In short, he helped shape the music of the ’80s. Orlando is one of the guys credited with inventing the evocatively named “Hi-NRG” sound that helped the dance beats of the ’70s bleed into the synth we associate with the ’80s. Though American, Bobby Orlando’s take on dance music influenced the Euro disco and italo disco genres with which I’m so fascinated. More than a few write-ups on the guy accuse him of some pretty nasty homophobia, and that’s especially interesting because a lot of the music he made got major play in gay clubs. He also worked with Pet Shop Boys and Divine, however, and a schmoe like me who’s just reading second-hand reports about him can’t weigh in on this apparently contradiction one way or the other. However, there are other online rumblings about vague misdeeds too — like this one, claiming to be from singer Roni Griffith herself — and one of the most frequent allegations is plagiarism.
I found out about this earlier this summer when I posted about the odd similarity between Roni Griffith’s “Desire” and The Flirts’ “Passion.” The latter nearly sounds like a cover of the former, but it’s just different enough that “rip-off” seems like a more appropriate term.
However, given that Orlando masterminded both songs as well as both artists, it gets trickier. Did he plagiarize himself? Or was Griffith’s version simply a beta version of the song he finalized a year later?
One reader left a comment on that post that put the similarity in a larger perspective.
Bobby Orlando was notorious for actively working to mimic songs that were hits; Divine's "Love Reaction" is basically just "Blue Monday" redux; The Flirts "On the Beach" sounds like Soft Cell/B-52's collaboration that never was. So there's something strangely reassuring that he would cannibalize his own hits, as well.And this prompted me to look around online and try to find every instance I could find of someone claiming that a Bobby Orlando creation ripped off some other song. All the results are below, but do take this all the salt you feel appropriate. I’ve been writing online long enough to know that I don’t understand music well enough on a technical level to say “Hey! This ripped off that!” with any authority. This is just what other people online have put together, and I thought they made for interesting side-by-sides. (Special thanks to My Year of Mixtapes for posting the biggest list.)
New Order’s “Blue Monday” (1983) and Divine’s “Love Reaction” (1983)
I’m actually not sure if 1983 is the right year for the Divine track. The version posted above is a re-working of the song. I think this is the original. Regardless, New Order responded to the Divine song live in concert.
The B-52s’ “Private Idaho” (1980) and Barbie and the Kens’ “Just a Gigolo” (1981)
The B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” (1978) and The Flirts’ “On the Beach” (1983)
Blondie’s “Call Me” (1980) and Roni Griffith’s “Hot Lover” (1981)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” (1984) and Bobby Orlando’s “Pump It Up” (1985)
Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” (1985) and Girly’s “Saving Myself” (1989)
Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts” (1986) and Hotline’s “Ready or Not” (1986)
It’s noted elsewhere that a later Bobby O-produced track, Tony Caso’s “Love Attack,” sounds a lot like “Ready or Not,” though it doesn’t especially sound like “Two of Hearts,” so go figure.
Lime’s “Unexpected Lovers” (1985) and Bobby O and Claudja Barry’s “Whisper to a Scream (1986)
Patrick Cowley’s “Menergy” (1980) and Divine’s “Shoot Your Shot” (1984)
Conversely, this site notes that Divine’s 1982 song “Native Love (Step by Step)” sounds a lot like “Blue on Blue,” a Pet Shop Boys B-side from the 2006 album Fundamental.
And in looking through all these, I also found another instance of two Bobby Orlando songs sounding extremely similar: Girly’s “Trouble” (1984) and Dressed to Kill’s “Crash Bam Boom” (1987).
Finally, there’s the whole mess with Pet Shop Boys. Orlando produced some of the Pet Shop Boys’ early work, including the original version of “West End Girls.” Orlando also produced a 1984 cut of “It’s a Sin,” a song that was eventually released in 1987. According to Wikipedia, When that version came out, British DJ Jonathan King accuse the Pet Shop Boys of lifting the melody of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” Below are all three songs.
Of course, in this case I don’t think Orlando can be blamed, even by his most vocal critics, because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe wrote the song. Still, it’s a weird footnote in this little story about pop music sound-alikes.
I’m sure there are other Bobby Orlando creations that sound like other artists’ songs. If I’ve missed a good one, please tell me. I’m all ears.