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Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco
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Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A long-overdue paean to the predominant musical form of the 70s and a thoughtful exploration of the culture that spawned it
Disco may be the most universally derided musical form to come about in the past forty years. Yet, like its pop cultural peers punk and hip hop, it was born of a period of profound social and economic upheaval. In "Turn the Beat Around," critic and jo
Hardcover, 369 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Faber & Faber (first published 2005)
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4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  273 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Though mandatory that the reader be an audiophile/music junkie, this is the holy grail (thus far) of disco history. An amazing retrospective that begins in WWII Germany and circuitously traverses the UK, Italy, and the States. Shapiro obsessively pursues the rise of Motown and Philly soul as it mutated into fledgling forms of disco and then exploded into the pop world with such stigmatizing shlock as the Village People. He fixates on details of every significant gay, black, or punk club, roller- ...more
“Disco was at once about community and individual pleasure, sensation and alienation, orgy and sacrifice; it promised both liberation and constraint, release and restraint, frivolity and doom. Disco was both utopia and hell.”

...and cue the thunderclaps.

This book isn’t a tea-soaked play-by-play of scandals on the lighted dancefloor nor is about the infamous and glamorous who caroused around during this era of decadence and dance (though Bianca Jagger’s iconic horse ride on the Studio 54 dancef
Dec 02, 2007 rated it it was ok
Every now and then, I get motivated to tackle a completely new topic. Such was my outlook when I first picked up this book. I thought, "hey, I love disco. And my musical knowledge is sorely lacking. Let's do this." I started out all gung-ho. I mean, sex! Drugs! Flashing lights! How could it not be totally awesome and relevant to my life?

Not only was it completely irrelevant, it was really...academic. Shapiro takes a thematic approach to disco as opposed to a chronological one. While this is no d
John Palczewski
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I grabbed this at a local library to have something to glance at one afternoon for a long bus ride. I ended up reading it from cover to cover in about three days. As a music history, dance music, house music, and club culture history buff, my opinion is swayed. There's a ton of information in here, and I was pleased to discover the book is about the rich, multifaceted world of dance music from the disco era, rather than a flimsy ode to the whitewashed, formulaic Saturday Night Fever nonsense. It ...more
Feb 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is not a dishy, who-did-whom tell-all, but rather a true history of a genre and an era. I absorbed it via the AM radio of my youth, and it has stuck in my head ever since. Unfortunately, the book was not linear enough for my taste, and I thus could not get into the author's approach. I read about a quarter of the book, and its all ajumble in me noggin.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Amidst a rather dry, academic recitation of the history of disco, reaching farther back than most popular works, are myriad interesting facts and vignettes of the personalities involved. Unfortunately, finding these facts and vignettes feels like a bit of a chore.
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Almost three decades after it peaked as social phenomenon, disco finally got serious literary treatment in this lengthy, detailed and occasionally exhausting book that seriously ponders its origins, socioeconomic atmosphere of 1970s and why this widely popular music genre eventually had its day in USA (but curiously, survived in Europe). Hats off to Peter Shapiro who approaches the subject with utmost seriousness and authoritatively explains what were the main factors in rise and fall of disco, ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Insightful and hilarious, even if you never cared much for disco it's a great read. To give you some indication of the style: “It was lowest-common-denominator music, and its message could be understood by anyone, even if you had to wade through swamps of bad diction and even worse syntax to get there. It was a kind of musical Esperanto—designed for everyone yet seemingly loved by no one (at least in public). Europoppers hardly needed the drum machine to make their rhythms more metronomic (check ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although far less journalistic than the title may lead you to believe, Turn the Beat Around is an immensely readable volume. With a critical gaze, Shapiro nonetheless writes with affection and humor and has a good sense of when to provide additional contexts that may not be immediately evident.
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: disco
(First reading, 2012) Probably one of the best books about music out there. A little much for me to read every word of - it's quite long, and goes deep into the workings of a lot of names, songs, bands, even movements that I've never heard of. This is bad for the overall accessibility but it shines through that this guy really knows his disco, and that doesn't stop at the music. Shapiro's not afraid to tell the complete story of the modem western world as if it revolved around a mirrorball inste ...more
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, socio-cultural
This was recommended to me by a friend and it took me ages to finally buy a copy. There wasn't any reluctance on my part, even though I was never the biggest fan of disco music. I can't resist a great story (or stories), especially connected to music. I tracked down a cheap-ish used copy on eBay and dove in.

Disco, in it's popular form, still remains one of the most reviled genres in popular music. Hell, even progressive rock has seen a bit of a rehabilitation in the past ten years (with its own
Julie Mickens
If you think disco was just the Village People and Saturday Night Fever, and if you would mistakenly echo Twisted Sister in shouting "Disco sucks!" then you OWE it to yourself to step away from your benighted ways and read this book. The aforementioned notions are as ignorant as believing that punk started with Green Day. With this book's help, I learned so much about a genre that I had only previously known via Disney's "Macho Macho Duck."

Disco was the ingenious flourishing that links anguishe
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read a lot of music histories, sometimes just to be cognizant of various styles. Although I was not a fan of disco music in the 70's, Shapiro's history is entertaining and often funny. Personally, I thought of disco as r&b that was more danceable than funk-based. Shapiro's knowledge of music trends running concurrent with disco outlines how the simple beat developed and how it influenced newer trends. He tracks the social development of the music to key moments in U.S. history. I really li ...more
Jun 04, 2009 marked it as to-read
As you can see from some of the books that I add into my GoodReads I have been fascinated with reading about popular culture including the history of American music. That's why I was excited about reading this book about Disco music. I thought the beginning of the book was pretty interesting because it set the bar for how disco started in the NYC scene during the 1970s. It was also interesting to know how crazy New York City was during the 70s. After reading this I learned a lot about disco that ...more
Jan 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Though ot quite as inclined toward historical collage and far flung erudition as Greil Marcus(which is probably a good thing), "Turn the Beat Around" is smart, well-written, engaging history of disco. It covers both its musical and (sub)cultural origins, giving equal weight to genre innovators such as Larry Levan and Nicky Siano and to the New York-centered scene that fused together an increasingly out young homosexual population with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic club culture, increasingly alien ...more
Mar 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a great book! I would have given it 5 full stars, but the mention of Deleuze & Guattari and Roland Barthes in a book about disco prevents me from doing so. So, in spite of brilliant new-asshole-tearing of the exact two things that kept me from appreciating disco for so long, The Village People and Saturday Night Fever, half a star gets deducted for un-merited mention of said eggheads.
Apr 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who wishes they'd been at Studio 54
Shelves: non-fiction
Makes a compelling case that disco was more boundry breaking than 60s hippie music, and more revolutionary than punk. Well-research and engaging, it tackles something that's always been thought of as disposable with seriousness (and a fair amount of fun).

Biggest revelation: Disco isn't soul music as much as it is a mutated form of Broadway musical arias.

Highly recommended.
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Even if you've read the essential histories of the DJ (LAST NIGHT A DJ SAVED MY LIFE) and disco (LOVE SAVES THE DAY), this book is equally valuable in placing disco and its progeny (house, garage, hiNRG, etc.) in a worldwide social & cultural context. Plus it's an incredibly fun read.
Allan Azulbotón
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Qué gran libro (aunque no incluya fotografías) No se conforma con el mero recuento o historia de un género específico, ofreciendo mucho más de lo que el título promete.
Oct 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book almost made me wish I were 20 years older.
Andie Nash
Apr 07, 2012 rated it liked it
I preferred this one to "Hot Stuff," but neither book really had a lot of oomph to it. Both were extremely well-researched and well-written, but so very dry. Great books, just not that fun to read.
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, music, history
A good read that places disco in its socio-cultural and historical context. A fascinating analysis -- well worth reading.
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I could not put this down. Highly addictive reading, especially for those of us who hated Led Zeppelin and wanted to dance. Try dancing to Stairway to Heaven.
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