Wednesday, January 23, 2013

131 Saturday night fever. Disco Inferno

Album: Saturday Night Fever
Artist: Various
Year: 1977
Genre: Disco


1. Stayin' Alive (Bee Gees)
2. How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees)
3. Night Fever (Bee Gees)
4. More Than a Woman (Bee Gees)
5. If I Can't Have You (Yvonne Elliman)
6. A Fifth of Beethoven (Walter Murphy)
7. More Than a Woman (Tavares)
8. Manhattan Skyline (David Shire)
9. Calypso Breakdown (Ralph MacDonald)
10. Night on Disco Mountain (David Shire)
11. Open Sesame (Kool & the Gang)
12. Jive Talkin' (Bee Gees)
13. You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees)
14. Boogie Shoes (KC and the Sunshine Band)
15. Salsation (David Shire)
16. K-Jee (MFSB)
17. Disco Inferno (The Trammps)

It's worth taking a few minutes to examine how staggeringly massive this album was. It was released in 1977 and was still in the Billboard charts in 1980. That's three years as one of the biggest selling albums in the United States. It's an incredible achievement and while it might be topped by Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (which stayed in the charts for 15 years) it spent 24 straight weeks in the number one spot (something Dark Side only managed for a single week). For almost half a year there wasn't a single album which sold more than Saturday Night Fever. It's an achievement which we don't see replicated anymore. We think an album is a monster if it tops the charts for a few weeks in a row and if something manages to stay around for more than a few months it's considered enormous.

Saturday Night Fever was such a phenomenon because it perfectly captured a movement. The movie and its soundtrack captured the spirit of the Disco craze and inspired millions to covet the white pants, jewellery and glittery lifestyle they portrayed. Meanwhile those who weren't moved by Disco were starting to coalesce into another movement inspired by a mutual loathing for all things mirror ball. Punk grew in part because of  a reaction against the bright lights and slickness that was coming out of discotheques  Saturday Night Fever deserves credit for helping to inspire Disco and Punk in equal doses, it deserves to be recognised as an important cultural moment.

Thirty years later Disco has become dance/techno/house and Punk has become whatever Greenday are so how do we judge Saturday Night Fever? How do you assess a cultural artefact now that the culture has died?

In my case not especially well, mainly because the Bee Gees are incredibly irritating. I know it's not popular to dislike them now that two of them have died and we're supposed to hail them as musical geniuses but the truth is they really were awful. That falsetto voice thing is one of the most cloying musical trends ever. Stayin Alive has a cache of kitch appeal for those who are nostalgic for an era but the rest of us it's a musical smack around the head that we could do without. The same goes for Night Fever and How Deep is Your Love which just make me shudder.

The good news is that it's not all bad. There's a great track on Saturday Night Fever called A Fifth of Beethoven which is a funky disco reworking of Beethoven's Fifth. A discofied classical music sounds like a genuinely terrible concept but the truth is it's just the right side of fun and really works. I couldn't listen to an entire album of disco classics but it works as a once off.

If you love the movie and want to relive the experience of watching it in your own home then the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack deserves a place on your shelf. If you love Night Fever  and Stayin Alive then any of the many Bee Gees compilations have their contributions to this album without all the filler tracks that nobody really needs to hear twice. For the rest of you I'd recommend giving A fifth of Beethoven a listen and leaving the rest of it back in the 1970's.

Highlight: A fifth of Beethoven
Lowlight: Anything falsetto

Influenced by: Disco
Influenced: People who really hate disco

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "White polyester suits. The Bee Gees. John Travolta. It's all here. Be afraid. Be very afraid."

-Succinct. Very Succinct.

So did you catch the fever or not? Let me know below.

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