It is hard to deny the influence of disco on the musical landscape. The genre combined orchestral majesty with funky soul and syncopated rhythms and made dancing the center of its universe. While the influence of many disco artists and producers remains a constant in today’s music scene, there is one artist, writer and producer who not only has influenced disco, electronic and soundtrack music, but music as a whole. And that is Giorgio Moroder.
Born in 1940 as Giovanni Giorgio Moroder, he was raised in Italy’s South Tyrol province and began his musical career in Germany, releasing a few pop oriented tracks in the late 1960s and early 1970s to gain footing in the industry. It wasn’t until he teamed up with English songwriter Pete Bellotte that he began to explore new musical territory. Bellotte discovered Donna Summer in the early 1970s as she was working in Europe as a musical theater performer and session singer and brought her to Moroder’s attention. Together the three formed a partnership that created a string of revolutionary disco hits that started with 1975s sensuous “Love To Love You Baby” and continued with such classics as “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” “Heaven Knows,” and “On The Radio”. Aside from his work with Summer, he produced disco records for artists such as Sparks, Suzi Lane and The Three Degrees. During this time, he also started releasing his own highly influential solo albums which included 1977’s From Here To Eternity and 1979’s E=MC2.
Eager to stretch his talents, Moroder soon moved into the world of movie scoring, composing his first soundtrack for the drama Midnight Express in 1978. That soundtrack featured the instantly recognizable synth instrumental “The Chase,” which helped win him the first of three Academy Awards, nine Golden Globes and five Grammys for his work. He later began working with solo artists and bands on soundtracks, recording his first major collaborative film hit with Blondie’s “Call Me,” which reached number one on both the UK and US charts and was featured in the 1980 film American Gigolo.
The hits just kept on coming throughout the 1980s. Moroder had a hand in composing songs released on hit soundtracks for films such as Flashdance, The Neverending Story and Top Gun. He even ventured into creating theme songs for sporting events such as the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. But after releasing his solo album Forever Dancing in 1992, Moroder went on hiatus for almost 20 years. That is, until Daft Punk reached out to request a collaboration.
While working on their Grammy winning album Random Access Memories, the French house and disco duo reached out to Moroder to ask him to contribute a monologue about his beginnings and career in music to the track “Giorgio By Moroder.” From there, the comeback kicked into overdrive, ranging from taking up DJing to reworking one of his 1960s songs for a Volkswagen commercial to remixing a track for stadium pop-rockers Coldplay. Finally in 2015, he released his first solo record since Forever Dancing, a collaborative effort called Déjà Vu, which found him working with contemporary pop vocalists such as Britney Spears, Sia and Charli XCX. Ever since then, he has continued touring, releasing remixes, working with other artists, and continuing to score for TV and film, most notably for the USA Network series Queen of the South.
Many casual listeners of music are unaware that Giorgio Moroder has had a hand in some of the most popular songs of all time and that many of the tracks they listen to today bear his influence. You still hear classics such as “I Feel Love,” “On The Radio,” “Flashdance…What A Feeling,” and “Take My Breath Away” in constant rotation today. You can hear his influence in the arpeggiated synths in Little Boots’ “Stuck On Repeat,” the synth stabs in Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and the disco house rhythms of Daft Punk’s “One More Time.” You can spot the tribute to his disco sounds in contemporary acts like Midnight Magic and Hercules and Love Affair. Even country artist Shooter Jennings admits to being highly influenced by Moroder, releasing a tribute album Countach (For Giorgio) in 2016. His love of both vintage and contemporary technology has influenced countless gear geeks and synth freaks. And his embrace of multiple genres has made him adaptable to the ever changing music scene, eager to show generation after generation the history of disco and electronic music.
Moroder’s inimitable talent and genius mind will be revered for years to come. He knew that to stand out, he had to make his own path and create his own sound. He states his philosophy best in the bridge of “Giorgio By Moroder:”
“Once you free your mind about a concept of Harmony and of music being ‘correct’ You can do whatever you want So, nobody told me what to do And there was no preconception of what to do”
And from there Moroder created disco.
Ten of the Best Giorgio Moroder Tracks:
Donna Summer, “I Feel Love” (1977): This track contains one of the most recognized arpeggiated synth lines of all time and helped to pioneer many musical genres in its wake, from new wave to techno. As Brian Eno proclaimed, “I have heard the sound of the future”.
Giorgio Moroder, “From Here to Eternity” (1977): This was the first Moroder solo track to really make an impact on the disco scene. Utilizing vocoders, arpeggiators and lyrics that promised forever, he created a masterpiece that set the template for the classic disco sound.
Giorgio Moroder, “The Chase” (1978): Written by Moroder as part of his score for MidnightExpress, this was part of his first venture into writing music for films and the crescendoing synths and driving rhythms capture the intensity of the prison break drama it soundtracks.
Sparks, “The Number One Song In Heaven” (1979): The quirky American pop rock duo enlisted Moroder to co-write and produce the album (No. 1 in Heaven) that this track appears on. The galloping drum beat soon leads to a high-intensity synth freakout that is upbeat and addictive.
Blondie, “Call Me” (1980): When Stevie Nicks was unavailable to help write a theme song for the film American Gigolo, Moroder enlisted Debbie Harry. Her band helped make this edgy new wave track an instant hit and helped put Moroder on the map as an in-demand soundtrack writer.
David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (1982): This slow-burning rock-driven track from the film of the same name helped ease Moroder into further becoming a force in the soundtrack world, showcasing a darker side to his music.
Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What A Feeling” (1983): The title track to the 1983 dance-centered film, this is probably one of the most feel-good sing-along tracks in Moroder’s catalog, with its synth stabs and positive lyrics making quite an impact upon release and remaining an 80s favorite.
Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, “Together In Electric Dreams” (1984): Moroder teams up with the Human League’s distinctive vocalist for this sunny synth track that takes its cues from the positive energy of “Flashdance…What A Feeling” and succeeds in creating a memorable hook and rhythm.
Berlin, “Take My Breath Away” (1986): Moroder has stated that alongside “Flashdance…What A Feeling,” this ballad from Top Gun is the song in his catalog that he is most proud of. It is not hard to see why — it is breathtaking in its melody, lyrics and ambiance. And that key change is WOW!
Giorgio Moroder feat. Sia, “Déjà Vu” (2015): Moroder enlisted a variety of pop vocalists to work with him on Déjà Vu, his first album since 1992. For the title track, he recruited Australian powerhouse Sia and together they created a euphoric tune made for pool parties and dance floors alike.
Giorgio Moroder will be headlining the 9:30 Club for the first annual Blisspop Disco Fest on Saturday, September 1 alongside Ultra Nate and Will Eastman. You can purchase tickets here.