "One more minute."

Lipps Inc. is one of the groups of the year, with the rather dubious classic "Funkytown".

More disco from Southern-Europe. JACQUES FRED PETRUS recorded his first disco hits; ‘Walking On Music’, ‘Fire Night Dance’ by the PETER JACQUES BAND, ‘I’m A Man’ by MACHO and ‘Music Man’ by REVANCHE. MAURO MALAVASI was always involved. ‘Give Me A Break’ by VIVIEN VEE (Banana Records) was a smash discoteque hit in the States and Europe. ‘San Salvador’ and ‘Soft Emotion’ by AZOTO are also releases of 1979.

The "disco sucks" campaign gains strength with the "disco-demolition" rally in between two American Football games on 12th July 1979. The fans trashed the field with disco records they hated, forcing the cancellation of the second game and venting their anger at the increasing amount of poor-quality disco music that was taking over the airwaves.

Some other important disco hits of the year: CLAUDJA BARRY - "Boogie Woogie Dancin'Shoes"; DONNA SUMMER - "Hot Stuff, "Bad Girls" and "Dim all the lights"; SHALAMAR - "Second time around"; SISTER SLEDGE - "He's the greatest dancer"; DIANA ROSS - "The Boss"; CHIC - "I Want Your Love"; THE GAP BAND - "Oops Upside Your Head"; THE ISLEY BROTHERS - "It's A Disco Night"; MICHAEL JACKSON - "Off The Wall"; THE REAL THING - "Can You Feel The Force"; THE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION "Turn The Music Up!", and THE WHISPERS "And The Beat Goes On."


The year of "Fame", that presented IRENE CARA, and "Xanadu", with OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN.

KOOL AND THE GANG have a hit with the party favourite "Celebration".

DIANA ROSS, produced by NILE RODGERS and BERNARD EDWARD, has the hits "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down".

THE JACKSONS produce their last major work, the album "Triumph." As well as featuring one of the first conceptual music videos, it featured the hit song "Can You Feel It."

Soul artist GEORGE BENSON ventures into the world of pop (disco) with the superb "Give Me The Night."

LUTHER VANDROSS, with the band CHANGE, begins a brief flirtation with disco through the moody song "Searching."

Some other important hits of disco of this year: STEPHANIE MILLS - "Never Knew Love Like This Before"; S.O.S BAND - "Take Your Time"; SHARON REDD - "Can You Handle It"; VOYAGE - "I Love You Dancer"; A TASTE OF HONEY - "Rescue Me"; TEENA MARIE - "I need your lovin'"; EARTH WIND & FIRE - "Let's groove; AVERAGE WHITE BAND "Let's Go Round Again"; CROWN HEIGHTS AFFAIR - "You Gave Me Love"; THE WHISPERS "It's A Love Thing."


This was the year in which funk and disco music began to collapse under several pressures; the lack of new ideas coming out, the hostility of "hard-core" funk (black) and rock (white) towards "beige" music taking up all their radio airplay; and the nascent "New Wave" movement that would take over the baton from disco to become a major music force in the 1980s.

Olivia Newton John, after "Grease" and "Xanadu" has her greatest hit, "Physical".

The last full P-FUNK album is released, "The Electric Spanking Of War Babies", and is given hardly any support by its record company.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE's "Don't You Want Me Baby" becomes a sign of things to come, doing well in the US and Europe. New Wave music will soon replace disco as the main popular genre.

Other important hits of this year: BOYSTOWN GANG - "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"; BB&Q Band - "On The Beat"; CARL CARLTON - "She's a Bad Mama Jama"; ODYSSEY - "Going Back To My Roots"; KOOL & THE GANG - "Get Down On It"; LUTHER VANDROSS - "Sugar And Spice"; QUINCY JONES - "Ai No Corrida"; GEORGE BENSON - "Never Give Up On A Good Thing";




Sadly for the world, this was the last year in which disco was at all popular as a contemporary musical movement. Funk music was also collapsing as record companies and radio stations had largely "gone disco", thus tarring all black music with the "disco brush", which was fast becoming a liability.

The popular "It's Raining Men" by THE WEATHER GIRLS" was a major disco hit of the year.

MICHAEL JACKSON's second album "Thriller", produced by Quincy Jones, went on the become the best-selling album ever. The song "Billie Jean" is considered by some to be the finest disco song ever produced, but it was clear with songs such as "Beat It" that Jackson had sensed the end was night for disco.

The BEE GEES continued to write for other artists since their increasing rejection by the public. In 1982, Barry Gibb produced Dionne Warwick's superb "Heartbreaker" album, writing most of the songs.


Other major hits: CENTRAL LINE - "Walking To The Sunshine"; EVELYN "CHAMPAGNE" KING - "Love Come Down"; INDEEP - "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life"; PATRICE RUSHEN - "Forget Me Nots"; GALAXY - "Dancin' Tight"; DONNA SUMMER - "Love is in control"; CHAKA KHAN - "Ain't Nobody";


By this time, many disco and funk artists had either disappearaed or were rapidly changing their styles to fit in with new musical fashions.

In 1983 the term Italo Disco was heard for the first time. The German record company of BERNHARD MIKULSKI published their first double album of the serie "Best of Italo Disco". I think they invented the word ‘Italo’. Of course ‘Italo’ is known in the meaning of ‘coming from Italy’. But the MIKULSKI-company created that first combined term; ITALO DISCO.

1983 was also the summer of ‘Dolce Vita’ by RYAN PARIS (Disco Magic 117) and ‘Vamos A La Playa’ by RIGHEIRA (CGD 15091) thanks to Spain and Italy. The Italo-virus spread as holidaymakers brought that summerhits back home. There was no way back. Italo had conquered a lot of European countries. More songs were released and became hits. Not only in Italy, but also over the frontiers; ‘I Like Chopin’ and ‘Love in your eyes’ by GAZEBO, ‘Happy Children’ by P. LION, ‘I Want You’ by GARY LOW, ‘Somebody’ by VIDEO, ‘Happy Station’ by FUN FUN, ‘Hypnotic Tango’ by MY MINE, ‘The Night’ by VALERIE DORE…….


ABBA split in 1983, although to be honest they were never really a disco or a funk group (they are percieved by most laymen to be in the category of "70s music", which as I have explained is not the same as funk/disco).

The follow up the "Saturday Night Fever", "Staying Alive" was a poor film and the soundtrack went largely unnoticed, despite some good performances by the Bee Gees with songs such as "The Woman In You."

LIONEL RICHIE, now on his own from THE COMMODORES, still showed some of his old style with his album "Can't Slow Down" which included the still-popular disco hit "All Night Long."

THE ISLEY BROTHERS got their act together again to make their final notable album "Between The Sheets."

RUFUS AND CHAKA KHAN got together once more to release the poignant funky hit "Ain't Nobody."




Surprisingly, despite the fact that disco was basically dead by now, several disco artists made spirited last efforts, althought they changed their styles slightly. KOOL AND THE GANG had their last hit, "Fresh", and CHAKA KHAN had a smash hit with "I Feel For You."

THE ISLEY BROTHERS sextet ended in this year as the younger trio left the group. The older three kept recording on their own.

After the controversial ( though very successfu l) world tour for their "Victory" album , Michael Jackson finally left The Jacksons.

GLORIA ESTEFAN AND THE MIAMI SOUND MACHINE produce "Dr Beat", a distinctly disco-esque song.

THE COMMODORES, or what remained of them, produced a final big hit with "The Nightshift."


1985 - 1987

In 1985 the collaboration "USA For Africa" group brought together many former funk and disco (mainly black) artists and performed the song "We Are The World."

In 1986, O' Kelly Isley died tragically of a heart attack, effectively ending the Isley Brothers as a group.

In 1987, KOOL AND THE GANG ceased to exist when lead singer, James Taylor, left to work on his own.

THE JACKSONS released their final album, "2300 Jackson Street", in 1987, but this was not recieved well and the group dwindled.

DIANA ROSS, a key "disco diva" produces a disco-esque smash hit with "Chain Reaction" in 1985 - it is written by, and features, the Bee Gees, who have started producing songs for other artists since their apparent rejection by the public.

GEORGE BENSON, LIONEL RICHIE and LUTHER VANDROSS have by this time adapted their soul to the 1980s sound, thus effectively saving their careers from the ignominy of those artists who stuck with disco and funk for too long.


Disco today

Some disco artists are still on tour and survived: Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Bee Gees, Earth Wind & Fire, The Village People and Teena Marie.

Rumour has it that both The Commodores (including Lionel Richie) and The Jacksons (including Michael) may reunify to play some concerts.

Many popular disco songs have been "covered" by dance music groups, and prove wildly popular. In a similar vein, many black artists, such as Mase, have covered funk songs. All this constitutes a type of disco survival.

Disco didn't die -- it mutated into a variety of different dance-based genres. Each genre has it’s own story. Read everyting about it in the other chapters in the history of dance music :



Rhytm & Blues

Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. R&B kept the tempo and the drive of jump blues, but its instrumentation was sparer and the emphasis was on the song, not improvisation. It was blues chord changes played with an insistent backbeat. During the '50s, R&B was dominated by vocalists like Ray Charles and Ruth Brown, as well as vocal groups like the Drifters and the Coasters. Eventually, R&B metamorphosed into soul, which was funkier and looser than the pile-driving rhythms of R&B.

List of Key Artists :

Ray Charles

Fats Domino

The Drifters

The Neville Brothers

Aaron Neville

Rufus Thomas

Ike Turner

Larry Williams



Motown is one of the few record labels that created a sound and style so distinct that it became known as a genre onto itself. For most R&B and pop fans, the sound of Motown is instantly identifiable -- a strong backbeat supported with bouncy bass lines and soulful vocals. It was R&B, but with a pop production and written with a sense of pop craftsmanship.

List of Key Artists :

Michael Jackson

Gladys Knight

Martha & the Vandellas

Diana Ross

Edwin Starr

The Supremes

Mary Wells

Mary Wilson



Soul music was the result of the urbanization and commercialization of rhythm and blues in the '60s. Soul came to describe a number of R&B-based music styles. From the bouncy, catchy acts at Motown to the horn-driven, gritty soul of Stax/Volt, there was an immense amount of diversity within soul. During the first part of the '60s, soul music remained close to its R&B roots. However, musicians pushed the music in different directions; usually, different regions of America produced different kinds of soul. In urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the music concentrated on vocal interplay and smooth productions. In Detroit, Motown concentrated on creating a pop-oriented sound that was informed equally by gospel, R&B, and rock & roll. In the south, the music became harder and tougher, relying on syncopated rhythms, raw vocals, and blaring horns. All of these styles formed soul, which ruled the black music charts throughout the '60s and also frequently crossed over into the pop charts. At the end of the '60s, soul began to splinter apart, as artists like James Brown and Sly Stone developed funk, and other artists developed slicker forms of soul. Although soul music evolved, it never went away -- not only did the music inform all of the R&B of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, there were always pockets of musicians around the world that kept performing traditional soul.

List of Key Artists :

James Brown

Ray Charles

The Chi-Lites

Sam Cooke

Roberta Flack

The Four Tops

Aretha Franklin

Marvin Gaye

Al Green

Isaac Hayes

The Isley Brothers

The Jackson 5

Ben E. King

Curtis Mayfield

Harold Melvin

The O'Jays

Wilson Pickett

Otis Redding

Smokey Robinson

Sly & the Family Stone

The Spinners

The Staple Singers

The Supremes

The Temptations

Dionne Warwick

Barry White

Bill Withers

Stevie Wonder


Philly Soul

Philly soul was one of the most popular forms of soul music in the early '70s. Building on the steady groove of Hi Records and Stax/Volt singles, Philly soul added sweeping strings, seductive horns, and lush arrangements to the deep rhythms. As a result, it was much smoother -- even slicker -- than the deep soul of the late '60s, but the vocals remained as soulful as any previous form of R&B. Philly soul was primary a producer's medium, as Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff and Thom Bell created the instrumental textures that came to distinguish the genre. That isn't to short-change the vocalists, since the Spinners, the O'Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and the Stylistics were among many fine soul singers with distinctive voices, but the sonic elements that made Philly soul distinctive were the creation of the producers. Gamble & Huff worked with the Delfonics, Archie Bell, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and the O'Jays; Bell produced the Spinners and the Stylistics, among others. The highly produced sound of Philly soul paved the way for the studio constructions of disco and urban contemporary R&B.

List of Key Artists :

Kenneth Gamble

Leon Huff


Billy Paul

People's Choice

Lou Rawls

The Spinners

Three Degrees



As soul began to experiment with rock textures in the late '60s, funk emerged. Funk kept the groove of soul but made it deeper. It also added a greater reliance on improvisation, much like the blues-rock and psychedelia of the era. James Brown and Sly Stone were the godfathers of funk -- Brown's funk was stripped down and spare, while Stone's was wilder and drew more from rock & roll. George Clinton, the leader of Parliament and Funkadelic, was the next great funkster. Clinton expanded Stone's blueprint, adding wild conceptual fantasies derived from the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper and the counterculture humor of Frank Zappa. But the main signature of Clinton's music was how he kept working one groove, how he kept jamming over a deep bass line and adding instrumental breaks. Most of the funk bands of the '70s picked up on the groove, not the concepts, though funk and hip-hop groups in the '80s and '90s would expand on both the sound and the concept.

List of Key Artists :


Brass Construction


George Clinton

Bootsy Collins


Con Funk Shun

Dazz Band

Fatback Band


The Gap Band

Rick James



The Time

Bernie Worrell


Johhny Guitar Watson





Disco marked the dawn of dance based popular music. Growing out of the increasingly groove-oriented sound of early '70s and funk, disco emphasized the beat above anything else, even the singer and the song. Disco was named after discotheques, clubs that played nothing but music for dancing. Most of the discotheques were gay clubs in New York, and the DJs in these clubs specifically picked soul and funk records that had a strong, heavy groove. After being played in the disco, the records began receiving radio play and respectable sales. Soon, record companies and producers were cutting records created specifically for discos. Naturally, these records also had strong pop hooks, so they could have crossover success. Disco albums frequently didn't have many tracks -- they had a handful of long songs that kept the beat going. Similarly, the singles were issued on 12-inch records, which allowed for extended remixes. DJs could mix these tracks together, matching the beats on each song since they were marked with how fast they were in terms of beats per minute. In no time, the insistent, pounding disco beat dominated the pop chart, and everyone cut a disco record, from rockers like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart to pop acts like the Bee Gees and new wave artists like Blondie. There were disco artists that became stars -- Donna Summer, Chic, the Village People, and KC & the Sunshine Band were brand names -- but the music was primarily a producer's medium, since they created the tracks and wrote the songs. Disco lost momentum as the '70s became the '80s, but it didn't die -- it mutated into a variety of different dance-based genres, ranging from dance-pop and hip-hop to acid house and techno.

List of Key Artists :

Bee Gees

Boney M


Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band

Gloria Gaynor

K.C. & the Sunshine Band

Van McCoy

Vicki Sue Robinson

Sister Sledge

Donna Summer


Village People


Jazz Funk

Jazz-funk, also called soul-jazz, funky jazz, or just plain funk, is a form of jazz that originated in the mid-'50s. It is often played by small groups -- trios led by a tenor or alto sax, pianist, or Hammond organ. Funk music is very physical, usually "down and dirty." The funk style emerged as a reaction to the "cool" jazz prevalent at the time. Funky music is everything cool jazz is not -- it is hot, sweaty, and never strays far from its blues roots. Fast-paced funk pieces have a bright melodic phrasing set against a hard, percussive dance rhythm. During the mid 70’s this combination together with disco beats led to a sound which proved to be mainstream (and succesfull).

List of Key Artists :

Tom Browne

Central Line

Light of the World



George Duke

Quincy Jones



Quiet Storm

Quiet Storm refers to a laid-back, romantic variation of soul that emerged in the late '70s. Taking its cue from Al Green's smooth, seductive early '70s records, Quiet Storm kept the sentiment of Green's music and added disco production techniques, such as synthesizers and strings, as well as adapting the unobtrusive dynamics of soft-rock.

List of Key Artists :

Atlantic Starr

Anita Baker


Stephanie Mills

Teddy Pendergrass

Luther Vandross

Grover Washington, Jr

Deniece Williams



Hi-NRG is a fast variation of disco that evolved in the '80s. Driven by a fast drum machine and synthesizers, Hi-NRG was essentially a dance-oriented music with only slight hints of pop. There would be a few hooks -- generally sung by disembodied vocalists wailing in the background -- but the emphasis of the music, like most dance music, was in the beat. Hi-NRG was a predecessor to techno and house, which drew from its beats in decidedly different ways. House had a funkier, soulful rhythm, while techno expanded with the mechanical beats of Hi-NRG.

List of Key Artists :

Hazell Dean

Evelyn Thomas

Miquel Brown




Italo Disco

In 1983 the term Italo Disco was heard for the first time. The German record company of BERNHARD MIKULSKI published their first double album of the serie "Best of Italo Disco. Of course ‘Italo’ is known in the meaning of ‘coming from Italy’. But more previous than the year 1983 there was already Italo Disco made. The difference is it wasn’t called that way. It was just discomusic out of Italy. In the late seventies we already saw some names of producers and composers at record-labels, we know from the Italo-scene of some years after that. Examples are LA BIONDA ("One For You, One For Me") from 1978 and ‘San Salvador’ by AZOTO from 1979. Well know producers from that period are JACQUES FRED PETRUS and MAURO MALAVASI.

1983 was the best Italo-year ever with summer-hits like ‘Dolce Vita’ by RYAN PARIS and ‘Vamos A La Playa’ by RIGHEIRA (thanks to Spain and Italy). The Italo-virus spread as holidaymakers brought that summerhits back home. There was no way back. Italo had conquered a lot of European countries. More songs were released and became hits. Not only in Italy, but also over the frontiers; ‘I Like Chopin’ and ‘Love in your eyes’ by GAZEBO, ‘Happy Children’ by P. LION, ‘I Want You’ by GARY LOW, ‘Somebody’ by VIDEO, ‘Happy Station’ by FUN FUN, ‘Hypnotic Tango’ by MY MINE, ‘The Night’ by VALERIE DORE…….

In 1984 the succes story continues with a lot of producers starting to make covers in Italo style. But in 1985 when house music was coming over to Europe the euro-disco didn’t survive on the dancefloor.


List of Key Artists :

Fun Fun

Gary Low



Ryan Paris

Silver Pozzoli


Tony Esposito

Vivien Vee







Dance-pop was an outgrowth of disco. Over a pounding, dance-club beat, there are simple, catchy melodies -- dance-pop has more fully-formed songs than pure dance music. Dance-pop is primarily a producer's medium. The producer writes the songs and constructs the tracks, picking an appropriate vocalist to sing the song. These dance divas become stars, but frequently the artistic vision is the producer's. Naturally, there are some major exceptions -- Madonna and Janet Jackson have had control over the sound and direction of their records -- but dance-pop is music that is about image, not substance.

List of Key Artists


Ace of Base

Duran Duran


Frankie Goes to Hollywood


George Michael

Pet Shop Boys



Euro dance is dance music that is made in Europe It is lightweight, studio-constructed pop with catchy melodies and an insistent, repetitive beat. Euro dance draws heavily from disco, but it makes it more mechanical and synthesized.

List of Key Artists

Army of Lovers

2 Brothers on the 4th Floor


Twenty 4 Seven