Posts Tagged ‘1980’

1980 Daniel Miller electronic project - Silicon TeensThe Silicon Teens were a guise for a solo project of Mute Records founder Daniel Miller. After recording as The Normal (“Warm Leatherette”), Miller launched the electronic, synthpop project in 1980. The fictional group was comprised of four actors who gave interviews under the names Darryl, Jacki, Paul, and Diane. The lead singer, Darryl, was played by Frank Tovey, who some of you may know better as Fad Gadget. The song “Sun Flight” is off the only LP from the project, 1980’s Music For Parties. It’s one of the few original songs on the LP. The rest of the album is made up of synthpop remakes of rock & roll classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s, including a somewhat campy version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.”                                                                                                                                                                                                              

One of my favorite recent post-punk finds is “Late Night Show” by the short-lived London band The Beautiful Losers. I came across the group while researching UK post-punk bands. Produced by The Sound’s Adrian Borland, their sound was very reminiscent of Joy Division and early post-punk bands of the time. The song was released in 1980, and is one of only a handful recorded by the band, as they soon parted ways. Founding member Philip King would find later success as bassist for the dream pop band Lush.

 

1980s band The PassionsBritish post-punk/new wave band The Passions are probably most well-known for the 1981 single “I’m In Love With A German Film Star.” This is the song that piqued my interest in the band and prompted me to seek out more from the group. I’m glad I did, since it led to the discovery of the single “The Swimmer.” Released as a single in 1980, it’s a great mix of post-punk and new wave, with a bit of jangly guitar thrown in. The band went on to release a couple more albums and several singles before calling it a day in 1983.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

 

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.”

 

It’s time to post more cold war videos. As I had mentioned in a previous post on the subject, the ‘80s were filled with videos of nuclear war, nuclear bombs, and world annihilation. During the early ‘80s, the threat of war was an integral part of our lives. We saw it on TV, read about it in the papers, heard about it in songs – and there was no shortage of songs on the topic. So here are a few more videos about the dreaded destruction of the planet that poured out of our television sets at the time.

“Stand or Fall” is the first single off the The Fixx’s 1982 debut album Shuttered Room. Singer Cy Cumin wrote the song out of frustration over decisions being made by Ronnie and Margaret. The video, directed by Rupert Hine, was banned by some UK shows due to what some considered a violent depiction of a horse falling to the ground. The horse in question had been in several movies and was trained to fall on command. As luck would have it, on the day the video was shot the horse would not comply with the command to fall and was brought down by a rope. In the early days of pre-MTV Europe, most videos were shown on kids’ TV shows and this was deemed too graphic, as they felt the horse looked as if it was dying. The song charted both in the US and the UK but was particularly successful in Canada, reaching the top 40.

 

The video for the 1983 Men at Work song “It’s a Mistake” doesn’t ponder the question of whether or not war will take place but a matter of when and how. Meant as a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the video takes place in an underground bunker as the future of the world is considered. The song was the third single from the album Cargo and reached #6 in the US but only reached #34 in their native Australia. In the video, Colin Hay portrays an officer wondering whether or not his men will be called to go to war. The video ends with Hay accidentally pushing the “button” by stubbing out a cigarette in an ashtray unfortunately placed next to the button.

 

Although the OMD song “Enola Gay” references the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was meant to bring attention to the cold war of the ‘80s. The song was the only single released from the 1980 album Organisation, the group’s second album. Upon its release, “Enola Gay” received critical praise. Critic Dave Thompson called the track a “perfect synth-dance-pop extravaganza” and NME listed it as one of the best 100 songs of the ‘80s. The song also caused controversy as some who were unfamiliar with the bombing of Hiroshima thought it had a pro-homosexual meaning. As a result, the song was banned on some radio stations in the UK. Regardless, the song was a huge international success and became the group’s first top 10 UK hit.

 

I’ve been a fan of the Pretenders since I saw the video for the song “Message of Love” back in the very early days of MTV (it was the 19th song played on the channel’s debut). Their videos were in heavy rotation back then, and I looked forward to seeing every one of them. Though they would go on to greater fame later in the decade, my favorite period from the band is the early eighties (before the drug-related deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon). There was something quite magical about the original line-up of Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers, Honeyman-Scott, and Farndon that the mid-eighties lineup lacked.

My favorite album from the group is their self-titled debut, released in 1980. The album is a mix of hard rock, punk, and pop, and the songs move seamlessly from raw rock to lyrical beauty. Although “Brass in Pocket” was the most successful single, I preferred other songs such as “Kid,” “Stop Your Sobbing,”and “Tattooed Love Boys.” The album debuted at #1 on UK album charts and made the top 10 on the US charts. Rolling Stone ranked the album as the 155th best album of all time, and 20th best album of the ‘80s (Slate Magazine has it at #64 of the ‘80s).

One of the best songs off the album is “Tattooed Love Boys.” It’s three minutes of pure energetic rock, and has a great guitar riff by Honeyman-Scott. The video is smoky and sweaty and fits perfectly with the song.

 

“Kid,” the second single from the album, shows Hynde’s emotional range as a singer. It reached #33 on the UK charts and music critic Stewart Mason stated that it was “probably the Pretenders’ masterpiece.”

 

On the continuing search for early live performances by new wave bands, I came across an appearance by the Psychedelic Furs on a show called Livewire. I vaguely recalled the show but remember seeing Bow Wow Wow and The Ramones perform in the early eighties. It was a kids’ talk show on the Nickelodeon cable channel that ran from 1980 to 1985. The show covered current events and was known for giving many unknown bands their first US TV appearance. The performances usually included an interview where the kids could ask the musicians questions. The format wasn’t groundbreaking but was interesting for the time. Other artists featured on the show included R.E.M, Split Enz, The Lords of the New Church, Afrika Bambaata, Twisted Sister, and Manowar, among others. I’ve tried digging up more performances but they are hard to come by.

The appearance by the Furs was probably in 1980, since they performed two songs off their self-titled debut album (released in 1980), and were just finishing up their first US tour. Besides performing, they also gave an interview where they were asked about the influence of the new “British Invasion” on the American music scene. Although the Furs do not perform live, the show would later change the format and have the artists give live performances. And for some reason the clips below are in black and white, which was not the regular format of the show.

“We Love You” was the first single released from the debut album. Richard Butler gives an energetic performance besides being up for over 36 hours (as we find out in the interview).

 

The second song they performed was “Sister Europe” – one of my favorites from the group. It was the second single released from the album and would later go on to be covered by Icehouse and the Foo Fighters.

 

Upon its release in 1980, the soundtrack to the film Times Square garnered more attention than the movie. Not surprising, as it was one of the best soundtracks of the ‘80s and perfectly captured the waning ‘70s punk scene and the emergence of ‘80s new wave. I saw the movie several times as a teen and could relate to its anti-adult authority message (what teen couldn’t), but it was the music that really stayed with me. The film introduced me to Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park,” Roxy Music’s “Same Old Scene,” and the work of Patti Smith. Directed by Allan Moyle, who would later go on to direct Pump Up the Volume, the movie was a commercial failure but has since been rediscovered and maintains a cult following.

The story of the film revolves around two teen girls from vastly different backgrounds who meet in a mental ward and find common ground in their disdain for authority figures. Pamela (Trini Alvarado) is the introverted, lonely daughter of a politician, and Nicky (Robin Johnson) is the tough street kid. They bust out of the ward and go on to form a band (The Sleez Sisters) to vent about their misunderstood lives. They get the attention of a DJ (Tim Curry) who promotes them and they soon find a following among the disaffected youth. Awareness of their differences eventually ends the union, but not before a grand finale show atop a roof in the middle of Times Square.

The soundtrack, released as a double album, has an eclectic mix of artists and covers a wide range of music from rock, punk, disco, and new wave. Artists such as David Bowie and XTC were commissioned to write songs for the film, although Bowie’s contribution was nixed due to conflicts with his record label. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack are The Cure, The Ramones, Robin Gibb, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, Joe Jackson, and Suzi Quatro (yes, Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days). The soundtrack also has original songs performed by the actors in the film, one a duet with Robin Johnson and David Johansen. The production of the film had its difficulties, Moyle being fired over his objections to scenes being cut and the inclusion of some “inappropriate” songs on the soundtrack, but it’s an interesting look at the pre-Giuliani Times Square that doesn’t exist today.

Here’s a clip from the film where Johnson’s character makes her debut as Aggie Doone. The song, “Damn Dog,” was written for the film and would later be covered by the group Manic Street Preachers.

 

The girls doing a dance to the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” on the streets of Times Square.

 

I was recently asked to make a list of 15 movies that had a lasting impact on me. At first I thought this would be an impossible task but after mulling it over, I decided to take five minutes and write down the first movies that came to mind. The British film Breaking Glass was one of those movies, not because it was a great film but because it really laid the foundation for my appreciation of punk and new wave music. I remember seeing it as a kid in the early ‘80s (for some reason it was played religiously on HBO) and it really made an impression on me – the hard-driving music, the fashion, and the anti-establishment message was unlike anything I’d seen or heard before.

Released in 1980, Breaking Glass is the familiar story of a band (Breaking Glass) getting discovered in a seedy bar, rising to fame, and then succumbing to the pitfalls of money and stardom. It’s also a tale about the underbelly of the music industry and the ease of how the most artistically earnest of individuals can sell out. The backdrop of high unemployment, industrial strikes, and general discontent only add to the bleak atmosphere of film. The songs for the soundtrack (produced by Tony Visconti) were written by Hazel O’Connor, who also plays the lead singer, making it the first time a female both wrote and performed a film’s entire soundtrack. The album, which was the basis for the soundtrack, went double platinum and reached #5 in the UK. It also produced numerous hit singles. The soundtrack, with its urgent and energetic sound, impressively holds up after all these years.

The song “Big Brother” has O’Connor speaking out about the perils of conforming to a soulless society. The clip below has stills of the movie, which show O’Connor looking very much like a character out of Blade Runner.

 

“Eighth Day” is the final song performed in the film. It finds O’Connor dressed in a futuristic costume (inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) cautioning of a time when machines and technology will rule the world.

 

I recently came across a blog comment about the band Fischer-Z, a British band from the early ‘80s that I had completely forgotten about. The comment immediately jogged my memory and I remembered seeing the video for their song “So Long” back in the early ‘80s. The song had a strong bass line, unusual vocals, and I recalled there was a film noir narrative to the video. I immediately went to Youtube to track it down and then decided to look up more music from the group. They had a sound very much in-step with other new wave artists at the time and I was surprised that it had taken me over thirty years to come across them again. It turns out that the group’s record company decided to forego releasing material in America in the ‘80s. Having virtually no airplay, it’s no wonder they escaped my memory.

Forming in 1976, Fischer-Z started out with an experimental progressive rock sound. By their debut album, World Salad, their sound had evolved into a mix of offbeat pop with a reggae influence. The album had modest chart success, peaking at #54 on the UK charts. Their second album, Going Deaf for a Living, released in 1980, had the band moving to more of a guitar-heavy, new wave sound. It proved to be a greater success and by their third album, 1981’s Red Skies Over Paradise, the group had dissolved with lead singer John Watts pursuing a solo career. Although being the only original member of the group, Watts recorded albums throughout the ’80s and ‘90s under the name Fischer-Z. John Watts’ version of Fischer-Z continues to tour to this day.

The group’s first video was for the single “So Long,’ off the album Going Deaf for a Living. It shows off Watts’ unique, high vocal register. It was their most successful single and still finds regular airplay on stations in Europe.

 

“Marliese” is a single off the album Red Skies over Paradise. It’s a high-energy tune with more of a rock edge. The video clip below finds Watts enthusiastically lip-synching to the track.