There is a lot of debate around the first disco song and like anything subject to evolution, the true origins of a genre are difficult to pinpoint accurately, especially when considering something as subjective as music. What two people hear in any given song may be entirely different.
The most commonly accepted contenders include “Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango in 1973, the extremely danceable and highly syncopated “One Night Affair” recorded by Jerry Butler co-written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in 1972, Isaac Hayes’ 1971 smash hit “Shaft”, or anything by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. I propose however, that we rewind just a little further back.
In 1969, a horn-rock group formed in Seattle, Washington who would very quickly earn the reputation of “stealing the show” from headlining bands they were hired to open for. Their extended jam style with groove oriented and horn driven performances were such an intense and satisfying experience for concert goers, audiences would just up and leave after their set, demonstrating no further interest in seeing the headliner. This didn’t bother Jimi Hendrix of course, a childhood friend of band members Luther Rabb and Ronnie Hammon, who asked them to open every show on his 1970 “Cry of Love” tour.
They would go on to release four albums between 1970 and 1974, all containing original drum lines, rich melodies, intense orchestration and extra helpings of “Wah-Wah” guitar; the building blocks of Disco life. After 1974, the members disbanded and continued to play music separately with top acts like Santana and War. The band’s music disappeared from relative popularity and may have ultimately been forgotten forever. Until 1989 that is, when a rapper named Young MC created his own Grammy Award winning single by famously sampling the dance break in Rabb and Hammon’s lead off song from Ballin’Jack’s first album.
That track, off Columbia Record’s 1970 LP release and self-titled debut “Ballin’Jack”, is my candidate for the first song in true Disco style. If you can’t dance to this? Man, you just can’t dance.
Ballin’ Jack – Found A Child