Disco Demolition Night – 30 Years Later
Written by admin on July 12, 2009
It was 30 years ago on the date of this post that a Chicago White Sox promotion became a controversial part of music history and a landmark in time.
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The Chicago White Sox wanted to bring more people into its Comiskey Park home and teamed up with area DJ Steve Dahl, who is given credit for the term “Disco Sucks” which adorned bumper stickers and t-shirts all over America at the time, to dream up the idea of “Disco Demolition Night.”
The Disco Demolition Night took place between two games of a doubleheader on July 12, 1979 against the Detroit Tigers where listeners to Dahl and others were encouraged to bring in disco records to be blown up in center field after the end of the first game. Those bringing in the vinyl were let into the game for 98 cents. The idea seemed like it was all in fun, but went awry as Dahl, who did not have an engineering degree, didn’t realize that part of center field would blow up with the records and make Comiskey unplayable for the second game. Worse, the hoard of non-baseball fan drunks in the stands would run into the field and destroy it. The idea might have been all in fun, but it became a media spectacle and might have been a public relations nightmare had it been done in the whiny PC 1990s.
The aftermath of Disco Demolition night saw Sox promoter Mike Veeck unfairly blacklisted from working in Major League Baseball again (he became a promotions genius in the minor leagues, where his talent was probably more needed) and the White Sox had to forfeit game two of the doubleheader and Steve Dahl remained popular and can be heard here today.
While all involved will admit the promotion went less well than expected, there still seems to be mass confusion, mainly caused by the mainstream media and extremist political punditry, about the purpose and importance of Disco Demolition Night. The Left side of the media spectrum (which, like today, was quite vast) and KC (of the Sunshine Band) took advantage and tried to claim “racial overtones” to the event, with some calling the overall backlash against Disco music as an attack on black culture and gay pride, forgetting the large amounts of straight whites who liked the genre and frequented clubs to dance to the disco beats. Like today, if a segment of people in the U.S. disagreed with certain powerful people they were denounced as “racist,” “anti-gay” of something similar. Unlike today, with less of the other side of the story being heard through outlets like talk radio and the internet, those claims usually went unchecked and imbedded in the minds of the average American. In truth, the minimizing and polarization of “Disco Demolition Night” virtually hid the truth about the backlash against disco and the significance of the Dahl/Veeck idea.
Disco Demolition Night gave voice to the several people who disliked disco for reasons including the following:
- It’s overall lack of creativity aside from a very few “masters” of the genre who remain timeless
- The prevailing “politically correct” notion that rock and roll was primarily white music and considered “uncool” by industry suits
- The sucking of the soul out of funk music and disco’s ignorance of the hard work of the great black artists (Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Issac Hayes, etc) who brought their unique style to mainstream America.
- Disco was merely a passing fad anyway and becoming quite boring to the public.
Disco’s generic people-pleasing lull-fest not only parodied the great black artists of the era, but almost eliminated originality and creativity from the mainstream radio stations, which would eventually happen a decade later anyway thanks to disco’s predecessors from the “suits:” formulaic “R&B/Urban” and “Gangsta Rap.” Today, there are many commentators who would have us believe that racism and hatred of gays was behind the fall of disco and the “Disco Sucks” movement, but it was truly a natural reaction combined with industry executives attempting to make the art of music more of a science.
Despite not gong as planned and the ensuing media “coverage” and and conventional wisdom surrounding its intentions, Disco Demolition Night’s important time-stamp in music history must not be overlooked. After that night, disco sales started to fall until disco became a distant memory about a year later in favor of more creative forms of music which were more underground at the time such as new wave, punk and what was then called “power pop.” Radio listeners began demanding something different from what the music and broadcast industries were offering, resulting in the birth of KROQ, WLIR and other legendary “new music” stations. Disco Demolition Night showed Americans who were unhappy about how popular music trends and what was to be played on the radio were being dictated to them learned they were not alone. The “followers” who were sucked in by disco seemed to be tiring of it already anyway, making room for the new set of dance club greats like the B-52s, Robey, Alphaville and ABC. Rock music came back to life as well as modern and classic rock radio formats re-dominated the standard ratings lists. MTV was born and became a great promoter of rock and new wave artists. Some of the great 70s rockers (Slade, The Doobie Brothers, Elton John, etc) tweaked their styles and enhanced their already legendary status. Without Disco Demolition Night, we may not be listening to the great classic alternative music of the 80s on our show today.
It would be several years later when the industry suits and politically correct types would come back and destroy music again. Hair bands of the 80s, generic post-disco repetitive club music, female human sirens to appease soccer moms and pretty boy bands would be their backlash against those who stood up to them on Disco Demolition Night and times thereafter. Radio corporations even found a way to water down the “alternative” format by mislabeling its mainstream “grunge rock” to that moniker, thereby forever changing the definition of the format.
While today there will be several posts referring to Disco Demolition Night as “racist,” “gay-hatred” and “anti-whatever,” the true significance of the record-destroying promotion needs to be seen more objectively as a backlash against the watering down of creativity and the subsequent rise of the music we still love today.
Louis On July 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm
Stupid & uninformed article. Read Love Saves The Day by Tim Lawrence.
Steve B. On July 13, 2009 at 4:04 am
Good analysis. Too many dosco-lovers today denounce the event as “racist” or with “racial overtones.” They don’t look at it from other perspectives
admin On July 13, 2009 at 4:45 am
Thanks for the comments…
Steve: The prevailing politically correct school of thought remains that any anti-disco sentiment was a sort of “acting out” against what they deemed as black cultural music or gay-friendly music when, upon further research, one realizes that 70s funk and soul were bastardized by the inferior and watered-down disco dance beats of the late 70s, effectively setting back a style of music that was at its peak before industry executives found a lowest common denominator.
Louis: While I always welcome dissenting opinions, it would seem that I touched a nerve as you simply (in a classic example of “we mock what we do not understand) denounce the editorial as “stupid” and “uninformed.” Then, without backing it up, you refer to a whole book by a dance music historian (read: someone else). Underground dance music was not the same as the mainstream disco that was being spewed on the radio at the time and, quite frankly, a bunch of kids hopped up on LSD, PCP and/or liquor of choice will (quoting The Dead Milkmen): “dance to anything.”
Seriously, though, in looking at your blog it would be obvious that your point of view is coming from someone who loves dance music. While honorable, as not everyone loves classic alternative, the point of the article was missed: Disco Demolition Night was an historic time-stamp in music history and had an effect on the music and radio industries overall — at least on a temporary basis and that the prevailing opinion that the event was “racist” of “anti-gay” was a phony assault from the developing PC Thought Police, which also lost steam for nearly a decade.
Louis On July 13, 2009 at 11:54 am
I don’t like to get into big disputes with strangers on the internet.
“â€œwe mock what we do not understand”
Judging from this article I reckon I understand a lot more about ALL of the various genres from the time than you.
When disco became really commercial then yes, it clearly had detrimental effects on creativity in music at the time. You, as many people do, seem to associate disco with the likes of the bee gees / abba etc. These acts decided to try the “disco” sound for the wrong reasons ie to make money & be commercially successful.
Many, many musicians made “real disco” in the period up to the late 70s, and even into the early 80s, that was genuine, groove based music, which is influenced directly by motown / soul / funk. I can only assume you don’t know any of this music, otherwise you would surely have a different opinion.
Disco music & its subsequent club culture has changed the world positively in many ways, too many to get into here. Disco music has influenced many genres of music since, which have brought happiness to millions of people.
“Discoâ€™s generic people-pleasing lull-fest not only parodied the great black artists of the era”
Real, genuine disco WAS MOSTLY MADE BY THE GREAT BLACK ARTISTS OF THE ERA.
I could be here all day…
Can you please answer me this question honestly,
have you ever heard of a man called David Mancuso?
admin On July 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm
Calm down guy, you don’t need to yell.
I do get wary of those who need to express themselves in capital letters while not capitalizing band names and one who needs to tell me how much more he understands about all the music genres of the area before displaying the opposite.
The real problem here is that you do agree with me. Disco is the commercialized form of the underground dance music of the era. While you claim to know this Mancuso fellow so well, why are you lumping his DJ work with the disco you so dislike (which is what I criticized here as well as Dahl and his listeners)?
I respect that you appreciate alt-dance of the late 70s, but it was not the underground stuff that killed disco, it was the suits who tried to dictate what artists should and should not get exposure. This was something that was tried several times before: the early 1960s saw a bland form of music being manufactured to teens of those years (thanks to Dick Clark and other industry types) only to see the British Invasion end that reign of terror. The late 1960s pop music was watered down until FM radio began and offered listeners the chance to hear better Motown/Soul music and more creative rock, which led to the 70s becoming the de facto “heyday” of Rock and Soul until the disco era cam and people were dancing to the same sound and the glowing ball when executives took control of the genre. Please refer to my interview with Stan Ridgway on how listeners revolted from the bland sounds of that era (across the music board) and clamored for something new.
Execs took over again in the late 80s, bringing to a more listless public the likes of boy bands, Celine Dion, etc (refer to the “Kyle Troy” character in the movie “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine” as the symbol of that move. At this time, radio and music industry execs have a choke-hold on who gets played and what gets exposure. They tried for decades until success was achieved.
Maybe another record-exploding party is what we need now.
As far as underground dance, as the expert you claim to be it would be a wonder as to why you would defend the mainstream disco as opposed to abhor what it represented.
Louis On July 13, 2009 at 3:36 pm
“Disco is the commercialized form of the underground dance music of the era” – incorrect.
Take out the “commercialized form of the” bit & you’re right (until about ’78 / ’79).
It was 1978 / 79 when it became very mainstream & commercial with films like Saturday Night Fever & Thank God It’s Friday being largely responsible. The word disco should be, but isn’t associated with the soulful music from say ’68 to roughly ’78. Instead it is associated the commercial stuff from the end of the 70s. It’s impossible to put exact years on anything because “genuine disco” & the commercial stuff both existed together towards the end of the 70s.
“While you claim to know this Mancuso fellow so well”
C’mon man, I didn’t claim that for a second. To reiterate
“Can you please answer me this question honestly,
have you ever heard of a man called David Mancuso?”
(obviously you’ve googled him at this stage but..)
He djed many different genres at his Loft parties during the 70s, including “genuine disco”, and set the template for nightclubs & club culture around the world today. My point being that disco was not a “merely a passing fad” it was something much more important & beautiful than that. It brought together people from many different social backgrounds, ethnic monorites , sexual preferences etc (at Mancuso’s Loft) but is consistently misrepresented as awful commercial crap from the mid – late 70s.
“why are you lumping his DJ work with the disco you so dislike ” – I’m not ??
“I respect that you appreciate alt-dance of the late 70s” –
just to be clear, I’m talking about American dance music from roughly 1968 – 1984, but we can forget about 1980 – 1984 as disco was allegedly dead at this time. Prelude records mean anything to anyone?
“listeners revolted from the bland sounds of that era”
perhaps dumb rock music fans did?
The community of DJs & music lovers would have continued happily if not for the commercialization of the disco sound by suits.
“until the disco era came”
I suppose my most important point is that disco didn’t just turn up out of nowhere in 1978. It existed for years before that & was a force for good until the suits cashed in.
“as the expert you claim to be it would be a wonder as to why you would defend the mainstream disco as opposed to abhor what it represented”
em… I don’t recall defending mainstream disco.
Louis On July 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm
“more creative forms of music which were more underground at the time such as new wave” – ludicrous statement.
New Wave is clearly influenced by disco, especially European stuff, mainly from Italy ie italo disco.
“the subsequent rise of the music we still love today”
Believe it or not, some people still love a whole lot of music that was created from the late 60 through to the mid 80s.
Louis On July 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm
I said I could go on all day!
I find it bizarre (only checked out your radio show just now) that you play “alternative dance music” and seem to be fairly, not completely, but fairly in the dark about its origins.
admin On July 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm
Okay, we get it. You are the musical genius around here and know the origins of new wave and all genres of music. You love disco and anyone who does not knows little about all forms of music.
You have also proven it quite well with your opinion-based assertions.
I would suggest some research outside your own box might be helpful if you wish to continue attacking those who do not agree with your point of view.
Louis On July 14, 2009 at 4:01 pm
Just backing up my first comment about the article being stupid and uninformed.
You haven’t entered into any kind of real discussion dude, instead you’re merely pointing fingers and accusing me of all sorts of nonsense.
“You love disco and anyone who does not knows little about all forms of music”
Don’t know where you got that. Surely my point is clear –
Disco is relevant, simple.
I don’t know why I’m wasting my time when you claim my point is
“anyone who does not [like disco] knows little about all forms of music”.
Surely I have made my point clear?
Little of what I have said is opinion based dude.
“I would suggest some research outside your own box might be helpful if you wish to continue attacking those who do not agree with your point of view”
I have made a number of points, none of which you have responded to. I have responded clearly to many of your statements. If anybody is attacking anybody it is you, by ignoring every point I make & using childish sarcasm
“Okay, we get it. You are the musical genius around here”
Anything unfavourable I have said I have said with reason & relevant quotes, which is more than can be said for you.
If anybody needs to do some research it’s you man! You claim play “alternative dance music” – the irony is hilarious.
admin On July 15, 2009 at 10:32 am
Seriously, I enjoy intelligent debate as much as anyone else but I have nor received any from you aside from emotional clamor. The post simply touched a nerve. You are offended that people did not like disco at the time.
I get enough of the stupid an uninformed you claim that I am by reading your responses to this post and thread. I see that you can parrot some things about music on your blog, which is nice, and i appreciate your visiting here so many times. Seriously, I like your blog and may or may not disagree with some of your points if you made any. This is just what happens when someone sticks their neck out with an editorial.
For the future, and please remember I welcome you back any time, this free research primer will help:
1. There will always be differences of opinion when it comes to musical tastes and any editorial.
2. While you have listened to a small sample of my show, you are entitled to your opinion. I have been in radio long enough to know that not every one will agree with me or like what I put out there. A playlist must always be well thought out.
3. I have, in fact, argued with your kind before: the kind who states his/her own opinion as fact and all others are too stupid to realize that you are right (even if you believe something akin to the old wives’ tale that maggots actually are produced from rotten meat rather than the scientific argument that flies lay eggs in the rotting meat). WHile fun, it is counter-productive.
4. Rather than calling people you disagree with “stupid and uniformed,” it might be wise to treat others with a degree of respect. You run the risk of exposing your own ignorance and lack of information (yes, Louis, you did that).
5. …and not all dance music has to have a “rumpa-rumpa” beat under it. 🙂
You are still a person with an opinion and, while understandably offended, we might have come to an interesting discussion otherwise without you pulling the tired methods of the “keyboard warrior.”
As for your claiming that I know little on the subject of music (at least compared to your vast knowledge as you claim), the truth is: Some people have to keep telling me how much they know, some just know.
Thank you and I welcome a clean slate and honest debate if you are able and willing to do that.
Louis On July 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm
“emotional clamor” ha ha!
We might have come to an interesting discussion if you had actually responded to any of my points. Instead you decided to try belittle me and put words in my mouth which is childish.
All the best.
admin On July 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm
You need to be called out on that last comment. It was you who chose to belittle the post by calling it “stupid and uninformed.” There were no words “put in your mouth” and your infantile original post proved that you could not get into a mature debate.
I will only honestly debate posters who are respectful. Writing that something is “stupid” and “uninformed” simply because you do not agree with it put notice on us that you came here to belittle and not be constructive. Granted, I should not have gone to your level, but the history is on this thread: you used childish terms to describe something that set your emotions off. You can try to revise history all you want, yet you did initiate this level.
Had you posted something akin to “I disagree with this because ____________” or “You are way off, Chris… Here’s what I think ________________,” or maybe “Chris, you are way off base here. This is why… ”
Instead, you chose to hurl spite and insults. It was funny, however, that you decided to attempt to turn the nose on me on that one and figuratively cover your ears and scream by saying “I’m out.” That, sir, is childish.
Let the record show also that we welcome intelligent debate when it is initiated and we frown upon childish insults being thrown around. This thread proves that statement (although, admittedly, I should not have sunk to that level in response).
Louis On July 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm
OK I agree that my first comment wasn’t particularly constructive. For that, I do apologise. But I did go on to attempt to justify it. To which I expected some relevant responses. Instead I got a barrage of insults / sarcasm
“You are the musical genius around here and know the origins of new wave and all genres of music”
“You love disco and anyone who does not knows little about all forms of music” – I did not say or suggest this for a second.
The reason I said “I’m out” is because I see this going absolutely nowhere. I saw that a few posts ago when you just ignored each of my comments & focused on trying to make me look foolish.
Granted you have said you shouldn’t have “sunk to my level”, you certainly didn’t get involved in any kind of discussion bar your response beginning “Calm down guy” (followed by petty dig re capatization of band names), which I found vague & not all that relevant.
If you wanna read back and actually respond to any of my points I’m happy to stick around.
admin On July 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm
It seems the only thing we have truly proven to each other is that we all should listen to each other when it comes to issues and idea. I could have looked past the first comment as well.
I offer an olive branch of peace and wish you the best. Life is too short to get uptight about some quick comments (that goes for both). There are no winners in insult wars; that is why many of our nations are in the mess they are in now.
I welcome you back any time to offer your opinions and insights on dance music or anything else you wish to comment on.
Thank you (sincerely) for coming back to the blog.