Go back to the disco era today with the Northwest Choral Society as we “Celebrate the 70s”! 

To help mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the film, Saturday Night Fever, we invite you to go back with us to a time when mirrored balls, lighted dance floors and platform shoes were coming into their own. 

In 1977, disco dance history reached its peak with the release of the film and album, Saturday Night Fever, catapulting John Travolta to iconic status worldwide. The film’s soundtrack featured music by artists such as the Bee Gees (six songs), KC and the Sunshine Band and the Trammps, and became the second most successful soundtrack album ever sold. 

The Disco

Starting in the early 1970s, discotheques – discos – began emerging from the underground New York City club scene. For those dedicated club goers, disco became more than a dance style and more than a night club. For many, the disco meant freedom. The freedom to be oneself. To move, to discover, to connect. Discos brought men and women together from all walks of life and backgrounds, if only for one night. 

Club goers would line-up outside of crowded night clubs, waiting for their chance to enter and escape into the pulsating lights and throbbing sounds of the “anything goes” scene inside. Once inside they were free to “Dance the Night Away”, with whomever and however they liked. From bell-bottom pants to platform shoes, and silk shirts to satin pants, disco was a (life) style of its own. 

The Music

And that lifestyle produced hit after hit after hit. In fact, eleven of the songs featured on our program have been recognized as “No 1” hits on the “Billboard Magazine Hot 100” charts during the 1970s. Nine of the songs are included on VH-1’s (cable network) list of “100 Greatest Dance Songs” and three of the songs appeared on the “Rolling Stone Magazine List of Top Ten Disco Songs of All Time”. 

The Bee Gees wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists.  During a nine-month period beginning in late 1977, seven songs written by the brothers held the No. 1 position on the US charts for 27 of 37 consecutive weeks: three of their own releases, two for brother Andy Gibb, a Yvonne Elliman single, and “Grease”, performed by Frankie Valli.  Barry Gibb became the only songwriter to have four consecutive No. 1 hits in the US, breaking the John Lennon and Paul McCartney 1964 record. These songs were “Stayin’ Alive”, “Love Is Thicker Than Water”, “Night Fever”, and “If I Can’t Have You.”  The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

We open tonight’s Celebration with KC and the Sunshine Band’s Boogie Shoes, written by Harry Wayne Casey (KC) and guitarist Richard Finch, arr. Kirby Shaw. Released in 1975, the song became a hit after appearing on the Saturday Night Fever 1977 soundtrack. Structurally, it uses the twelve-bar blues chord progression, one of the most prominent chord progressions in popular music. And, as with several of KC’s disco songs, some of the lyrics are playfully suggestive: “I want to do it till the sun comes up / I want to do till I can’t get enough.” 

Our next piece, 70s Dance Party, arr. Kirby Shaw, is a high energy tribute piece featuring five tunes you are sure to recognize. Leading the party is ABC. Released by The Jackson 5 in 1970, it made its way to the top of the charts, knocking The Beatles’ Let It Be off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and sat at number one on the soul singles chart for four weeks. You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, by the British singer Leo Sayer, won songwriters Sayer and Vini Poncia a Grammy Award in 1978 for Best R&B Song. Next up in this 70s Dance Party is Your Mamma Don’t Dance, a 1972 hit song by the rock duo Loggins and Messina. This song, whose refrain and first verse is done in a blues format, was the duo’s biggest hit as well as their only Gold single. Joy to the World, written by Hoyt Axton, and made famous by the band Three Dog Night, has the unusual distinction of being recorded with all seven members of the band singing. 

Finally, the 70s Dance Party wraps with a song everyone is sure to know: You’re the One That I Want, written by John Farrar for the 1978 film version of the musical Grease. It was performed by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. 

Flashback to 1979 next! Shake Your Groove Thing, a pop hit by disco duo Peaches & Herb, arr. Mark Brymer, is infused with fun disco rhythms for an absolute blast of nostalgia. Released in December 1978, it reached No. 2 for four weeks on the Billboard Disco chart in 1978, spent 22 weeks on the American charts, and became a Gold record. 

Our fourth tune, Disco Fever, is another compilation of 70’s hits. You’ll want to hit the dance floor when you hear Disco Inferno, It’s Raining Men, Celebration, Turn the Beat Around, Boogie Fever, Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire, Funkytown, I Will Survive, You Should Be Dancing and the ever popular, Y.M.C.A. We understand if you want to jump up and dance and sing along! Of note is I Will Survive, first performed by Gloria Gaynor (in 2016, the Library of Congress deemed Gaynor’s original recording to be “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry). 

Stayin’ Alive, arr. Teena Chinn, features the music of The Bee Gees, one of the hottest groups of the late sixties and seventies. The group’s rich, three-part harmonies combined with Robin Gibb’s clear vibrato lead vocals and Barry Gibb’s R&B falsetto created a trademark sound that made a big splash in the hit movie Saturday Night Fever. Seven of their best tunes comprise this medley: Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Too Much Heaven, Words, I Started a Joke and I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is one of the best-selling of all time. 

As we Celebrate the 70’s this evening, we must include the music of ABBA – Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. This vocal quartet rose out of Stockholm, Sweden in the seventies to become one of the most commercially successful pop groups in history. The group, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 by The Bee Gees, placed twenty singles on the “Billboard Magazine Hot 100” charts from 1972 to 1982. Ten ABBA songs made the Top 20 and fourteen made the Top 40. 

Tonight we perform Dancing Queen, the only ABBA song to reach No. 1 in the U.S. The song became a worldwide hit, topping charts from Australia to Zimbabwe. Musically, Dancing Queen is a Europop version of American disco music. The song alternates between “languid yet seductive verses” and a “dramatic chorus that ascends to heart-tugging high notes. Lyrically, the song concerns a visit to the discotheque, but approaches the subject from the joy of dancing itself, thus having a greater emotional content than that of many other disco songs. In 2015, Dancing Queen was inducted into the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame.

Next in our celebration is Girls Gone ABBA, a mini-medley of ABBA hits from the hit musical movie Mamma Mia! Featured songs include Honey, Honey, Does Your Mother Know, and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. Appropriately featuring the female members of the choir, we know you’ll want to tap along with us. 

We round out tonight’s performance featuring a song about dancing from a stage musical, My Fair Lady. With music written by Frederick Loewe and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. The key word in this title is “danced.” And what says “dance” more than “disco?” This retro/disco version of I Could Have Danced All Night in arranged in an unexpected style by Greg Gilpin.