Back in the summer of 1979, the Detroit rock radio DJ Steve Dahl was so aggrieved that his beloved Stones and Zeppelin were being dropped from playlists in favour of Village People, Donna Summer and Chic, that he launched his "Disco sucks!" campaign. Dahl encouraged listeners to phone in their disco requests, which he would then destroy on air with explosive sound effects. "Midwesterners didn't want that intimidating [disco] style shoved down their throats," said Dahl.
What began as on-air mischief soon snowballed into an anti-disco movement. Joined by a failed rock guitarist called Steve Veek, Dahl took "Disco sucks!" public when Veek secured the use of Comiskey Park, the home of the Chicago White Sox that was owned by his father. In July 1979, Dahl announced that anyone in possession of a disco record would receive cheap entry to the next White Sox home game.
Instead of the usual 16,000 fans, an unprecedented 59,000 turned up. Joined by baseball fans, they proceeded to storm the pitch, where they smashed and burned their Bee Gees vinyl. "They wore Led Zeppelin
and Black Sabbath
T-shirts," writes Knopper, then a 13-year-old disco-hater "smashed bottles on the ground, smoked God knows what and chanted their almighty rallying cry: 'Disco sucks'!"
If that's not enough to turn you into a disco fan, then I don't know what is. The unspoken subtext was obvious: disco music was for homosexuals and black people. Not only that, but, as Knopper notes, in the disco era "to make it with a lady a guy had to learn how to dance. And wear a fancy suit!"
It wasn't real concerns such as the threat of war or the loss of jobs that inspired this hate-fest, but something far more malevolent ingrained in rock fans' collective psyche. What should have been harmless insurrection became a demolition rally for hard-rocking, middle American, predominantly white dudes with dubious taste. "It's incredible that rock fans would actually riot
for the right to hear REO Speedwagon and Foreigner," Knopper writes.
In the short term, this disco backlash worked. Records sales bolstered by disco's glory days of 1974 to the Saturday Night Fever
-fuelled high of 1978 fell by 11% in 1979, and the major US record labels began to look elsewhere for cash cows: to hard rock, new wave and power-pop fluff.