Gary Numan began his recording career in 1978, but the electronic pioneer has been celebrating great victories with his last few releases, satisfying his die-hard fans as well as gathering new younger audiences, partially by introducing his daughters to the mix, alongside cult collaborators like IAMX.
Continuing to crowdfound his endeavours to successfully finance the enterprise and while also giving his followers a tasty insight into his artistic processes, the daddy of synth brings out his latest long player ‘Intruder’.
While its predecessor, ‘Savage’ depicted a deserted post-apocalyptic world, clad in darkness, ‘Intruder’ delves into the planet’s feelings upon the destruction humanity causes. “The planet sees us as its children now grown into callous selfishness, with a total disregard for its well-being” Numan said, “It feels betrayed, hurt and ravaged. Disillusioned and heartbroken it is now fighting back. Essentially, it considers human kind to be a virus attacking the planet. Climate change is the undeniable sign of the Earth saying enough is enough, and finally doing what it needs to do to get rid of us, and explaining why it feels it has to do it.”
With this in mind, Numan introduces a different feel from ‘Splinter’ and ‘Savage’, still produced by Ade Fenton, who aims to deliver “what Gary wants”. The opus also features Elizabeth Bernholz and Gorkem Sen, who remotely worked their magic to enrich the production.
The eponymous single, with a video directed by Chris Corner aka IAMX once more, was the first song Numan shared with the audiences, at first struggling to find the appropriate chorus. The tale of the planet tired of being perpetually misused, rid of its resources and raped tirelessly by human kind, now fighting back is what he presents here. While musically not too dissimilar to his last two releases, the track is melodic and airy, retaining the adequate amount of heavier elements to ground it down, almost emulating the Camel Pose in yoga; being pulled from the heart, still very much attached to the source.
‘I Am Screaming’, alongside the classic Numan-esque sound of the electric piano, welcomes the Turkish musician Gorkem Sen, who brings the ethnic instrument of the Yaybahar into the mix. The use of this unique addition introduces quite an alien element into this electronic ballad, which is also quite poppy at times, wholesomely rounded by his haunting vocals.
Further Eastern influences can be palpable on ‘Saints & Liars’, while the cleverly cut ‘Now & Forever’ snips through the Earth’s funeral march with sparsely placed elements. Although gloomy, there’s hope here, accented with warm female vocal over lustrous synth. The song has double meaning, also being a love offering to his wife, as well as being a requiem for the dying planet.
Elizabeth Bernholz aka GAZELLE TWIN features on ‘The End Of Dragons’ bringing her uniqueness and melancholy. The track, in two versions, is otherworldly, eerily filmic and bursting with melody, possibly the most accomplished on the album.
The opening track ‘Betrayed’ with its off beat rhythm and wistful vocals, meanders in and out of consciousness, while the gritty ‘Is This World Not Enough?’ pumps the energy out into the damaged atmosphere. ‘The Gift’ with a further contribution from Gorkem Sen, retains the Eastern influences, weaving in and out of the gloomy rhythm.
A beautifully executed piano sequence ushers in ‘A Black Sun’, filled with fabulous sounds throughout, just to wrap up gently in a more classical way.
‘The Chosen’, in opposition, is fast paced and filled with pleading messages; Numan attacks again and again, just to progress to ‘And It Breaks Me Again’. This slower paced piece nods to the classic tonality of the electronic master, leading to pushy and driven ‘When You Fall’.
Numan, brilliantly engaging with his audiences, not only through the crowd funding, but his social media too, has proven that even a weathered artist can attract new blood. His honest and down to earth persona, the tight family and friendships with talented collaborators attract many, who will willingly place three red stripes down their faces and let it go viral.
And on top of that, the new album is not too shabby either!
‘Intruder’ is released by BMG in a variety of formats
Gary Numan 2022 UK and Ireland tour dates include:
Cardiff University Great Hall (28th April), Bristol O2 Academy (30th April), Brighton Centre (1st May), Birmingham O2 Institute (2nd May), Bournemouth O2 Academy (5th May), Plymouth Pavilions (6th May), London Wembley SSE Arena (7th May), Edinburgh Corn Exchange (9th May), Glasgow O2 Academy (10th May), Newcastle O2 City Hall (11th May), Leeds O2 Academy (12th May), Northampton Royal & Derngate (14th May), Norwich UEA (15th May), Nottingham Rock City (16th May), Manchester Albert Hall (18th May), Sheffield O2 (20th May), Dublin Olympia (24th May)
Ade Fenton is the producer and techno DJ best known for his work with Gary Numan over the past fifteen years.
As well as the albums ‘Jagged’, ‘Dead Son Rising’, ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’, there has also been the collaborative soundtrack to the film ‘From Inside’ and ‘Artificial Perfect’, Fenton’s only full length long player to date on which Numan sang four tracks.
Meanwhile, Ade Fenton has also been working with Gary Numan on re-recordings of the albums ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Exile’ and ‘Pure’ which originally came out between 1994-2000. The new album ‘Intruder’ sees Fenton continue his fruitful relationship with Numan which has also previous included joint DJ sets, one notably at John Foxx’s 2010 Short Circuit event at The Roundhouse in London.
The concept of ‘Intruder’ sees Planet Earth expressing emotions of betrayal and hurt as it is attacked by responding with a virus! The songs previewed so far such as the title song, ‘I Am Screaming’ and ‘Saints & Liars’ have been threatening yet anthemic, capturing that sinister synchronicity of art projecting life!
With the release of ‘Intruder’ imminent, Ade Fenton kindly gave an in-depth interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his productions past and present for the veteran electronic pioneer.
How did you come to first work with Gary Numan?
We got to know one another through a mutual friend and after an initial period where he mistook my quietness for arrogance, we started to get along very well. We were at a party at his house and he’d heard some stuff I’d been making for ‘Artificial Perfect’ and really liked it. At the time, he’d had a few production issues with ‘Jagged’ and so, slightly worse for wear, offered me the track ‘Scanner’ to work on. After a couple of weeks I delivered it to him, he loved it and we did another few. Again he really liked what I’d done and that was that. Here we are, 15 years or so later and on our fifth album together. Fairytale stuff really when you consider I grew up with posters of him all over my bedroom wall.
You were sort of working on ‘Jagged’ and your own album ‘Artificial Perfect’ simultaneously, how did you keep focus and was there ever a temptation where you might come up with an idea and think “oh, I’ll keep that for my own record!”?
It might have seemed as though there was an overlap but actually, ‘AP’ was long in the making. I’d been working on ‘AP’ on and off for ages, simultaneously managing a pretty full on DJ schedule, but what really got my juices flowing was a break up with a girl at the time. I look back on ‘AP’ now kinda hiding behind a cushion to be honest. I had little experience in writing actual songs at that point, so I really was learning on the job, but it was something I felt I really needed to do. ‘Jagged’ came a bit later, so no there was never that temptation. Even if there had been temptation, this was my first album working with Gary and I wanted to impress him, so if anything it would have been the other way around.
‘Jagged’ polarises listeners, how do you look back on it now?
Well, it will always hold a special place in my heart actually. It’s the album that really started things off for me and Gary in terms of our partnership, so I’m perhaps a bit biased. I do get why some people find it a tough listen, but it was meant to be exactly that. Gary wanted to make his heaviest record yet, so we absolutely went for it.
Interestingly, ‘Jagged’ was one of the last records that Gary mixed himself, as his ears had started to deteriorate by then, so some of the dense feel of the album is partly down to that.
With that in mind, Gary has decided that he’s going to put out another version of it at some point, which will be mixed by Nathan Boddy and myself. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference it makes working on it again all these years later.
Gary Numan was known to be going through a creative rut with the first version of ‘Splinter’ which had been intended to be a very heavy collection of tracks all running at the same mid-paced tempo, but was this concept ultimately flawed?
Good question. No, it wasn’t flawed as at the time, it was what he’d envisaged. As it panned out, ‘Splinter’ became a very personal album to Gary, telling of his story with depression, so there were obviously musical moments of extreme emotions, from the heavy and intense ‘Here In The Black’ to the despair of ‘Lost’.
So how did the return to the unreleased outtakes that had roots in previous albums and other projects happen to produce ‘Dead Son Rising’ in the interim?
As Gary has stated in his autobiography, at that time he was going through a period of depression and the anti-depressants he was taking had had a big effect on him in terms of creativity and work ethic. By this time, we’d become incredibly close both personally and professionally and so it hurt me to see one of my best mates feeling so sh*t. I’d heard some these outtakes and knew straight away that we could turn them into something very cool.
So, he just let me get on with it and eventually the tracks had developed so much, he finally sat up and took notice. At that point, it was finished pretty quickly as the creativity was back, and he was firing on all cylinders. I look back on that period with a mixture of emotions but actually, by the time the album was done, it felt like we’d created something pretty strong.
In what way do you think making ‘Dead Son Rising’ ultimately helped to clear the decks to focus on ‘Splinter’?
After the initial setbacks, Gary and I wrote and developed the songs for ‘Dead Son Rising’ jointly, so for ‘Splinter’, Gary’s mojo had returned and it was very much a Gary Numan album, with me producing his songs. His depression had, inadvertently, provided a wealth of feelings to inspire ‘Splinter’ and once he started to send me the demos, I felt he was back. Clearly, the difficulties he’d experienced in making ‘DSR’ had proved cathartic and so everything, from the ‘Splinter’ concept to the songs to the imagery, was clear in his head from day one.
‘Splinter’ eventually became an album of varying tempos with ‘Who Are You’ being a quite fast paced surprise. You love techno but it doesn’t really permeate as such into Numan’s music, or does it?
There are perhaps very subtle hints at what I used to make in my techno days, but I’ve never allowed it to become a feature of Gary’s music, that just wouldn’t be right. But, my understanding of that kind of groove certainly helps with tracks like ‘My Name Is Ruin’, ‘The Fall’ and ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ for example. The heavy kicks and basslines in those tracks certainly lean on the power that a four-to-the-floor groove can create.
With the ballad ‘Lost’, how did you manage to persuade Numan to use his voice naturally with a minimum of effects?
Lots of arguments! Well, maybe a couple. In my opinion, and certainly the position I took at the time, was that the story that song tells is exactly why Gary’s vocal should be exposed and almost naked. He’s laying it all on the line, telling us all what happened in his life, so let’s have the vocal upfront and not swathed in reverb and delay. It should sound as though Gary’s in the room with you, two feet away. I love that song, and unusually for me, I can still go back to it now and honestly say I don’t think I’d produce it any differently.
‘My Last Day’ was an appropriately apocalyptic end to ‘Splinter’, a variation on the Polymoog “vox humana” sound dominates the track, but how did you go about reconstructing your interpretation of this texture?
Cor, these are great questions. For starters, that song, as you may know, is about someone Gary knew who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Imagine knowing your last day on earth is just around the corner. Imagine knowing you won’t get to see your kids grow up.
What would your last day be like and what would you say? These are all almost unbearable questions that some people have to face. So, as a producer how do you create those feelings through music? Gary and I talked a lot about that before we made ‘My Last Day’. I found it incredibly hard to work on that song, not musically or technically, but emotionally, I was a wreck. It’s such a beautiful song, incredibly sad, yet we felt like it should have this enormous and grandiose ending.
Gary had sent me the demo with the Moog style string sound dominating the mix, so for me it was a case of building on that. The sound Gary used was a patch from Spectrasonics Omnisphere and I added my own by creating a patch on my Access Virus Ti, which I used a lot on ‘Splinter’.
The ‘Savage’ album managed to be dark and intense but the more metal elements of previous long players were dialled down this time round, had that been a conscious decision?
Kind of. It wasn’t a pre-meditated decision, but it became obvious after song two or three that this wasn’t going to be that kind of album. I remember that we worked on ‘Bed Of Thorns’ first, of which Gary’s demo had been very Middle Eastern flavoured. I don’t remember which came next, but as the demos flowed in from him, we talked about it and both agreed that this album should be predominantly electronic. The power would come from big synth bass sounds rather than thrashy guitars in the most part. Ironic and frustrating then, that we were disqualified from being number one in Billboard’s Electronic Chart for not being electronic enough. Ridiculous.
When ‘And It All Began With You’ premiered, many listening were held in their tracks, a ballad as good as anything on ‘Telekon’, how did it come together as a recording?
Yeah, it’s another beauty isn’t it. When Gary sent me the demo, it blew me away. The vocal range reminded me of Chris Isaak, so the idea was very much to compliment that by using Steve Harris to create some guitar textures which would tug at the heart strings and we achieved that using the fantastic Eventide H9.
It was then a case of keeping the other elements really subtle, from the gentle and very simple drum groove to the random apreggiated synth pattern. I’m not sure if anyone noticed but I also recorded a thunder storm and ran it through the entire duration of the track. It seemed to add a lovely texture to everything else that was going on.
‘When The World Comes Apart’ managed to combine the classic synth elements of Numan with his more industrial rock sound successfully, is it a battle in the studio to reach this kind of compromise aesthetically?
Technically, it’s not a difficult thing to achieve but the challenge is getting it to sound contemporary. As most fans know, since I started working with Gary, I’ve tried to re-introduce some of the classic Numan sounds, but I’m resolute in making sure it never sounds pastiche. So, vocals at the top of the mix, anthemic string sounds, and synth bass sounds driving the songs. I think we’ve managed to achieve a modern sound, with subtle hints towards Gary’s legacy.
‘Savage’ proved to be Numan’s most successful for years plus there were still great songs like ‘It Will End Here’ left over. Had this been a comparatively straightforward album to make compared with the others, particularly in terms of studio rapport?
‘It Will End Here’ wasn’t left over, it was written specifically for the ‘The Fallen’ EP. It was only straightforward in the sense that we completed it from start to finish in 7 or 8 months, whereas ‘Splinter’ for example, had taken around 18 months. I’m not sure whether that was down to any kind of studio rapport though.
During the making of ‘Splinter’, Gary had moved to LA, so clearly that hindered its progress. With ‘Savage’, we absolutely nailed our working process and it came together quite quickly. Over the years, we’ve obviously developed level of trust for one another, so we generally leave one another to do our thing, then come together at the crucial stages.
So is the new Gary Numan album ‘Intruder’ part of a ‘Broken’ trilogy?
No. Although ‘Intruder’ is another theme based album, it’s definitely the next step rather than an additional piece of that ‘Broken’ jigsaw. ‘Intruder’ has a different feel to it than ‘Splinter’ and ‘Savage’, the use of incredible musicians like Gorkem Sen and Elizabeth Bernholz and a slightly different approach to creating the sound palette, sets it apart from the previous two.
What were your own first synths and what are your studio tools, keyboards and software of choice these days?
Crikey, well my first ever synth was a Korg Poly 800, many, many years ago. These days my studio is a mixture of analogue and digital. My DAW of choice is Logic Pro, and has been since Logic 5 I think, which I run on a Mac Pro. I run a huge selection of software synths and FX, including Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Trilian, the full NI suite of which Reaktor and FORM are my weapons of choice, a big Arturia collection with my go to instruments being the Buchla Easel, SEM V and Pigments, U-he’s Zebra and Zebra HZ, FXpansion’s Strobe and Cypher and for software processing I use Soundtoys, Waves etc. amongst many others.
On the hardware side, I use Arturia’s fantastic PolyBrute and MiniBrute 2S, with a MatrixBrute Noir on order (yippee), Analogue Solutions Leipzig-S and Vostok Deluxe, Access Virus Ti2, Waldorf Blofeld, Elektron Analog Keys and a MFB Urzwerg Pro for step sequencing.
My MIDI controller keyboard is a NI Komplete Kontrol S61 and I also use a Maschine Mk3 for making beats. For processing, I use an Eventide Eclipse and a Sherman Filterbank. Last but certainly not least are my beloved speakers, which are the PMC 228’s.
On ‘I Am Screaming’, the classic Numan elements of electric piano and drum machine shape the intro, but there’s this new element of Turkish musician Gorkem Sen bringing a Yaybahar to the palette. The melodies of Middle Eastern music have been a feature in Numan’s music over the years in viola or software form, but what inspired using an actual traditional ethnic instrument and what were the challenges of recording it?
Gary had spotted a video on YouTube of Gorkem playing the Yaybahar and sent it to me. We were both blown away by the sound this thing was making, so I suggested getting in touch with Gorkem. It took a bit of time to sort out, but eventually Gorkem agreed to do it.
Gorkem recorded the Yaybahar at his place and sent me the stems. It was pretty straightforward and we’re eternally grateful to him for allowing us to feature his unique instrument on the album.
Elizabeth Bernholz aka GAZELLE TWIN features on the ‘Intruder’ album too and she has magnificent haunting vocal range. With everything going on, did she have to be recorded remotely? What challenges does this present to you as a producer?
She did yes. I’ve known Elizabeth for a few years now. She’s a genius and I’m a huge fan of her work and everything she creates, both sonically and visually. She recorded her vocals remotely at her studio pretty late in the day actually. That was because we were still tweaking away at the tracks and we wanted to have a clear idea of what we thought would work for her.
I’d had a chat with her prior to her recording her stuff, so she knew which direction we wanted it to take, but honestly, when she sent the vocals back for ‘The End Of Dragons’, I sat in my studio screaming “f****ccckkkkk!” very loudly. We’d made a fairly grandiose, orchestral sounding intro to the piano version of the song, but when she added her immense vocals to it, I nearly fell off my chair. I can’t thank her enough for the unique layer she’s added to the album and I hope it’s the first of many collaborations with her. Recording remotely wasn’t really a challenge with her, or with any of the other musicians on the album. It’s not like we had a choice, so we just got on with it.
Which track from ‘Intruder’ has been your favourite to work on?
Tough question, so I’m going to have to choose two. ’I Am Screaming’ and ‘The Gift’. I loved the challenge of introducing some of the elements you mentioned in a previous question to this album’s sound.
As a producer, I’m very aware that my priority is to deliver what Gary wants, not what I want.
But, because of the trust I mentioned previously, he allows me to try stuff, some of which sticks and some of which doesn’t. So, using a CR-78 and a modern take on the Roland CP30 piano sound was something I wasn’t sure Gary would go for, but running it through some heavy tape saturation and Soundtoys Decapitator gave it a lovely bite. I think I enjoyed those tracks in particular because there’s a lot of space in the verse sections to be able to experiment with sound design. Also, Gorkem’s contribution to ‘The Gift’ especially, takes it to another level altogether.
What next for you? Will there be a full length follow-up to ‘Artificial Perfect’ and are there any guest vocalists you have in mind?
I really don’t know about that. I have no desire to do a follow up, but I would like to work on some more collaborations. I’ve been working on a score for a boxing documentary called ‘In The Company Of Kings’ recently, that’s pretty much finished now so I think it’ll be a collaboration, then another Gary album.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Ade Fenton
Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally?
Yes, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Oxygène’ came before, while the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer is acknowledged as being the track that changed pop music forever and still sounds like the future even in the 21st Century. French electronic disco like ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘Supernature’ also made its impact.
Meanwhile closer to home, a post-punk revolution was already permeating in the UK with the advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan being adopted by the likes of THE NORMAL, THROBBING GRISTLE, CABARET VOLTAIRE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. But it was Gary Numan who took the sound of British synth to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ in 1979. It signalled a change in the musical landscape as the synth was considered a worthy mode of youthful expression rather than as a novelty, using one finger instead of three chords.
Despite first albums from John Foxx and OMD, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. But things were changing and there had also been the release of the first Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ and the eponymous debut long player by VISAGE just as The Blitz Club and the New Romantic movement were making headlines. With the acclaim for the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ in early 1981 which launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE, a wider electronic breakthrough was now almost inevitable.
VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ went on to be a West German No1 in Spring 1981 and this exciting period culminated in THE HUMAN LEAGUE taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to the top spot in the US six months year after becoming the 1981 UK Christmas No1. It would be fair to say that after this, the purer sound of synth was never quite the same again.
For many listeners, 1981 was a formative year and had so many significant new releases that it was difficult to stretch the limited pocket money to fund album purchases. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK even took to selling bootleg C90 cassettes on the school playground, promising a value-for-money “two albums for one” deal to support this disgusting habit!
Looking back to four decades ago when there were also albums from DEVO, EURYTHMICS, FAD GADGET, LOGIC SYSTEM, SPANDAU BALLET, SPARKS and TANGERINE DREAM, here are twenty albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1981. Listed in alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, this is the way it was in the past, a long long time ago…
DAF Alles Ist Gut
Under a haze of “sex, drugs and sequencer”, the late Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl released an acclaimed album trilogy produced by Conny Plank. The first ‘Alles Ist Gut’ featured their fierce breakthrough track ‘Der Mussolini’ which flirted with right wing imagery in its sardonic reflections on ideology. Causing controversy and confusing observers, DAF attracted a following which Delgado hated. Despite his parents escaping from the Franco regime in Spain, he was always unapologetic about the provocation within his lyrics.
Having conceived the idea of a teenage synthpop group called SILICON TEENS, this dream of Daniel Miller became flesh and blood when he came across a young quartet from Basildon called DEPECHE MODE. Signing on a handshake 50/50 deal to his Mute Records, the group became a chart success. Despite other great songs like ‘Puppets’ and ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’, the group fragmented on the release of their 1981 debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. The remaining trio of Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore recruited Alan Wilder, while Vince Clarke formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet.
Following the ‘retirement’ of Gary Numan with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band became DRAMATIS. RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley had been instrumental in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation and their only album showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities. While the use of four different lead vocalists (including Numan himself on the superb ‘Love Needs No Disguise’) confused the continuity of the album, musically, there was much to enjoy.
Originally released by Rocket Records, currently unavailable
It would be fair to say that the classic line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor took the arty poise of JAPAN and toned down their androgynous outré to make it more accessible But the enduring appeal of DURAN DURAN is great timeless pop songs and that was apparent on the self-titled debut album which at times sounded like an electronic band with a heavy metal guitarist bolted on, especially on ‘Careless Memories’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. But most will just remember the two hits ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Girls on Film’.
Thawing considerably following the release of the acclaimed ‘Metamatic’, John Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard”. Exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. ‘The Garden’ album featured acoustic guitar and piano as showcased in the Linn Drum driven single ‘Europe After The Rain’. With choral experiments like ‘Pater Noster’, a return to art rock on ‘Walk Away’ and the more pastoral climes of the lengthy title track, Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.
Fronted by the cool persona of vocalist Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary, taking in yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The first ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven embellished by the guitar and bass of John Wilson. The second ‘Penthouse’ side was like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh’s swansong with the band.
After Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left to form HEAVEN 17, vocalist Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright recruited Susanne Sulley, Joanne Catherall, Jo Callis and Ian Burden to record ‘Dare’ under the production helm of Martin Rushent. Like KRAFTWERK meeting ABBA, the dreamboat collection of worldwide hits like ‘Love Action’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ had a marvellous supporting cast in ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Seconds’ and ‘Darkness’. Only the Linn Drum rework of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ blotted the album’s near perfection.
JAPAN took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. A much more minimal album than its predecessor ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, there was hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the Roland System 700. David Sylvian’s lyrical themes of ‘Tin Drum’ flirted with Chinese Communism as Brian Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), a point highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.
With his synthesized symphonies, Jean-Michel Jarre helped popularise the sound of electronic music. ‘Magnetic Fields’ was his first long player to utilise the Fairlight CMI which allowed him to absorb some musique concrete ideas such as water splashing and hydraulic train doors into his compositions. Featuring the klanky Korg Rhythm KR55, it was a much more percussive album than ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’ had been, complementing the metallic textures that featured. However, ‘The Last Rumba’ confused some who considered the home organ closer incongruous.
Having scored an unexpected UK hit with the sonic beauty of ‘I Hear You Now’, Jon Anderson and Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou presented a second album in ‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’. Featuring ‘State Of Independence’ which was to become a hit for Donna Summer, the album was laced with spiritual overtones over symphonic synths, cinematic piano and dialogue samples from films. However, the album is now best known for the single ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ which had not been included on the original tracklisting.
‘Computer World’ could be considered one of the most prophetic albums of its time. KRAFTWERK forsaw the cultural impact of internet dating on ‘Computer Love’, but the title track highlighted the more sinister implications of surveillance by “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard” with the consequences of its prophecy still very relevant discussion points today. But the dynamic rhythmic template of ‘Numbers’ was to have a major impact on Urban America as it was mutated into hip-hop, rap and techno.
LANDSCAPE From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus
Jazz fusion combo LANDSCAPE were led by producer Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV with Dave Simmons as the first standalone electronic drum kit, with circuitry based on the ARP 2600. Using a Lyricon, the first wind-controlled synth played by John Waters as its lead hook, ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ was a fabulously cartoon-like tune about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists! Meanwhile, ‘European Man’ predated EDM by having the phrase “electronic dance music” emblazoned on its single sleeve.
Rising from the ashes of JOY DIVISION and reconvening in late 1980, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris chose the name NEW ORDER as a symbol of their fresh start and after deciding against recruiting a new vocalist, Morris’ girlfriend and later wife, Gillian Gilbert was recruited. Despite Martin Hannett still producing, recording sessions were fraught although synths were taking greater prominence while Morris used a Doctor Rhythm DR55 drum machine on ‘Truth’ and ‘Doubts Even Here’. ‘Movement’ may not have been a great debut album, but it was an important one.
Following his much-publicised retirement from live performance, the last thing Numanoids expected from their hero was an understated Brian Eno homage. At nearly an hour’s playing time, ‘Dance’ outstayed its welcome and despite the title, these were mostly downtempo pieces with ‘Slowcar To China’ and ‘Cry The Clock Said’ stretching to 10 minutes. Much was made of JAPAN’s Mick Karn playing fretless bass although he was only on five of the eleven tracks. It was the wrong album at the wrong time but in ‘A Subway Called You’ and ‘Crash’, there were some great moments.
‘Dance’ is still available via Beggars Banquet Records
”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys in 2010. The big booming ambience of the album next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with the spectre of LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK. Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany.
SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call
A generally overlooked ‘double’ opus, ‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ exploited the KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences of SIMPLE MINDS to the full, under the production auspices of Steve Hillage. From the singles ‘The American’ and ‘Love Song’ to the mighty instrumental ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and the unsettling dentist drill menace of ‘70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, with basslines articulating alongside synths and guitars layered in effects that when harmonised together were almost as one, this was SIMPLE MINDS at close to their very best.
In their cover of Northern Soul favourite ‘Tainted Love’, SOFT CELL provided the first true Synth Britannia crossover record. Possibly one of the best albums of 1981, ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. At the time, art school boys Marc Almond and Dave Ball were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE. But with the follow-up success of the Top5 singles ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, the pair became reluctant popstars, chased around by both teenagers and paparazzi.
‘Sex’ was Belgian trio TELEX’s third album and a collaboration with SPARKS that saw the Mael brothers contribute lyrics to all nine tracks. Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was the hit single that never was. Meanwhile, like KRAFTWERK meeting YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ‘Brainwash’ was quite obviously the blueprint for LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Get Innocuous!’. However, the tracklisting was considerably revamped for the UK release in 1982 as ‘Birds & Bees’.
‘Sex’ was released by Ariola, currently unavailable
‘Rage in Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ but it was something of a paranoia ridden affair having been created from the bottom up at Conny Plank’s remote countryside studio near Cologne. There was synthetic bass power on tracks like ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’, but there was also the tape experimentation of the title track which used the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned “noonretfa eht ni htaed… rebmemer i ho” vocal effect.
‘BGM’, the third full length album from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was the first recording to feature the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and was also made using a digital 3M 32-track machine. Following the technopop of the self-titled debut and ‘Solid State Survivor’ albums, ‘BGM’ included reworked pieces such as ‘Loom’ and ‘1000 Knives’. The best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics from which the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name.
The origin of the BBC radio session came about due to restrictions imposed on the corporation by the Musicians Union and Phonographic Performance Limited with regards the airing of recorded music.
The thinking behind this was to create employment, as well as force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. As a result, the BBC had to hire bands and orchestras to perform cover versions of recorded music to make up for the shortfall.
When the policy evolved with the advent of the more pop and rock oriented station Radio1, bands ventured into BBC’s Maida Vale studios to lay down between 3 to 5 tracks, with in-house personnel such as John Walters, Dale Griffin, Jeff Griffin, Chris Lycett, Mike Robinson, John Owen Williams and (not that) Tony Wilson helming the sessions.
The most celebrated of these BBC sessions were recorded for John Peel, but equally of merit and perhaps more of an indicator to potential breakthroughs into the mainstream were those produced for Richard Skinner and Kid Jensen.
Sessions were usually recorded and mixed in a single day, so had a rougher feel that lay somewhere between a live performance and a studio recording, sounding almost like a polished demo.
While acts would often use the opportunity to promote their latest single or album, others would premiere recently written compositions, try out different arrangements on established songs or perform cover versions. A number of these session recordings were even superior to their eventual officially released versions.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its favourite 25 BBC Radio1 session tracks with other selection criteria including rare songs or tracks capturing the zeitgeist and signalling a change in the course of music. Presented in chronological and then alphabetical order within each year with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are some special moments from our beloved Auntie Beeb.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth (John Peel 1978)
In Summer 1978, THE HUMAN LEAGUE perhaps surprisingly recorded their only session for the BBC which included ‘Being Boiled’, ‘No Time’ (which became ‘The Word Before Last’), a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Blind Youth’. The latter was the frantic percussive highlight of the four, a wonderfully shambolic slice of synth punk with bum bleeps and avant waves of white noise, all held together by the metallic rhythmic bed of a sequenced Roland System 100.
TUBEWAY ARMY I Nearly Married A Human (John Peel 1979)
Although only comprising of three tracks, Gary Numan’s session as TUBEWAY ARMY for John Peel in early 1979 captured an artist in transition. From the comparatively punky ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ to the dystopian synthpop of ‘Down In The Park’, the electronics were gaining more prominence to suit his increasingly unsettling lyrical themes. And on the mostly instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’, the machines launched a coup d’etat and took over like an army of replicants with the murmurs of the title being the only sign of flesh and blood.
Several months after the release of their self-titled debut long player, OMD returned for their second of their four John Peel sessions with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey accompanied by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Dave Hughes. By now, their live sound had expanded and this change was captured on this session with the version of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ having more presence and a looser percussive edge compared with the underwhelming drum machine-led album version.
One of the bands alongside SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE who got a profile boost from their inclusion on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, although they were signed by Phonogram to take on DURAN DURAN, B-MOVIE had more of a psychedelic vibe as reflected by songs like ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ and ‘All Fall Down’ on their first John Peel session in March 1981. But the highlight was ‘Polar Opposites’ with its mighty ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ synth line. It would have made a great single, but never properly was!
Broadcast in Summer 1981, this session captured the original DEPECHE MODE line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke several months before the release of debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. Refining into a pop band but still retaining much of the synthetic rawness that linked them artistically to acts like FAD GADGET, the session was characterised by use of the Korg Rhythm KR55 drum machine with its charming klanky metallics. This version of ‘Boys Say Go’ possessed an aggression that was lost on the eventual album cut.
Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN only did the one BBC session for their biggest champion Peter Powell. Broadcast in June 1981 to coincide with the release of their self-titled debut, they recorded near-facsimile versions of ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Anyone Out There’ and ‘Night Boat’. But a surprise came with ‘Like An Angel’, a sprightly love song unreleased at the time which pointed away from the New Romantics to the more mainstream pop ambition of the ‘Rio’ opus that was to come just a year later.
Available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘Duran Duran’ via EMI Records
Contributing five songs to their first BBC session as ‘Tainted Love’ was rising up the UK chart, brilliant songs like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrated the potential of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, even in basic form. While ‘Seedy Films’ was faster paced and a bit “snap, crackle and pop” compared to the more sophisticated and laid-back clarinet-laden ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album version, it outlined why at the time, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE.
‘Studio B15’ was a short-lived Sunday afternoon magazine show presented by the late Adrian Love that often invited their guests to perform live. SPANDAU BALLET had just released their debut album ‘Journeys To Glory’ and as a band that didn’t tour and rarely played live, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. ‘Mandolin’ featured a prominent Yamaha CS10 synth line while this version featured Simmons drums and a much clearer vocal with a more pronounced diction from Tony Hadley compared to the oddly smothered album version.
Aired in February 1982, BLANCMANGE were captured in their only John Peel session as a much darker proposition than was later perceived by their UK chart success. It included an early take on ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without its Indian embellishments but the session was notable for ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’, two songs that would not make it onto the ‘Happily Families’ tracklisting. ‘Running Thin’ in particular saw Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe trapped in a stark state of gloomy resignation.
Recorded nearly six months before the release of their debut album, CHINA CRISIS’ first John Peel session saw the duo exploring territory that sat between electronic and traditional pop. ‘Seven Sports For All’ and ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’ ended up on the album while the more moody ‘Be Suspicious’ was already a B-side. But this version of ‘This Occupation’ was pure machine-propelled synthpop complete with sequencing and strong lead lines; later recordings that appeared on the B-sides of ‘Wishful Thinking’ were never as good.
After their 1981 German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. In a BBC session that also included ‘Love Is A Stranger’ which was soon to be issued as a single , ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ was an unusual hybrid of synths, electronic drums and wah-wah guitar, with flute by the front woman alongside her particularly intense and raw vocal. By comparison, the released version on the ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ album was more restrained.
Not actually recorded at the BBC, NEW ORDER’s second self-produced John Peel session was a fascinating document of the Mancunian’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a future proto-dance direction. Meanwhile ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off debut album ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom but also remaining unreleased, discarded as if a relic from another era.
Featuring ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Hurting’, ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ and ‘Memories Fade’, the arrangements for this BBC session aired after TEARS FOR FEARS’ success with ‘Mad World’ differed significantly from the versions on their debut album. Featuring Linn Drum programming and Banshees-like guitar instead of sax, this version of ‘Memories Fade’ was far superior, utilising a much more powerful mechanised rhythmic tension that reflected the fraught paranoia and resignation of Roland Orzabal’s lyrical angst.
Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS boxed set ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records
Reshaped with a Fairlight and Linn Drum Computer, this version of ‘In My Room’ recorded in session for Kid Jensen was far superior to the irritating album version on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. Forming the basis for the live interpretation, it was now free of Vince Clarke’s “Our Father” tape loop monologue and allowed Alison Moyet space to express her emotive frustration to reveal a fantastic song free of distractions. Other songs in the session included beefed up takes on ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, ‘Situation’ and ‘Too Pieces’.
Co-written with Wayne Hussey, ‘Give It To Me’ was Pete Burns at his filthy lyrical best, declaring that “Apart from all your obvious attractions, I’ve got the bullets, you’ve got the gun, bang me into action, let’s make this obvious distraction, physically you are just what I wanted!”. Although this slice of Middle Eastern favoured HI-NRG later surfaced as a bonus track on the 12 inch single of ‘I’d Do Anything’, it seems almost unbelievable now that this potential hit single was never developed further in the studio.
Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE boxed set ‘Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI’ via Edsel Records
JOHN FOXX Hiroshima Mon Amour (Saturday Live 1983)
‘Saturday Live’ was a show that featured interviews and live sessions. Having ventured out touring for the first time since his ULTRAVOX days in support of his third solo album ‘The Golden Section’, John Foxx eschewed material from ‘Metamatic’ but perhaps more surprisingly, mined his former band’s catalogue. Backed by Robin Simon, Peter Oxdendale, David Levy and Barry Watts, Foxx performed an interesting arrangement of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ sans rhythm machine but with guitars, ARP Odyssey and the ubiquitous thud of Simmons drums.
Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records
HOWARD JONES Don’t Put These Curses On Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
Having triumphed opening for CHINA CRISIS in Spring 1983, Howard Jones impressed with his first BBC session featuring songs like ‘New Song’ and ‘Natural’ which would be included on his debut album ‘Human’s Lib’. The album title track also featured on the session with its original love triangle monologue intro. But ‘Don’t Put These Curses On Me’ would not be released until 2003, thanks to Jones considering the song unlucky following an equipment breakdown while attempting to perform it on the live Channel 4 TV show ‘Loose Talk’.
Available on the HOWARD JONES boxed set ‘Human’s Lib’ via Cherry Red Records
SIMPLE MINDS The Kick Inside Of Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
By the end of 1983, SIMPLE MINDS were leaning heavily towards more rockist climes with songs like ‘Waterfront’. But for a three song BBC session which also featured a reprise of ‘New Gold Dream’, there was the debut of ‘The Kick Inside Of Me’, a lively track with catchy synth riffs, an infectious bassline and minimal guitar. But come the released version for the Steve Lillywhite produced ‘Sparkle In The Rain’, it had totally been ruined with distorted guitar, overblown drums and yobbish shouting in a pointless attempt to emulate THE SEX PISTOLS!
This session captured TALK TALK after the departure of keyboardist Simon Brenner but before producer Tim Friese-Greene came on board as Mark Hollis’ writing partner. Showcasing at the time four brand new songs, only ‘Call In The Night Boy’ ended up on the next album ‘It’s My Life’ while ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Again A Game Again’ became B-sides. But most interesting was ‘Why Is It So Hard?’ which was only released in Canada on the ‘It’s My Mix’ EP as an Extended Version and didn’t get a UK release until 1998 on the ‘Asides Bsides’ collection.
With only Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now remaining, VISAGE surprised all by recording a BBC session with new members Steve Barnacle and Andy Barnett, featuring previously unheard songs ‘Can You Hear Me?’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘The Promise’ and the funky standout ‘Questions’. With a more live feel, there was hope that VISAGE would be able to sustain some creative momentum despite the departure of Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Dave Formula but the eventual over-produced ‘Beat Boy’ album was rotten, marred by heavy metal guitar and hopelessly off-key singing!
Despite the patronage of Rusty Egan, Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent as well as a tour opening for DEPECHE MODE, the industrial pop of HARD CORPS did not breakthrough and by the time their only album ‘Metal + Flesh’ was released in 1990, all momentum had been lost. But the gothic tension and edgy energy of their music was perhaps best represented by their BBC sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, with ‘Metal + Flesh’ from the 1984 Peel session far outstripping the eventual album title track studio incarnation.
For an Autumn session before the release of their debut album ‘The Age Of Consent’, BRONSKI BEAT took the unusual step of recording three solo tracks, with the only band offering being a take on ‘Why?’ B-side ‘Close To the Edge’. Larry Steinbachek presented a HI-NRG instrumental ‘Ultraclone’ while Jimmy Somerville offered the acapella ‘Puit D’amour’. But Steve Bronski contributed the most unusual track, a beautifully new age piece called ‘The Potato Fields’ which took its lead from the Japanese composer Kitaro, a version of which ended up as a bonus on the ‘I Feel Love’ 12 inch.
From Spring 1984 to coincide with the release of their new single ‘Blue Emotion’, FIAT LUX stepped into BBC Maida Vale for a session to demonstrate their diversity and musicality as more than just a synth act. As well as ‘Blue Emotion’, there was its Brechtean B-side ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ and an acoustic version of ‘Secrets’. But best of all was ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a glorious burst of uptempo North European melancholy that did not officially see the light of day until the shelved FIAT LUX album ‘Ark Of Embers was finally released by Cherry Red Records in 2019.
ERASURE Who Needs Love Like That? (Bruno Brookes 1985)
With ERASURE, Vince Clarke had found himself back to square one after YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY. Recruiting Andy Bell as the flamboyant front man capable of falsetto and creating the vocal tones of Alison Moyet, ‘Who Needs Love Like That?’ did sound like a YAZOO outtake and in this BBC session recording, was busier and more percussive than the already released single version. While ERASURE were not an instant success, the song did eventually chart on its remixed re-release in 1992.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records
John Peel was not a fan of PET SHOP BOYS or much synthpop for that matter, so it was a surprise when Neil Tennant and Chris Love did a session for him using the back to basics approach that they had adopted for the ‘Release’ tour with guitars, bass and percussion in the line-up. But the bonus for fans was that two of the songs recorded ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘A Powerful Friend’, which had been written in 1983 and shelved, were specially revived for the occasion. Both numbers were particularly energetic with the latter even featuring very loud rock guitars!
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.
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 here is 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, 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 an 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!