Moroder 101

Giorgio Moroder - From Here To Eternity - back

Giorgio Moroder is probably the hippest 72-year-old on the planet, thanks to his appearance on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. But I’m willing to bet at least a few people who bought the album and listened to the track “Giorgio by Moroder” immediately thought “who the hell is this old guy and why should I care about his life story?”

Well, I’m not going to judge those people. No matter how influential and groundbreaking his work was, Moroder hasn’t exactly been a household name for the past 20 years or so.

But they should know, dammit. And while I’m not going to judge them, I’m sure going to do my best to educate them.

Here’s a (not too) brief look at Moroder’s best, biggest and most important works, done in chronological order. I’m not including everything here (Moroder was crazy productive). I’m just focusing on what I think are the highlights, the most popular stuff and the tracks that helped define the “Moroder sound.” If you never heard of Moroder before, I hope this is a good jumping off point for you. And if you are familiar with his work, hey, maybe you’ll learn something here anyway. I sure as hell did.

And if your only knowledge of Moroder before this was “Take My Breath Away,” then I hope this will at least allow you to forgive him for that.

 

Giorgio Moroder – “Tears” (1972)


Moroder wasn’t always an electronic musician. His first album was strictly a pop affair (and not a very good one at that). He switched gears for his second album, Son Of My Father, crafting a more rock-influenced sound that had some worthwhile moments. But for most part it was rather bland, save for this track, which served as the closer. “Tears” is little more than a single melody repeated over and over again, but it builds so well. More is added to it with each meter, drums, keyboards, bass, until it explodes into a tremendous climax. It was the first sign that Moroder was more than just a pop performer, and it was one hell of a way to close an album.

Oh, and if the track sounds familiar, that’s because DJ Shadow sampled it for the aptly-named “Organ Donor.”
Buy Son of My Father at Amazon

 

Einzelgänger – Einzelgänger (1975)


As Einzelganger, Moroder completely threw away everything he did before and created what is basically a krautrock record. It’s almost entirely based on the synthesizer, but it’s certainly not a dance album, and features a space age sound that could best be compared to the stuff that Tangerine Dream was putting out at the time. Moroder never recorded anything like this again, although it’s safe to say that his experiences with synthesizers on this album probably influenced his future work. It’s not a bad record, but good luck finding a copy, it’s never been released on CD.

 

Giorgio Moroder – Knights In White Satin (1976)


After Einzelganger, Moroder shifted gears again, moving from experimental electronic soundscapes to the then hip and new sound of disco. However, he didn’t seem to take most of his synthesizers with him at first. Knights In White Satin is almost entirely a “traditional” disco record, with an emphasis on bass lines and symphonic melodies (symphonies and string sections were a big part dance music back then). Truth be told, it’s a pretty weak album, but it does serve as an interesting footnote, the last release Giorgio would put his name on before he changed everything…
Buy Knights in White Satin at Amazon

 

Donna Summer – “I Feel Love” (1977)


God. Damn.

Very rarely can you chart the history of an entire sound, an entire movement even, to one single track. But you can here. “I Feel Love” invented electronic dance music. Yes, there were other electronic dance tunes before it, but they didn’t matter. No one remembers those. They didn’t do what this one did. This was the one that broke through, this was the one that reached a mainstream audience, and this was the one that convinced pretty much everyone that synthesizers, sequencers and other electronic gadgets, previously used mostly for  novelty or avant-garde music, could be vital instruments in the pop landscape. One of the most influential and groundbreaking pieces of pop music ever made. Period.
Buy I Remember Yesterday at Amazon

 

Giorgio Moroder – From Here To Eternity (1978)


With “I Feel Love,” Moroder was trying to create the sound of the future, and Summer’s vocals, while spectacular,  were the only thing that really held that back, keeping the track at least partially grounded in the present day. For his solo followup to “I Feel Love,” Moroder remedied this problem by heavily relying on the vocoder for the majority of the albums vocals (although the occasional untreated vocal sneaks in from time to time). That, combined with the fact that not a single acoustic instrument is used on the record, made From Here To Eternity truly sound like an album of the future.

And possibly an album made by robots.
Buy From Here to Eternity at Amazon

 

Giorgio Moroder – Midnight Express (1979)


In 1979, Giorgio Moroder composed his first film score for the movie Midnight Express, a harrowing tale of an American college student who is sent to a hellish Turkish prison for smuggling drugs. Not exactly the kind of material that begs disco, but oddly enough, it turned out to be a great match, netting Moroder his first Oscar and an unlikely club hit in the pulse-pounding instrumental opening piece to the film, “Chase,” which has been endlessly remixed since its original release. Moroder was obviously influenced by its own success as well; he dedicated much of the following years to composing scores and soundtracks for other films.
Buy Midnight Express: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack at Amazon

 

Japan – “Life In Tokyo” (1979)

In case you can’t tell, the foundation of the “Moroder sound” of the late 70s was his use of the sequencer and similar equipment, electronic tools that could be used to create looped musical phrases. These loops were then manipulated, either by the sequencer directly or via a synthesizer, to craft rhythmic, pulse-pounding melodies. It’s a minimal sound, but he used it to maximum effect. The looping instrumentation of tracks like “I Feel Love” were created via a sequencer. And even when Moroder wasn’t using a sequencer (“Chase”) he was mimicking it.

“Life In Japan” marked the first time that Moroder would use this technique with a live band, and the results were tremendous. The song was so good, in fact, that the band pretty much re-invented itself in the wake of its success. Before this single, Japan was a glam rock act who obviously dreamed of being the next David Bowie. After it, they became a new wave/synthpop act that…obviously dreamed of being the next David Bowie (okay, so it didn’t change everything about them). That version of Japan helped serve as an influence to the entire New Romantic movement and acts like Duran Duran, so that’s yet another musical style of the 80s that you can at least in part chalk up to Moroder.
Buy Assemblage at Amazon

 

Blondie – “Call Me” (1980)

One of the benefits of using a sequencer with a live band is that you can set a tempo that would be very hard to replicate otherwise. Just like “Life In Japan,” “Call Me” is driven entirely by the sequenced loops laid down by Moroder, and without them it just wouldn’t be the same song.  They create a feeling of urgency and unease, while at the same time making the song instantly danceable.

“Call Me” was the theme to American Gigolo, another film that Moroder composed the score for. And if you’ve never seen it, spoiler: the song holds up better than the flick.
Buy Autoamerican from Amazon

 

David Bowie – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (1982)


Okay, so the Cat People soundtrack isn’t, well…very good. It’s definitely one of Moroder’s weaker scores, and the fact that movie is a plodding bore probably doesn’t help either. That being said, it has one hell of an opening number. It’s amazing what a little Bowie will do for you.

This song marked the beginning of Moroder’s transition into pure pop music. His trademark sequencer sound is nowhere to be found here, taking a break that lasted a couple years. While the song lacks much of what one would consider the “classic” Moroder sound, he still did a hell of a job with it. And if you think that Bowie deserves all the credit here and not Moroder, just listen to the dreadful version that Bowie recorded for the Let’s Dance album.

Better yet, don’t.
Buy Cat People at Amazon

 

Irene Cara – “Flashdance…What a Feeling” (1983)


I often say that the sound of the 80s can pretty much be traced back to two people, Trevor Horn and Giorgio Moroder, and when you listen to “Flashdance” it’s pretty easy to see why (as for Horn’s contributions, that’s a discussion for another day). The song is built almost entirely on synthesizers; only the guitar is “real.” The synthesizer melody serves as the hook to the song, the drums are synthesized, even the bass is actually a synthesizer.

This song was a gigantic hit, the third biggest single of the year behind “Every Breath You Take” and “Billie Jean.” And its success no doubt served as a sign to record companies that the synthpop sound, something that was previously seen as cold and distant, could be crafted into something for mainstream appeal. Within a year, it would be the dominate sound of the 80s pop landscape. It also earned Moroder his second Oscar.

In the years since, “Flashdance” has taken the role of a “guilty pleasure” for most people. But eff that. This is a perfect pop tune. Moroder’s music fits the message of the song wonderfully, and Irene Cara’s vocals are incredible. Besides, if you like just about any pop song that came out of the 80s after this one, you owe it a bit of credit.
Buy Flashdance: Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture at Amazon

 

Giorgio Moroder – “The Duel” (1984)


If anyone remembers anything from the soundtrack to Electric Dreams, a mostly forgotten 1984 film about a love triangle between a cellist, a computer programmer and a computer (yeah…it’s a thing), it’s typically the film’s theme song, “Together In Electric Dreams,” a collaboration between Moroder and The Human League founder Phillip Oakey. However, the real standout on the soundtrack is this instrumental, a synthesized update on the classical piano piece “Minuet in G Major.” Does it have any relevance, influence or any importance in the grand Moroder oeuvre? Nah, but it’s really fun and holds up better than a lot of other stuff he put out in the 80s.
Buy Electric Dreams – Soundtrack at Amazon

 

Freddie Mercury – “Love Kills” (1984)


In 1984, Giorgio Moroder decided to take Fritz Lang’s classic film Metropolis and retool it for a modern audience by re-editing and color-tinting it, as well as adding an all new pop music soundtrack. While film historians attacked him at the time, the end result was quite well done, and certainly accomplished what he set out to do by introducing the film to a much wider, and much younger audience.

Of the soundtrack, most of it is rather forgettable, especially when taken away from the context of the film. One track that does hold up, however, is Freddie Mercury’s “Love Kills.” Both a return to Moroder’s sequencer-driven sound and a continuation of his more pop-friendly work, it’s the best of both worlds, a showcase for everything that Moroder did right during the decade.

Freddie Mercury’s vocals certainly don’t hurt matters either.
Buy the Metropolis Original Motion Picture Soundtrack at Amazon

 

Kenny Loggins – “Danger Zone” (1986)


For a while in the 80s, it seemed that if a soundtrack didn’t feature Giorgio Moroder, it featured Kenny Loggins, so it was only a matter of time before the two teamed up.

“Danger Zone” is a dumb song for a dumb movie, but damn, it was everywhere the year it came out. Sure, it hasn’t aged well, but it’s still a fun track, and Moroder’s’ contributions to it are probably more prominent than you may think. Just like “Flashdance,” everything on “Danger Zone” is synthetic save for the guitar, and probably Loggins’ vocals.

I’m still not convinced he’s not a cyborg.

 

Berlin – “Take My Breath Away” (1986)


This song won a fucking Oscar.

The 80s were weird.

I loved this track as a kid and I think I always will, but I’m a sucker for Berlin. Objectively, I can see that this song isn’t that great. There’s barely any music to it. The drums are boring, the synth line is sparse in the worst kind of way, and the song is totally not representative of any of the great tunes that Berlin recorded up until that point. Its only saving grace is Terri Nunn’s vocals, but she could sing the phone book and I’d listen to it.

As bland as it is, “Take My Breath Away” was a supermassive megahit, and I bet the song’s disgusting level of success was one of the reasons why we didn’t see much of Moroder from this point on. It probably made him more money than everything he did before, combined.
Buy the Top Gun Motion Picture Soundtrack (Special Expanded Edition) at Amazon

 

Sigue Sigue Sputnik – “Love Missile F1-11” (1986)


You know how some bands define their era? Like how Nirvana defined the 90s? Well, in this case it’s the other way around. The 80s defined Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

You take disco. You take electronic music. You take synthpop, new wave, post-punk, sequencers, keyboards and samplers; you put that in a blender; add some hairspray with a dash of cold war paranoia; and you get Sigue Sigue Sputnik. And since Moroder was either directly or indirectly responsible for almost all of those things (I don’t think he had anything to do with the Cold War, but I could be wrong) it only made sense that he would end up working with the group.

Moroder served as producer on their debut album Flaunt It!, and it’s a full-on return to his classic loop-driven sound, although this time he had an array of new digital synthesizers and samplers to work with. The album has its fair share of duds, but tracks like “Sex Bomb Boogie” and the classic “Love Missile F1-11” still hold up today, in their crazy, manic, silly glory.
Buy Flaunt It at Amazon

There’s a lot more great Moroder out there, but I had to stop somewhere. So what are your favorites? Where do you think he dropped the ball? Let me know what you think!

Just don’t say the soundtrack to Over The Top. Please.

4 Responses to Moroder 101

  • Eric Schulz says:

    James, I’m 52. When I heard Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, I found IT! I’ve been hooked ever since. He’s done amazing work and is truly a trend-setting legend!

  • Eric P says:

    Awesome post! I love Moroder but had no idea he produced so many soundtrack hits. Amazing!

  • Dan Hurd says:

    Killer post. I really feel I should like Moroder more than I do. He tends to lapse into cheez whiz and chest hair too much for my taste. :/

  • Eric Schulz says:

    One of my favorite GM songs is “To Turn The Stone” by Frida (Lyngstad, of ABBA) on her first solo LP “Something’s Going On”. GREAT track co-written with Pete Bellotte. The whole album is outstanding, most of it VERY different from her work with ABBA.

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