Archive for February, 2016

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

If any song could fill a dance floor back in the day it was Killing Joke’s “Eighties.” The relentless beat combined with an infectious guitar riff made it hard to stay in your seat. The video for the song perfectly matched the frantic pace. It features singer Jaz Coleman behind a presidential podium shouting about the struggles of living in the eighties, interspersed with images of religious and political leaders, war, punk rockers, and the frivolous extravagance of the decade. As I was doing a bit of research on the song, I came across an interesting tie it has to Nirvana that almost resulted in a lawsuit.

Released as a single in 1984, “Eighties” would later be included on Killing Joke’s fifth album Night Time. The song didn’t chart in the US but did appear on the soundtrack for the 1985 John Hughes’ movie Weird Science. It also had minor success in the UK, peaking at #60 on the singles chart. The song would come into the spotlight again in 1992, when the band claimed Nirvana plagiarized the riff of the song (at a slowed down pace) for the single “Come as You Are.” There are disputes of whether a lawsuit was ever filed but by 2003 all was forgiven, as Dave Grohl took leave from the Foo Fighters to record with the band. As I listened to both songs, there is a definite similarity but I’ll take “Eighties” over “Come as You Are” any day.