Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion [Box Set]

The three-disc box set Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion was released just after PBS premiered the program of the same name, which featured new performances -- from Anita Ward, Thelma Houston, A Taste of Honey, KC & the Sunshine Band, and several others -- with archival footage from the disco era. Content-wise, the box doesn't do much to separate itself from the average disco compilation series, leaning heavily on mainstream hits. Each of these 58 songs reached the pop chart, remarkable for a movement with most of its roots planted in clubs that were only a little like Studio 54, populated by marginalized blacks, Latinos, and gays -- a subculture avoided or barely acknowledged by many Saturday Night Fever fans. (The difference is also in the stark contrast between excluded people who were inclusive and included people who were exclusive.) Most of the songs here have appeared on scores of other disco compilations, but those discs are prone to flimsy packaging and poor sound. Distributed by Sony, this box has excellent sound, insightful liner notes, and plenty of bold photographs, all of which make it a helpful disco starter kit. That said, it does rely mostly on radio edits of the songs, always an unfortunate move when dealing with a style of music that thrived on extended, elaborate grooves (granted, a high quantity of tracks on a disc is always appealing to the average consumer's eyes). The discs are broken down by geography, bizarrely enough, moving from the West Coast to the Midwest and East Coast to everywhere else. This causes confusion. Freez was a U.K. group, so they appear on the "South and Across the Atlantic" disc, despite relying heavily on production from Americans Arthur Baker and John Robie. If you apply the same rationale, Midwesterners Diana Ross and the Jackson 5 should appear on the Midwest/East Coast disc, but they're on the West Coast disc due to Motown's L.A. base. Despite a few blunders (two too many Village People songs and a few damp squibs that should remain on those low-budget comps) and the problematic setup, there are plenty of inclusions that won't lose steam any time soon, no matter how many times they're played -- Heatwave's "Boogie Nights," Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa," Odyssey's "Native New Yorker," A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie," Chic's "Le Freak," and Indeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" are prime examples. In other words, don't let all the nitpicking get in the way of a good time. ~ Andy Kellman

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