As you might guess from retro film and television from the seventies, disco was a big deal. It was a trend that was easy to latch onto and appealed to multiple generations. So a lot of people latched onto it. A great example of how much it had infiltrated our culture is this educational “Disco Break.”
Sponsored by Ritchie Datsun of Glen Burnie, MD, these short clips not only advertised the product, but attempted to teach people how to disco. In this commercial segment that ran during an encore SNL broadcast from 1979, we are going to learn the shoulder lift.
Now let me just say, it is easy to say, “let’s learn the shoulder lift,” but let us consider what we are really teaching here. We are telling people to lift their partner and put them on their shoulder and spin around. I have had struggles lifting up a gallon of milk at the supermarket. Lifting a persona and putting them on my shoulder, just seems impossible. Yet in this Disco Break, it is done with ease. The woman is perched upon the unstrained mans shoulders and he just spins with ease.
It is a magical bit of advertising. Not only because it mentions a car name you don’t hear about anymore AND captures Disco at the height of its appeal, but it would also never happen now. If a Disco Break showed up on TV and attempted to tell you to lift someone over your head nowadays, it would need to be accompanied by impossible number of disclaimers.
So enjoy the magic of this Datsun Disco Break. It is about 30 seconds long. You might learn a thing about disco. But just be warned, lifting someone and putting them on your shoulder is not easy. It also does not look as cool as these people make it look. Especially if like me you are straining and wheezing during the entire experience.
While this post is certainly about Ethel Merman and her foray into the disco craze. It was in fact brought about thanks to finding this ad in a 1979 TV Guide. For the 1972 to 1982 Saturday Morning variety show, Kids Are People Too.
Sadly I’ve not been lucky enough to find any of that Christopher Reeve segment online. Although at the very least we do have the Ethel Merman disco rendition of Alexander’s Ragtime Band! I am afraid however that you will have to follow the link here to see that particular TV broadcast. Having said that I am happy to say that you can see her perform the same number on this segment of Johnny Carson.
I will admit that we use the term legendary a little too freely these days. However in regards to Ethel Merman there is no other way to describe the woman. Born Ethel Agnes Zimmerman in 1908 – of course she swore it was 1912. Ethel Merman ended up altering her name because of fears it wouldn’t fit on a marquee very easily. Merman found success thanks to her comedic style, bold and strong character, as well as her iconic voice.
Soon she became a Broadway star after appearing in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy in 1930. A role that audiences and critics took notice of – not to mention running for 272 performances. Although she would appear in numerous movies and TV shows throughout her life, it was most certainly Broadway where she reigned supreme.
In 1979, at the ripe old age of seventy-one, Ethel was naturally still going strong. Which is when of course she decided to release The Ethel Merman Disco Album. Featuring seven songs that she was well known for:
There’s No Business Like Show Business
Everything’s Coming Up Roses
I Get a Kick Out of You
Something for the Boys
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
I Got Rhythm
It has been said that Ethel literally recorded all seven songs for the album – in one take each. The disco arraingement was added in afterwards, which might have resulted in the rather negative reviews. I can’t speak to any of that as perhaps I just love Ethel Merman too much to care?
I learned alot from watching Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago, the two-hour documentary on the band Chicago, but I’ll gloss over the most important points:
Lee Loughnane is a softy. If something is cry-worthy, he will tear up.
Peter Cetera has an ego. It only happened after he lost weight.
Bill Champlin has a HUGE ego. It had nothing to do with weight loss, it just has to do with who he thought the star was. If you saw the statement of declination he gave when contacted for an interview (and Jimmy Pankow’s stance on him), you’d understand what I’m talking about.
David Foster has bragging rights – he was interviewed while sitting in front of all his Grammy trophies, after all.
Words are not minced.
Jimmy Pankow is not afraid to mince those words.
Chicago, through much of the 1970s, was much like Chicago in the late 1960s – lots of horns and tough, gritty-sounding rock. Conversely, the 1980s became the power ballad-heavy Cetera years (and later, the Jason Scheff years – he was equally at home covering the grit as well as the power). Oh, and Bill Champlin (and his giant ego) also churned out those incredible power ballads. After all, he did work with David Foster. Foster is a genius, just ask my mom.
As I’m writing this (ok, when I started writing this), I’m listening to one of those Cetera power ballads, Along Comes a Woman. I’ve never heard this song before, but I’ll venture to guess it was from one of those 1980s albums (I checked – it is from Chicago 17, which was Cetera’s final album). If it sounds Cetera-worthy, it is only because he wrote it. But there are horns involved. Because leaving out Lee Loughnane, Jimmy Pankow, and Walt Parazaider would be a sin.
Between the grit and the power, there was this strange and trippy time in the land of Chicago (the band, not the city). It was land they hadn’t ventured into before, and, thankfully, it was abandoned quite quickly. It came of the 1970s music fad better known as Disco. And while groups like Earth Wind and Fire (though I’d liken their version as more along the lines of “funk” than actual disco) and The Bee Gees could do it, Chicago proved there was one thing they just could not (and should not) do.
1979 saw the release of Chicago’s eleventh studio album (titled Chicago XIII, because yeah, Roman Numerals), and while I don’t exactly recognize any of the track listings, there was this one song that just absolutely stands out, and not for the right reasons. And believe it or not, I had never heard it until the documentary, and I just found out (yea research!) that the album not only had the distinction of being released exactly one month after (August 13, 1979) Disco Destruction Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park (July 12, 1979), but the song itself was released in September 1979. So it was not only the last gasp for disco (or one of those last gasps), it also sounded like the end of Chicago itself, and it was the actual end of Donnie Dacus’s time with Chicago.
That song, you ask? “Street Player,” of course!
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I’ll be frank with you – there are alot of songs left off the set list for a Chicago performance. Many (like the songs from Hot Streets and this stinky album) for a good reason, but many from the Power Ballad era as well (I’m questioning some of that). This song neatly fits into the “Left Off For a Good Reason” category, but probably should have been burned for sounding like the worst thing Peter Cetera ever sang. I actually feel bad for him (which is hard for me, considering what I’ve heard about him), but this is a terrible attempt to cash in on a music styling that was basically nearing the end of its life.
And no, Cetera didn’t write this. You can thank Danny Seraphine for this…whatever you want to call it.
The funny thing about this song (besides the concept of it, and the fact that I only just found out it existed) is that I better remember it as the 1995 song The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind), and only because I don’t like that song either. But in actuality, before Chicago made it sound entirely too white (I don’t mean that in a nice way), it was sung by Rufus in 1978 (you know, the group Chaka Khan was part of?). It was co-written by then-Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine for their recording pleasure, and let’s just be grateful he wasn’t sacked ten years earlier than he was for Chicago singing it Rufus.
Apparently, all of Chicago XIII is just like this – stinky and not gritty or powerful. I’m understanding why Columbia paid them to leave the label in the early 1980s…and why Donnie Dacus was kicked out of the group.
And because you’re dying to see the video of this performance…
The only reason this version is tolerable is because it is shorter. And forgive me, I saw them perform in 2015, and I don’t remember this from the concert.
Just blame Donnie Dacus for all of this. And Disco. Blame DISCO!
Will you still love Allison for forcing this insane earworm on you? For good times you’ll remember, you can also take a look at her blog, Allison’s Written Words. Hold your mouse key, preferably on the “like” button on her blog’s Facebook page, and then getaway to Twitter, where you can find her at @AllisonGeeksOut.
She really wants to tell you she’s sorry…that she quoted even more Chicago lyrics than she has in past articles.
Not sure how I missed these disco balls when they started to show up on the web, but these art pieces by Rotganzen, a Rotterdam, Netherlands-based artist collective made up of Robin Stam, Joeri Horstink and Mark van Wijk haunt me now. I am not sure why. Maybe because they seem so apt. Sort of what I think a disco ball would look like after having to live through the entire disco craze.