Disco Redux

A new boxed set argues that disco didn't suck after all.

The rest of the first disc is divided among songs sturdy enough to stand up to the passing years (KC & the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" and "That's the Way [I Like It]," the Gaynor epic "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Vicki Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around") and ones whose charm has long since worn off (Van McCoy's "The Hustle," Silver Convention's "Fly, Robin, Fly" and the egregious "More, More, More [Part 1]," by Andrea True, a former porn starlet). Likewise, the second disc justifies the presence of Peter Brown's annoying "Dance With Me" and Walter Murphy's lame "A Fifth of Beethoven" with Rose Royce's "Car Wash," the Trammps' "Disco Inferno" and Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," whose electro underpinning (courtesy of producer Giorgio Moroder) made a lasting impact on a generation of technophiles.

Subsequent discs achieve a similar blend of the bad and the beautiful. CD number three's slices of prime Chic (the best self-contained band to emerge from the disco wave) and such tantalizing efforts as Peaches & Herb's "Shake Your Groove Thing," Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Amii Stewart's slicker-than-slick reworking of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" serve as antidotes to Narada Michael Walden's shlocky "I Shoulda Loved Ya" and "Instant Replay," by Leo Sayer-imitator Dan Hartman. (Also present is the Village People's "Y.M.C.A.," a celebration of gayness that every kid in elementary school knows by heart. Take that, Jerry Falwell.) And while the fourth disc suffers from the inevitable winding down of the trend (illustrated by the inclusion of tepid tracks like Change's "The Glow of Love" and "On the Beat," by the B.B. & Q. Band), it still passes muster because of "Funkytown," an affable one-shot by Lipps, Inc., the Boystown Gang's wonderfully dated gay anthem "Cruisin' the Streets" and Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots," which Will Smith fans know better as the musical basis for the title song to Men in Black.

Smith isn't the only hip-hop figure to recognize that there's sampling gold buried in them thar disco hills: Wyclef Jean's borrowings from the Bee Gees are only the most overt of such homages. Moreover, Cake's cover of "I Will Survive" underlined something often overlooked--that it's actually a good song. The same can be said about a good percentage of the time-capsule-ready ditties on The Disco Box, and if listening to it from start to finish can be a numbing experience, that doesn't mean it's better left unheard. Disco was undeniably a manufactured trend, but two decades or so down the line, it exudes an innocence and naivete that make the hatred it aroused all the more unsettling. In a world so filled with malice, what's so wrong about wanting people to dance


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