Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Birth of the Suck

Over at Cliopatria, Manan Ahned pointed a website out to Ralph Luker that is soliciting opinions about why Disco sucked.

I could be the Disco apologist. The basslines could be proficient and energetic; the arrangements were complex; and the lyrics were no less idiotic than other popular music of the day. And when rock musicians attempted Disco, they could craft some excellent singles. Except for "I was made for loving you" -- that sucked.

The digs against Disco, however, resemble those against Cool Jazz. Cool Jazz was the feminine, caucasian, West Coast bastardization of what should be a late night, improvised, urban, hard-blowing, black, sweaty music. Cool Jazz was the commercialization of Jazz, standing opposite from Hard Bop. To make matters worse, albums by Brubaker, Bill Evans, and (worst of all) Chet Baker usually outsold African-American musicians who identified with the music (granted that the occassional work by a Coltrane could hit the charts). So what if Miles Davis put out the Birth of the Cool, Sketches of Spain, and Kind of Blue, the staples of the Cool Jazz record collector (if there were such a thing).

Cool Jazz could be complex and thoughtful. The arrangements harkened back to the big band era, slowing the tempo but using innovative combinations of horns and unique instrumental textures. Later records experimented with classical forms and, in some cases, complete improvisation. Some great cats came out from under the Cool Jazz label -- Charles Mingus, anyone? These qualities would find their way into Free Jazz, which (arguably, but only if you are a Marsalis brother or Stanley Crouch) took over the Jazz avant garde from Hard Bop.

If Disco : Soul :: Cool Jazz : Hard Bop, perhaps Disco is not as bad as people remembered. Elements were absorbed by Post Punk. However, Disco still sucks.

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