The cost of importing music to Italy in the eighties cost a lot of money, so much so, that they decided to cut the outgoings and produce their own version of dance music. Some might say it was an irreversible catastrophe that exposed atrocious music to the world for far longer than necessary, while others cherish the reaction it has in their shoulders, hips and feet ever since, not to mention its lasting impact on dance music in general (it did clearly influence New Order). One thing is for certain, it’s very Italian, very eighties and very disco. It was big in Europe, particularly Germany and France but it didn’t have much success in UK or USA, had a decent following in Canada though.
At its best, it's feel-good dance music drenched in Italian pizzazz and the excess of the absurd eighties. It’s glamour, romance, the fast lane and best summed up in the Italian phrase “La Dolce Vita” (the good life). At its worst, it’s amateur, camp, euro-pop with the most uninspiring lyrics and music videos known to animal or man. To be a true purveyor of the sound, however, you must appreciate the opposite ends of the spectrum and with that, I present my curated selection.
10. Ryan Paris - La Dolce Vita
This wouldn’t be an authentic Italo Disco top ten without including the quintessential good life anthem. The song is the first exercise in bad taste on this list and a demonstration of how the traditional Italian medicine of “La Dolce Vita” can cure any sickness, except STD's. Too much “La Dolce Vita” was probably the reason you got them in the first place.
This was a big hit of its time, but I feel Ryan could have done something a lot more ambitious with it, both in terms of the video and his general musical disposition. He seems very passive in it. He should have been walking down a piazza with two girls under his arms, smoking a fucking cigarette. At Least. In truth, the video is basically the cameraman spying on glamorous women, interposed with Ryan and his fancy waistcoat that he seems to be quite proud of. I have no idea what he's doing in Paris though.
9. Divine - "I'm So Beautiful"
Theoretically it’s not Italo Disco, but it was popular with the Italians and ticks most of the boxes of the genre so I just had to include it. I’ve listened to this empowering self-parody of a song for a while but never knew how big Divine was. She was a big counter-cultural icon in the sixties, who is fondly remembered for eating dog shit in the cult film, Pink Flamingos.
When I listen to the song now, I feel like a naive fool because her voice is clearly saturated in drag-ness. The song itself is the less depressing version of Christina Aguilera’s song, the only difference is, this was from the eighties, a time where everyone was ugly but no one realized or cared. In our times beautiful people think there ugly and ugly people think there beautiful. So, in a way this track is still quite pertinent to the times.
8. Generazione Anni 80 – Commanchero
This is probably the closest Italo Disco ever came to enlightenment and that's saying something. It documents the journey of a Commanchero, a nomadic group of traders based around New Mexico that used to trade with the great tribes of America. The chorus itself is reminiscent of a native American calling for his link to the outside world, calling for gunpowder and horses so he may fight the oppressor. But then again it was probably just a sneaky Italian. The girl's Cherokee-themed dance moves in the music video are pretty fucking dramatic too. Even when she’s on fire.
7. Joe & Umberto - Quibos
"Quibos" is a peculiar one. I’ve been trying to find out the story behind this track but thus far have been unsuccessful. In essence, the song is about a random Spanish boy called Quibos. You can see Joe chilling with him in the video. Initially I thought he had a terminal illness and Joe was trying to gain attention in order to raise money for life-saving treatment, but he sounds pretty healthy on the record and in the picture too. Maybe Quibos was just a really cool little dude that deserved his own anthem. I wonder what he’s doing now, probably just taking heroin or eating Paella or something.
6. Ago – Miracles
Not one of the well-known Italo Disco tracks but one of the cooler ones. It’s a psychological narrative told through the minds of hopeless people waiting for a miracle. "There’s a stranger in town, living all alone, losing touch with what’s real. There’s a girl at the bar, waiting for a dream, she keeps herself awake.” It has a classy and subtle synth backdrop and build-up, but artists of that period had notoriously short attention spans when it came to song-writing, so it naturally drifts off lyrically as it progresses. Having said that you can see what they were trying to do with this one. God bless em.
5. Limahl – Never ending Story
If you can look past Limahl's haircut and forget about Atrayo’s horse sinking into a river of shit for a second, you will see that this is a beautiful song with profound lyrics in its own right. “Rhymes that keep their secrets, will unfold behind the clouds. Look at what you see, in her face, the mirror of your dreams.” Now that’s fucking poetry. Or as close as a room full of coked-up Italians is going to get and definitely the closest little Limahl ever will. Having said that, compared to the notoriously broken English and thick accents that Italo Disco artists usually employ, Limahl is a very well educated, well spoken, yet very poorly dressed young man. But in a sense that takes away from this song, not as a piece of music, but as an Italo track, it has no place on the dancefloor unless you have taken way too much MDMA.
4. Radiorama – Aliens
Radiorama have a history musing on the nature of mythological creatures. They’ve also done Yeti’s and Vampires but I consider their work on Aliens to be their seminal, most accomplished work. “People have to know, bout their coming in the sleep, with their sticky faces and laser we're in danger! Call the radio, everybody, can you feel, with their alpha-rays and fires we're in danger!” It ticks all the Italo Disco boxes except maybe over-sentimentality.
Heavily euro-accented lazy English – check. Difficult to transcribe lyrics about oddball themes - check. Absurd hairstyles, outfits and dance moves – check, hard hitting synth overload – check. This is Italo Disco in its purest form. It’s two Italians standing next to a fake R2D2 with arms taking themselves really seriously talking about aliens, which they pronounce “ALYENS.” What more do you fucking want?
3. Alan Cook – Bad Dreams
Holy shit, those dance moves are beyond comprehension, his mullet is pretty impressive too and a lot subtler than Limahl’s. He may have the name of a balding English plumber, but in reality, he is actually a confident tanned sack of overactive Italian testosterone and the eighties personified in a man. His wrist game is kinda nuts though.
This is the whole reason Ryan Paris is crying at 10, because he did not look, sound and act like this. Because he did not act like, a real Italian man. He talks about something we can all relate to as well, literally he has just had enough of bad dreams, it doesn’t really seem to be affecting him on stage, but still, bad dreams just fuck off please.
2. Paul Paul – Good Times
We go from bad dreams to good times with good old Paul Paul at number 2. This song was ahead of its time. Next to our number 1, this is the most musically accomplished song on the list. The beginning and bridge sections of this song sounds like an advert or an AIR song. The lyrics are catchy trash “Don't you wanna good times, when someone care your feelings another times and you cry.” But I think Paul Paul is mature enough to understand that it’s not fancy poetry or deep metaphors that will reach the listeners heart, but overly sensitive Italian melodrama. I mean, the guy can hardly speak English, but still, you can feel his drift.
1. Giorgio Moroder – A Love Affair
The one Italo artist on this list I could never be embarrassed of. The one I appreciate so much I listened to his greatest hits underwater while exploring coral reefs in Thailand. You will never know the thrill of imagining yourself driving a Ferrari with a glamorous Italian woman and finding a purple starfish at the same time.
Of course, Giorgi boy had to be first. If Kraftwerk are fathers of techno, then you can call Giorgio the father of disco and by default Italo Disco. His reputation and career stretch from 1969 to the present day and his influence can be felt from everything from music, TV and film. He has scored numerous films and he is the only one on the list to win Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes or any award whatsoever actually. He may have reached the zenith of his field and become like a god to millions of dance music fans the world over, but Italo Disco is where he found his voice. Indeed, you could say this entire list is comprised of his rejected mongrel children, orphaned for not being cool enough.
Picking my favorite Giorgio track was no easy feat though. Seen as this is an Italo Disco list, I omitted what many people consider to be his greatest work in TV and film songs like “Chase” and “Push it to the limit,” I also omitted his collaborations with big names like his breakthrough hit with Donna Summer, “I Feel Love.”
In terms of his solo work most people would probably choose “From Here To Infinity” and as much as I love the song, for me, it would have to be, "A Love Affair."
It starts off with the timeless lyrics “Lazy afternoon drop in to the Hard Rock Cafe, I'm drinking coffee, she came my way, she drove a red Ferrari, dressed in some Armani, cursin' while she blew me away.” This is glamorized Italian romance at its finest. I can almost picture myself in a white blazer, peach turtleneck and thin gold chain, sipping coffee, peering over my gold framed aviators and brushing my wet moustache as she walks in.
The production is the result of years of experience with the finesse of a true visionary at work. In my humble opinion, I consider his work with Joe Esposito in the Solitary Men LP to be among some of his finest. "A Love Affair" really is the perfect song to play on your way to room 147 while your wife is out of town. As a ringtone for your lover. It’s great for a holiday romance. Heck it’s just as good imagining it all in your head. Its pure karaoke gold and a perfect example of Giorgio's continental refinement of the genre.