Studio 54 Photos: Contrasting Punk and Disco Music Scenes in 1970s New York.
Above Photo: CBGBs and Studio 54 in late 1970s New York.
All Studio 54 photos below are gratefully used and © Tod Papageorge.
In the 1977 chapter of Bombed Out!, my Punk and New Wave Memoir, I dismissively deal with New York’s Mecca to Disco music, cocaine and late-1970s excesses, more commonly known as Studio 54, in a sentence.
However, to give the place (and the Disco music industry it engorged) its due, it had a significant impact as it turned my attention towards Punk music and away from the over-commercialised shite in the British (and, worse, US) charts at that impressionable time of my life.
Of course with the passage of time I can now look back on some outstanding disco music from that period (and I even acknowledge the subsequent brilliance of Chic and Sister Sledge in my book), but as a Punked-up 15 year old there was only one view to take of Disco and Studio 54; and believe me, it wasn’t flattering.
Studio 54 was a world-famous New York nightclub that operated under that name from 1977 to 1986.
Located at 254 West 54th Street in Manhattan, the building was originally built in 1927 as an Opera House, but it had many different owners and uses, including, for a time, as a successful CBS studio (called Studio 52).
In 1977 the theater was transformed into a nightclub called Studio 54 by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager.
Apparently, considerable work went into its design to promote a constantly changing dynamic in a brightly-lit club.
From 1977 – 1979, Studio 54 was THE place to go to be seen in New York – unless you were a Punk, in which case CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City would have been your better options, obviously.
The list of Studio 54 regulars reads like a Who’s Who, and included Andy Warhol, Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvester Stalone, Freddie Mercury, Truman Capote, Diana Ross, Cher, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John (obviously), Woody Allen and Salvador Dali.
World class fashion designers, Hollywood actors, politicians, actors and actresses, sportsmen, musicians, Wall Street Wolves and New York’s Social Elite were all regular attenders and keen to be photographed in the club.
One commentator said of Studio 54’s highly restrictive door policy: “To be allowed to grace the premises, one had to be exceedingly famous, wealthy or stunningly gorgeous. Most of the mere mortals who tried to enter its hallowed halls were icily rebuffed by door hosts, whose lofty position was comprised of keeping the select few in and the rest of the world out, making those unable to enter all the more eager for a taste.”
In December 1978 Rubell was quoted in the New York newspapers as saying that Studio 54 had made $7 million in its first year and that “only the Mafia made more money”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, shortly thereafter the nightclub was raided and Rubell and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million.
From 1981 to April 1986, Studio 54 continued under new ownership, although from 1988 until early 1993 the club changed its name from Studio 54 to The Ritz.
Then the irony: the club became strictly a concert venue for New Wave, Punk, and Eurodisco artists (although using the US definition of Punk, not the UK’s by then).
Interestingly, the building housing Studio 54 had another, solid, Punk and New Wave link: in 1965, the building had housed Scepter Records’ offices, warehouse space and a recording studio, where The Velvet Underground & Nico album was recorded in April 1966. (See You Tube track below).
I read one quote that the music of Studio 54 was the “Soundtrack of hedonistic self-indulgence”. Ironically, with the benefit of distance, the same could be said of my own experience of the Punk Period – but with a lot less money.
And to finish – a little-known fact: The disco track below, Le Freak, was written after Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic were refused entry to Studio 54 when they were supposed to be on Grace Jones’s guest list for New Year’s Eve in 1977. They went home, pretty pissed off and wrote the song.
The lyrics reference the long customer queues, snooty clientele, and rude doormen. The original lyrics of the refrain were “Fuck off!” rather than “Freak out” and were later changed.
Ironically it went on to become a Studio 54 favourite track.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
This is one of my favourite tracks off The Velvet underground & Nico album:
And one of my all-time favourite Disco tracks (with a phenomenal bass line):