Editor's note: Salon welcomes back founding contributor Camille Paglia, professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Paglia was a columnist at Salon for six years before taking a break to complete "Break, Burn, Blow," which was published earlier this year and immediately became her fourth bestseller.
Gee, thanks, Salon. There can never be enough reasons not to subscribe. Now, here's that three-pager on Madonna (who else?) we've been waiting years for:
[Note: since the weak of heart may not make it through the entire list I'd like to point out at the top that Dead or Alive, the much-loved purveyors of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" as well as, I'm sure, enough other material to fill out a CD, were not billed as "with" anybody, but if they had been it woudn't have been "With Pete Best", the one-time Beatle drummer. Maybe "with Pete Burns", their singer. It's a clue, kids, where none is needed, that our gal Camille is more interested in name-dropping famous plastic surgery victims than she ever will be about music.]
Camille Paglia's disco playlist
A history in songs: From soul and funk to disco, 1960s-'80s.
James Brown: "Super Bad," "Make It Funky," "Get Up (Like a Sex Machine)," "Licking Stick"
Sly & the Family Stone: "Dance to the Music," "I Want to Take You Higher"
Isaac Hayes: "Shaft"
Curtis Mayfield: "Move on Up," "Superfly," "Freddie's Dead"
The Undisputed Truth: "Ball of Confusion," "Higher Than High"
Eddie Kendricks: "Goin' up in Smoke," "Keep on Truckin'"
Gloria Gaynor: "Never Can Say Goodbye"
Silver Convention: "Fly Robin Fly"
ABBA: "SOS," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Voulez-Vous," "Fernando"
Diana Ross: "Love Hangover"
The Trammps: "Disco Inferno," "I Feel Like I've Been Living (on the Dark Side of the Moon)"
Marvin Gaye: "Got to Give It Up"
The Isley Brothers: "Go for Your Guns"
Sylvester: "Stars," "Body Strong," "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real," "Do Ya Wanna Funk"
Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder: "Four Seasons of Love (four-part album)" "Now I Need You," "Working the Midnight Shift," "Queen for a Day," "Rumour Has It" "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "Walk Away," "Lucky," "Sunset People"
Irene Cara and Giorgio Moroder: "Cue Me Up," "Flashdance (What a Feeling)"
Giorgio Moroder: soundtrack from "Midnight Express"
Yvonne Elliman: "If I Can't Have You"
Bee Gees: "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever," "You Should be Dancing"
Evelyn "Champagne" King: "Shame"
Saint Tropez: "Violation"
Cerrone: "Je Suis Music," "Supernature"
Vicky Sue Robinson: "Turn the Beat Around"
The Michael Zager Band: "Let's All Chant"
Karen Young: "Hot Shot"
Cheryl Lynn: "Star Love"
Pattie Brooks: "After Dark"
Rick James: "You and I," "Super Freak," "Give It to Me, Baby"
Teena Marie and Rick James: "Behind the Groove," "Lover Girl"
Ashford and Simpson: "Found a Cure," "Don't Cost you Nothing'"
Jackie Moore: "This Time, Baby"
Machine: "There But for the Grace of God"
Gino Soccio: "Love Is," "S-Beat"
Jackson Five: "Can You Feel It?"
Michael Jackson: "Billie Jean," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You," "Shake Your Body"
Olivia Newton-John: "Physical"
Grace Jones: "Pull Up to the Bumper," "Demolition Man," "Slave to the Rhythm"
The Gap Band: "You Dropped a Bomb on Me"
Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross: "Jump to It"
Prince: "Delirious," "1999," "Let's Go Crazy," "U Got the Look"
Lime: "Angel Eyes"
Chaka Khan: "Ain't Nobody"
Stephanie Mills: "Pilot Error"
C-Bank: "One More Shot"
Up Fron: "Infatuation"
Madonna: "Burnin' Up," "Into the Groove," "Lucky Star," "Dress You Up," "Open Your Heart," "Causing a Commotion," "Who's That Girl," "La Isla Bonita," "Vogue," "Deeper and Deeper"
Evelyn Thomas: "High Energy"
Laura Branigan: "Self-Control"
Pamala Stanley: "Coming out of Hiding"
Bronski Beat: "Smalltown Boy"
Bananarama: "Cruel Summer"
Alisha: "All Night Passion," "Into My Secret"
Patti Austin: "Gettin' Away With Murder"
E.G. Daily: "Love in the Shadows" (45 RPM Special Remix), "Mind Over Matter"
Dead or Alive with Pete Best: "You Spin Me Round"
Inner City: "Good Life"
Adele Bertei and Jellybean Benitez: "Just a Mirage"
Pretty Poison with Jade Starling: "Nightime"
Jody Watley: "Don't You Want Me"
Real Life: "Send Me an Angel"
As a trained dancer who combined Martha Graham with jazz style, Madonna intuitively understood the deep dynamics of disco -- its implacable grandeur, its liquid pulses and skittering polyrhythms, its flamboyant emotionalism. It wasn't just the clunky thump-thump-thump of drum machines, as hard-rock acolytes contemptuously dismissed it. In a 1991 cover story on Madonna for London's Sunday Independent Review, I described disco as "a dark, grand Dionysian music with roots in African earth-cult" -- a defense that seemed bizarre because disco had yet to achieve academic legitimacy (which arrived in the '90s as more writers embraced popular gay history).
Thanks again, Salon. She's been missed.
Now, as I wrote on a cocktail napkin in 1977, a note that seemed bizarre at the time because the utter suckiness of Disco was obvious for all time...
Sorry. The stuff's infectious.
Look, here's the deal. Dance to whatever you like. Just shut the fuck up about Afro-Dionysian polyrhythms. And stop co-opting genuine musical artists to make your list of disposable producer playthings look like they're part of a solid musical heritage. Wipe the half-dozen real musicians off that list and who is left with a career? Madonna. And if she deserves to be on an historical list of anything, it's right behind the Maytag man as "Longest Running Commercial Campaigns".
[By the way, I haven't checked back over that list--even morbid fascination has its limits--but I've got a tee-shirt for anyone who can find an actual polyrhythm in any of the disco dreck above. Hint: you can skip "Fly Robin Fly".]
We live in a period of declining stars. Few celebrities these days (aside from the smoldering Angelina Jolie) seem to have complex psychic lives. Hence we should probably be grateful for the Ritchies, our new Burtons with their baronial pretensions and nouveau riche excesses. (I have already tartly commented in the U.K. on Madonna's equine misadventure.)
Christ, "I have already tartly commented..."? She's Michelle Malkin with a Thesaurus. But now that Salon's brought her back I do look forward to further installments of "Celebrities With Smoldering Psychic Lives". Starting, I hope, with a renewal of her love affair with George W. Bush, the President with the liquid pulsations of implacable grandeur.
Okay, one last contest: Name the last time anybody on this list did anything vital. My vote: Laura Brannigan. Acheivement: dying.