I can’t seem to get out of the 70s with this Hot 100 Number-Ones challenge! Not only is this the fifth 70s single I’ve come across on the challenge (out of the nine I’ve written on so far), but its single-week spot at the top of the charts was eventually replaced by another single I’ve already written about: Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”. I’m a big fan of the pop music of this particular decade, but still, here’s to hoping I run into a little more variety along this path I’ve chosen for myself.
Anyway, this song is kind of a big deal. It was the first single off of the band’s second self-titled album, and the first to make any sort of relevant dent on the pop charts. Earlier, in mid-1974, the massive success of George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby” (which actually featured the band’s guitarist Jerome Smith as a backup musician) kickstarted the disco era, demonstrating that there was a market and desire for this new kind of danceable uptempo pop music. Accordingly, “Get Down Tonight” was released in February 1975, topping the R&B charts that summer and the Hot 100 shortly thereafter. This introduction to KC & the Sunshine Band was the first of what would be five chart-topping hits for the group, eventually making them staples in the genre and the movement as a whole.
“Get Down Tonight”, as I mentioned, is a pretty big deal. It made 1975’s year-end list at #64 (I wrote a few sentences about it in my overview of the year in music), but that placement probably does no justice to its cultural impact. This song – as well as the Sunshine Band’s other big single from the album “That’s the Way (I Like It)” – practically define the sound so specific to this early age of disco. There’s a reason why this song charted the R&B charts first: at its core, this is a funk song through and through, specifically the breed of mostly-white-boy pop-funk that was really starting to show its head at this time (see also: Average White Band). Disco in its later years was most known for its complex arrangements and lush instrumentals, but the bass-and-horn-heavy production of this particular tune (as well as others from the band) showcase what was so pure and naive about disco in its earlier days.
And the lyrics to this one are just plain hedonism to the lowest common denominator. The chorus – if it could even be called that – consists of only a simple three-step demand from KC himself: “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight”. The lyrics in the verses aren’t any more convoluted: “Baby babe, let’s get together / Honey, honey, me and you / And do the things, oh, do the things / That we like to do”. And then there’s the chant-along refrain after the horn solo: “Get down, get down, get down, get down tonight!”. A child could figure this song out after a singular listen. Yet, I think that’s what makes this particular song so wonderful. It really succinctly captures the moment in the party where there’s nothing else on your mind except the sheer, senseless bliss of being in the midst of a party atmosphere, with nary a bad vibe in sight. “Get Down Tonight”, indeed.
I haven’t even mentioned what is probably the most notable sound in this entire record: that crazy backing guitar! In actuality, it is a slower guitar track that is played back in double-time, creating a really odd pitchy atmosphere to the entire track. It almost brings to mind Ross Bagdasarian’s work on creating Alvin and the Chipmunks, though far less of a novelty and more of a drug-induced experience. There was really nothing else on the radio that sounded quite so radical and weird. But indeed, the success of this single further proved that the market for disco is out there – people just wanted to dance! The following year would bring about an absolute conglomeration of disco across all sections of the airwaves, and KC & the Sunshine Band was at least partially blamed for this weird, wonderful trend. It’s time to stop thinking and start dancing ’til the sun comes up!