I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve only recently watched the Depeche Mode documentary 101 (must-see viewing for any Depeche Mode fan). Although I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan since the early ‘80s, looking back I really didn’t give them the attention they deserved. I had also never experienced them live in concert and the documentary was sort of a wake-up call. Since then I’ve been exploring their entire catalog and have gained a new appreciation for their earlier work. I’ve been especially, pleasantly surprised by A Broken Frame – their first post-Vince Clarke album. Released in 1982, it’s largely considered the group’s weakest effort but in my opinion, the LP continues to be unfairly dismissed. It saw the band moving from the upbeat pop of Speak & Spell  to a more dark and melancholy sound, and contains some real electronic gems.

With Clarke’s departure, songwriting duties fell on the shoulders of Martin Gore. And although Alan Wilder was recruited to take Clarke’s place, he did not contribute creatively to the LP. The band felt they needed to prove they could move on without Clarke so Wilder was relegated to studio work and touring musician. (For the record, my favorite DM period are the Wilder years). Even though there are some definite poppy moments, such as “See You” and “The Meaning of Love,” as a whole, the album has a more mature atmospheric and moody sound. By no means their greatest work, A Broken Frame provides glimpses of great things to come.

My favorite song off the LP is the last track, “The Sun and the Rainfall.” From the beginning haunting drumbeat to the lovely chorus, it’s a standout on the album. I’m surprised the song wasn’t released as a single or as a fellow DM fan pointed out, hasn’t been included on some compilation.


Another high point is the second track, “My Secret Garden.” It has a great bassline and catchy synth work throughout.


After spending so much time digging up unearthed ’80s gems, I’ve decided to do a series of podcasts highlighting some of my favorite finds. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the technical side of podcasts. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have a technically-skilled friend who did the recording and editing. The first episode is mainly devoted to obscure indie pop, but you may hear a classic or two. I also provide a bit of information on the bands/artists, when available. You can listen to the podcast here. Hope you enjoy the selections!

Following is the track listing:

  1. “A Hundred Words” by The Beloved (1986)
  2. “Forms of Edge” by 33 Tears (1989)
  3. “Say Goodbye” by Weeping Messerschmitts (1986)
  4. “The Invisible State” by Bill Pritchard (1989)
  5. “Heart Happy” by A House (1987)
  6. “Talk About the Past” by The Wake (1984)
  7. “Melt Like Ice” by The Wild Flowers (1983)
  8. “Innocense” by Conspiracy of Silence (1987)
  9. “You Should All Be Murdered” by Another Sunny Day (1989)
  10. “Cincinnati” by HolidayMakers (1988)
  11. “Between Something and Nothing” by The Ocean Blue (1989)

If you had the opportunity to play DJ for a night, wouldn’t you take it? That’s exactly what I did for my birthday this weekend. Decided to rent out a local club for a couple of hours and invited friends to dance the night away before opening to the public. The challenge? The playlist had to be limited to two hours. Fortunately, the DJ gave me a bonus hour, as long as I didn’t play any later-in-the-night favorites. So, for hour three, I had to reel it in a bit but still managed to throw in some favorites while trying to appeal to the masses. The music covered many genres and spanned a few decades but, of course, the bulk of the songs were from the ‘80s.

I started off the night with something relaxing and danceable and then moved into some minimal wave favorites. This was followed by some early ‘80s post-punk, gothy material that flowed into new wave and synthpop. Even managed to slip in some LCD Soundsystem without a hitch. The last part of hour two was a mixed bag of glam rock, indie, and punk. Hour three was filled with ‘80s new wave staples, jangle pop, and some indie classics. All in all, tried to get in a little something for everyone. The dance floor moved all night and there is nothing like hearing your favorite songs on the big speakers. Might have to make this an annual event.

Pretending to work the decks.

Playing DJ v2

Here’s the complete playlist:

Torch – Soft Cell (1982)
The Last Song – Trisomie 21 (1986)
Watching Trees  – Eleven Pond (1986)
Romantic Me – Polyrock (1980)
Disorder – Joy Division (1979)
Primary – The Cure (1981)
Last Year’s Wife – Zero Le Creche (1984)
A Day Without Me – U2 (1980)
Everywhere I Go – The Call (1986)
Ahead – Wire (1987)
Nowhere Girl – B-Movie (1982)
The Damned Don’t Cry – Visage (1982)
I Die: You Die – Gary Numan (1980)
Messages – OMD (1980)
Up All Night – Boomtown Rats (1981)
Lawnchairs – Our Daughter’s Wedding (1980)
I Can Change – LCD Soundsystem (2010)
Dreaming of Me – Depeche Mode (1981)
Angst In My Pants – Sparks (1982)
Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four) – Eurythmics (1984)
Why? – Bronski Beat (1984)
The Cutter – Echo & the Bunnymen (1983)
Glamorous Glue – Morrissey (1992)
The Jean Genie – David Bowie (1972)
Candy – Iggy Pop (1990)
Dreaming – Blondie (1979)
Janie Jones – The Clash (1977)
Anything Anything – Dramarama (1985)
Sheena Is a Punk Rocker – The Ramones (1977)
Last Caress – The Misfits (1978)
Eighties – Killing Joke (1984)
Mandinka – Sinead O’Connor (1987)
Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You) – Flock of Seagulls (1982)
To Look at You – INXS (1982)
The Ghost In You – Psychedelic Furs (1984)
Blue Savannah – Erasure (1989)
Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole & the Commotions (1984)
Love Is the Law – Suburbs (1984)
Crash – Primitives (1988)
Chamber of Hellos – Wire Train (1983)
She Bangs the Drums – Stone Roses (1989)
Ceremony – New Order (1981)
Inside Out – The Mighty Lemon Drops (1988)
A Million Miles Away – The Plimsouls (1983)
We Are Not Alone – Karla DeVito – (1985)
Masquerade – Berlin (1983)
Mad World – Tears for Fears (1983)

Not many recording groups can say they played live only a handful of times in their whole existence, but System 56 was one of those bands. They were referred to as the Howard Hughes of bands, since they only performed live five times. I came across the band only recently, as I continue on my never-ending quest for obscure new wave bands. I was really surprised to discover that they are American, as they have a sound very similar to early ‘80s new wave bands from the UK. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, they were another band that had an all-too early demise. Fortunately, in their short career, they released some pretty great songs.

Founded by guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Simenic in 1981, the group was often compared to Ultravox. This was primarily due to their ability to create a seamless mix of synth and guitar-driven music. As for the lack of live performances, this was mainly caused by a revolving-door of band members over their three-year run. It seems when new material was released, internal conflict arose and members left. At one point the band was down to two members. Nevertheless, local radio stations, especially college radio, gave the band generous airplay. In all, the band released three singles and one 6-song EP, 1982’s Beyond the Parade. In 2003, a compilation of the group’s music was released, Retrospective: 1982-1984, which contains some previously unreleased material.

The song Metro-Metro was the first single released by the band. It was recorded within a month of the group’s formation. It’s a synth-dominated track with a driving rhythm and signature guitar work. Every time I put this song on a playlist, someone rarely fails to ask “who is this?”


In 1983, the band released the single “Life on a Cool Curve.” It perfectly showcases the band’s adeptness at merging synth and guitar. They would go on to release one more single in 1984. Later that year, they disbanded.


Like many, I was first introduced to The Plimsouls through the 1983 movie Valley Girl. They appeared as a club house band in the film, where three of their songs were featured. (If only I were so lucky to have had them as the house band at my regular haunt back in the day). The group’s dynamic power pop, garage sound was hard to resist. Well-known on the thriving L.A. music scene for their energetic lives shows, they seemed primed for bigger things but it was not meant to be. Unfortunately, the band disbanded in the mid ’80s due to solo career pursuits.

The group was formed by singer/songwriter Peter Case in California in 1978, after toiling around in two previous bands. They quickly became favorites on the early ‘80s L.A. club scene, and Case was gaining critical attention for his songwriting. They released their first EP in 1980, Zero Hour, which showed promise and received heavy airplay on the legendary L.A. KROQ radio station. Their first album, 1981’s The Plimsouls, managed to capture the vitality of their live shows but had poor sales. They would go on to record the 1983 LP Everywhere At Once, before parting ways due to Case’s pursuit of a solo career. They did reunite in the mid ‘90s and released the album Kool Trash but it received little notice. Case found some success as a folk-rock artist and continues to tour to this day.

Featured prominently in Valley Girl, “A Million Miles Away” was the song that propelled the band into the spotlight. With no record contract in place, the band self-funded the single. After the song was selected for the movie soundtrack, and with a new contract with Geffen, they quickly re-recorded and included on the Everywhere At Once LP.


The song “Everywhere At Once” is the reason I bought the cassette of the LP, and played it to ruin. It also appears in the Valley Girl film. From the first guitar chords I was hooked. The song then builds to a rousing, almost perfect power pop anthem.


I was a fan of Tears for Fears from the beginning but much like OMD, it wasn’t until years later that I truly came to appreciate their music. Although Songs from the Big Chair was their breakout album, it’s 1983’s The Hurting that finds the most play on my IPod. “Mad World” was the third single released from The Hurting, and it was also the band’s first video. The song was originally intended as a b-side and became the group’s first UK hit, reaching #3 on the singles chart. With its driving percussion and playful use of synth (belying the dark lyrics), it was a standout on the LP.

Roland Orzabal wrote the song. Not happy with how he sounded on vocals, he handed singing duties over to Curt Smith. The video was filmed on a country estate in Bath, England and the party scene is made up of family and friends – that’s Smiths’ mom as the birthday girl. About that funny dance, Orzabal made it up while recording the song in the studio. Having been relegated to the sidelines, with Smith on vocals, the record company insisted that he perform it in the video. I think it’s a nice touch.


I wasn’t a fan of Devo’s in the early ’80s, probably because my older brother would play “Whip It” nonstop. It wasn’t until seeing the video for “Beautiful World” years later that things changed. I’ve since gone back and listened to their early catalog and count them among one of my favorite bands of the ‘80s. Released in 1980, Freedom of Choice was the band’s third and most successful album, reaching #22 on Billboard’s pop album chart. The album is made up of short, polished synth-infused songs. The 12 tracks clock in at just over 32 minutes. Although “Whip It” put the group on the map, I prefer the lesser-known songs off the LP like the electro “Snowball” and “That’s Pep!,” which sounds kind of like a new wave Hand Jive. In my opinion, the album is one of their best and ranks behind only 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

The video for the title track has the group dressed as aliens singing about how ultimately freedom of choice is not what we want. It also has skateboarders, donuts, and Mark Mothersbaugh in a dog costume.


“Girl U Want” has the band performing in front of an audience of 1950s teenyboppers. Just as the video for “Freedom of Choice,” it’s quite a low budget affair and relies heavily on color saturation. I’m pretty sure they used up all their video production money on the video for “Whip It.”


Released on July 8, 1986, Lifes Rich Pageant is where R.E.M. really found their political footing. They also brought attention to environmental issues with songs like “Cuyahoga” and “Don’t Fall on Me.” The former being about the polluting of the Cuyahoga River and the latter about acid rain. It was the band’s most successful album to date, reaching #21 on the Billboard charts, and #43 in the UK. In my opinion, it ranks right up there with the best from the group and I remember being ecstatic that they played several songs from the album when I saw them in ’87. There were only two singles released from the LP, “Don’t Fall on Me” and “Superman,” but my favorite track is “I Believe.”


It took The Feelies six years to release their second album, The Good Earth. Received well by critics, the band traded in some of their trademark jangle for a more mature, developed sound. Championed by R.E.M.’s Pete Buck, they opened up for the band on a leg of the Lifes Rich Pageant tour. Although never reaching mass success, they did grab the attention of director Jonathan Demme who cast them as the high school reunion band in his 1986 film Something Wild. Watch for their interesting rendition of David Bowie’s “Fame.” Director Noah Baumbach also took notice of the band and featured the song “Let’s Go” from The Good Earth album in the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale.


As I was looking for cold wave bands of the ‘80s on YouTube, I came across the video for Polyrock’s “Romantic Me.” I gave it a listen and immediately recognized the song, although I couldn’t quite place where I had heard it – probably some early ‘80s new wave cable show. I’m not sure why they were lumped in with cold wave on this particular YouTube channel, as they are more minimal new wave. There wasn’t much information available on the band but I’m sure glad I rediscovered them.

Having come out of the same late ‘70s, NYC music scene, Polyrock was often compared to the Talking Heads. It also didn’t hurt that singer Billy Robertson had a unique vocal delivery, somewhat similar to David Byrne’s. Their sound combined stripped down repetitious rhythms and synth that you could move to, as evidenced on “Romantic Me,” the group’s most notable song. Their minimalist sound was no accident, as composer Philip Glass had a hand in producing their first two albums, and also made an appearance on both. The band released two albums in the early ’80s, their self-titled debut in 1980 and Changing Hearts in 1981. They also released a 5-track EP in 1982, Above the Fruited Plain, before calling it quits later that year.

“Romantic Me” is the first track off the self-titled LP. The repetitious beat along with the mechanical keyboards and synth play nicely against Robertson’s emotional delivery.


For “Call of the Wild,” backing vocalist Catherine Oblasney takes the lead. The song is included on the EP Above the Fruited Plain. By this time, the group had already moved to a more pop-oriented, melodic sound.


I had a group of friends over for an ‘80s high school movie night this past weekend. Not wanting to go the John Hughes movie route, I chose films not everyone in the group had seen. The playlist for the night consisted of songs solely from the movie soundtracks. The goal was to watch three movies but as conversation and music flowed, time got away and we only got in two movies. The first film up was Valley Girl (which has arguably the best teen movie soundtrack of the ‘80s) followed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the final film on the agenda, The Last American Virgin. The film has a rather interesting soundtrack, where you’ll find arena rock songs alongside new wave classics and R&B love songs. I first came across the movie on late night cable TV, where my sister and I watched it more times than I care to mention.

A remake of an Israeli movie called Eskimo Limon (a.k.a as Lemon Popsicle), The Last American Virgin was released in 1982, within a month of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfairly dismissed as another teen romp akin to Porky’s, the film has since become a cult classic. Not to say the movie doesn’t have its share of raunch, which it certainly does, it also has some honest coming of age moments. It also has a surprising twist ending, that I won’t give away here. The soundtrack was promoted just as heavily as the movie, with good reason, as it includes songs from The Police, Human League, The Waitresses, Blondie, The Cars, Devo, U2, The Plimsouls, Oingo Boingo, REO Speedwagon, Journey, and the Commodores. I was really looking forward to screening the film for the group because if nothing else, they would have appreciated the soundtrack. Perhaps another ‘80s movie night might be in order.

Besides the heavy hitters, there were also some lesser known bands who contributed to the soundtrack, such as The Fortune Band. Formed in the late ‘70s, the band had some minor success in the early ‘80s and caught the attention of Columbia Records. They decided to include the band’s single “Airwaves” on the soundtrack. The song is a burst of new wave, power pop with plenty of catchy synth. The video for the song is a low-budget affair and has the band performing in a studio with plenty of cheesy visual effects.


The Gleaming Spires also appear on the soundtrack with their 1981 song “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?” (The song also appears on the 1984 Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack). The song was intended to be a B-side but eventually became the group’s only hit. It’s a bouncy, novelty song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Sparks’ album, a band they would later join. The video has singer Leslie Bohem and drummer David Kendrick making a pie, of all things. After his tenure with Sparks, Kendrick would later drum for Devo in the mid-eighties.