I Love Bobby “O” (Volume 1)
ongs, like people, are riddled with contradictions. They create a permanent snapshot of one moment in time, yet as the years go by and culture changes, they discretely unveil new feelings and qualities that weren’t previously there. It’s one of the more intriguing powers of society, they way it can mold such an intangible media as if it were putty in their hands.
This brings us to Bobby Orlando, a prolific dance producer whose music has taken upon new and unanticipated feelings since it was originally released, while still retaining its appealing nature. As disco faded away, Orlando started his own label in the early ‘80s called “O” Records, which put out a steady stream of trashy pop songs that married the city glitz of Studio 54 with the highly synthesized Eurodance of artists like Giorgio Moroder. The music was dubbed Hi-NRG and attracted a predominantly gay following in the New York City area. The latter point turns out to be ironic: Orlando is a bizarre mix of bible-thumping homophobe and shrewd, calculated businessman.
Almost all of Orlando’s productions for the label are interchangeable with one another, but that doesn’t stop them from being instantly gratifying. Like a disco version of Mark E. Smith, Orlando’s work ethic produced a body of work that was consistent in quality and style but avoided drastic peaks and troughs. I Love Bobby “O”, released by the slightly dodgy Spanish label Blanco Y Negro, is purportedly the first in a series that aims to collect all of the vintage Orlando productions from the ‘80s.
What’s most striking about this collection is how innocent and facetious it can sound in 2004, when every intention was to make these songs as sleazy and crass as possible. Perhaps this has to do with the cloak of post-modernism and irony that was cast upon music in the ‘90s and still pervades today. Another factor, of course, is the rise of Electroclash, which played up the campy Eurotrash value of Hi-NRG and soaked it in chic fashion and cool detachment, downplaying most of the “fun” associated with it. Hence, listening to this compilation today makes me nostalgic for a carefree and innocent time that never really existed. When these tracks were originally released, they were likely viewed as ingratiating nuggets of pop trash. It is only now, twenty years later, that they could be seen as innocuous and oddly comforting slices of dance pop.
On one of Bobby Orlando’s record sleeves is the phrase “passion is the energizer of purpose”. It’s a pretty good summation of where his head is at during recording: hundreds of songs were probably produced based merely on his pure aggression and drive. As you would expect, every cut here is relentlessly upbeat, and patched together with booming electronic drums, motorik synthesizer arpeggios, and candy flossed melodies. Although Orlando wrote and produced all of the material, each single was released under a revolving set of names and featured an anonymous cast of session vocalists and musicians. Besides the minor hits “She’s Got A Way” and “Take A Chance On Me”, the main attraction on this collection is the original single version of the Pet Shop Boys “One More Chance”. While it was eventually recast as the vacant opening song on their Actually album, it’s presented here as a full-blooded electro stomper, and is distinctly clubbier than most of their ‘80s output.
I Love Bobby ”O” works as both a curious document of early electronic dance-pop as well as a decent primer for the mostly forgotten Hi-NRG genre. The songs may have aged in unexpected ways, but, crucially, they haven’t lost any of their accessibility, giving credence to the idea that music can be just as dynamic as people, over time.