The Origin of Disco Music happens, as in most new genres, so gradually that it’s almost imperceptible until 1975. The pioneer, beyond the names that serve as influence, is Curtis Mayfield with his 1970 track Move On Up. There are those who, in 1972, already consider Woman by Barrabás (Fernando Arbex’s band, once leader of Los Brincos) as one of the first successful examples of disco music, despite drawing from elements of progressive rock, but funk plays a much bigger role. For this reason, we have included some names that would fall into a sort of proto-disco music of the 70s in our playlist, in order to better appreciate the genre’s evolution until it dominated music charts and dance floors.
Disco music was highly popular in the 70s, immediately upon its emergence, filling discotheques and party venues throughout the second half of the 1970s. The popularity was such that, connecting with what we always say, soon many white singers appropriated this genre. Could one say that 70s disco music is to R&B what rock and roll is to blues? One could say that, but we’re only going to say one thing: the sole purpose of this page’s introduction is to offer you a playlist with the best disco songs of the 70s. In the 80s, soon after, Italo-Disco music would arrive, which we discuss in another post about disco music of the 80s.
The point is that disco music emerges in the mid-70s as a further step beyond rhythm and blues, a genre which, on the other hand, was a blend of the best of soul and funk. With the birth of R&B, many groups became giants, reaching a point where we were hearing songs filled with symphonic music and highlighted by the use of violins with Latin rhythms.
Playlist of 70s Disco Music: 111 disco hits of the 70s
Dance music has evolved over time to the point where, if we listen to what made people dance in the 50s, some might say that such music cannot be danced to. Well, in this case, we could say that 70s disco music opens the doors to timeless dance music that can be danced to at any time. It’s true that the way we move our arms and legs to the rhythm has changed a bit, but something remains, indebted to those years.
As always, in addition to providing you with our selection of 70s disco songs, we also want to highlight some of the most prominent names and memorable songs from that era. With that, we’ll take the opportunity to tell you some anecdotes about their composition, release, or other topics related to the songs themselves.
I’m On Fire, by 5000 Volts (1975)
British singer Tina Charles, who would achieve solo success a year after this I’m On Fire, had already showcased her musical talents as part of the little-known disco group 5000 Volts (formerly known as Airbus).
The English group wouldn’t last much longer without her, nor could they match the modest success achieved here. In the summer of 1976, Charles left the group and was replaced by Linda Kelly, though it wouldn’t be called leaving, as before this happened, Charles had already been replaced by Luan Peters for promotional reasons.
Love To Love You Baby, by Donna Summer (1975)
When we say that our Spotify playlist includes the best disco songs of the 70s, we mean it. We’ve made sure that no hit is left out. Here you can see that, after a lesser-known track, comes one of the greatest classics of disco music in the 70s: Love To Love You Baby, by Donna Summer. The queen of disco music ruled all dance floors in 1975 with a truly timeless and unforgettable song.
Composed by Giorgio Moroder, who also took care of the arrangements, keyboards, and percussion, Donna Summer’s story with Love To Love You Baby begins when the French song Je t’aime… moi non plus was reissued in 1974. After listening to it, the American singer decided to write a sensual song that would somewhat imitate it.
Moroder was particularly interested in developing the new disco sound that was becoming increasingly popular, and he used Summer’s idea to turn the song into an openly sexual disco track. However, initially, the singer wasn’t entirely sure about some parts of the lyrics or Moroder’s idea of having her moan at certain moments in the song.
In the end, Summer agreed to record the song as a demo for other singers to hear and possibly record and release. However, the final result was deemed good enough by the producers, the record label, and the singer herself, who has at times stated that parts of the song were improvised during the recording.
Boogie Shoes, by KC & The Sunshine Band (1975)
As you’ll see throughout this post, and also in the Spotify playlist, Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack is more than present. In addition to leaving its mark on a generation, it compiled (and created) the best of disco music in a movie that is now remembered as an icon of popular culture. The way of dancing, the way of dressing, the way of walking, or the hairstyles, above the plot itself, still live on in many of our loved ones.
Regarding the song Boogie Shoes, remember that it was the B-side of the single (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty, another of the most remembered songs by KC & The Sunshine Band. Despite the great success of the single (released in 1976), where they mixed funk, R&B, and disco in both tracks, the success of Boogie Shoes would be much more notable thanks to the aforementioned movie and would be released as a single again, this time on its own, in 1978.
The Hustle, by Van McCoy (1975)
The name Van McCoy might not be very familiar to you, but his is one of the most iconic disco songs of the 70s. A soloist, singer, composer, arranger, and producer, a heart attack in 1979 put an end to all the possibilities that had opened up after the release of the single The Hustle, a definite dance floor classic.
McCoy composed the song after his partner Charles Kipps—who worked with him on most of his musical productions—observed customers at the Adam’s Apple nightclub doing a dance known as “the hustle”. The song, which was a summer hit at the time, won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in early 1976.
Let The Music Play, by Barry White (1975)
Barry White’s distinctive deep baritone voice quickly stood out in the music world, where he specialized in performing songs with sensual and sexual themes accompanied by lavish orchestral arrangements. A contemporary ear might not immediately think of dancing upon hearing some of his most memorable tracks, but they have indeed been dancefloor hits. In fact, he is recognized as the artist with the most “make out” songs on international charts (alongside Marvin Gaye). He was also a record producer and composer, as well as a three-time Grammy Award winner.
As for Let The Music Play, the song belongs to the album Just Another Way to Say I Love You, which he released a year before the album Let The Music Play (in 1976), where the track is also found. As mentioned, although it can be categorized as disco music, in this case, the R&B sound is more prominent than any other. In fact, the album topped the R&B charts and was a success worldwide.
Daddy Cool, by Boney M. (1976)
Despite being somewhat of a sham (Boney M.’s lead vocalist was actually the producer and not the “singer”), the quality of their repertoire, including Daddy Cool, makes it impossible not to remember them as one of the best disco music groups of the 70s. Their energy and vitality, which invite us to dance in every possible way, make them one of the best in the music industry in general.
As you can read in the Spotify playlist description, Bobby Farrell (the sham frontman of the group) was born in Aruba, a Caribbean island. Although they were based in Germany and achieved greater success in Europe than in the United States, they did manage to place one of their songs on the other side of the Atlantic: Daddy Cool.
Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel, by Tavares (1976)
The success of Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel is undeniable since its origin. A disco song that served them to become one of the most prominent groups in the movement, appearing on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, for which they won a Grammy Award with their performance of More Than A Woman by the Bee Gees.
Disco Inferno, by The Trammps (1976)
While The Trammps‘ first major hit was their 1972 version of Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart, they are better known and remembered for their song Disco Inferno, which, once again, also appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. When originally released in 1976, Disco Inferno became a hit in British pop and U.S. R&B, topping the dance charts for 5 weeks in early 1977.
I Love To Love, by Tina Charles (1976)
We already talked about Tina Charles at the beginning of this list, with a great track we love, but her most remembered song is undoubtedly I Love To Love. Although not publicly recognized as a member of the group 5000 Volts at that time due to contractual issues, Charles was considered to have a stronger voice than the official female singers who joined the group later. This, in a way, allowed her to develop a successful solo career, with this song standing out in particular.
It was an international hit, reaching number 1 in Ireland, number 2 in France, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden, while in Austria, Germany, and Spain the single reached positions 20 and 6, respectively.
Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, by Baccara (1977)
After 3 years of success, Spanish duo Baccara’s Eurodisco arrives. Yes Sir, I Can Boogie was written by Frank Dostal and Rolf Soja, and produced by Soja. It became a hit all over Europe and reached number one in the UK in October 1977.
Regarding Baccara, the duo was formed by flamenco dancers Mayte Mateos and María Mendiola. They were discovered on the island of Fuerteventura by RCA Records executive Leon Deane, who saw them dancing flamenco and singing traditional songs for tourists, and signed them to the label.
Got To Give It Up, by Marvin Gaye (1977)
The track Got To Give It Up was written by Marvin Gaye and produced by Art Stewart in response to a record label request for Gaye to perform disco music due to its booming success at the time. This marked a slight shift in the R&B singer’s musical trajectory, but maintained his signature style as he had always done.
The energy of this song was so powerful that for years, it served as his concert opener. Interestingly, Marvin Gaye had criticized the genre, claiming it lacked substance, and refused to record a disco album until this very moment. In fact, the producer of the song was close to giving the song to Diana Ross, who had recently recorded her first disco song.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, by Santa Esmeralda (1977)
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, Latin disco music in the 70s was also present on the scene and dance floors. Just look at the Puerto Ricans in the movie we’ve already talked about several times. In a similar way to Eurodisco, we now focus on Latin rhythms with Santa Esmeralda and their version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
However, what’s striking is that this group was of Franco-American origin and led by Leroy Gómez. For this hit, they used the arrangements of The Animals’ song and transformed it into a disco club track with flamenco and Latin rhythms and embellishments.
I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round), by Alicia Bridges (1978)
The song was co-written by Alicia Bridges and Susan Hutcheson in 1977 for Bill Lowery, founder of Southern Music. I Love the Nightlife was the first single produced by Steve Buckingham, who was invited to produce the track after playing guitar in a session for the singer. Bridges suggested to Hutcheson that they write a song with the words disco or boogie in the title after Bridges saw a list of the top ten selling singles of the time, many of which had dance-oriented titles.
The resulting song’s original title, “Disco ‘Round”, became the subtitle to the main title “I Love the Nightlife”, as Buckingham then considered it more of an R&B track and didn’t want it to be labeled as disco. Bridges herself later admitted that she hoped the song would be received as a typical Memphis soul song, describing it as “something that Al Green could sing“. Nonetheless, it is considered a classic of 70s disco music.
I’m Every Woman, by Chaka Khan (1978)
Although it enjoyed even greater success in Whitney Houston’s 1993 version (at least here), the original Chaka Khan version had all the ingredients to be a worldwide hit. In fact, the singer is a legend in black music, with multiple best-selling singles spanning decades, especially on the R&B charts.
I’m Every Woman was written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and produced by Arif Mardin. It was released as a single in 1978 from the also successful album Chaka. The song also had a music video, featuring Khan in various outfits to support the title’s message at a time when music videos were not yet common. The track reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and number 11 in the UK.
I Will Survive, by Gloria Gaynor (1978)
We warned you: our list includes popular 70s disco music that has endured to this day. The best proof is Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Always remembered (perhaps even parodied by the Dúo Dinámico), it experienced a revival with a live version tied to the release of the movie 54 (Studio 54), which depicted the antics of 70s partygoers at the famous American discotheque. Adding to this, the release coincided with the 1998 FIFA World Cup won by the French national team, which celebrated with this version (replacing Queen’s classic We Are The Champions), providing further reasons for the song’s increased popularity.
Le Freak, by CHIC (1978)
On December 30, 1977, musicians Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers received a call from singer Grace Jones inviting them to a New Year’s Eve party at the aforementioned Studio 54 in New York, where Jones was performing. When the two arrived at the club’s backstage door, the doorkeeper didn’t believe them and rudely turned them away.
As one would expect, they returned to Rodgers’ house quite annoyed, and fueled by this frustration, they had an impromptu jam session, singing “Fuck off – Fuck Studio 54” along with an improvised riff. Since they liked the sound and melody from the start, they changed the lyrics to “Ah, freak out – Le freak, c’est chic”. However, they left a message, as the published lyrics also include the line “go to 54, find a spot on the floor” as a reference to the song’s origin story.
September, by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
Between disco and classic funk, we find Earth, Wind & Fire’s September, a band that has left an indelible mark on music. Their greatness is evident in hits such as Can’t Let Go, After The Love Has Gone, Fantasy, Wait, In the Stone, Boogie Wonderland, Star, and You And I, just to name a few that topped the R&B charts.
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, by Rod Stewart (1978)
Switching gears a bit while still in the disco realm, we offer what could be defined as disco-rock music. The great Rod Stewart, who has effortlessly navigated the music industry, often doing as he pleases, presented Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? in 1978. Many music critics at the time criticized the song. They saw this genre change as a betrayal of Stewart’s blues-rock roots. In response, the singer himself and other contributors to the success of the song (Carmine Appice and Duane Hitchings) pointed out that respected artists like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones had also released songs in this musical style.
On another note, Stewart was also accused of plagiarism for this track. Specifically, famous Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Stewart because Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? bore many similarities to Jor’s 1972 Taj Mahal. An out-of-court settlement was reached since it was hard to deny the resemblance. In any case, once settled, Stewart referred to it as “unconscious plagiarism” in his 2012 autobiography.
You Make Me Feel Mighty Real, by Sylvester (1978)
You might not be familiar with the singer Sylvester James, but his song You Make Me Feel Mighty Real has likely crossed your path more than once. But just in case you’re curious about his work, know that he is also known for hits like Dance (Disco Heat) (1978) and Do You Wanna Funk (1982), performed with his distinctive falsetto, as heard in this track. In 1979, he received three Billboard awards and a Disco International Magazine award for Best Male Disco Performance. He also had a small drag queen role alongside Bette Midler in the film The Rose, a character based on Janis Joplin.
Blame It On The Boogie, by The Jacksons (1978)
You might recognize this melody from the infamous Luis Miguel version (which claimed not to blame the night), but the truly good version is, as almost always, the original one. The band formed by the Jackson siblings (with Michael’s voice standing out) treated our ears to many hits, transitioning through various musical genres along the way until arriving at the disco style with Blame It On The Boogie, which the siblings produced themselves.
YMCA, by Village People (1978)
Also known as Y.M.C.A., by 1978 we saw disco music becoming increasingly embraced by pop music, which once again adapted to the trends of the time and triumphed. In the case of Village People’s song, it was released on the album Cruisin’ and became a number one hit in many countries. While Victor Willis, the main songwriter, stated he didn’t write anything about homosexuality, many people associate it with the movement.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), by ABBA (1979)
And that’s how we arrive at the year 1979, with the group ABBA. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, but we all remember the voice of Agnetha Fältskog giving it her all. In October 1979, the track was included in the group’s second greatest hits album and released as a parallel single.
The lyrics are about a woman who always has to spend evenings alone and longs for the idea of being with a man. The catchy chorus of the song, featuring keyboards and synthesizers, was used by American singer Madonna in 2005 for her successful song “Hung Up,” which reached number 1 in 41 countries and sold over nine million copies.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, by Michael Jackson (1979)
Before skyrocketing even more with the Thriller album, Michael Jackson had already tasted both group and solo success. He was used to it, and had accustomed his followers to an impressive level. It’s surprising, therefore, that he was able to reach much higher heights later on.
Regarding Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, it became the second single of his solo career to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. With this song, he won his first Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and American Music Award of his solo career. The song, according to critics, showcased Jackson’s talent as a singer and songwriter.
Born To Be Alive, by Patrick Hernandez (1979)
Now, it’s time to end our special 70s disco music party on a high note with one of the great disco anthems of all time. Born to Be Alive by French artist Patrick Hernandez was first released in November 1978 on the French label Aquarius Records, but it wasn’t until the Italians discovered it in January 1979 that it reached dance floors all around the world. What a groove!
So, we hope you’ve enjoyed our double selection and also the accompanying text. If you did, we invite you to subscribe to both this playlist and the Spotify user, where you can find many more music lists like this.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.