The nearly 2,000 assembled covers are fantastic, embarrassing, outrageous, sexy and sometimes all of these things at once.
A genre-specific companion piece of sorts to the coffee table book Dust and Grooves, Disco isn’t just for dance-floor divas but for anyone who has a soft spot for ’70s fashion, slick graphics and booty—more booty than you’ll find in an average episode of “Adventure Time.” With a foreword by Tom Moulton, pioneer of the 12” single, the book sorts its entries the way that massive institutional record libraries sort their material: by record label. Most of the book is dedicated to the independent labels that formed the meat of the disco era, with chapters on companies like Casablanca (Donna Summer), Prelude (Musique) and TK Records (KC and the Sunshine Band) that were born and flourished during that period. But some of the included labels began their life under less-sequined times, like folk label Vanguard and Scepter/Wand, known for girl groups and “Louie Louie” before it released disco hits like B. T. Express’ “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied).”
The nearly 2,000 assembled covers are fantastic, embarrassing, outrageous, sexy and sometimes all of these things at once. Crate diggers who favor dollar bins probably come across some of these records on a regular basis, and it’s surprising how many of these records still go for peanuts. There are more valuable gems among them, like the private press 12” single “Puddin” by Baltimore-area group Belle Farms Estates. Unfortunately, Disco won’t give you their history, this doorstopper meant as a photobook more than a true disco encyclopedia. But intriguing cover art will send the inquisitive disco fan down the Discogs rabbit hole.
The book has a number of errors and debatable entries; even though an introduction notes that its survey of label runs leaves out irrelevant titles, a few slipped through the cracks. For some reason, the first release on the disco-centric Butterfly label was by counterculture comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre. Maybe their name sounded like a disco group to the book’s editors, but there’s less excuse for the soundtrack to The Blue Lagoon, unless you consider it topical because of Brooke Shields’ appearances at Studio 54. More borderline are entries from Manhattan Transfer (I’d like to see historical documentation of dancers snorting coke to vocalese) and Trick Bag from New Orleans funk legends the Meters. It’s a danceable record from the era, but the Meters’ homegrown funk (and Zigaboo Modeliste’s twitchy drumming) runs against the machine-like essence of disco, even if the cover features the kind of booty so prevalent among actual disco records.
Scattered throughout the book are interviews with label owners like Mel Cheren of West End Records (whose Manhattan address was home to Studio 54) and Henry Stone of TK Records. These interviews highlight the difference between Dust and Grooves and Disco; while the former is mostly for and about music consumers (musicians like Questlove aside), Disco focuses on the people who made the music, and its interview subjects all have fond and enthusiastic memories of making music during this frenetic era.
The book also dedicates themed chapters to disco instruction records and compilations, and a final section on 12” single covers provides some of the genre’s most unusual custom art work, including a fiery pair of legs spread for the record label to peek through. This was a saucy time indeed. This may well horrify some readers and musical sensibilities, but some of you—you know who you are—will want to check their neighborhood dollar bins—or Discogs—immediately.
Needless to say, like any other collection of album art, readers will want to keep their smartphones nearby as they peruse the book to add items to their want list. Minor quibbles aside, Disco is highly recommended for the discerning record collector’s coffeetable.