Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Encyclopedia Drew and the Case of the Double Disco

Those of you who have put up with me for a few years will no doubt be familiar with my obsession with the less famous pop hits of the 1980s. Foremost among these buried gems, I would say, is Roni Griffith’s 1981 track “Desire,” a song whose music video answered the question, “What would it have looked like if Virginia Madsen had become a pop star instead of pursuing acting?”

I unironically enjoy this song and this video, in spite of Roni’s conservative trench coat look and “a ghost is dragging me by the arm” dance moves. In fact, my iTunes tells me it’s my thirteenth-most-listened-to song, right between “Strut” and “Cry.” So imagine my surprise when I was stumbling across Tumblr this weekend and found another song, “Passion,” by The Flirts.

I found it here, sans context. (Link is SFW, but beware clicking beyond, bored office workers who read my blog.) It’s not just a remarkably similar song; it’s actually just an Aqua Netted hair away from a cover. That beat? The keyboard intro? The opening lyrics “I’ve got to have you, baby” versus “I’m waiting for you, baby”? The fact that even their titles are similar? I was puzzled about how this could have happened without a lawsuit centering around “Excuse me, but I already wrote that song.”

After a little bit of looking, I found the what but not the why.

Both Roni Griffith and The Flirts worked with producer Bobby Orlando. He wrote all the tracks that Griffith sang, excluding her cover of “Breakin’ Up.” And The Flirts was basically Orlando’s Menudo — a three-girl group comprising a blonde, a redhead and a brunette that Orlando rotated and swapped out repeatedly over the years. Griffith’s “Desire” came out in 1981, where it would hit No. 30 on the U.S. dance charts and No. 17 and No. 2 in Germany and Switzerland, respectively. The Flirts’ “Passion” was released in 1982, where it would hit No. 21 on the U.S. dance charts, and No. 4 in both Germany and Switzerland. Obviously, Orlando had a clear idea about what a good song sounded like to him and just decided to use the same musical foundation for both songs.

But I don’t know why he would have done this. I suppose it’s possible that he did this unconsciously, but it seems more likely that he tried to improve on the success on “Desire” with “Passion” and then just didn’t change much of the song. And that’s… a decision. I just wonder why someone along the production line didn’t point out that this new song sounds a lot like that song that you did a year ago. “Maybe make it, you know, different-er?”

There’s that knock against synthy 80s pop: that it all sounds alike. And to some people it might, but if I hear that argument again, I feel like I’d have to point these two songs out. “No, here are two 80s songs that sound almost exactly the same. You clod.”

Miscellaneous bits:
  • One great advantage that “Desire” has over “Passion”? Only the video for “Desire” has penis-shaped structures that expand onstage.
  • Wikipedia’s list of known members of The Flirts strikes me as sad for some reason — all those girls next door listed without surnames. It’s like someone shook out a bag of nametags belonging to all the Denny’s waitresses who just stopped showing up to work one day.
  • I can’t decide of the women in the “Passion” video look more like drag queens or bit players in a Dario Argento movie.
  • Roni Griffith’s most famous song is her “Breakin’ Up” cover, but she also has a track “Love Is the Drug,” which is weirdly not a Roxy Music cover. It seems like a ballsy move, to say, “No, Roxy Music, we’re going to do this one better,” but maybe I just like the original too much.
  • In addition to being a producer and songwriter, Bobby Orlando sang, though frequently under aliases. And Wikipedia’s list of his many aliases is longer than you might expect. This “Dragon Lady” singer Yukihiro Takanawa — that can’t be him, can it?
And finally, while we’re on the subject of 80s pop tracks that more people should know about, let me introduce you to C.C. Catch, the Dutch-German singer whose 1986 hit “Cause You Are Young” (sic) exemplifies so, so many great things about the decade.

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