Like many dis­co fans who were born too late to expe­ri­ence the genre’s great era, Your Humble Reviewer has had to pick up all his dis­co knowl­edge in a sec­ond-hand man­ner.  It’s easy to find com­pi­la­tions of the music and inter­views with pro­duc­ers and dee­jays but it’s hard to get the con­text of what it was like to expe­ri­ence the music when it was new.  A few qual­i­ty works of dis­co schol­ar­ship have been writ­ten dur­ing the last few years (Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco and Love Saves The Day are a cou­ple of the best) but even those valu­able stud­ies are prone to the inevitable bias­es and assump­tions that come with doing a retroac­tive analy­sis of a phe­nom­e­non.

Thus, the recent release of Vince Aletti’s The Disco Files is a god­send for any­one who has yearned for that elu­sive dis­co-era con­text.  This hefty trade paper­back col­lects all the install­ments of the influ­en­tial “Disco Files” column that Aletti wrote for Record World mag­a­zine between 1974 and 1978 and, in the process, allows the read­er an insid­er-lev­el view of the music reached the mass­es in the dis­co scene.

Each column is ded­i­cat­ed to the note­wor­thy records of a par­tic­u­lar week, with Aletti pro­vid­ing a series of cap­sule-style reviews as well as news about forth­com­ing releas­es.  His cri­tiques mix a fan’s pas­sion with a nice­ly-honed sense of crit­i­cal acu­men and a care­ful­ly deployed amount of dry wit.  Along the way, Aletti pro­vides evoca­tive descrip­tions of each record’s arrange­ment, includ­ing obser­va­tions on the quirks/defining ele­ments of a producer’s par­tic­u­lar style, but man­ages to keep things con­cise.  He’s also not shy about dis­cussing when he felt the gen­re was flag­ging or when a record suf­fered from overkill in its length or pac­ing.

The records Aletti deals with the­se columns either came from the record com­pa­nies them­selves or were tracked down with the help of sev­er­al dee­jays that he was in reg­u­lar con­tact with.  Contributing dee­jays also sub­mit­ted their top-ten lists for a given week, thus allow­ing the read­er to pin­point what was hap­pen­ing on the dis­co scene at a given time in sev­er­al places around the U.S. (and some­times Canada).  Those famil­iar the his­to­ry of the gen­re will notice a flood of famil­iar names con­tribut­ing the­se lists — Walter Gibbons, Larry Levan and Jellybean Benitez are just a few of the pio­neer­ing dee­jays who par­tic­i­pate here — and it’s a real eye-open­er to see what they were play­ing as they began their careers.

The sum total of the infor­ma­tion and opin­ions col­lect­ed in this book cre­ate a strong, engross­ing “you are there” depic­tion of how the gen­re devel­oped dur­ing its most com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful era.  In the 1974-era columns, the gen­re is fight­ing off accu­sa­tions of being a fad from all cor­ners and dee­jays are work­ing on their aes­thet­ics, often mix­ing in eso­ter­ic jazz and rock selec­tions along with the sleek soul often favored in dis­cote­ques.  As the years pro­gress, we see record com­pa­nies and pro­duc­ers embrace the trend and the music begins to grow from three-to-five min­utes into side-length epics, a trend aid­ed by the devel­op­ment of the twelve-inch sin­gles that would allow dee­jays to real­ly reshape music to their needs.  As Aletti signs off in 1978, the gen­re is a com­mer­cial pow­er­house com­plete with sub­gen­res and super­stars of its own mak­ing.

The devel­op­ment curve out­lined above has been chron­i­cled by many crit­ics and schol­ars over the years but it takes on a new sig­nif­i­cance when its laid out by some­one wit­ness­ing those devel­op­ments with­in the eye of the storm.  Aletti’s descrip­tive yet dis­ci­plined writ­ing style makes the sto­ry sing and added his­tor­i­cal val­ue is pro­vid­ed by a sup­ple­men­tal set of arti­cles penned and/or par­tic­i­pat­ed in for oth­er out­lets (the best might be an amus­ing­ly gos­sipy two-man con­ver­sa­tion between Aletti and Michael Gomes) plus a recent inter­view with Aletti that clos­es the book on a reflec­tive note.  In short, The Disco Files is nec­es­sary read­ing for any gen­re obses­sive and a cru­cial his­tor­i­cal sup­ple­ment to the grow­ing gen­re of dis­co his­to­ries.