Disco. Never has a musical genre divided opinion like disco. For some people, disco was  the musical equivalent of a four letter word. In their eyes, disco sucked. That was the case back in 1979. Thirty-five years later, disco still divides opinion. 

During the thirty-five year period, disco has flitted in and out of popularity. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a resurgence in disco’s popularity. However, record labels have become complacent.

They’ve got to the stage that they think they can put disco in the title and music lovers will blindly buy a copy. Not any more. Over the last year, the standard of so called disco compilations have hit rock bottom. Things have got so bad that in 2014, I’ve not reviewed any disco compilations. There’s a reason for this. The compilations released during 2014 are described as third rate at best. They usually have titles like The Best Disco Album, Top 30 Disco or Disco Funk. They’re like a one-night stand, they’ll leave you feeling guilty and full of regret. If you see these albums, do as Dionne says and “walk on by.” 

It’s labels big and small that have been guilty of jumping on the disco bandwagon. Among them, are previously successful reissue labels. That wasn’t their best decision. Barrel scraping describes their output. That’s why I’ve been casting my net wider for music to review. After all, there’s more to third rate disco, including badly remastered rambling remixes from DJs who aren’t even  household names in their own houses. There’s more to music than disco, much more. However, I’ve decided to make an exception for a disco compilation the was released on 17th March 204. That’s Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 by Cultures Of Soul Records.

The title Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is slightly misleading. Disco was long dead by then. Its death happened at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979. After disco’s demise, boogie, Italo Disco and Chicago House filled the void left by disco. However, in India, disco was still popular in the late seventies.

Especially in the home of Bappi Lahiri. He’d been caught up in the disco boom. However, it was the disco-lite diet of the Bee Gees, Abba and the dreaded Boney M that  Bappi was weaned on. This would go onto influence him as a composer.

Bappi was a musical prodigy, who was born into a musical family. He grew up to become a songwriter, musician and musical director. Indeed, Bappi was the youngest musical director in India. He was a teenager when he started writing scores for Bengali films. His first success came with Chalte Chalte in 1975, when he was only twenty-two. Four years later, Bappi got his big break.

It was 1976, Bappi was twenty-six. He was a prolific composer, with a successful track record. That’s why the producer of Surakksha Gunmaster G9 approached Bappi. He told Bappi: “I want you to give me music like in Saturday Night Fever.” That’s what Bappi delivered. Bombay Disco had just been born. 

There’s thirteen examples of Bombay Disco on Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985. Fittingly, five of the thirteen tracks on Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 feature Bappi Lahiri. Then there’s tracks from Usha Kuthup, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar and Salma Agha. These tracks featured on films released between 1979 and 1985 and are epitomise what Bombay Disco is all about. However, what are the highlights of Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985?

Usha Uthup and Chorus’ Hari Om Hari opens Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985. This is a track from the soundtrack to Pyaar Dushman, which was released in 1980. Dramatic, cinematic and funky describes the track. Bubbling synths join the rhythm section. It sounds as if it belongs on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. They combine with sweeping disco strings. Then comes the vocal. Sassy and sensual, it’s sung in a call and response style. Locking into a groove with the harmonies it’s akin to a sassy mantra. Later, things get uber funky, before briefly, the track pays homage to Eruption’s One Way Ticket. Dance-floor friendly, funky and soul, it’s also a dramatic and cinematic opus.

It’s fitting that the first Bombay Disco track features on  Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985. Bappi Lahiri and Chorus’ Mausam Hai Gaane Ka was the song that launched musical a genre. Taken from the 1979 low budget film Surakksha Gunmaster G9, the scene is straight out of Saturday Night Fever. The main difference is that the lead character is a government agent. Gradually, the atmosphere and drama builds. It might seem a slow burner, but remember this is for a film soundtrack. Listening to the track in isolation means you’re only getting half the information. It’s worth the wait when this pulsating slice of strutting music unfolds. Horn blaze, strings dance and hearts melt as Gunmaster proves to be the hero of the day. For five minutes, Bollywood meets Hollywood, as funk, pop, soul and disco play their part in a  genre-melting track. 

Moody and melodramatic describes the introduction to Udi Baba. It’s a track from Asha Bhosle and Chorus that featured in the 1982 film Vidhaata. From the opening bars you’re hooked. After a understated, broody introduction your speakers are punished to their limits. Then comes the vocal. Sung in a call and response style, it’s sensual and breathy. Harmonies, horns and percussion are added. They add to the sensual, hook-laden sound that once you’ve heard, won’t forget.

Asha Bhosle and Bappi Lahiri join forces for the irresistible Bugi Bugi. It featured in the 1985 movie Kismetwala. The scene it provides the backdrop to is one everyone should see once. Shakti Kapoor is at the bar drinking copious amounts of alcohol, whilst watching an female band sing Bugi Bugi. Having drunk enough to floor a small army, Shakti decides to jump onstage. He proceeds to gyrate whilst singing Bugi Bugi, which is a fusion of Euro Pop, funk, disco and soul. Full of hooks,  it’s an irresistible track that’s guaranteed to fill any dance floor.

Bappi Lahiri’s Discotheque Music bursts into life the rhythm section and rocky guitars propelling the arrangement along. There’s references to Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby and surf music. Then there’s dancing disco strings. Along with the growling horns, they’re at the heart of what’s two minutes of musical magic, from the 1979 film Shikshaa.

Genre-melting describes Karate, a track from Bappi Lahiri and Amit Kumar. This was the title-track to the 1983 film Karate. No ifs, no buts, it sounds like the soundtrack to a Kung Fu flick. Having said that, it’s more like Kung Fu after a gak binge. Frantic and frenzied describes the music. Screechy strings, the funkiest of bass, handclaps, percussion and piano are combined with harmonies, before horns bray. There’s a brief classical music. Then there’s the vocal. It’s variously joyous and dramatic. At the breakdown, the arrangement’s stripped bare. Having toyed with you, it’s a case of rebuilding. If anything, things get even better. Just like so many tracks on Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985, it’s akin to a call to dance. You can’t help but submit to this track’s joys and dance like you’ve never danced before.

Award winning producer Giorgio Moroder is, he has a lot to answer for. If he’d never produced Love To Love You Baby, he wouldn’t have inspired  a thousand impersonators. Thankfully, Usha Uthup’s Main Gul Badan, a track from the soundtrack to 1984s Locket, is one of the better ones. Bubbling synths and a sensual, vampish vocal join forces. This sets the scene. Strings sweep and swirl, while percussion, drums and synths combine. Crucial to the track is the vocal. Sassy and sensual, accompanied by harmonies it’s a successful  homage to Donna Summer and of course, Giorgio Moroder.

Closing Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is Salma Agha and Bappi Lahiri’s Jeena Bhi Kya Hai Jeena (Part 2). It’s a track from Kasam Paida Karnewala Ki, a film from 1984. It doesn’t take much more than a couple of bars before you realise that this is what is best described as a tribute to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. it’s a myriad of bubbling, sci-fi synths, shrill strings, percussion and pulsating bass. Then there’s the vocals. They’re sung in a call and response style and veers between needy, urgent and joyous. The result is Billie Jean like you’ve never heard before. 

Earlier, I bemoaned the lack of quality disco compilations. That’s been the case for the second half of 2013 and all of 2014. Then out of nowhere, came Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985. Thirteen tracks of what became known as Bombay Disco. Ironically, by then, disco was long dead in America.

Disco had gone from hero to zero in the space of a year. Suddenly, disco sucked. Disco’s downfall started on Christmas Eve 1978, That’s when Steve Dahl was fired by Chicago radio station WDAI. It had previously been a rock station, but switched to disco. Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He’d an inkling that disco wasn’t long for this world. 

Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.

From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before.

WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby disco died.  Comiskey Park was disco’s grassy knoll moment. 

While disco died in America, in India, disco’s popularity soared thanks to the film industry. For six years, Bombay Disco was part of the soundtrack to day-to-day life in India. Film fans heard Bombay Disco. Whether it was pastiches of the dreadful Saturday Night Fever or Bruce Lee-esque Kung Fu flicks, Bombay Disco became a favourite of film fans and music lovers. However, Bombay Disco isn’t all it seems.

While much of the music of the music on Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is disco inspired, much of it is a melange of musical genres and influences. Funk, jazz, psychedelia, rock and soul are thrown into the mix. The result is music that cinematic, dramatic, evocative, frantic, frenzied, funky, lysergic, sassy and sensual. Truly, Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is the perfect introduction to Bombay Disco. The good news is there’s much more where Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 has come from.

Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is just the tip of the iceberg. I realised that, whilst researching this article. There’s much more Bombay Disco hidden away in record company vaults. It’s one of music’s best kept secrets. So are the films the music is taken from. They’re another area worth investigating. That’s why I hope that Cultures Of Soul Records who released Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 on 17th March 2014 release further volumes in this series. Hopefully, Bombay Disco-Disco Hits From Hindi Films 1979-1985 is the first in a successful compilation series that showcases one of Indian music’s best kept secrets, Bombay Disco.


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