For as popular as it was during much of the first half of the 20th century, couples dancing seemed poised to go by the wayside of American popular culture by the early 1970s. That is, until the arrival of a dance called the Hustle along with a #1 song by the same name. On this day in 1975, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts simultaneously, signaling the beginning of the disco era.
It was the dance called the Hustle that inspired the era-defining hit song rather than the other way around. Singer/songwriter/producer Van McCoy was visiting New York City when a disk-jockey friend tipped him off to a new dance being done by patrons of the Adam’s Apple nightclub on Manhattan’s East Side. McCoy sent a business partner to check out the Hustle, and the report he returned with changed the course of McCoy’s career. Van McCoy had previously written for the Shirelles and Gladys Knight, among other soul/R&B acts, and he’d put together the original Peaches and Herb, but his visit to New York would inspire him to embrace dance music fully and completely, naming his upcoming album Disco Baby and, of course, writing and recording “The Hustle.”
“The Hustle” would earn Van McCoy a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and give him the biggest hit by far of his tragically shortened career (he died of a heart attack in 1979). The impact of the record went well beyond its commercial success, however. As “The Hustle” climbed the pop charts, it took an already substantial dance craze and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, with variations like the Latin, the Line and the New York Hustles popping up on dance floors nationwide.