The rise and rise of disco as the dominant form of pop music in the second half of the 1970s divided opinion dramatically. Its emergence from club dancefloors to daytime radio playlists saw the genre morph from an underground movement into its own mainstream language, to the point where almost every upbeat, chart-friendly song had to have a 12-inch mix.
Millions of record-buyers embraced the phenomenon, while the sheer all-pervasiveness of the record-smashing Saturday Night Fever soundtrack caused many others to revolt. The backlash manifested itself in many ways, from rock fans wearing “Disco Sucks” t-shirts to the organised burning of disco records.
Some artists who had emerged with a more traditional soul-funk sound, such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang, embraced the disco wave and rose to ever greater commercial heights. Others, especially long-running solo artists, made ill-judged and uncomfortable entries into the disco market and came to see it as an insurmountable road block. But other 1960s veterans, such as Edwin Starr and Gene Chandler, found a new payday in the format.
The pivotal year for this divisive issue was 1979, probably the last in which disco fever had a stranglehold on the charts, as the early elements of rap music prepared to coalesce in a new form of R&B expression. One US pop chart in July that year showed the genre to be completely dominant, with disco flag-bearers such as Donna Summer and Chic joined by such artists who would be defined by the era, such as Anita Ward and the Village People.
A little earlier, the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 May provided an interesting snapshot of the forces competing for the public’s attention. The Jacksons, in vogue again via disco fully a decade after their Motown uprising as the Jackson 5, entered the top ten with ‘Shake Your Body’; Cher, from an even earlier pop generation, was raising the beats-per-minute ratio with ‘Take Me Home’ and Chic’s Rodgers-Edwards power base was represented both in the group’s ‘I Want Your Love’ and their production of Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer.’
Even Paul McCartney was riding the disco train with Wings‘ ‘Goodnight Tonight,’ while the aforementioned Summer and Village People were both in the top five, with ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘In The Navy’ respectively. The pulsing beat of Blondie‘s ‘Heart Of Glass’ was on the way down from No. 1.
Yet, in the midst of it all, Suzi Quatro and Smokie’s Chris Norman were on the rise in the top five with the soft-pop duet ‘Stumblin’ In,’ and the nation’s No. 1 — not just this week, but for the whole of May — was another two-handed slowie, Peaches & Herb’s ‘Reunited.’
This later version of the act who had enjoyed big success in the late 1960s had, themselves, caught the public’s ear with a dancefloor winner, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing,’ a few months earlier. But ‘Reunited,’ written by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, was a reminder that American record-buyers still had a soft spot for a winning ballad.
Listen to ‘Reunited’ on 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Peaches and Herb on Spotify