Posts Tagged ‘1982’

Besides having an unusual name, Italy’s Gay Cat Park also have an unusual story. Known for the Italo-disco, synthpop classic, 1982’s “I’m A Vocoder,” Gay Cat Park were actually two 14-year-olds obsessed with electronic music. Heavily influenced by Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, the duo made several home-recorded tracks between the years of 1982-84, but “I’m A Vocoder” would be their only official release. Fortunately, the Medical Records label rescued these tracks and released them in a limited 8-track compilation LP, 2012’s Synthetic Woman.

 

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Fiat Lux were an English synthpop trio that had a bit of chart success in the UK. At their height, the group was touring with such bands/artists as Blancmange, Level 42, and Howard Jones but couldn’t seem to break through. Forming in 1982, they released a handful of singles and one mini LP before disbanding in 1985. My favorite song from the group is 1982’s “Feels Like Winter Again,” which was also their first release.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Back in the early ‘80s, the USA network featured a show called Night Flight on Friday and Saturday nights. The show focused on alternative music (showing videos that were censored on MTV or banned on other programs), cult movies, and documentaries, among other topics. This was in the relatively early days of cable and networks were on the lookout for original and unique material to lure the younger demographic. This is where I saw many music documentaries and cult and B movies, and where I came across a movie called Smithereens (directed by Susan Seidelman years before Desperately Seeking Susan). Released in 1982, it’s a gritty movie about the dwindling New York City punk scene and doing whatever it takes for that “15 minutes of fame.”

The film follows a narcissistic young girl named Wren (played by Susan Berman) on her quest to find celebrity in the NYC punk music scene (only to find the scene has moved to L.A.), and all the toxic relationships and misadventures that go with it. Wren doesn’t necessarily have any talent but doesn’t let that get in the way of ruthless ambition. The film also stars punk legend Richard Hell as a musician in a one hit wonder band (Smithereens) that she desperately wants to hook up with in order to get her ticket to L.A. The film, which had an original $20,000 budget, didn’t fare well with critics upon its release. Despite this, it was the first American independent movie invited to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. It has also gone on to be praised for its realistic look at the slums of the Lower East Village, its portrayal of the early ‘80s music scene, and its great soundtrack.

The soundtrack is a mix of new wave, pop, and post-punk and features several songs from the New Jersey group The Feelies. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Richard Hell & The Voidoids (“Another World,” “The Kid with the Replaceable Head”), The Raybeats, Dave Weckerman, and a gem by ESG called “Moody.” Although the movie doesn’t quite live up to its soundtrack, it’s worth checking out as a great time capsule of the period and, of course, the music.

The opening scene of the movie features The Feelies’ “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.” It also shows how Wren illegally supplements her accessories.

 

Wren dancing in slow motion to The Feelies’ “Original Love.”

 

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.

 

With her quirky style and unusual vocals, Lene Lovich was one of the most unforgettable artists of the early eighties. My first glimpse of Lovich was in the video “Lucky Number.” Although it was released in 1978, it received pretty good airplay on MTV in the early eighties. The song’s combination of punk and new wave sound fit in well with the time period. The video featured Lovich in her signature braids looking very much like a Goth flamenco dancer. I had never heard such odd vocals and seen such an eccentric performance before (I had yet to encounter Nina Hagen). Taking a look back at Lovich’s career, you realize how much she influenced artists like Cyndi Lauper, Bjork, and Gwen Stefani, among many others, and it’s evident she didn’t get the recognition she deserved.

Due to her English accent, I mistakenly thought Lovich was British but she was actually born in Detroit, Michigan (her mother and siblings moved to England when Lovich was 13). She also had a very unconventional background, which most likely contributed to her theatrical stage persona. She attended several art schools, was a cabaret and go-go dancer, played sax in a funk band, wrote songs for disco artist Cerrone, was a member of a West Indian soul band, dubbed screams for European horror films, and worked in fringe theater groups. After brief stints with other bands, Lovich and partner Les Chappell signed with Stiff Records in 1978 and released the album “Stateless,” which includes the single “Lucky Number.” The song was a hit, reaching #3 on the UK charts.

Lovich went on to record two more albums and one EP with Stiff records before breaking with the company after the release of 1982’s No Man’s Land. There were rumors that Lovich, under pressure from the record company, refused to tone down her look and act for the bosses at MTV so they broke ties. She didn’t release another album until 1989, and took a long leave and returned in 2005 with another album. Lovich continued to make guest appearances on stage with other artists and in 2012 formed the Lene Lovich Band and toured throughout 2013. That same year, she started her own record label, Flex Music, which allowed her to gain control of the back catalogue of her music. She is now in the process of getting ready for a European tour with talks of a new album and an American tour.

New Toy” is off the EP of the same name released in 1981. It was written by Thomas Dolby, who also plays keyboards and appears in the video. It was a hit in the US dance clubs and peaked at #53 on the UK singles charts.

 

The video for “It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz),” has Lovich dressed up as a Spanish bride and a Zorro-like character. The song was the first single released from the album No Man’s Land, and had minor success on the US dance charts.

 

England’s Sad Lovers & Giants are one of those bands who should have received more recognition during the early ‘80s post-punk era. They had a great atmospheric sound that was prevalent during that time period but were overshadowed by bands such as The Cure, who they were often compared. They recorded under the Midnight Music record label, known for their experimental and post-punk roster which included The Essence and The Snake Corps. I first became familiar with the band through their song “Colourless Dream” and was immediately taken with the multi-layered guitar work and haunting keyboards.

Sad Lovers & Giants formed in 1980 in Watford, England, and developed a following within their native country and Europe. They released two singles in 1981 under the Last Movement record label (“Colourless Dream” and “Things We Never Did”) before signing with Midnight Music in 1982. Their first album, 1982’s Epic Garden Music, combined a psychedelic sound with gloomy layered guitars. Their second album Feeding the Flame, released in 1983, continued the melancholy, moody sound and drew comparisons to Joy Division. Just as the band was building a following outside of England, they split up in 1983. They reformed with a different lineup in 1986 and released three more albums before Midnight Music dissolved. Returning, yet again, with another reformed lineup in 2009, they are currently working on material for a new album.

The band’s second single, “Colourless Dream,” was later included on the 1988 reissue of the album Epic Garden Music.

 

“Echoplay” is the lead song off their debut album and sounds very much like a hybrid between Joy Division and The Cure.

 

Translator is another band that slipped under my radar back in the ‘80s. I was familiar with the song “Everywhere That I’m Not” but other than that, I knew very little about the group. After checking out more of their music, I was surprised to learn that they are American. With their updated Merseybeat sound, I thought for sure they were British. Not surprisingly, one of the band’s biggest influences is the Beatles. They had little commercial success, but their stripped down psychedelic, guitar-based sound appealed to college radio audiences.

Translator formed in L.A. in the late ‘70s and their first album, Heartbeats and Triggers, was released in 1982. It contains the single “Everywhere That I’m Not,” which remains the group’s most identifiable song. They recorded four albums throughout the ‘80s, and maintained underground popularity during that time period. In 1986 they recorded their last album, Evening of the Harvest, which saw the band move to a more mature, nuanced sound. The group broke up shortly after that release and pursued solo careers. They continued to reunite over the years, and released an album in 2012, Big Green Lawn.

“Everywhere That I’m Not” is the band’s first single and put them on the college radio map.

 

The single “Un-Alone” is off of their second album, No Time Like Now, released in 1983. It received some radio airplay but the group was never able to match the success of their first single.