At one point in the late 1990s, if there were still cause to doubt it, it became apparent just how forcefully the disco revival had hit the mainstream. When not one but three jukebox musicals where disco music was featured hit London’s West End, the proof was undeniable.
In the classic track from Once Upon a Time “Working The Midnight Shift”, Donna Summer’s Cinderella character hits rock bottom. Forced to take on demeaning (but never specified) labour, the song manages to evince a post-Fordist nightmare where the singer has lost control of agency of her body. Her breathy vocals are detached, signifying perhaps an out-of-body experience as she observes her body grinding away, the relentless music suggesting hands in busy, unceasing motion. Tucked away in the middle of the Side 2 suite, it was probably one of the last tracks that would have been considered as having single potential. However, over the years it has demonstrated a lasting cult appeal, attracting covers from Holy Ghost! and occasional Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante.
In Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of the One, the music ethnologist Rickey Vincent (1996) decries Eurodisco productions for a lack of a cohesive musical song dramaturgy. They were, he says, “producer-made tunes” generally lacking in a sense of sequence, i.e. beginning, build-up, catharsis, release. They relied instead on being simple and catchy enough “to bring rhythmless suburbanites and other neophytes flocking to plush dance clubs at strip malls from coast to coast”. By song dramaturgy, what he is actually talking about, rather than story told through lyrics, is a kind of narrative structure that might be found purely in the music instead.
Progressive rock and disco and on the surface might look like binary opposites, natural enemies even, given the way their audiences were often characterized (one male, white, heterosexual, the other female, black, gay). However, during the second half of the 1970s, it was evident that some of disco’s more adventurous producers were attracted like moths to the same literary flames that inspired many progressive rock concept albums.