Tag: Simple Minds (Page 1 of 7)

In Every Heaven: The Legacy of SIMPLE MINDS

Photo by Virginia Turbett

‘Themes for Great Cities: A New History of SIMPLE MINDS’ is a new biography by Graeme Thomson on the Glaswegian band that formed in late 1977.

Childhood friends Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill had been in JOHNNY & THE SELF-ABSUSERS who famously split up the day that their debut single ‘Saints & Sinners’ was released on Chiswick Records. On hearing Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, they realised that integrating electronics into their music was the way forward.

Renaming themselves SIMPLE MINDS after a lyric in David Bowie’s ‘The Jean Genie’, they retained Brian McGee on drums from their previous band and after specifying “synthesizer” as prerequisite for any keyboardist, recruited Mick MacNeil; Derek Forbes joined later on bass. From humble working class beginnings, SIMPLE MINDS were to become one of the biggest bands in Scottish music history.

With the biography’s focus on the band’s formative years between 1979-85, Jim Kerr said to the author: “Nobody owes us anything, but the SIMPLE MINDS story has been too condensed. After Live Aid and ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ there hasn’t been quite the credit for those first few records. I think they contain some really special music. I can hear the flaws but there’s something about the spirit and imagination in them that feels good. They draw from such a wide range of influences … but the spirit of it was always SIMPLE MINDS”.

Indeed there are several distinct phases of SIMPLE MINDS to which the wider public find unrelatable, much like with DEPECHE MODE. Just as the Basildon combo went from folk-rooted origins to synthpop to dark pseudo blues, the Glaswegians went from punk to electronically assisted art rock to stadium monsters, although Kerr quipped in 2006 to The Word magazine of his unexpected rivals “Who would’ve thought DEPECHE MODE plink-plonking away would play in stadiums?”

But in 1978, SIMPLE MINDS were establishing themselves as an exciting live prospect, with influences such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, ROXY MUSIC, SPARKS, KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and MAGAZINE. They came to the attention of Bruce Findlay, owner of the Bruce’s Records shop chain who also ran Zoom Records, an Arista Records subsidiary; he brokered a deal with head office for SIMPLE MINDS while also signing them to his Schoolhouse Management company.

Recorded at a very low temperature in early 1979, their debut album ‘Life In A Day’ was a promising if shaky start. The first of three albums produced by John Leckie, it suffered from comparisons with MAGAZINE while SPARKS could be heard all over the title track. THE BOOMTOWN RATS also loomed in the new wave pop of ‘Sad Affair’, but the catchy ‘Chelsea Girl’ was the undoubted highlight and probably would have been a Top10 single had it been by Bob Geldof & Co; that was partly remedied in 1982 when A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS borrowed its synth line for ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)’.

Inspired both musically and visually by Brian Eno, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ collaborative album ‘After The Heat’, the Glaswegians started experimenting with more electronics on the swift follow-up ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’; McGee purchased a Dr Rhythm drum machine in support of the new ethos. While the songs on the debut album were written by Kerr and Burchill, composition was now democratised via group jamming with Forbes often taking a lead role on bass, a legacy of ditching guitar as his first instrument on joining the band.

Adopting a much more European austere, SIMPLE MINDS were underground and pulsating through on ‘Changeling’ which became an anthem at The Blitz Club, thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Forbes’ bass with McNeil’s synths. Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of McGee locked the glue. It left Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate lyrically with his impressionistic anxiety.

Another album highlight ‘Premonition’ really was a sign of things to come while the album’s opening title song saw SIMPLE MINDS present their own take on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. ‘Film Theme’ showcased the band’s developing interest in instrumentals although the schizo sound sculpture ‘Veldt’ was frankly quite bizarre. Overall, ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ was a stronger and more confident offering than ‘Life In A Day’.

Tours opening for Gary Numan and Peter Gabriel took SIMPLE MINDS around Europe to experience the Cold War tensions that were more apparent than back home. Their wired mood began to polarise their music into black and white for their third long player ‘Empires & Dance’. With its speedy Moroder-esque influence, ‘I Travel’ was a screeching futuristic frenzy where Kerr stated “Europe has a language problem”.

But as ‘Celebrate’ brought some industrial Schaffel to the party and ’30 Frames A Second’ took a trip down the autobahn, the cerebral rap of ‘Twist / Run / Repulsion’ accompanied by a sexy French girl monologue messed with the headspace of listeners. Meanwhile the sinister ‘Today I Died Again’ would be later sampled by TEARS FOR FEARS for the B-side ‘Empire Building’; it was a trick that would be repeated on the huge 1985 hit ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ with its bass and snare taken from 1983’s ‘Waterfront’.

Despite critical if not commercial success, Arista Records was proving to be the wrong home for SIMPLE MINDS’ wider ambitions. A label more used to dealing with Barry Manilow and Dionne Warwick, the band were dropped in the wake of the failure of ‘I Travel’ as a single. They soon found a more sympathetic home in Virgin Records who were at this point gambling their future on synthesizer based acts such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN.

Their first fruit of labour for Virgin was the ‘Sons & Fascination’ / ‘Sister Feelings Call’ double opus and it proved to be the start of SIMPLE MINDS’ wider breakthrough. To exploit their KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences to the full, the quintet were teamed up with producer Steve Hillage who was a big fan of the German experimental scene. He also brought a more accessible brightness that had been noticeably absent in the band’s Arista work.

The main ‘Sons & Fascination’ feature opened with the tremendous In ‘Trance As Mission’ with Kerr rambling almost unintelligibly about the “courage of dreams”. The mighty ‘70 Cites As Love Brings The Fall’ featured the horrifying noise of what sounded like a dentist’s drill while ‘Boys From Brazil’ attacked the rise of extreme right wing politics.

The flanged bass powerhouse of Forbes steered alongside the solidly dependable McGee while MacNeil came armed with his Roland Jupiter 4, Roland RS09 and Korg 770, harmonising with the guitars of Burchill almost as one. Of the singles, ‘Sweat In Bullet’ was the more frantic older brother of ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’ while pulsed by an Oberheim OBX, ‘Love Song’ was the hit that never actually was, until a subtle remix by Gregg Jackman in 1992.

Bursting with ideas, ‘Sons & Fascination’ spilled over into its Siamese Twin ‘Sister Feelings Call’, possibly one of the greatest freebies ever. Fusing CAN with TANGERINE DREAM in a dub echo, ‘Theme For Great Cities’ featured one of the greatest instrumental signatures ever while another single ‘The American’ was imperial in its Apache-like approach, pounding to the heart of the dance without the need for hi-hats, just triggered electronics and funky hypnotic bass.

Possibly their most under-rated body of work, although the ‘Sons & Fascination’ / ‘Sister Feelings Call’ collection provided their biggest seller yet and captured SIMPLE MINDS at their most musically inventive, the time was now right to adapt their arty fragmented approach into a more accessible clarity. But just as they were about to hit the big time, Brian McGee departed, seeking a more domestic life… strangely he now has his own tribute act EX-SIMPLE MIND featuring his brother Owen Paul on vocals to perform hit singles he never originally played on at nostalgia festivals…

Based on a synth brass riff from a funk track ‘Too Through’ by BAD GIRLS which had been taped off Kiss FM in New York by stand-in sticksman Kenny Hyslop, ‘Promised You A Miracle’ signified a more positive and colourful SIMPLE MINDS with Kerr’s vocals actually intelligible if still enigmatic. It finally gave them the hit single they had long desired, reaching No13 in the UK in Spring 1982. The sparkly ‘Glittering Prize’ followed it to No16 and set the scene for ‘New Gold Dream’ which would turn out to be the best album of their career.

Fitting in with the New Pop movement as exemplified by the chart success of ABC and ASSOCIATES, SIMPLE MINDS lost their intensity on ‘New Gold Dream’, inspired by their success touring in Australia, opening for ICEHOUSE. With lush panoramic production and arrangements by Peter Walsh, space was filled with pretty synthesized melodies, textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. Track titles such as ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Somebody Up There Likes You’ made investigation essential.

With two drummers drumming in Mel Gaynor and Mike Ogletree, as well as lashings of keyboards and a throbbing bass engine, the ‘New Gold Dream’ title song highlighted an ambitious streak in SIMPLE MINDS and its impact was felt later in 1993 when it was sampled for the basis of URSURA’s sizeable club hit ‘Open Your Mind’. With a fine perfect balance between art and pop, the glorious ‘Hunter & The Hunter’ presented a wonderful wash of sound and a guest synth solo from Herbie Hancock.

The huge success of ‘New Gold Dream’ in Europe led to invitation to play its huge outdoor festivals. Often sharing the bill alongside more rockcentric acts like U2 and BIG COUNTRY, with the heavier presence of Mel Gaynor now ensconced in the drumstool, SIMPLE MINDS began tailoring their sound to the vast open spaces in front of them.

As a result, things began to get very contrived with bombast and stadium theatrics now figuring on their 1984 long player ‘Sparkle In The Rain’. After the lush tapestries of ‘New Gold Dream’, U2 producer Steve Lillywhite proceeded to make SIMPLE MINDS sound like they had been recorded down a drain pipe. It was now quite obvious that the lure of the Yankee dollar in light of U2’s stateside success just couldn’t be resisted.

Advances in technology with sequencers, drum machines and portastudios meant Burchill and MacNeil began writing as a pair, leaving Forbes slightly out on a limb. Judging by the original ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ demos which were leaked in 2006, a musically sophisticated album had been conceived with ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ sounding more like VISAGE’s Fade To Grey than its eventual BIG COUNTRY pastiche.

But with SIMPLE MINDS now throwing in their lot with the likes of U2 and BIG COUNTRY, the more conventional ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ was a disappointment with jagged piano taking the place of crystalline synths and the bass guitar becoming more percussive rather than melodic. However, opening with ‘Up On The Catwalk’, the first side was equal in quality to anything from the first two Virgin-era albums with ‘Waterfront’ and ‘Book Of Brilliant Things’ being particular highlights, although the guitars, drums and vocals were far too loud and harsh.

Worse was to come as Kerr fell ill towards the end of the ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ UK tour and had to take an enforced break, with the final run of eight dates at Hammersmith Odeon rescheduled. When the band re-emerged, the audience were aghast at Kerr perched up rather unsteadily on a pole during the opening number ‘East At Easter’, later hectoring the audience with bellows of “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS”, “UP” and “HIGHER”!

What then followed was a ponderous 2 hour show featuring just 12 songs, an average song length of 10 minutes! The attempt at grand music led to attempts at grand gestures! As the band were plodding away, the synths barely able to be heard amongst all the bombast! The artier eloquence had been exchanged for a tedious pomposity. It was time to give the dog a Bono!

Renowned journalist and earlier biographer Adam Sweeting commented in ‘The Sony Tape 1984 Rock Review’ that those Hammersmith shows were “a heady mixture of tragedy and farce” while “the band played collectively as though auditioning for a spot on the Des O’Connor show, devoid of their usual subtlety and grace”! ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ was the start of SIMPLE MINDS’ artistic slide.

Come 1985 and SIMPLE MINDS were offered a song written by Steve Chiff and producer Keith Forsey for a John Hughes movie entitled ‘The Breakfast Club’. The song had already been rejected by Billy Idol and Richard Butler who Forsey had worked with, as well as by Bryan Ferry, so was rearranged and recorded reluctantly by the band at a studio in London.

Forsey had already co-written the theme tunes to ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Never Ending Story’ with Giorgio Moroder, so with his amiable personality and the fact that he had been the drummer on ‘I Feel Love’, he smoothed the path to his goal. With the right balance of synths and FM rock, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ became an unexpected US No1 on the back of the movie’s success; it took Kerr and Co into the sports arenas of North America.

Feeling guilty about achieving such massive success with a song they didn’t write, SIMPLE MINDS opted to record their next album ‘Once Upon A Time’ with American rock heavyweights Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain to prove they could have a US hit with one of their own songs. But along the way, Derek Forbes was asked to leave the band with concerns about his commitment and reliability, having been distracted by the trappings of rock ‘n’ roll.

Forbes was replaced by John Giblin who played much less of a lead melodic role on bass and arrived just in time for SIMPLE MINDS’ appearance on Live Aid and another international hit in ‘Alive & Kicking’. With a more commercial Trans-Atlantic sheen, the ‘Once Upon A Time’ album was what it was intended to be; an immediately enjoyable, uptempo rock pop album that successfully exploited its possibilities with a sharp radio friendly outlook.

The SIMPLE MINDS sound had changed from absorbing instrumentals with vocals to actual songs. There were also more soulful interventions thanks to guest singer Robin Clark who featured quite prominently on ‘All The Things She Said’, ‘Alive & Kicking’ and the title song while the band went on a full SPENCER DAVIS GROUP rhythm ‘n’ blues blow-out for ‘Sanctify Yourself’. There were reminders of the more understated ‘New Gold Dream’ period on the album closer ‘Come A Long Way’ but otherwise, ‘Once Upon A Time’ was made for straightforward crowd singalongs.

However, The Tube’s broadcast of their tedious 1985 concert at The Ahoy with an 11 minute version of ‘Waterfront’ was most people’s cue to get out. But to be fair, the 9 minute ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ with the entire audience joining in the elongated “la-la-la-la” closing refrain was a rousing affair and ensured that SIMPLE MINDS would be damned to play someone else’s song in their shows for the rest of their lives.

The ‘Live In The City Of Light’ document that followed in 1987 featured more manageable if not entirely successful, edited arrangements of songs that for the most part, did not outstay their welcome compared with what had been going on at The Ahoy. Had SIMPLE MINDS finally seen the light and realised that less could mean more? The answer was no, as meandering overlong arrangements dominated the 1989 album ‘Street Fighting Years’.

Lambasted for embracing stadium rock, the fragmented nucleus of Kerr, Burchill and McNeil retreated to the tranquillity of rural Scotland to inspire a more earnest, political direction. Instrumentally, the bombast and synths were replaced by the brushes, rootsy bottleneck guitar, strings, bagpipes, accordion and Hammond organ which were ubiquitous of the period.

The production skills of Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson struggled to get the best out of what even Kerr now refers to as “a troubled record” – new technology had affected band dynamics and perceived roles again with Burchill now creating keyboard parts that led to tensions with McNeil. Meanwhile, Gaynor was side-lined with noted session drummer Manu Katché taking his place. Giblin also left the sessions, having already written ‘Let It All Come Down’ and inspired ‘Belfast Child’ after being heard playing the traditional Irish folk song ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ on the studio piano by Kerr.

Many of the songs on ‘Street Fighting Years’ meandered along at over six minutes at a time; despite being their only UK No1 single, ‘Belfast Child’ outstayed its welcome by at least four and a half minutes! Come the anti-climactic tour to support the album, although SIMPLE MINDS were now regularly playing the stadiums they craved, with so many personnel on stage, things got far too muso and self-indulgent as the audience struggled with the political nature of the new record and its lengthy understated dynamics.

Things got even stranger during those shows as Kerr stopped mid-song during ‘Ghostdancing’ to tell a short story about Elvis Presley while the band performed a formless coda jam of ‘Book Of Brilliant Things’ rather than playing the actual song! With the show almost reaching the 3 hour mark, Kerr was still hectoring the audience with shouts of “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS” and “SINGALONG WITH ME”, as if he was trying to cover up for something…

Having looked unhappy throughout much of the ‘Street Fighting Years’ tour, Mick McNeil left just prior to the recording of the interim ‘Amsterdam’ EP which included a pointless cover of Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times’; a few months later after a management reshuffle, Bruce Findlay was gone too. Now reduced to a duo for their 1991 album ‘Real Life’, Kerr and Burchill retained Mel Gaynor on drums while producer Stephen Lipson played bass and keyboards on a number of tracks. Utilising much shorter and sharper arrangements, ‘Real Life’ was better than ‘Street Fighting Years’ with the sparse minimalism of ‘Woman’ being one of the highlights, along with the U2 aping ‘See The Lights’.

The ‘Real Life’ album though was a retread of SIMPLE MINDS’ recent past with ‘Let The Children Speak’ basically an under par vocal version of ‘Theme For Great Cities’ while ‘Ghostrider’, Stand By Love’ and ‘Travelling Man’ respectively owed more than a debt to Ghostdancing’, ‘Sanctify Yourself’ and ‘Waterfront’. Although in concert, SIMPLE MINDS had dialled down many of their more overblown tendencies, the ‘Real Live’ tour was still very much a “let me see your hands” experience.

An exhausted SIMPLE MINDS took a 4 year break before delivering ‘Good News From The Next World’, their final album for Virgin Records. Produced by Keith Forsey and with the emphasis on guitars, only ‘7 Deadly Sins’ captured hints of former glories. It was telling that ‘Hypnotised’ was superior in its stripped down instrumental B-side guise titled ‘#4’.

Meanwhile the lead single ‘She’s A River’ with its guitar histrionics, big drums and anonymous verse had no real hooks. This turned out to be case with the rest of the album and things must have been bad because the band only featured 3 songs from it at their 1995 Wembley Arena show; the band were bereft of charisma while new drummer Mark Schulman played like he had a wooden leg.

Signing with Chrysalis Records, the return of Derek Forbes for 1998’s ‘Néapolis’ failed to reverse fortunes although the electro-kosmische instrumental ‘Androgyny’ stood out in an underwhelming collection of music. The writing on the wall and their new label declined to release the next album ‘Our Secrets Are the Same’.

While SIMPLE MINDS have continued to release albums since, with 2015’s ‘Big Music’ being hailed as the inevitable “return to form”, it is in the live arena with a revolving door of session players that Kerr and Burchill have continued to be a draw. The front man may still want to see people’s hands but SIMPLE MINDS’ ability to continue playing arenas three decades after their commercial height deserves respect and wonderment.

In comparison to U2 who brought in a new brain in Brian Eno after hearing ‘New Gold Dream’ to help continue their artistic development, SIMPLE MINDS were an exhilarating plane ride across the Atlantic where engines kept falling off but has continued gliding ever since. Their legacy can be found in dance artists such as CORPORATION OF ONE, UTAH SAINTS, MOBY and ITALOCONNECTION, along with rock and pop exponents like MANIC STREET PREACHERS, WHITE LIES and HURTS.

While they were not New Romantics, the movement’s embracement of their music made them as pioneering as ULTRAVOX and TUBEWAY ARMY in their use of electronics within a conventional band format. Interestingly, in the last 10 years, it has dawned on Kerr and Burchill that their 1979-1982 period was SIMPLE MINDS’ most glorious period and the ‘5 X 5’ tour in 2012 performing material from that first phase of the band satisfied those who had tired of the audience hectoring and hand showing.

Fast forward to 2022 and ‘Act Of Love’, a never before released live favourite from 1978, has been reecorded as a new single in time for SIMPLE MINDS upcoming ’40 Years Of Hits’ world tour. Although SIMPLE MINDS can boast several double and naturally triple greatest hits collections to their name, it was the period before they had those really big hits that they were truly at their imperial and imaginative best.


‘Themes for Great Cities: A New History of SIMPLE MINDS’ written by by Graeme Thomson is published by Constable in hardback and Kindle editions

‘Celebrate: The Greatest Hits’ is released as a 2CD set by EMI Music

‘Live In The City Of Angels’ is released as a 2CD set by BMG Rights Management

https://www.simpleminds.com/

https://www.facebook.com/simpleminds

https://twitter.com/simplemindscom

https://www.instagram.com/simplemindsmusic/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th February 2022

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1982

While 1981 was the most important year in synth for its mainstream crossover, 1982 saw it consolidating its presence and finding itself intertwined into other genres.

A number of the school of 1981 such as OMD, KRAFTWERK and JAPAN were absent in album form during 1982 although they maintained a presence on the singles chart with KRAFTWERK getting a belated and well-deserved No1 for 1978’s ‘The Model’ while OMD scored the biggest single of the year in West Germany with ‘Maid Of Orleans’.

Meanwhile, JAPAN became chart regulars with re-issues from their previous label Ariola Hansa and their then-home Virgin Records, notching up a further six Top 40 singles including a pair of Top10s in ‘Ghosts’ and an understated 1980 cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘I Second That Emotion’, but the band split by the end of the year after a world tour.

It was very much a year much of the past catching up with the present with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s original 1978 Fast Version of ‘Being Boiled’ reaching No6 on the back of a reissue under licence to EMI while ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ reached No1 in America, just as a remix collection ‘Love & Dancing’ maintained the band’s profile back home.

Taking a leaf out of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s book, SOFT CELL revealed what they had been doing while clubbing in New York with the remix EP ‘Non-Stop Ecstatic’ and although it didn’t hit the heights of the Sheffield combo, Marc Almond and Dave Ball continued propping up the Top3 of the UK singles chart with ‘Torch’ and ‘What’.

In their album chart absence came new acts like YAZOO, TALK TALK, BLANCMANGE, CHINA CRISIS, BERLIN and RATIONAL YOUTH as those who had made their wider breakthroughs in 1981 such as DURAN DURAN, ABC, ASSOCIATES and SIMPLE MINDS swooped in. Meanwhile as DEPECHE MODE were soldiering on, NEW ORDER found a new electronic direction on the standalone single ‘Temptation’.

Despite all this, signs of a synth backlash were coming to a head and there were those who didn’t consider the use of synthesizers as real music. Songwriters like Elvis Costello and Ian Dury publicly declared their dislike of acts who used synths while the Musicians Union tabled a motion in May 1982 to ban synthesizers from recording and live performance.

Tensions had been brewing for a while; when HEAVEN 17 performed on ‘Top Of the Pops’ for the first time in 1981 with ‘Play To Win’, singer Glenn Gregory remembered how the heavily unionised show, where MU membership was compulsory, refused to let Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh ‘perform’ behind synths, insisting that they used a guitar and glockenspiel instead! There were plenty of misconceptions about the latest technology as Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

But with the best selling UK single of 1982 being the more traditional ‘C’mon Eileen’ by DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, the public were perhaps tiring of the sound of synth and with this in mind, things were never quite the same again. In alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK lists 20 albums that contributed to the electronic legacy of 1982.


ABC The Lexicon Of Love

ABC wanted to be a far more technically polished pop proposition than their first single ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ so approached Trevor Horn to produce their debut album ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. The first fruit of labours was ‘Poison Arrow’ which was augmented by some dramatic piano passages from Anne Dudley who also added strings to the smooth electronic funk of ‘The Look Of Love’ and the ballad ‘All Of My Heart’. Meanwhile, Horn planted the seed of the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD sound on ‘Date Stamp’.

‘The Lexicon Of Love’ is still available via Mercury Records

http://www.abcmartinfry.com/


ASSOCIATES Sulk

ASSOCIATES were a majestic and outlandish new pop take on Weimar cabaret in a newly emerging electronic world. Produced by Mike Hedges, ‘Sulk’ was a kaleidoscopic triumph. Featuring reworked versions of ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’, from the frantic instrumental ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ to the chromatic overtures of ‘Skipping’ to the evocative drama of ‘No’, the music had the basis for being more accessible, but was still inventive with the brilliant ‘It’s Better This Way’ art and pop in perfect unison.

‘Sulk’ is still available via BMG

https://www.facebook.com/theassociatesofficial


BERLIN Pleasure Victim

Inspired by ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK, BERLIN’s independent mini-LP ‘Pleasure Victim’ was one of the first occasions of an American pop act embracing the synthesizer which had changed the face of music in Europe, exemplified by brilliant songs such as ‘The Metro’ and ‘Masquerade’ with their motorik drum machines and Teutonic pulses. It led to a deal with Geffen Records and notoriety with the deviantly fuelled breakthrough single ‘Sex (I’m A…)’.

‘Pleasure Victim’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

http://www.berlinmusic.net


BLANCMANGE Happy Families

With the blistering opening of Linn Drum and elastic synth bass, the aggressive ‘I Can’t Explain’ opened  ‘Happy Families’ and set the scene for an impressive debut album from BLANCMANGE. ‘Feel Me’ crossed TALKING HEADS and JOY DIVISION while the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of the latter with textures of OMD. Featuring tablas and sitar, breakthrough hit ‘Living On The Ceiling’ headed to towards mystical East.

‘Happy Families’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.com


CHINA CRISIS Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain

Of CHINA CRISIS’ debut, frontman and synth player Gary Daly said: “I love all the songs, I love the way Ed and me from the off were not a “band” and we made the most of every musician who contributed to our songs”. Making the use of four producers, the songs ranged from the tribal mantras of ‘African & White’ to eveocative ballads such as ‘Christian’ with catchy synthpop like ‘Some People I Know To Have Fantastic Lives’ and the ambient closer ‘Jean Walks In Fresh Fields’ part of a fine collection.

‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms…’ is still available via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


DAF Für Immer

The last of the Conny Plank produced album trilogy, ‘Für Immer’ maintained the industrial standard of its predecessors and featured a minimal electro body re-recording of their 1980 Mute single ‘Kebab Träume’. Transformed into something much heavier, the memorable if controversial line “Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei!” threw more wood onto the provocation bonfire. But despite the fame, all was not well within DAF with Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl falling out under a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer…

‘Für Immer’ is still available via Grönland Records

https://www.groenland.com/en/artist/deutsch-amerikanische-freundschaft/


DEPECHE MODE A Broken Frame

While Eric Radcliffe was holed up working on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to signal an optimistic future while ‘My Secret Garden’, ‘See You’ and ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’ made use of pretty ringing tones courtesy of a newly acquired PPG Wave 2. But ‘Leave In Silence’ pointed to darker climes.

‘A Broken Frame’ is still available via Sony Music

http://www.depechemode.com/


THOMAS DOLBY The Golden Age Of Wireless

‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ was a real ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure of an album featuring the singles ‘Airwaves’, ‘Radio Silence’ and the percussive ‘Europa & The Pirate Twins’ featuring XTC’s Andy Partridge on harmonica. The UK hit breakthrough came with the tremendous ‘Windpower’ which ended with a BBC shipping forecast from John Marsh. For his intellectual approach to modern pop, Thomas Dolby adopted a boffin persona which came to its zenith on the US hit ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ which was later appended onto the album.

‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ is still available via EMI Records

https://www.thomasdolby.com/


DURAN DURAN Rio

On the Colin Thurston produced ‘Rio’ album with its iconic Patrick Nagel cover image, DURAN DURAN achieved the perfect balance between art and pop. “A dialogue between the ego and the alter-ego”, ‘New Religion’ was a highlight capturing a schizophrenic tension while ‘The Chauffeur’ threw in a drum machine, synths, treated piano and an ocarina alongside a closing monologue about insects. ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and the title song provided the hits… and no, ‘Rio’ is not about a girl!

‘Rio’ is still available via EMI Music

http://www.duranduran.com/


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS A Flock Of Seagulls

With a sound that combined enough conventional rock guitar to have mainstream appeal while adding a spacey sheen with prominent synths, Liverpool’s A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had winning formula to break America. Produced by Mike Howlett, their long playing debut was a concept album of sorts about an alien invasion that featured ‘I Ran’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Telecommunication’. In an America still drunk on TOTO and JOURNEY, their greatest achievement was winning a ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ Grammy Award for the album track ‘DNA’.

‘A Flock Of Seagulls’ is still available via Cherry Pop

https://www.aflockofseagulls.org/


THE LEAGUE UNLIMTED ORCHESTRA Love & Dancing

“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s producer Martin Rushent described ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of remixes from ‘Dare’. Pre-sampling, the material was reworked from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights, along with a largely instrumental ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

‘Love & Dancing’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


LUSTANS LAKEJER En Plats I Solen

LUSTANS LAKEJER are the unga moderna trailblazers once described as Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN. Their third long player ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri of JAPAN while Mick Karn also played sax. One of the first pop albums is use an Emulator, it featured prominently on ‘Den Glöd Som Aldrig Dör’ and ‘Något Måste Brista’. With international ambitions, an English version was recorded first and later released as ‘A Place In The Sun’ with the band changing their name to VANITY FAIR.

‘En Plats I Solen’ is still available via Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/LustansLakejer/


GARY NUMAN I Assassin

After the downtempo nature of ‘Dance’, Gary Numan got more energetic again with the single ‘Music For Chameleons’ and the subsequent ‘I Assassin’ album. Still under the spell of JAPAN, Numan brought in Pino Palladino to take over from Mick Karn on fretless bass which provided the dreamy focus next to crashing Linn Drum programming. Songs like ‘We Take Mystery’ (To Bed), ‘War Songs’ and ‘This Is My House’ were more rhythmical, signalling Numan’s desire to return to the live circuit having announced his retirement in 1981.

‘I Assassin’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


RATIONAL YOUTH Cold War Night Life

Montreal’s RATIONAL YOUTH comprised of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda; their debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’ captured the fraught tensions of two opposing ideologies and living under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction. A tense vision of how young Poles might have spent their down time in underground clubs under martial law was captured in ‘Saturdays In Silesia’, while observing “Checkpoint Charlie’s social climb”, there was the possibility of ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’. When the wall came down at the end of 1989, the trio’s work was done.

‘Cold War Night Life’ is still available via Universal Music

https://rationalyouth.bandcamp.com/album/cold-war-night-life


SIMPLE MINDS New Gold Dream

Following the promising ‘Sons & Fascination’, SIMPLE MINDS lost their intensity and recorded a magnificent album filled with pretty synthesized melodies, effected textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. The titles like ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Hunter & The Hunted’ made investigation essential and the luckily, the music reflected that. Jim Kerr’s lyrics were enigmatic gibberish but the vocals were fairly low down in the mix to produce a wonderful wash of sound.

‘New Gold Dream’ is still available via Universal Music

http://www.simpleminds.com/


YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI What Me Worry?

Being the main vocalist for YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA did not necessarily mean Takahashi-san was a great singer and indeed, its Bryan Ferry / David Bowie cross very much had a Marmite effect. With his solo albums of course, his voice took centre stage although on his fourth offering ‘What Me Worry?’, ‘This Strange Obsession’ written by Zaine Griff featuring vocals from the Kiwi and Ronny provided one of the highlights. Meanwhile complimented by Bill Nelson’s blistering E-bow, the frantic ‘It’s Gonna Work Out’ signalled where YMO were heading.

‘What Me Worry?’ is still available via GT Music

https://www.facebook.com/yt.hints


TALK TALK The Party’s Over

‘The Party’s Over’ was an impressive synth flavoured collection devoid of guitar that very much captured the sound of the era with its thundering Simmons drums and fretless bass. While very much of its time, it still retains much of its charm. Despite being generally glossed over in TALK TALK history, the album is an excellent under rated jewel that has aged well, thanks to the quality of its songs such as ‘Today’, ‘Talk Talk’, ‘It’s So Serious’, ‘Have You Heard The News’ and its epic title track.

‘The Party’s Over’ is still available via EMI Music

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritOfTalkTalk


ULTRAVOX Quartet

For the ‘Quartet’ album, ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin who produced THE BEATLES. The sound was brighter, more structured and stripped of the density that had characterised the albums with Conny Plank, perhaps coinciding with the use of more digital hardware like the PPG Wave 2.2 and Emulator. The catchy ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ opened proceedings with an immediacy that was less angular and experimental that anything before although ‘Hymn’, ‘Visions In Blue’, ‘Mine For Life’ and ‘The Song (We Go)’ provided some neo-classical pomp.

‘Quartet’ is still available via EMI Music

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


VISAGE The Anvil

‘The Anvil’ is possibly the most under rated album of the period. There was still neu romance in songs such as ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ and ‘Again We Love’ but influenced by the New York club scene, the title song offered heavy metronomic beat sans hi-hats in a soundtrack to hedonism. But VISAGE got the funk on ‘Night Train’ resulting in the two founder members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan falling out over the drummer’s insistence that John Luongo remixes were needed for the US market, with the Glaswegian bidding adieu…

‘The Anvil’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

https://www.therealvisage.com/


YAZOO Upstairs At Eric’s

Disillusioned by the pop circus, Vince Clarke departed DEPECHE MODE in late 1981 and formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet. The debut ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ was a perfect union of passionate bluesy vocals and pristinely programmed synthpop. Songs such as ‘Only You, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Goodbye 70s’ and ‘Winter Kills’ set a high standard but while Clarke and Moyet eventually parted ways, the talent that was apparent on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ has meant both have maintained musical careers that continue to this day.

‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ is still available via Mute Records

http://www.yazooinfo.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th January 2022

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1981

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.

‘Alles Ist Gut’ is still available via Grönland Records

http://www.robert-goerl.de/


DEPECHE MODE Speak & Spell

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.

‘Speak & Spell’ is still available via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


DRAMATIS For Future Reference

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.

‘For Future Reference’ is now available via Cherry Red Records

http://www.numanme.co.uk/numanme/Dramatis.htm


DURAN DURAN Duran Duran

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’.

‘Duran Duran’ is still available via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com/


JOHN FOXX The Garden

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.

‘The Garden’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Pavement

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.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Dare

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.

‘Dare’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


JAPAN Tin Drum

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’.

‘Tin Drum’ is still available via Virgin Records

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


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Magnetic Fields

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.

‘Magnetic Fields’ is still available via Sony Music

http://jeanmicheljarre.com/


JON & VANGELIS The Friends Of Mr Cairo

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.

‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’ is still available via Polydor Records

https://www.jonanderson.com/

https://www.facebook.com/VangelisOfficial/


KRAFTWERK Computer World

‘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.

‘Computer World’ is still available via EMI Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


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.

‘From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus’ is still available via Cherry Red Records

https://twitter.com/Landscape_band


NEW ORDER Movement

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.

‘Movement’ is still available via Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/


GARY NUMAN Dance

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

https://garynuman.com/


OMD Architecture & Morality

”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.

‘Architecture & Morality’ is still available via Virgin Records

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


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.

‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SOFT CELL Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

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.

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is still available via Mercury Records

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


TELEX‎ Sex

‘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

https://www.facebook.com/TELEX-312492439327342


ULTRAVOX Rage In Eden

‘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.

‘Rage In Eden’ is still available via EMI Records

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


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA BGM

‘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.

‘BGM’ is still available via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th January 2021, updated 1st July 2022

25 BBC RADIO1 SESSION TRACKS

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.

Not officially released

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


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.

Available on the GARY NUMAN ‎// TUBEWAY ARMY album ‘Replicas – The First Recordings’ via Beggars Banquet

http://garynuman.com/


OMD Pretending To See The Future (John Peel 1980)

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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Peel Sessions 1979-1983’ via Virgin Records

https://www.omd.uk.com/


B-MOVIE Polar Opposites (John Peel 1981)

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!

Available on the B-MOVIE ‎album ‘BBC Radio Sessions 1981-1984’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


DEPECHE MODE Boys Say Go (Richard Skinner 1981)

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.

Available on the compilation ‎album ‘1 & Only – 25 Years of BBC Radio 1’ (V/A) via BBC Enterprises / Band Of Joy

http://www.depechemode.com/


DURAN DURAN Like An Angel (Peter Powell 1981)

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

http://www.duranduran.com


SOFT CELL Seedy Films (Richard Skinner 1981)

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.

Available on the SOFT CELL boxed set ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ via Universal Music

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


SPANDAU BALLET Mandolin (Studio B15 1981)

‘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.

Available on the SPANDAU BALLET deluxe album ‘Journeys to Glory’ via EMI Records

http://www.spandauballet.com/


BLANCMANGE Running Thin (John Peel 1982)

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.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Demon Music

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


CHINA CRISIS This Occupation (John Peel 1982)

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.

Available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’ via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


EURYTHMICS I’ve Got An Angel (Kid Jensen 1982)

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 officially released

https://www.eurythmics.com/


NEW ORDER Too Late (John Peel 1982)

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.

Available on the NEW ORDER boxed set ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ via Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/


TEARS FOR FEARS Memories Fade (Kid Jensen 1982)

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

https://tearsforfears.com/


YAZOO In My Room (Kid Jensen 1982)

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’.

Available on the YAZOO boxed set ‘Three Pieces’ via Mute Records

http://yazooinfo.com/


DEAD OR ALIVE Give It To Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

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

https://dead-or-alive-band.fandom.com/wiki/Dead_or_Alive


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

http://www.metamatic.com/


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

http://www.howardjones.com/


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!

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS boxed set ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ via Universal Music

https://www.simpleminds.com/


TALK TALK Why Is It So Hard? (Kid Jensen 1983)

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.

Not officially released

https://www.facebook.com/Talk-Talk-Mark-Hollis-12307963901/


VISAGE Questions (Kid Jensen 1983)

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!

Not officially released

http://www.therealvisage.com/


HARD CORPS Metal + Flesh (John Peel 1984)

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.

Available on the HARD CORPS album ‘Radio Sessions’ directly via https://hardcorps.bandcamp.com/album/radio-sessions

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


BRONSKI BEAT The Potato Fields (John Peel 1984)

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.

Not officially available

http://www.bronskibeat.co.uk/


FIAT LUX Breaking The Boundary (Kid Jensen 1984)

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.

Not officially available

http://www.fiat-lux.co.uk/


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

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


PET SHOP BOYS A Powerful Friend (John Peel 2002)

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!

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS deluxe album ‘Release: Further Listening 2001 – 2004’ via EMI Records

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd January 2021

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.

Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


MACHINES (1980)

Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE (2020)

Subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this boxed set collection explored the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception. Although this featured the expected big hitters from OMD, VISAGE and JAPAN, there were rarer tracks from ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET. Lesser known highlights included ‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo THE METRONOMES with its detached female vocal and the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’ from LA DÜSSELDORF, a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section.

‘Musik Music Musique’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020, updated 16th February 2021

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