Disco was equal parts counterculture scene and dance music, but traditional rock bands tended to steer clear of the genre. However, the excess associated with disco may have appealed to many artists who worked in rock at the time.
But only a few artists were brave enough to make a foray into the dance scene at the height of their careers. Some of them were welcome, while others were met with worry that rock was dying out.
We’ll check out seven rock bands that gave disco a shot and see if any of them are worth listening to.
Let’s hit it!
Why Did Some Rock Bands Turn to Disco?
In some cases, bands went disco because they genuinely loved the sound. The genre had complex production value and intricate rhythms that were fun to listen to and play around in.
On the other hand, some bands likely wanted to boost sales by jumping in on the fad.
Some of the most iconic disco acts started in other genres. The Bee Gees began their recording career with a beat-inspired sound like many British bands of the era. ABBA was originally a folk-rock group before they made dance hits.
Other groups took baby steps into disco while maintaining their own style. Michael Jackson’s album, Off the Wall, fused a variety of genres, but the dance beats were clearly borrowed from other 70s stars.
But a surprising number of rock bands actually did go a little disco. Some notable entries include The Who, Rod Stewart, and Ringo Starr. Even the Kinks and Electric Light Orchestra got in on the fun.
7 Great Rock Bands Who Turned Disco
While these undeniably great rock bands all tried their hand at disco, some of them managed to pull it off better than others. We gathered seven of the more interesting experiments to spotlight.
The band who wanted to rock and roll all night made the disco-inspired I Was Made for Lovin’ You. It may seem weird, but these makeup-wearing glam rockers were never afraid to go out on a limb to make a buck.
KISS released the tune in 1979 when the genre was at its height. It has the signature four-on-the-floor bass beat and vocal harmonies of other dance tracks from the era. While it was a popular song, some of their loyal fans accused them of selling out. To be honest, it’s not great.
Rumor has it that the record label wanted KISS to make more commercial music, and they argued that anyone could easily make a disco track. A few hours later, I Was Made for Lovin’ You is what they came up with. While it’s a mainstay at their live shows, most of the band members claim to hate it.
#2 Pink Floyd
These prog-rock mainstays made complex, philosophical tunes. They also experimented with psychedelic sounds and very political, anti-establishment lyrics. Perhaps that’s where the crossover found fruition.
Early disco subculture was a safe haven from racism, sexism, and homophobia, and they cherished individualism. Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall also serves as a sort of protest song.
The band listened to some dance hall hits at the recommendation of their producer and used the catchy beats in what became their most successful single. The disco sound blends perfectly with David Gilmour’s funky guitar riffs.
Queen is no stranger to the sound associated with 70s dance music. Freddy Mercury’s iconic voice is also perfect for the genre.
But with the 1980 song, Another One Bites the Dust, they take a more simplistic approach while creating a signature dance tune. It uses a catchy bass riff and erratic guitar to create an infectious dance number.
And just like Pink Floyd, Queen’s disco single became one of their best-selling hits and a fan favorite. It also inspired them to create a dance album, Hot Space. However, other than the stand-out track Under Pressure, many fans and critics found the effort disappointing.
Still, long-time Queen fan Michael Jackson cited the album as a creative influence. Queen continued to experiment with different fusions but strayed away from the disco sound.
#4 The Rolling Stones
The British hard-rock pioneers weren’t exactly known for their catchy dance songs. But their sexy lyrics and party lifestyle fit in well with the club scene.
Mick Jagger moved to New York in the mid-70s and spent quite a bit of time at Studio 54. He developed a love for the fast-tempo beats and incessant bass drum.
This was around the time they were recording the album, Some Girls, when many people felt their best years were over. The band could feel the potential as they worked in the studio. The fast beats and glitzy pace of the guitars helped the band produce music that was both raw and dancey.
The album was a huge critical and commercial success. However, they stayed with the style for their next album, which was a major failure. After that, they returned to their hard rock band roots and left disco behind.
#5 Paul McCartney and Wings
Love him or hate him, the former Beatle is the most successful musician of all time. After six decades, he’s never shied away from experimentation. With the Beatles, he helped change what rock and roll could be.
But let’s not forget Paul McCartney is also one of the best bass players in the industry. Going disco was a good opportunity to showcase the supple, melodic notes that often get overlooked in his other work.
The song Goodnight Tonight meant to serve as a single to accompany the 1979 album Back to the Egg. But it didn’t really fit.
The groovy track had a complex combination of acoustic and electric guitars that mirrored the sounds of disco. But the eerie vocals didn’t shy far from his psychedelic roots.
The song was popular worldwide, but McCarntey didn’t dabble in dance tunes again for a long time. With a following like his, he’s always had the freedom to create whatever he wanted.
This New York group was part of the birth of new wave, but they were never afraid to fuse genres. They experimented with reggae beats and punk rock sounds from the beginning. After making a name for themselves internationally in the late 70s, the rock band turned to disco.
Heart of Glass was initially called “the disco song.” It featured a quick beat inspired by the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive. The rest of the album was more true to their original sound but still found crossover success. While some of their early fans accused them of selling out, it didn’t slow them down.
None of their other tracks are quite like Heart of Glass. But the band continued to dabble in the club music scene birthed from the sounds in 70s night clubs. They even helped bring hip-hop mainstream with their song Rapture.
Long after the heyday of Saturday Night Fever, the Irish rock band U2 started dabbling in the disco-inspired EMD sound. When a sample of their song Discotheque first leaked on the internet in 1997, critics and fans were a bit mystified.
Bono’s vocals are somewhere under blurry synths and a dance beat in this odd tune, and for the most part, critics and fans snubbed it. In the music video, the band pays tribute to the origins by wearing Village People costumes.
Of course, some people loved the song. It saw cross-genre success on Billboard’s dance, alternative, and mainstream rock charts. All in all, it was a strange chapter for a band that some people love to hate.
Should Rock Bands Make More Disco Hits?
Whether it was for cash, pure pleasure, or to prove a point, these rock acts had mixed success with their musical experiments. But maybe if the “disco sucks” sentiment weren’t so strong, we’d have heard more exciting fusions from other artists.
Currently, dance music seems to be on a bit of a comeback, so we can expect to see this list keep growing.
Did we miss mentioning a great rock band that turned disco? Let us know in the comments.