Netflix has many successes under its ever-widening belt of original content, but a particular highpoint came courtesy of The Get Down, a musical extravaganza tracing the birth of hip-hop in late ’70s New York from Moulin Rouge! director Baz Lurhmann. And though there are numerous elements that make it work, like the show-stopping set pieces and extremely talented and good-looking cast members, it owes a great deal of its appeal to the subject matter itself: that special time and place that produced some of the greatest music in history.
Where the first season took place in 1977, the second (fittingly) takes place in 1978, a year no less monumental in the shaping of our musical lineage. So ahead of its premiere on Netflix tomorrow, we have assembled a list of 20 songs that should most definitely be making their way onto the soundtrack. And for extra period accuracy, we included a few picks that may not necessarily be the show’s cup of tea, but would most certainly have been heard on the streets of 1978 New York.
Put on your boogie shoes and peruse our picks below:
Andy Gibb—“Shadow Dancing”
What do you do when all of your literal brothers form a trio that’s one of the most successful acts in history? The only thing one can do, churn out a song even more disco-funkadelic than theirs. Andy Gibb, the youngest of the Bee Gees clan, had a brief (but bright) career as a solo artist, and “Shadow Dancing” is his crowning achievement. He even got his brothers to sing backing vocals, which as anyone familiar with Saturday Night Fever knows, is an excellent move.
Blondie—“Heart of Glass”
Leave it to one of New York’s OG punk bands to create one of the most iconic, definitive works of disco-pop in history. Taking cues from the commercial onslaught of disco, Blondie traded in the razor-edged guitar-driven sound they had come to embody for the celestial synthesizers ruling the airwaves. The result was a song that is truly a high-watermark in the annals of pop culture, a tune that has lived many lives before us and will last far longer than any of us.
The Cars—“Just What I Needed”
Just like Blondie, The Cars were another band with a precise sound that changed irrevocably with the introduction of a synthesizer. But where Blondie ended up creating a disco masterpiece, The Cars inevitably sowed the seeds for what would become New Wave. Even without the conversation about this or that genre, “Just What I Needed” is an enviably effortless, damn perfect pop-song, scream-along chorus and all.
Chaka Khan—“I’m Every Woman”
Sorry Whitney Houston fans, ya girl may have made a staple of ’90s dance music with “I’m Every Woman,” but Chaka laid claim to this song waaay before. Appearing on her debut solo album, the OG version of this song is pure disco fantasia. And though Khan may not have the jaw-dropping pipes that Whitney does, her warmth and energy give this song a richness sorely absent in the update.
As far as instantly recognizable hooks go, “Le Freak” is a contender for the top slot. It brought the term ‘freak out’ to the masses, and it packages the virtuoso guitar work of Nile Rodgers into their most delectable form yet. Cultural relevance aside, this is a massively catchy song, one of the rare grooves that actually makes it impossible for you to sit still.
DEVO—“Gut Feeling / Slap Your Mammy”
No one really knew what to do with DEVO when they arrived in 1978 with their debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!. To be fair, most people still don’t know what to do with them. But in this album, very much a punk album, they stood amongst the vanguard of what would quickly grow into New Wave. But what set DEVO apart, and makes their legacy so important, is just how shamelessly odd and theatrical they were, setting the bar high for acts soon to follow that knew making a name for yourself often meant making a character with an elaborate backstory.
Donna Summer—“MacArthur Park”
It’s no where near as innovative or influential as the mammoth single “I Feel Love” from a few years earlier, nor is it as fun as “Bad Girls” which would come a year later, but “MacArthur Park” holds its own for one key factor: it may just be the most dramatic disco song ever. Morphing between ballad and floor-stomper faster than a speeding bullet, Donna Summer’s seminal classic is a true benchmark in the genre’s ability to create go-for-broke melodrama.
Funkadelic—“One Nation Under a Groove”
Funkadelic had one of the biggest (if not the biggest) song of their illustrious career with the title track to their 1978 opus One Nation Under a Groove. And it’s not hard to see why. There are an overwhelming number of individual moving pieces that make this funk symphony tick, but with George Clinton at the helm, the end result is a fantastically satisfying sonic odyssey.
Gloria Gaynor—“I Will Survive”
What has caused this song to have the staying power of nearly 40 years? The long answer is that it is inherently a song of triumph; of combatting struggle and facing adversity with unstoppable self-confidence, a feeling that can be most effectively delivered and embraced through the vehicle of pop music. Not to mention its technical wizardry, a perfect slice of disco delivered at the peak of the genre’s powers. The shorter answer is that this is simply one of the greatest songs ever written.
Grace Jones—“Do or Die”
As you can see from the above video which is shot in some kind of haunted vampire brothel, Grace Jones is the kind of supreme talent that only comes about once in a generation. In aesthetic execution, she was operating on a level unmatched by anyone in her era. And it helps that her songs aren’t half-bad either. While no where near the brilliance that are her string of hits from the ’80s, “Do or Die” is an infectiously fun piece of disco-pop, making the rounds at all the clubs circa 1978.
Herbie Hancock—“I Thought It Was You”
No, that’s not the sound of Daft Punk you hear, just the precise sounds that influenced them. Herbie Hancock pioneered the use of the vocoder in his album Sunlight, and no better example of the instrument’s ability to get funky can be found than in this epically huge track.
The Jacksons—“Blame It on the Boogie”
The Jackson 5 grew into The Jacksons, and “Blame It on the Boogie” is a time capsule that crucially captures the very last time this group of young men would create such well-honed pop music as a unit. Employing a minor key progression, big band instrumentation and the matchless vocals of that lead singer Michael, it is a true treasure of a song. The next year Michael would release his solo effort Off the Wall, and their family (and the world) would change forever.
Kraftwerk went from being a niche German band to one of the most influential bands on the planet in a span of time that truly boggles the mind. By 1978, their album The Man Machine was eaten up on both sides of the Atlantic, and their light-years-ahead-of-their-time use of synthesizers would go on to inform a huge amount of early hip-hop beats that would soon spring out of the Bronx.
It seemed that George Clinton got very little sleep in 1978, engineering Parliament’s LP Motor Booty Affair in addition to sister act Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove. But of course, this was the ’70s, which means cocaine. The standout from the former group’s album, “Aqua Boogie” aka “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop),” really says all you need to know about the song and Clinton’s cocaine-usage right there in the title.
Few bands have the audacity to make their debut single about the perils of being in love with a sex worker, but then again, few bands were like The Police. Sting’s lead vocals are jarringly different, driven less by musical standards and more by primal emotions. But that does not mean the band itself lacked technical proficiency, few choruses in the history of pop music have been as singalongable as this one.
The Rolling Stones—“Miss You”
By 1978, The Rolling Stones had nothing to prove to anybody. At this stage they were already living legends with a decade plus of unrivalled rock n’ roll animal magnetism, and the years of drug-fuelled rock star life had done little to dull their powers. “Miss You” is a superb example of everything that makes the Stones great: it’s raw, sexy, a little odd, and undeniably cool.
Sylvester—“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”
The success and lasting influence of Sylvester is among the most heart-warming of the era. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” is so much more than an excellent disco anthem. It is the story of Sylvester, an androgynous, flamboyant outcast from society teaming with a fellow outcast, gay DJ and producer Patrick Cowley, and together creating a song whose musical power was enough to bridge the divide of discrimination and plant the seeds of true acceptance. Mighty real indeed.
Talking Heads—“Take Me to the River”
Though they had their roots in punk (they opened for Ramones which is about as legit as it gets), Talking Heads were always a little… different. Where their debut was as rigid and awkward as it gets, their sophomore album saw the band embracing funk and groove, highlighted by this masterful cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” It was their most commercial success to date, and started to expand their New York street cred far outside the Village.
A Taste of Honey—“Boogie Oogie Oogie”
The history of game-changing girl duos woefully looks over A Taste of Honey, the ingenious minds behind one of disco’s essential tracks, the delightfully transparent “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” The success of this song alone was insurmountable, inevitably leading the group to clean up a Best New Artist trophy at that year’s Grammy Awards. Many may have forgotten their name, but their power to conjure boogieing will live on forever.
Countless plays at every wedding, barmitzvah, senior citizen birthday party and community gathering known to man may have dulled the power of this song, but it remains a fascinating example of just how batshit crazy the excess of the late ’70s could be. Could any group get away with such culturally insensitive costumes nowadays? Absolutely not. Is there a disco song full of more open-hearted honesty than this one? Doesn’t seem like it. Greatest song about the joys of second-hand goods? Debatable, but we’re inclined to say yes.
Need more lists? Take a peek at our ranking of the best Kodak Black songs right here.
- Cover Image: Netflix