Canonize the Disco Classic “I Feel Love”

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I Feel Love: Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and how they reinvented music

Dave thompson

Backbeat

August 2021

One of the best things pop music books can do is send readers to their favorite streaming service, or better yet, a local record store to find artists and albums they’ve missed. first time. Even the most encyclopedic and obsessive music nerds can always discover artists and albums new to us.

Veteran music writer Dave Thompson’s new book on the wide range of musicians and genres that have influenced and have been influenced by Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” sent me on a quest to find the first pieces of new wavers Ultravox and before “Don’t You Want Me” Human League, not to mention the lesser-known Eurodisco hitmakers Dee D. Jackson and Marc Cerrone. While I was working in Backbeat Books’ I feel love I managed to create a playlist that has since been the soundtrack of my treadmill time.

Thompson maintains that the singer Gave summer and its producer Giorgio Moroder have “reinvented” pop music, but Thompson also acknowledges that they drew on many existing fashions, technologies and musical influences to create the disco hit “I Feel Love”.

The first half of the book covers a lot of ground, spanning Summer and Moroder’s early careers, the rise of the affordable synth and 12 “single, the ascendancy of avant-garde composers, krautrock, first wave punk. , disco, prog, and the fashion for erotic dance pieces to capture the intricate, eerie artistic fervor that was bubbling up in 1977. One of Thompson’s central claims is that “I Feel Love” emerged from a cultural moment. intensely creative and intensely diffuse, so by necessity, it must present a good part of the context.

Some of this background is already familiar to most fans of pop music. Indeed, much ink has already been devoted to Bowie, Eno, and their Berlin records, so much so that I’m not sure we need another retelling of that particular story. On the other hand, Thompson’s account of the role early electronic devices played in creating Cold War sci-fi soundtracks is enlightening and rightly trippy.

Again, these early chapters seem a bit superficial as Thompson is about to inventory so many different moves. But ultimately, the approach is productive. As Thompson explains in his introduction, “The point is to tell the story of this one song in all directions.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘S warning about the “dangers of a single story” comes to mind. Adichie suggests that our view of people and places remains anemic and incomplete when we only tell one story about them. To his credit, Thompson offers multiple tales of “I Feel Love”, part disco anthem, seminal example of collaboration, avant-garde anti-hit and proto new wave track.

One of the remarkable accounts is that of Summer-Moroder’s twin trajectories and Kraftwerk, both using synthesizer technology, both working in Germany and both creating ambitious and deeply influential music. I remembered stories of the Beatles and beach boys simultaneously experiencing studio sounds, orchestration and LP as a concept art form, and pushing each other to be great.

Summer-Moroder’s “Love to Love You Baby” and Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” both became worldwide hits in 1975 and captured the attention of dance fans, rockers and synth geeks. This presaged the almost simultaneous releases of “I Feel Love” and “Trans-Europe Express” even bigger and even more influential two years later.

I was somewhat disappointed with Thompson’s final chapters, which show that “I Feel Love” had reverberations in the worlds of punk and new wave, dance and pop, and experimental music. . Unfortunately I’m not sure this case should be done. Sure the song was influential. And because his point is self-evident, Thompson is essentially repeating this general claim instead of expanding on it.

It traces the beginnings of synth-pop and the new romantic movement in the UK and highlights how much this community loved Summer-Moroder. He moves to New York and the CBGB crowd and makes essentially the same point. Rinse and repeat.

Yet Summer and Moroder’s influence on hip-hop and ’90s rave culture is hardly overlooked. Thompson mentions that a lot of rap tracks have sampled “I Feel Love,” and then basically drop the subject. Thompson points out that artists like the chemical brothers and Daft punk had a lot of affinities for Summer-Moroder collaborations but says little about how rave and EDM became more mainstream and mainstream than ever in the late ’90s. It sounds like oversights, let alone the missed opportunities to explore more critically how the influence of “I Feel Love” took on new and different iterations over the following decades.

But despite these flaws, even the weaker second half of the book is sometimes revealing. Thompson takes an in-depth look at how synth-pop and new wave have opened up new possibilities for experimentation with genres and synths and new opportunities to bring the liberating ethic of disco into the public sphere. The British act like Soft cell, Frankie goes to Hollywood, and Bronski beat understood the sex-positivity and sense of liberation that throbbed both under disco beats and synth lines, and repackaged Summer-Moroder’s sounds half a generation later, reaching a larger audience, increasing the LGBTQ visibility and, well, feeling the love.

At the start of the book, Thompson is right: “Yeah, disco sucks. It sucked everyone up. With that, I’ll start listening to this killer playlist again.


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