Tag: Pete Shelley

A Beginner’s Guide To MARTIN RUSHENT

Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.

Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.

His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album; it featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.

He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.

It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.

With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…

“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78” Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.

Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.

“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built, “I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.

Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.

Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.

A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…

Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!

Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.

Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.

Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said to The Electricity Club: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.

THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.

Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, The Electricity Club looks back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…


THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)

Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!

Available on THE STRANGLERS album ‘The Very Best Of’ via EMI Records

http://www.thestranglers.net


JOY DIVISION Ice Age (1979 – Released 1997)

Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.

Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records

http://joydivisionofficial.com


VISAGE Tar (1979)

At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.

Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records

http://www.visage.cc/


PETE SHELLEY Homosapien (1981)

Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.

Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd

http://www.buzzcocks.com/_peteshelley/peteshelley.html


THE HUMAN LEAGUE The Sound Of The Crowd (1981)

When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.

Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Greatest Hits’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


ALTERED IMAGES Happy Birthday (1981)

While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.

Available on ALTERED IMAGES album ‘Happy Birthday: The Best Of’ via Music Club

https://www.facebook.com/ClareGrogansAlteredImages/


ALTERED IMAGES I Could Be Happy (1981)

Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.

Available on ALTERED IMAGES boxed set ‘The Epic Years’ via Cherry Red

https://twitter.com/claregrogan2


LEISURE PROCESS Love Cascade (1982)

Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.

12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Leisure+Process


THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA Do Or Die (1982)

“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.

Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records

http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/human-league-in-the-studio/4246


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Fascination (1983)

Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.

Extended version available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘A Very British Synthesizer Group’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/thehumanleague/


PETE SHELLEY Telephone Operator (1983)

With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.

Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd

https://www.discogs.com/artist/28754-Pete-Shelley


HAZEL O’CONNOR Don’t Touch Me (1984)

When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.

Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red

http://www.hazeloconnor.com


ASSOCIATES Breakfast (1985)

Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.

Available on ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA

http://www.billymackenzie.com


HARD CORPS ‎Je Suis Passée (1985)

Clive Pierce told The Electricity Club: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.

Originally released as a single by Polydor Records, version available on the album ‘Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt’ via Minimal Wave Records

https://www.facebook.com/hard-CORPS-217860235015406/


THEN JERICO The Big Sweep (1985)

Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.

Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records

http://www.thenjerico.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Heart Like A Wheel (1990)

Jo Callis told The Electricity Club: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.

Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records

http://jocallis.com


GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)

Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.

Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music ‎

https://www.facebook.com/graftonprimarymusic/


THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)

From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.

Available on THE PIPETTES album ‘Earth Vs The Pipettes’ via Fortuna Pop

https://www.facebook.com/thepipettes/


In memory of Martin Rushent 1948-2011

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan, Clive Pierce, Ani Saunders and Jo Callis

A Facebook tribute group to Martin Rushent run by his son Tim can be viewed at
https://www.facebook.com/groups/216490505038835/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2018

TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH SONGS BY NON-SYNTH ACTS

Keith Emerson MinimoogWhen the recently departed Keith Emerson used a Minimoog for the solo on EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER’s ‘Lucky Man’ in 1970, little would he predict that nearly half a decade later, the floodgates would start to open for many rock bands eager to exploit the synthesizer as an alternative lead instrument to the electric guitar.

Pete Townshend’s use of the EMS VCS3, ARP 2500 and ARP 2600 on the ‘Who’s Next’ album was another key recording which featured electronics within an experimental rock context. Meanwhile PINK FLOYD famously took an EMS Synthi AKS with its built-in digital sequencer into the stratosphere for ‘On The Run’ from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.

Although these tracks used synthesizers, they could hardly be classified as synthpop. But what of the occasions when rock artists go the full hog and enter the murky world of synths, sequencers and drum machines? While occasional dabbling in the electronic world has been common, a full volte-face has been rare.

And when it has happened, tracks like ‘Yellow Pearl’ were so draped in the involvement of artists from the electronic field such as Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, it was almost forgotten that the figurehead of the song was the frontman of THIN LIZZY!

One of the most recent examples of an artist transferring allegiances has been JOHN GRANT, former vocalist with THE CZARS who recorded his 2010 debut solo album ‘Queen of Denmark’ in collaboration with the American folk-rock band MIDLAKE.

Grant said to The Quietus in 2013: “I wanna be the guy who is surrounded by all this synth hardware on stage. Like Jean-Michel Jarre, or Vangelis or one of those guys. I wanna be the guys from Yello and Cabaret Voltaire. I wanna understand, it’s such a subtle art form. I wish I was a robot, like Kraftwerk!”

G44

So here is a list of The Electricity Club’s favourite 25 synth songs by non-synth acts. All songs feature the synth as the dominant melodic instrument and are by artists who are generally perceived to be guitar or rock driven.

Those considered to have a strong association with the synthesizer, like DAVID BOWIE, SPARKS, SPANDAU BALLET, NEW ORDER, ASSOCIATES, TALK TALK and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM have not been included.

So presented in chronological and then alphabetical order, here are The Electricity Club’s choices…


THE MOTORS Airport (1978)

THE MOTORS AirportThe traditional Pub Rock sound of THE MOTORS was transformed with ‘Airport’, its intro and chorus ARP Odyssey synth riff being one that wouldn’t have felt out of place on an OMD song. The piece itself was an anti-paean to an airport, one which had cruelly flown the lead vocalist Andy McMaster’s love interest away from him, and the addition of ABBA-esque pianos sealed its fate as a one of a kind single for a band who wouldn’t go on to trouble the Top Ten again.

Available on the album ‘Approved By’ via Captain Oi!

http://www.andymcmaster.net/


SQUEEZE Take Me I’m Yours (1978)

SQUEEZE Take Me I'm YoursWith A&M getting concerned that there were no obvious singles on their debut album, Glenn Tilbrook made the decision to hire “lots of synths and a bloke who knew how to work them” and then went about “pretending to be Kraftwerk”! A squelchy synth bass and lo-fi drum machine dominates throughout ‘Take Me I’m Yours’. THE DROYDS reworked it as a wonderfully deadpan, fully electronic interpretation, revealing it as the true slice of synthpop it was always destined to be.

Available on the album ‘Greatest Hits’ via A&M Records

http://www.squeezeofficial.com/


JOY DIVISION Atmosphere (1980)

JOY DIVISION AtmpsohereWhile JOY DIVISION had played around with syndrums and electronic effects on ‘Unknown Pleasures’ to complement their gloomy guitar driven sound, they had yet to produce a song that featured synths as a melodic lead. Recorded using an ARP Solina, the chilling ‘Atmosphere’ with its tender bass playing and percussive grandeur was JOY DIVISION’s most complete recording to date. But it was given just a limited run of 1578 copies by French art label Sordide Sentimentale, before a wider re-release.

Available on the JOY DIVISION album ‘Substance’ via Rhino

http://joydivisionofficial.com/


JONA LEWIE You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen At Parties (1980)

JONA LEWIE Kitchen At PartiesThis VERY electronic Polymoog-driven single was almost entirely self-produced by Lewie with the exception of some live bass by Norman Watt-Roy and hi-hats from Bob Andrews. It was rumoured that Kirsty MacColl provided backing vocals, although this was denied by Lewie. Maccoll eventually appeared on Top Of the Pops to perform ‘You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties’ in an appearance which one could imagine a young Phil Oakey watching and thinking, “hmm, this is a good idea!”

Available on the album ‘The Best Of’ via Union Square Music

http://www.jonalewie.com/


PAUL McCARTNEY Temporary Secretary (1980)

McCARTNEY Temporaraty Secretary 12Having explored art funk on ‘Coming Up’ and impersonated Ron Mael from SPARKS in its video, Macca went the full electronic dance hog with the quite bizarre ‘Temporary Secretary’. With prominent sequencer patterns to simulate a typewriter and detached deadpan vocals, this oddball experiment confused fans of both WINGS and THE BEATLES. Self-produced, the single was issued on 12 inch only to accommodate a 10 minute B-side ‘Secret Friend’ and failed to chart.

Available on the PAUL McCARTNEY album ‘McCartney II’ via EMI Records

http://www.paulmccartney.com/


HAZEL O’CONNOR Eighth Day (1980)

HAZEL O CONNOR Eighth DayOne of the two pivotal, charting songs featured in the O’Connor starring movie ‘Breaking Glass’, ‘Eighth Day’ was written by the singer to parallel the biblical story of Genesis, but with machines taking over on the final day. Produced by Tony Visconti, synths are used effectively throughout to echo the content of the song and whilst the look of the film may not have dated so well, the lyrics to ‘Eighth Day’ still feel relevant and paint a picture of a future world slowly pulled apart by developing technology.

Available on the album ‘Breaking Glass’ via Spectrum Music

http://www.hazeloconnor.com/


ROBERT PALMER Johnny & Mary (1980)

robert-palmer-johnny-and-mary-islandAfter surprisingly recording GARY NUMAN’s ‘I Dream of Wires’ on his album ‘Clues’, another album track ‘Johnny & Mary’ also showcased some impressive electronics. Although not a huge UK hit when released as a single (only reaching No.44), ‘Johnny & Mary’ with its hypnotic synth bassline and narrative-driven lyrics got a new lease of life in 2015 with BRYAN FERRY providing vocals in a more down-tempo incarnation featuring on TODD TERJE’s 2015 debut ‘It’s Album Time’.

Available on the ROBERT PALMER album ‘Clues’ via Island Records

http://www.robertpalmer.com/


GODLEY & CREME Under Your Thumb (1981)

GODLEY & CREME Under Your ThumbFor those familiar with their presence in 10CC, the GODLEY & CREME single ‘Under Your Thumb’ certainly came as a surprise curveball with its hi-hat driven drum machine and primarily electronic instrumentation. The song echoed KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’, with its rhythmic nature tying in with the train journey narrative of the lyric. An epic ghost story set to a synthpop template, the track saw the duo became more established as promo video directors for artists including DURAN DURAN and VISAGE.

Available on the album ‘Cry: The Very Best Of’ via Polydor / Universal Music

https://www.discogs.com/artist/104312-Godley-Creme


BILL NELSON Living In My Limousine (1981)

BILL NELSON Living in My LimousineFrustrated by the limitations of BE BOP DELUXE, guitar virtuoso Nelson formed RED NOISE in 1978 with a more electronic focus. But when Nelson recorded the decisively Bowie-esque ‘Quit Dreaming & Get On The Beam’, his label Harvest refused to release it. Nelson bought the unreleased songs for his own label, Cocteau. A solo single ‘Do You Dream In Colour?’ gained radio play and the album was released by Mercury Records; ‘Living In My Limousine’ with its Numanesque detachment was one of the highlights.

Available on the BILL NELSON album ‘Quit Dreaming & Get On The Beam’ via Mercury Records

http://www.billnelson.com/


PETE SHELLEY Homosapien (1981)

Pete-Shelley-Homosapien‘Homosapien’ came about after the aborted fourth BUZZCOCKS album; producer Martin Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work using the latest electronic equipment. Seen as Shelley’s coming out song, synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. The lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got the initial single release a Radio1 ban and while it was recorded before THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’, label politics ensured the parent album was not issued until 1982.

Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd

http://www.buzzcocks.com/


DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My Party (1981)

DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My PartyKeyboardist Dave Stewart (not to be confused with one half of EURYTHMICS) was best known for being part of progressive rock acts NATIONAL HEALTH and EGG, although link-ups with Colin Blunstone and Barbara Gaskin gave both hits with reworked electronic cover versions of ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ and ‘It’s My Party’ respectively. The latter topped the UK charts in 1981 after successfully jumping on the coat tails of the first wave of British synth acts.

Available on the album ‘Up From The Dark’ via Broken Records

http://www.davebarb.com/


NEIL YOUNG Transformer Man (1982)

NEIL YOUNG TransBetween 1980-1982, Young was carrying out a therapy program for his young son Ben who had cerebral palsy. The music of KRAFTWERK reflected Young’s attempts to communicate with his son. Acquiring a Vocoder, Synclavier and Linn Drum Computer, while much of the eventual ‘Trans’ album did not work, there was an ethereal ‘Neon Lights’ beauty in ‘Transformer Man’. For his troubles, Young was sued by his label Geffen Records for “deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative work”!

Available on the NEIL YOUNG album ‘Trans’ via Geffen Records

http://www.neilyoung.com/


THE CURE The Walk (1983)

THE CURE The WalkBy this point, THE CURE were down to a duo with Lol Tolhurst ditching his drum kit for keyboards, leaving Robert Smith with a far wider artistic freedom outside of the act’s previous band-based context. The resultant fantasy single ‘The Walk’ arguably started the tit-for-tat war with NEW ORDER, its octave synth bassline and machine-like kick drum blatantly templating ‘Blue Monday’. Legalities aside, ‘The Walk’ had all the ingredients for perfect synthpop with its sawtooth hook and off the wall lyrics.

Available on the album ‘Japanese Whispers’ via Fiction Records

http://www.thecure.com/


FREEEZ IOU (1983)

Freeez_IOU_single_coverFollowing their 1980 hit ‘Southern Freeez’, jazz funksters FREEEZ had fragmented to a duo. Fascinated by the urban electro hybrid of AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE’s ‘Planet Rock’ produced by Arthur Baker, they jetted off to meet him in New York. Baker suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. The similarity to the Roland TR808 rhythms heard on ‘Planet Rock’ and NEW ORDER’s ‘Confusion’ can be explained by Baker refusing the let anyone tamper with his beloved machine.

Available on the FREEEZ album ‘Gonna Get You’ via Cherry Red

https://www.discogs.com/artist/8670-Freeez


GENESIS Mama (1983)

GENESIS mamaWhile Tony Banks’ keyboards have always been a key factor in the sound of GENESIS, 1983 saw a distorted Linn LM-1 Drum Computer taking centre stage alongside some sinister minor key synthesizer lines played on a Prophet 10 at the start of ‘Mama’. Building in a similar fashion to ‘In Your Room’ by DEPECHE MODE, the story of a young man with a mother fixation, longing for a prostitute, took an unexpected genre twist with Phil Collins’ creepy laugh inspired by Grandmaster Flash.

Available on the album ‘Genesis’ via Virgin Records

http://www.genesis-music.com/


QUEEN I Want To Break Free (1984)

QUEEN I Want To Break FreeQUEEN used to famously declare “no synthesizers” on their albums, but by 1980’s ‘The Game’, an Oberheim OBX had entered the ranks. Recording ‘I Want To Break Free’ had been tense, due to writer and bass player John Deacon’s insistence that the guitar solo had to be played on a Roland Jupiter 8 by session musician Fred Mandel. For its single release, the Linn Drum driven song was extended to include more synthesizer in the intro and the bridge after the solo, emotively enhancing the less synthy album cut.

Available on the album ‘Greatest Hits II’ via EMI Music

http://www.queenonline.com/


LEONARD COHEN First We Take Manhattan (1988)

LEONARD COHEN First we take ManhattanOriginally recorded by Jennifer Warnes in 1985, the doom laden Canadian poet recorded his own monochromatic synthpop interpretation in 1988 with additional verses. Tightly produced with sequenced digital slap bass, Linn Drum and sombre synth sweeps, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ was Cohen’s commentary on terrorism and its unsettling mindset where “there are no alibis or no compromises”. Contrasting with a soulful interlude in the bridge from Anjani Thomas, it made Cohen’s vocal even more resonant.

Available on the album ‘I’m Your Man’ via Sony Music

http://www.leonardcohen.com/


JULIAN COPE Just Like Pooh Bear (1995)

Julian_Cope_-_20_mothersIt doesn’t take a musical genius to work out just who Mr Cope is parodying here… the bassline, sequencing and drum programming on ‘Just Like Pooh Bear’ hilariously rip-off DEAD OR ALIVE’s ‘You Spin Me Around’ to the point where if this track had gone anywhere remotely near the charts, some sort of legal action would surely have ensued. As it stands though, the song judged on its own merits is an uber-catchy piece of synthpop work with some pretty filthy lyrics.

Available on the album ’20 Mothers’ via Echo Records

https://www.headheritage.co.uk/


THE BLOODHOUND GANG The Bad Touch (2004)

bloodhound gang the bad touchTHE BLOODHOUND GANG’s ‘The Bad Touch’ with its double-entendres and very un-PC promo video easily pushed all the necessary synthpop buttons.. The promo video itself went on to prove itself a little too controversial with a scene involving two gay characters being bashed with baguettes getting cut, resulting in singer Jimmy Pop offering to “…give any gay man two tickets to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of his choice if he could describe exactly who’s going to become violent based on that scene”.

Available on the album ‘Hooray For Boobies’ via Interscope Records

http://www.bloodhoundgang.com/


KELLY OSBOURNE One Word (2005)

Kelly_Osbourne_-_One_WordAfter her initial pop punk adventures, Ozzy’s youngest daughter surprised everyone with the classic synthpop of ‘One Word’, a number penned by 4 NON BLONDES’ Linda Perry. However, it was perhaps a little bit too classic sounding, with a more than passing resemblance to VISAGE’s ‘Fade to Grey’. The resemblance was so uncanny that legal action was launched. The matter was eventually settled out of court with Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Chris Payne each awarded a share of the royalties.

Available on the KELLY OSBORNE album ‘Sleeping In The Nothing’ via Sanctuary Records

http://kellyosbourne.com/


BLOC PARTY Flux (2007)

BLOC PARTY FluxAfter starting life as an angular indie guitar band, frontman Kele Okereke steered the act into using synths, culminating in his own 2010 electronic-based solo album ‘The Boxer’ and the BLOC PARTY single ‘Flux’. The latter revealed itself as a high octane romp of a tune, with its fast-paced sequencers and drum machines leaving space for only minimal guitar textures. The song itself was a brave departure and sonically bears little resemblance to the spiky guitar sound of their earlier work.

Available on BLOC PARTY album ‘A Weekend In The City’ via Polydor Records

http://blocparty.com/


THE KILLERS Human (2008)

Human_TheKillers_SingleWhile the synth was the rogue element of THE KILLERS’ debut album ‘Hot Fuss’, reflecting singer Brandon Flowers’ love of NEW ORDER and DURAN DURAN, it wasn’t until ‘Human’, co-produced by Stuart Price, that THE KILLERS came up with a true synthpop anthem. Effectively a soaring rework of the ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Forever Young’, the thundering motorik dancebeat confused their more rock-inclined fanbase, as did the Hunter S Thompson referencing refrain of “are we human or are we dancer?”.

Available on THE KILLERS album ‘Direct Hits’ via Island Records

http://www.thekillersmusic.com/


MGMT Time To Pretend (2008)

MGMT Time To PretendOriginally recorded for the 2005 EP of the same name, ‘Time To Pretend’ was stoner rock gone synthpop. Re-recorded for the ‘Oracular Spectacular’ album, Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden used a number of piercing monophonic synth lines to aurally represent the hatching of eggs laid by a deceased praying mantis. A lyrical fantasy about leading the rock star life of drugs and models, the overdriven drums and dominant synth bass pattern provided a perfect crossover record for MGMT.

Available on the MGMT album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ via Columbia Music

http://whoismgmt.com/


EDITORS Papillon (2009)

EDITORS-PapllonEDITORS followed a similar keyboard-based trajectory to BLOC PARTY with their third album ‘In This Light & on This Evening’. It spawned the Flood-produced ‘Papillon’ which was their most synth-dominated single to date, although a pure electronic fix of the song was provided by the fantastic TIESTO remix. The decision to “go synth” didn’t go without ramifications though, with lead guitarist Chris Urbanowicz departing in 2012 citing the band’s “future musical direction” as his reason to bail from the outfit.

Available on the album ‘In This Light & On This Evening’ via Kitchenware

http://www.editorsofficial.com/


JOHN GRANT Pale Green Ghosts (2013)

JOHN GRANT Pale Green GhostsWith JOHN GRANT, there are echoes of when hardcore folk fans screamed “JUDAS!” as Bob Dylan introduced electric guitars into his sound. Grant chose a folk festival for his we hope you enjoy our new direction moment, premiering a brace of synth/drum machine-based songs which prompted half the audience to walk out. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, produced with Biggie Viera of GUS GUS, showcased an artist unafraid to embrace a polar opposite style and actually pulling it off successfully.

Available on the album ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ via Bella Union

http://johngrantmusic.com/


Text by Paul Boddy and Chi Ming Lai
31st March 2016, updated 23rd April 2020