Consistency is a dangerous word to use when referring to music. Sadly for many in the current ‘scene’, the definition pertaining to porridge is the most appropriate, though I guess many of these bands ability to deliver stodgy fare over and over could also bring the other meaning into play.
One act that can’t be accused of dishing out plates of grey sludge is ASSEMBLAGE 23. Ostensibly, in the studio at least, a vehicle for singer and instrumentalist Tom Shear, A23 have delivered some of the best electronic music released over the last 20 plus years and the latest album ‘Mourn’ continues that trend.
Full disclosure… I am not only a fan of ASSEMBLAGE 23 but have also toured on a number of occasions with the band and count Tom and his band mates Paul Seegers and Michael Jenney as close friends, despite the number of restraining orders all parties have issued against one another. What this does mean is, I won’t sugar coat any views I have of them, they wouldn’t want that. It is however challenging not to sound ‘gushy’ when presented with material this strong.
The brooding intro to album opener ‘Epiphany’ sets the tone immediately. From the outset it’s clear this is an A23 release. One thing I am glad to report is the production on the vocals is carried over from the last album ‘Endure’, so is upfront and free from any unnecessary effects. This means the listener can quickly catch the lyrical punch many of the tracks carry. Like many of the cuts on the album, ‘Epiphany’ has a double meaning both as a commentary on, when written, current global events and on a more personal level.
This punch continues through to the next song ‘Factory’ which is a withering critique of how governments are manufacturing whole generations of broken ‘men’ both at home and also those returning from conflicts abroad.
It asks why those self-same leaders are surprised by the actions of these damaged souls. If you follow Shear on social media, you will know he isn’t shy when it comes to his politics and this is shown here and across the album.
‘Bloom’ is a dark piece of EBM that has its downbeat verses counterpointed by a hopeful, uplifting chorus. Following this is the most ‘traditional’ EBM/Industrial song on the album, ‘Anxiety’. This an driving insistent bass and drums and easily chantable chorus this will no doubt become a live favourite as and when live shows can begin again.
Anyone familiar with the history of the ASSEMBLAGE 23 project will know the catalyst for Tom starting the band was hearing a DJ spin various electronic tracks at a DEPECHE MODE show back in the later part of the 80s. He has never hidden his love of DM and this is shown on ‘Confession’. DM fans will find much here to love with its Wilder-esque arrangement and instrumentation but still retaining a very A23 sound. It is not hard however to imagine Gahan singing this lyric. Is it too early to start the campaign to get Shear to produce the next Depeche album…?
Next up is simply a blinding good pop song in ‘Dissonance’. Dripping with melody and driven by a thumping bass line, this is destined to become a club favourite.
As previously stated, Shear has no issue in pinning his political colours to the mast and ‘Welcome, Apocalypse’ doesn’t so much pin but nail gun them. A cataloguing of current events brought about by “narcissistic imbeciles” (I wonder who this could be…?), this is not just the centre piece of the album but the track that will I am sure become the biggest favourite amongst fans.
Good songwriting comes from the experiences of the artist and the final three tracks have a more more personal ring to them. ‘Could’ve’ takes on people who relish the problems of others to the detriment of friendship and without getting both sides of the story. We have all been there I am sure.
‘Tragedy’ wraps those questions that arise from the end of a relationship in yet another great pop song. Again there is melody aplenty: others should take note, this is how to write an engaging electronic song without it sounding like you are moaning that you aren’t getting beans for tea.
Closer ‘This House Is Empty’ builds from a sparse intro to end on a strangely upbeat feel despite the main lyrical hook extorting the burning down of said domicile.
As part of the excellent special edition, there is a disc of remixes from the likes of ALPHA QUADRANT, :SITD and KLACK alongside 2 further tracks ‘Crescendo’ and ‘Black Dog’. Don’t mistake these as mere throwaways as they could easily sit alongside the ‘main’ 10 tracks. ‘Black Dog’ especially is a thumping piece of modern danceable electronica.
So what of the 2020 version of ASSEMBLAGE 23? It’s not unusual for an act that has been around as long as Tom Shear to start taking it easy but on the evidence of this and the work he has done in offshoot SURVEILLANCE and the excellent HELIX with partner Mari Kattman, this is clearly not the case.
This is yet another progression from his previous release. It’s appropriate that the album will be released on the September 11th, a day which America now looks back on with understandable sadness and loss. There is sadness and loss aplenty on ‘Mourn’ but also hope for the future.
We can all take comfort that hope is available to us all, no matter what the journey of late has been.
So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?
They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!
In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.
K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the general public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.
However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.
Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were usually faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits, but even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.
The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!
For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.
As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.
However, staying within theme on a compilation is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.
But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…
Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.
For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.
Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.
Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.
This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!
1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!
Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…
It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.
Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.
A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.
Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.
Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.
Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.
‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.
Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare’ album in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.
Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.
For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.
Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.
ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)
Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.
ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)
From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!
Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉
‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records
Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.
Despite his lukewarm review of NEW ORDER’s ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ for ‘Smash Hits’, as a fan of their singles, Neil Tennant wrote: “I’m still looking forward to their ‘Greatest Hits’”.
Not appreciating a greatest hits of an artist who you admire is the ultimate in fan snobbery; that they are in a position of being able to release one is often a symbol of wider acclaim and success.
Despite what those too cool for school hipster types would have you believe, when you are 15 years old with just £4 in your hand, if you are choosing a record of an artist who you only know the singles of, you tend to opt for a compilation where possible, that is a fact.
The greatest hits compilation has its place in documenting the immediate appeal of an artist. It can often be the only release that most casual listeners need, especially if the albums were disappointing and featured all the wrong versions of their best songs as was the case with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
But then, duos like PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE were just supreme in the singular format while conversely, there are those like HEAVEN 17 and VISAGE whose best work can be found on their first two albums. However, bands such as NEW ORDER could often be better represented by their singles rather than their albums, as many of them were standalone releases that were not included on their long players which were often quite different in musical style.
Now while something as “commercial” as releasing a greatest hits would have been an anathema to NEW ORDER’s label Factory Records in 1983, flush with unexpected success and cash, Tony Wilson wanted to play their singles using the CD player that came with his brand new Jaguar car.
Thus, the ‘Substance’ compilation was born in 1987; issued in a variety of formats including double vinyl, cassette, DAT and CD, the latter three variants made use of the extra playing time available and included bonuses such as B-sides, tracks only previously issued in Belgium, instrumental versions and those rarely essential dub experiments.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly despite its flaws with re-recordings, edits and omissions, ‘Substance’ has gone on to sell around twelve million copies worldwide and was many fans’ entry point into NEW ORDER.
A good compilation does the job of attracting new fans while providing something extra for long standing fans and completists where possible. New versions or up-to-the-minute remixes of established standards were the fashion for a period but thankfully, this marketing strategy is today generally considered passé and previously unreleased songs are now considered the main draw.
But ultimately, what makes a great greatest hits package is a seamless listening experience, although this is something which even the best acts don’t always get right despite the quality of their best output.
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of greatest hits via twenty notable artist compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within. And as one great Northern English philosopher once wrote: “some are here and some are missing…”
ULTRAVOX The Collection (1984)
At the time of release, ‘The Collection’ was novel. Not only did it feature all thirteen Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX singles to date, but in ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, it also included a brand new one too. Yes, 2009’s ‘The Very Best Of’ features four more tracks including the cancelled 1984 single ‘White China’, but honestly who really needs the singles from ‘U-Vox’? ‘The Collection’ was a perfect package that could be played from start to finish, from ‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’ to ‘Lament’ via ‘Vienna’.
The ideal DEPECHE MODE greatest hits package would be CD1 of ‘The Singles 86-98’ which ends with the ‘Violator’ 45s coupled with the innocent synthpop period gathered on ‘The Singles 81-85’. But as that doesn’t exist, the very first DM singles compilation wins over thanks to its inclusion of candid photos from the band’s history and some amusing negative review quotes, highlighting that once upon a time, DEPECHE MODE actually had a sense of humour. Oh! Those were the days!
The first compilation ‘New Man Numan’ was a 1982 singles collection that sold poorly as his star turn was on the wane. But by 1987, there was renewed interest in trailblazing exploits of Gary Numan; the ‘Exhibition’ double CD package featured not only his singles up to 1983 but choice album tracks from his imperial Beggars Banquet phase like ‘Metal’ and ‘Remind Me To Smile’ which should have been singles plus rarities like ‘On Broadway’ and B-sides such as ‘Do You Need The Service?’.
CHINA CRISIS had their fourteen track ‘Collection’ of primarily singles released in a wonderful limited edition double CD package with fourteen of their B-sides. Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon were better than their four Top20 hits suggested, with songs like ‘African & White’ and ‘Arizona Sky’ in particular deserving of much higher chart placings. Add in B-sides like ‘No Ordinary Lover’, ‘A Golden Handshake For Every Daughter’ and ‘Dockland’, and you have a near perfect document of their career.
The diminutive Glaswegian never stuck around in his bands for long but he had one of the most recognisable voices in pop, thanks to in his glorious falsetto. So what better than compiling his BRONSKI BEAT and COMMUNARDS singles alongside his solo work? From the poignant commentary on gay rights in songs like ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Why?’ to the HI-NRG covers of disco standards ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and ‘Mighty Real’, this was a fine collection.
After 1988’s financially disastrous ‘Spirit Of Eden’, EMI were keen to recoup their investment on the now departed TALK TALK and what better than with a compilation. While primarily based around their hit singles, ‘Natural History’ actually pulled off an accidental masterstroke by including the full-length album versions of songs like ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘Living In Another World’ which had sounded terrible as single edits. This all made for a better listening experience for those new to Mark Hollis and friends.
‘Discography’ gathered all of PET SHOP BOYS singles during what Neil Tennant has always describe as their imperial phase and could rightly be called one of the best greatest hits albums ever. Featuring four UK No1s, there were others like ‘Left To My Own Devices’, Being Boring’ and the Dusty Springfield duet ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This? that were equally as worthy. Later compilations like ‘PopArt’ mighty have ‘Go West’ and more, but ‘Discography’ captures the duo at their most consistent best.
Coming not long after ‘Discography’, ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ saw ERASURE take on PET SHOP BOYS at their own game. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke may have only had three less UK No1s than Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe but that’s a bit like saying Nigel Mansell wasn’t a good as Nelson Piquet on stats alone. ERASURE have always been a better singles act than they are an album one, but while a second volume was added in 2009, this initial volume is the more essential purchase.
Los Angeles goth industrial specialists Cleopatra Records pulled off a major coup by licencing the music of KRAFTWERK from their then-US label Capitol Records for a compilation album. Covering the period 1975-1978, the main point of interest for Kling Klang enthusiasts was the first time on CD release of ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘The Robots’ and ‘Neon Lights’ in their single edits! ‘The Model’ retrospective was a good introduction to KRAFTWERK for the more cautious consumer.
Liverpool’s FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD are probably the epitome of hype over substance, but in their name came some magnificent ground-breaking singles. For a band who released only two albums, they have been documented more than most already with six greatest hits collections and a plethora of remix packages. The very first one ‘Bang!…’ was undoubtedly the best, serving the Frankie phenomenon in mostly bite size single edit portions with album highlights and perfect for the casual but interested observer.
The first John Foxx compilation ‘Assembly’ in 1992 while welcome, suffered from being selected by the man himself, as artists are not often the best judges of their own work. Much better and more comprehensive was ‘Modern Art’ which gathered all his singles into one place in their correct versions, while also adding a remastered version of the ‘Smash Hits’ flexi-disc ‘My Face’ as a bonus for Foxx aficionados as well as new material from ‘The Pleasures Of Electricity’.
Before Jim Kerr hectored audiences to show them his hands, SIMPLE MINDS were one of the best art rock bands in the UK, swathed in Eurocentric synths and rhythms. ‘Early Gold’ satisfied those who always felt the Glaswegians lost it after ‘New Gold Dream’ by including The Blitz Club anthem ‘Changeling’, the Moroderesque ‘I Travel’ and the glory of ‘Someone Somewhere in Summertime’. However, the magnificent ‘Theme For Great Cities’ is missing but you can’t have it all…
With its hotch-potch of wrong mixes and ordering, the first edition of ‘Singles’ is historically incorrect. But unlike ‘Substance’, it has the correct takes of ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Temptation’. Yes, there’s the album cut of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and an edited B-side version of 1963 as well, BUT as a listening experience, CD1 of ‘Singles’ does a better job of capturing NEW ORDER up to the end of 1987. ‘Blue Monday’ remains intact, and while the edit of ‘Thieves Like Us’ is annoying, ‘Confusion’ is more tolerable in abridged form.
First up, there is no ideal JAPAN compilation. But ‘The Very Best Of’ wins over because it was the only one that had the key Ariola Hansa era singles ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘Quiet Life’ alongside the Virgin period that produced ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Nightporter’. However, the clumsy 1980 early fade of ‘Quiet Life’ was included rather than the sharper 1981 hit single edit. Also, were two versions of ‘Ghosts’ necessary when ‘Swing’ could have been dropped in? It all spoilt what potential this compendium had.
DURAN DURAN were described by The Guardian in 2015 as “an electronic band with a heavy rock guitarist bolted on” and that era of the classic Le Bon / Rhodes / Taylor / Taylor / Taylor line-up is captured in this 3CD package largely firing on all cylinders. Originally issued in 2003 as a lavish 13CD boxed set and featuring all their singles, extended versions and B-sides from that period, ‘The Singles 81-85’ is superior to the both the preceding ‘Decade’ and ‘Greatest’ compendiums.
“They only want you when you’re seventeen” sang LADYTRON on their single satirising modern day audition culture and perhaps not coincidently, their ‘Best Of 00–10’ featured that number of tracks. A fine introduction to the quartet via their more immediate songs like ‘Discotraxx’, ‘Playgirl’, ‘Runaway’ and the mighty ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’. Extra points were awarded for the right wing baiting revisionist cover of Nazi folkies DEATH IN JUNE’s ‘Little Black Angel’ in a defiant act of artistic and ideological subversion.
Often seen as Germany’s answer to DEPECHE MODE, CAMOUFLAGE added in elements of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and have a marvellous back catalogue that is well worth investigating. ‘The Singles’ is a fine introduction, containing their signature song ‘The Great Commandment’ as well as ‘Stranger’s Thoughts’, ‘Love Is A Shield’, ‘Suspicious Love’, ‘Me & You’ plus a great cover of Moon Martin’s ‘Bad News’. With liner notes by The Electricity Club, what more could you want? 😉
Jean-Michel Jarre has several greatest hits albums but they all have been frustrating listens. This has largely been due to his synthesizer symphonies not being suited to sub-three minute edits, a flaw heavily exposed on the ‘Images’ compilation. But ‘Essential Recollection’ collected the French Maestro’s most accessible moments with sympathetic fades that captured the essence of his electronic wizardry. However, 2000’s ‘The Bells’ was odd inclusion in a collection that focussed on his earlier imperial phase.
SOFT CELL Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles (2018)
No-one expected Marc Almond and Dave Ball to reunite as SOFT CELL for a final show in 2018, but a bigger surprise was a brand new single ‘Northern Lights’ b/w ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’. Both tracks were included on a new singles compilation which reminded people that SOFT CELL had five UK Top5 singles in just over thirteen months between 1981 and 1982. However, a minus mark gets awarded for using the inferior album mix of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the chart topping single version!
As with JAPAN, there is no perfect OMD compilation. The brand has had some quite different phases, so means different things to different people. ‘The Best Of’ is still their biggest selling album but the comprehensive ‘Souvenir’ gathers all their singles, from the exemplarly ‘Messages’, ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’ to the more recent ‘Dresden’ and ‘Don’t Go’. But while there’s duffers like ‘Stand Above Me’ and ‘If You Want It’, maybe it’s the ideal time to put those CD programmers and playlists to work!
There is nothing like the other side of life. As a companion to its favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides, The Electricity Club presents a listing looking at the 21st Century equivalent.
B-sides often take on a cult following, provoking discussions among fans about why they might have missed inclusion on the parent album.
On why artists occasionally overlook a track when it is clearly good enough, Richard Silverthorn of MESH said “Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees”.
Then there are the occasional abstract studio experiments which often fail but occasionally work and the occasional cover versions which don’t always find favour with some listeners but are infinitely more preferable over pointless remixes of the A-side!
But how is a modern B-side been defined? There is a wider definition now due to digital and streaming formats, so they can include flipsides of vinyl, bonus tracks on CD singles and non-album tracks released as part of a download single or EP bundle. Despite all this, the term “B-side”, like “album” and “video”, still remains.
So for the purposes of this listing as before with the 25 Classic Synth B-sides, B-sides featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one are NOT included. However, those added as bonus tracks on later reissues, deluxe editions or compilations are permitted. Rules are good, rules help control the fun! 😉
So with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in date and then alphabetical order within, these are The Electricity Club’s 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century…
LADYTRON Oops Oh My (2003)
LADYTRON surprised their audiences during live shows in support of the ‘Light & Magic’ album by closing with a feisty synthpunk cover of TWEET’s ‘Oops Oh My’. Co-written by Missy Elliot, the Timbaland produced original with a DEVO sample had been a hip-hop favourite but the aggressive Riot Grrrl styled take on this risqué song about self-love with lyrics like “There goes my skirt, droppin at my feet” added a rockier edge to their sound.
Available on the LADYTRON single ‘Evil’ via Telstar Records
“This was written in response to the Iraq War” said Sarah Blackwood aka Client B, “I remember endless discussions with Toast Hawaii boss Fletch about whether it was the right decision and with heavy hearts, watching endless shelling and firefighting, from the 24 hour news coverage on far flung European hotel TVs. It was the first time I had felt that disconnection and frustration with my home country, the ‘not in my name’ ringing loudly in my ears. Bit late to the party but that’s the story of my life.”
Available on the CLIENT single ‘Here & Now’ via Toast Hawaii / Mute Records
The eloquence and surreal atmospheres of the first GOLDFRAPP album ‘Felt Mountain’ may have taken a back seat on its follow-up ‘Black Cherry’ but the experimentation continued on the B-sides of the album’s singles. ‘White Soft Rope’ combined the unsettling imagery of bondage with a chorus sung a school choir, but ‘Gone To Earth’ was even more otherworldly. The reverberating bassline combined with swirling synths and dreamy glides while Alison’s alternate cosmic language startled with a spacey hypnotism.
Nathan Cooper who was in THE MODERN said: “The inspiration came from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ which was about a blow up doll, we took that a step further and Model# 426 is about some kind of sex droid!! ‘Model #426’ was always the song that would get the audience talking because singer Emma would open a trunk on stage and lead a gimp out on a collar into the bemused looking audience!! I think it was actually that stunt that got us signed to Universal!”.
Interpolating KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It), the self-produced ‘Party Song’ was naturally a throbbing disco driven affair outshone the horrendous Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ which comprised the main act. Lyrically inspired by the classic Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter fronted Campari adverts that, it began life as a dance cover of NIRVANA’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ suggested by Elton John and intended as a single for a new PET SHOP BOYS ‘Greatest Hits’!!
Originally the B-side of ‘Numb’, now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Format’ via EMI Music
‘Japanese Kiss’ was from the debut release on Happy Robots from Alice Hubley and Adam Cresswell. “This was the first track I wrote for ARTHUR & MARTHA” he recalled, “mostly recorded in the bedsit I’d moved into after splitting up with my girlfriend. I was absorbed in self-pity, comforting myself with Japanese-horror movies and the company of my ARP Quartet, Moog Rogue and the DR-55. Living my best life!”; 11 years later as Rodney Cromwell, Cresswell did a NEW ORDER inspired ‘KW1’ remix.
Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA single ‘Autovia’ via Happy Robots
Basing its title on the well-known NEW ORDER tune, as with a number of the B-sides listed here, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ outshone the main act ‘Ghost’. It all began with a pitch shifted groan sample repeated with hypnotic effect over some squelchy backing. But during the second half, the track built itself to a fabulous but abstract electrodisco number with a marvellously catchy refrain. While not quite a song and not quite an experiment, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ was enjoyable tune in the MARSHEAUX canon.
Originally the B-side of ‘Ghost’, now available on the MARSHEAUX album ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records
A cover of a cover, namely SHOCK’s take on THE GLITTER BAND’s 1974 Top5 hit; playing the role of the Latin lothario in response to the Annie song ‘Anthonio’, Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK and now SNS SENSATION remembered: “Richard X produced this version of ‘Angel Face’ as a side B in his single ‘Annie’. I sang both sides, which kind of shows two sides of Anthonio’s personality in a way. It was a fantastic experience – Richard is a great guy and über pro, so really a win-win.”
Available on the ANTHONIO single ‘Annie’ via Pleasure Masters
“Positive and negative can only attract” sang Victoria Hesketh on the bouncy ‘Catch 22’, a lesser known LITTLE BOOTS track which initially only appeared on the 7 inch single of ‘Earthquake’ in the UK. Gloriously synthpoppy, in hindsight along with other songs that did not make it onto the final tracklisting of her debut album ‘Hands’, it highlighted a possible direction that could have been taken, but which was ultimately watered down for wider acceptance after she was named BBC Sound Of 2009.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Earthquake’, now available on the LITTLE BOOTS deluxe album ‘Hands’ via On Repeat Records
Continuing a great tradition among the synthpop acts of the past, VILLA NAH had ‘Benny’s Burning’ and ‘Daylight’ as part of their B-side armoury as well as the brilliant debut album ‘Origin’. Highlighting the inherent talent of Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä, ‘Benny’s Burning’ was a smoother and more atmospheric side of VILLA NAH compared with the uptempo technopop impressions of its A-side ‘Rainmaker’. The Helsinki duo later opened for OMD during the UK leg of 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour.
Available on the VILLA NAH single ‘Rainmaker’ via Keys Of Life
Produced by Vince Clarke, ‘Never Let You Down’ was free of the many autotune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming the disappointing ‘Tomorrow’s World’ album in his attempts to make ERASURE sound more modern and contemporary. As a result, that heartfelt soul often associated with Andy Bell made its presence felt over a glorious galloping synthpop tune in the classic ERASURE vein, especially during the middle eight section in Spanish.
In their short career, MIRRORS left not only a great album in ‘Lights & Offerings’ but a body of wonderful B-sides too. Any number of them are worthy of mention but the nod goes to ‘Fall By Another Name’ as it was accessible enough to have been an A-side. Not as dense as MIRRORS’ usual pop noir hence its likely relegation to flipside, the bright pulsing melodies and James New’s Dave Gahan impression made this sound rather like a quality outtake from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’.
While the A-side was a faithful cover version of Peter Schilling’s anthemic ‘Major Tom’, ‘Dead Air Einz’ was a self-composed song by APOPTYGMA BERZERK mainman Stephan Groth that was eagerly welcomed at the time, thanks to it being his first original new track for four years. Utilising distorted radio broadcasts in its backdrop, it also featured some Korg MS20 from Jon Erik Martinsen and was something of a grower with its steadfast drum machine shuffle.
Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK single ‘Major Tom’ via Pitch Black Drive Productions
Making their initial impression with the mighty ‘Lies’ in 2012, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES actually became the mainstream saviours of synthpop that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX had promised but ultimately failed to deliver on. ‘Now Is Not The Time’ was a fantastic midtempo tune with a great chorus that like ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like Taylor Swift gone electro. However, it got relegated to B-side status despite being superior to several songs on their debut long player ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.
Available on the CHVRCHES single ‘Recover’ via Virgin Records
In a pattern similar to the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ boxed set only track ‘Oh Well’, the best song from ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy Eurocentric austere, all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! While it was no doubt rejected for not fitting into the faux blues aspirations of modern DEPECHE MODE, it made up for the dreary notions of the A-side ‘Heaven’ which were more like hell…
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Heaven’, now available on the DEPECHE MODE deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records
OMD’s twelfth album ‘English Electric’ was notable for combining conceptual art pieces alongside supreme electronic pop in a manner reminiscent of their fourth long player ‘Dazzle Ships’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Although four of these concepts made it onto the final running order of the album, one that didn’t was ‘Time Burns’, a intriguing sound collage comprising of clock movements, chimes and digital watch alarms over rumbles of sub-bass and profound computer generated speech.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, now available on the OMD EP ‘Night Café’ via BMG
A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam, Elizabeth Morphew’s cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provided the heat! However, ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side. Reeder said ”I saw a piece posted on The Electricity Club about QUEEN OF HEARTS and I was curious. I really liked Elizabeth’s voice from the moment I heard the first couple of tracks.”
Originally the B-side of ‘Secret’, now available on the QUEEN OF HEARTS deluxe album ‘Cocoon’ via Night Moves
With an alluringly haunting vocal from Anais Neon, the eerily stark ‘Little Death Capsule’ saw VILE ELECTRODES tell the story of early space travel when these primitive craft were sent out of the earth’s atmosphere effectively sitting on inter-continental ballistic missiles, with burning up also a possibility on return. With pulsing instrumentation from Martin Swan, it featured the sort of sterling analogue treatments that would make KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA proud.
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider with hints of YAZOO’s ‘In My Room’, Johan Baeckström said of ‘Synth Is Not Dead’: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM single ‘Come With Me via Progress Productions
METROLAND (We Need) Machines Without Romance (2015)
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if Gary Numan had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Originally the B-side of ‘Zeppelin’, now available on the METROLAND boxed set ’12×12′ via Alfa Matrix
Of the superbly rousing ‘Paper Thin’, Richard Silverthorn of MESH recalled: “Mark Hockings presented me with a demo at the time we were writing material for ‘Looking Skyward’. On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the track as I thought it didn’t really fit with the overall feeling of the album so it kind of got shelved. The record company asked ‘what about the B-side?’ so Mark suggested ‘Paper Thin’ again. The bassline, drums and many other lines were changed and the new version came to life.”
After SCARLET SOHO, James Knights busied himself with a new Britalo inspired solo project. With hints of NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’ and found on KNIGHT$ debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’, he said “’So Cold’ is the second or third song I wrote as KNIGHT$. It’s a little darker than my other material, and the only song I’ve recorded using a marxophone (a fretless zither which I borrowed from my friend Alun Davies). It didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it’s still a song the audience enjoy, as do I.”
PSYCHE co-founder Darrin Huss said of ‘Truth Or Consequence’: “It started out under the title ‘Life On Trial’ and was about the Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) situation. It’s about the NSA surveillance, whistleblowers, etc. It’s also about the confusion between what is Truth, and what are the consequences of telling it, living it? Do we have safety in numbers? etc. It’s all in the lyrics. It’s a very PSYCHE song with even a nod to ‘The Brain Collapses’ with our use of that song’s drum machine the Oberheim DMX.”
That Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for a farewell gig and new material was a pleasant surprise. The frustration and anger expressed in ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ with the lines “I can denounce you just because I can, I didn’t have the life I wanted, I didn’t do the things I dreamed” saw SOFT CELL continue where they left of in 2003. With dark resonances like ‘The Omen’ gone disco, its eerie gothique countered the celebratory electro-soul of A-side ‘Northern Lights’
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP Another Brick In The Wall – Remoaner mix (2019)
Inheriting the mantle of THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the modern synthpop stakes, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP impressed with their self-titled debut album. With the single release of ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’ was a timely Remoaner mix of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in German that made a bold musical and political statement. Headteacher Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
It really is the other side of love. B-sides have been a wondrous platform of adventure for the music fan, a hidden treasure trove of experimentation that was often a secret society that positioned the listener into being part of a mysterious taste elite.
So here are The Electricity Club’s favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides… but how was this list defined?
These artefacts are flipsides of vinyl or bonus tracks on CD singles; basically songs that were not featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one. However, bonus tracks on later reissues are permitted. With TEC’s 25 Synth Instrumentals Of The Classic Era being covered in a separate listing, wordless wonders are also omitted. The listing runs up until the start of the 21st Century.
However, there is a limitation of one song per artist moniker in this chronological retrospective, so rare indulgers of the B-side such as HEAVEN 17, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS get equal billing with prolific exponents like PET SHOP BOYS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ULTRAVOX. That may seem unfair but then life can be unfair…
THE NORMAL TVOD (1978)
Was ‘TVOD’ actually the A-side of this seminal and only release by THE NORMAL which launched Mute Records? But as ‘Warm Leatherette’ is listed at the top of the back sleeve and has moved into legend having been covered by GRACE JONES, LAIBACH and CHICKS ON SPEED, ‘TVOD’ qualifies for this list. With its hypnotic bassline and warbling synth hook, JG Ballard makes his influence heard as Daniel Miller monotones about a dystopian future where television is the new narcotic…
In the days when the B-side mattered as much as the A-side, more intuitive purchasers found another gem on the flip of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with this pounding system of romance. Being the antithesis of the discordant diabolis in musica of the main act, ‘We Are So Fragile’ fused Minimoogs with guitars and a four-to-the-floor beat as the vulnerability of Gary Numan connected with the Cold War dystopia of the times in a musical winter of discontent.
Originally the B-side of ‘Are Friends Electric?’; now available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet Records
Commissioned as the theme to Janet Street-Porter’s early youth vehicle ‘20th Century Box’ which gave platforms to two then unknown bands SPANDAU BALLET and DEPECHE MODE, the combination of Foxx’s starkly dominant Compurhythm and ARP Odyssey dystopia were harsh but strangely danceable. However, ’20th Century’ signalled the wind down of the mechanical phase of John Foxx before thawing out and turning more conventional to less distinctive effect on ‘The Garden’.
Originally the B-side of ‘Burning Car’; now available on the deluxe album ‘Metamatic’ via Esdel Records
Like a number of bands of the period, SIMPLE MINDS went off doing B-sides as they progressed, often lazily filling the flips with live tracks or instrumental versions of existing tracks. ‘New Warm Skin’ was the original B-side of ‘I Travel’ and saw the Glaswegians ape SPARKS for this claptrap filled electronic cacophony of sound. Not claustrophobic enough for ‘Empires & Dance’, this is a delightfully creepy synth laden rarity in the SIMPLE MIDS back catalogue.
Originally the B-side of ‘I Travel’; now available as a bonus track on the boxed set ‘X5’ via Virgin Records
With so many great B-sides in the long career of DEPECHE MODE, it might seem strange that their best B-side was actually their first. ‘Ice Machine’ is possibly Vince Clarke’s darkest five minutes, but it has also proved to be highly influential. ROYKSOPP and S.P.O.C.K have covered it while the song’s core arpeggio has been borrowed by LADYTRON and FEATHERS. It is not only one of DM’s best B-sides, it is among one of the best songs of the Synth Britannia era.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Mute Records
HEAVEN 17 were an act who rarely did B-sides and even this cover of a lesser known BUZZCOCKS single started life as a track for the BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinct Volume 1’ opus but was quickly shelved. Unusual in many respects as ‘Are Everything’ features the early HUMAN LEAGUE synth sound emblazoned with acoustic guitar from Dave Lockwood, Glenn Gregory snarls in post-punk fashion away from the new funk hybrid which was later appear on ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
Originally the B-side of ‘I’m Your Money’; 12 inch version now available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ via Virgin Records
Originally recorded as a demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, after JAPAN left the label, ‘European Son’ was subsequently finished off by John Punter and tagged onto a 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’. Retrospectively, it shows David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums. In 1982, it became an A-side remixed by Steve Nye.
Originally the B-side of 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’; now available on the JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records
A unique curio in the classic ULTRAVOX cannon as it does not feature Midge Ure. Chris Cross handled guitar duties and backing vocals while Warren Cann took the spoken lead. The powerful Linn driven track was provided the punch with the Minimoog bass while Billy Currie tastefully layered with his piano and violin interplay. ‘Paths & Angles’ was undoubtedly strong enough to have been an album track, but highly unlikely to have remained in this form if Ure had been involved.
Originally the B-side of ‘The Voice’; now available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records
Originally recorded for a John Peel session but rescued for the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Running Thin’ featured a much starker, claustrophobic template than the subsequent ‘Happy Families’ album. Driven by a Roland drum machine, haunting blips and “elastic stretched too far” guitar, Neil Arthur’s resigned baritone matched the music backdrop. The track has since been revisited by BLANCMANGE for the upcoming 2CD ‘Happy Families Too’ 2CD set.
Originally the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’; now available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Music Club
Borrowing the main melody of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ theme and coupled with a sharp Tim Friese-Greene production, ‘One Of Our Submarines’ was actually based on the poignant story of TMDR’s uncle Stephen. He served in a submarine during World War Two but died while on manoeuvres as opposed to battle. His death became Dolby’s metaphor for the fall of the British Empire and his rebellion against the post-war Boys Own adventure illusion that his generation grew up in.
Originally the B-side of ‘She Blinded Me with Science’; now available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records
Outstripping the electro Tamla of the A-side, ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ had the balance of weirdness, accessibility and the spectre of Jo Callis’ guitar synthesizer. Coupled with the precise but edgy production of Martin Rushent, this gave high hopes that the follow-up to the million selling ‘Dare’ would be a goody. Unfortunately, the band fell out with Rushent and the lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ was the result and it would take years for THE HUMAN LEAGUE to recover.
Originally the B-side of ‘Mirror Man’; now available on the HUMAN LEAGUE deluxe album ‘Dare / Fascination!’ via Virgin Records
OMD often were at their best when indulging in their vertical take-off experiments. Covered in hiss and layered with a shrilling, almost out-of-tune Mellotron, ‘Navigation’ was an abstract collage with the punching snare drum crescendo leading to a weird droning beacon of strange noises taken from their pre-OMD tapes that conjured the image of foggy uncharted oceans. It is without doubt, one of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey’s stand-out recordings.
Originally the B-side of ‘Maid Of Orleans’; now available on the OMD album ‘Navigation’ via Virgin Records
Boy George once described SOFT CELL as music for teenagers who hate their parents. With ‘It’s A Mugs Game’, that ethos came to its head with this comical tirade of angry, adolescent angst! Marc Almond goes from crisis to crisis as he tries to annoy his dad by playing loud, all the records “he especially hates… ’Deep Purple In Rock, ‘Led Zeppelin II’”. But as Almond retorts: “even you hate those”! The closing rant of “I can’t wait until I’m twenty one and I can tell them all to sod off!” is classic!
Originally the B-side of ‘Where The Heart Is’; now available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Phonogram Records
Perhaps unsurprisingly with Colin Thurston at the production helm, the cryptically titled ‘?’ did sound like a DURAN DURAN flipside with thundering Simmons drums, disco bass and a fabulous synth solo from original keyboardist Simon Brenner. Utilising a weird chorus effect which sounded like the song was recorded on using dirty tape heads, while not a particularly prolific B-side band, TALK TALK certainly delivered more extras than perhaps JAPAN ever did.
Originally the B-side of ‘Talk Talk’. Available on the TALK TALK album ‘Asides Besides’ via EMI Music
One of the few vocal tracks to be a VISAGE B-side, ‘I’m Still Searching’ in hindsight sounds ahead of its time with its proto-PET SHOP BOYS vibe. Featuring just Steve Strange and Rusty Egan as the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE boys were all back in their day jobs, it hinted at a New York electronic disco direction which was expanded on with ‘Pleasure Boys’. But by the time of the third VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’, rock was the name of the game with Strange’s voice left exposed and totally unsuited to its histrionics.
Originally the B-side of ‘Night Train’; now available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters
A B-side that was later issued as an A-side in various markets, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke. At barely 2 minutes in its original form, it made its point with its rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite remixed by Francois Kevorkian who was later to work with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE. Another version mixed by ERASURE producer Mark Saunders took the song into the UK Top20 in 1990.
Originally the B-side of ‘Only You’; now available on the album ‘The Collection’ via Music Club
When Liverpool band THE WILD SWANS split, two thirds formed the basis of THE LOTUS EATERS while their singer Paul Simpson teamed up with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie. Combining acoustic guitars and stark drum machine with strong synthesizer melodies and melancholic vocals, ‘Sad Day for England’ was a mournful recollection of young manhood. The duo split before their debut album was completed. Broudie eventually formed THE LIGHTNING SEEDS.
Originally the 12 inch B-side of ‘My Boyish Days’; now available on the CARE album ‘Diamonds & Emeralds’ via Camden Records/BMG Records
This atmospheric ballad from the ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ sessions turned out to be one of the the most synth led recordings under the DURAN DURAN name. Featuring just Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon, it showcased the more esoteric influences of JAPAN who the pair were particularly fond of. A precursor to their painfully pretentious ARCADIA project, none of those songs ever reached the heights of ‘Secret Oktober’. It was dusted off for the 1998 Greatest Hits tour.
Originally the B-side of ‘Union Of the Snake’; now available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘The Singles 81-85’ via EMI Records
B-sides are for quirky experimentation and Howard Jones certainly veered from the norm with this oddball slice of electro-ska. With the declaration that “If I haven’t got any friends, it just doesn’t matter” and “If I’ve been misunderstood, it just doesn’t matter”, the song was possibly written as a positive motivator to face the music whatever following the success of his debut single ‘New Song’. The critics may not have loved him but his fans did, with the ‘Human’s Lib’ album entering the UK chats at No1.
Originally the B-side of ‘What is Love?’; now available on the HOWARD JONES album ‘The Very Best Of’ via WEA
Subtitled ‘Sector One: The Elevator’, ‘The Nelson Highrise’ was the B-side to ‘Sounds Like A Melody’ which wasn’t released as a single in the UK. After a dynamic instrumental build of over a minute and a half, the opening line “Time is fleeting, you can’t stop time” was deeply ominous while the backing was almost industrial with very sharp edges. The dystopian air might have been a surprise to some, but then ‘Big In Japan’ was inspired by the plight of heroin addicts in Berlin…
Originally the B-side of ‘Sounds Like A Melody’; now available on the ALPHAVILLE deluxe album ‘Forever Young’ via Warner Music
Recorded during the ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ sessions produced by Mike Howlett, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was a lost gem probably droppedby CHINA CRISIS from the album on account of it sounding like a more steadfast ‘Wishful Thinking’, featuring its familiar Emulator strings sound in the melody. Unreleased until 1985, even then it was tucked away on the limited edition 12 inch of ‘Black Man Ray’, making it one of the rarest of high quality B-sides from the era.
Originally the 12 inch limited edition B-side of ‘Black Man Ray’; now available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ via Caroline International
Possibly the song which indicated that PET SHOP BOYS were going to be around for a while and not just a flash in the pan, ‘That’s My Impression’ was menacing as opposed to melancholic, combining SOFT CELL with DIVINE. Neil Tennant’s final angry refrain of “I went looking for someone I couldn’t find – staring at faces by the Serpentine…” is pure Marc Almond, tense and embittered in a manner that turned out to be quite rare in PET SHOP BOYS later work.
Originally the B-side of ‘Love Comes Quickly’; now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Alternative’ via EMI Records
Is this song about JFK? Is it a homo-erotic love story that ends in murder? Who knows? But ‘1963’ was an outstanding result of the sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to Hooky’s annoyance, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out. Bloody mindedness ensured ‘1963’ was tucked away as a B-side for 8 years before it was released as an A-side in a more Hooky audible rework by Arthur Baker.
Originally the B-side of ‘True Faith’; now availableon the NEW ORDER album ‘Substance’ via Warner Music
Bietigheim-Bissingen’s CAMOUFLAGE took over the mantle of delivering the heavier synthpop blueprint which DEPECHE MODE started during ‘Construction Time Again’ and ‘Some Great Reward’, but left behind with ‘Black Celebration’. ‘Kling Klang’ actually was a B-side to their single ‘One Fine Day’. This was not only a tribute to KRAFTWERK but in a rarity for the trio, it was also sung in German. But it was so rigidly authentic that at times, it inadvertently sounded like a Bill Bailey musical comedy skit.
Originally the B-side of ‘One Fine Day’, now available on the CAMOUFLAGE deluxe album ‘Methods Of Silence’ via Bureau B
This bouncy tune with its lyrical celebration by Andy Bell of ABBA borrowed heavily from OMD. Vince Clarke went on record to say the record that influenced him most to start working with synthesizers was ‘Electricity’. So on ‘Over The Rainbow’, he borrowed its lead melody wholesale and added a few of the speaking clock samples that had adorned OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’. Listen carefully and listeners will also notice ULTRAVOX are affectionately pillaged too!
Originally the B-side of ‘Chorus’; now available in the boxed set ‘EBX4’ via Mute Records