Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tonight by Ken Laszlo

I had said back in the beginning that I'd also post italo disco songs here, and I haven't yet done any, so it's probably time to change that, right? If you're an American reading this, then you've probably never heard of italo disco and don't know for sure what I'm talking about. I was lucky enough to get wind of the movement when I went to Argentina for two years in the very early 90s. Now, I didn't go to listen to music, but you can't escape hearing plenty of stuff, and naturally the musical scene in Argentina was quite a bit different than it is in the US. What I mostly heard was cumbia, which was the Argentine version of ghetto music, but I also heard a bunch of stuff from Europe that nobody had been interested in promoting in the US. The only italo-disco songs to make any headway in the US at all weren't known as italo-disco, they were just seen as danceable pop songs that used a lot of synthesizers. Laura Branigan's output, and one-hit wonder Baltimora with their song "Tarzan Boy" were about it.

Italo disco also wasn't all that popular in the UK, but it was bit on the Continent, which is the vector where it came to Argentina. I wrote down some track names, and even burned a cassette tape of stuff I heard, and then made a concerted effort to locate this stuff after I got home. Sadly, to little avail, until the internet was in full swing, and I could hear songs on youtube and elsewhere. Some compilation CDs also started coming out in recent years, and just in the last couple of years or so, I've finally really bulked up my italo disco collection.

As you can probably divine from the subgenre title, italo disco is danceable stuff. I'm not aware of any ballads or experimental songs whatsoever within the genre; everything is meant to be danced to. Although it sounds extremely similar to synthpop, its roots actually like more directly in the continuing evolution of disco music. Disco was a major influence in a lot of synthpop bands too, hence the convergence. Although many italo disco artists were, in fact, Italian, other folks chimed in too: Germans, Spaniards, and others. The lead singer for Baltimora was Irish (the rest of his band was Italian) and Laura Branigan was from New York (although of mixed Italian and Irish descent, which is curious.)

One side effect of this is that many if not most italo disco artists sing in English, but are not really very fluent in our language. This means that it's often difficult to actually tell what they're saying, and then when you can, what they said was often outlandishly silly. Which, come to think of it, may well explain the lack of headway the genre was able to make in countries where people spoke English natively. Also, while synthpop was often serious (or at least artistic, pretentious or sarcastic) italo disco was often quite cheesy and bubble-gum disposible.

Despite these minor differences, I think you'll find, on listening to Ken Laszlo's song "Tonight" that it sounds not at all unlike any other New Wave synthpop song from the mid-80s. Ken Laszlo is not his real name (few of them performed under their real names) but according to the artist, is a reference to the character from Casablanca. And sorry about the abrupt fade in and fade out. Hey, it's youtube, what can you do?

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