Born on April 26th, 1940, Giorgio Moroder spurred a dramatic shift in pop music through his pioneering use of synthesizers and the hit songs he composed for Donna Summer and many others. As the long list of people he influenced goes, Shooter Jennings doesn’t seem like the most obvious candidate, but the singer-songwriter says Moroder’s work was a subconscious fixture all through his childhood.
“I just started digging and researching and all of a sudden it hit me how much music he had made that had been an influence on me, even without knowing that it was him who was responsible for it,” says Jennings, who released the album Countach (For Giorgio) earlier this year as a tribute to Moroder. “It was this kick in the head. I realized that this one dude was responsible for all this music that I’d mimicked and wanted to mimic.”
Countach takes popular Moroder-composed tracks like “The Neverending Story” and “From Here to Eternity,” reimagining and performing them the way a rock band might — the sleek angularity of Moroder’s production, the arpeggiated synth squiggles replaced by rougher textures of banjos, electric guitars and live drums.
“Hearing all that stuff and adapting it to live instruments was in a way showing people how ahead of his time he was,” explains Jennings. “Dissecting his pieces, doing each part by part, and really understanding it from the inside. . . With the Giorgio stuff, it’s just brilliant and it made me fall in love with making music again, in a way.”
Jennings points to early Moroder songs like “Born to Die” — included on Countach as a fiddle-heavy honky-tonk duet with late outlaw singer Steve Young — as coming out of a blues tradition that holds up to different aesthetic renderings. It’s a bonkers approach that works surprisingly well, due in no small part to Moroder’s prodigious talents as a writer.
“First and foremost he’s a composer,” says Jennings. “If you look at songs like ‘Neverending Story,’ these really interesting chord structures. [Freddie Mercury’s] ‘Love Kills’ is a great example of one — there’s all these circles of music that happen in the chorus. The average person listens to it and doesn’t hear all that because it seems normal, but he’s really an insane composer.”
Even Moroder’s more familiar hits like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” — better known now as an Archer meme generator than a Top Gun time capsule — place craft ahead of sonic bells and whistles and still sound remarkably durable decades later. Interestingly, “Danger Zone” has had its own influence on country music — it features the serrated-edge guitar work of Dann Huff, who went on to produce massive country albums for Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban.
One of the tough parts about recording Countach, Jennings notes, was the fact that so many of Moroder’s songs sounded good in their new live band settings. Says Jennings, “You could pick almost any song he’s ever done and adapt it to an acoustic or a folk or a country platform.”