They Went Disco, Oh No!

January 18, 2019

In the late 1970s, disco so dominated the musical landscape that a lot of major bands and singers thought that it was here to stay…and that they best get on board or get left in the dust. Here are some of those wild (and mostly forgotten) attempts to go disco.

Paul McCartney 

As one of the most popular and versatile musicians of all time, Paul McCartney has never been afraid to try new things. His Beatles tune “When I’m 64” sounds like a music hall performance from the 1940s, while he gave both New Wave and electronic music a shot with the single “Temporary Secretary” and a project called the Fireman, respectively. In 1979, he released the disco single “Goodnight Tonight” with his band Wings. According to the band’s drummer Steve Holley, McCartney had been inspired to record the song when he — what else? — “went to some discotheque somewhere.” (It’s also got a flamenco feel, so this is two experimental McCartneys for the price of one.)

The Clash

Of all the bands to ever “sell out” and do something commercial to gain attention, the Clash is about the last one anybody would expect. One of the most punk bands, they were unabashedly political songs that call out what they thought was a broken U.K. society in songs like “This is England,” “Career Opportunities,” and “London Calling.” And yet in 1981, the Clash released “The Magnificent Seven,” a hit on dance and R&B radio that bridged the gap between disco and hip-hop with its body-moving drumbeat and hard-charging guitar riffs. (But the lyrics are still classic Clash, calling out blind consumerism and economic unfairness.)

The Hollies

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Hollies turned out some of the era’s most beautiful and moving pop-rock in songs like “Bus Stop,” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “The Air That I Breathe.” The latter was their last top 10 hit in both the U.S. and their native U.K., so in 1976, they adapted to the changing times and released a novelty single called “Wiggle That Wotsit.” It’s a by-the-numbers disco song, heavy on the horns, piano, and whammy bar (as well as repetitive, nonsense lyrics). Hey, going disco worked for fellow British pop group the Bee Gees…but it didn’t for the Hollies. The single was a total flop and the band pretty much faded into obscurity after that.  

The Beach Boys

The various Wilsons and their cousin, Mike Love, pretty much perfected the 1960s pop song with “Help Me Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Rather than create trends in the late ‘70s, they followed them. In 1979, the group re-recorded its 1967 song “Here Comes the Night” as a disco song with synthesizers, a saxophone solo, and the vocals of latter-day Beach Boy Bruce Johnston altered so he sounds like a robot. The result: a weird disco epic that goes on for an astounding 11 minutes.