Back in a decade far, far away, synthesizers and sequencers were starting to feature in everyday pop music. Initially only used by avantgardists like Stockhausen, Can and Kraftwerk (and the early wafty ambience pioneers like Jean Michel Jarre) they were big as kitchen cabinets and fiendishly difficult to program. With the early eighties and the Japanese on the job, things became more compact, cheaper and easier to use. You didn’t have to have a masters in physics to get one going anymore. So the first synth pioneers of the eighties emerged: Depeche Mode 1981’s album ‘Speak and Spell’, New Order’s 1981 ‘Movement’, Human League’s 1981 ‘Dare’, though all sounding like a Texas Instrument calculator were all bold statements of what you could do with a Casio VL-1, a Jupiter-4 and a Linn LM-1. That collection of synthies probably still set you back 10.000$, but that’s much better than paying the price of a detached house for something that goes ‘plonk’ after you program it for 2 hours.
So after the pioneers of electronic music showed the world that you could produce a million selling album at home in your kitchen and put Sheffield, Manchester and, er, Basildon, firmly on the map, it was time for the rest of the world to get into the Groove (see what I’ve done there?). BTW, in 1981, when Europe was already having their own new electronic music revolution, the U.S. were still listening to Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and AC/DC. Figures.
2000km away from Basildon, in lovely and very unbasildonish Italy, the HI-NRG craze was just winding down, but as they were still plenty of synths lying around, some musicians decided to come up with an alternative to that cold, clinical electronic kaplonking that was going on up in thatcherite England. So they came up with some songs that were much more upbeat, ridiculously catchy and, er, very silly. I give you the lyrics to Fun Fun’s 1982 hit ‘Happy Station’:
Station, happy station
Very special people you can meet at the station
Station, happy station (oh, happy station)
Glad and smiling faces come from different places
My suitcase and me we’ll take a trip
It’s a magic journey, I feel like burning
Lucky guy, follow me, you’ll be alright
I’m crazy, don’t you know
But wait, there’s more: Den Harrow’s’ ‘Future Brain” has even more lyrical depth
There is no way you can understand what i feel
You never pray ’cause your soul isn’t even real
You might know lots of things now
But you can never be a lover
Winning the race with your information
But you can’t replace my soul
I quite like the fact that the chap is winng the race with his information. But there are very few songs that top My Mine’s ‘Hypnotic Tango‘:
Stuck in my seat, can’t move, no way
The other guys knows the game to play
I’m watchin’ her, I’m watchin’ me, I’m gettin’ brave
Oh, take him apart, say listen to me
Take him apart indeed. The point here is of course that the lyrics didn’t matter at all. As most of the 16 year
olds jumping up and down to the music had pretty much the same senantic skills as the producers, there was really no point in employing the poet laureate to come up with something profound. Knowing that they wouldn’t look like much on a record sleeve or on a video, the producers of these semantically challenged little masterpieces would often hire a hunk (Den Harrow) or rent a dame (Valerie Dore) to front their projects, making it much easier on the eyes while the singing and programming would be done by somebody who knew what they were doing. This very meritocratic way of working resulted in some fascinating music. Not only danceable, but ultimately hummable.
Why in the world am I droning on about this, I here you ask? Well I recently found out that 3 of my favourite songs of all time, sung by afroamerican performers, were actually composed and produced by a cabale of Italians. Thinking about it now it make sense, as they so much more catchy than their ‘real’ American contemporary acts, but still quite a shock. The three tracks I refer to are:
So there you have it: Italo Disco, performed by Americans. For Germans. It doesn’t get much more international.