Tonight (July 12th) marks the 43rd anniversary of the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. In 1979, a local Chicago DJ named Steve Dahl, who had just been fired and had to get a new job after his radio station switched to a disco format, came up with a promotion idea. He invited fans to bring their unwanted disco records to a scheduled twilight-night American League doubleheader on July 12th, between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, in exchange for admission of 98 cents. The event was billed as “Disco Demolition Night.” Promoters hoped for an attendance boost of 5,000, but about 50,000 people showed up, many of whom did not get in.
During the break between games, a box containing the disco records was brought to center field, and it was then exploded. The bomb in the box ripped a hole in the outfield grass, and thousands of fans then ran onto the field, setting fires and ripping up bases. Police in riot gear were eventually needed to clear fans off the field, and the manager of the Detroit Tigers refused to let his team play, out of fear for their safety. The White Sox forfeited the game to the Tigers. Six people reported minor injuries, and 39 were arrested for disorderly conduct.
In 2001, disco star Harry Wayne Casey, or KC of KC & The Sunshine Band, received an apology from Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, who had been the White Sox owner at the time of the incident. Mike Veeck had been the White Sox’s “brains” behind the promotion, and was reportedly blacklisted by major teams for years. Of his disco-demolition campaign, Veeck said, “I made a big mistake and it backfired. . . It cost me personally. I went down the sewer. KC wasn’t the only one whose gravy train stopped.”
Regarding the entire “Disco Sucks” movement, KC said: “Every rock group in the country, every punk group in the country, had more danceable records than the artists that so-called were doing disco, y’know, so it’s just, it’s been really funny. And by the time, y’know, they were doing the ‘Disco Sucks,’ I had a Number One ballad in the country, I had another one that was Number Nine on the charts, so I felt I had already gone in a different direction to prove to everybody that we were more than just ‘Shake Shake Shake’ and ‘That’s The Way (I Like It),’ y’know what I mean?”
We asked Barry Gibb if the Bee Gees felt hurt or betrayed by the “Disco Sucks” movement: “No, there was no question that it was a little tough for us after (Saturday Night) Fever, but I don’t remember anyone complaining at the time (laughs), so, so, y’know, it’s all fine for us and we’re long over all that stuff and, y’know, for us it’s just pop music. It’s pop music and you can put any tag you want to on it.”
Disco legend Gloria Gaynor said she questioned the entire “disco sucks” movement, and thought it hadn’t really affected her: “It made me wonder if this whole thing was started by somebody who felt like the disco artist was dipping into their till, but other than that it didn’t do anything to me. They didn’t burn mine.”