Echolocation #19: Queering the Trombone

the coming out of the trombone in diana ross’s “i’m coming out.” 

Is it not wonderful that at the center of what is perhaps the quintessential disco anthem for the gay liberation movement we discover, of all things, a trombone solo? It arrives weirdly, perfectly, as it bends, growls, laughs, goofs, and harangues its way through the verse to the rousing finishing choruses of Diana Ross’s 1980s hit “I’m Coming Out.”

The song is stuffed full of strange musical ideas. From its long, stuttering intro section to producer Nile Rodgers’s trademark guitar riff, which crunches and flutters all at the same time as it dryly moves between little single note and muted chord voicings, to the lyric’s double entendre about gay liberation, “I’m Coming Out” is a complex symphony packed into a successful single (it went to number five on the Billboard pop charts in 1980).

But the best part of all in what is arguably one of the best pop hits ever created is Meco Monardo’s trombone solo. Monardo, who had gained fame for his disco version of John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack, played the solo on Rodgers’s request:

Nile recorded all the tracks and vocals and called me and my horn section for a 3-hour date. We had a great time, as the songs were fabulous—especially “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” We sounded great – Nile was pleased and as I was packing up, he asked me to stay and play a jazz trombone solo on one of the tracks. I said, “Nile, there are a lot of hit records with jazz saxophone solos—even some with jazz trumpet solos, but not one with a trombone!!” He said: “That’s exactly why I want you to do it!!” (“Disco Profiles: Meco – The Funk Is With Him”)

Meco Monardo. Photo credit: unknown.

A jazz solo in the middle of a disco song, summoning up traces of Dixieland, a bit of bop, a bit of cool, full of verve and wit. But it’s not that it’s jazz that makes Meco’s trombone part so important, it’s how Meco fits his improvisation into disco and pop frameworks.

At first, he waits to get going, letting the bass line punch into the front of the mix, lots of air around his improvisation as if he were taking in the possibilities, the existing scene, how he’s feeling about it. As he gets going, Meco almost sounds like a tuba—low, guttural. Then he starts to move, bending his way through the groove, in, around, under, up and finally sliding down over the melody, almost parodying it at moments, but in the end celebrating Ross’s excited call for self-liberation and the promise of collective freedom. By the solo’s completion, the trombone wryly seconds Ross’s exciting representation of the moment just as one is about to step out of a dark place into the light.

It is a triumphant gag, this trombone solo dropped into a disco-pop track. In its own sly way, it places queerness authoritatively forward, with a sense of surprise that gives way to giddy confidence. Vulnerability is transposed to resilience, self-loathing is considered and then rejected, unlikeliness is rendered powerfully likable.

For more on the story of the solo, see “Disco Profiles: Meco – The Funk Is With Him”.

2 thoughts on “Echolocation #19: Queering the Trombone

  1. I am listening currently to the song right now and have always been intrigued by that trumpet solo which is so brilliant. This is a great article and love your appreciation of such an underrated song. And a great story about how the only trombone solo of any pop/soul/rock song I know, came about.

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