Tonio Rubio – “Bass In Action No. 1” (1973)
Sound library music doesn’t get any more stone cold than this track. Music of any kind rarely does. What should have been a cornerstone of golden-age hip-hop, “Bass In Action No. 1” is an incredible audio stroll consisting of sweet glistening electric piano glissandi, an ice cold single-note bass line, and the ready-made laid-back hip-hop breakbeat. It’s enchanting for the first minute; but when the beat kicks in at 1:05, you won’t be able to keep from grinning. [Tonio Rubio is featured in on an equally groove-laden mix of tunes from around the world at Musicophilia.] Update: Corrected the streaming link.
Paolo Renosto (Lesiman) – Moto Centripeto (1973)
Another brilliant cut from the alternate history of popular music, aka Sound Library music. Echoing and reverbed piano and harpsichord float over dulcet vibes with abstract sounds, all grounded by a breezily funky bassline. This is cool beyond cool, the soundtrack to the movie version of life as one wishes it were lived.
Il Balletto di Bronzo – “Epilogo” (1972)
Prog is a form of music that when I enjoy it, I’m certain I enjoy it from all the “wrong” directions and for all the “wrong” reasons, as I place no intrinsic value of the purported paramount virtues of the genre (virtuosity, speed, complexity-as-an-inherent-good, constant change for its own sake, technicality). I’ve come to appreciate plenty of middle-period King Crimson, but via This Heat; I enjoy post-Wyatt Soft Machine, but through the lense of Miles Davis; I dig Amon Duul II only when they set aside the noodling and get a little Stooges rawness. Il Balletto di Bronzo, described elsewhere as “difficult at first” is an easy fit, coming from my prog-wrong directions. Apparently the album ‘Ys,’ from which this track is culled, represents the pinnacle of something called “Italian symphonic prog,” which had I known would probably have steered me clear of this recent Exiled Records acquisition.
Fortunately, I gave it a blind listen, and found that its stereo-experimentalism and weird choral vocals and moog-and-piano arpeggios work for me entirely against any “symphonic” assessment–this ain’t no Yngwie, thank goodness. The fast parts remind me of Death May Be Your Santa Claus or Burnin Red Ivanhoe or Os Mutantes–they have a sense of humor and psychedelic playfulness, rather than lockstep-prog guitar-faced seriousness. The long slow-burn phased-drums groove of the middle section of this track needs no apologies–it’s just damned spooky, dark-space heavy badassness.
La Bionda – “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1980)
I would never, ever have suspected this fantastic fully-animated video existed for one of my favorite Italo Disco/pop tunes. But it does, and like the track, it’s pure joy. Every once in a while, YouTube justifies its existence big-time. Unfortunately, nothing on the album from which “I Wanna Be Your Lover” comes close, as I learned the hard way a while back with a dodgy Russian “import,” but some of their other stuff seems like reasonably good, if rather more standard-issue, disco fun. (For a bonus, check below the ‘more…” link for a “live” performance by the duo of the track, in front of this video on a bluescreen, that adds another unbelievable layer. )
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica” (1972)
‘Fetus’ was undoubtedly a horizon-expanding discovery for me, adding another layer to my understanding of the roots of synth-based music, outre, proto-punk, etc. Battiato would go on to do much more abstract music, following a trajectory not that unlike Eno, until he entered the center of the Italian mainstream in the 80s. This early stuff is a great headtrip of early electronics, off-kilter pop-rock songwriting, borrowed/sampled sources, and what I take to be sort of sci-fi lyrics (from what I can gather via Italian-English cognates). [I’ve not used the album’s cover because some might find it disturbing; it does seem slightly shock-value unecessary to me and is not representative of the fun music contained within. Franco Battiato is featured from this period here and in a later form here in mixes at Musicophilia.]
Luciano Cilio – “Dialoghi dal Presente, Part 5” (1977)
Similar to some of the avantgarde chamber music undertaken by Franco Battiato, echoing the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s focus on sweet simplicity in a more melancholic vein, Luciano Cilio’s sole album (I think) is a hidden jewel for fans of this sort of music. Bell-like acoustic guitar, reed instruments, and mournful cellos create a perfect little vespertine moment. This album, with other tracks, was reissued under the name ”Dell’ Universo Assente’ a few years ago and can still be found in good shops as an import.
Cyber People – “Polaris (Club Mix)” (1984)
A pretty perfect encapsulation of the electro end of Italo Disco, Cyber People’s “Polaris” has everything you could want–bouncing fuzzy bass line, cowbell intro, accentuating e-hand claps, a wah-wahed faux-guitar hook, clean chorded synth accents, a Depeche Mode-worthy melodic line, a couple mid-track break-down, and robotic vocals, 120 BPM, all wrapped up in an earworm-worthy, danceable confection. With a perfect cover in that key hot pink, green, purple and yellow color combo. It should put a smile on your face.