Why rollerboogie as a screen name, you ask?
Well, even if you didn’t ask, I will tell you…
Musically and culturally, I came of age, in the late 70s.
Every junior high dance ended with Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”.
As a 12-year-old, I knew all the steps to the line dance from Saturday Night Fever, taught to me by my sister, Patty. My favorite song around that time was “A Fifth of Beethoven”, by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, a disco rendering of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5
It topped the Hot 100 for one week in October of 1976.
For my 8th grade graduation, I wore a powder blue polyester suit with a hot pink shirt. Yes, I was a child of the disco era. Somehow, however, I was oblivious to the roller disco craze that was happening right at that time. I had somehow managed never to see anyone disco dancing on roller skates.
Until late one night in 2004. I was channel surfing and a movie was starting.
When the words “Linda Blair starring in…’Roller Boogie’ ” appeared on the screen, I was dumbfounded.
I basically knew Linda Blair from one movie role, the same one just about everyone does- as a green vomit spewing, 360 degree head-spinning, demon possessed 12 year old in The Exorcist.
And now here she was, playing a roller disco queen on the cusp of her college years. I knew I had to watch this.
I was awestruck by what I saw in the first five minutes.
The male lead character, Bobby, an expert skater, laces up and skates his way out of his apartment, meeting up with Phones, the sole person of color in the main cast.
So named by the fact that he is always wearing a huge set of headphones along with a clunky looking tape player strapped around his neck.
The two of them start roller-discoing their way through the streets and boardwalk of Venice, California and their numbers continue to increase as they grab people along the way to join them:
Lots of women in bathing suits, people on payphones that just abandon their calls, a couple making out on top of a dumpster (!), a juggler, anyone on skates, which is seemingly every single person in town.
I was mesmerized. It was as if I had partaken in the visual equivalent of the nectar of the gods.
Where had this been all my life? We had a roller rink in town growing up, but nobody was dancing like this on skates… at least not while I was there.
Oh: did I mention that the entire opening sequence is accompanied by a long-forgotten Cher roller disco banger called “Hell On Wheels”? The video for the song consists of Cher roller skating in a zebra print onesie.
She’s followed by a lone trucker, and eventually a menagerie of various men in trucks, motorcycles, a cop car, an ambulance, on horseback, what have you. And there’s a close up of a chicken.
The rest of the movie was what one would expect from a low budget attempt at capitalizing on a trendy dance or pastime.
In other words, it was totally awesome.
I became obsessed with it. I learned all I could about it on the internet, including the fact that in a stroke of luck, or divine providence, the movie was scheduled to be released on DVD for the first time, in just a few months. I immediately pre-ordered a copy. I babbled on and on to anyone and everybody in my life about the sheer greatness of this film.
For one of my concerts to promote my latest CD at the time, I set up two tv monitors on either side of me and had Roller Boogie playing on one of them, with the can-you-believe-this-actually-got-made Star Wars Holiday Special playing on the other, throughout the duration of the concert.
My unabashed admiration of this movie never waned.
Several years later, I began using its title in various capacities online, such as my Spotify handle. When I posted for the first time on Stereogum’s The Number Ones comment section in 2019 (to comment on “Dancing Queen”, naturally), I didn’t have to think twice about what my screen name would be. I just knew.
I had to explain at times that despite the name, I wasn’t an expert at roller disco.
Heck, I could barely skate at all. I’m just a guy who really, really loves a movie.
Roller Boogie has only seven reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
All of them rotten.
The brief summaries of the reviews are brutal. (Et tu, Roger Ebert?)
Typically, if a film like this is getting any love at all, it’s usually considered ironic:
The movie is described as: “so bad… it’s good”.
Does a part of me enjoy it ironically? Yes. I balk, however, at using the word “bad” to describe this movie in any way.
It may be trashily made, with bottom of the barrel production values, stiff acting, and dialog and a plot that many would call unintentionally laughable.
But those things endear it to me, not make me want to tear it down.
If you want to call my logic twisted, fine, but it’s a 10 out of 10 all day for me. And this comes from deep in my heart.
Rewatching this opening sequence gave me chills just now. That speaks of something beyond ironic love.
All of this got me to thinking about what a basic playlist at a disco roller rink circa 1979-1980 could look like
What would I want as my personal soundtrack if I had the coordination to make such an activity possible?
Below is a playlist that hopefully fills the bill. I attempted to sequence it in a way where it ebbs and flows in tempo and intensity, similar to a workout playlist. There are some familiar songs on here, but I also wanted to include songs off the beaten path, some that I either only barely knew or not at all, as an extension of my desire to continually mine the treasures of the genre of disco.
And boogie on, children!
Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” upvote!