By Cristina Álvarez Cañas. November 9, 2012


Italo-disco, that genre that has been so many times ridiculed, criticized and even labelled tacky. That filled our heads with drum machines and synthesizers. That accompanied infinite summers under the sun in some seaside town… It is now enjoying a renewed popularity –the eighties have been in fashion since the turn of the century– thanks to bands showing with no complex their connections with the trend that came from the Alpine country and filled all dance floors. From Passion Pit and Toro et Moi to El Guincho and M83, including Housse Da Racket or Neon Indian. They cannot escape the heritage of these songs and music videos (divided in two volumes), which can border on obsession.
These European bands with international aspirations sang in English, or a combination of English and their native language, to transform the seventies dance music. That was Italo-disco and these are nine legendary songs to get your memory working. Enjoy.

1- Happy Children   P. Lion. The first and catchy notes overshadow the rest of the song. Even your mother will be able to recognize it. And that’s because this song and its singer, P. Lion, alter ego of Pietro Paolo Pelandi, are the undisputed leaders of the genre. Produced in 1983 by David Zambelli, it was later used in advertising, launching it into fame. Springtime, the LP that included this song, was recorded in 1984. He after signed with Disco Magic, the most important record label of the time. He finally worked in production, one of the most obvious career options in Italo-disco.

2- Call Me   Spagna. Imagine the heart-breaking cry of an Italian donna asking her boyfriend to call her. Now, translate it into English and, although it might lose some forza, it still has the same effect. And so it was that Verona-born singer Ivana Spagna, under the artistic name Spagna, became the summer sensation in Europe in 1987. She was also responsible of getting Italy on the Top 10 in English-speaking countries. Some years ago, Soraya Arnelas, who represented Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest 2009, tried her own take on this song. Nothing like the original, of course.

3- Dolce Vita   Ryan Paris. His name wasn’t Ryan and his surname wasn’t Paris. Many artists changed their names to seem more international or, who knows, even intergalactic. Fabio Roscioli, the man singing this ode to carpe diem, was really from Rome. If he was thinking or not about Mastroianni’s performance in Fellini’s namesake film, we don’t know. But the truth is that he knew how to make the most of this world-known Italian maxim. Dolce Vita, composed and produced by Pierluigi Giombini and written by Paul Mazzolini (named Gazabo), became in 1983 for the already mentioned Disco Magic a new gold mine to exploit in the entire world and almost in the whole Milky Way.

4- Vamos a la Playa   Rigueira. The Turin based duo Righeira, formed by Stefano Rota and Stefano Righi, released also in 1983 this hit entirely in Spanish. As if they had just left Ibiza in summer and with a chorus as simple as catching or contagious –depends on how you see it–, the authors of the also famous No Tengo Dinero –which somehow reminds to the Spanish band Los Inhumanos– made the most of their futuristic ideas with a good handful of singles. They even took part in the Sanremo Music Festival!


5- Tarzan Boy   Baltimora. Another of the essential cries of the genre, part of the social imaginary. The Irish singer and dancer Jimmy McShane radiated glam spirit while he seemed to the public a mutation between David Bowie and Freddy Mercury. He provided the aesthetics to Baltimora, while the Italian keyboard player and lyricist Maurizio Bassi was the reflective half. Tarzan Boy reached its peak in 1985 but it was later regained for advertising by brands such as Listerine or Coca-Cola Light. And it was also part of the Ninja Turtles soundtrack.


6- Maria Magdalena   Sandra. Sandra Ann Lauer is the only Teutonic representative in this list, and not because there are no candidates. Although German dance music had its own scene, when it reached English markets it was sometimes included within the Italo-disco label, or even within the broadest Euro-disco. Maria Magdalena, a rather prudish declaration of principles included in Sandra’s 1985 debut album, The Long Play, was a great success in Germany, France and Sweden. Its author, oddly enough, is still active.


7- Self Control  – RAF. The story of this song is quite peculiar. Its author was Giancarlo Bigazzi and Raffaele Riefoli (RAF) recorded it in English in 1983, practically at the same time as the New Yorker Laura Branigan, who had already fallen into the Mediterranean trap with her versions of Gloria and Ti Amo, by Umberto Tozzi. Both Branigan and RAF were very successful, but it was Branigans’ version which persisted and ended up becoming one of the greatest hymns of the eighties.


8- Voyage, Voyage   Desireless. In spite of its name, Italo-disco reached exceptionally other languages in addition to English and Italian. The French Desireless, with masculine looks and some resemblance to Annie Lennox, performed in Voltaire’s language this escapist allegory that, although recorded in 1986, exploded in 1987. In Spain we even have our own version by Magneto: Vuela, vuela.


9- Paris Latino   Bandolero. 'Qué bueno, qué rico, qué lindo...'Paris Latino'. Some people might die for some French whispering, but in the eighties’ Paris what was exotic and sensual was to dance salsa and drink cuba libre. This 1983 hit, sung in French in spite of the Spanish in the chorus, is the tribute of two brothers –Carlos y José Pérez– to the seventies disco, with final rap included. What is known as a true one hit wonder.


To listen to this list on Spotify, click here.

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