30 Years of Italo-Disco

28 08 2014

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease II Cool RiderIsn’t it funny how musical styles come and go? I remember 1950s rock ‘n’ roll being popular when I was growing up in the early ’80s, mainly because of Grease and Grease II. Michelle Pfeiffer straddling a ladder was one of my most cherished memories (and her electrocuting Christopher Walken to death in Batman Returns was perhaps my favourite scene in cinematic history). Everything ’50s was cool then, from the turned-up cuffs to the white socks. One of the first songs I learned to sing was ‘Rock Around The Clock’, but that was in 1982, long after the original song had been played on the radio, let alone penned. I was flooded with images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George. The same era had a peculiar dance beat which nobody had ever heard before—a 4-4 dance beat–with synthesiser arrangements.

In the early ’80s a new sound flooded the dance clubs of Europe and trickled down to America (as usual—new sounds happen in Europe first). It was a style of dance music with a rich, heavy, persistent bassline and simple yet elegant melody. It originated in Italy, with musicians like Giorgio Moroder, who produced music not only for Donna Summer, but also for films like Midnight Express and iconic ’80s fantasy films like The Never Ending Story. It clearly derived from 1970s disco, but reinvented itself with modern synthesisers. It became known as Italo-disco.

Probably my favourite italo-disco tune is ‘Hypnotic Tango’, by My Mine:

Isn’t it absolutely gorgeous?

One of my other favourite italo-disco tunes is ‘Orient Express’, by Wish Key:

Isn’t that the most seductive dance tune you’ve ever heard?

Glass Candy basically aced the whole italo-disco revival with the following tune:

How beautiful is that? Ida No, the singer of Glass Candy, is totally awesome.

New italo-disco style music is being created by Sally Shapiro:

Absolutely sublime.

Italo-disco is a gorgeous dance style. You just have to love dance, melody, and rhythm.





Three Intimate Yet Groovy Dance Tunes

31 07 2014

A lot of people describe dance music as ‘soulless’. I completely disagree. I think this is an idea concocted by people who are more familiar with rave music from the late ’90s than the legacy of funk, soul, disco, techno, and synthpop which has informed pop music since the mid-’70s. Dance music is just popular music with a danceable beat, melody, catchy hook, and lyrics important enough that you keep singing them inside your head.

Some dance songs prove superior to others because they have lyrics which reveal the intimate reflections of their writers. At the same time, the musical accompaniment, whether guitar, synthesiser, or drum, holds up the background and forces people to move. In this situation, dance and emotion are the same. The inner person becomes dance.

The most emotional and soulful dance song, for me, is ‘Hideaway’, by the British synthpop band Erasure. They manage to create a luxurious texture of sounds and melody while conveying a very important message:

Obviously, the song is about coming out as gay. This was actually revolutionary for its time—the song is from the Circus album, which was released in 1987—and singer Andy Bell is one of the first lead singers of a major pop group to come out as gay. I actually personally commend him for writing this song, because it is so important. And yet it is fun, catchy, and danceable! Who’d have thought??

The next song is by somebody everybody knows, but I don’t want to ruin the experience by mentioning the artist’s name, so I will just say that I find it infectious, groovy, and emotionally revealing:

Everybody constantly criticises Madonna, but this song proves two things: her stature as the queen of inventive dance-pop and her ability to reflect on her youth. It is actually really interesting to groove to a song that reveals the inner feelings of Madonna. It is fun, catchy, sing-song, and danceable, but it also reveals her torn memories about her mother (who died when she was only five years old) and her father, who didn’t offer everything she sought. And so she fought for what she has today.

There is one more song I want to add to the list of songs I categorise as intimately danceable. You might think it unusual, but if you know my ear, you’ll know what I mean. It is ‘Sara’, by Fleetwood Mac:

I’m not exactly sure what she’s saying, but the cool, quavering voice of Stevie Nicks has always haunted me. The song makes me want to sway to and fro and coo and echo everything Stevie is saying, as though it flutters within me. And at the same time, it is not a slow song. It is upbeat. It is a song that makes you want to move while feeling what she says.

I don’t care whether it’s Madonna, Erasure, or Fleetwood Mac. A good dance groove with a good melody and good lyrics makes the best song. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a huge name or not–the point is that dance music can conjure up unexpected emotions. Dance music can be surprisingly soul-satisfying.

 

 

 

 





Drag Queens and Christian Divas

13 08 2011

I just realized something the other day, and it strikes me as more uncanny the more it sinks in. Jan Crouch looks like Divine. Seriously. Scarily like Divine. The wigs, the crazy make-up, the charismatic, larger-than-life diva persona, the whole cosmetic case. But Jan Crouch is a televangelist who co-hosts the Christian program Praise the Lord on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Divine (who died in 1988) was a drag queen, singer, and actor who starred in John Waters films like Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble, Polyester, and Hairspray and released a series of Hi-NRG dance hits like I’m So Beautiful, Walk Like a Man, and Native Love which have become cult classics in the gay and electronic music communities. How can a televangelist look so much like a drag queen? What in the world is the common denominator?

Above is a picture of Jan Crouch, and below, a picture of Divine.

I don’t know about you, but I sense a . . . ahem . . . celestial theme going on with both of these scrumptious, fragrant, poodle-like ladies. Maybe Jan Crouch and Divine were friends at some point and exchanged fashion tips. Maybe they read the little red words of Jesus in the same NIV Bible together, or went to drag shows together. Maybe they performed together, singing contemporary Christian hits or inspirational hymns, or maybe Hi-NRG disco tracks produced by Stock, Aitken, and Waterman (SAW). Or maybe they shared husbands in a polyamorous relationship. I like to think that maybe they became bosom buddies getting a boob job at the same boob job clinic. But I don’t know about that. I think Divine’s boobies were fake. Actually, come to think of it, I think Jan Crouch’s boobies are fake too. I guess that’s another thing they have in common.

To get an idea of what I’m talking about, watch this video clip of Jan Crouch (I couldn’t find a serious video of her; it’s not my fault they’re all parodies):

…and now, children, feast your eyes upon this hot, throbbing, strangely ethereal-sounding homage to Snow White (a song and video I salivate over constantly, handkerchief in hand) by the inimitable queen of early Hi-NRG herself, Divine:

Why do Jan Crouch and Divine want to share mascara wands so much? Maybe that last song sums it up in a nutshell. They’re both unabashedly, flagrantly beautiful. As goes the cliché: the higher the hair, the closer to heaven. Maybe they used to go to clubs in, like, Chelsea or the Castro and sing Christian hymns to a 4/4 dance beat backing track or something. Gay men *get* crazy, big-haired, hymn-clutching, oratorical Christian women—maybe because a lot of gay men were raised by these big ol’ Christian divas and found out, hey, they actually love me and don’t think I’m going to hell!

I think sometimes we take the Christian versus homo thing a bit too seriously, especially when it comes to drag queens and Christian divas and their unexpectedly beautiful, synchronistic relationships with one another. Often, I think, Christian divas are just being mouthpieces for their stodgy husbands while deep down inside they actually like homos. A lot. And for them this is a matter of sloughing off the old, putrid sludge of Biblical patriarchy, becoming their own woman, and honouring what they truly think and feel inside. Think of Tammy Faye Messner, who before she died actually had a talk show with a gay co-host and said in an interview she supported the gay community. I mean, Tammy Faye even appeared in gay pride marches with Lady Bunny and Bruce Vilanch. Yeah! I know! The old PTL televangelist became a fag-hag! She certainly didn’t do so because her husband or the Bible told her to do so; more likely, she did so because she identified with the community as a human with similar thoughts, needs, and emotions. (Wait. Tammy Fay Messner looks just like Divine too. Holy shit. It’s a movement.)

Christian divas and homos both love performance and caricature, over-the-top imagery, bombastic music, and blowing people’s minds out of the water with their big, overly–made–up, screaming, crying faces. It’s cathartic, just like praying to God, or the Madonna (in multiple senses—the mother of Christ, the singer, and the Goddess), so it’s inevitable that the one should identify with the other. Sadly, a lot of Christian divas and drag queens put on their look because they don’t like the way they look without it. In both we see a bittersweet mixture of sorrow and ecstasy, the tragedy which secretly haunts the clown.

Well, I think I may have just answered my own question.

All of that aside though, I’ll tell you what—both of these girls have amazing taste! I wish I had the balls—and tits—to go on T.V. and do movies looking like that. I wouldn’t want either of them to change a thing. Not a thing. Seriously. And not simply because I think I would be turned to stone if I saw one of them rising from their tomb, waking  up in the morning, getting off the toilet, or hopping out of the shower to go to Bible class or drag rehearsal. Religion and Bible crap aside, and looking just at their purely human essence, I think both drag queens and Christian divas offer a vivid, Technicolor glimpse at what sort of magical, otherworldly creatures we all secretly want to embody, and can if we’ll just undo the straps, put the foot to the pedal, and say, “What the fuck?”





Swedish Electro-pop Pixie Robyn

8 04 2011

I’m constantly searching for the ultimate pop diva–one who combines vocals, songwriting skills, dance moves, fashion, and a delicious sonic soundscape into a single succulent package. I don’t want the typical American top 40 R&B crooner with whiney, annoyingly overwrought vocals–I want an edgy, in-your-face dance-pop diva who knows how to sing to an actual melody. Soul-singing is not supposed to sound incoherent–it is supposed to pluck at the heartstrings. And I like Kylie Minogue, but, to be honest, is she a good songwriter? With this in mind, I think I may have found the diva I am looking for. She is singer and songwriter Robyn, the peroxide-blond pixie from Stockholm, Sweden. I like some of the other larger-than-life icons, but Robyn really kicks you in the face with her plucky synthpop fierceness. She can sing, dance, and express herself with abandon. And, with the occasional exception, her style is a staunch disavowal of watered-down U.S. R&B; it remains stalwartly devoted to the European electronic dance tradition–the most savvy, metamorphic, and creative genre in pop music.

For a taste of Robyn’s bold, bedazzling pop-gems, consider the following video for her song Dancing on My Own:

Wow. I love everything about this video. I love the hot, steamy, glowing-red nightclub shots, the off-shoulder top, the funky, cropped blond hair, the chain earring that’s attached to her top, and the fuck-you, martial arts dance moves. I wouldn’t want to cross her path in a dark alley. I think there’s something about strong, independent women that gay men appreciate; I think it might be the tenacity in the face of social obstacles. They can identify with it. And, even though visibly she’s Swedish to the bone, she sounds almost like a black woman from Detroit. And there is something about her that uncannily reminds me of Cyndi Lauper, who is probably the queen of punch-you-in-the-nutsack synthpop.

Now, play close attention. Perhaps my favourite dance move in the video is at 1:07. I could do that all day long, in the shower, on the street, in the office. Don’t care. I could sway my hips from side to side like that all day long.

The next video I want to share with you is for her song Hang with Me:

I love the melody combined with the four-to-the-floor beat and sweet, icy synthesizers. And I love the tour-bus footage. It makes me feel as though I am witnessing the star’s day-to-day adventures first-hand, as though I am playing a personal part in the life of a burgeoning pop princess, one that is remarkably fun and down-to-earth. And I love the footage of the bus driving down the motorway in Britain (you can see the traffic sign to London in the video). It reminds me of my vacation in Britain in 2003, when I drove out of the sad, decrepit stone-and-concrete maze of London and into the smooth, green, rolling countryside toward some ancient monument, a low, giant sun glowing through the polluted sky.

The next-to-last video is for her song Indestructible. It is very sexy and artistic, full of longing, fleshly desire and fluid-tube body-suits:

This is a poignant video. Watching it, one is encouraged to love—to love urgently—as though one has never loved before, despite past heartbreaks. That is hard to do. And yet, it tells us that we should keep trying, and never grow bitter. In essence, it tells one to maintain a sense of hope, because nobody likes a frowning middle-aged matron with self-obsessed wrinkles on her brow. Think about it. Who wants to turn into some bitter, crusty old crab-woman? (Although, I must admit, I would simply love to portray Miss Havisham in a stage production of Great Expectations.)

Finally, I would like to share with you the video for the same song, but this time the artist is performing at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, hosted by bug-eyed beauty Anne Hathaway:

Wow! Inimitable dance moves. Let me bring your attention to the moment at 1:39, where she perfectly synchronises with the beat. Bam! This girl loves it. And there are rock concerts for the Norwegian Nobel Committee! A committee which awards prizes to those who have contributed to the advancement of peace! They have electronic pop artists performing for them, for goodness’ sake! Isn’t that a most beautifully harmonious collaboration of agendas? I want to move to Oslo or Stockholm now.

If you like high-end, high-purpose electro-pop, visit the official Robyn Web site. I am going to do that now.