Did we like it?
A reminder of music’s first real party era – and the divas who became the faces of its disco sound – will always get our toes tapping and heads turning but we couldn’t help feel that this programme provided nothing new. For a subject with so much glitter, glamour and sparkle, this was surprisingly sedate and pedestrian.
What was good about it?
• It was genuinely satisfying to hear some classic disco songs, especially those that have been overlooked in favour of less worthy counterparts – Gloria Gaynor’s Never Can Say Goodbye for example (the first ever single to have an extended mix) will always hold more of an appeal than the ubiquitous I Will Survive. We also remembered how much we loved Grace Jones’s Slave To The Rhythm and Sylvester’s gloriously buoyant You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).
• While nothing in the programme’s content was hugely original, it was good to see that the darker side to disco and these artists’ lives was not overlooked. Sylvester’s AIDS-related death (and the public’s reaction to it), plus Donna Summer’s attempted suicide early on in her career, are sobering aspects of this ultimately frivolous period in musical history.
• The spectacularly flamboyant, crazy and downright scary Grace Jones did not disappoint in her contributions to the programme. Looking like a real space oddity, wearing what can only be described as war uniform from Mars, she provided some juicy titbits on her time in Studio 54 and the recording studio.
• Footage of Sylvester (“Billie Holiday meets Diana Ross on LSD” according to the fabulous John Waters) wearing a gigantic mustard yellow wig on Top Of The Pops.
• Grace Jones interrupting her interview by saying that she needed to stop “for a champagne burp”.
What was bad about it?
• The range of talking heads involved was bizarre to say the least. While it was great to have the odd comment from legendary producers such as Dino Fakaris and Giorgio Moroder, we also had to make do with un-insightful banter from bargain-basement reality TV judge Arlene Phillips and bloody Linda Robson.
• Graham Norton as narrator – oh yes, since Queens of Disco is the title of the show, we see what they did there. We’re not sure why but Graham has a real talent for making the historic and renowned sound extremely naff and cheesy – a severe case of Groovy Dad Syndrome if you like.
• Like all music genres, disco had its fair share of stinkers. Gloria Gaynor’s I Am What I Am and Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff for example are predictable, wedding reception fare that always make us leave the dancefloor and head to the bar.
• We’re not sure we agree with the inclusion of Madonna in this topic: while a lot of her material shares similarities with disco (including the recent Abba-sampling Hung Up), it seems more appropriate to discuss this legend in the context of modern pop.