Everything I need to know I learned from disco

May was a bad month for disco, with the deaths of Jimmy Ellis, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb. It also puts me too close for comfort to my own mortality, because it is not a good thing when the fixtures of your youth start to go. However, I was firmly in the ‘disco definitely does not suck’ camp and proud to admit it. There are many lessons to learn from disco if you pay attention.

1. Everyone looks better when they are dressed up. Looking spiffy was an essential part of the disco experience. There was no such thing as disco pants (or maybe there was – I think I had a pair of black satin ones), only a dress would do and it had to be jewel-toned, swirly, and strappy. Of course there were also the shoes, platform and as high-heeled as dancing would allow. And only a suit would be an appropriate foil for the female disco regalia. I can rest my case in five words: John Travolta Saturday Night Fever.

2. Women rule. Yes, there were many men who contributed to the disco soundscape, some of whom were mentioned above, but I would bet that if you did a random poll of people of a certain demographic and asked them to name the top disco icon they would say either Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer or maybe Andrea True. In fact, ‘I Will Survive’ heads the list of top 100 disco hits.

3. Sometimes content is irrelevant. Say what you will about the banality of disco lyrics – anything can sound catchy if you have the right beat such as a steady four-on-the-floor drum beat, an open high-hat on the offbeat, and a syncopated electric bass. The same is true of just about anything. If you have the right flash and spin you can be pretty much content-free, a fact that took me a while to catch onto. I don’t aspire to be content-free myself, but it is helpful to be able to recognize those that are at 20 paces.

4. Disco saves lives. I am not making this up. A study done a few years ago concluded that Stayin’ Alive has exactly the right beats per minute (103) to maintain the best rhythm for performing CPR. The authors of the study noted that “it is a song everyone seems to know, whether they want to or not”. Although that is damning the BeeGees with faint praise, could the song title be a coincidence? I think not.