Disco Music’s reputation had been damaged by the Disco Sucks campaign in the USA and Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in July 1979. Combined with a sneering attitude in most of the music press to disco at the time, and a lack of interest from the major record companies in disco music thereafter, disco faded somewhat from chart success and popularity in the mainstream public’s attention in the early 1980s.
However, club music and disco was not dying in the early 80s, but remained fashionable underground in nightclubs and discos around the world, and was evolving in numerous directions.
One evolution of dance music in the early 80s was led by Bobby Orlando in New York, Patrick Cowley in San Fransisco and Lime in Canada, amongst others, who began to produce a less funky, but more percussive and synthesizer led type of dance music, mostly released on small independent record labels, and which found some success on the American Billboard Dance Club Charts. Whilst in Italy, DJs and musicians were creating dance music for Italian discos and nightclubs in their own style, and would soon become maketed as ‘Italo Disco’ in several European countries.
In Britain this particular development of disco was largely ignored by the major record companies, the music press and national radio stations, and this disco evolution rarely made any impact on the UK charts. Occasionally a disco track would emerge from the darkness of the discos into the mainstream, such as Ryan Paris’ 1983 top 5 hit, “Dolce Vita“, and The Weather Girls “It’s Raining Men“, which got to number 2 in the UK charts in the summer of 1983.
In Continental Europe, on the other hand, disco continued to be much more popular in the early 1980s. Italian, German and Dutch produced disco tracks were widely promoted to the mainstream public in Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Spain and sometimes Scandinavia with Righeira, My Mine, Fun Fun and others having top 10 hits in these territories – but sadly very few of these tracks would get a release on a British record label.
Italian producers and musicians had been making their own form of disco since the late 1970s. As fewer disco records were being released by the major international record labels in the early 80s, and the fact it was quite expensive to import American and Canadian releases into Italy, Italian DJs, producers and musicians continued to create disco music to cater for their domestic club scene. Synthesizers meant disco tracks could be made relatively inexpensively without the need for numerous professional session musicians. Despite the success of Italo Disco throughout Continental Europe, it remained an enigma in Britain where it was mostly ignored, although New Order and The Pet Shop Boys both subsequently acknowledged the influence of Italo Disco in their musical output.
In Britain, among the few places you could hear this kind of high energy American, Canadian, European and Italian produced disco music in the early 80s was in the gay clubs. The opening of the first gay super club in Britain, Heaven in London in 1979, was to become one of the driving forces in promoting high energy disco in the UK in the early-mid 1980s. Long time resident DJ Ian Levine at Heaven advised the club’s management on the club’s music policy and sound systems right from the start. Ian Levine would remain one of the leading DJs at Heaven throughout the 1980s, and was one of the first DJs to bring American style beat-mixing to Britain.
Levine had been hugely impressed by the legendary Saint nightclub in New York, and did his best to replicate the atmosphere of The Saint and its music policy at Heaven. In Ian’s own words “There never was a club like The Saint. There never could be again. It was unique in the history of disco music. The best ever. …..the Saint was my blueprint for Heaven… The Saint was about beautiful music”.
Levine stated that Linda Clifford “Don’t Come Crying to Me,” Phyllis Nelson “Don’t Stop The Train” Marlena Shaw “Touch Me in the Morning,” Thelma Houston “Saturday Night Sunday Morning,” Sam Harris “Hearts of Fire” and Technique “Can We Try Again” were among the musical bench marks he brought back from The Saint to play at Heaven. British DJs like Ian Levine relied heavily on American, Canadian and European (especially Italian) import 12 inch singles to play in the early 80s, as there was virtually none of this high energy disco being produced in Britain at the time.
Having evolved from Boystown Disco of 1980-1982, Hi-NRG disco became “melodic, straightforward dance music that’s not too funky.” It borrowed heavily from the influence of producers and musicians such as Giorgio Moroder, Cerrone and Gino Soccio. The NME music journalist Simon Reynolds wrote: “The non-funkiness [in Hi-NRG] was crucial. Slamming rather than swinging, Hi-NRG’s white European feel was accentuated by butt-bumping bass twangs at the end of each bar.”
I cannot bring my own personal experience to what was happening in 1982-1983 in discos and nightclubs, as I was still locked away at boarding school, and didn’t experience the thrill and excitement of nightclubbing and current disco trends until halfway through 1984 once I had left school. Until then, I was cocooned in the Scottish countryside – both at at home and at school, miles away from anything, and completely unaware of that there was a thriving underground disco scene.
In the early 80s my musical tastes were fashioned by what I heard on the radio and what my siblings and my friends at school were playing on their record players and tape decks. At the time Abba and Blondie were pretty much the sum total of my musical experience. I loved each and every one of their albums and played them all to death, but not being musically very adventurous, I was definitely not at the forefront of musical trends in the early 80s.
However, once synth pop and the New Romantics began to make their mark on British pop music my musical tastes began to widen, with groups like ABC, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Yazoo, The Eurythmics and Visage becoming part of my small record collection. My ear ears were opening to the wonderful possibilities of dance-like syntheziser rhythms and sounds. I also discovered that some of my favourite songs were being released in extended versions on 12 inch singles, which meant I could savour additional minutes of the music I loved. I was thrilled to learn that there was an extended version of Abba’s “The Visitors” (by far and away my all time favourite Abba song) that, according to the Abba fan magazine I read avidly back in 1982, was hugely popular in Boystown Discos (although it would take me another 30 years to track down an original copy of the Disconet DJ subscription only remix for my record collection!).
One thing I knew very little about was disco or dance club music, except of course those big chart hits from the end of the 70s some of which, notably the productions coming from the likes of Giorgio Moroder or Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, engaged my young ears.
The Top Of The Pops TV programme sometimes gave me a further tiny taste of what might be going on in the outside world on the disco scene. Indeed, a few disco cuts from 1982 and 1983, including Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, Shalamar’s “Disappearing Act” and Donna Summer’s “State Of Independence” made it into my slowly growing record collection at the time, possibly hinting at how my musical tastes would later develop!
When I first started going to clubs in July 1984, I had no inkling I would fall so much in love with this High Energy disco sound, nor that it would become one of my lifetime passions. I have always liked fast paced rhythmic music (I was never into ballads, prog rock or punk!), so the fast up beat tempo, powerful drum beats, percussion and pounding bass found in early 80s disco, along side well crafted and produced tracks, accompanied by soaring vocals and catchy choruses would very quickly win me over.
Some of the tracks I have so far included on this blog from 1982 and 1983 came to my attention from those first adventures to discos in Scotland in 1984. Lisa’s “Rocket To Your Heart“; American Fade “I’m Alive“; Marsha Raven’s “Catch Me“; Tapps “My Forbidden Lover“; Pamala Stanley’s “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” from 1982-3 were still in heavy club play list rotation in 1984, and their power and infectious rhythms forced themselves into my brain, so much so that I had to find a way of getting my hands on these records – which proved to be no easy feat in the North East of Scotland in 1984!
Many tracks from 1982-1983 would find their way into my record collection, not from my hearing them in nightclubs, but from frequent forays into second hand record shops in the later 1980s and buying whatever looked promising in the bargain basement section. It was often very much a case of trial and error! Record crate digging is still something I try to do whenever I travel in Europe if I have the chance and time, and I’ve made some great finds in dusty second hand record shops in Milan, Barcelona, Lisbon, Brussels and Nice – although Rome’s second hand record shops have always proved a bit of a disappointment in trying to find Italo Disco records!
From the early 2000s internet forums, YouTube, Discogs and a myriad of other on-line resources have opened up opportunities to dig deep into the world of Italo Disco, Boystown Disco and early Hi-NRG, enabling me to research the most popular and enduring tracks from the period, as well as many tracks I had not come across before. This worm hole research has also been a voyage of discovery about long forgotten obscurities, and that some of these rare original vinyl records are now highly sought after by collectors and can trade for quite large sums of money, whilst some others from this period are now being re-released on vinyl for a new collecting audience.
Having now posted over 160 Boystown, Hi-NRG and Italo Disco tracks from 1982-1983 on this blog and on my Youtube Channel, I thought it would be fun to see which songs still attract the most attention today, giving a possible indication which songs have stood the test of time.
Taking each of the videos posted on my Youtube channel by the amount of interaction and response from viewers (the amount of likes, and then the amount of views), I have come up with a sort of top 40 chart for 1982-1983 for the songs on my channel, and here they are:
Some of the tracks in my chart are not a surprise from the huge positive reaction they have received. Other less well known tracks have been a real surprise from the postive reaction they have received, possibly because they aren’t so well known and therefore engage more curiosity and interaction.
Even more of a surprise is that some of the really big hits of the time, such as Patrick Cowley & Sylvester’s “Do Ya Wanna Funk” or The Flirts “Passion“, didn’t make it into my chart as they had very few likes/views on the channel. Maybe this is because these really famous tracks are so widely known, widely posted and readily available on the internet elsewhere, that they now get very little response when newly posted.
The Record Mirror and Radio Stad Den Haag charts I have posted give a wonderful flashback and great overall view into the disco and Italo Disco scene of the early 1980s. However, there are some fabulous tracks from 1982-1983 which didn’t appear to get much attention at the time, and failed to make any inroads into the charts. Here are two stunning tracks from 1982-1983 that I would recommend seeking out, despite their non appearance in either chart.
To round this post off, here are my top ten tracks from 1982 and 1983. These are the records I would save from the flames if I was forced to choose and only be allowed to keep 10 records:
The next post will move onto The Record Mirror Hi-NRG and Radio Stad Den Haag charts for 1984. This was the year that Hi-NRG danced its way out of the discos and into the outside world. It was also the year I started nightclubbing and quickly understood the sense of liberation I would get from high energy disco music.
Until the next post, here are three mixes I have done over the last year incorporating many of the individual tracks previously listed in the blog posts. The mixes try to imagine what it might have been like to go nightclubbing at Heaven, or in a big American or European nightclub, in 1982 and 1983.