Disco Demolition Night

From BR Bullpen

Disco Demolition Night was an infamous promotion dreamed up by Mike Veeck and scheduled between two games of a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers at Comiskey Park on July 12th, 1979 that perhaps marked the low point in Bill Veeck's long career of creative promotion.

The promotion was part of a campaign by Chicago disk jockey Steve Dahl against disco music, which was dominating record sales and the airwaves at the time. Dahl had quit his job at a local radio station when it switched to an all-disco format, then used his new position at rival rock station WLUP "The Loop" to lead his campaign against disco music. Centered on the slogan "Disco sucks", which quickly became a national catchphrase, the campaign at first included relatively benign activities such as throwing marshmallows at the performers during a Village People concert. Disco Demolition Night would take the campaign to a whole new level however.

Almost 60,000 fans filed into Comiskey Park for the twi-night doubleheader, the largest crowd of the season and well above the stadium's capacity; these were many more than the 35,000 Dahl and Veeck had expected. Fans were lured by an admission price of 98 cents if they were to bring with them a disco 45 or LP to be destroyed between the two games; the amount was chosen to represent WLUP's frequency, 97.9 FM. However, the large bin set up to collect the records quickly overfilled, and fans took their records inside with them, where they began using them as frisbees. Another 15,000 fans camped out in the parking lot as there was no more room left for them in the ballpark. The atmosphere was surreal and Tiger players admitted they were more than a bit scared: they put on batting helmets in the field to guard against projectiles, not just flying records but also firecrackers, cherry bombs and empty beer and liquor bottles.

After the Tigers won the first game of the twin bill 4 to 1, Steve Dahl oversaw the destruction of thousands of disco records in center field. Fans immediately overran the playing field, and despite the pleas of Veeck, police could not regain control of the crowd. The rioters tore out the grass, built campfires, stole (literally) the bases, overturned the batting cage... Announcer Harry Caray tried singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game to calm the rowdy fans, but to no avail ("These were not typical baseball fans"). After about an hour, umpires postponed the game, and the next day American League President Lee MacPhail ruled the second game a forfeit victory for Detroit.

From a cultural perspective, the event became huge news across the United States and Canada, and did in fact coincide with the downfall of disco music. Bill Veeck was blamed for turning a baseball game into a circus, and he apologized for the turn of events. But, as music historians have noted, disco records were dominating the top-10 at the time (occupying six of the top 10 spots) and raking in huge profits. Within a month, they'd be down to 3 spots and gone entirely by December. Major record companies, who had invested heavily in the format, were caught unprepared and did not recover until Michael Jackson's Thriller album released in late 1982 opened another era of mega-selling major-label music.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Guillaume Bourgault-Côté: "Le jour où le disco est (presque) mort", in Le Devoir, Montréal, QC, July 13, 2009, p. 1. ("The Day Disco Music (Almost) Died") [1]
  • Steve Dahl and Dave Hoekstra: Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died, Curbside Splendor Publishing, Chicago, IL, 2016. ISBN 978-1-940430-75-1
  • Christopher J. Young: "When Fans Wanted to Rock, the Baseball Stopped: Sports, Promotions, and the Demolition of Disco on Chicago's South Side", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 38, Nr. 1, Summer 2009, pp. 11-16.