A guest posting by Leon MacDuff
Romance ’83: A Giorgio Moroder ICA
1983 was a good year for Giorgio Moroder. It certainly wasn’t his first annus mirabilis – after all you can’t dismiss 1979, when he resurrected the careers of Sparks and the Three Degrees (don’t be put off by the sappy ballad “Woman In Love”, there’s disco gold in them there elpees), pausing just long enough to pick up the first of his three Academy Awards. Or 1977, the year he changed the course of popular music forever, armed only with a single kick drum and a borrowed Moog (and, to be fair, a Donna Summer, which always helps). Nevertheless, 1983 was a good’un.
Now well established in L.A., he was in demand as a soundtrack composer as well as a record producer. And while especially during his Hollywood years (of which 1983 is slap bang in the middle) he may not have been averse to the odd bit of musical cheese, on the whole he was doing good work which doesn’t get the attention that his disco era productions do. Sure, there may be nothing as groundbreaking here as “Chase” or “I Feel Love” but nevertheless 1983 saw Moroder very much in his pomp. Trevor Horn has been described as the man who invented the 80s, but Giorgio Moroder is surely a strong contender too, so here’s forty minutes of the great man at work.
(1) Nina Hagen – Zarah
I feel like I should be more familiar with Nina Hagen. From what I’ve heard of her usual material, she’s a highly idiosyncratic performer with a remarkable voice, and she has had a pretty colourful life which you can read about elsewhere. But actually I mostly know her for her Moroder-produced album “Fearless” (and its German-language version “Angstlos” which also has a couple of different songs). You don’t have to tell me it’s not representative of her career as a whole, I do know! I really like the album though, not least because Moroder throws everything at it.
The single Zarah is a part-translated version of “Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n”, a signature song of Swedish actress Zarah Leander who introduced it in the 1942 film “Die große Liebe” (according to Wikipedia, “the most commercially successful film in the history of the Third Reich”, which is quite the double-edged sword). Leander herself had rather an interesting life too, with her career in Germany leading to (probably incorrect) accusations of collaboration with the Nazis… but again, there are other places you can read about that. I’m really supplying the rabbit holes today, aren’t I? Anyhow, it’s a strong opening, and to answer your inevitable question: one minute and 28 seconds, that’s how long it goes on like that for. It’s worth sticking with…
(2) Irene Cara: Flashdance… What A Feeling!
In the film, the song is used in an audition scene, the triumphant feel-good nature of which is slightly undercut by the obvious-once-you-spot-them switches between multiple body doubles… and something not entirely dissimilar happens with the song’s standard commercial release, which suffers several clumsy edits (to pick just two, listen out for the clunky cut-and-shut at 0.54 and Cara’s held note being suddenly cut off at 3.14) and for good measure is also saddled with a guitar solo that isn’t even trying. Still, you’d have to admit it’s pretty iconic for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, which is probably most of us, yes?
(3) Debbie Harry: Rush Rush
Movie soundtracks are to a large extent hostages to the fortunes of their parent films. You can pour heart and soul into a great soundtrack but if nobody likes the movie, your work’s just not going to get noticed. In all honesty I’m not sure Moroder’s song score for Scarface is really that much better than his work on D.C. Cab or Superman III, but it hit the jackpot in terms of being attached to a movie that garnered both critical plaudits and popular success. And it IS a good collection with a decent spread of pop styles, albeit somewhat lacking in star power – aside from Debbie Harry of course. You’ll remember that Giorgio and Debbie already had some history, Blondie’s Moroder-produced “Call Me (Theme From American Gigolo)” being a massive hit back in 1980. I’ll be honest, “Rush Rush” isn’t in the same league, but it does seem a shame that they didn’t work together more. Rush Rush itself also got a bit overlooked; I’d got the impression that Harry was in a bit of a career slump at the time but checking it out, I see her solo album Koo Koo had actually done pretty decent business so it’s surprising this didn’t get a bit more attention.
(4) France Joli: Blue Eyed Technology (dance mix)
If you watch those TV shows where they try to prove an old painting is by a recognised artist (and therefore worth squillions) then you’ll know where I’m coming from when I suggest this one may really be more “studio of Moroder” than “by Moroder”. France Joli’s album “Attitude” has Giorgio credited as executive producer, but reading between the lines, it would appear that regular collaborators Pete Bellotte and Richie Zito were the ones actually putting in the studio hours (and Moroder has no writing credits either – this one’s by Bellotte/Zito but the album draws on a large pool of contributors, including former Jo Jo Gunne frontman Jay Ferguson and hi-NRG star Hazell Dean). But Moroder and Bellotte are credited for this 12” remix so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, I guess.
Quebecois singer France Joli scored a disco classic right out of the gate with 1979’s “Come To Me” but never quite managed to repeat the trick. “Attitude” is a good try, though – both this and the album’s other single “Girl In The 80s” sound like they have real hit potential (and they really do showcase the classic Moroder sound, even if they were put together by his understudies), but ultimately failed to make much of a splash.
(5) Irene Cara: Romance ‘83
The success of “Flashdance… What a Feeling” led to Moroder being commissioned to do a full album – What A Feelin’ – for Irene Cara, and shocker: it’s rather good! Cara, who’d self-composed most of her previous album, was keen to emphasise that it was really more of a Moroder project, though her lyrics – which occasionally slip into the blandly motivational but are more usually engaging and even witty – hint at the potential of an ongoing creative partnership which sadly never came to be. Cara might not have appreciated the comparison, but to my mind What a Feelin’ gives an idea of what a Donna Summer album might have sounded like in 1983 had Geffen allowed her partnership with Moroder and Bellotte to continue. It’s certainly a stronger collection of songs than Summer’s own album that year, “She Works Hard For The Money” which has the title track and maybe a couple of other decent numbers but falls back on a lot of filler.
As for this track… a good old Giorgio Moroder synthpop special which despite the of-its-time sound (and title) is really rather prescient, what with the isolating effects of technology being an even bigger issue now then they were forty years ago. And of course it gives its name to this ICA, because it was just too good a title to pass up!
(1) Paul Engemann: Scarface (Push it to The Limit)
The Scarface soundtrack offered a moment in the spotlight to several of Moroder’s regular backing singers including Beth Andersen (who you’ll have heard duetting with Limahl on The NeverEnding Story – though you’re unlikely to have seen her doing it as Limahl’s associate Mandy Newton lip-synced the part for the video and promotional appearances) and E.G. (Elizabeth) Daily, who went on to do her best “girls from The Human League” impression on Together In Electric Dreams before becoming a successful voice actor. Also getting his turn up front was Paul Engemann, who briefly became a bankable star off the back of this track, and got himself featured on several subsequent Moroder soundtracks – as well as on “Reach Out”, a cheesily “motivational” commission for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Truthfully, I think this one’s a bit cheesy as well, but apparently quite popular at the time, especially stateside.
(2) Chaka Khan: No See No Cry
I think it’s fair to say that Superman III does not have a good reputation. It did well at the box office (by this stage the Superman name pretty much guaranteed a good return), but was savaged for its incoherent plot and excessive emphasis on comedy. Giorgio Moroder had a different reason to feel disappointed, as he’d been commissioned to write a suite of original songs only for them to be barely used in the actual film. We did at least get to hear them via the soundtrack LP, which featured Moroder’s songs on one side and selections from Ken Thorne’s orchestral score on the other. I’m not entirely sure that No See No Cry actually appeared in the film at all but Chaka gives it her usual class, even if the song sounds more suited to Shalamar… who we’ll hear in about 11 minutes’ time.
(3) Nina Hagen: Flying Saucers
One thing I do know about Nina Hagen is that UFOs are one of her recurring obsessions (supposedly she saw one while pregnant and it blew her mind, or something). Hence this endearingly daft bit of breezy synthpop from the Fearless album. That’s all I’ve got on this. Just listen and enjoy…
(4) Giorgio Moroder and Joe Esposito: A Love Affair (12″ remix)
In the midst of all the soundtrack commissions and reinventions for other artists, arguably the least interesting album Moroder was involved with in 1983 was his own. Solitary Men, on which he formed an ad hoc duo with former Brooklyn Dreams frontman Joe Esposito, is itself a reinvention, of sorts, but sadly it’s the reinvention of a pioneering dance producer as a purveyor of rather undistinguished synth-based soft rock. The album’s main selling point was the inclusion of the duo’s AOR ballad from Flashdance, Lady Lady Lady, and if you enjoyed that one then there was plenty more like it, including a cover of Nights In White Satin with, alas, none of the iconoclastic disco sheen Moroder had previously brought to his 1976 version. The best track, and really the only one that approaches the energy he was putting into his work for others, is this one. And I suppose Moroder knew it, since it was also the album’s single and was (in Germany and Italy anyway) favoured with this slightly more exciting 12” mix. All in all though, if you want to explore Moroder’s catalogue then I strongly suggest that Solitary Men is not the place to start.
(5) Shalamar: Deadline USA
Toward the end of ‘83, Moroder had no fewer than four new albums issued in the space of a month, as Fearless, What A Feeling and Scarface were joined by the rush release of the soundtrack to minor comedy D.C. Cab. The unexpected addition of the album to the Christmas release list was due to the film itself being brought forward: new drama The A Team had been the smash hit of US TV’s Fall season and as its breakout star Mr T also had a prominent role in D.C. Cab, distributors were understandably keen to strike while the iron was hot.
Unfortunately the film itself was nothing special, and it just ended up getting lost in the Christmas rush – as did the soundtrack album, which is a shame because it’s really not bad at all. As with Flashdance, a couple of tracks were farmed out to Phil Ramone, but the majority is Moroder’s work and showed he could work in what might nowadays be termed an “urban” style. It also offers up more name recognition than either Flashdance or Scarface had: DeBarge, Peabo Bryson, Stephanie Mills and even veteran rock’n’roller Gary “U.S.” Bonds were all involved, along with Irene Cara, whose opening song The Dream is weirdly addictive despite being a pretty blatant (and even more platitudinous) retread of the Flashdance… What A Feeling formula.
I’m not entirely sure of this, but I think Deadline U.S.A. is pretty much a solo track by Howard Hewett, the only original member of Shalamar left following the recent departure of Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel. The depleted Shalamar were probably still the biggest name act on the soundtrack, and got its biggest chorus, but it didn’t do much to halt the band’s commercial decline.
Moroder, on the other hand, emerged from 1983 with his reputation further enhanced. Sadly, other than his existing regulars, he never really worked with the headline stars of his 1983 output again, apart from a remix credit for Blondie’s single “Bad Girl” twenty years later. Nevertheless there were plenty of triumphs yet to come: ‘84 alone gave us Together In Electric Dreams, The NeverEnding Story, a commission for the Olympics, a divisive restoration of silent movie classic Metropolis complete with all-star soundtrack, and, bizarrely, a duet between Janet Jackson and Cliff Richard. Alright, maybe that last one wasn’t quite so much of a triumph. But all that is for another time, maybe…