Some Italo Disco artists, such as Baltimora, are well-suited for the everyday watering hole and day drives along breezy coastal highways. Others, like Gazebo, are best served chilled at the most important events, or at least a chic cocktail lounge, where there’s a valet and people with expensive, relaxed minds.
Gazebo’s self-titled debut album, released in 1983 on Baby Records (and later re-titled after its biggest hit, “I Like Chopin), is a legendary Italo Disco record and one that exemplifies a dapper, glamorous, and silky smooth take on synthesizer-driven disco. Cuts like “Chopin” and the appropriately titled “Midnight Cocktail” are titans of that ethic, deftly moving along with light musical caresses and comforting — but not overly expressive — rhythm sections.
Gazebo (AKA Paul Mazzolini) wrote and recorded most of the album with songwriter and producer Pierluigi Giombini, whose work on “Chopin” and Ryan Paris’ “Dolce Vita” (which Gazebo co-wrote and later recorded) made him as much a member of Italo Disco royalty as his collaborators.
The record has a pronounced cosmopolitan vibe to it. In the mid-80s, people with heavily populated passports and who spent a fair amount of time in classy hotel bars were likely able to recite an obscure verse from one of the non-singles without much fanfare.
When you consider Mazzolini’s upbringing, the record makes sense. He was born in 1960s Beirut, Lebanon, to a mother who was a singer and an Italian diplomat father, according to his bio.
“According to legend, he learned to play the guitar [at age] 10 to impress a German girl in his class,” his bio says. “As a rather cosmopolitan teenager, Gazebo began a career in a variety of jazz, rock, and punk bands before signing with Baby Records.”
That erudite, international period began in Italy in the 1970s and continued in London, where he decided for sure that he wanted to be a professional musician, if not a rock star.
He was in a bunch of bands before heading to Rome in 1981.
Back in Italy, Mazzolini met up with a DJ named Paolo Micioni, with whom he’d create “Masterpiece,” the first Gazebo single. Its 12-inch version ended up becoming popular on dance floors across Europe and Asia. The song would also end up on Gazebo’s self-titled debut album.
Along with “Masterpiece,” the cuts “Chopin,” “Lunatic,” and “Midnight Cocktail” stand out to me, and so I’ll highlight them instead of writing about all eight of the record’s songs.
I’m just going to start off with “Chopin,” because it’s likely the Gazebo song most people know. It didn’t have the impact in the U.S. that it did elsewhere, but that’s really neither here or there. After all, it has sold more than 10 million copies and was Number 1 in Italy and 15 other countries in 1983.
The song has a laid-back groove to it, atop which are crystalline synthesizers and a catchy lead piano hook that, contrary to popular belief at the time, was not actually an homage to the composer Gazebo’s song name-checks. I love the smooth, magical quality of the arpeggiated synthesizer parts and the cold reverb that bathe the arrangement.
On “Midnight Cocktail,” Gazebo struts around like The Time, with the piano replacing the pitch-bending, fuzzy lead synthesizer of the Minneapolis synth-funk geniuses. Through spoken word, Mazzolini offers up some nonsensical musings in the verses before kicking off a catchy chorus in which he assures some sophisticated woman that, hey baby, this thing that’s going on between us, “It’s just a midnight cocktail.”
“Masterpiece” has a walking bass, a steady drum track and a dramatic, ornate synth arrangement that comes off as a sort-of Baroque Disco ode to the stunning, the untouchable, and the mysterious. The song’s story centers on that classic “you should have been there” theme. Overall, the tune highlights some of Gazebo’s best strengths at the time. It’s no wonder this was the single that introduced him to the world.
A final highlight, “Lunatic,” the second-most popular song on the album, is driven by a Hi-NRG, Moroder-esque synth-bass over which Mazzolini unravels more delicate arrangements and elegant sentiments. He sings about faux-aristocrats, self-involved delusionists, and a slew of other 80s themes over fuzzy keyboards and twinkling pianos, doing everything he can to separate himself from his scuzzier contemporaries.
Gazebo’s self-titled record is a stunning debut from an artist who, like many of his fellow Italo Disco folk in recent decades, has managed to have been both a successful mega-star and an underrated and relatively unknown songwriter and performer.
This is an album that represents a finely tailored style designed for important occasions thrown for those with beautiful persuasions. The production is clean and well-crafted. The arrangements are interesting, complex, and often catchy. The songs are mostly memorable. For all of that, Gazebo is a must-have in the Italo Disco section in your Expedit/Kallax.
Note on the Vinyl: My reference copy is a first-pressing of the Japanese version, which I picked up at A-1 Records in the East Village. The lyric sheet is almost entirely in Japanese, but one English phrase describing the music does stand out: “Soft Rock with Melody.” Well, that’s one way to put it.
(Editor’s Note: The Beat’s Alive is my occasional column focusing on everything associated with the Italo Disco genre, from the artists and their music, to the culture and history that created them, and anything else that comes up. Because I’m predictable, I got the column’s name from a Glass Candy song. Viva Italians!)