Disco – The 20 best singles

Disco - Dancing at Studio 54 1978 (krwg.org)

Disco – Dancing at Studio 54 1978


In 1976 disco became a prominent force in the Dutch charts for the first time, even though it had been around for a couple of years already. It would reach its zenith some two years later with movies like Saturday Night Fever and Thank God, It’s Friday. Despite (or because of) its success the hate towards disco was huge, particularly amongst white men who preferred rock music.


The word disco stems from discotheque, a phenomenon that first came into fruition in the late 1960s, and is essentially a nightclub aimed at dancing. One of the first influences from disco could be heard in Isaac Hayes’ 1971 Shaft soundtrack. Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa (1972) is generally considered to be the very first true disco song.

The term “disco” was first used on September 13, 1973 in the article “Discotheque Rock ’72: Paaaaarty!”, written by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone magazine. In the early days disco songs were designed for use in discotheques and the public that danced there.

Most 1970s disco hits have the quadruple time as a recognizable rhythm pattern, the so-called “four-on-the-floor”. But, at times it’s hard to really distinguish between soul, funk and/or disco. Where does one genre end and the next genre start? For this article I stuck to the “four-on-the-floor” rule. A major task in the discotheques was put on the DJ (disc jockey) who mixed the records live, provided continuity on the dancefloor and at times rapped over the records.

Casablanca Records Logo (medium.com)

By the time disco crossed over to the general public, many record companies started specializing in disco (like the infamous Casablanca Records), movies were made (a.o. Saturday Night Fever en Thank God, It’s Friday), discotheques were constructed from scratch, fashion was altered and loads and loads of disco records were released. Even major rock acts incorporated disco into their music, like The Rolling Stones (Miss You, Emotional Rescue), Rod Stewart (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy), Pink Floyd (Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2), Queen (Another One Bites The Dust) and Kiss (I Was Made For Loving You).

Something was about to break. It was ll too much and too dominant for the average rock lover and Disco Sucks became a real counter movement. This culminated into Disco Demolition Night on July 2, 1979, when 50,000 people gathered in Chicago to blow up disco records. The feeling that a large part of it was caused by an aversion to the hedonistic life style, that was predominantly projected in Studio 54, New York, where the mix between white/black and straight/gay was the usual modus operandi, cannot be suppressed. It still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

It’s a fact though that there’s a clear distinction between before and after Disco Demolition Night, particularly in the US. From one day to another disco virtually disappeared from the charts. Had disco really died then? No, of course not, it went underground and would re-emerge just a few years later with Hi-NRG and another 4 years later house and dance would take over.

A lot of anti-disco singles have been released, many of them being very childish, but there are two I’d like to mention. In 1978 the Dutch band Gruppo Sportivo released the single Disco Really Made It (“It’s empty and I hate it”) and in 1979 Frank Zappa released the single Dancin’ Fool, which details a man who doesn’t know how to do anything else but dance, even though he sucks at it: “The beat goes on and I’m so wrong” resulting in him committing his “social suicide”. Both songs were hits in The Netherlands.

Saturday Night Fever - Album gatefold (medium.com)

Saturday Night Fever – Album gatefold


By now consensus has been reached on the fact that disco, particularly in the 1970s, has produced some truly wonderful music. Besides the fact that many songs were very influential and innovative, many have become classics known by all.

As a tribute to the disco from my childhood years and beyond and the summer that’s still in (full) swing, I give you my personal 20 best disco classics.

The dates mentioned beneath the titles correspond to the date of the single release in The Netherlands, if uncertain the date of entering the Dutch tip parade, and if that’s not certain as well the date of the entry in the Dutch charts. The source for the information is dutchcharts.nl.


The Hues Corporation - Rock the Boat (pinterest.com)

The Hues Corporation – Rock The Boat

March 6, 1974

The single had been available for quite a while before it turned into a hit, after it was picked up in New York discotheques. It made its way into the American charts, with the rest of the world following close behind.


George McCrae - Rock Your Baby (top40.nl)

George McCrae – Rock Your Baby

July 13, 1974

Written by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC & The Sunshine Band, this song is a perfect example of early disco. The song utilizes a Roland drum machine. McCrae was at the studio by chance when he was asked to sing on the song. It was a global phenomenon.


Moments & Whatnauts - Girls (45cat.com)

Moments & Whatnauts – Girls

January 31, 1975

I bought this single with my own money. Not in Heerhugowaard (my hometown) or Alkmaar, but I think it was in in Haarlem or Velsen (all Dutch places). I clearly remember being there with my mother and handing over the money.

I still think it’s a beautiful song with a superb melody.

Also see the article Singles from my elementary school days.


Boney M. - Daddy Cool (dutchcharts.nl)

Boney M. – Daddy Cool

September 11, 1975

Hansa Records wanted that the cover of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry was released as the group’s second single, but producer Farian preferred Daddy Cool, as it hit a nerve in his own discotheque. At first the song was unsuccessful, but following a performance in a German television program it turned into a major hit in Germany and the rest of Europe.

Also see the article Boney M.’s Take The Heat Off Me: childhood sweetheart or sin?.


Tavares - Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel (top40.nl)

Tavares – Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel

September 18, 1976

The song that put Tavares on the map overnight. An instant classic, that was a major hit in The Netherlands.


The Trammps - Disco Inferno (dutchcharts.nl)

The Trammps – Disco Inferno

February 28, 1977

One of the all-time disco classics. Surprisingly, it never made it into the charts in The Netherlands. The single was unsuccessful until the 12″ version was released on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.

The song was inspired by the movie The Towering Inferno, in which a discotheque is burned to the ground.

Also see the article Saturday Night Fever.


Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up (stereogum.com)

Marvin Gaye – Got To Give It Up

May 28, 1977

Motown wanted Gaye to record a disco song. He didn’t like the genre and wrote a parody. Using the original title Dancing Lady the song was recorded. It’s about a man who’s insecure on the dance floor, but gets caught up in the song’s music and beat as the song progresses: “let’s dance, let’s shout, gettin’ funky what it’s all about!”. Dancing can overcome shyness.

In 2013 Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was accused of plagiarism by the Marvin Gaye estate. The song does resemble Gaye’s Got To Give It Up in more ways than one.


Donna Summer - I Feel Love (single) (anycontent.net)

Donna Summer – I Feel Love

August 6, 1977

The revolutionary song Donna Summer made and recorded with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte that inspired people all over the world to using synthesizers in a creative manner.

Also see the article I Feel Love: the future is here and now!.


Bee Gees - Night Fever (single) (45cat.com)

Bee Gees – Night Fever

April 4, 1978

My personal favorite from the movie/soundtrack Saturday Night Fever, that made quite an impression on me in 1978. I still frequently play the song and think it’s just as great as when I first heard it.

Also see the article Saturday Night Fever.


Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) (dutchcharts.nl)

Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)

December 23, 1978

Initially the song was recorded as a piano driven midtempo gospel, but after Patrick Crowley remixed it, it turned into the influential disco classic it has become. It picked up where Donna Summer’s I Feel Love had left things and added onto it, turning it into a template for much of the house and dance music a decade later.


Chic - Le Freak (dutchcharts.nl)

Chic – Le Freak

December 30, 1978

Written in response to refusing entrance to Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers to the famous New York disco Studio 54 (Grace Jones forgot to put their names on the guest list). The song addresses long queues, privileged clientele and a rude doorman. Initially the verse started with “Fuck off!”, later changed to “Freak out!”, based on the doorman’s last words as he slammed the door shut. Edwards and Rodgers quickly realized that “Fuck off!” would do very little for airplay on the radio.

Le Freak was Chic’s third single and it became their first ever number one hit, all over the world. It’s one of the most successful disco songs of all time.


Earth Wind & Fire - September (dutchcharts.nl)

Earth, Wind & Fire – September

January 13, 1979

Released as a single and placed on the compilation album The Best Of Earth Wind & Fire, Vol. 1. A truly irresistable song. The song specifically states the date of September 21. According to writer Maurice White it didn’t mean anything worthwhile. Later, his wife claimed that it was the due date for their son’s Kahbran birth.


Blondie - Heart Of Glass (dutchcharts.nl)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass

February 24, 1979

Initially demoed as far back as 1975. That first version was heavily influenced by The Hues Corporation’s Rock The Boat. In 1978 the band re-recorded it with the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk in the back of their minds.


The Jacksons - Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) (discogs.com)

The Jacksons – Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)

March 10, 1979

The song basically sounds like a Michael Jackson solo outing. A funky, swinging song, that’s very well crafted, particularly rhythmically speaking. Something really special was going on, including the remixes.

The song ‘borrowed’ heavily from Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up, including the chants. A few months later, these would also be part of Michael Jackson’s solo song Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.

Also part of the 10 best Michael Jackson singles.


Tom Browne - Funkin' For Jamaica (N.Y.) (dutchcharts.nl)

Tom Browne – Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.)

January 10, 1981

Browne’s inspiration for the song stems from a visit to his parents at the neighborhood Jamaica in Queens, New York. He wanted to make a tribute to his childhood neighborhood. The unknown Toni Smith provides the song with her spectacular vocals.

The Dutch television music show Toppop traveled all the way to New York to film a video, which grew into being the official video for the song.


Imagination - Just An Illusion (dutchcharts.nl)

Imagination – Just An Illusion

April 17, 1982

The fourth song by the English group Imagination, which was led by Leee John. The band name is a tribute to singer John Lennon. Just An Illusion was the biggest hit for the group in The Netherlands.


Divine - Shoot Your Shot (dutchcharts.nl)

Divine – Shoot Your Shot

December 4, 1982

Nowhere in the world was this such a big hit as it was in The Netherlands. I loved the drag queen Divine and this song made me buy Divine’s debut album!

Also see the article Divine – My First Album.


Indeep - Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life (dutchcharts.nl)

Indeep – Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life

February 12, 1983

The song is about a woman who’s bored with her boyfriend, whom she adores, yet is unfaithful to her. On the radio a D.J. calls for women to leave their man if he doesn’t do right by them. She leaves, hence the title.


Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax (dutchcharts.nl)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax

October 18, 1983

A Trevor Horn production that immediately immortalized the group. The very sexually charged lyrics, and the initial gay/S&M video, resulted a ban by the BBC. Of course the song thrived even more because of it. It was a huge hit all over Europe.


Madonna - Holiday (dutchcharts.nl)

Madonna – Holiday

November 5, 1983

The song was initially written for the Supremes’ Mary Wilson, but she turned it down. After the song turned out to be a success in discotheques the song was released as Madonna’s first ever single.


For your listening pleasure, I give you the playlist containing all 20 songs mentioned above. Whenever possible, the single/7″ versions have been used.

In closing

What’s your take on disco? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Disco – The 20 best singles. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!