In the United States, disco was swiftly shoved under the rug as the country made its transition from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. It was transformed into a dirty word, quietly removed from the airwaves and banished back into the clubs from whence it came. In Europe, it was a different story: no such discrimination towards dance music existed there and it was allowed to remain in the pop music spectrum, growing and mutating into new variations under the banner “Eurodisco.” It remained as popular as ever, with several artists and producers building entire careers around their work in this style.
Anyone interested in getting a sample of what Eurodisco was like would do well down to track down a copy of Euro Beats, the latest entry in the Disco Discharge compilation series. This two disc set covers a broad selection of cuts from Eurodisco’s 1980’s heyday, focusing heavily on cuts from Italian producers — which is fitting because that country was easily the most prolific creator of these sounds. Most of the cuts are presented in 12-inch mixes, including a few rarities of the dub and instrumental varieties. There are also informative song-by-song liner notes from Alan Jones, which are really helpful for anyone new to the genre (even a discophile like Your Humble Reviewer knows little about this lot).
The first disc begins with Ryan Paris’ “Dolce Vita,” a classic Italo-disco entry that was a big hit all over Europe in 1983 and a good introduction to the basics of the Eurodisco style. The focus on electronic sounds gives it an air of minimalism but the arrangement piles on hooks in a lush-yet-bubblegummy style, most notably a ticklish, ethereal synthesizer hook that sounds like a sonic interpretation of flowing water. The lyrics are in English but have a kind of “English as second language” vibe that carries over to the vocals, which are pleasant and tuneful but lack the kind of stylistic stamp one expects from the diva-style singers on American records. The overall effect seems simplistic at first but has a hypnotic quality that grows with repeat listens.
The above description applies to the rest of the tracks on disc one but several add their own little wrinkles to distinguish themselves for the rest. Highlights here include “Atlantis Is Calling” by Modern Talking, which starts off with a moody soundscape of the Vangelis/Tangerine Dream variety before kicking into an uptempo dance style highlighted by a falsetto sing-along chorus, and Taffy’s “Walk Into The Daylight,” an effervescent slice of kitschy synth-disco built around a chorus with a stuttered vocal hook that sounds like the disco version of yodeling! Also worthy of note is Cruisin’ Gang’s “Chinatown,” whose doubled synth/vocal hook at chorus time will send you into a trance.
The second disc of Euro Beats continues along the same lines, dishing up cut after cut of 1980’s electronic dance fare at its frothiest. For instance, Kano’s “Can’t Hold Back” does a good imitation of Chic’s late-period work — right down to the thumb-popping bass line and harmonized female backing vocals — while Digital Emotion’s “Get Up Action” pumps out hooks of a simple but undeniable variety with relentless efficiency and throws in a vocoder-drenched lead vocal, to boot. There is even a Canadian addition to the mix that fits the Euro feel — The V Project Featuring Vanelle’s faithful cover of Giorgio Moroder’s “First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love,” which retains the Germanic vocal stylings of the original but streamlines the sonic approach and intensifies the beat for an 1980’s audience.
However, the most entertaining cut on disc two may be L-Vira’s “Talkin’ About Rambo.” This schlock-disco masterpiece cashes in on the popularity of Rambo: First Blood, Part II via airheaded lyrics that pay tribute to that cinematic hero while its backing track shamelessly plunders most of its hooks from “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood! Faked “dialogue samples” only add to the daft charm on display in this track. It’s breathlessly silly and insidiously catchy all at once, capturing the chintzy, fly-by-night charm that one hears in many Eurodisco songs.
In short, Euro Beats is the kind of release that will separate the hardcore dance music people from the dilettantes. Music snobs will likely run screaming from a set like this but then again, it wasn’t made for them in the first place. This volume of Disco Discharge is for the listener who gets giddy about the trashy, unashamedly escapist side of dance music. If you fit that description then Euro Beats is likely to be your ideal flavor of electro-bubblegum.