What is Disco Music?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Disco music is a blend of soul music and funk, set to 4/4 time syncopated rhythm, making it easily danceable. In the mid-1970s, it became the music to listen to, and the most often played in discotheques, or discos. New forms of dance, many of them based on ballroom dancing styles were adapted for disco, and for a while, most of the Western world was swept up in the style.

Disco music often featured an electric guitar.
Disco music often featured an electric guitar.

This genre of music had a lush orchestral sound, and bands often included several singers, the traditional bass, drums and guitar, and highly synthesized sounds. Full horn sections and string sections were not unusual in many bands, since synthesizers were still in their infancy and there was not much in the way of the sampling synthesizers that would eventually dominate the music of the 1980s. Vocals were an important aspect, with vocal tracks subject to heavy reverberation.

Disco music might be played in dance clubs.
Disco music might be played in dance clubs.

A few artists can be said to have dominated the disco era. The Bee Gees was a very popular group, which featured the singing trio of Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb. Not only did they record multiple platinum records, but they wrote numerous songs for other artists. Their popularity was greatly enhanced by the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever which celebrated the disco movement and ended up producing the second best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

Other disco artists, more known for their disco music than any other style include Donna Summers and Barry White, and bands like Earth, Wind and Fire and ABBA. This genre is marked by many musicians from other genres jumping on the disco bandwagon to produce hits.

As disco music grew in popularity, plenty of artists, either from the soul, pop or contemporary music tradition recorded disco hits. Well-known artists to produce this style of include Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, and Eartha Kitt.

Disco music remained popular up to the late 1970s, when people began to hold anti-disco rallies. The amount of airplay devoted to disco, and the destructive nature of the lifestyle associated with it, especially on the east and west coast took its toll on many musicians. Hedonistic dance clubs like New York’s Studio 54 were sharply criticized because of the easily accessible and explicit use of drugs and sexual activity. Eventually, disco music gave way to several different forms of music in the 1980s, including the new wave movement, and numerous lighter rock bands like Journey, XYZ and The Tubes.

Disco left its indelible mark on the music to follow, especially in the power ballad vocals of rock bands and the highly synthesized music of the new wave movement. Yet there was a return to more elemental music with fewer musicians. Bands like The Police, U2, and artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp would become popular for using traditional rock ensembles of bass, guitar and drums with only light dependence on synthesizers.

A few of the great disco hits include the following:

  • The Bee Gees—“Jive Talkin,” “You Should be Dancin,” and “Stayin’ Alive.”
  • Donna Summers—“Bad Girls,” “Last Dance,” and “MacArthur Park.”
  • Amii Stewart—“Knock on Wood”
  • Gloria Gaynor—“I Will Survive”
  • Earth, Wind and Fire—“September”
  • KC and the Sunshine Band—“That’s the Way (I Like It),” and “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty”
  • Thelma Houston--- “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Sneakers41- I love disco party music too. I really like the group Chic. I loved the song, “Good Times” and Le Freak.”

Did you know that the song, “Le Freak” was actually a satirical look at the same nightclub Studio 54? It was really poking fun at the famous nightclub and how exclusive it was at the time.

It mentions the famous night club when it says, “Just come on down to the 54, find a spot we are on the floor.”


Cafe41- The movie soundtrack can really get you into the movie. Like the movie Saturday Night Fever, for example that had its soundtrack made by the Bee Gees.

I love watching this movie even though the storyline is okay, but the music is awesome.

There's something different about seventies disco music. All of it is so lively that you can't help but want to dance. The Bee Gees was probably the biggest disco music bands of all time.


Radiodisco- I didn't know. I will have to check it out.I love disco music.I have so many favorites I don't even know where to begin.

I love all Donna Summer songs. I especially love, “I Feel Love” and “Sunset People”. Both songs have incredible beats and make you want to get up and dance.

What is really funny is that I read that Donna Summer actually lives in Nashville now. That would be the last place I would have thought that a leading artist of disco party music would live.


You can check also Radio Disco for more titles and obscure disco tracks.

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