Disco in the District: The Best Disco Tracks from Washington, DC
The Blackbyrds — “Walking in Rhythm” (1975)
Formed while they were students of jazz trumpet player Donald Byrd at Howard University, The Blackbyrds scored a Billboard Top 10 on both the R&B and Pop charts and received a Grammy nomination for this breezy, upbeat track. While it has a smoother, jazz-influenced edge than most disco songs, it has a funky percussion line, prominent bass line and a sunny melody that makes it a dancefloor hit. This is also a perfect track for a sunny day driving playlist; it oozes positive energy, making it a fantastic song to listen to when stuck in DC traffic.
Van McCoy — “Lonely Dancer” (1979)
Most people think of “The Hustle” when they think of Van McCoy, but the DC born-and-raised composer recorded many other quality disco tunes. He also notably produced for artists such as Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Recorded for his final album of the same name before his passing in 1979, “Lonely Dancer” has a dark edge. It combines a mysterious melody and mournful horn line with majestic-sounding strings and vocals that plead for just one dance. The Moroder-esque synth line also provides a unique touch.
Bobby Thurston — “You Got What It Takes” (1980)
Starting his recording career while working at the State Department, Bobby Thurston met producers Willie Lester and Rodney Brown, both also natives of DC, while performing one night. Working with the duo, he recorded this track as part of of his Prelude Records debut, also titled You Got What It Takes. The incredibly groovy guitar line sets the tone for the track, with the other instrumental elements, as well as Thurston’s soulful tenor, blending in perfectly to set the stage for a true disco stomper. A minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100, it remains a favorite of disco collectors and DJs world-wide.
Gayle Adams — “Love Fever” (1981)
After stints as both a comedienne and a race car driver, Gayle Adams started a recording career. She cut two albums for Prelude Records in the early 1980s, which had tracks produced by the aforementioned Willie Lester and Rodney Brown. Reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard Dance charts and Top 30 on R&B, Adams’ sassy vocal works with the squelchy synth and funky synth bassline to create a fantastic boogie groover. As the song says, you will definitely be burning up with “Love Fever” after hearing this tune.
Khemistry — “Can You Feel My Love” (1982)
We highlighted Khemistry’s track, “I Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use,” in our 2018 Blisspop Disco Fest playlist, “Top Italo Disco and Boogie Tracks.” Their sole album, produced by the Willie Lester/Rodney Brown team, has a plethora of dancefloor ready boogie cuts, and “Can You Feel My Love” is one of the standouts. With an enthusiastic horn line, assertive vocals and a funky-yet-wistful melody, “Can You Feel My Love” packs a strong punch and does a wonderful job of keeping the boogie energy alive. This is a must-add track to any boogie playlist.
As mentioned above, The Blackbyrds will be performing a special live set as part of this year’s Blisspop Disco Fest, alongside Cerrone, Jellybean Benitez, DJ Boring, Honey Soundsystem, Sam “The Man” Burns, Andy Grant and Discoholic on Saturday, September 28 at U Street Music Hall. Tickets for this event can be purchased here.