Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series now reaches its third volume and 1982 when there was “Synth Pop On The Air”.
From the team behind the ’Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums, the excellent ‘Electrical Language’ set but also the rather confused ‘Music For New Romantics’ box, this 3CD collection documents the year after SOFT CELL hit No1 with ‘Tainted Love’ in the summer of 1981 while THE HUMAN LEAGUE did likewise with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to bag that year’s Christmas topspot. 1982 began with KRAFTWERK belatedly reaching a No1 too with ‘The Model’, a track from 1978’s ‘The Man Machine’.
It was as if the world had caught up with the sound of the synth. The period was also notable for affordable silicon chip based polysynths such as the Roland Juno 6 and Korg Poly 6 entering the market. In tandem with the improvement in quality of cassette-based 4-track Portastudios, electronic music became more accessible with basic home studios now a hive of musical creativity.
While the big hitters such as SOFT CELL, OMD, BLANCMANGE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ULTRAVOX are represented by album tracks and B-sides alongside breakthrough singles by NEW ORDER, FASHIØN and HEAVEN 17, the curiosity value of ‘Musik Music Musique 3.0’ is boosted by a greater proportion of lesser known tracks and acts compared with the first two compendiums.
Often dismissed as a MOR act thanks to the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘Take My Breath Away, BERLIN are provided a platform for the provocative and more classically Moroder-esque ‘Sex (I’m A….)’. Meanwhile with a not dissimilar throbbing template, DEAD OR ALIVE’s ‘What I Want’ in previously unreleased demo form captures the band in transition from proto-goth to HI-NRG disco and sounding like both simultaneously.
Wonderful lost synthpop jewels include the melodramatic ‘Juliet’ from PASSION POLKA and the bouncy SPANDAU BALLET inspired instrumental ‘Profile Dance’ by SERGEANT FROG, an early alias of PWL mixmaster Phil Harding. Echoing the slightly overblown vocal styles of the period, ‘Future Shock’ by COMMUNICATION falls under the spell of ASSOCIATES while both ‘Climb Down’ from THIRTEEN AT MIDNIGHT and ‘Instant Feeling’ by AERIAL FX are percussively anxious.
The two best rare highlights both come with links to Glasgow; fronted by David Rudden, ENDGAMES played with a brand polished synthpop funk of which ‘First Last For Everything’ is a good example. Meanwhile, LEISURE PROCESS were the duo comprising of Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle whose small portfolio of singles were all produced by Martin Rushent; although the vocals were virtually unintelligible over the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax, ‘Love Cascade’ remains a cool dancefloor friendly number reflecting the decadent spirit of the times.
The underrated COLOURBOX are represented by the 1982 single version of ‘Breakdown’ while DRINKING ELECTRICITY’s ‘Good Times’ explores a synth art funk hybrid that threatens to turn into ‘The Locomotion’. An actual cover version, JULIE & THE JEMS take on ‘1-2-3’ is a reflection of how commercial pop had become synthed up, especially when it is learnt that front woman Julie Harris was part of the line-up of TIGHT FIT that got to No1 later in 1982 with ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’; incidentally that rework was produced by Tim Friese-Greene who later became Mark Hollis’s writing partner in TALK TALK who themselves are represented on ‘Musik Music Musique 3.0’ by their slightly underwhelming debut single ‘Mirror Man’.
There is a surprise in that Arthur Brown of ‘Fire’ fame with his synth experiment ‘Conversations’ and it is suitably crazy and enjoyable in the manner of early FALCO. The late Austrian himself is represented by ‘Maschine Brennt’ while German neighbours DIE KRUPPS’ ‘Goldfinger’ is a welcome inclusion that exposes their more DAF-like origins.
Adding a less confrontational continental tone, ‘Par Hasard’ by MIKADO is a slice of delightful electro-lounge, while Belgium’s TELEX bring swing into the mix with ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ and Switzerland’s YELLO exude their quirky playfulness on ‘Heavy Whispers’, albeit with a darker disposition.
It is interesting to look back at the lesser remembered Kim Wilde single ‘Child Come Away’ and Toyah’s 1982 re-recording of ‘Ieya’ which were both synth dominated but failed to crack the Top 40 despite the sound being ubiquitous on the airwaves. There was the beginning of a notable synth backlash after the triumph of 1981 and DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS fiddly ‘Come On Eileen’ becoming the best-selling UK single of 1982 was a surefire sign. And that was without the Musicians Union motion to ban synths from recording and live performance.
Cult acts of the period FAD GADGET, THE PASSAGE, FIAT LUX, SECTION 25 and POEME ELECTRONIQUE along with the two Thomases, Dolby and Lang don’t miss out on the party, but notably absent are bands who had been part of earlier sets such as NEW MUSIK and VISAGE whose 1982 albums have worthy material to mine.
Closing with OMEGA THEATRE and the quite bizarre but entertaining ‘Robots, Machines & Silicon Dreams’, its classic pop theatrics are not entirely surprising as its creator John Carter co-wrote the 1970 Eurovision runner-up ‘Knock, Knock Who’s There?’ for Mary Hopkin, ‘Let’s Go to San Francisco’ for THE FLOWER POT MEN and ‘Beach Baby’ for THE FIRST CLASS.
However, as before, there are minor quibbles; while the correct 1982 versions of NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Pale Shelter’ and Paul Haig’s ‘Justice’ feature, ‘European Son’ by JAPAN comes in the earlier John Punter B-side version rather the snappier 1982 Steve Nye single remix. And then having mentioned in the booklet that OMD’s ‘She’s Leaving’ was released as a slightly remixed 1982 single in Benelux territories, the compilation goes with the familiar 1981 ‘Architecture & Morality’ album cut. Meanwhile the inclusion of ‘Sex Dwarf’ from 1981’s ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is a head scratcher when the 1982 SOFT CELL B-sides ‘Insecure Me’, ‘….So’ or ‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ would have been more interesting.
Lessons have still not been learnt from previous booklets with photos of OMD from 1984 and DEAD OR ALIVE from 1985 appearing. Again, the booklet notes are a mixed bag; why bother to bang on about the John Foxx-era of ULTRAVOX with the limited word count when by 1982, the Midge Ure-led version were an established hit machine? Also, why does the story of JOY DIVISION need to be repeated ad nauseam in the context of NEW ORDER?
Meanwhile, DRAMATIS (who are represented by their best single ‘The Shame’) returned to being Gary Numan’s live backing band in 1983, not 1982! Then with the biggest gaff in the TEARS FOR FEARS section, Curt Smith played bass NOT guitar and vice versa for Roland Jaime Orzabal de la Quintana to give his full name!
So full marks for the amount of lesser known material gathered on ‘Musik Music Musique 3.0’, but please get the accompanying booklet sorted out for ‘Musik Music Musique 4.0’ as there have been enough opportunities now to get that side of the operation right. Roll on 1983…
‘Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 – Synth Pop On The Air’ is released by Cherry Red on 17th February 2023 as a 3CD boxed set
Text by Chi Ming Lai
13tn February 2023