Miles’s Musical Enthusiasm
by Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham
What Makes a Great Club Classic?
Yes – you guessed it – my musical passion is indeed club classics. I have developed an ear for them from tentatively listening to radio shows over the years (Friday evenings on Heart FM), and hope to share my love with the rest of the world.
Cast your minds back to the 80s – a time when rock was terrorised by misplaced synth and pop was just as bad as it is now. With the biggest genres of modern music evoking disgust across the entire western world, surely society as we know it must have disbanded into anarchy? Well, I wasn’t actually alive back then so I’m not sure. One thing is certain, however: it couldn’t have been that bad because club music was around.
What is club music?
This is a good question to begin with as the answer is not as simple as you may think. “Club music” is a phrase used to describe many different sub-genres that are similar and were all popular in the 70s and 80s. These include electronic, disco, and dance, and the basic gist is that you want to boogie when listening (hence the name “club”).
However, this is crucially not to be confused with the club music we see today; real club actually consisted of more than just an overused riff and a beat drop. Musicians actually exhibited talent throughout the songs, and you could still dance to them (I mean real dancing, not just jumping up and down with your hand in the air): such inviting beats are the essence of the genre.
NB You don’t have to be a good dancer to like club – even though I’m sure you are. (I am certainly not.)
To get you started, I’ll show you a couple of stonking tunes that will hopefully illustrate my point:
The Origins of Club Music
To understand the true meaning of club, one must understand its humble lineages. Now it didn’t all necessarily begin in the 80s – I just wanted to convey my hatred for WHAM!. In fact, it is easiest to define club music as originating at the same time as clubs or discos themselves. In the late 1960s and 70s, as discos came to popularity, instruments usually used in pop and rock music were played in a manner which facilitated dancing. The following tunes were especially famous in the mid-70s:
In the late 70s electronic instruments came into use and this is reflected in many of the club classics we hear from this time. Synthesisers and drum machines are examples of such. “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer was instantly hailed as “the sound of the future” by Brian Eno in 1977 who we now know to have been correct, whoever he was.
N.B: I would not class this as a club classic even though it was very famous; it just triggered an era of electronic songs that would become club classics.
It was these ages that harboured both disco and electronic dance music, collectively called club.
What is a club classic?
Using your newly acquired knowledge of club music and your assumed understanding of the word “classic”, the phrase “club classic” becomes pretty self-explanatory. That’s right – it is a club song that also happens to be a classic; a song that is so good, it has withstood the test of time and appeals even to the delinquents of my age.
Most people will recognise club classics when played because of both their popularity and catchy nature. Hits like “Funkytown” and “Super Freak” are still prevalent today.
So then, what makes a great club classic?
Yes, we have finally reached what you actually came here for: the answer to a question that has plagued philosophers’ minds for years: the difference between a timeless club classic and the soundtrack of a middle-aged booze-up:
- Good Lyrics
This probably sounds as obvious and ambiguous as it does incorrect, considering most club songs are so unadventurously written about dancing. However, whatever the topic of discussion, short, catchy phrases are paramount in order to grasp the audience’s attention and make the song memorable. The fact that “we are family” is the only line from its namesake song that anyone ever seems to remember illustrates this point aptly.
- Jammin’ Bass Line
Everybody knows that an instrument as simple and as unassuming as the modest bass is vital in any music, but especially so in club. Such bopping bass lines stitch the fibres of the rhythm and melody while remaining unobtrusively in the background. In fact, the bass is the only instrument that features in every club classic I have shown you thus far (except for drums but they don’t count). This song demonstrates my point, even if slightly contrived…
- Strong Pulse
*Enter angry mob with torches and pitch forks*
“Every philosopher knew that!”
Calm down everyone! I know, I know. The last two were obvious enough, I know, but a strong beat is still important. Oftentimes in club music you will find that at the beginning of the song the percussion is undecorated for a while before other instruments join in; this establishes a solid beat that can be sustained throughout the song. The presence of such and authoritative pulse entices people to dance.
- Dancing Coercion (?)
Okay, okay. You couldn’t actually expect me to know all of the material secrets of a good club classic; music isn’t like that – we wouldn’t be able to distinguish real classics if this were the case, and I would have made my fortune writing them by now.
But I digress; by now you must have realised that an unexplainable and undeniable compulsion to dance grips you when a club classic begins to play. This may be down to perhaps the strong initial pulse that I have already mentioned, but that isn’t exclusive to club music. I prefer to think that it’s a special something characteristic of club songs that is much harder to define and therefore makes them so precious.
So there we have it: the features of club classics even if somewhat questionable. If I must be so cheesy as I draw up a conclusion, I will say that music is a complex entity which may not be exactly expressed as a combination of ingredients, meaning, admittedly, my title is slightly misleading although there is some decent knowledge in there. If this answer seems hollow to you, I apologise; feel free to drown you sorrows in such a splendid music library and reminisce about a bygone era. Otherwise, I am glad you are so easily satisfied. Either way, I have certainly enjoyed spending this time with you talking about such a fascinating topic.
Miles McCollum, Fourths