‘I hate playing this song’: when rock stars go disco

Nowadays, even Noel Gallagher takes it to the dancefloor. But from Rod Stewart to the Beach Boys, moving with the times has had its highs and lows

A few weeks ago, Noel Gallagher announced that his forthcoming album would have a “70s disco” feel. No one batted an eyelid. Here was more evidence of Gallagher’s newfound spirit of boundless musical adventure: a man who has spent years sticking rigidly to the accepted canon of classic rock delving outside of it, into a genre that still never makes the 100 best albums lists in the heritage rock mags and whose practitioners struggle to get elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, however successful and influential they were. Why wouldn’t an artist who appears to have finally tired of making the same record over and over again – “There’s only so many times you can write a song about the rain or use the word ‘shine’,” he sagely noted, “and I’ve got away with it a fucking shitload” – signify that he’s broadened his musical horizons by dabbling in disco?

How different things were in 1979, when the Beach Boys released their new single, the first fruit of an $8m contract with CBS Records: it was a freshly recorded, 11-minute-long disco reworking of their 1967 hit Here Comes the Night. A record clearly intended to reinvent the Beach Boys for a new era, the disco version of Here Comes the Night alas had rather the opposite effect. It wasn’t just that it was an ignominious commercial failure, although it was. It didn’t even make the Top 40, while the accompanying album stiffed so badly that the boss of CBS, Walter Yetnikoff, began to regard the $8m contract with a certain rueful air (in fact, Yetnikoff’s actual words were “I think I’ve been fucked”, but you get the general gist). Worse, their fans actively hated it, clearly viewing it as an entirely unacceptable capitulation to market forces, a belated bit of bandwagon-jumping beneath even a band whose standards had slipped so badly they’d recently released a tennis-themed song called Match Point of Our Love. According to the journalist Nick Kent, the band “felt obliged to apologise whenever they played it live”. They eventually stopped performing it altogether after what Wikipedia describes as “adverse audience reaction” at a New York show.

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