Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fifty years of disco

Egregious media frenzy in German observes '50 years of disco'. Here's what a German Wiki page tells us: The first dancing hall that was turned into a discothèque was the Scotch Club in Aachen, when on October 19th, 1959, the usual band was unable to play and a record player had to be used. Klaus Quirini took over the record player, and his new format became quickly popular outside town. The name disc-jockey was coined because of the nightclub's subtitle: "Jockey Tanz Bar".

Now this last assertion is, of course, rubbish. Another Wiki entry sheds light: In 1935, American commentator Walter Winchell coined the term "disc jockey" (the combination of "disc" (referring to the disc records) and "jockey" (which is an operator of a machine) as a description of radio announcerMartin Block, the first announcer to become a star. While his audience was awaiting developments in the Lindbergh kidnapping, Block played records and created the illusion that he was broadcasting from a ballroom, with the nation’s top dance bands performing live. The show, which he called
Make Believe Ballroom, was an instant hit. The term "disc jockey" appeared in print in Variety in 1941.

Whether the Scotch Club in Aachen actually called itself a
discothèqe is also rather unlikely: My understanding is that the made-up French term was introduced by Parisienne Helen Cordet when she took over the chic bar, The Saddle Room, on London's Park Lane. That was at the very beginning of the swinging sixties and I well remember a New Year's Eve with, exceptionally, live music from Claude Francois and Manfred Mann which was broadcast by a French radio network.

However Germany, and in particular Munich, can properly claim to be the birthplace of the disco sound. Like no other performer, Donna Summer personified the disco era during its zenith in the late 1970s. Working with a team of legendary European record producers, Summer wrote and recorded a string of hits that made her one of the most successful artists of the decade.

'Legendary' as in Giorgio Moroder, whose preferred studio was just a stone's throw from the flat in which my young daughter (yes, her birthday is still on my mind...) spent her very first years!

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