How did Disco relate to the sentiments and social movements of the 1970s?
The rise of Disco in the 1970s had an enormous cultural impact on the American audience. It was the music they heard on the radio, the music they danced to. It affected fashion. It affected club culture. It even affected film.
Disco’s roots were multiple. It had connections to R&B and Funk, but it was also born out of the urban gay culture in New York City. But no matter its roots, it quickly moved into the mainstream with a string of best-selling hits by artists from Donna Summer to the Village People. The phenomenally successful 1977 film Saturday Night Fever took Disco’s commercial popularity to surprising heights. The film’s soundtrack produced numerous Top 10 hits and the album sold over 15 million copies.
The vibrant sound and energetic dance moves of Disco provided young people with an escape from what film critic Roger Ebert called “the general depression and drabness of the political and musical atmosphere of the seventies.” The economic prosperity and countercultural exuberance of the 1960s had faded. By the mid-1970s, crime rates soared and the combined “Misery Index” of unemployment and inflation reached new highs.
With that as the backdrop, the lure of Disco proved particularly powerful for working-class youth. As The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael noted in her 1977 review of Saturday Night Fever, the film and Disco itself centered on “something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you’d like to be. Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary.”
But almost as powerful as the embrace of Disco was the backlash against it. For those who grew up with three-minute songs, bands playing instruments, and the raw aesthetic of early Rock and Roll, Disco was part of a new problem. Ultimately, Disco’s rise helped to foster the fragmentation of the 1970s and changed the shape of popular music culture.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
- Know (knowledge):
- The general feeling of economic and social malaise in the 1970s, as crime rates soared and unemployment and inflation hit record highs
- The influence of the Gay Rights and Women’s Rights movements on popular American culture
- The prominence of Disco music as a social and cultural force in the late 1970s
- Be able to (skills):
- Evaluate primary sources and make connections between those sources
- Assess the importance of a cultural form in a specific context
- Common Core: Students will identify the main themes in two quotes on Disco, and then extend their understanding by studying photos, texts and videos on these themes from the 1970s (CCSS Reading 2; CCSS Reading 7)
- Common Core: Students will write a speech eulogizing the death of Disco, centering on the themes developed in the class discussion (CCSS Writing 4; CCSS Speaking and Listening 6)
Common Core State Standards
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
- Reading 2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
- Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
- Writing 4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
- Speaking and Listening 6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
- Theme 1: Culture
- Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
- Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
National Standards for Music Education
Core Music Standard: Responding
- Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
- Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
- Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
- Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
- Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.