Organic Intelligence X: When Rock Went To The Disco
For a brief moment in the late 1970s, huge rock bands like AC/DC and ZZ Top were making tracks that would have killed it on the disco dance floor. Neil Kulkarni delivers his guide to five of the very best in our latest Organic Intelligence subscriber exclusive. You can listen along to the playlists on Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL.
Scorpions – ‘Sails Of Charon’
Kickstarting side two of the mighty Taken By Force LP the liquid heaviosity of this masterpiece makes it a guaranteed eternal floor filler - Uli Roth has never sounded funkier, cutting between Jimmy Nolen-like concision and Isley-Bros psyche-lines with real finesse. Crucial is the Scorp’s hiring of Herman Rarebell behind the drums. With a long history playing in German R&B bands and Krautrock oddbods Missus Beastly he was always going to bring a Bonham/Watts-like solidity and lissomness to the Scorpions groove, and he lays down a humping Chic-like backbeat for Uli and Klaus Meine to get as camp as they ever got. Get it in your DJ bag NOW. This is a too oft-forgot disco rock motherlode.
AC/DC – ‘Touch Too Much’
One of Bon Scott’s finest iterations of his self-avowed ‘toilet wall poetry’ (“the body of Venus WITH ARMS”) but don’t let that distract you from the hugely danceable thump of what DC lay down here. Crucial of course is the presence of Zambian-born producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, drafted in after sessions with Eddie Kramer fizzled into nothingness. Lange is a trained singer, and he pushes Scott to new heights on this track, as well as adding great backing vocals that inch DC as close as they ever got to a platinum disco hit, and getting involved in the songwriting to punch the song into an accessible danceability DC have never got close to before or since. Of course, it’s Phil Rudd who is the real unsung star as ever with DC - his drumming combines loose funkiness with a planet-sized diamond-tight thunkafunk that is unmistakable. This would have caused immensely sweaty moshing at the Marquee, but it’s that funky and impeccably irresistible you can imagine it going down a storm at Studio 54 as well. A disco-rock zenith. Status Quo – ‘Accident Prone’
Quo’s 11th studio album saw some notable changes for the band - a brass section, the David Katz Horns, was drafted in to beef up the band’s typically four-square boogie-rock sound alongside backing vocalists Jacquie Sullivan, Stevie Lange and Joy Yates and the sleeve notes indicate that the Aphex Aural Exciter system was used throughout recording. The Aphex system added phase-shifts and synthesised harmonics to the band’s sound and you can hear it at its best on this natty little banger, written by producer Pip Williams, at the time just fresh off working with Tina Charles on ‘I Love To Love’. Underneath Rossi/Parfitt’s typically tuneful classic rock stylings listen to John Coghlan’s drums - pure liquid disco bliss.
ZZ Top – ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’’
ZZ were no strangers to funk of course - just check tracks like ‘Waitin’ For The Bus’, ‘Just Got Paid’ or ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ for some of the most molten funk-rock grooves this side of Zeppelin - but ‘82’s Eliminator was their chance to firmly expand beyond their traditional fan base and become world-dominating. At the time, Billy Gibbons was obsessed with electro-pop and the music he and the band were hearing in dance-clubs near their Memphis studios. Incorporating rubbery frictive synthesised bass textures and a motorik disco backbeat ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’’ is disco rock in excelsis - trimming rock’s excess and fat to make it into streamlined, hydraulically gliding, hypnotic dance music. When disco rock had its biggest hit.
Jethro Tull – ‘Acres Wild’
Never mind Kiss’ or the Eagles’ kind-of-by-rote moves into the disco groove - Jethro Tull were committedly getting dancier and funkier by the late ‘70s, especially on their run of album that comprised 1978’s Heavy Horses, 1979’s Stormwatch and 1980’s A. Check the weird Holger Czukayisms of this second track to ‘Heavy Horses’ - yes the flute and the fiddles and Ian Anderson’s usual doggerel are all in place (“Come with me to the weary town/ Discos silent under tiles’’) but my godfathers, the groove. Bernard Purdie would be proud of the disco shuffle that underpins this deeply weird little floor-filler.