Tag: Jimmy Sommerville

The Electronic Legacy of GREATEST HITS

Despite his lukewarm review of NEW ORDER’s ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ for ‘Smash Hits’, as a fan of their singles, Neil Tennant wrote: “I’m still looking forward to their ‘Greatest Hits’”.

Not appreciating a greatest hits of an artist who you admire is the ultimate in fan snobbery; that they are in a position of being able to release one is often a symbol of wider acclaim and success.

Despite what those too cool for school hipster types would have you believe, when you are 15 years old with just £4 in your hand, if you are choosing a record of an artist who you only know the singles of, you tend to opt for a compilation where possible, that is a fact.

The greatest hits compilation has its place in documenting the immediate appeal of an artist. It can often be the only release that most casual listeners need, especially if the albums were disappointing and featured all the wrong versions of their best songs as was the case with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.

But then, duos like PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE were just supreme in the singular format while conversely, there are those like HEAVEN 17 and VISAGE whose best work can be found on their first two albums. However, bands such as NEW ORDER could often be better represented by their singles rather than their albums, as many of them were standalone releases that were not included on their long players which were often quite different in musical style.

Now while something as “commercial” as releasing a greatest hits would have been an anathema to NEW ORDER’s label Factory Records in 1983, flush with unexpected success and cash, Tony Wilson wanted to play their singles using the CD player that came with his brand new Jaguar car.

Thus, the ‘Substance’ compilation was born in 1987; issued in a variety of formats including double vinyl, cassette, DAT and CD, the latter three variants made use of the extra playing time available and included bonuses such as B-sides, tracks only previously issued in Belgium, instrumental versions and those rarely essential dub experiments.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly despite its flaws with re-recordings, edits and omissions, ‘Substance’ has gone on to sell around twelve million copies worldwide and was many fans’ entry point into NEW ORDER.

A good compilation does the job of attracting new fans while providing something extra for long standing fans and completists where possible. New versions or up-to-the-minute remixes of established standards were the fashion for a period but thankfully, this marketing strategy is today generally considered passé and previously unreleased songs are now considered the main draw.

But ultimately, what makes a great greatest hits package is a seamless listening experience, although this is something which even the best acts don’t always get right despite the quality of their best output.

So 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 Collection’ was released by Chrysalis Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


DEPECHE MODE The Singles 81-85 (1985)

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 Singles 81-85’ was released by Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


GARY NUMAN Exhibition (1987)

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?’.

‘Exhibition’ was released by Beggars Banquet

http://garynuman.com/


CHINA CRISIS Collection (1990)

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.

‘Collection’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


JIMMY SOMERVILLE The Singles Collection (1990)

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.

‘The Singles Collection’was released by London Records

https://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk/


TALK TALK Natural History (1990)

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.

‘Natural History’ was released by EMI Records

https://spiritoftalktalk.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Discography (1991)

‘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.

‘Discography’ was released by EMI Records

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


ERASURE Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992)

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.

‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ was released by Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


KRAFTWERK The Model (1992)

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.

‘The Model’ was released by Cleopatra Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Bang!… (1993)

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.

‘Bang!…’ was released by Warner Music

http://www.ztt.com/artists/frankie_goes_to_hollywood.html


JOHN FOXX Modern Art (2001)

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’.

‘Modern Art’ was released by Music Club

http://www.metamatic.com/


SIMPLE MINDS Early Gold (2003)

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…

‘Early Gold’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


NEW ORDER Singles (2005)

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.

‘Singles’ was released by London Records

http://www.neworder.com/


JAPAN The Very Best Of (2006)

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.

‘The Very Best Of’ was released by Virgin Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


DURAN DURAN The Singles 81-85 (2009)

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.

‘The Singles 81-85’ was released by EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com/


LADYTRON Best Of 00-10 (2011)

“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.

‘Best of 00-10’ was released by Nettwerk Records

http://www.ladytron.com/


CAMOUFLAGE The Singles (2014)

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? 😉

‘The Singles’ was released by Polydor Records

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


JEAN MICHEL JARRE Essential Recollection (2015)

Jean-Michel Jarre has several greatest hits albums but they all have been frustrating listens. This has largely been due to his synthesizer symphonies not being suited to sub-three minute edits, a flaw heavily exposed on the ‘Images’ compilation. But ‘Essential Recollection’ collected the French Maestro’s most accessible moments with sympathetic fades that captured the essence of his electronic wizardry. However, 2000’s ‘The Bells’ was odd inclusion in a collection that focussed on his earlier imperial phase.

‘Essential Recollection’ was released by Sony Music

https://jeanmicheljarre.com/


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!

‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles’ was released by Universal Music

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


OMD Souvenir (2019)

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!

‘Souvenir’ was released by Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th July 2020, updated 27th July 2020

KNIGHT$ Dollars & Cents

Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, James Knights has been making synthwaves with sparkly Britalo!

Slicker and less intense than his previous band SCARLET SOHO, shiny disco pop is what his KNIGHT$ alter-ego is all about.

Combining the melodic Italo Disco spirit of SAVAGE and RAF with British exponents of the form such as PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, ‘Dollars & Cents’ is a joyous ray of sunshine. It opens perfectly with the catchy KNIGHT$ calling card ‘What’s Your Poison?’ that was first issued in 2017.

A dig at modern internet dating culture, he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I guess I thought people would have a better idea of finding the perfect date by offering people drinks and judging them on their choice! Gotta be better than Tinder!”

KNIGHT$ has made a wise choice by including his first single, but it is the glorious ‘Gelato’ that affirms KNIGHT$’ Britalo aspirations with its unashamedly sun-kissed glitterball drive that gets all deliciously “Tutti Frutti”.

The soulful electro disco of ‘Julia’ comes complete with a Speak & Spell machine that counterpoints KNIGHT$’ sense of longing and there’s an unexpected key change too. Taking the pace down a bit for an artful street duet featuring Holger Wobker of BOYTRONIC, ‘Proving A Point’ comes over like spacey HEAVEN 17 as sheep bleat and synths bleep.

The ‘Dollars & Cents’ title track is a wonderfully charged HI-NRG romp with KNIGHT$ adopting a lower register Jimmy Somerville persona. Meanwhile continuing that theme, the equally energetic ‘Hijack My Heart’ apes BRONSKI BEAT, complete with a closing bursts of falsetto as the Winchester lad tightens his glitzy clubbing trousers to full effect and drops in a blistering synth solo to add to the fun.

The metallic Eurobeat of ‘Shadows’ offers no respite and keeps the feet shuffling on that dancefloor before the more steadfast ‘Running’; this one takes one more of an early MADONNA template but perhaps suffers next to the three songs preceding it, particularly as its rhythmic backbone is much more subdued in the mix. But it’s still a good song none the less.

Closing this primarily uptempo collection, the snappy electro-funk of ‘Alligator’ is an amusing observation on one-sided conversation with people who doesn’t listen which echoes LES RYTHMES DIGITALES but channelled in much more of a pop-oriented context.

The previously released B-sides ‘Playin’ It Cool’ and ‘What We Leave Behind’ come as welcome extras on the CD variant although the excellent ‘So Cold’ is missing; but almost everything you could want from a first full length body of work by KNIGHT$ is present and correct.

‘Dollars & Cents’ is a very immediate electronic pop record that is ideal for these turbulent and uncertain socio-political times. Whereas the coming years will decide whether it is a classic, for now it is simply perfect escapist pop music. So Britalo be thy name!

KNIGHT$ debut long player may be the antithesis of the intense and gloomy ‘Careful’ from BOY HARSHER, but sits alongside it as one of the first great albums of 2019.


‘Dollars & Cents’ is released by Specchio Uomo on 5th April 2019 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats, available direct from https://knights101.bandcamp.com/

http://knights101.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Knights101/

https://twitter.com/JPSKNIGHTS

https://www.instagram.com/knights101/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th March 2019

25 CLASSIC SYNTH COVERS

“The medium of reinterpretation” as HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware once put it, is an important creative opportunity that can widen a musical audience and expand the aural palette.

This was most evident in 1981 when SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later.

A disgruntled rival musician had told Marc Almond only a few months before that “You couldn’t make a decent dance record if you tried”, but make one he did! Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones (partner of the late Marc Bolan) and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene.

As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory. Segued with a Motown cover ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ on an extended version, it became one of Sire Records biggest selling 12 inch singles in America.

It was to be a double edged sword though as the coupling of two covers made SOFT CELL minimal money despite the record selling millions. Thus successful cover versions generally only make the original songwriter any dough. Although often perceived as a sign of creative desperation, a fair number of cover versions are genuinely recorded as a labour of love.

So what of the other great synth reworkings? The covers in this listing are predominantly conventional songs reworked in a synthpop manner. And in several cases, the reworks have been so distinct and definitive that it is often forgotten they are actually covers! Restricted to one song per artist moniker, they are presented in chronological order.


VISAGE In Year 2525 (1978 – released 1983)

ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo steered by Midge Ure in 1978. ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added some musicality. But when Ure presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, it was rejected! Remixed later by John Hudson, it was finally unleashed for public consumption in 1983.

Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records

http://www.visage.cc


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Firecracker (1978)

One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny, but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org


GARY NUMAN On Broadway (1979 – released 1980)

Written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil, a quartet who between them have written some of the greatest songs in pop history, the original by THE DRIFTERS was a favourite in the Webb household. So Gary Numan did a live machine music rendition on 1979’s ‘The Touring Principle’. However, the star on this magnificent reinterpretation of ‘On Broadway’ is not Numan himself, but guest keyboardist Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX with his screaming ARP Odyssey solo.

Available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ via Beggars Banquet Records

https://garynuman.com


TELEX Rock Around The Clock (1979)

On paper it shouldn’t have worked; a funereal take of the song that heralded the birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll smothered in robotic vocoder. And it caused much head scratching when it became a UK Top 40 hit, although one person listening was Daniel Miller who borrowed the concept for SILICON TEENS. Belgian trio TELEX always had a sense of subversive irony about them. This mischief came to its head with their lampooning number ‘Eurovision’, which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest!

Available on the TELEX album ‘Ultimate Best of’ via EMI Belgium

http://www.telex-music.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Only After Dark (1980)

An all synth rework of Head Spider Mick Ronson’s guitar dominated cult favourite, the metronomic tension was enhanced on THE HUMAN LEAGUE version by the metallic sequence of a Roland System 100 while monophonic synth lines complimented the futuristic atmosphere. Oakey impressively bellowed away while Martyn Ware provided some sprightly vocal support. ‘Only After Dark’ had been due to be released as a single but was cancelled in favour of a reissue of ‘Empire State Human’.

Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


JAPAN All Tomorrow’s Parties (1980)

Said to be Andy Warhol’s favourite Lou Reed composition, this interpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s Nico-led cult classic was turned from a Teutonic funeral march into a looser, synth assisted beat ballad in the vein of ROXY MUSIC. Demo-ed under the supervision of manager Simon Napier-Bell in 1979 but remixed later by John Punter, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ was to herald the sophisticated muzak direction that JAPAN were to become ultimately associated with.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Quiet Life’ via BMG Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk


OMD The More I See You (1980)

This cover of ‘The More I See You’ had actually began musically as a new OMD composition until Andy McCluskey started improvising and using the words of this vintage tune written in 1945 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was subsequently a hit for Chris Montez in 1966, although OMD’s version was a far darker proposition, with the spectre of JOY DIVISION vocalist Ian Curtis looming over the bright synthesizer melodies and deep bass drones.

Available on the OMD album ‘Organisation’ via EMI Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


DURAN DURAN Fame (1981)

Before they became Birmingham’s most famous boat crew, DURAN DURAN recorded this speeded up version of David Bowie’s art funk co-write with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar for the 12 inch B-side of their flop single ‘Careless Memories’. As well as having a more frantic pace and layers of Nick Rhodes’ Crumar Performer string machine, Andy Taylor even aped Robert Fripp to add a screaming guitar solo that had not featured in the original.

Available on the DURAN DURAN album ‘The Essential Collection’ via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com


THE FAST SET King Of the Rumbling Spires (1981)

A speeded-up, manic darkwave rendition of an early Marc Bolan composition, this was the one of the best tracks on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ after DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE, B-MOVIE and ILLUSTRATION. The screeching synths and aggressive, unorthodox vocals are all over in a matter of a couple of minutes. THE FAST SET disappeared after just one proper single ‘Junction One’ which also featured another Bolan song ‘Children Of The Revolution’ on the flip.

Available on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ (V/A) via Some Bizzare Limited

http://www.last.fm/music/The+Fast+Set


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

Keyboardist Dave Stewart, once of prog rockers HATFIELD & THE NORTH recruited friend and backing vocalist Barbara Gaskin to sing on the second of his electronic pop covers, the first being ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ with Colin Blunstone. Their inventively oddball synth version of ‘It’s My Party’ (made famous by Lesley Gore) was a triumph and a worldwide hit which reached No1 in the UK and Germany. Stewart and Gaskin have continued to worked together and have a new album pencilled in 2018.

Available on the DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN album ‘The Singles’ via Broken Records

http://www.davebarb.com


TECHNO TWINS Falling In Love Again (1981)

TECHNO TWINS were wife and husband duo Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie; they indulged in their own brand of ‘Technostalgia’ with silent partner Dave Hewson who later reappeared in POEME ELECTRONIQUE and more recently TWINS NATALIA. This abstract theatrical cover of the 1930 German song composed by Friedrich Hollaender as ‘Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuß Auf Liebe Eingestellt’ and made famous by Marlene Dietrich actually managed to reach No70 in the UK singles chart!

Originally released as a single by PRT Records, currently unavailable

https://www.discogs.com/artist/153114-Techno-Twins


BEF feat GLENN GREGORY Wichita Lineman (1982)

‘Wichita Lineman’ was one of Jimmy Webb’s great narrative songs like ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Where’s The Playground Susie?’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell. Although included for the ambitious ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ project, BEF’s recording is a HEAVEN 17 track in all but name and was originally recorded by the other Glenn as his audition piece. The chilling electronic arrangement takes on an even darker turn as a magnificent cacophony of sound invades the climax.

Available on the BEF album ‘1981-2011’ via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com


NEW ORDER Turn The Heater On (1982 – released 1986)

Reggae artist Keith Hudson’s ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a favourite of Ian Curtis and recorded by NEW ORDER for their second John Peel session as a tribute to the late vocalist of JOY DIVISION. Bernard Sumner’s melodica gave a claustrophobic dub laden vibe alongside the white noise rimshot  of Stephen Morris, while Hooky actually played bass as opposed to his trademark higher register six string and Gillian Gillian’s ARP string machine added some appropriately frozen textures to match to the title.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘The John Peel Sessions’ via Strange Fruit Records

http://www.neworder.com


MIDGE URE No Regrets (1982)

A cover of a cover, ‘No Regrets’ was written by Tom Rush and a comeback hit for THE WALKER BROTHERS in 1976. During a break from ULTRAVOX, Midge Ure created this synth heavy rework. But that wasn’t all that was heavy… out of nowhere came a blistering guitar solo that would have made Eric Clapton proud and a doubled Linn / Simmons pounding for the overdriven climax. Possessing high and lows in a way that previous versions never had, the diminutive Glaswegian made ‘No Regrets’ his own.

Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘No Regrets’ via EMI Gold

http://www.midgeure.com


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Ferry Cross The Mersey (1983)

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD were very good at covers as Born To Run’ and ‘War’ proved. With a superbly honest vocal from Holly Johnson,  the Trevor Horn produced reworking of this paean to Liverpool’s famous river crossing, written by Gerry Marsden for the 1965 film of the same name, climaxed with some joyous cascading synth lines and a frantic Linn Drum programme in a manner that couldn’t have been originally imagined by its composer.

Available on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD album ‘Frankie Said’ via Union Square / Salvo

http://www.frankiesay.com


NAKED EYES Always Something There To Remind Me (1983)

NAKED EYES, who comprised of Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher, had actually been in a band called NEON with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. They had a huge US hit with a synthpop cover of this Bacharach and David classic which had been put together in the studio from memory. Rob Fisher later met Simon Climie and formed CLIMIE FISHER who had a number of UK hits, but he sadly passed away in 1999 aged just 42; Pete Byrne still continues to tour as NAKED EYES.

Available on the NAKED EYES album ‘Burning Bridges’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.nakedeyesmusic.com


BLANCMANGE The Day Before You Came (1984)

There once was a time when it was not cool to like ABBA and covering their songs was certainly not on many artists’ agenda. But BLANCMANGE changed all that with their version of what many regard as the last ABBA song. Combining that noted Swedish melancholy and melodicism with the artful quirkiness of Synth Britannia, ‘The Day Before You Came’ fitted well with Neil Arthur’s deep melodramatics. Add in the mystique of the Indian sub-continent and it was pure heaven.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Mange Tout’ via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


ERASURE Gimme Gimme Gimme (1985)

They did the ‘Abba-esque’ EP and the mid-career crisis ‘Other People’s Songs’ album but ERASURE’s best cover was right at the beginning with this Hi-NRG romp in the big shadow of DIVINE. Turning ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ into the ultimate anthem, the progressively faster ending made for an appropriately thrilling climax. Following not long after BLANCMANGE’s cover of ‘The Day Before You Came’, the seeds of an ABBA revival were now well and truly planted.

Remix version available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com


PROPAGANDA Sorry For Laughing (1985)

Written by Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross, ‘Sorry For Laughing’ was the key song on from the only JOSEF K album ‘The Only Fun In Town’. It had been a favourite of ZTT arch strategist Paul Morley and as per the label’s early policy, he persuaded his then-new signings PROPAGANDA to the rework the frenetic guitar track into a more moodily percussive electronic one. However, Ralf Dörper later said: “I very much would have preferred to have a THROBBING GRISTLE cover version…”

Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square

https://www.facebook.com/propagandamabuse/


WINSTON TONG Broken English (1985)

Having written and sung lead vocals on ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ with TUXEDOMOON which was later covered by a certain Martin L Gore, Winston Tong embarked on a solo electronic pop adventure with Alan Rankine of ASSOCIATES fame at the production helm. The subsequent album entitled ‘Theoretically Chinese’ dealt with the theme of cultural identity and an excellent uptempo cover of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’ slotted into the overall concept perfectly.

Available on the WINSTON TONG album ‘In A Manner Of Speaking: Best Of’ via LTM Records

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/winston_tong.html


DEPECHE MODE Route 66 (1988)

Written by Bobby Troup and covered by artists such as diverse as Nat King Cole and The Rolling Stones, this signalled the start of DEPECHE MODE’s fixation with a more blues based sound. While largely guitar driven, the rhythmical structure was driven by drum machine and sequences while the instrumental break of’Behind The Wheel’ made a guest appearance during the middle eight. It was performed as an encore during the ‘World Violation’ tour in 1990, but with Dave Gahan on lead vocals instead of Martin Gore.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE single ‘Behind the Wheel’ via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com


JIMMY SOMMERVILLE From This Moment On (1990)

Often having his biggest hits with covers, you could be forgiven for thinking Jimmy Sommerville was some kind of falsetto karaoke machine. But for the most part, his reinterpretations were good. One of his lesser known covers was ’From This Moment On’, a throbbing contribution to the charity album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ of Cole Porter standards. With a snatch of ‘I Feel Love’ thrown in for good measure, this was one of the best recordings from the collection which also featured U2 and ERASURE.

Available on the album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ (V/A) via Chrysalis Records

http://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk


PET SHOP BOYS Go West (1993)

Performed at The Hacienda in 1991, ‘Go West’ had been due to be released in Christmas 1992, but PET SHOP BOYS bottled it when it was pointed out a VILLAGE PEOPLE cover would look like the duo were aping ERASURE’s ‘Abba-esque’.  ‘Go West’ was based on Pachebel’s ‘Canon’ and its elegiac quality was particularly poignant with AIDS still very much in the news at the time. Meanwhile the ‘Oklahoma’ male choir styled key change gave the song a lift that was never apparent in the original.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Pop Art’ via EMI Records

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk


CAMOUFLAGE Bad News (1995)

Written by Moon Martin, an American rock artist who also wrote ‘Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)’ which was covered by Robert Palmer, ‘Bad News’ with its metronomic core had been popular in German new wave clubs, which was how CAMOUFLAGE came to hear it. Given a pacey Eurodance treatment that was very much of its time, it also mixed in twangy ‘Pulp Fiction’ surf guitar elements alongside the trancey electronics for an unusual but successful hybrid of styles.

Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


DUBSTAR Not So Manic Now (1995)

Originally a little known song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, DUBSTAR made ‘Not So Manic Now’ their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.

Available on the DUBSTAR album ‘Disgraceful’ via Food Records

http://dubstarofficial.co/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
21st December 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN

With her distinctive ice maiden delivery, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is the undoubted queen of cinematic avant pop.

She first came to prominence with PROPAGANDA and the Trevor Horn produced film noir drama of ‘Dr Mabuse’. Together with Susanne Freytag, Michael Mertens and Ralf Dörper, the Düsseldorf based quartet released their acclaimed album ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT in 1985. But despite the album being a favourite of musical figures such as Quincy Jones, Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr, PROPAGANDA split following business and creative tensions as a result of their deal with ZTT.

Remaining with ZTT, Brücken formed ACT with early electronic pioneer Thomas Leer and released an album ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ in 1988 which featured an array of lush synthetic dynamics glossed with a touch of starlet glamour. Not one to rest on her laurels, her first solo album ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ came in 1991 on Island Records before she took a career break.

There was a brief reunion of PROPAGANDA in 1998, but when that came to nought, Brücken spent much of the new millennium’s first decade working and touring with OMD’s Paul Humphreys in ONETWO, supporting ERASURE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE along the way.

Since then, she has released two further solo albums and more recently been spotted in the studio with Susanne Freytag and Stephen J Lipson, while a new collaborative project with Jerome Froese is also in progress.

Although her catalogue is wide and varied, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is perhaps still very much regarded as a cult figure on the music scene. In 2011, she celebrated her career with a special show at The Scala in London with various friends and collaborators, all captured on the live DVD ‘This Happened’.

Certainly, she deserves greater recognition so with a restriction of one track per release, here is a twenty track Beginner’s Guide to her work…


TOPOLINOS Mustafa (1982)

TOPOLINOSBrücken and Freytag first met in Düsseldorf around Die Ratinger Straße; “There was this interaction between art and music happening and everyone kind of knew one another” she said. Together they formed TOPOLINOS, literally translated as ‘The Mickey Mouses’! Using a rhythm unit, electric organ lines and Middle Eastern flavoured vocal phrasing, ‘Mustafa’ was a typical art school recording of the period and appeared on ‘Partysnäks’, the soundtrack to the film ‘Die Tanzbeinsammler’.

Available on the compilation album Electri_City 2 (V/A) via Grönland Records


PROPAGANDA p: Machinery (1985)

Propaganda ‎– pMachineryAt the suggestion of Freytag, Brücken was recruited into PROPAGANDA and their dynamic sound was marketed as “ABBA in Hell”! p: Machinery captured their Teutonic edge and the charm of state-of-the-art technology such as the PPG Wave and Synclavier systems. Produced by Stephen J Lipson, the song also had an unexpected contributor as Brücken recalled: “It was amazing when David Sylvian came in. On ‘p: Machinery there is this line he wrote on a little keyboard that he brought in…”

Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square


GLENN GREGORY & CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN When Your Heart Runs Out Of Time (1985)

Glenn+Claudia When Your HeartWritten by Will Jennings, best known for ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for the film ‘Titanic’ and ‘Up Where We Belong’ from ‘An Officer & A Gentleman’, ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’ was recorded for the film ‘Insignificance’ directed by Nicolas Roeg. Brücken and the HEAVEN 17 vocalist met during the Anton Corbijn directed video shoot for ‘Dr Mabuse’ when Gregory’s then-wife Sarah was doing the make-up. The song was produced by Midge Ure, under the pseudonym of Otto Flake Junior.

Available on the compilation album ‘The Art Of The 12 Inch’ (V/A) via Union Square


ACT Absolutely Immune (1988)

ACT Absolutely ImmuneAfter PROPAGANDA fragmented, Brücken formed ACT with Thomas Leer in 1987. Working again with Stephen J Lipson, alongside the technological marvels came a more playful, decadent glamour with some political flirtations. ‘Absolutely Immune’ was a commentary on the apathy of the nation at large with its “I’m alright Jack” selfishness. Unfortunately, with the sentiment lost on a British public still drowned in blue emotion, it failed to gain interest in a landscape dominated by the bland blue eyed soul.

Available on the ACT album ‘Love & Hate’ via Union Square


JIMMY SOMERVILLE Run From Love (1990)

jimmy_somerville-the_singles_collection_1984-1990While not a sales success, the acclaim and respect that ‘A Secret Wish’ attained among fellow artists led to Brücken being offered many opportunities to collaborate. One of the first came from Jimmy Somerville. ‘Run From Love’ was a lesser known BRONSKI BEAT number reworked in a more house directed fashion by S’EXPRESS producer Pascal Gabriel for the diminutive Glaswegian’s greatest hits collection and Ms Brücken provided backing vocals in the chorus.

Available on the JIMMY SOMMERVILLE album ‘The Singles Collection 1984/1990’ via London Records


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Absolut[e] (1991)

Claudia Brucken Absolut(E)Despite ACT ending, Brücken signed a deal with Island Records which eventually spawned her debut solo album produced by Pascal Gabriel. The first single ‘Absolut[e]’ was very much dominated by Gabriel’s dancefloor instincts. But as the album was being recorded, all was not well within. “The MD from Island suddenly left and all the people who worked on my album left as well” she remembered, “A new guy came in and already I could sense what would happen, so Pascal and I decided to get really experimental”.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ via Cherry Red Records


CHROME SEDUCTION Light The Way (1993)

Claudia+SusanneThe reaction to ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ was muted and Brücken took a career break to bring up her daughter Maddy, emerging only occasionally to record the odd guest vocal. ‘Light The Way’ with CHROME SEDUCTION was a percussively frantic club number that also saw a reunion with former partner-in-crime Susanne Freytag. The project of Magnus Fiennes, brother of actors Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes, it first surfaced on an independently released 12 inch on Mother Alpha Delta.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square


THE BRAIN I’ll Find A Way (1996)

THE BRAIN I'll Find A WayThe project of Düsseldorf based DJ Dietmar Andreas Maier, ‘I’ll Find A Way’ was typical of the frantically paced Euro-Trance of the period. Co-written with Michael Mertens, the seed of a PROPAGANDA reunion began with a number of songs including ‘Ignorance’, ‘No Return’, ‘To The Future’ and ‘Turn To The Sun’ being demoed. Although a video for ‘No Return’ was produced, the title proved poignant and Brücken later announced: “The reunion was worth a try, but did not work out.”

Available on THE BRAIN single ‘I’ll Find A Way’ via BMG


OCEANHEAD Eyemotion (1997)

OCEANHEAD EyemotionContinuing to contribute the occasional guest vocal, ‘Eyemotion’ was a co-write with John Etkin-Bell which coupled a shuffling drum loop with some beautifully chilled out atmospheres. Brücken’s breathy whispers and a muted synthetic brass motif à la PET SHOP BOYS provided the colourful sonics on an elegant piece of downtempo electronica. Blowing away the likes of ENIGMA and SACRED SPIRIT, the original CD single release was limited to just 2000 copies however.

Available on the OCEANHEAD single ‘Eyemotion’ via Land Speed Records


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & PAUL RUTHERFORD This Is Not America (2000 – not released until 2011)

After the aborted reunion of PROPAGANDA, Brücken accepted an invitation in 2000 to join Paul Humphreys on his solo tour of the USA; one of the first recorded fruits of their partnership was a cover of ‘This Is Not America’ featuring FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s Paul Rutherford intended for a film soundtrack. A beautifully crafted synthesized tribute to DAVID BOWIE & THE PAT METHENY GROUP, although shelved, it finally saw the light of day on her ‘ComBined’ career retrospective.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square


APOPTYGMA BERZERK Unicorn – Duet Version (2002)

APOPTYGMA BERZERK HarmonizerEurope maintained a vibrant industrial music scene at the start of the new century and in a one-off collaboration with Norway’s cult electronic body merchants APOPTYGMA BERZERK, Brücken returned to the more Teutonic overtones that had been evident in PROPAGANDA. In an electronic rework of the heavier guitar focussed original, the combo provided a suitably aggressive but accessible backing track for her to duet with frontman Stephan Groth on ‘Unicorn’.

Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK album ‘Harmonizer’ via WEA


ONETWO Cloud 9ine (2004)

ONETWO ItemBrücken formalised her musical partnership with Paul Humphreys and together they named themselves ONETWO. They dusted off a track that had been demoed during the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion. The song in question was ‘Cloud 9ine’, a co-write with Martin Gore which also featured the guitar of DEPECHE MODE’s main songwriter. It was the stand-out song on ONETWO’s debut EP ‘Item’, but it would be a few years before their first album would be completed.

Available on the ONETWO EP ‘Item’ via There (there) at https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/item


ANDY BELL with CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Delicious (2005)

ANDY BELL Electric BlueBrücken joined ERASURE’s Andy Bell to sing on two tracks for his debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’. More club oriented than ERASURE, the long player was produced by THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE who were also part of the ONETWO live band, and provided the introduction. The call-and-response Hi-NRG stomp of ‘Delicious’ saw Brücken in her most playful mood since ACT and in rare poptastic glory, despite the bittersweet, reflective lyrical nature of the song.

Available on the ANDY BELL album ‘Electric Blue’ via Sanctuary Records


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & ANDREW POPPY Libertango (2005)

ANOTHER LANGUAGEBrücken teamed up with former ZTT label mate Poppy to record a number of stripped back cover versions, with just piano or guitar as accompaniment for her first long form release since 1991. Among the reinterpretations were songs originally performed by RADIOHEAD, MARIANNE FAITHFUL, ASSOCIATES and KATE BUSH. One of the highlights was a suitably dramatic take on ‘Libertango’, better known as ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’ made famous by GRACE JONES.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & ANDREW POPPY album ‘Another Language’ via There (there) at http://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/another-language


ONETWO Anonymous (2007)

Humphreys and Brücken finally released a full length album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet fully rejoined McCluskey in his old band.

Available on the ONETWO album ‘Instead’ via There (there) at https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/instead


BLANK & JONES Don’t Stop (2008)

BLANK & JONES The Logic of PleasureIn between the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and ONETWO, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN guested with the popular German dance duo on ‘Unknown Treasure’, a most gorgeously shuffled electrobeat ballad. The parties reunited in 2008 but while ‘Unknown Treasure’ was in Brücken’s words, “a real collaboration”, “’Don’t Stop’ was in reverse, they gave me all the music and then I did the words and sent it back to them”. Despite the remote detachment of the recording, ‘Don’t Stop’ was still elegantly enticing.

Available on the BLANK & JONES album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’ via Soundcolours


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & THE REAL TUESDAY WELD The Things I Love (2011)

=LA NoireRockstar Games wanted a German singer for a new game called ‘LA Noire’ soundtracked by THE REAL TUESDAY WELD’s Stephen Coates who was known for producing jazzy cabaret-style music with subtle electronica influences dubbed Antique Beat. “I thought: why not?” said Brücken, “I heard the songs and thought they were so beautiful. I found it a really good challenge doing something I hadn’t done before”. ‘The Things I Love’ was the alluring highlight of three songs recorded.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘L.A. Noire’ (V/A) via Rockstar Games


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN One Summer Dream (2012)

Claudia Brucken One Summer DreamThe B-side to ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s massive hit ‘Mr Blue Sky’, ‘One Summer Dream’ was the first song to emerge from Brücken’s reinterpretations project with producer Stephen Hague which also included material by DAVID BOWIE, PET SHOP BOYS, DUBSTAR, JULEE CRUISE and THE LILAC TIME. Beginning with a vintage gramophoned segment, it built to a dreamy John Barry influenced, ‘Felt Mountain’-era GOLDFRAPP string arrangement.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘The Lost Are Found’ via There (there)


OMD Kissing The Machine (2013)

OMD-English-ElectricAlthough this Andy McCluskey / Karl Bartos co-write first appeared in 1993 on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’, Paul Humphreys completely reworked ‘Kissing The Machine’ from scratch for OMD. “Paul had the idea of asking Claudia to do the vocal in the middle eight” remembered McCluskey, “but I suggested we start it with the ‘I want you to want me – I need you to need me…’ bit through a vocoder and went ‘y’know, could you ask Claudia to do it in German as well?’!” The result was electronic magic.

Available on the OMD album ‘English Electric’ via BMG


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Time To Make Changes (2014)

CLAUDIA BRUCKEN Where ElseThe biggest surprise musically on Brücken’s third solo album ‘Where Else…’ was her adoption of the acoustic guitar. Working with producer John Owen Williams whose credits also included BLANCMANGE, the songs dealt with the subjects of “emotion, beginnings, endings, past life and future hopes”. Almost like ABBA meeting THE SMITHS in a lush organic backdrop, ‘Time To Make Changes’ very much reflected her personal mindset following the end of her relationship with Paul Humphreys.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘Where Else…’ via Cherry Red Records


For further information on the upcoming projects of CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN, please visit her official website and Facebook page

http://www.claudiabrucken.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/ClaudiaBruckenMusic

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaBrucken1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th July 2016

A Beginner’s Guide To STEPHEN HAGUE

Portland born Stephen Hague first came to musical prominence in 1984 with his production of Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madam Butterfly’, an incongruous blend of opera, soul, hip-hop and electropop.

Although an experienced hand having already notched up a hit with the breakdancing novelty record ‘(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’ in 1983, the cinematic arthouse resonance of ‘Madam Butterfly’ allowed Hague to be taken more seriously musically.

As one of the first advocates of digital recording, he was seen as someone who could helm a modern polished sound to maximise the dynamics of the then new compact disc medium.

Two acts who were listening closely were OMD and PET SHOP BOYS. Hague’s first full album production was OMD’s ‘Crush’ in 1985 but it was with his re-recorded version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986.

Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff while the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group”. Hague’s work on ‘West End Girls’ made him a producer-in-demand and started an imperial phase which mirrored that of PET SHOP BOYS themselves.

Although Hague was not involved in OMD’s massive American hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes teen flick ‘Pretty In Pink’, he was the music supervisor of Hughes’ next film ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ which included PROPAGANDA and FURNITURE in the soundtrack. He then went through a particularly prolific period with a variety of synth flavoured acts such as NEW ORDER, ERASURE and COMMUNARDS, while also working with artists as diverse as PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, ONE DOVE, BROTHER BEYOND and THE MODERN.

One of the main criticisms of Stephen Hague’s sound was that his wash of digital synths and smoothed over percussion lacked edge. But as Hague would argue, pop music “carries certain traditions of structure and expectation”. Thus his work made considerations to the placement of instruments and voices, while giving any new technology an organic touch that still sounded positively futuristic.

Hague later got his foot in the door occasionally during the Britpop era with productions for DUBSTAR, BLUR, JAMES and even MANIC STREET PREACHERS. But it is electronic pop that Hague is best known for and his best work has certainly pointed to an affinity with synthetic textures.

So quite why REM asked him to produce a demo, only for them to then complain that the results were too synth heavy, remains a mystery.

When ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first acquired a car, a mix tape conceived around Hague’s various productions was the first cassette created for its incumbent entertainment system. In effect, this was a various artists compilation but with a wonderfully cohesive sonic core.

So what eighteen songs would go on an imaginary compilation today as an introduction to the work of this under rated, but very gifted producer? Listed in chronological order with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our choices…


MALCOLM McLAREN Madam Butterfly (1984)

Based on Puccini’s iconic work, ‘Madam Butterfly’ became Stephen Hague’s production showcase with DX slap bass and a reverberating drum machine sitting next to haunting synth motifs and a highly emotive aria. With the late McLaren in the role of Colonel Pinkerton, the beautifully soulful vocal of Deborah Cole as Cho-Cho San and operatic stylings from Betty-Ann White provided a refreshing sound that was in its way, quietly subversive as one of the most beautiful records from the early digital era.

Available on the album ‘Fans’ via Charisma Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/24495-Malcolm-McLaren


OMD (Forever) Live & Die (1986)

Inspired by the steadfast groove of Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, ‘(Forever) Live & Die’ had been written alone by Paul Humphreys about missing his then wife Maureen who was away working on a ballet. A hit in both the UK and US, while the song pointed more towards the Trans-Atlantic aspirations of OMD following the success of ‘If You Leave’ in America, it still possessed elements of their Kling Klang inspired roots with KRAFTWERK’s melodic sensibilities and Vako Orchestron derived choirs looming in the mix.

Available on the album ‘The Pacific Age’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


PET SHOP BOYS & DUSTY SPRINGFIELD What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1987)

Originally slated for ‘Please’, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ sounded like three songs morphed into one, but that was because it actually was. Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant did their respective pop art sections while Allie Willis who co-wrote ‘Boogie Wonderland’ came up with the rather blissful chorus. The song went into another sphere once Dusty Springfield was brought out of semi-retirement to add her voice and ad-libs. The smoothness of Hague’s production provided the perfect backing.

Available on the album ‘Actually’ via EMI Records

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


NEW ORDER True Faith (1987)

‘True Faith’ was a superb indicator of how Hague could transform a band without necessarily hindering their ethos. During recording, Hague insisted that Bernard Sumner laid down his lead vocal early on in the session so that the instrumentation could be built around his voice. The result was that there was a more subtle dynamic space in the finished track with the occasionally messy wall of sound effect that had been a characteristic of NEW ORDER’s self-produced recordings reduced.

Available on the album ‘Singles’ via WEA Records

http://newordernow.net/


CLIMIE FISHER Love Changes (1988)

If a young Rod Stewart had joined PET SHOP BOYS, what would the end result have sounded like? It might probably have been like CLIMIE FISHER. The late Rob Fisher had Stateside success in NAKED EYES while Simon Climie had proved his worth with his No1 song ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ for Aretha Franklin and George Michael. ‘Love Changes (Everything)’ continued that latter tradition, but with slightly more synthesized backing.

Available on the album ‘Everything’ via Edsel Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/112925-Climie-Fisher


ERASURE A Little Respect (1988)

Probably Hague’s best known production worldwide, ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar. As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Careless Whisper’.

Available on the album ‘The Innocents’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com/


HOLLY JOHNSON Heaven’s Here (1989)

The former FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD front man’s first hit ‘Love Train’ had been mixed by Hague but the producer was fully involved in the recording of ‘Heaven’s Here’, a stand out track from the ‘Blast’ album which also later came out as a single. A lush love ballad, ‘Heaven’s Here’ took a leaf out of ERASURE’s vocal sensitivity to allow Johnson to present a less in-yer-face vocal style that perhaps he had not really visited since ‘The Power Of Love’.

Available on the album ‘Blast’ via Cherry Red Records

http://http://www.hollyjohnson.com/


JIMMY SOMERVILLE Heaven Here On Earth (1989)

Having worked on COMMUNARDS’ ‘Red’ opus which spawned a rather fabulous cover of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, Stephen Hague was often a willing conspirator in aiding Somerville’s reputation as a falsetto Karaoke machine. However, ‘Heaven Here On Earth’ was a beautifully sumptuous layered self-composition from Somerville that was one of the best tracks on his debut solo offering ‘Read My Lips’. The staccato voice samples towards the song’s conclusion provided an enticing lift.

Available on the album ‘Read My Lips’ via Polygram Records

http://www.jimmysommerville.co.uk/


MARC ALMOND A Lover Spurned (1990)

With an epic orchestration and the ghost of Brel deep within its arrangement, ‘A Lover Spurned’ could only have been a single by Marc Almond. A forerunner to the Trevor Horn assisted second side concept of ‘Tenement Symphony’ that was to come a year later, ‘A Lover Spurned’ was Almond at his narrative best with ‘The Life & Loves Of A She-Devil’ actress Julie T Wallace giving a stern spoken cameo as the title character that added a ‘Fatal Attraction’ menace to proceedings.

Available on the album ‘Hits & Pieces’ via Universal Music

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


BANDERAS This Is Your Life (1991)

BANDERAS were vocalist Caroline Buckley and instrumentalist Sally Herbert and ‘This Is Your Life’ with its sample from Grace Jones ‘Crack Attack’ had a distinct Pet Shop Girls behavioural vibe to it. There was also the added bonus of Johnny Marr on rhythm guitar plus a terrific middle eight section featuring Bernard Sumner on backing vocals before an emotive synth solo. “There is no rehearsal, no second chance” sang Buckley and Sumner rather prophetically as there were sadly to be no more hits…

Available on the album ‘Ripe’ via London Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/31185-Banderas


SIOUXIE & THE BANSHEES Kiss Them For Me (1991)

It seemed a strange pairing but what Stephen Hague brought to The Banshees was an exotic Middle Eastern sheen driven by synthesizers that was complimented by some sparkling rhythm guitar. Long standing fans were outraged but ‘Kiss Them For Me’ possessed an accessibility that prised away some of the perceived threatening spectres of their previous work. Siouxsie Sioux may have been unhappy with the ‘Superstition’ album overall, but it yielded a huge US hit.

Available on the album ‘Superstition’ via Universal Music

http://www.siouxsieandthebanshees.co.uk/


ELECTRONIC Disappointed (1992)

The join between NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS became totally blurred with this Europop styled number inspired by the French pop hit ‘Désenchantée’ by Mylene Farmer. The nucleus of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr were joined by occasional member Neil Tennant on lead vocals for this interim single. The effect of Stephen Hague’s input can be heard markedly on the two versions offered on the CD single; ELECTRONIC’s original mix was effectively a high quality demo. However, Hague’s pop sensibilities transformed ‘Disappointed’ into a fully functioning hit single.

Available on the album ‘Get The Message’ via EMI Records

http://www.feeleverybeat.co.uk/


THE OTHER TWO Selfish (1993)

From the side project of NEW ORDER’s Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris, ‘Selfish’ was another exquisite Stephen Hague production with its rich synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” added to the inherent melancholy. Meanwhile the simulated acoustic guitar solo could easily have been represented by some Hooky bass had this number been a NEW ORDER recording, such was its melodic but understated quality.

Available on the album ‘And You’ via LTM Records

http://theothertwo.co.uk/


BLUR To The End (1994)

Imagine Marc Almond impersonating Anthony Newley with a Gallic twist? Like some obscure monochromatic Nouvelle Vague movie theme, the esoteric nature of ‘To The End’ needed a lusher orchestrated treatment than for BLUR’s usual mockney Britpop, so Hague was recruited to produce it. Given added authenticity by Laetitia Sadier from STEREOLAB’s sanguine “Jusqu’a la fin – En plein soleil” and Hague’s accordion playing, ‘To The End’ was popular with many casual listeners.

Available on the album ‘The Best Of’ via Food Records

http://www.blur.co.uk/


DUBSTAR Stars (1995)

Glorious string synths, rich bass and contemporary beats accompanied Sarah Blackwood’s girl-next-door vocal on DUBSTAR’s biggest UK hit single. The lyrical kitchen sink dramatics fitted well with the lush backing of ‘Stars’ as the trio stood on the bridge between synthpop and Cool Britannia. Hague produced a second album ‘Goodbye’ for DUBSTAR while he also continued his association with Blackwood later on when she formed CLIENT.

Available on the album ‘Disgraceful’ via Food Records

http://dubstarofficial.co/


TECHNIQUE You & Me (1999)

The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, TECHNIQUE were a female interpretation of PET SHOP BOYS crossed with NEW ORDER’s post-punk edge. The usual Hague poptastic trademarks were present on ‘You & Me’ and while not a hit in the UK, it was in the Far East via a cover version by Coco Lee. TECHNIQUE were booked to support DEPECHE MODE in Europe but when singer Xan Tyler went left, DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood was recruited… that duo morphed into CLIENT…

Available on the mini-album ‘Pop Philosophy’ via PopTones

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Technique


A-HA You Wanted More (2002)

A-HA were undergoing a career renaissance following ‘Minor Earth:Major Sky’. Stephen Hague produced four tracks on the follow-up ‘Lifelines’, the best of which was ‘You Wanted More’. Morten Harket had actually worked with Hague previously on a cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ for the ‘Coneheads’ soundtrack. So with A-HA’s lush melancholic pop drama, the artistic union with Hague was particularly apt. Harket hit his marvellous falsetto in the chorus while a gospel sample added a strange twist.

Available on the album ‘Lifelines’ via WEA Records

http://a-ha.com/


CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Thank You (2011)

One of two tracks Hague co-wrote and recorded for Ms Brücken’s ‘ComBined’ retrospective collection, ‘Thank You’ was like a Bond Theme reimagined by MASSIVE ATTACK, held together by a sumptuous percussive mood. The fruitful partnership led to a full album of reinterpretations entitled ‘The Lost Are Found’ which came out in 2012. Interestingly, it saw Hague revisit two of his original productions ‘Kings Cross’ and ‘The Day I See You Again’ for PET SHOP BOYS and DUBSTAR respectively.

Available on the album ‘ComBined’ via Salvo / Union Square Music

http://www.claudiabrucken.co.uk


Text by Chi Ming Lai
24th April 2014, updated 13th November 2018