Wednesday, April 7, 2021

DO IT!: Van McCoy: "The Hustle"


There is nothing quite like waking up to frankly miserable weather/news only to hear about it and then be thrown by an overly upbeat announcer telling you to cheer up and dance and get moving and DANCE ---

Disco is a fine thing, but like everything it does have its place.  It has been more than suggested that it is the popular music everyone likes and the one music which people turn to when things are relentlessly tiresome or numbing.  But it wasn’t music for just anyone at the beginning; in fact it was music for those who liked to dance and also a refuge for those who were not exactly welcome elsewhere. 

In early 1975 Van McCoy was working on an album to be called (of course) Disco Baby.  In need of some inspiration information, he sent his business partner Charles Kipps to a disco to see if he could pick up any moves or grooves, and he brought back two dancers from the Adam’s Apple.  McCoy watched these dancers do the Hustle right there and then and was stunned and a little puzzled, but fell hard.  The next day (yes, the next day) “The Hustle” was recorded, and the rest is history.  We have, inadvertently, reached the second half of the 70s, the disco half.  The fog has lifted and the sun is shining and all is elegant and glamorous and exciting, emotional even.  A dance that came up from the Bronx gangs, the Latin Hustle (close to salsa) has bumped into some very seasoned studio musicians and a composer who clearly wants to write the disco song. 

Make no mistake:  this song is just one of many varieties of Hustle, but it takes OFF.  It’s catchy, simple, sweet –  kind of like Philadelphia International, but lighter and determinedly open somehow.  It is an anthem, an ode to the spirit of New York City, which was bankrupt but continued nevertheless.  It bumps and soars and sweeps and entreats you to join in and dance, never exactly telling you how to do the Hustle, but just to do it.  It is the little engine that could's triumphant lap.  It's emotional because McCoy had been in the music business for so long as a writer and producer and this dance appears one night and YYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAH "The Hustle" comes to him, as if in a fairy tale, and the joy he has had in creating it is right there in the music.  It is devotional music in a way, a tribute, and all it asks is that you dance however you want to and voila - you are doing the Hustle.  (It is significant that it's a dance for two people, though I always imagine the housewife in Des Moines dancing in her kitchen, as well as professional dancers in Hustle contests across New York City.)  

McCoy lived to see disco thrive and prosper, and was working on a 12" version of "The Hustle" when he died in 1979 - DJs wanted a 12" of it, which goes to show you what an instant classic it became.  That no one expected the song to do very much business is the cherry; it was merely supposed to be filler.  Thus I cannot claim McCoy to be a prophet but he inadvertently set the second half of the 70s agenda and there were those who (in the fullness of time, not now) bitterly resented him and disco in general.  But I don't think these people deserve my writing about them.  The happiness here erases all that, supercedes it, has already gone past it.  There is no looking back for disco now, and those who insist on playing it at 7am are, as irritating as they can be, doing everyone a favor by reminding people to dance, the Hustle or otherwise.

Next up:  the umbrella underneath which all other musics stand.