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Perfect 10: Produced by Giorgio Moroder

“You know, Giorgio is a genius. He is probably one of the most gifted writers in pop music ever. He’s the one of the most innovative characters we have in this field. He was not the greatest player, he was not a great tech either. He was a composer and when he played you demos, he played like a chord on the left and a chord on the right. I was more the trained player so we had a perfect match.” — Harold Faltermeyer

Beware the savage thaw, Moroder’s just turned 84. 

Why thaw? Well, the synthtastic super-producer and owner of music’s most glorious moustache was born Giovanni Giorgio Moroder in Urtijëi, a trilingual ski resort in the Italian Dolomites not far from the Swiss border. 

Although he based himself overseas from an early age, Giorgio still spends some of the year in the former Habsburg enclave, where the name of Moroder continues to resonate: his nephew Tobia Moroder runs one of the most prestigious hotels in the area has even authored a book, The Ladins Of The Dolomites. The fact that he’s mayor of Giorgio’s birthplace probably helps, even if much of his time has been seemingly to tackle global warming, which has decimated tourism in the Alpine region and poses a significant threat to the 2026 Winter Olympics in nearby Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo. 

Born on April 26, 1940, Uncle Giorgio began his career as a teenage house musician at Aachen’s Scotch Club, one the first discothèques in Germany, where he played bass and guitar in various pop combos. After going east to Berlin, then south to Munich, his star as go-to songwriter began to rise. He also starts to dabble with music production and the new genre of electronica, accompanied by his pioneering synth sounds.

Moroder’s innovative compositions have been a feature of the charts for over half a century. Among them, hits like Chicory Tip’s Moogtastic Son Of My Father (1972) and, of course, the groundbreaking collaborations with Donna Summer that tore up the pop rulebook in the second half of the seventies. 

With the bulk of his imperial era, the Italian was ably assisted by studio wingmen Pete Bellotte (English) and Harold Faltemeyer (German), which in itself opens a can of who-did-what worms, particularly if you remember that when Elton John and Pet Shop Boys opted to record their own analogue Munich albums they were helmed not by Moroder but the second and third in command, namely Bellotte (1979’s Victim Of Love) and Faltemeyer (1990’s Behaviour). This nineties remake would, in fact, be produced by Giorgio, though one could hardly call it a career highlight.

Nonetheless, Moroder’s sonic wizardry has seen him work with some of the world’s greatest artists, including the mononym’d roll-call of Barbra, Cher, Chaka, Janet, Bonnie, Kylie, Britney, Sia and, er, Limahl and Falco. His songs have also been covered by Frida, Beyoncé, the Happy Mondays and those Pet Shop Boys, via guest vocalist Sam Taylor-Wood.

In his pomp, Giorgio’s atmospheric synthcraft also caught the attention of director Alan Parker, who requested that the Tyrolean techmeister create the moody soundtrack for his Midnight Express movie. Many other epic scores followed for blockbusters such as Foxes, Flashdance, Scarface, and The Never Ending Story. 

After the imperial phase ended in 1986, Giorgio reappeared a decade ago, surprising even his most ardent watchers. Nearly three decades after he decided to spend more time on the golf course, in 2013 Moroder inadvertently helped reboot his own career, with his intimate vocal cameo for Giorgio by Moroder, a comme il faut homage on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album. 

Spliced from a two-day interview with the man himself conducted by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the helmeted duo fashioned the dialogue (which sees the eponymous musician reminiscing about potted episodes in his story, eventually alighting on the creation of I Feel Love without mentioning it by name) over nine minutes of exemplary electronica that bore a stunning likeness to the work of their idol.

The unlikely comeback culminated in Déjà Vu, Moroder’s 2015 album featuring contemporary pop tarts such as Charli XCX and Vylie, among others. By then, Giorgio Moroder had even taken to becoming his own live act, where he would travel the world as part DJ, part performer. Indeed, the very first concert I saw in Australia was the “father of disco” himself spinning the discs at Vivid LIVE: The Giorgio Moroder Studio Party at the Sydney Opera House in 2014.

With a back catalogue ranging from envelope-pushing electronic disco, atmospheric soundtracks and gigantic arena rock and pop behemoths, we’ve picked out a Perfect 10 that rank among his most groundbreaking achievements. Get Morodered with us as we count down a chronology of classic cuts both co-written and produced by Giorgio Moroder. Is your fave rave there? 

Donna Summer — Love To Love You Baby (1975)

“We really just thought of it as a bit of fun. I’d suggested doing a sexy song, almost like the Serge Gainsbourg hit Je T’aime, and one afternoon Donna came to the office and said she’d come up with the title Love To Love You Baby. That sounded good to me. Back then I had a studio in the basement of my Munich apartment building, called Musicland — which later became famous when acts such as the Rolling Stones, T. Rex, David Bowie and Iggy Pop used it — and it happened to be empty that day, so I went straight down there and composed the song.”

And so the story begins. Moroder and Bellotte discovered struggling American singer Donna Summer in 1973, when they heard her singing back-ups for the rock group Three Dog Night at Musicland. A year after a try-out single in the shape of 1974’s Denver Dream, the trio found major success with Love To Love You Baby – famed for its racy, erotic vocals which featured Donna moaning suggestively. 

Confirming the Brits as a nation of orgasm addicts, the sensualist swirl was a Top 5 hit in the UK. It also paved the way a US breakthrough for Giorgio’s young discovery, when an extended version of the single reached second spot in the US charts, while the album of the same name sold over a million copies. It goes without saying that in 1977 the syncopated still-life I Feel Love not only symbolised disco fever at its most pneumatic but its Kraftwerkism futurism would change the course of music forever.

“One day in Berlin. Eno came running in and said ‘I have heard the sound of the future.’ And he puts on I Feel Love. Eno had gone bonkers over it, absolutely bonkers. He said ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years. Which was more or less right.” — David Bowie

After that pioneering pair catapulted both to instant fame, Moroder capitalised on his collaboration with Summer, and the team would create ten critically acclaimed albums featuring a slew of euphoric floorfillers that have birthed entire genres, including Love’s Unkind, MacArthur Park, Bad Girls, Hot Stuff, Last Dance, On The Radio and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), all on Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records. 

Further reading: 45 at 45: the story of Donna Summer’s impossibly influential I Feel Love

Sparks — The Number One Song In Heaven (1979) 

“We wanted to branch out, to take my singing and Ron’s lyrical sensibility and see what other context we could put them in. We heard Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, which intrigued us to the extent we decided we had to get Giorgio to produce us. Fortunately, that album turned out to be something special and quite influential on people starting bands at the time.” — Russell Mael

Such was the all-pervading power of disco that by the end of the 1970s even veteran acts like the Beach Boys, the Stones — if not the Rolling Who themselves — were incorporating its syncopated rhythms into their music. In search of a dramatic new direction, hitching their own ride on the bandwagon were former glam rock band-turned-duo Sparks, who, under Moroder’s mentorship, affirmed their dedication to forward-thinking, uncompromising pop mastery. 

Ron and Russell Mael’s outlandish Americana proved to be a deft match for the European, who sprinkled his synthetic disco dust on this and 1980’s Terminal Jive. Indeed, eighth LP No. 1 in Heaven marked an important turning point in the Maels’ discography, bagging the brothers a level of empyrean supremacy with their first hits in four years, namely the insistent Beat The Clock and the imperious, celestial epic The Number One Song in Heaven, the latter a co-write with Giorgio.

Moroder’s flighty madness becomes majestic when he’s in the company of eccentrics, and, in terms of the full length album version, his pop smarts explode in seven superlative minutes with Sparks. 

The song is a high-octane slab of pulsing campness, with a cerebrally comedic concept in keeping with much of Sparks’ tongue-in-cheek oeuvre, while the galloping space groove was perfect for Russell’s firmament-bothering castrato. The tempo slows and the skies open three minutes in, and you end up whirling down a rabbit hole as the synthesisers carry you in. Glorious.

Further reading: Confusion at the Mael box: Sparks speak of their Jacques Tati film that never was

Japan — Life In Tokyo (1979)

It doesn’t give this author any sense of pride whatsoever to admit that David Sylvian is the only artist I’ve ever given up the opportunity to interview (for shame, more on that here), but I digress, because like many of the arty poseurs who were pigeonholed as New Romantics in the early 1980s, Catford combo Japan were admirers of Moroder’s work with Donna Summer and Sparks. 

As stompy glitter rockers now focused on a more contemporary electronic sound, Sylvian was keen for them to work with a producer who could develop this transition further. And in early 1979 the band hired their hero to produce a single, mindful that Moroder had a breadth of experience working with rock and pop acts, and could perhaps be the catalyst for success that was proving elusive.

In European Son, custard-haired frontman Sylvian felt he had the perfect song, but was somewhat taken aback when it was rejected. Instead, Giorgio turned them on to dancier alternatives, presenting the debonair dresser with a stack of demos to work with — one of which would eventually morph into the proto-Duran Duran 45, Life In Tokyo. An existential disaffected monument to Asian arpeggiated artificiality, the shimmering electro-disco paved the way for the group’s arty synth-pop makeover.

The title alone guaranteed it hit status in the Far East, but it flopped just about everywhere else, at least initially (it eventually became a hit in Blighty as the band were imploding in 1982). Ultimately, though, Life in Tokyo was the creative kiss of life the band needed. Moroder’s co-writing and production on the single was a considerable leap forward and heralded a radical new sound for the band. 

Further reading: A Tourist’s Guide to Japan + David Sylvian’s Life in Tokyo 1979-2019

Blondie — Call Me (1980)

“We recorded this song very piecemeal. Giorgio Moroder had this synth track called Man Machine. He gave Debbie a tape of it and she wrote some lyrics. Then we went to do a tour of Japan. When we came back we were in a limo and heard this song on the radio. We looked at each other when Debbie’s vocal came in and realised this was the song we did with Giorgio. Call Me has the definite Clem Burke drum lick. I was at the top of my game.” — Clem Burke

Following 1978’s Grammy-winning Midnight Express soundtrack, Moroder was commissioned to score Paul Schrader’s hustler drama, American Gigolo, with a coke-tooting, Armani clad Richard Gere in the title role. 

Legend has it the film’s theme song would have been performed by Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks if contractual issues hadn’t forced her to turn it down. Fortuitously, slap bang in the middle of Blondie’s commercial peak, Debbie Harry accepted the job instead. In tandem with his espresso working methods, the New York City gal added melody and street-smart lyrics referencing Gere’s murder-suspect male escort to Giorgio’s backing track in a few hours, recalling that “when I was writing it, I pictured the opening scene, driving on the coast of California.”

The rest of Blondie, who’d famously incorporated disco on Heart Of Glass and covered I Feel Love live, provided instrumentation — although much of the heavy lifting was completed by Giorgio’s close-knit coterie of studio musicians, including Harold Faltermeyer, who is credited with performing the swaggering keyboard solo over the band’s Jimmy Destri. Indeed, guitarist Frank Infante went own to claim that “Harold Faltermeyer did the actual hands-on recording. All I remember of Giorgio was him eating chicken in the studio lobby.”

Propelled by fierce synth-rock power chords, Moroder assembled an intoxicating collage, lifting Harry’s knowing vocals up to create one of Blondie’s most memorable hits (and the source of much of U2’s recent 45, Atomic City). The band were rewarded with their fourth chart-topping UK or US single in just 12 months, and Call Me would go on to become not only their most successful song in America but Billboard’s best selling single of 1980 and the eighth biggest of the entire decade. 

Naturally, Blondie, felt the collaboration was worth mining for even bigger projects. Bassist Nigel Harrison: “Giorgio kept talking about Sparks and how they were working out. We tried to do the Autoamerican album with him but it was a disaster.” 

Further reading: Blondie, Greatest Hits (2002) sleeve notes by Steve Pafford

David Bowie — Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (1982)

“I said to Paul Schrader, ‘Who represents that weirdness of the movie? Who could sing a song where the voice would fit the image, the animal?’ And we immediately said David Bowie. So I wrote the song and I sent it to him. He loved it. He had the lyrics ready, and we had dinner the night before. He was all excited. He said, ‘OK, then let’s record tomorrow!’ I said, ‘What time should we do it?’ Because with artists, like certain crazy personalities, they all start late — maybe 5 or 6 in the evening. He said, ‘Let’s have breakfast and then we go.’

“We went to Montreux in Switzerland, to the studio owned by Queen, around 11 am, and we recorded it in less than an hour. He sang it twice, and it was done. He was absolutely great. I was used to working with Donna [Summer], who’s absolutely perfect, and they were both, musically and voice-wise, so great and so professional. It was one of my easiest, fastest and greatest recordings ever.”

One of the more interesting movies Giorgio was asked to score was for another team-up with Schrader on an eighties remake of Cat People, a supernatural horror thriller starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. His languid, slightly Toyah-esque goth rock theme saw David Bowie provide the words, with the Dame’s brooding vocals added at Mountain Studios, where a chance meeting with Freddie and co also led to the single Under Pressure the same week. 

Interpolated by New Order in their recent live sets, the atmospheric recording made with Moroder starts as a seething ballad, replete with ominous synths, the lurching of percussion and the clattering of chains, until it explodes when Bowie roars ferociously, in a sepulchral croon that exudes gothic menace: “See these eyes so red/Red like jungle burning bright.”

Always with his one good eye on the theatrical, the Thin White Dame chants like some high priest of the grotesque, before rising to an octave-leaping crescendo where he confesses he’s been “putting out fires with gasoline”. It’s a forgivable schoolboy error, even if the song is plagued with slightly ridiculous lyrical conundrums. No matter because Cat People boasts one of Bowie’s most astonishing vocal performances, even if its guest vocalist wasn’t as pleased with the recording as Moroder was. 

“He was not as happy with the first mix, because, interestingly, sometimes people get used to a demo. I played the stuff with a lot of little mistakes, and I guess he wanted it to sound more like the demo. So, I had to take out some instruments, which I think he thought were a little too — I don’t know the right word — too thick. And so, I remixed it, took that stuff out, and then he liked it.” 

While Moroder earned a Golden Globe nomination for the soundtrack, the single was only a minor hit, and Bowie quietly expressed his dissatisfaction with Moroder’s musical arrangement by re-recording Cat People for 1983’s Let’s Dance with Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Gone were the sinister synths and ticking menace, replaced by leaden stadium-ready bombast. In an interview with The Face that year, Bowie admitted: 

“I took the instruments away. They’re not quite so integrally important to the music on this album. It’s far more just a very simple base to put the lyrics and the melody on. They don’t weave quite such a magic spell over the construction of the lyrics, or lend an ambience to the lyrics. They get the chords right and that’s about all I wanted to do.”

Happily, the original Cat People had enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, and as well as featuring on the Atomic Blonde soundtrack was utilised to great effect by Quentin Tarantino in his 2009 Nazi satire Inglourious Basterds. Don’t mention the war.

Further reading: Thriller vs Let’s Dance: The time Michael Jackson went head to head with David Bowie

Irene Cara — Flashdance… What A Feeling (1983)

Though only half a Moroder project, if anything can be said for the patchy Flashdance soundtrack, well, it was the album that finally knocked Thriller off of the number one spot in the States. 

A veritable masterclass in euphoric pop, the gong-gaining title song saw Moroder join forces with Irene Cara, whose star had been rising since playing Coco Hernandez in the high school musical, Fame, for which she’d also performed the theme tune.

With music and production by Giorgio, the lyrics were penned by Cara with Moroder’s long-term drummer, Keith Forsey, who went on to co-write and produce Simple Minds’ biggest hit, Don’t You (Forget About Me). In retrospect, Flashdance defined the ’80s movie power-ballad template and nailed the lived experience of teenage emotion, as well as the effects of music on the soul. 

Notice the synthesisers bubbling anxiously behind the lyrics about fear and sadness at the beginning, before the rhythm erupts. Everything transforms, as the track fizzes and would go on to soar to the top of the charts in in 14 countries and won the Academy Award for best song. 

Further reading: Goodnight Irene: Remembering Fame and Flashdance

Freddie Mercury — Love Kills (1984)

“Freddie was relatively difficult. He was such a great singer, composer, lyricist, performer, diva, dancer, icon that (I thought), ‘Am I going to tell him that that high note he sang was not perfect?’ So between that and the little problems we had before we even started, it was a tough production.”

Following Queen’s disco-flavoured Musicland-recorded Hot Space album, the band’s flamboyant frontman hooked up with the studio’s owner to work on Love Kills, a challenging collaboration which left the Italian feeling “intimidated.” Outflanking erstwhile collaborator David Bowie, Moroder had sourced a high-quality print of Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 dystopian movie Metropolis and wanted to include the track on a soundtrack to accompany its restoration. 

“You’ve got Queen on Metropolis?!” — David Bowie

Memorably covered by Little Boots in 2009, officially Love Kills has only ever been credited to Freddie Mercury, as his debut solo 45. Yet in 2000, the liner notes of his posthumous boxset The Solo Collection confirmed that Brian May and Roger Taylor quietly contributed guitar and drums, and many years later, 2019 compilation Never Boring confirmed that the fourth member of Queen, John Deacon also performed on the song, contributing additional guitar parts. 

There’s never been an explanation as to why the track was not issued as a Queen single, but the band’s contract having been with EMI/Capitol almost certainly contributed to legal issues — the Metropolis OST was released on CBS, who would go on to sign fellow moustachioed Mercury as a solo artist for his 1985 album Mr. Bad Guy.

As a cross-promotional compromise, Queen used part of the Metropolis footage in the video for Radio Ga Ga earlier that year. Whiile, curiously, Love Kills was also released same week as Queen’s own Hammer To Fall and Together In Electric Dreams. Talking of which…

Further reading: Audio exclusive: Somebody Under Pressure – George Michael on Queen & David Bowie

Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder — Together In Electric Dreams (1984)

For his first feature film, video maestro Steve Barron (Don’t You Want Me, Billie Jean, Underground) wanted to tap in to the aesthetic of Flashdance, so he enlisted Giorgio as director of music, who wrote most of Electric Dream’s score. 

With the director requesting the end credits to roll to “an emotional” tune in the same way as the previous picture, Moroder was connected with Human League frontman Phil Oakey, to create one of the most memorable soundtrack songs of the 1980s. 

Oakey had long been a Moroder fan, and the result was the flick’s soaring pseudo title track. Such was Giorgio’s ubiquity at the time, he even managed to bag a co-artist credit, not only on the wildly successful 45 (in Britain it was only kept from No. 1 by Wham! and Macca), but also on 1985’s imaginatively titled Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder album, a weak Eurodisco confection that was effectively the latter’s last major work for 30 years.

Setting out with a furbelow of twinkly high synths, the song breaks into a cascade of keyboard power chords and a cornball guitar line, before settling into a sparse groove, with Oakey delivering one of the purest of melodic verses the decade had to offer. By the chorus he’s possibly overshooting his range, but it’s such a joyously life-affirming number and the League-like female backing vocalists support him so gracefully that it hardly matters.

The song went on to eclipse the box office of the film itself and became, ironically, a staple of the League’s live set and greatest hits albums, even though the singer sounded less than satisfied in an interview with Smash Hits in 1985:

“It was just a quick thing to do in a robot-like fashion. They sent me a tape, I wrote the words and popped down to London for two hours one afternoon and did it. I never liked that song. I thought it was just an old-fashioned synth record, sub-romantic and a bit sentimental, but my words were good.” 

Incidentally, Moroder himself makes a cameo appearance in the film (you can spy him in promo video at the 02:45 mark), as the boss of the radio station taken over by the titular computer.

Further reading: Compressions on a dance floor: Soft Cell, Human League and the evolution of the remix album

Berlin — Take My Breath Away (1986)

“Is Take My Breath Away schlager? Arguably.” — Neil Tennant 

Often cited as Moroder’s own personal favourite, this epic ballad from Los Angeles new wavers Berlin was the “love theme” from the soundtrack to Tom Cruise’s breakthrough movie Top Gun. After hearing a demo, director Tony Scott decided to give the song extra potency by ordering additional scenes to be shot focusing on Cruise and Kelly McGillis. 

With fittingly feverish lyrics by jobbing wordsmith Tom Whitlock (get this: Whitlock, a mechanic, got the job by fixing the brakes on Moroder’s Ferrari!), the power of Take My Breath Away is memorably propelled by a distinctive synth-bass part — courtesy of the decade’s ubiquitous Yamaha DX7 — while Terri Nunn’s vocals are heavy with emotive chorus, key change and reverb.

A transatlantic chart-topper, the single won Moroder more Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and went to number one in seven countries. Most surprisingly, it returned to the Top 3 in the UK in 1990, prompted by its use in a Peugeot car advert as well as ITV’s network premiere of Top Gun. Oh, that bathroom basin scene, eh?

Further reading: 45 at 33: Giorgio Moroder and Martin Degville on Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11

Duran Duran — Beautiful Lies (2021)

Some might consider this one an Easter egg in Moroder’s far-reaching influence, but this gleaming gem and most recent offering gives the listicle a feeling of bringing things full circle.

In 2015, Brummie boys Duran Duran presented Moroder with a GQ Inspiration Award in London, where Simon Le Bon remembered his band’s performance of the epochal I Feel Love during the fledgling five-piece line-up’s inaugural show in 1980. Now a quartet, the band finally got to work with their hero on two tracks the single Tonight United and the far sharper Beautiful Lies – during sessions for their last but one album, Future Past. 

“Giorgio arrived with his little keyboard in a black case, like Dr Disco coming into the room,” Nick Rhodes told Classic Pop. “As soon as he put his hands on it the sound was unmistakably Giorgio Moroder.”

There can be no greater tribute. 

Further reading: 33 at 33: How the 1980s were Duran Duran’s Decade

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