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Music

How Giorgio Moroder ruined David Bowie's perfect idea

@SamWKemp

This story begins and ends with a movie. In 1982, David Bowie was asked to contribute to the soundtrack of the erotic thriller Cat People, a remake of the more restrained 1942 original. Director Paul Schrader hired Giorgio Moroder – the Italian electro-pioneer widely hailed as the father of disco – as the film’s composer. Moroder was to bring a dose of Euro-disco heat to Cat People, using a selection of synths, drum machines, and effects-driven piano arrangments to craft a rich, sensuous score.

Before that, he needed a big name to deliver the film’s title single. Moroder and Schrader sat down to try and find an artist who would represent the overall weirdness of Cat People. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before they settled on David Bowie. As Moroder recalls in Dylan JonesDavid Bowie: A Life: “I wrote the song and I sent it to him. He loved it, he wrote the lyrics, we went to Montreux in Switzerland, where he lived at that time; we went to the studio owned by Queen, and we recorded it in less than an hour. He sang it twice, and it was done. It was absolutely professional. Obviously he knew the song because he wrote the lyrics. It was one of my easiest, fastest and greatest recordings ever.”

That Montreux session would prove to be very fruitful for Bowie too, who met Queen during his stay, leading to their collaboration on ‘Under Pressure’. However, there was one idea that Bowie had been working on that would never reach fruition. Having spent some time in Germany, Bowie had developed a taste for the films of Fritz Lang. As he recalled in 1992, “One of the harebrained schemes I had for a long time was to take Metropolis and put a soundtrack on it written by Brian Eno and me. I wanted to get a pristine print and have live parts enacted on stage in front of the screen. I thought it such a novel idea that nobody else was going to buy the rights just now.”

Alas, Bowie underestimated the ambition of his colleague, Moroder, who had already established himself as one of the most sought-after composers in Hollywood. “So, I’m working with Giorgio and he says, ‘Did you see Napoleon?’ (1927) I thought it was stunning, and I knew I could do something like that – put some music to an old movie.’ And I was going, ‘Yeah…’ And he said, ‘I’ve found the film! Nobody’s ever heard of it! It’s Metropolis, and I’ve bought the rights!’ I didn’t even tell him. It ruined my week”.

Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis is a bizzare union of Weimar grit and 1980s pop exhuberance. Lang’s original film plays out to the sound of Freddie Mercury, Pat Benetar, Adam Ant, and Bonnie Tyler, whose contributions transform Metropolis into a decidedly post-modern exercise in which the imagined future of the 1920s is reinterpreted by the artists of the 1980s, who are themselves using cutting edge synth technology. It’s fascinating to think what David Bowie might have done with Metropolis if he had got his hands on it, but Moroder’s version is an astonishing feat nevertheless.

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