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The Disco Box

Various Artists

Rhino

Maybe it was understandable that disco received the intense, vehement backlash that it received when it became such a big deal in the 1970's. It was overproduced, overhyped, underlyricized, and underperformed. But it also meant something to a generation that was going through one helluva cultural, social, and political hangover from the 1960's, that it served its purpose. And if you don't think it changed the world, fine.

   But lest we turn this into yet another us-against-them rant on rock vs. disco (oh, sure, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin's music mattered SO much), let's simply understand the importance of a genre that took the essence of musical (and lifestyle) celebration to a higher plane. As a curious outgrowth of the incredible rhythm and blues and funk that peaked in the mid-'70s, disco tapped into America's energy in ways not quite unlike some of the great rock anthems of the same period. Funny, while my older brother was losing himself in the incredible force of "Walk This Way," I was having the same reaction to the Jackson Five's "Dancing Machine," Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," or almost anything off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (sadly, none of which is represented here). And hey, we were even sharing the same joint, so what's the beef? Disco signaled a transfer of power, from the guitarist and other penis-obsessed macho musical ducks of the day and turned it over to the DJ and his audience. The DJ, by combing house parties and record bins, learned how to "Turn the Beat Around," and the dance floor in the process. Doing "The Hustle" wasn't entirely different that the air guitar; it simply had more style and more interesting clothes and better steps. Disco also was more egalitarian than most American music forms, celebrating African-American, Latin, and even gay cultures, and blending them all into one. And everyone, even Tony Manero, could be a star.

   Save the (I'm sure) license-challenged Saturday Night Fever omissions (except, thankfully, for the Trammps' "Disco Inferno"), it's all pretty much here, including some of the crossover gems like "Play That Funky Music" or "You Sexy Thing." And there are the anthems: Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," K.C. & the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" and the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," just to name a few. There's also some late-era gems like Freeez's "I.O.U."

   The only curious thing about this well-packaged, four-disc collection is the timing. I mean, I remember the disco/retro resurgence kicking into gear 10 years ago. Was Rhino simply waiting for the fever to abate (for the second time) to let the music stand on its own instead of as a capitalization on another trend? Well, as the music itself suggested, who cares? The dancefloor's still there.

Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com

--David Lee Simmons