31.05.13

Digging deep: Giorgio Moroder from 1966 to Eternity

You can level as many criticisms at Daft Punk’s new album as you like, but one thing that can’t be denied is that it’s given a significant career boost to its collaborators. Nile Rodgers is reportedly working with David Guetta and Avicii, DJ Falcon is working on new material some 14 years after his first and only EP dropped, and legendary producer Giorgio Moroder is back in the game once again.

Moroder is undeniably one of the most important figures in modern music. He’s both adored by the underground for his technical accomplishments, and responsible for some of the biggest hits in the history of pop. He’s also the proud owner of three Oscars, some GRAMMYs and a handful of lifetime achievement awards from various foundations. And yet the man born Hansjörg Moroder seemed to disappear towards the tail end of the 1980s, something that he puts down to the rise of hip hop – as he said in an interview with SPIN recently, “I recognized this music was exciting, but I was not willing or able to make it myself.”

But thanks to two middle-aged Frenchmen, the 73-year old producer is back. He recently performed his first ever DJ set for Red Bull Music Academy, he composed a pumping, EDM-via-hi-NRG soundtrack for a Google smartphone game and is working on music with MNDR and, for better or worse, Avicii (yes, him again).

With so much love for Moroder’s work in both the charts (from I Feel Love to Take My Breath Away), amongst the heads (from From Here To Eternity to Chase) and the disco kids (his work with Munich Machine and countless other singers), we’ve picked out 10 of his lesser-recognised cuts, presented chronologically, to tell the story of the man.

  1. Giorgio & The Morodians – Bla-Bla-Diddly (1966)
    It seems a bit mean to write off so much of an artist’s output, but Moroder’s pre-synthesiser days are not his best. Bla-Bla-Diddly is a case in point – kitsch psych pop that very much belongs to its own era, not the future that Moroder wanted to find. It’s a nice curiosity, though, if only to see how far he would come, and the bassline is proto I Feel Love. Whilst later material showed his early promise – songs from the early 1970s like Son Of My Father and Tears – it wasn’t until his soft disco era that his work really started to demonstrate his supreme talents.
  2. Einzelgänger – Einzelgänger (1975)
    Probably his weirdest album, ‘Einzelgänger’ was a highly experimental collaboration between Giorgio Moroder and Reinhold Mack that is essentially a post-Krautrock, pre-NDW minimal synth record. It’s comparable to contemporaries Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream with Moroderesque synths, but much more haunting and with more pronounced, bouncy basslines. A unique record, it might have been his first proper introduction to the synthesizer. He never did anything like this again.
  3. Giorgio – Knights In White Satin (1976)
    ‘Knights In White Satin’ came only a year after Einzelgänger and couldn’t be further away in tone. It’s as light and fluffy as disco comes, and full of all the campiness that the genre is associated with – one only needs to take a quick glance at the homoerotic sauna on the record sleeve to gauge its sound. Still, the production is incredibly tight and the tempos far slower, sleazier and more seductive than a lot of other dance music of the time – save, perhaps, for his own production on Love To Love You Baby, which was released only a year earlier. And the decision to use his own voice despite not being a particularly good singer simply because it’s his record is something that producers have been doing ever since.
  4. Giorgio & Chris – Burning The Midnight Oil (1978)
    If there’s one thing worth noting about Giorgio Moroder’s career, it’s that it’s very inconsistent. ‘Love’s In You, Love’s In Me’ is a collaborative record with Chris Bennett with a sleeve as questionable as the one for ‘Knights In White Satin’. The saccharine album sounds particularly unremarkable when you consider that it came so soon after the release of the monolithic I Feel Love and around the same time as Suzi Lane’s Harmony, but one track of note is the minimal and moody Burning The Midnight Oil, which boasts some truly excellent vocoder work. Plus, this fan-made Youtube video is one of the most awe-inspiring things you’ll see.
  5. Giorgio Moroder – Evolution (1978)
    In 1978, Casablanca Records issued ‘Music From “Battlestar Galactica” And Other Original Compositions’. Side one is similar to ‘From Here To Eternity’ and ‘Knights In White Satin’ in that it consists of a single megamix, and whilst not necessarily bad, it’s certainly forgettable – these sorts of space disco reinterpretations were ten a penny during this period, and the record shows very little of Moroder’s flare. However, side two is where this release becomes essential, comprising of one track, the 15-minute disco opus, Evolution. Evolution illustrates the genius and straight-up experimentalism that Moroder was capable of exercising despite his pop credentials, which by this point were certified.
  6. Sparks – Tryouts For The Human Race (1979)
    Frustrated with the limitations of the rock band, Sparks enlisted the help of Moroder on their album ‘No. 1 In Heaven’. The record strikes a balancing act between Sparks’ distinctive, quirky songwriting, and Moroder’s experimental electronic tendencies, managing to sound like both a Sparks record and a Moroder one without watering down either party or weighing in favour of one over the other. Tryouts For The Human Race is its spine-tinglingly good opening track, but the whole record is truly fantastic – perhaps even flawless.
  7. Cher – Bad Love (1980)
    Moroder was behind some truly outstanding disco songs around this time – the previous year had seen the release of Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer’s No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), which is the standard that all diva anthems should aspire to. Musically, Bad Love is very similar to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, but this is probably the better of the two. What it lacks in Summer’s vocals it makes up for in energy – fast, pumping disco, amazing piano chords and one of the best keyboard solos in the middle. This came out as part of the soundtrack for the Jodie Foster flick Foxes and was just one of Moroder’s many, many hits that he’d score as he began working more frequently within Hollywood and with superstars.
  8. Japan – Life In Tokyo (1980)
    Whilst Sparks were a rock band, ‘No. 1 In Heaven’ was a fully electronic album. Japan, however, were the first band that Moroder worked with who utilised live instruments. A recent article on The Quietus compared the career of Japan against that of Duran Duran, two of the most important groups of the New Romantic movement yet two of the most different. It makes the observation – imbued with a new significance in hindsight – that Duran Duran worked with Nile Rodgers and Japan worked with Moroder, highlighting the fact that the two were famously figureheads for different strands of dance music (one black American funk, one modernistic European art) long before Daft Punk consolidated their influence into one album. Following Life In Tokyo, Moroder went on to work with other art musicians, from Blondie to Bowie, alongside more pop-oriented singers, showing remarkable versatility.
  9. Irene Cara – Romance ’83 (1983)
    Moroder’s Hollywood years saw him producing slicker songs and bigger hits that were, generally speaking, watered down compared to his earlier innovations (Take My Breath Away, What A Feeling) if not entirely forgettable (Thief Of Hearts, Danger Zone). That’s not to say they don’t have their redeeming features – Together In Electric Dreams is a rightful classic, whilst Berlin’s song is, for reasons that are impossible to explain, a particular favourite – but this is more despite Moroder’s input rather than because of it. Not so on Romance ’83, a quirky, bouncy bubblegum pop song with comparatively dry drums that’s a joy to listen to. He also produced Nina Hagen’s delightfully out there Zarah around this time.
  10. Mirwais – Disco Science (Giorgio Moroder’s Blueprint Mix) (2000)
    When dormant artists make a big return it’s easy to forget that they have often been working for years without receiving much attention. So whilst you may rightly feel funny hearing Moroder celebrate Skrillex or Avicii, it’s worth noting that he was working on Italo-inflected house and electro house during the 90s and early 00s. As late as 2002 he was making weak big room remixes for Enrique Iglesias. Some still have their moments – a pumping hi-NRG take on Blondie’s 2003 single Good Boys has its moments, and his electro mix of Mirwais’ Disco Science is super – but for the most part, Moroder’s best work was behind him after 1986.