Top 10 Classic Rock Disco Songs
Disco: Two syllables that often send shivers up a rocker’s spine. And yet there’s enough rock/disco crossover for us to deliver the Top 10 Classic Rock Disco Songs. After all, in the late-’70s, the Bee Gees transformed themselves from an elegant rock/pop group to one of disco’s biggest acts. While other classic bands didn’t go quite that far, they did hustle to stay alive in a changing musical atmosphere by trying their hands at a disco beat. Some of rock’s most legendary groups, from jam band pioneers to progressive rock giants, experimented with disco and came out of the studio with a hit. Here are 10 examples.
‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’
At the time of this No. 1 smash’s release, Rod Stewart was portrayed as a traitor to rock and roll for recording this sleazy disco single. Laying down the four-on-the-floor beat for "Rod the Mod" is Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice, who co-wrote the tune with Duane Hitchings and Stewart. Hitchings, who has since become a big Nashville songwriter, has maintained that ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ was intended as a send-up of the soulless, disco-era “lounge lizards” – a facet of the song that was obscured by its massive popularity in dance clubs.
‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’
Paul Stanley has admitted that one of Kiss' most famous songs was his attempt at how easy it was to write a disco hit. Of course, it was hard enough that he required the assistance of songwriter Desmond Child, who would go on to co-write other Kiss songs, as well as hits for Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. Much of the Kiss Army was unsettled by Stanley’s dabbling in disco and ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ turned into a charging rock song when performed at their shows.
‘(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman’
After years of concept albums that proved inscrutable to U.S. audiences, the Kinks began to regain an American fanbase in the late-’70s. ‘Low Budget’ would become their highest charting U.S. release, aided by the presence of ‘(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman’ and its disco drive. Frontman Ray Davies coupled a current music trend with his take on current events. He sings about insecurity in a superficial world filled with workers on strike and bills to pay. Mick Avory’s drumbeat becomes less about disco dancing and more about unrelenting doom.
‘Shine a Little Love’
On No. 7 in our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Disco Songs, Jeff Lynne seemed to embody the Sound of Philadelphia, as he paired Electric Light Orchestra’s symphonic rock (a 40-piece orchestra helped record the track) with an insistent disco beat. As Lynne would later comment, there’s “quite a lot of things going on” in the song, from the strings to spacey whoosh effects to endlessly multi-tracked vocals. This is ELO at the height of excess… and it worked. The single, along with the ‘Discovery’ album, would become one of the band’s biggest worldwide successes.
‘One of These Nights’
While most of the musicians on this list reacted to the success of 1977’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’ by writing a disco tune, the Eagles were ahead of the curve. The band took a unique approach on ‘One of These Nights’ to emphasize Don Henley’s soulful vocals; the result was a danceable single – albeit one with a bluesy solo by Don Felder. Guitarist and co-writer Glenn Frey would later claim the No. 1 hit as his favorite Eagles record.
It might be a stretch to imagine Jerry Garcia in a big-collared leisure suit, but Captain Trips did co-write and sing this funky, disco-tinged tune. Robert Hunter’s lyrics about urban decay fall in between tightly wound guitars and a steady groove – proving that good disco songs needn’t just be about sex. Other bands shunned or dramatically altered their disco material, but the Grateful Dead embraced ‘Shakedown Street’ in concert, often performing it in a (gasp!) extended version. Fans embraced it too; ‘Shakedown Street’ became what Deadheads called the vending areas placed outside Dead concerts.
Wings’ last huge hit began as an instrumental track Paul McCartney had been toying with in 1978. With a motive to craft a single to coincide with the release of the ‘Back to the Egg’ album, Macca brought in his bandmates to finish the demo. Wings ended up with a seven-minute disco song (shortened for the single release) that featured a flamenco guitar interlude, heavily processed vocals and rubber band bassline. Even John Lennon, who didn’t like the song at all, praised his old buddy’s bass work.
‘Another One Bites the Dust’
Queen bassist John Deacon wrote this stomp-along, stadium-sized classic after spending time with disco greats Chic. He took inspiration from ‘Good Times,’ and completed most of the instrumental track on his own (with Brian May later contributing some effects and Roger Taylor playing a drum loop). Because of how different ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ was in comparison to Queen’s previous hits, the band resisted putting it out as a single. Michael Jackson eventually convinced them otherwise. It then became one of the band’s biggest smashes. Good call, MJ.
Proving that even tried-and-true rockers weren’t immune to disco’s charms, ‘Miss You’ found Mick Jagger and the other Rolling Stones slinking through the streets. The track grew out of a 1977 jam between Jagger and keyboard legend Billy Preston, in which the bassline drove the song. There’s some debate over whether ‘Miss You’ was conceived as a disco tune (Mick and Ron Wood say no, Keith Richards says yes), but Charlie Watts commented that he was unsurprised that disco found its way into the Stones’ studio – simply because he and Mick spent so many nights out at disco clubs. It enraged plenty of rockers, but ‘Miss You’ proved to be a monster hit around the world.
The band most unlikely to be caught in bed with a disco beat tops the list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Disco Songs. The progressive rock titans were working on their latest concept album, ‘The Wall,’ with producer Bon Ezrin. It is Ezrin who deserves the credit for turning the track into a disco single. He encouraged guitarist David Gilmour to embrace a dance beat (see also ‘Run Like Hell’) for the second part of Roger Waters’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ song series. Also, unbeknownst to Waters, Ezrin added an extra verse and chorus, as well as the voices of children to the track. In the end, both Gilmour and Waters appreciated Ezrin’s efforts and ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’ became Pink Floyd’s sole chart-topping hit.