“Bobby O is the Phil Spector of the 80s” — My friend and DJ colleague Scott Duncan aka Il Discotto
Robert Phillip Orlando is an American Hi-NRG record producer, and to me he is a musical genius. During a period of extreme productivity between 1982 and 1987 he made hundreds of records that, in my opinion, represent some the greatest dance music of all time. His influence is huge, and this is his story.
Bobby Orlando is a highly prolific music producer, songwriter, musician and record label impresario. During the 1980s he produced, composed and played on hundreds of music productions that he released under a myriad of record labels, including: “O” Records, Bobcat Records, Memo Records, Telefon Records, MenoVision Records, Beach Records, Plastic Records, Eurobeat Records, Obscure Records, Beat Box Records, Riovista Records, Intelligent Records, Basic Records, Knowledge Records and others. In the late ’80s, at the peak of his success, the one-man-band suddenly and inexplicably halted his extensive production output. Orlando is credited as one of the founding fathers of Hi-NRG pop-dance music. His productions are easily identifiable by their dense synthesizers, rolling bass lines, and resounding percussion. Orlando tracks showcase him playing multiple instruments including keyboards, guitars, drums, percussion and saxophone. The ringing cowbell percussion lines and robotic sequencers heard in “She Has A Way”, “The Best Part Of Breakin’ Up,” “Desire,” and “Native Love (Step By Step)” define the electrifying sound he pioneered. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_orlando
Whether you’ve heard of him or not, you’ve definitely heard his influence — he basically invented a lot of the dance music clichés of the 1980s and ’90s, and while you may not be as fond of said clichés as I am, you still gotta give dude credit for being so dang influential. That having been said, Bobby O is an incredibly strange dude — a complete contradiction on a lot of levels. He’s a hyper-macho, incredibly cocky, rampantly homophobic ex-boxer who made gay disco. He once backed out of a lease because he found out the previous tenant was gay, yet he produced legendary drag queen Divine, and discovered the Pet Shop Boys. Most of his songs are brazen odes to sex and partying, and yet he’s a fundamentalist Christian who penned a (still unpublished) book on creationism called Darwin Destroyed. He created some of the most original dance music of the 1980s, but he seemingly was just as happy to shamelessly plagiarize current dance hits, releasing a slew of blatant soundalikes and proudly referring to himself as “the McDonald’s of the dance record industry”. He was incredibly prolific, releasing dozens of records each month on the numerous labels he ran, and citing the Bible as his reason: “I’m being fruitful, I’m multiplying,” he told The Face in 1987. “I put out more records than anybody in the world; there’s nobody that puts out more records than me. If a producer has the ability to put out that many records and he doesn’t then he is disobeying God’s command.” DUDE WAS WEIRD. http://yearofmixtapes.blogspot.com/2009/07/week-8-bobby-orlando.html
An early Bobby O effort from 1980:
Producer Bobby Orlando became a legend in the ’80s through a multitude of disco and Hi-NRG records released on his independent label, O Records. The son of a Westchester, NY, school teacher, Orlando boxed straight out of high school and listened to Alice Cooper and T. Rex. He turned down a classical music scholarship, instead playing Johnny Thunders-style guitar in teenage glitter bands. Swept up by disco, Orlando engineered “Dancin'” by Todd Forester in 1977. The song featured the galloping bass line developed by synth-phenom Giorgio Moroder, who Orlando strove to emulate throughout his career. Orlando also developed a life-long fascination with the studio perfection of ABBA. In 1980, Orlando masterminded the excellent Lyn Todd album, before setting up O Records. The first releases, “Just a Gigolo” by Barbie & the Kens and “Change of Life” by I Spy, made Billboard’s dance chart. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/bobby-orlando-p111405/biography
For Vanguard Records he produced Lyn Todd, he also wrote and produced Free Expression’s “Chill-Out!” and he brought in Roni Griffith to the label. Roni was a young girl he had met in a restaurant and who he signed a 50/50 contract which was written on a napkin. The young two even became a couple for a while and in 1980 “Mondo Man” is released, but the year after the big break comes for both of them when Bobby writes and produces the song “Desire” which became a huge hit, specially in Europe but also in the US club land. http://www.disco-disco.com/artists/bobby-o.shtml
Well on his way as a recognized producer, (Bobby O) had had a lot of disco type hits which had done well in the American music industry magazine Billboard, and sold well through Europe; he had received three gold records by the time the female impersonator Divine was to use his expertise in 1980. Divine was already an accomplished artist and had been in numerous cult movies. Running a small but successful record company, Bobby saw the opportunity of working with Divine as yet another opportunity to boost his growing reputation. Viewing a partnership with Divine as a cute little gimmick, he agreed to take on the artist, at the time thinking it was going to be like a disco Amanda Lear, who was huge in Europe. The reaction from the public was immediate and tremendous, with big hits following. Despite this new found success, Bobby’s relationship with Divine was not as it might have been, with little warmth emanating between the two, although it was to prove a useful working relationship. Divine’s manager, Bernard Jay, was different again and he and Bobby got on far better together. According to Bobby, the success of Divine’s whole musical career can be attributed to Jay, being Divine’s right hand man, best friend and manager. Says Bobby, “My own relationship with Bernard had its stormy moments, but it was also very good, so because of that relationship the Divine thing worked out well.” www.italo-disco.net/programs/eBooks/Bobby%20O%20&%20PSB.pdf
This owes a big debt to Blue Monday by New Order:
“I failed as a hippy because I was too much of a capitalist.” Says Bobby O, swivelling in his chair to view the mirrored building that is now partly his. “I mean I had a chequebook, no hippy ever had a chequebook, so I was a total failure. But glitter rock, oh I was a real glitter boy. I had very long hair – you just wouldn’t believe. I was very pretty, exceedingly like real very pretty. And with glitter rock you didn’t have to take drugs and it was OK to be a capitalist. I mean platform shoes are expensive, right?” He didn’t have the balls to wear make-up but the romance with the high camp has yet to end. New York Dolls, Divine, same difference. The fast talking, intensively macho exhibitionist is also a voyeur. A homophobe who once pulled out of buying an apartment after discovering that the previous owner was gay, he has built a career on making music for a predominantly gay audience.
Bobby O’s history of working relationships reads like a Bel Air alimony lawyers’s casebook. One of his most successful associations ended understandably abruptly when he claimed he could “cure” the artist of his homosexuality, but men continue to be mesmerized by the electric vitality of this irresistible, impossible character. Women, too, are oddly tantalized by a man fixes his dark eyes to theirs over dinner, tells them just how he likes to make love, and what a great lover he is, and then kisses them goodnight on the cheek only to call at midnight to ask if they are naked. The technical skill involved in such heavyweight flirting requires not only a core of pure narcissism but an ability to use the power of sexuality without feeling the surge of any real lust. http://www.globaldarkness.com/articles/bobby_orlando_bio.htm
Bobby Orlando produced Pet Shop Boys earlier in their career. They had admired his work for quite some time, and when they began writing songs, had patterned their sound after songs he had recorded with Divine and others. While working at Smash Hits Magazine, Neil was sent to New York to interview Sting, and decided to seek out Bobby Orlando and play him some of the demos he had done with Chris. Bobby decided to take them on and they began recording songs together. The contract was signed at the Apple Jack restaurant on August 19, 1984. .. They did release two singles under Bobby O’s direction; West End Girls and One More Chance’. They did fairly well on the charts, and satisfied the duo’s initial fantasy, which was to have a hit single in the trendy London record shops. http://petshopboys.wikia.com/wiki/Bobby_Orlando
I said, “This whole pretty boy glamour thing is nice; it works, but in your case I think, instead of trying to buck it, I think you should look like guilty Catholics. That would be the perfect look. Look intellectual, and look guilty. The world would relate, because the world is guilty. Leave your glasses on. The cuteness will come through if it is packaged right. The last thing it should look like is an attempt to look like pretty boys.” It just wasn’t going to happen. It was better for it to look like what it was so that they would almost be respected as higher thinkers… I never looked at them in the sense other than that I felt that they had a particular look that would benefit them if they adhered to that look. I advised them continually to always be as radical as they could be in whatever they say publicly, always put the big boys down. www.italo-disco.net/programs/eBooks/Bobby%20O%20&%20PSB.pdf
The Flirts were a female trio from New York City who had several dance hits and music videos on MTV in the early eighties when the channel was still in its infancy. The group was created and masterminded by American producer, Bobby Orlando aka ‘Bobby O’, an artist in his own right… The Flirts also went through numerous lineup changes; with almost every album release, some girls left the group while others stayed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flirts
The Flirts were a Menudo-like creation devised by Hi-NRG mogul Bobby Orlando. This bubbly female trio sang his songs while he performed most of the instrumentation and kept the girls on the album sleeves looking young. The ambitious New York producer released several Flirts records on his independent O Records label, which shot out a ridiculous amount of wax in the early ’80s. http://www.answers.com/topic/the-flirts
Italo Disco Interviews with Linda Jo Rizzo from The Flirts:
When and how did you meet Bobby Orlando? What was Bobby O like?
I met Bobby at a dinner in NY together with some old music producers that I had worked with in Milan while I was modeling. They told me I had nice a nice voice and that he should try me out in the studio. We started working together right away. He was a fast and energetic worker. He did not waste time.
One of the interesting things with Bobby Orlando was that after he had success with some artists, he had problems with them, and those problems were taken to court. The exact situation was with Divine and the Pet Shop Boys. Can you tell us your thoughts about this please?
I loved working with Bobby but as it often happened in the earlier days of one’s career, our contracts were not very generous for the artists. After all costs of production, management, choreographers and studios were taken, there was very little left for us. http://www.italo-interviews.com/LindaJoRizzo.html
Orlando produced and penned numerous hits that span multiple genres in mostly self-created groups and aliases, often just consisting of Orlando himself. His productions were released as: Ian Darby, The Beat Box Boys, Spooge Boy, Something/Anything, New Breed, Jonny Bankcheck, Hotline, Banana Republic, Oh Romeo, Teenrock, The New York Models, Hippies With Haircuts, Girly, Barbie & the Kens, Wow, 1 plus 1, The He Man Band, The Boyd Brothers, Nancy Dean, Ian Darby with Ya Ya, Cha Cha featuring Don Diego, Yukihoro Takanawa, This is House, Joy Toy, Dressed To Kill, Band Of South, Dynasty featuring Dexter D, Darlene Down, The Fem-Spies, Gangsters of House, Girls Have Fun, Zwei Maenner, Gomez Presley, Gringo Lopez, Patty Phillipe, Malibu, Lilly & the Pink, Miss Tammi Dee, Mc Fritz and the P-Rockers, Charlene Davis, Claus V, Ronnie Goes to Liverpool, The Bang Gang, Bubba and The Jack Attack, Fascination, Free Enterprise, Sandra Ford, Future Generation, Citrus, The College Boys, Condo, The Bigalows, Free Expression, Lola, Lifestyle, I Spies, Latin 1, Kinski Music, Gina Desire, Beachfront, Vision 1 and others. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Orlando
Orlando’s songs frequently deal with philosophical themes such as “Try It (I’m in love with a married man),” which was given a contemporary twist when it was re-recorded by Pet Shop Boys in 2003. Many of Orlando’s lyrics describe unrequited love, private despair, personal angst and a truth-seeking perspective. Orlando frequently etched philosophical maxims into vinyl records featuring his songs; these adages being literally cut into the grooves near the “lead out” and “lock grooves” of the vinyl. Many of these are rare and are now collector items often selling for hundreds of dollars. Orlando’s musical influence on many present day artists is vast and the sound he created routinely surfaces on Euro, Techno, Italo-disco, Electro and Hi-NRG releases throughout the world. He has a large international following and is often cited by music historians for his immeasurable contribution to dance music. http://www.ask.com/wiki/Bobby_Orlando
‘You have to focus on whatever you want to do in your life. From 1980 to 1987 I had one goal and one goal only – to be the McDonalds of the record business. I wanted to release more records, like they release hamburgers, than anybody could have. I didn’t care if they sold or if they didn’t sell. I wanted to be a part of the Bobby O story and when 1987 came and I had finally reached that goal and my company released over one thousand records I said, “That’s it. No more”.’ By then Bobby had sold off a good part of his company. He wrote a book that he had been working on for three years called Darwin Destroyed, which refutes the theory of evolution. The book was a key turning point in what Bobby wanted to do with his own life. He sent the [Pet Shop] Boys a copy of the book. They never responded. ‘At that time the book was my tunnel vision, and then I was going to decide what I wanted to do for the Nineties. Now  I am really one year away from making the final thrust into what I am going to do with my life,’ he says. Prior to entering the music industry, Bobby had attended pre-law school. Now back with his studies, he plans on taking the Bar exam in summer 1991.He is also a registered lobbyist.” http://rainy-80smusic.blogspot.com/2007/05/bobby-o-story-of-o-part-v.html
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. If you mean because of the ‘transgressive cinema’ tag, that was an external imposition on Kern’s work that I think he accepted as a fait accompli just as I accepted the ‘transgressive fiction’ tag on my stuff even though I had no intention of announcing anything via my work. But I mean … if a film is announced as a ‘horror film’, can it then be actually horrifying? Apparently. ** wolf, Dude! I did do that Day. Thanks for all those cool words about all of those well intentioned posts. I’m okay, and, hey, we’re gonna vocalise and visualise our respective ‘okayness’ together this evening! Looking forward! Love, me. ** Milk, Hi, Milk! Happy to have helped fill in that blank. I think I only feel nostalgia for times and places I don’t know. The other personal past-based kind of nostalgia is too dangerous to me. You hanging in there? Good to see you! ** Sypha, I think you’re speedy. You qualify as speedy by my standards. But you’re not the only one. And I am rather laborious. Is Justin speedy too, i.e. have you finished the collab story yet? ** Bill, Cool beans.I hope your weekend served its/your purpose. In case you weren’t able to see the comments, schlix wrote back to you. ** Thomas Moronic, Hey, T-man. I might even remember you buying that DVD or something akin. I’m all right, fed up, but all right. Yeah, not seeing friends takes a big toll. At one time, Zac and I were going to be in Japan right now. Drat. I think Texas is one of those states that’s getting freed up a bit even though it’s a bad idea, but maybe, since Philip is there, that might have the silver lining of getting your book out of solitary. I’m glad to hear you’re being productive on the in- and output fronts. Love, me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Surprise! I’ve become friends with Lucy McKenzie, as I think you know, and it wasn’t for months and months that it finally dawned on me that I had seen her in Richard Kern’s work. Enjoy your Day! ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. I’ve been nowhere too. Surprised we didn’t run into each other. Yeah, I just don’t see the point in feeling doom and stressed out about all of this. It seems totally unproductive. And there’s a lot of fascinating things about this whole nightmare. That’s where I’m hanging. The freeing up has started in your neck, eh? Man, I don’t know about that move. We’ll see. ** Dominik, Hello there, Dominik!! I think I was totally fine yesterday afternoon, whatever I was doing. Probably sitting where I’m sitting right now doing different things in the same internet that I am glued to at the moment. I’m very happy that the Kern post made you happy and hit home! That’s interesting. I’m still just thinking about my new fiction idea. I should start putting stuff down ‘on paper’. Maybe I will, maybe today. Mm, it involves taking something that was written for another project in an entirely different medium that looks like it isn’t happening and seeing if that stuff can be ‘adapted’ into a work of fiction. Or that’s the starting point. Kind of vague, sorry. Still sorting through the possibilities. So I mostly worked on GIF stuff. Because there’s all this interest in the GIF work being shown in galleries, I have this idea to try making a series of GIF sequences that would be individually framed, in iPads or something, and hung on the wall together, and whether they would interact well as a group in that format, sort of like a group of photographs would be. So I’m working on GIF sequences thinking about them appearing in that way. And I still haven’t quite nailed down what they would need to be and how they work to allow that to happen successfully, if that makes any sense. That’s mainly what I was working on. And the rest of the weekend came and went, I guess. It’s a blur. How did Monday start for you? More SCAB, writing, getting out and about, adventures with your bro, … ? Ha. Love like this. ** schlix, Hey, Uli! Yeah, they’re wonderful. I spent quite a bit of time this weekend luxuriating in his videos. Very beautiful work. And great that you guys worked together. Blank City documentary … gosh, have I seen that? Maybe. It sounds so familiar. I’ll go find out if I have or not and rectify the absence if not. I do so, so look forward to doing what you hope for me. And it won’t be too, too long. In the meantime, keep relative freedom warm for me please. Love, Dennis. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I liked the first Black Dresses remix. Very surprising! Everyone, Mr. Erickson has done a second Black Dresses remix a la the one I linked you up with the other day. This one is entitled ‘Makeout Music For Pinhead And Candyman (Black Dresses ambient remix)’. Please give yourselves the no doubt pleasure. Here. I think you should write that article, but I’m not into prescribed ownership issues based on collective identity-based so-called rules, so I’m not sure if I’m the one to green light you. Wasn’t Perfume Genius’s through-line and coherer his life/past back when he launched? ** Kyler, Morning, K. Glad you enjoyed, bud. I know Stephen Spender’s work, yeah. I didn’t know him personally. He was already really old when I was young. Although I did know his pal Christopher Isherwood. I remember when Grove published that book. I think I was still a Grove guy then. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Always happy to make an introduction. Oh, man, I would kill for a simple espresso. Paris reopening to a degree is great, but Paris without cafes is not going to be really Paris. Thanks re: the grant stuff. Have a swell week starter. ** Okay. Today I have restored an old and excellent guest-post made by the writer, editor, DJ, and so much more aka Ben (_Black_Acrylic) aka (Jack Your Body) Robinson. Have fun. It’s fun. You’ll have fun. See you tomorrow.