Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 91
Mon. April 28, 2013
Before Techno and electronica ruled the dance floors of the eighties and nineties, disco was king and not only in Europe but even in nightclubs in America. Even though most of the music establishment thumbs its nose to the sound, rockers like David Bowie, John Lennon, his former partner Paul McCartney, Kiss and Queen all succumbed to the rhythms of disco. Even the Rolling Stones got into the act by dropping disco flavored “Miss You” in the spring of 1978; but Mick Jagger wasn’t the only rock star inspired by the love of discotheque, not to be outshined Pete Townshend got himself in the lyrical game when he explained, “It’s got nothing to do with disco at all! It’s only a series of lines put together. The chorus ‘Goodbye Sister Disco, now I go where the music fits my soul’…that is not an indictment of disco music. I like a lot of disco music; I even like discos. It’s to do with saying goodbye to, I think, a sort of self-conscious poseur kind of thing The Who had been for such a long time.”
Unfortunately not everyone in The Who was a fan of recording a disco theme song, there was some tension that caused some friction between lead singer Roger Daltrey and producer Glyn Johns as documented by Rick Buskin of Classic Tracks when engineer Jon Astley remembered, “Roger leaned over the desk while Glyn was sitting there and he said ‘Can I hear a bit more bass? Glyn stopped the machine and said ‘What?’ and Roger said ‘I just want to hear a bit more bass in the mix.’ Glyn said ‘We’re listening to all this fucking work that they’ve done, and you want to hear a bit more bass?’ At that point, things exploded. It was unbelievable. They both stormed out, and then I heard this kerfuffle in the corridor and Glyn came back in the control room with tears in his eyes, holding his nose and saying ‘That’s it. I’m going home.’ Roger had nutted him and driven off in his Ferrari.” Daltrey later claimed, according to Buskin, “[…] he’d told Johns that he thought the strings made the track sound over-produced: “He called me a little c**t, so I thumped him.”
But that altercation with Johns didn’t reflect how Roger Daltrey truly felt about “Sister Disco” as he explained, “I really like ‘Sister Disco’ but I don’t necessarily understand what he’s saying. I do understand what he’s trying to say but I don’t know whether it comes off. It was a song about getting too old for discos and that whole line that Pete sings, ‘Goodbye Sister Disco, I go where the music fits my soul,’ is kind of operatic; it’s a bit pompous. That’s why I personally didn’t sing that line because I can’t…when Pete sings it he’s got enough kind of tongue-in-cheek quality to get away with it and it works, but if I sang it, it would be a total disaster.”
While most of The Who’s classic cuts were written on his trusty guitars, Pete talked about how he composed “Sister Disco” on synthesizer when he said, “For this track I spent a lot of hours programming my analogue sequencers in my ARP 2500 studio synthesizer. It isn’t quite KRAFTWERK, but in 1976 I don’t think they were doing much better. This is a perfect example of the progression I was making towards theatrical music writing. I was trying to evoke absurd Baron Munchausen musical textures. Roger sounds so seriously intent about everything that the pomposity becomes real and threatening rather than pictorial.”
With New Wave coming to take over the radio airwaves and techno on the horizon, it’s hard not to forget the impact Disco had on rock bands during the seventies. Even The Clash incorporated some dance floor rhythms by release a remix of “The Magnificent Seven” redubbed “The Magnificent Disco.” But looking back, it sounds like Townshend was writing a farewell homage to the sound of disco. Relive the glory, where those nightclub grooves meets Townshend’s soul; put on those platform shoes, bring out the radiating dance floor ball and let “Sister Disco” rule once again.