the darkness of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana

I am currently vaguely obsessed with disco music. To my mind, there are only two cheerful genres of music, reggae and disco. I have always been a fan of reggae music. While the music itself is very cheerful, or at least seems to be, the lyrics of reggae music can be aggressive, unhappy or even depressing. However, I have always thought that disco music is all around cheerful. Even its lyrics are mostly inane, and just a bunch of fun.

Anyways for the last few weeks, I have had on heavy rotation on my music lists a selection of disco music from the 70s. From the Bee Gees to Donna Summer to Boney M to The Jacksons, the funky bass, the floating rhythms, and the groovy vocals all combine to make for an all-around cheery vibe.

So the other day I was driving, when Copacabana jumped out from my disco shuffle mix. I was cheerfully singing along, when suddenly struck me that the lyrics were less than cheerful. It’s a really dark song. The song starts off with a story about young love. There are Lola and Tony, one was a star and the other who tends bar, who are young and had each other-who could ask for more? So far so good.

All of a sudden the bejewelled Rico turns up. Something happens between Lola and Rico-something unpleasant-and Tony gets involved. There were punches and chairs thrown, a single gunshot was heard. Someone was shot. But that’s how it is at the Copacabana where music and passion was always the fashion.

Forward 30 years, Lola the show goes still there but days no more show. Now it’s a disco. But drunk Lola sits there lamenting the youth and a lost Tony. And the song tells us with the refrain-“don’t fall in love”.

For discuss song, this is fairly dark material. Most of the other disco songs seem to have a fairly cheery and possibly even banal subject matter. Even the song with the dramatic title of “last night a DJ saved my life” ends with trouble going away, down the drain. I am sure there are other disco songs perhaps as dramatically dark as Copacabana, but Barry Manilow’ vocal style and delivery is light and effusive while the rest of the music flits cheerfully along. It’s the lyrics they create the discordant vibe.

I am off to find other dark and discordant disco songs.

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