Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Forgotten Disco Music of the High 80s

In the film Adventureland, which is set in 1987, there's a great scene when the characters go to a club, the kind of cheap, unpretentious place playing percussive, yet non-techno dance music that seems to have died off since then.  I was too young to ever have frequented such establishments at the time, although I did go to something like it in my hometown years later.  Since the city of my birth is rather behind the times, it still has a skeevy dance club playing pop music of the likes once common in the Reagan Era (the club, not the music.)  The place is called "The Slammer" because it has bars on the outside, for maximum skeevy charm.  I danced to some R. Kelly there once in the early 2000s, rather than Sheena Easton.

Back around 1986, the start of a period I call the High 80s because it seems to embody most of our stereotypes about that decade, I really dug the kind of dance music played in these kind of clubs, even if I was way too young and had I been of age too squeamish to set foot in one of them.  This music was literally "disco" music, in that it was made to be played by DJs in discotheques where people danced.  Of course, disco was a dirty word at the time, reminiscent of the lameness of the preceding polyester decade.  (This dislike of all things seventies was rather strong in the eighties.)  Nevertheless, this music had the combination of catchy melodies and funky rhythms that made disco so popular.  A lot of these stuff seems to have disappeared into the memory hole, so I think it's high time to give it its due.  Below are some of my favorite High 80s club tracks.

Shannon, "Let the Music Play"

This song appears in the aforementioned scene in Adventureland, and for good reason, since it's dance a song from the 80s about looking for love at an 80s dance club.  (How meta!)  Unlike a lot of other pop music of its day, it's got some musical chops, and Shannon sings with real heart.

Nu Shooz, "I Can't Wait"

This to me is the sound of the summer of 1986, and it forever will be, for better or worse.  ("Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles is a close second.)

Level 42, "Something About You"

If Simple Minds ever wanted to get funky and slap some bass, this is what they'd sound like.  God help me, but I can't seem to stop humming this tune of late.  Perhaps it's the distinctive falsetto background vocals.

Eddie Murphy, "Party All the Time"

I just loved skating to this jam at the roller rink back in the day. It's one of the best celebrity vanity singles ever, mostly because super-funky Rick James is laying down the tracks. (I wonder how much blow was snorted at this recording session, perhaps enough to rival Fleetwood Mac.)

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