By the time Donna Summer lets fly her last orgasmic moan on the 1975 classic, 17-minute version of “Love to Love You Baby,” you're convinced of two things: One, that a piece of music is, in fact, capable of producing a sexual climax; and two, that producer and arranger Giorgio Moroder not only invented disco but did so in a way that could never be replicated — though many would try.
Moroder had one foot in the tradition of syrupy, Motown-girl-group production and another pointing to the future of synth-based Euro disco. His work on Summer's Love to Love You Baby (Casablanca, 1975), Once Upon a Time (Casablanca, 1977) and Bad Girls (Casablanca, 1979), and his soundtrack work for Midnight Express (for which he won his first Academy Award), American Gigolo and Cat People are quintessential cultural icons. They also constitute a key musical bridge between the '60s and the '80s — the transition from loose, syncopated funk to tight, precise protohouse beats — and their influence persists mightily.
Although Moroder was born in the Italian town of Ortisei in 1940, he made his name in Munich, Germany, at the now-legendary Musicland Studios with his production partner, guitarist Pete Bellotte. After alchemizing the essential disco sound and gestures on “Love to Love You Baby” — the four-on-the-floor pulse rhythm, octave bump bass, squeegee guitars and strident strings, not to mention the extended supermix — he carried disco further into the future. On Summer's following smash, “I Feel Love,” the almost purely electronic soundscapes and motorlike beats make “Love to Love You Baby” sound downright organic by comparison. If trance and house have a proper antecedent on the continent that loves them most — besides Kraftwerk — it's clearly Moroder.
But that wasn't Moroder's only trick. It's often forgotten that Moroder had his hand in new wave, as well, producing the classic “Call Me” for Blondie and, later, Nina Hagen's righteous 1983 platter Fearless (Columbia). In fact, he contributed significantly to the '80s sound; that's his bodacious bass-pedal sound on the Berlin track “Take My Breath Away” and his production on Kenny Loggins' techno-rock chestnut “Danger Zone,” both from the Top Gun soundtrack. He also earned an Academy Award for “Flashdance … What a Feeling” from the 1983 movie Flashdance. His own projects were less well-received, though good moments certainly came from his and Bellotte's project Munich Machine, and his own 1977 creation From Here to Eternity, featuring the singular song title “Utopia — Me Giorgio.”
Moroder's sextronic influence has been pretty well-digested by now, and in tracks from Little Louis to Black Box, it still crops up conspicuously. There is more than a little Moroder in Air's Euro-approved “Sexy Boy,” in the French disco-revivalism of Daft Punk and Motorbass, in Simon Berry's Art of Trance, in CZR & Ito's dancefloor hit “Soiree” and anywhere a quarter-note disco pulse meets a snippet of Rhodes piano, a swirling synth-string section and a big Jupiter-esque sequenced bass throb. These days, Moroder is cranking out his distinctive brand of digital visual art and overseeing the production of the $600,000 Cizeta-Moroder V16T exoticar, a sort of high-tech Lamborghini. Once Euro, always Euro.