Why disco made pop songs longer

Why disco made pop songs longer


I Feel Love is Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s
1977 disco anthem. It’s THE song that signaled the beginning
of electronic dance music. Its production is almost entirely built on
synthesized sounds. There’s a propulsive bassline with a delay
effect, a four-on-the-floor kick drum, Snare hits and hi-hats, and Donna Summer’s soaring vocal. These elements make for a dance track that is hypnotic in its repetition. I Feel Love is a song that illustrates just how much disco
changed pop music. Not only through its sound and structure,
but in the newly invented vinyl format that gave it a natural home: A 12 inch single. This is a 7-inch single, it pretty much ruled
pop music since the beginning of rock and roll. It’s the format that powered jukeboxes,
teen record players, and most importantly the radio. It was a small, cheap, and durable record
that, when spun at 45rpm, was just large enough to fit three and a half minutes of good audio
on each side. You’ve probably heard it called a “45.” This chart shows just how much the 7-inch
single dominated pop music. From the 1950s through the 60s the average
length of number one hit songs averaged about 2.5 to 3.5 minutes. Paul: It was only in pop music that there
tended to be this sense that it needed to be three, three and a half minutes, and that
was radio and because of the seven inch format. That’s Paul Morely. He’s known for a lot of things. I’m an author, critic, broadcaster, and occasional musician and occasional remixer. Okay, back to the story. Those 3 minute singles had become a standard
on the radio, but dance clubs demanded a totally different musical experience. In the early 1970s in New York City a handful
of scrappy DJs made the dancefloor more important than ever. One of them was Nicky Siano. Nicky: I owned a club called the Gallery,
which was the template for every club in the later ’70s. At his club, Siano figured out the best
songs and techniques to keep people dancing. Nicky: There’s this song called
Cymande called by Bra. “Dun dun dun dun dun.” And we would take that record and play it
over and over and just go back and forth and back and forth with that break. By using two turntables, sometimes 3, DJs
like Siano could make that break last forever. Nicky: Flipping those forty fives, that’s
work. That is work. It was work because the naturally short length
of 45s left little time for DJs to plan their next move. So, they started searching for longer material
to work with. Eddie Kendrick’s “Girl You Need
a Change of Mind” is often cited as one of the first disco records. Nicky: When that record came on it filled
the dance floor. And it was peak record, anywhere you went in
New York City. It was a gospel-inspired track that had an
extended two minute break. The single version was over six minutes long. The only way it fit on a 45 was because it
was split it across two sides of the record. It bastardized the song. I had to play it on the LP. I just felt the fidelity, everything, was so much better. The longer the song on a 45 the more narrow
and compressed the grooves have to be so it can physically fit on the tiny amount of space. But that compromises the quality of the audio
because its those grooves that determine how the record sounds. You’ll hear less bass and dynamic range
on more compressed grooves. Paul: You put four minutes, 4.5, five minutes, it tended to get smaller and be squashed. The grooves were too squashed, the sound would be too squashed. By 1973 a number of unconventional tracks that blew up in New York City’s discos crossed over to
the billboard charts. The success of Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango
was single handedly propelled by its heavy play at New York City clubs. Atlantic records re-released the single in
the US due to its popularity in New York City and it made it on the Billboard charts. Same thing happened with “Love
Theme” arranged by Barry White. It was a number one hit, a very rare feat
for a fully instrumental track. Nicky: We started playing it really heavy. Siano: It made the charts before it ever was played on the radio. And that’s how we became more influential. This 1974 Billboard article captures just how much
influence DJs had on the music industry. It says record labels were mixing records specifically
for New York City clubs. They were making those edits longer, and more
importantly, they were bringing DJs in the studio to pull it off. But the dilemma with distribution remained:
cut the song down for the radio, split it across two sides, or squeeze the 5 plus minute
remix on one side of the single, compromising the quality of audio. Almost by complete accident a disco producer
came up with the solution: 12-inch single. The man behind the discovery was Tom Moulton. He had a remix of a song on tape, which he
would typically then record onto a disposable 7-inch for reference. Paul: But he didn’t have any acetate that
he could do that with, so he just put it on a 12-inch acetate, which usually you would
put 10 songs on. Immediately he discovered that stretching
one song across 12 inches dramatically changed the sound of the record. Paul: Because the grooves were
wider spaced there would be more power and force. He realized that this would create
a more energetic and more lively sound. In short, producers could dramatically stretch
out the length of a single. Which proved very handy for DJs. Nicky: It was revolutionary. You know, I was like “wow.” We can go to the bathroom. We can go do drugs. We can go, you know, smoke a joint. Almost immediately 12-inch singles replaced
45s in clubs But a debate erupted on whether or not they
were worth the production cost to sell to everyday consumers. The success of “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure, the first commercially available 12-inch single, proved its worth. Though based on these singles it was still
unclear what they were called. Paul: Very quickly in the disco
world, the 12 inches were turned into commercial formats because there was a demand for them. Those that like dancing to the 12 inch in
the clubs wanted to be able to buy it. And that’s exactly what happened with I
Feel Love. Paul: Very exciting, you know, because it sounded space age, it sounded other. You know, the idea of setting up rhythm and repetition, and almost drone, if you like, you could start to do that in a more exciting way using synthesizers and sequencers. The song was originally the B-side of a 7-inch single. By the end of 1977, it had been released in various forms, finally finding its most iconic home on 12 inches of vinyl. Paul: In many ways it gave a whole
new lease of life to the idea of pop music and it’s that lease on life that really has
kept pop music going to this day. The 12-inch single ruled nearly every genre
in the 1980s. Not least because releasing a 7-inch version
and 12-inch version of a track at precisely the right time in a promotional cycle often
kept popular songs on the charts for longer. Paul: The record companies loved
it because it gave them the opportunity to sell more copies and keep the profile up. But more importantly, the 12-inch single allowed
for unfettered musical exploration. Paul: The one that I fell in love
with as soon as I heard it, and still love it to this day wasn’t really a remix as such
at all it just existed in itself. Which was Blue Monday. Blue Monday by New Order is the most commercially
successful 12-inch single of all time. It was released in 1983 and was packaged in
sleeve that looked like a floppy disk. Paul: It’s not a 7-inch turned into a 12. It begins life as a 12-inch. It’s not a remix, that’s the length that it
was. From 1970 through the 1980s the average length
of #1 Pop songs nearly doubled and the 12-inch single probably had a lot to do with it. Paul: Any music that’s made electronically and is made with a kind of experimental purpose, whether that’s in hip-hop or electronic music, its beginnings, in many ways, was the 12-inch remix. Making Earworm takes a lot of time and energy, and when I’m on hour 14 of animating, the last thing I want to do is stare at my screen and try to remember old passwords or worry about my data being hacked. That is why I’m excited to tell you about Dashlane. Dashlane is the perfect tool to help keep you safe online. You don’t have to worry about getting locked out of accounts, resetting your passwords, or your internet history being monitored. All you have to do is download it and Dashlane will take care of the rest. It’ll notify you if websites you have logins for get hacked, or if your data gets compromised. Dashlane also includes a secure multi-country VPN for all your devices, at a much lower cost than its competitors. So go to dashlane.com/vox to get a 30-day free trial of Dashlane Premium. And if you like it, you can use promo code “VOX” to get 10% off Dashlane Premium. Dashlane doesn’t directly impact our editorial, but their support makes videos like this possible. So click the URL in the description and check them out.

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  1. If you're interested in Estelle's research process for Earworm, she shared a special video breaking it down in the Video Lab: https://youtu.be/SRuKrJz4sHY. If you want to watch the whole thing, become a member here: http://bit.ly/vox-video-membership

  2. Screw all the other modern music, we got Breakbot bringing back those 1970 funk disco pop vibes 👌🏽🤘🏽

  3. Earworm is a gem. The perfect example of how art and technology are historical processes that co-evolve. I LOVE it.

  4. "I Feel Love" is Summer at her best, her angelic voice surrounded by a totally electronic landscape and layers of harmony. The memories…

  5. I remember finding out about extended singles when I first heard the Brothers Johnson's "Get The Funk Out Ma Face" on the radio. My best friend and I were both disappointed when he got the Brothers' LP and found it was only 2 and a half minutes long. That's when we found out we were hearing a special extended version only available to deejays. That was in 1976 just before Double Exposure's "Ten Percent" was released.

  6. This is simply FANTASTIC !!!! I thought the 'Orch' sample piece was amazing, and this also had so much depth, WONDERFUL !!

  7. Why doesn't each earworm video has an accompanying playlist of curated songs/music mentioned in or related to the video?

  8. This video was great. Besides being the editorial and subject was great as being a long time occasional disco DJ, learned new things from this.

  9. I have that Blue Monday 12" still. I bought it even though I already had the album because it looked like a floppy disk and I was a young computer nerd back in the 80s (ok, ok, I still am). I had no idea it would turn into a collectors item, I just thought it looked cool.

  10. How much streaming is now influencing the length of the tracks to be shorter? With modular synthesizer and other electronic music performances, the length of the performance is a bit less than 20mn. I recently released an ambient modular synthesizer album with 4 tracks of 15mn each. It feels like not the way to do music nowadays…

  11. There were also 45s that played at 33 1/3 rpm, which was an early attempt of putting longer remixes on singles, leading to the development of the 12” single.

  12. you should do a vid about why 90s music had like a chimey intro for example greatest love of all, man in the mirror, heal the world etc.

  13. NOTE : The American 7 inch had NO middle and required a plastic adaptor. European singles especially British ones came with a centre hole built in. The latter was more convenient but if the manufacturer made that hole slightly off IE too big by a tiny fraction you had to force it on and pull it off which could cause warping.

  14. One manifestation of the change disco made to pop music that I remember was when tunes from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack began hitting the airwaves Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" had a running time of 2:57 (which in the 60's was about average for a pop song), but many radio stations began extending it by repeating the second verse.

  15. new order – blue monday was just an exercise in how to program their new gear. turned out rather good 😉

  16. Great work Vox… But I think the real story here is…. Dance Clubs.
    From what I understand, the music industry (business) was desperately trying to catch up with them.
    Dance Clubs is the heart of where real innovation was going on.
    The music industry only benefited from it.

  17. It's worth mentioning that 12" LP' ran at 33 1/3 RPM's. 12" singles ran at 45 RPM's. The groove velocity is important to the sound as well. Spinning it faster on a bigger record gives the audio more detail.

  18. Donna Summer – Packed the dancefloors, raised the bodyheat, rattles the glasses on the tables, left your ears ringing. By the time you walked off the dance floor you were drenched in sweat and felt giddy high…yeah, I WAS THERE!

  19. The second part of the story: now, due to online streaming platforms, such as Spotify, pop songs are now getting shorter.

  20. this is totally fascinating. Once again we see the symbiotic relationship between technological advances and artistic necessity.

  21. Another symptom of this phenomenon. Casey Kasem's 'American Top 40' countdown was lengthened from 3 to 4 hours around 1978.

  22. I don't think a song should overstay its welcome. i'm more likely to listen to a song multiple times if it's shorter. I prefer the 2 to 3 minute format

  23. Cymande's Bra's 7-inch is mentioned on here, but the break is NOT on the original 7-inch single! It is edited out to fit on 7-inch format!

  24. at 6:20… The absolute truth. the 12 inch remix disc gave us djs that "window of opportunity!" and if you were fortunate enough to have a booth of considerable size…. (which i had at many of my gigs) life was good : ) SPECIAL SHOUTOUT: thank you Mr. Frampton for your Live version of "Do You feel like I do"! It wasn't a 12 inch – it was a standard album LP. But the 14 minute plus track gave you the time you needed to do………. a considerable number of things! : )

  25. Man i wish there's more i could do to commend this video other than pressing the like button (i am already subscribed for about a year and a half now). This video has so much effort research, data structuring, writing the story, choosing the reference songs and turning it into a visual eyecandy. Daaaym. To the creator off this video. Know that someone appreciates you and your work.

  26. 9:00 I have that same typewriter! I also have a green IBM Selectric with ball fonts that my mom used to type papers for college students at UC Berkeley. 80 WPM that woman was fast-fast.

  27. Madonna's Into The Groove was only available on the B-side of the 12" remix of Angel. Just throwing that out there.

  28. Every time I hear Donna Summer – I Feel Love, I have to remind myself that I'm not listening to Eurythmics – Love is a Stranger.

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