Friday, September 30, 2022

Helen Reddy (1941 - 2020)

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Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy was born in Melbourne in 1941 to show biz parents. Her mother was actress and singer Stella Lamond and her father, writer-actor-comedian Max Reddy. Her older step sister, actress-singer Toni (Lollie Legs) Lamond almost brought her up as her parents were too busy performing. She had her first curtain call, aged four (Tivoli Theatre in Perth WA) and over the ensuing years learned “the craft“ performing live, acting, dancing and singing. Little Helen Reddy worked her way through local radio and television before she won a talent contest of Bandstand which enabled her to move to the United States in 1966.

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She moved around at first until she was signed by Capitol Records in 1970. Her first U.S. hit (1971) was a cover version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "I Don't Know How To Love Him" (from Jesus Christ Superstar). But it was her next single which was to establish Helen as an international star and forever connect her to the song, which she co-wrote with another Australian, Ray Burton. The lyrics were written to reflect the positive self-image Helen gained from joining the women's movement. "I am strong, I am invincible," which were ideal for '70's women redefining their role in the evolving political and social climates of that decade.

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Interestingly at first, the single flopped and “I hate the song, but my wife makes me play it” became many DJs’ favorite disclaimer as they reluctantly spun the vinyl. When, heavily pregnant the singer hit the promotion trail and made 19 TV appearances singing the anthem the women of America voiced their approval and, the song was adopted by the women’s movement. "I Am Woman" earned a Grammy Award for Female Pop Vocal Performance and at the awards ceremony Helen make history by concluding in her acceptance speech by famously thanking God "because She makes everything possible". Helen Reddy had arrived as was an international success. "I Am Woman" more recently was transformed into a jingle for a well known sport shoe franchise, indicating how important the female market is and the acknowledgement women are strong and are invincible.

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Country singer Tanya Tucker had a country hit with Delta Dawn and the song attracted Barbra Streisand’s producer Tom Catala but when the diva refused to sing it. Helen got the chance. The version was also released by Bette Midler but the radio jocks preferred Helen’s version and gave it airplay suffice the single made #1 in the US. More successes followed and when Cher turned down written by Alan O’Day called “Angie Baby,” Helen was given the opportunity to record it and it became her third U.S. #1 single. The cryptic lyrics of "Angie Baby" became part of its attraction.

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At the height of her fame in the late 1970s, Helen Reddy was a headliner with a full chorus of backup singers and dancers to standing room only crowds on The Strip in Las Vegas. Reddy's opening act was the then up and coming Joan Rivers. She worked both on stage and the screen, with roles in Airport 1975 and Walt Disney's Pete's Dragon (in which she sang "Candle On The Water,"), as well as numerous television series.

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Although now retired she did return to her theatrical roots several musical stage productions including Anything Goes, Call Me Madam, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She is also known for her appearances on Broadway and in the West End of London in the musicals Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine. In 1974 Helen became a naturalized citizen of the United States but never forgot her Australian origins. Her work kept her Stateside, but she has made many trips Down Under to perform. In 1973 she was supported by Ross Ryan and two years later Peter Allen was her support on her tour of Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. In 2000, now resident in Norfolk Island, she came to Sydney to headline the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras concert 'Celebration of the Female Voice'. At the height of her fame she encouraged a young Olivia Newton-Joan to the US and Olivia’s film breakthrough came when she was offered the female lead in Grease (1978), after a chance meeting with producer Allan Carr at a party at Helen Reddy's house in Los Angeles.

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Helen was one of the most successful female recording artists of the Seventies and had three U.S. #1 singles. She sold more than 15 million albums and 10 million singles, and was the first Australian-born performer to win a Grammy award. Apart from the phenomenal success Helen was most proud of a tulip named for her in Holland and she grew the reddish-violet bulbs in her garden in Norfolk Island. In her later years she suffered from Addison’s disease and dementia. The Diva died on 29th September 2020 in Los Angeles, aged 78.

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Reviewed 01/10/2022

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Status Quo

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The Spectres were a London-based beat group which formed in 1967 with Francis “Mike” Rossi (vocals, lead guitar) and bass player Alan Lancaster (1949-2021) their core members. John Coughlan (drummer) joined the line-up which was complete with Roy Lynes (organ). After a trio of unsuccessful singles the band changed its name to Traffic Jam and concentrated on mod psychedelia but their early efforts were no better.

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Ricky Harrison (aka Rick Parfitt – rhythm guitar and vocals) formerly with the Highlights, joined the group in 1967, and they changed their name to Status Quo. As well as pursuing their solo career Status Quo did backups for many UK acts including Liverpool’s Tommy Quickly.

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Their debut single "Pictures of Matchstick Men," was written by Francis Rossi and quickly moved up the UK top 20 charts in 1967. The single also sold well in the US.

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The group were now considered ‘bubblegum,’ and followed up with "Black Veils of Melancholy," which attracted no interest whatsoever, but their next single "Ice in the Sun," (written by Marty Wilde), became a top ten hit in 1968.

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Sticking with the same successful bubblegum rock formulae the next two releases flopped. Organist, Roy Lynes left the band and the Quo took a new direction into heavier bluesy boogie rock fusion. The single "Down the Dustpipe" again saw the Quo in the charts.

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The album Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon featured the Quo in hard rock mode and although it went almost unnoticed it did landmark the band’s metamorphosis from Mod psychedelia to Rock.

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The Quo were never as heavy as Led Zepplin but did present a popular front to the musical genre. Now kitted in jeans and kickers the Quo embarked upon a series of UK college and festival dates which won them a loyal following with their live performances. In 1972 they appeared at the Reading and Great Western festivals and were outstanding. Vertigo Records signed them and their first single "Paper Plane," another Rossi composition was a top ten hit.

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The album, Piledriver also topped the album charts and their other singles of 1973, Blue eyed lady (Hello) and Caroline were hits. You can hear John Coughlan’s drumming on Rossi’s ‘Caroline.’

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Andy Bown (formerly Herd and Judas Jump) joined the group as their unofficial keyboard player and the hits kept coming with their formulaic uncomplicated, unpretentious and infectious rock music. The band even became Royal favourites and appeared by Royal Appointment on several occasions for Lady Diana. John Coughlan left in 1981 to form his own group, John Coughlan’s Diesel.

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He was replaced by Pete Kircher (former Original Mirrors). Divisions within the band saw Alan Lancaster resettle to Adelaide, Australia, which made it difficult to have the band together. Alan finally left after performing at Live Aid in 1985.

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The separation was acrimonious but Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt carried on with new group members, John ‘Rhino’ Edwards (bass), and Jeff Rich (drums) with Andy Bown, now officially the group’s keyboard player. The new Quo continued their run of hit singles and albums throughout the eighties playing to packed audiences in the UK and Europe. In 1994, the group had a surprise number one hit in the UK with the football anthem "Come on You Reds" which was recorded with the football champions, Manchester United.

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Both Rossi and Parfitt contributed to the classical Quo portfolio with many of their hits written by Francis Rossi in collaboration with Bob Young (harp and roadie) and Bernie Frost; Rick Parfitt wrote with Andy Bown and Lynton. Alan Lancaster also made a major contribution to the group’s writing credits. In 1997 Rick had a quadruple bypass followed by a cancer scare but was able to recover suffice the Quo continued to perform. Between 1968 and 2004 the group scored 61 chart successes. In December 2016, Rick Parfitt died from sepsis following an infection of a pre-existing shoulder injury. Francis Rossi continued in the music business with several projects and released an album with Hannah Rickard called We Talk Too Much (2019). Alan Lancaster passed away in 2021 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.

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Worth a Read
Rossi F 2019 I Talk Too Much: My autobiography Little, Brown Book Group

Worth a listen

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Reviewed 29/09/2021

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Jimmy McCulloch (1953-1979)

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Related Site
Kippen C (2022) Maggie Bell and Stone the Crows Cameron K's blog

Monday, September 26, 2022

Etta James (1938 - 2012)

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Jamesetta Hawkins was born in Los Angeles, California in 1938. Her mother was fourteen and the singer always claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Rudolf Wanderone, ("Minnesota Fats"). the legendary pool player. During her early life her mother Dorothy, was often absent and young Jamesetta was brought up by her relatives and friends. She grew especially close to her foster mother, Lula "Mama Lu" Rogers who appeared to recognize her gifted voice. Aged five, Jamesetta sang solo with the St. Paul Baptist Church's Echoes of Eden choir under the watchful eye of the musical director, Professor James Earle Hines. In 1950 aged 12, her foster mother died, and Jamesetta went to live with her mother in San Francisco. There she became a wild child and was eventually expelled from school. Her refuge was music, and aged 14 she had formed the doo-wop group Creolettes with two other girls. Johnny Otis, heard them and recorded an Etta James composition which was an answer to Hank Ballard's hit, "Work with Me, Annie."

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Originally entitled “Roll with Me Henry," the song was renamed "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" and released as sung by Etta James and the Peaches. It became an instant R&B hit when it was released in 1955.

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Later the song was covered by white singer, Georgia Gibbs and became a massive hit on the pop charts.

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None the less the success of Wallflower brought the marvellous voice of Etta James to the wider public and Etta James and the Peaches went on a nationwide tour of the US with Little Richard. The follow up "Good Rockin' Daddy" gave the group their second 1955 chart success but soon after Etta and the Peaches parted company.

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Despite dwindling record sales Etta continued to tour sometimes appearing as Miss Peaches during this time she shared the limelight with many of the contemporary rock’roll luminaries as well as Jazz singer, Billie Holliday. Often on tour she took her pet monkey long before Michael Jackson and Bubbles. In 1960 she signed to Chess Records and the R & B hits soon followed starting with "All I Could Do Is Cry," quickly followed by "My Dearest Darling."

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Working with Jerry Wexler she developed a jazzier style which led to a string of hits starting with "At Last" (1961).

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Leonard Chess groomed Etta James for cross over Pop success and backed her recordings with string instruments. "Trust in me," gave her a second successful single and the gospel inspired, "Something's Got a Hold on Me" (1962) completed the trifecta for the versatile contralto.

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(Video Courtesy: Etta James by Youtube Channel)

During this time, she recorded duets with Harvey Fuqua (lead singer of The Moonglows) and Sugar Pie DeSanto as well as backing vocals including, “Back in the USA" by Chuck Berry.

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This was the zenith of her recording career and more hits followed as Etta James demonstrated a broad stylistic range recording material from straight blues, romantic ballads, and jazz to pure pop. On the negative side an escalating disruptive social life complicated by addictions and abuse literally stopped her recording between 1964 and 1966. The soul album Call my name (1967) marked her return to the studio and the single “I prefer you” reached the lower end of the top 50 singles in the US.

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Later in 1968, she returned to a more basic gut-bucket blues style and with guitarist Paul C. Saenz recorded the Tell Mama album which contains, the fabulous, "I'd Rather Go Blind."

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Although she continued to have R&B hits into the 70s by this time popular styles in music had changed and she lost her cross over pop appeal. Etta was a major concert attraction however, and stayed with the Chess label until it folded. On reflection while she enjoyed much success at Chess label the artist felt cheated and artistically constrained. In 1974 Etta James entered a drug rehabilitation program and only once she won her fight with drugs and alcohol was she able to gradually rebuild her career. By the 80. Etta was back performing in small gay clubs and recommenced her recording career. She continued to break new barriers by singing hip-hop as well as reprising many of her classic R&B and soul songs. In 1996 she enjoyed her last chart success in the UK, with the Muddy Waters song "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" which had been used in television commercials.

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Etta continued to record and perform but in 2009 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Two years later she was diagnosed with leukemia and the illness became terminal and Etta James passed away in 2012, She remains one of the greatest R&B and soul performers of the Age.

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Reviewed 27/09/2022

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Brief History of Louisiana Music

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Musical styles in Louisiana vary considerably and traditionally reflect the different people that settled and worked in that part of America. At first European settlement brought Spanish then French speaking people who integrated with the indigenous American Indians. Later, slaves from Africa added to the population then after 1803 when the United States bought the French Territory (the Louisiana Purchase), English-speaking Anglos and African-Americans flooded in. The rich blend of European, African, and Amerindian cultures around New Orleans forged into four main music styles e.g. Cajun, Creole, Zydeco and Jazz.

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The Cajuns were French speaking people exiled by the Brits from Acadia (Nova Scotia, Canada) in the late 1700s. They resettled in New Acadia, Louisiana and today Cajuns represent the largest French speaking community of the Americans. The Acadian’s music is ostensibly French but with both British and Native Americans influences. Early balladeers sang mouth music (without accompaniment) and the fiddle was used only for dance music. Clapping and stomping were added later to gave rhythm. Improvisational singing, common to 19th century slave music, was combined with the rhythms and singing styles from Native Americans. At first the Spanish guitar, and fiddle featured but German accordion were later adapted when they were tuned in C and D. The accordion became the mainstay of Cajun music. In the era prior to amplification the combination of accordion and a high pitched vocal carried well across the crowded dance floor. Amédé Ardoin (a creole musician) became a very influential figure in the 20s and set the pattern of Cajun music.

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By the 30s Cajun bands incorporated western swing and bluegrass and the accordion was dropped in preference to steel guitars. After the war, German accordions became available again and Iry LeJeune brought back the original sound of Cajun.

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Creole originally referred to French-speaking Catholics of an African American background. The term was also applied to West Indies, Central and South Americans, and people from the Gulf States region and now Creole usually refers to people who live in the older "downtown," area of New Orleans which includes the French Quarter (Vieux Carre). Creole music drew on the same French traditions as Cajun music but was influenced more by African music and the rhythms of the Caribbean, or the soulful melodies of the blues or a combination of these sources. Jurés or sung dances is a style of melody singing found both in West Africa and the West Indies and Creole dance songs are built around a refrain rhythm that enables the group of singers to make music. Played in homes and at family gatherings it was thought to have less commercial appeal although Creole musicians were particularly disciplined with many of educated and able to read music. Sadly Creole music is no longer played nor do many recordings exist.

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All New Orleanians love food, music, drinking and most of all dancing and in the 50s, once the commercial potential for rock 'n' roll was realised, Cajun and Creole musicians started to produced their own style of pop dubbed swamp pop. The subgenre was a mixture of rock’n’roll, rhythm and blues and country. Songs had highly emotional vocals, simple, unaffected lyrics, against honky-tonk pianos, bellowing sax sections, and a strong rhythm and blues backbeat. Swamp pop ballads were usually melancholic with undulating bass lines, climactic turnarounds, and dramatic breaks. Bill Haley and the Comets' cover version of "Later Alligator," had originally been Swamp Pop hit. Other notable examples were Dale and Grace's "I'm Leaving It Up To You," and Johnny Preston's "Running Bear," which all score number one hits in the US.

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Meantime the Chenier brothers Clifton (accordion) and Cleveland (washboard, corrugated tin with spoons and bottle openers) blended blues, R&B, jazz and Creole together and had a hit with "Ay-Tete Fee" ("Hey, Little Girl") in 1955.

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The new music genre was called Zydeco and line ups included accordion, frottoir (a rub board with shoulder straps), guitar and drums. Zydeco rarely includes fiddle and has continued to attract new fans. Louisiana immigrants to California brought their influence to the West Coast, as evidenced by Rockin' Sidney Semien's "My Toot Toot," in 1984.

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Paul Simon has been the most notable mainstream pop person to include Zydeco into his repertoire but slow hand, Eric Clapton is also a fan.

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As people moved to New Orleans they brought their own musical traditions and instruments to the city which became known as the dance capital of America. At the end of the Civil War brass bands were vogue and the polarity of the minstrel’s shows with syncopated singing never more popular. Soon ethnic ragtime was incorporated into march repertoire and tunes like ‘When the Saints go marching in,’ became all the rage at market and festivals.

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As the 20th century approached dance bands and orchestras softened the brass sound with stringed instruments and "dirty" music, or jazz, became all the rage in the Roaring 20s. Before severe segregation laws were implemented many two tone bands played together with Creole musicians combing uptown improvisational style with the more disciplined Creole approach in the form of Dixieland Jazz. Bands had a new standard front line of; cornet, clarinet, and trombone which gave a characteristic polyphonic sound ideal for the new order of dance. The band was complete with a "rhythm section" of at least two of the following: guitar or banjo, string bass or tuba, piano, and drums.

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Moving from string to swing made jazz more popular and the migration of Dixieland musicians to cities like Chicago and New York saw the popularity of the music style spread. In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jass Band cut the first commercial jazz recording while playing in New York.

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By the '30s swing had replaced the Dixieland Jazz craze as the new jazz order. Dixieland Jazz was later revived in the '40s which brought many of the originals out of retirement but by the '60s UK Trad Jazz bands like Dutch Swing College Band, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen took Dixieland once more into the charts. The revivalists were known as Moldy Figs which was once a derogatory term used by ‘be bop/modernists’ for enthusiasts of New Orleans and earlier forms of jazz.

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Reviewed 25/09/2022

Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Dance music : The end of disco

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Disco originated in the US as an underground dance scene in early to mid 1970s. Nightclubs mainly catering for young gays and minorities filled with people listening to DJs playing imported dance music on records from independent labels. When popular films like Saturday Night Fever (1977) featured disco music and presented a heterosexual image, this helped popularize disco in the United States.

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Dance-oriented disco would become the most popular music genre in the United States. Now mainstream etablished white artists better known for their sedate music had disco-influenced hits. The worldwide success came as a shock to the established music industry and moguls of pop who were ill prepared for a new order. Success brought contempt as a an anti-disco movement gained momentum.

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By the end of the decade younger people were encouraged to rediscovered simple rock music played live and reject the sophisticated sounds of studio and disco music. In quick order a counter-movement against disco music spread throughout the United States as it became cool to hate disco.

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By mid-1979 anti-disco sentiment had reached a fever pitch when the Chicago White Sox held a "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park. Chicago deejay Steve Dahl had campaigend to end Disco for weeks on his show before organising the event inviting people to bring their unwanted disco records to the game and watch them burn. The DJ was bitter after losing his job at WDAI station when his employer organised the station to go an all-disco format. Fans carrying records gained entry to the stadium at much reduced prices (98 cents) and 60,000 fans turned up although most with little interest in baseball. Billed as a double geader (two games), the Chicago White Sox versus the Detroit Tigers drunken fans threw their disco records at each other and at the players on the field. Some threw firecrackers, empty liquor bottles, and lighters onto the field. The game was stopped several times because of the rain of foreign objects. During the interval Dahl dressed in army fatigues and a helmet drove a Jeep around the field while the fans chanted "Disco sucks! Disco sucks!" Crates filled with more than 1,000 disco records were detonated in the outfield, ripping a hole in the grass. A riot ensued as players ran for cover, fans jumped the fences, stole the bases, toppled the batting cages, and tore up the infield. The playing field was so damaged by the explosion and by the fans that the White Sox were required to forfeit the second game to the Tigers.

( Disco Demolition Night Image via )

In the same year a number of anti-disco incidents took place elsewhere showing "the Disco Demolition" was not an isolated incident or an aberration. Major radio stations were inidated with their listeners protesting when they dared play disco hits.

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The backlash and record burning episodes were reminiscent of The Beatles Burn In (1966) when two disc jockeys at radio station WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama took exception to a report John Lennon had said during an interview, “The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.” Outraged they orchestrated a drive to ban Beatles music from the airways and encouraged listeners to throw away or burn the group’s records. They also called for a “Beatles Burn-In,” to correspond to the Beatles tour. Other radio stations followed suit as anti-Beatles sentiment grew. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were quick to join the protest and held a “Beatle Bonfire” at a cross burning. Despite Lennon been quoted out of context and misconstrued in the original interview little attention was paid to actual events. The Fab Four were at the height of their fame at the time and eventually Lennon apologised for the incident but not before hundreds of their records were destroyed.

(More popular than Jesus Image via Groovy History )

Social historians remain divided what actually led to the demise of disco. Some citing the mechanical nature of the music itself whilst others determined to link it to social change and homophobia. In truth no one knows but the zeitgeist of the times did play a major part. Post Vietnam (1975), America wanted to shrug off the Nixon Era and let their hair down. A bludgeoning ‘thirty something ,’ with money to burn went out to celebrate and in a celebrity worshiping culture had to do it where they could rub shoulders with the rich and famous. What better venue than exclusive discotheques. Dance clubs had previously been associated with gay people and minoritites and were not without notoriety. Post Stonewall riots (1969) many people were attracted to the idea of small club venues with pounding beat and a flashy dancefloor. The new trend for cocaine regardless of its illegal status and more liberal society with emphasis on sex made up-market discos like Studio 54 (1977) alluring places to go to and be seen.

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The moral indignation that eventually followed marginalised the music of this new decadence.

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The popularity of disco in America declined significantly in late 1979 and 1980. Many disco artists reverted back to their underground roots and carried on recording dance music. Like most fads, disco was kept alive in Europe and made a cool comeback to influence pop music in the 80s, 90s and beyond.

(Video Courtesy: Pet Shop Boys by Youtube Channel)

Pet Shop Boys. More Information
Kippen C (2022) A mini history of disco CameronK's blog

Burn the Beatles ! 1966: Bigger than Jesus? Pop History Dig 2022
Jones A & Kantonen J (2011) Saturday Night Forever: The History of Disco Mainstream Publishing
Stllman W (2000) The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterward Farrar Straus Giroux