Book Review: Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Summertime Blues

And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records

by Larry Harris with Curtis Gooch and Jeff Suhs
Backbeat Books, 320 pp., $24.99

Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

by Alice Echols
W.W. Norton & Co., 338 pp., $26.95

The image still seems bizarre 30 years later: 1970s children dancing around singing the Village People's "Y.M.C.A." It was polyester proof that like Timbuk 3's "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" and Chic's "Good Times," if the music is Top 40/catchy enough, people won't care what the song is really about, even an undisguised gay subtext. Neil Bogart's Casablanca kingdom in New York boasted a stable of stars that seemed unlikely mates – the Village People, Kiss, Donna Summer, Cher, and George Clinton – and he was King Midas with the golden label. To say that it was simply a hedonistic time trivializes the imprint's impact. This was, after all, the era that spawned the phrase "sex, drugs, and rock & roll." Author Larry Harris knows whereof he speaks in these insider tales of chart manipulation, outrageous promo stunts, hype, and drug excess: He was Bogart's cousin and label co-founder. While it's not true that you could get the essence of And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records by simply snorting up a party-size line of coke, Harris is right: Casablanca was disco, right down to its neon logo. Alice Echols looks at disco from a broader perspective in Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture. It's an intriguing title, and the author is square in the corner of disco as a cultural and sociological force, noting that it was essentially gay male discos that were the cutting edge of the sound. While her 2000 Janis Joplin biography, Scars of Sweet Paradise, was revelatory and tender, Echols' writing here often feels academic, though what makes Hot Stuff a solid read is her examination of disco's underpinnings as a patchwork of minority cultures. In one telling section, Echols refers to the mass acceptance of disco as a "don't ask, don't tell" policy accepted as "unspoken law of the land" by masses willing to dance to music containing a loaded political dynamic.

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It was a "Mighty Real" period in at least one young man's life: Oh, those heady disco nights! Oh, the power! The Passion! The psychedelics! Oh, it's all within reach through the grace of MP3s! Oh, I should have saved them!

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disco, Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart, Kiss, Village People, Donna Summer

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