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Beginner’s Guide To Hi-NRG

Beginner’s Guide To Hi-NRG

by Whitney Weiss

Does the idea of arpeggiated synthesizers, shouty butch vocals, and pings and lasers (specifically designed to accentuate a chemical rush) make your heart skip a beat? Then you're probably already familiar with the genre known as hi-NRG (or merely NRG). A glorious moment in 1970's/'80s fringe genres, it has managed to claw its way to the forefront of contemporary DJs' and producers' brains and continues to influence the druggy electronic sounds of today. For your education and pleasure, here are some of its finest tracks and key players...

Bobby Orlando - She Has a Way and How To Pick Up Girls 

You can't talk about NRG without beginning with Bobby O, an accomplished producer and man of many contradictions. Bobby started out in glam rock, found his way to electronic music, and is partially responsible for creating NRG, despite being a total homophobe (ew). Apparently he's pulling a Giorgio Moroder and making new tracks again, but you should probably just listen to classics like She Has A Way or How To Pick Up Girls. He also wrote some other songs on this list, including tracks by Divine and The Flirts, who were the Vanity 6 to his Prince.

The Flirts - Passion

The hook to this song should sound really familiar, because it's been ripped off many times since (and recycled by Bobby O to excess). The Flirts were masters of big hair and awkward synchronized dancing, and they really sell it when they spell "passion" out for you. 

The Immortals - Ultimate Warlord

If you want to feel as though you're blasting off into pansexual outer space on a rocket ship fuelled by joy and poppers, this sprawling nine-minute song from 1981 will do the trick. Perhaps not strictly NRG, it still deserves a place on this list (and in our hearts). 

Divine - Shoot Your Shot or  Native Love (Step By Step)  

Bobby O builds a sleazy industrial landscape for Divine to shout at you from, and it is absolutely delightful. Shoot Your Shot is more melodic and blatantly sexual, while Native Love commands you to dance hard and feel the heat. A proud moment in drag queens making dance music.

Patrick Cowley - Menergy 

Patrick Cowley is the happily gay West Coast version of Bobby O. After starting life as a punk drummer, Cowley joined Sylvester's band, wrote some of his best songs (including the perennially sexy I Need Somebody To Love Tonight) and then put out two great solo records before dying of complications from AIDS way too young. People like Honey Soundsystem raving about him has helped to posthumously raise his profile, and he deserves all the attention he gets. Menergy absolutely slays dance floors and if you're hearing it right now for the first time, I'm actually jealous of you. 

Miquel Brown - So Many Men, So Little Time

This song has everything: excessive treble on the vocals, a commanding drop timed perfectly to induce dance floor euphoria, and triumphant lyrics about being slutty sung from a woman's perspective (but written by Ian Levine who, I'm guessing, shares the song's sentiments). According to Levine's YouTube channel, this is "the first pioneering record of the whole High Energy scene."

Man 2 Man meets Man Parrish - Male Stripper

Made by three brothers who started out playing in punk bands at CBGB with Blondie, Male Stripper is a stone classic that details the woes of taking your clothes off for money. It was a huge hit and climbed the charts twice. Man 2 Man's career was cut short when one of its members died of spinal meningitis caused by AIDS, right before the song got ridiculously popular again in 1987. Here is a live performance of Male Stripper from Top of the Pops circa 1986.  

Ken Lazlo - Hey Hey Guy 

This is on a lot of compilations labeled NRG, but it kind of veers into overtly '80s territory. It is, however, still spectacular. There's excellent use of a rotary phone and the intro has a wonderfully campy phone conversation that includes the phrase "don't worry baby gold." Also, don't let the video lie to you; there is nothing heterosexual about this song. 

Pet Shop Boys - I Get Excited (Bobby O demo) 

Clearly you couldn't make an NRG list without including a Pet Shop Boys song. But since you've probably heard a lot of Pet Shop Boys songs, here's the Bobby O demo of I Get Excited, which was the b-side to their number-one hit "Heart."

Le Jeté - La Cage Aux Folles 

One of my favorite songs of all time and an NRG classic! Some will claim it as an Italo disco classic, too, and that's fine. The lyrics tell the tale of a fictional St. Tropez den of hedonism that sounds marvelous. Tragically, like Harper E. Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Le Jeté only had this one masterpiece in them, and never recorded anything else. If you're a DJ and you play this out, it will be met with much success. 

Visit Whitney's official website: www.whitneyweiss.com

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Beginner’s Guide To Hi-NRG