YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT… GIORGIO MORODER?

posted in: COLUMNS | 0

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:

CREDITED TO http://vazetti.tumblr.com
Those sunglasses? That mustache? Even if this guy never made a shred of music, he’d be worth knowing just for that mustache.
And there’s this:
CREDITED TO http://sexymenofthesynthesizer.tumblr.com

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):

In addition to being one of the sexiest songs ever recorded—really, it’s borderline pornographic—”Love to Love You Baby” augured the coming wave of electronic Eurodisco that Moroder was cooking up—with those cold, icy synthesizer fills and the use of a wonky, off-kilter drum machine, Giorgio was crafting a hybrid vision of dance music that was just as much about Kraftwerk as it was about Motown.
What was merely hinted at in 1975 was completely realized in 1977 with “I Feel Love,” one of the most revolutionary recorded moments in the history of dance music:

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“:

Obviously Kraftwerk are the godfather’s of all-synthetic dance music, but their approach was decidedly avant-garde—it took the daring and hutzpah of Moroder in the world of disco (and Afrika Bambaataa in the world of hip-hop) to bring these revolutionary ideas to a mass audience. In fact, if you check out Moroder’s 1975 album Einzelganger, you’ll see him exploring this same exact territory, though with himself on vocodered vocals rather than Summer:

The genius of keeping the electronic musical backdrop but swapping out the creepy-looking German dudes for a beautiful American R&B singer is stunning—and in retrospect really obvious. I mean, really, nobody’s rushing to the record store to pick up a record with these two dudes on the cover:
credited to http://kraftwerklove.tumblr.com

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’sMedocino“:

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:

It’s like the Beach Boys and the Beatles moved to Berlin and tried to make experimental sunshine pop in the shadow of the Wall. Plus, in the above video, the mustache is in full effect even then, though its partner in crime is no longer a pair of sunglasses but one of the most amazing scarves ever seen on TV.
Another amazing track is “Underdog” from 1971:

Those pulsing, stabbing strings that open the track, joined by that killer guitar riff? And then the pounding fury of the drums when the chorus kicks for in the first time? Holy moly. It’s glam, it’s power pop, it’s proto-punk—when I hear this song, I get almost literally hopping mad that most people would not be able to pick Giorgio Moroder out of a lineup. You’re telling me Paul McCartney or Brian Eno would not kill to have made “Underdog“?
 
And then there’s “Son of My Father,” also from 1971:

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:

CREDITED TO http://betterthanmeytal.tumblr.com

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 RecordsSchlagermororder 1: Volume 1, 1966–1975. You won’t be disappointed.

Share