Thanks to artists like Bruno Mars, Chromeo and Janelle Monáe, maybe it’s finally Georgio’s time to shine.
Most bargain bin finds fall into one of two categories. First are the albums that everyone knows: those dime-a-dozen Bread or Doobie Brothers or Loggins and Messina records that were apparently distributed to people’s porches like Sunday newspapers in the mid-‘70s. Second, and more interesting, are the albums that nobody knows: the one-hit or no-hit wonders that have been relegated to the dustbin of history, not even noteworthy enough to be remembered as buried gems.
One of the best genres for the latter category of bargain records is the synth-heavy strain of slick and silky post-disco R&B. Think not so much Prince and Michael Jackson, but the legion of imitators that 1999 and Thriller spawned: the Systems, Deeles and Ready for the Worlds of the world. It was in the used vinyl rack of one of my favorite local stores that I first saw—and knew—Georgio. I’d never heard of him before, but something about his decidedly Prince-influenced visual styling suggested he would be up my alley. I bought all four of the records they had in stock for a dollar or two each: three 12” singles and one full-length, which turned out to be his self-titled 1988 sophomore album.
Don’t bother looking up Georgio on Spotify or even YouTube; this is truly an album that time forgot. In many ways, however, it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to. With its programmed drums, synthesized bass and lean funk guitar, opening track “I Want 2 Dance” hijacks Prince’s Minneapolis Sound along with his knack for eccentric spelling. “Romantic Love,” meanwhile, sounds more like it’s biting off the Purple One’s former colleagues Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, with a pounding drumbeat and orchestra hits straight out of their production for Janet Jackson’s “Nasty.” The following track, “Car Freak,” introduces a tinge of electro—Georgio was apparently a DJ before he became a singer—with a busy programmed bassline reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Speed Demon.”
Indeed, every song on Georgio is a soundalike for better-known, better-loved contemporaries. “Sweeter Than Candy” is a synth-laden slow jam—sort of like “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” but with the bubblegum barely-adolescent sensibility of early New Edition. Its equivalent on the second side, “I Don’t Want 2 Be Alone,” is a dead ringer for Ready for the World’s “Love You Down.” “In Love with U” has a chirpy keyboard and call-and-response hook straight out of the Time’s playbook. And if Georgio didn’t lift the synth line for Side 2 opener “Love and Happiness” directly from Prince’s Purple Rain-era outtake “Possessed,” then I will drink a whole bottle of activator spray.
All of this, of course, adds up to a pretty convincing summary for why Georgio—and Georgio—is bargain bin material. There is nothing here that couldn’t be heard in infinitely better form on a record by Prince or Jam and Lewis or even Jermaine Stewart, whose fey, breathy vocals are probably Georgio’s nearest analogue. But the beauty of the bargain bin find is its inherent unremarkableness: the idea that one person’s trash quite literally can be another person’s treasure, as long as that second person has an unhealthy fixation with mediocre ‘80s R&B. Besides, to truly understand what makes a musical genre tick, one needs to look not at its innovative high points but at its most rote, bog-standard moments. And with slick, ‘80s-style R&B currently having a moment thanks to artists like Bruno Mars, Chromeo and Janelle Monáe, maybe it’s finally Georgio’s time to shine.