At the height of the disco craze, when it looked like rock’n’roll might go down for the count, one dismayed rock critic hissed that “the day the music dies, Giorgio Moroder should be picked up for questioning.” That harsh indictment was also a left-handed tribute to the impact of one man. Moroder wrote and produced disco diva Donna Summer’s erotic 1975 epic Love to Love You, Baby, arguably the song that launched discomania. He followed up by producing eight more Donna Summer LPs and penning the Oscar-winning score from Midnight Express and Blondie’s hit, Call Me, from the movie American Gigolo. These days disco may be doddering, but for Moroder, 43, a soft-spoken Italian from a tiny village in the Dolomite mountains, the beat goes on: His latest hit is another monster, Flashdance…What a Feeling, the theme from the movie and a good bet for an Academy Award.
At the heart of Moroder’s music is his mastery of electronic synthesizers, the space-age keyboards that can mimic other instruments and churn out startling effects. Some critics consider synthesized sound sterile and soulless; Moroder argues the case for tolerance, at least. “It’s psychological,” he says. “Synthesizers sound different from conventional instruments, and computers are involved, so automatically people think the music is without soul. But you still have to play the synthesizer, which is basically an expansion of the organ—though it’s based on computer hardware.”
Remarkably, Moroder himself isn’t terribly proficient on the synthesizer—or any other instrument, for that matter. He composes by noodling on keyboards and humming into a tape recorder. “Nobody writes it down anymore,” he says. “Everybody has a little recorder where you just sing and tape it.” Nor does his lack of proficiency keep him from playing for friends. Moroder keeps a modern, computerized player piano in the living room of the ultramodern Beverly Hills home he bought upon coming to the U.S. in 1979. The house’s interior walls, installed by Moroder, are almost all made of glass. “I love to play my piano when I have a party. Guests can watch from another room, and while I’m playing Schubert or something, I’ll just reach up nonchalantly for a cup of coffee.”
Moroder speculates that he owes his individual style to his upbringing. “Coming from a small village, I wasn’t really inspired by anyone,” he says. Born to innkeepers in Ortisei (pop. 5,000), Moroder says his first memories are of German bombers passing overhead on their way to Milan during WWII. After studying architecture for a year, he dropped out of college to play bass and guitar with a series of pop bands, and was gradually drawn toward composing and producing. While living in Munich in the late ’60s, he met his first synthesizer. “It was very primitive, probably the first one ever built, but I was very impressed with the possibilities,” he recalls. A year or so later he produced a European hit, Son of My Father, which rose to No. 16 on the U.S. pop charts in 1970. Five years later Moroder, who produced Love to Love You, Baby in Europe, helped midwife disco into the world. “You had a certain quality at the beginning, then a lot of junk when everybody started jumping on the bandwagon. It got to the point where disco became a little obscene.”
By that time, Moroder had already expanded to scoring movies. Upcoming projects include Scarface, starring Al Pacino, and D.C. Cab, starring Gary Busey and Mr. T. Moroder is also restoring, editing and scoring a 1926 German silent epic, Metropolis, a project which has taken him from New York’s Museum of Modern Art to a library in Canberra, Australia, in search of lost footage.
Moroder is also searching for not one but two women—one for him and one for his music. An active bachelor, he’s dated Persis Khambatta and Christie Brinkley but has yet to settle down. “It could be that I’m a little afraid,” says Moroder. “All you see and hear is how many people are going through divorce.” Professionally, he’s hunting for a protégée to replace Donna Summer, who switched producers as the disco era flagged. “The first thing I look for is a good voice, but whoever it is has to have the look, the charisma,” says Moroder. “I certainly think she has to be sexy. I believe in sex—I think it’s the spice of life.” Moroder’s other pastimes include eating pasta (he favors spaghetti with olive oil and caviar), watching MTV and visiting his homes in Aspen, Munich and Lucerne, Switzerland (he maintains Swiss citizenship).
He’s delighted that Flashdance is doing so well, and his reasons are not all financial. After winning the 1978 Oscar for his Midnight Express score, he flubbed his acceptance speech, forgetting some of it and stammering through the rest. “It was nervous tension,” he says. Next April Moroder would like a second chance to get it right.