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by Chuck Eddy

July 8, 2013

Disco 101: Real '80s Italo

by Chuck Eddy  |  July 8, 2013

Like many geographically specific genre titles (think "Southern rock," "New Wave of British Heavy Metal," "Northern soul"), Italo-disco's definition has become more confusing over time. Eventually, it came to mean a certain class of spacious, bubbly, hook-crazy, analog-synthy dance-club pop from just about anywhere, from Montreal to Munich, sometimes even raking in tangential sounds (think Italian diva-house or New York electroclash). But as initially conceived in the '80s, and apparently first named and marketed on compilations from Bernhard Mikulski's German ZYX label, Italo-disco was actually Italian, and usually sounded cheesier than any pizza you ever ate. Part of what made it cheesy, though, was some unashamedly beautiful melodies.

This playlist sticks to early perimeters, but even then, it's clear that '80s Italy in fact had at least a few different sub-styles of disco happening: The almost New Wavishly robotic "fuzzdance" of Alexander Robotnick and Alberto Camerini; a Latin-leaning strain exemplified by tracks from Raggio Di Luna and Finzy Kontini; super-flirty girl twirl from Chip Chip, Fun Fun (whose irresistible "Baila Bolero" was clearly their own faux-Latin move), Spagna and beauty queen Sabrina; sad and shivery electro-blues like Roby's "Under the Ice" and Madigan's "Ice Cold Love." A few of these songs -- notably Gazebo's "I Like Chopin" and Ryan Paris' "Dolce Vita" -- were huge global pop hits. And one -- Baltimora's tree-swinging "Tarzan Boy" -- actually managed to score in the United States, not once but twice: It reached No. 13 in 1985, then No. 51 eight years later, thanks to a movie by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all four of whom were named after Italian artists themselves!

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