Rigdon Osmond Dees III was a disc jockey at WMPS-AM in Memphis when he recorded this song, a satire of the disco craze that was in full swing at the time.
Dees wrote this song in one day at his apartment. In 1975, he released a single ("Page 602" backed with "National Wet Off") that was released on the local Fretone label. That one tanked, but "Disco Duck" got some attention in the South, so Dees pitched it to the major labels, finding a taker in RSO. The song took off, but Dees wasn't allowed to play it on the air because station management feared that would violate FCC conflict-of-interest rules. On October 11, 1976, WMPS fired him for mentioning the song on his show; it reached #1 on the US Hot 100 five days later.
Dees took his act to rival WHBQ-AM, where he played "Disco Duck" it with impunity. His career went in an upward trajectory, landing at the powerhouse Los Angeles station KIIS, where he worked from 1982-2004. Aside from this song, his is best known as the host of the syndicated Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40, which began in 1983. He also became a TV personality, with a short-lived talk show called Into the Night with Rick Dees in 1990.
The voice of this song sounds a lot like the Disney character Donald Duck, prompting speculation that Clarence Nash, who voices Donald Duck, sang on this. The Walt Disney Company has emphatically denied this rumor; however, in 1979, toward the tail end of the disco era, Disney put out an album called Mickey Mouse Disco featuring adaptations of various disco songs, including one by Nash as Donald Duck.
According to Dees, the voice of the duck was provided by a guy he met at the gym who could pull it off. This was Kenneth Pruitt, who sued Dees after the song became a hit, claiming he was paid just $188 for his services, which included dressing up in a duck suit to promote the song on various TV appearances and on a walk through Times Square in New York City. It's likely that the suit was settled and Pruitt ordered to keep quiet - he has not been heard from.
Dees cites a song called "The Duck" by the soul singer Jackie Lee as inspiration. That song went to #14 US in 1966.
The "disco duck" is a sort of chicken dance, with an awkward flapping motion. The song is about a guy who earns his wings on the dance floor with these moves. The duck provides commentary.
Dees had a side hustle at a Memphis nightclub called Chesterfield's, where he was a DJ/MC. This gave a him a good look at how disco was trending, even in a blues-oriented city like Memphis. He knew the time was right for a parody.
This was the last novelty song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the early years of Rock and Roll, novelty songs were huge - there were three #1 novelty tunes in 1960 alone ("Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
," "Alley Oop
," "Mr. Custer
"). But despite the efforts of Jim Stafford and Cheech & Chong, novelty songs waned in the '70s.
Estelle Axton, who owned Fretone Records, paired Dees with Bobby Manuel, a producer who used to work with her at Stax Records. Manuel produced the track and played the guitar.
Axton was the "AX" in Stax Records, having founded the legendary company with her brother, Jim Stewart. Stax was home to Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and many other Soul luminaries during her time there. Axton sold her interest in the company in the late '60s and formed Fretone. "Disco Duck" was by far the biggest hit for the label.
This song was featured in the movie Saturday Night Fever but was not included on its soundtrack album.
Dees released a follow-up song called "Dis-Gorilla," about a disco-loving simian. It topped out at #56 in 1977, but was not his last chart appearance: he returned with "Bigfoot" (#110, 1978), "Eat My Shorts" (#75, 1984) and "Get Nekked" (#104, 1984).
The single went Platinum for sales of a million copies in America. It wasn't the only "disco" song to earn that metal in 1976: "Disco Lady
" by Johnnie Taylor also did it.