On this year’s smash hit Daft Punk album Random Access Memories, the French due paid tribute to one of their heroes, the pioneering disco and electronic musician Giorgio Moroder, with the track “Giorgio by Moroder“:
But who is this guy, and why should you know about him? Well, for one, his look cannot be beat:
Who is that beauty lounging next to the sunglasses-and-mustache wonder? That’s right, the Queen of Disco herself, Ms. Donna Summer. In 1975, the Italian-born musician co wrote and produced Summer’s breakthrough smash “Love to Love You Baby” (presented here in its epic seventeen-minute version):
Here was a disco smash hit that was entirely electronic—nothing but a relentless drum machine and Moroder’s symphony of synthesizers—save for Summer’s ethereal vocals soaring above it all. More than thirty-five years later, this track still sounds revolutionary. Compare “I Feel Love” with one of Kraftwerk’s best-known and most-influential songs, the minor 1977 hit “Trans-Europe Express“:
However, while “I Feel Love” is surely the apotheosis of Moroder’s career, his work that led him to that triumph is worth exploring as well. Before he entered the world of disco, Moroder had been trying to make it as a pop-rock artist himself since the late 1960s. He scored his first minor hit in 1970 with the bubblegum cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “Medocino“:
Hailing from northern Italy but cutting his teeth in Germany, Moroder always felt an outsider, a traveler between worlds—technically Italian but feeling more German, and completely captivated by the pop music coming out of Britain and America. That fertile mix produced some of the most adventurous, fun, and off-kilter pop I’ve ever heard. One of my favorites is the bubblegum tour de force “Looky Looky” from 1969:
In one of the many instances of Giorgio being way ahead of the curve, this synth-drenched pop toe-tapper was covered in the English glam band Chicory Tip in 1972 and subsequently become the first #1 hit to prominently feature the Moog synthesizer:
Even back in the early 1970s, Giorgio saw the amazing potential of melding American and British pop-rock with the tools of the German avant-garde. And for that reason he’s one of the most influential and visionary musicians of the twentieth century. And again, the dude who created all of this amazing music looked like this, which surely earns him extra points:
I’ll leave you with one of the coolest disco tracks you’ll ever hear, Giorgio Moroder’s 1976 Moody Blues cover “Knights in White Satin,” which combines all the electronic elements outlined above with an amazingly slow, dragging beat and his echoey, whispered vocals. All hail the weird and wonderful Giorgio!
P.S.: If you’re interested in finding out more about Giorgio Moroder, I’d suggest two starting points. One is Peter Shapiro’s excellent book Turn the Beat Around: The History of Disco and the other is the amazing compilation of Giorgio’s early recordings put out by Repetoire Records, Schlagermororder 1: Volume 1, 1966–1975. You won’t be disappointed.