Google Books’ archive of Billboard magazine scans has a six-month gap between the December 22, 1979 and July 5, 1980 issues. While that missing chunk of material is irritating from an armchair scholar’s perspective, it is nonetheless fascinating in a Rip Van Winkle kind of way. One dozes off to guardedly optimistic projections about disco’s future in the coming decade and wakes up to a flurry of industry post-mortems about the scene’s abrupt demise.
Most of the folks performing these statistical autopsies for the Boogie Era demonstrated an inability (or unwillingness) to separate the notion of “disco” as a mass market fad indelibly associated with a singular moment with the more general idea of disco as simply “music played in dance clubs.” The former flamed out due to the familiar process of oversaturation and diminishing returns, but the latter continued to chug along and evolve with the times.
Proof of this can be found within the “Disco Top 100″ charts published in the sidebars alongside the bouts of analytical angst. The rankings for the week ending August 16, 1980 are particularly telling, though hardly unique for this period.
Here are the top “disco” tracks of that week…
…featuring the (or rather “an”) apotheosis of “classic” disco and a sign of things to come.
A selection of largely forgotten dance cuts follows, until you hit that week’s #26 (which had dropped seven slots since the previous week)…
…which gets even stranger one you enter the chart’s middle territories.
Devo, Gang of Four, The Vapors, The English Beat, The Clash, The Go-Go’s, Martha and the Muffins — the so-called “new wave” was better represented on Billboard’s disco charts in 1980 than it was on the Hot 100 or Top LP listings.
It would be a mistake to assume that would-be suburban Travoltas were strutting their polyester-clad stuff to the apocalyptic beats of “London Calling.” The listings reflect music purchased and selected for dance club play, and what you’re seeing is the balkanization of the scene after it crawled out from under the notion that venue and genre were inexorably linked. As the fad-and-fashion juggernaut associated with the “disco” tag lost steam, desperate club owners rushed to cash in on “the next big thing” in an uncertain field of potential contenders.
The chart would have been even stranger if it factored in the number of venues that sprung up or rebranded in the wake of the era’s short-lived “Urban Cowboy” mania.
Meanwhile, in the #15 slot, a whole ‘nother revolution was unfolding…