This is a Journey into Sound (Part One)

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be taken as seriously as the others (as if I have to tell you – nobody takes disco seriously anyway).

Maybe this post jars a little with previous post topics, but oh well, I’m writing it anyway. It all started when I recently watched an evening of disco on BBC4 (some people say that disco died in the eighties – as long as I’m still alive – and BBC4 for that matter – it will be too), which seemed to show all the dodgy duds of disco, that I came across this charmer:

For your awareness, this isn’t exactly my cup of disco tea; I just like watching it (their chuffed smiles bring light into my world), and their effort on making a British claim on something American is commendable. I thought it was usually the other way round. Recently, when I found myself drawn to staring at their jiggling heads once again, I was suddenly struck by something that I’d never thought of before now:

What exactly is the hustle? And more importantly, the British Hustle? This is my latest historical quest.

I am a disco geek. I’ve boogied on down to it since I was a nipper, and it in fact led me to learn the bass, Bernard Edwards of Chic being a divine inspiration (RIP). So I know quite a lot about disco music. Or at least I thought I did.

I heard from someone that Harry “KC” Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band coined the disco sound. Here’s where I was going to say,

“You know that song Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry where they sing ‘Play that funky music, white boy’? Well, it referred to KC of the Sunshine Band – he was the white boy.”

 

One of my favourite disco songs. That’s a video of KC. Here’s a picture of him now:

That’s what happens when you party too hard (as with most disco acts – many thought they were untouchable. Many, I’m sure, thought they were travelling on a disco spaceship though time and space…). I suppose I have to give his age some credit.

About Play That Funky Music above – that’s what somebody told me and what I’ve believed for years. And yet, I was completely wrong. Sorry to those I ever told this “fact” to. I don’t know where the person who told me this heard it, but this is what happens when you do a history blog that involves research – you have to authenticate everything you hear. I discovered from Wikipedia, though I know that some of you will definitely say this is no place to authenticate ANYTHING, that it was actually because Wild Cherry were a hard rock band at the time, and dance music – disco music – was very “in”, so when their fans shouted for some dance music, the drummer said,

“Play some funky music, white boy,” to the singer. The song was born. Nothing to do with KC.

With regards to KC being the leader of the disco sound, from more research I’m led to believe that he didn’t necessarily invent disco, just helped bring it to the forefront of the pop world.

Disco evolved in American underground clubs, a sped up offspring of funk and northern soul. In fact, if you listen to some soul tracks like Jerry Butler’s One Night Affair you can hear the disco influence before the genre was properly recognised:

To me, it’s the pace, orchestral string instruments and drumming style (heavy snare and ringing hi-hat) that sets disco apart from funk and soul, though there are some definite overlaps, with BBoy funk. I’d say BBoy music is set apart by rhythm and percussion, but more on that in another post. Here are two obvious examples where you can hear exactly what I mean:

Grease – Frankie Valli (of the Four Seasons):

A Fifth of Beethoven -Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band:

And I have to throw a little bit of Chic in, considering the Chic Organisation  Рthe production company created as a result of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic Рare behind many music acts. They called themselves Chic after the chicly dressed people they watched dancing to their music. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote, produced and collaborated on many funky tracks for many funky acts РDiana Ross, Sister Sledge and David Bowie to name a few:

Yeah, diggin’ that…

Anyway. What is the hustle?

The hustle is a dance move. You do it. Do the hustle:

This is what you do it to:

¬†(I wonder if there’s a limit to these videos…)

Anyway, the hustle is…a name for several popular disco dance styles. Apparently, it primarily incorporates partnered movements and emerged around the same time as the Discofox dance move. I know what you’re thinking: but what is Discofox? (Either that or you’re thinking, shut up about disco) In answer to your question, I think my Dad may be a Discofox…or a sweaty Discofox perhaps. And not really in the John Travolta idea of a “Discofox”. But he does like disco, although I’m not sure if the Goombay Dance Band really count:

 

Is that song really disco? Maybe that’s another topic for another post but not on this blog any time soon. I should give my Dad more credit than that anyway – he introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire and Sister Sledge.

Jokes aside, Discofox is a “social partner dance” – the European equivalent of the American Hustle. If you look the dance up on You Tube, you can see how it may be influenced by tango or salsa. Real smooooth.

So we have the “Hustle”, and yet above, they’re singing, “Do the Hustle”. But which one? There’s the British Hustle, as voiced by Hi-Tension in the opening clip, but there’s also the Spanish Hustle, and many more besides (apologies for the naked, dancing woman – it’s not her fault):

I had the glory of dancing to a band that played this song live in a bar in Whitstable, Kent. Not like the woman in the video of course – she’s not doing the hustle at all! Though I’m not sure I was really doing it either.

Back to the Hustle’s variations – apparently, the early originator was the Manhattan Hustle. Then there’s the Continental Walk – a bit like disco line-dancing – or for you modern kids, Kylie’s The Locomotion, but funkier. You can see a similar example in the Fifth of Beethoven video above, and its clip from Saturday Night Fever – an old film that’s quite like Glee, but with a bit of rape and suicide. Actually, they’re doing a tango hustle, invented specially for the film, but you get the idea.

So, was there such thing as a Spanish Hustle or a British Hustle?

I couldn’t find any evidence of the British Hustle, or how it drove anybody “crazaire” as those lads of Hi-Tension sing, yet the song was apparently very popular on the little British Isles. The Spanish Hustle on the other hand is just another term for the Hustle. From my hisorical wanderings, it appears there is no basis for the British Hustle. If you know any more than me, then please comment on this post and prove me wrong.

Otherwise, I will be forced to invent the British Hustle, and I don’t think my dance partner-to-be will be very happy with this conclusion.

I can’t finish without mentioning one of the first funky basslines I ever wanted to learn, by the all-female disco act A Taste of Honey – a couple of widely talented female musicians who could play anything and wrote all their own music, but were sadly treated as pop fodder due to their all-femaleness. I once had a conversation with a man in a pub for half an hour about this bassline:

Here’s one final British disco classic that cannot be missed out of this post…something tells me the drummer got a bit carried away:

Better still, check out the Reggae Disco Hustle.