As a huge Italo-Disco fan, part of the appeal of collecting the records is definitely some of the mad cover art which adorns these cheesy pizza platters. I aim to explore some of these masterpieces (or horror shows!) with you and in turn, share my love for the genre.
Often misunderstood and maligned, but also loved by DJs and a growing community of fans, Italo-Disco is an early form of electronic dance music, made in Italy during the 1980s (80-87 proper), utilising the cheap synthesizers available at the time. Tracks were often made hurriedly, some producers using a wide variety of aliases with certain projects/singers releasing only one single then disappearing, or in other cases models were appointed as front people whilst other singers sang the songs in order to make a quick hit on the international dance market (thus a lot of songs are in English). Not to say, however, that the music was ALL throwaway, or if that is indeed a bad thing. The best tracks of the era have dated well – some of which sound as if they could have been made yesterday and much has already been said about how influential Italo was in the Disco and House music scenes back in the day, not to mention the more recent appreciation of the genre in things like the Drive film soundtrack.
With most releases being made for the 12” single format, there was always the opportunity for the artists to make a great, eye-catching cover. These can range from the classic 80s lavish airbrushed style, to cheap Patrick Nagel copies (Rio to Clio), the effectively simple massive text on a coloured background, or some of the most memorable which look like a bad prog rock LP and scream C in GCSE art. The disparity between the song and the cover can be really interesting; sometimes the cover will be as messy and confusing as the music. Other times it will have little in common, making the whole experience all the more strange and mysterious.
Some of the coolest covers were made by the Italian artist Giampaolo Cecchini and fall into the airbrushed category, a style which I adore and is always evocative of the 80s era (does anyone remember Athena posters?!) Many of Cecchinis commissions were centered around the Best Records label run by Italo giant, promoter and DJ Claudio Caselini with offshoots Jumbo Records (ace Italo/boogie label) and S.P.Q.R. A lot of the tracks put out under these labels are boogie heavy and funky as hell – bad raps and all!
One of my favourite sleeves is Capita by DJ Look, a project helmed by horror soundtrack composer Fabio Frizzi and the only single under this moniker. It is typical Italo-funk of the highest order and always raises a smile when played out at the right moment. The lyrics are in Italian, spoken in a rap style, followed by a great female vocal hook in the chorus and topped off with bad-ass saxophone! An Italian friend once translated the lyrics for me: capita means something like ‘it happens’ or ‘happening’ and the lyrics seem to describe the life of a DJ with unwanted advances from people, girls and such, when he just wants to play records (I am sure a lot of DJs can relate to that right?). The cartoon cover is very striking, with the aforementioned DJ at the console covered in kisses and literally getting a leg over!
Sweepin’ Off by High Resolution is another eye-catching sleeve: A giant chocolate ice lolly flies through a blue sky over a desert landscape though what this has to do with the song I have no idea. It is a great track though – a mid-paced funky jam recorded and produced at Concorde 2 Studios in Rome by the same team responsible for B.W.H.’s Livin’ Up/Stop and Dog in the Night by Mr Master on the legendary House of Music label.
Another great cover is on one of my favourite Italo-Disco tracks – My Destiny by Witch Elizabeth. As far as covers go it is not particularly strange though I just love the image, especially the use of different fonts and the spacing of text over the image. My Destiny is not often on lists of people’s top Italo tracks, however for me it has all the mad hallmarks and disparate elements which come together to make the music so fun and interesting to me. Seemingly all over the place, it is almost as if it is several different songs in one composition with its proto rave pianos appearing suddenly between verses and an off-the-wall chorus which like the disembodied hands on the cover seems to come out of nowhere. I know the vocals in Italo put off some dance music fans – THEY’RE WRONG!!
One of the weirdest covers by this artist is definitely Do You Want? by Jay & Jason on the Jumbo label, which I would put in the class of ‘disturbing’ cover art. Do I want? I am not sure but thanks…
After doing some research, it is possible that the cover was inspired by artist Fernando Botero who depicted people in exaggerated volume but with Italo, who knows?
By the way, this track also features whacky animal sounds and coughing samples, some techniques in Italo tracks which would probably deserve discussing by themselves at a later date…
Ciao for now x