The sad passing of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb in the past two weeks inevitably stirred memories of those distant days of disco, scarily more than three decades ago. Composer Quincy Jones called Summer "the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade", and she was apparently a very nice lady along with it.
It might sound a little strange, but I always associate Summer with a volcano. On a visit to the Philippines in 1977, I was sitting on a bus with a colleague heading for the Taal Volcano, south of Manila.
Like most buses in the Philippines in those days it had a sound system providing a constant stream of pop music.
It was the height of disco's popularity and as we rounded the bend to be greeted by the spectacular vista of Lake Taal and the volcano, right on cue the loudspeakers exploded with Summer's big hit, Love To Love You Baby. It was all a bit surreal, especially when the singer launched into those groans of orgasmic passion in the middle of the song. Fortunately the music failed to stir any similar eruptions from the volcano that day, although it did explode with some vigour a couple of months later. Anyway, if the Taal does ever blow up again, I'll put on my Donna Summer album for old times' sake.
'Blame it on the boogie'
Summer's music was huge in the Philippines, a country in which anyone above the age of three seems to play guitar, and if you can't dance you are almost a social outcast.
In the late '70s the disco queen's music used to battle it out on the Manila jukeboxes with the likes of KC and the Sunshine Band, Chic and the rather campy Village People.
It was impossible to escape disco music. I remember trying to pay the bill at an open air restaurant in Manila, eventually locating all the waitresses dancing in the kitchen, practicing their Saturday Night Fever steps.
The department stores felt almost like giant discos and it was not unusual to be served by salesgirls bopping away to songs like Boogie Oogie Oogie, Le Freak or Macho Man. Sometimes the music came from the most unexpected sources. I recall sitting on the beach at Tacloban when the thumping sounds of disco became louder and louder. I couldn't place where it was coming from until I spotted a passing coastguard vessel with the crew jumping around to the strains of Stayin' Alive.
Shall we dance?
Of course Thailand was not immune to disco and a number of establishments sprung up in the 1970s catering to those who liked to show off on the dancefloor.
Although I wasn't a huge fan of the genre, the music was good fun and not meant to be taken too seriously. Most importantly, it was great for dancing.
A few of the braver Thai girls even wore Donna Summer-style hairdos ranging from afros to long curly locks, which were regarded as quite wild at the time. It will come as no surprise that Crutch was not exactly a John Travolta, but I did occasionally get dragged on to the floor.
Even in those days I felt decidedly ancient as those of a more youthful persuasion bounced around in their spandex tops, flares and shimmering jackets, under the strobe lights
I had a friend who was a deejay in a Bangkok disco and he admitted that the constant pounding of the music and flashing lights eventually drove him nuts. Someone else who was not a great fan was American author Hunter S Thompson, who observed: "I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes."
A piece of cake
One of Summer's most memorable songs _ certainly the most elaborate _ which came out in 1978 was MacArthur Park, sometimes irreverently called the "baking cakes" song.
It had been recorded a decade earlier by the unlikely figure of Richard Harris, and despite the actor's vocal cords being stretched to the limit, did quite well, although some critics thought it was total rubbish.
The song is about the end of a love affair, and if you ask people if they can remember any of the lyrics they will invariably come out with the following thought-provoking lines:
"Someone left the cake out in the rain; and I don't think that I can take it; 'cause it took so long to bake it; and I'll never have that recipe again; oh no!"
Sheer poetry, or a load of guff? Whatever, they don't write lyrics like that these days.
As in all forms of popular music, there were plenty of disco songs which were quite awful. Some were so bad that even disco fans didn't like them. One such offering was Disco Duck, performed by the appropriately-named Rick Dees And His Cast of Idiots.
It included a noise which sounded like someone strangling Donald Duck. Somewhat alarmingly, it was a big hit and even went briefly to number one in the US. Mr Dees also produced a follow-up entitled Dis-gorilla, in which "the crowd went bananas".
Alas, Disco Duck caught on in Thailand and even to this day there is the odd establishment in the Kingdom by that name. If nothing else they act as a reminder of those daft days when you made a fool of yourself in those dreadful disco pants.
Contact PostScript via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Roger Crutchley