Pea soup, pea soup, pea soup

We all have our sordid little secrets.

Here’s one of mine.

I like disco music!

Kindly note that disco dancing is something else all together.

I dance as well as Stevie Wonder performs brain surgery.

But disco music…that’s different!

Like so many musical trends – glam, punk, electro-pop, indie, etc – I came to it a while after it was at the height of its popularity and, in the case of disco, by a rather roundabout route.

Having got fed up with gigging and not making serious dosh, I applied for and got a very well-paid gig playing guitar with a club band. They worked all sorts of places – British Legions, workingmen’s clubs, social clubs, sports clubs, night clubs, company bashes, promotions, corporate hospitality events and weddings.

Prior to that I’d usually been the sole melody player or lead guitar to someone’s rhythm guitar, but now I had to learn to play with a keyboard player in the band.

Due to the keyboard player (the late Graham Bond’s cousin, no less!) covering the lower middle and middle frequencies with synth pads – sustained chordal sounds to fill in the backing and create a full sound– I had to ‘sit’ on top so my chords were seldom open or power chords. Instead, I had to play little 3 or 4 note chords in a higher register than the keys were occupying.

It was a real learning curve, but as the band played a fair amount of disco I had to master the style and I came to love it.

If you listen to something like a disco standard, there’s a hell of a lot going on. Take ‘Boogie Wonderland’ by Earth Wind & Fire.

 

There’s the drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, horn section, string section and vocals all with their own distinctive parts and all meshing together to create this very busy but nevertheless very direct and propulsive whole.

It’s ensemble playing at its finest in pop and rock and – in its own way – a neglected work of pop genius.

Here’s another great disco act – Chic:

 

.The way that Bernard Edwards on bass and Nile Rodgers on guitar work together is simply amazing and has never been bettered. OK, Rodgers may not be a flashy player, but just listen to the guy – there’s some very complex little fills and chord riffs that are played in an almost ‘throwaway’ manner, but the track needs them to keep the groove going.

Even the most mundane and cliched disco track often has something in it that makes it ascend – in spite of its cheesiness – to some sort of well-crafted dignity:

 

Yes, like me, you probably heard it back in 1865 and thought, ‘What a piece of shit’.

Yes, but it’s a shiny piece of shit – just listen to the lines the strings play. Nowadays, those lines would probably be created totally through computer software, but back then it was played by a real string section and arranged by someone who could write music.

It also has that classic hi-hat sound – described by XTC’s Andy Partridge as ‘pea soup, pea soup, pea soup’ – and when the then XTC drummer Terry Chambers employed it for ‘Generals and Majors’ it wasn’t in a mocking way.

 

Note also the cunning way that you have disco drums with a ska beat…

To conclude, here’s another of my favourites:

 

It’s just a shame it’s not the 11 minute album version.

Burn, baby, burn…disco inferno…burn the mother down…

And why the fuck not?

And are there any more sordid little musical secrets?

‘Fraid so…

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2 Responses

  1. Those are good calls Steve, but there are many other gems in the “disco” catalogue. “Shame” by Evelyn Champagne King remains an all time favourite of mine. It’s one I played a lot back in the days of being a mobile disco and hospital radio DJ. There’s some really good playing on it with several guitar lines. You’re right to pick Bernard/Edwards as the cream of the crop though. If Spotify works for you over there, have a look for “Southern Freeez” by Freeez and perhaps “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey. Great disco music – where would the basslines be without octaves? 🙂

  2. Indeed, Andrew, my choices were the tip of the iceberg.

    There’s all the Philly stuff as well as Georgio Moroder’s productions, especially the later Donna Summer tracks – the less synthy ones that is.

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