There’s a saying in the financial world, or at least there was when people still paid attention to weekly magazines, that once a company or sector makes the cover of Business Week, the time has come to dump the stock. If Business Week knows about it, the insiders’ advantage has dissipated and you have to find another curve to get ahead of. I felt a very similar feeling watching Dan Rather very, very seriously explain to the home viewer what this “disco” thing is all about.
The problem with the 60 Minutes approach is that it’s insufferably top-down—it’s really all about money, a topic that Rather mentions incessantly. We get Billboard‘s take on the matter; we see some complacent executives plot the can’t-miss release of a disco version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (really?); we get a very cool and professional outfit recording a different single, Peter Brown’s “Dance With Me”; and so on.
This segment aired on April 23, 1978; keep in mind that just a year or two later, 60 Minutes was the highest-rated TV show in America—that is, the show with the greatest number of viewers, period. And it wasn’t like 60 Minutes had stormed out of nowhere, it was already an institution by that time. Rather does blandly inform the home viewer that “for a disco to be a disco, you need a very heavy bass beat” and that a “hook” is “an easily recognizable theme or musical phrase.” (Apparently nobody told poor Dan that it’s not “Moog” as in “moo” It’s “Moog” as in “vogue.”)
It’s difficult to imagine a halfway serious report on a subculture done this way today. What’s missing from the report is any vitality or verve; any mention of ethnic, racial, or sexual minorities or sex or drugs or class issues. Nobody ever breaks a sweat. You get a little footage from inside Studio 54, which is pretty interesting, and the studio sections aren’t without interest. (There’s no such thing as payola in the disco world, by the way.) The death knell of disco may have sounded towards the end of the segment, when we hear the aforementioned version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as the camera pans over a group of haggard swingers gyrating on a dance floor awash in dry ice.
The home viewer will have gleaned that someone made a lot of money, but otherwise won’t have a clue why anyone would ever be drawn to disco music.
Tuxedo Junction, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”:
Peter Brown, “Dance With Me”:
60 Minutes report on disco, April 23, 1978: