Tag: The Teardrop Explodes

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

THE ICICLE WORKS Interview

A self-confessed purveyor of rock ‘n’ roll, Ian McNabb found fame as the leader of THE ICICLE WORKS who hit UK charts in 1984 with ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’, eventually reaching No15.

Emerging from post-punk Liverpool, perhaps unsurprisingly, THE ICICLE WORKS were often compared with THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, sharing psychedelic overtones, frantic rhythms and cosmic string machines.

While it would be fair to say McNabb had a similar vocal timbre to Julian Cope, he was the undoubted master of a belting chorus. Releasing a self-titled debut album in 1984, THE ICICLE WORKS also found success in the US with the magnificent ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’ becoming a Top 40 hit Stateside. Its recent use in the Episode 7 end credits of ‘Stranger Things 2’ helped revive interest in the band’s back catalogue.

With great songs such as ‘Nirvana’, ‘As The Dragonfly Flies’, ‘Hollow Horse’, ‘When It All Comes Down’, ‘Understanding Jane’ and ‘Who Do You Want For Your Love?’, the original line-up of McNabb, Chris Layhe and Chris Sharrock knocked on the door of the UK Top40 on several occasions during their career but ultimately remained acclaimed cult favourites.

While THE ICICLE WORKS split with Sharrock notably ending up on the drum stool for Robbie Williams, McNabb pursued his love of Americana and went on to work with CRAZY HORSE, releasing the Mercury Prize nominated album ‘Head Like a Rock’ in 1994.

With the work of THE ICICLE WORKS being celebrated on a 35th Anniversary tour featuring a two and a half hour set including solo material, Ian McNabb kindly chatted about string machines, Micro Mellotrons and more…

When THE ICICLE WORKS started out, you were a tight-knit guitar / bass / drums three piece, so when did keyboards enter the frame?

I played keyboards from the very beginning. Keyboards were in the frame from first day’s rehearsal.

You were using a Korg 770 and Logan string machine back then, what drew you to those?

Korg 770; well I couldn’t afford a Moog…

The Logan string machine I bought in 1977; it was state of the art for the times!

Those early songs were quite complex and frantic, as exemplified by your first single ‘Nirvana’?

Yes we loved tom toms. We were deliberately complex. We knew we could play better than anyone else around at the time and wanted to prove it. ‘Nirvana’ set the template. Pretty much everything on that first album has tribal drums. We never really did it again after that. We loved The Bunnymen, Banshees, Adam &The Ants, Bow Wow Wow. We wanted to make three people sound huge.

On the self-titled debut album, ‘As The Dragonfly Flies’ was one of the highlights and had an air of THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, how did that come together?

Yes it did. We loved THE TEARDROP EXPLODES. We ripped loads of that stuff off. ‘A Factory In The Desert’ was me trying to rewrite ‘Reward’. The original demo of ‘In the Cauldron Of Love’ is so like ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, it’s funny. We managed to scale it back a little on the record and sound more like us.

You recorded the debut album with Hugh Jones, how was the studio dynamic between band and producer? Any funny stories you can recall?

We got on well although there were arguments. When you’ve been playing those ten songs for a couple of years and then you try to record them and someone starts changing things, it’s traumatic. I wouldn’t say it was much fun working with Hugh as he was such a taskmaster. He would make us play things over and over for hours. That’s not how I work. If I haven’t got it by take two I move on. We took sleeping bags into the studio as Hugh could spend three days mixing one track and he never stopped until it was finished. Hugh came to see us this year playing the first album in full. We had a lovely time. The debut IW album is the only one I can listen to.

‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ was a UK hit in late 1983 and captured a glorious wintery feel which suited its time of release?

It actually got in the Top 20 in January 1984. It was getting a lot of airplay leading up to Christmas but when they stopped playing all the festive sh*te, they really hammered it. It was a long, slow burn. I never thought it was all that good but it sits in people’s memories of their youth now and has a special place in their hearts (and mine). It definitely has a brown leaf flavour.

‘Birds Fly’ is perhaps your best known song and has been exposed to a new audience via its inclusion in ‘Stranger Things’, how did you feel about the songs longevity?

That song has been very kind to me. It was a sizeable hit in the USA and once you have a smash over there, they never forget it. It didn’t sound like anything else and a lot of songs have ripped it off over the years.

Every couple of years I hear another. I’m very proud of that one. I particularly like the way it has a prologue that is in a different tempo and is not repeated. THE BEATLES used to do this a lot in their early years (‘If I Fell’, ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret?’, ‘Here There & Everywhere’). THE BEACH BOYS did it on ‘California Girls.’

‘Birds Fly’ was a US Top 40 hit but never quite got that recognition in the UK, any thoughts in hindsight as to why it might not have been?

It was No2 in the indie chart for a while, but it never really got any significant airplay whereas ‘LIAWC’ got loads. We re-released it after’ LIAWC’ was a hit, but the fans all had it and the unconverted never really got to hear it. I’m sure a TOTP appearance would have made it huge.

By the time of 1984’s ‘Hollow Horse’, the arrangements had become less complex and more direct while hints of Americana like THE BYRDS were starting to make themselves heard, was that a natural move for you?

We’d gone as far as we could with experimenting, yes we definitely became more of a straight ahead pop / rock band after that. I got fed up of shouting over the Burundi Boys and Chris Sharrock would have had a heart attack if he would have kept on doing that every night. The songs became more simple, lyrically also.

THE ICICLE WORKS will be touring the UK this Autumn, what can people expect who might be thinking about coming along?

Two and a half hours of pop / rock jollity. Plus songs from my solo catalogue. And some good gags.

Are you taking the Logan string machine out with you?

It’s in the cellar but I haven’t turned it on for 20 years. I’ll be using my Micro Mellotron though.

Looking back, which songs from THE ICICLE WORKS catalogue remain your favourites and why?

The ones that are fun to play live; ‘When It All Comes Down’, ‘Hollow Horse’, ‘Up Here In The North Of England’…I enjoy them all or I wouldn’t play them. ‘Birds Fly’ will always be my favourite.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Ian McNabb

Special thanks to Helen Robinson at Mersey Beast PR

‘The Icicle Works’ is still available as a 2CD deluxe set via Beggars Banquet Records

THE ICICLE WORKS National Tour 2019 includes:

Newcastle O2 Academy 2 (27th September), Sheffield Plug (28th September), Clitheroe The Grand (4th October), Farncombe St John’s Church (5th October 2019), Cardiff Globe (11th October), Southampton The Engine Rooms Sat (12th October), Cottingham Civic Hall (18th October), Norwich Arts Centre (19th October), Derby Flowerpot (25th October), Douglas Isle Of Man Villa Marina (26th October 2019), Bristol Thekla (1st November), Birmingham O2 Academy 2 (9th November), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (15th November)

http://www.ianmcnabb.com/

https://www.facebook.com/merseybeast/

https://twitter.com/theicicleworks


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
27th August 2019

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE HOWLETT

Mike-HowlettMike Howlett is undoubtedly one of the producers who helped define and shape the sound of Synth Britannia and Trans-Atlantic post-punk.

As the bassist in Sydney band THE AFFAIR, he relocated to London after the group travelled to England following winning the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds competition.

In 1973, he joined progressive rockers GONG who featured guitarist and future SYSTEM 7 co-founder Steve Hillage.

After leaving GONG, Howlett formed STRONTIUM 90 which featured Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers who of course, subsequently had success as THE POLICE. His production career began in earnest at Dindisc Records, the Virgin Records subsidiary where his then-girlfriend Carol Wilson was Managing Director. There, he worked with fledgling acts such as THE REVILLOS, MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, MODERN EON and OMD.

While his first Top 20 UK chart entry was with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, it was his three consecutive Top 15 hits with OMD, including the mighty ‘Enola Gay’, that were to make him an in-demand producer between 1981-1985.

Working with a number of synth friendly acts like BLANCMANGE and CHINA CRISIS, this lucrative period was to include a Grammy Award for ‘DNA’ with A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS in the ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ category. His portfolio was not just restricted to electronic pop, with FISCHER Z, ANY TROUBLE, COMSAT ANGELS, THE ALARM and JOAN ARMATRADING among the artists he also worked with.

Compared with a number of his peers, Howlett’s output was small, but it was highly influential in a short period. Although he moved away from album production, he co-founded the Record Producers Guild in 1987 and launched a record label Mauve in 1993.

Today, he lectures in music technology at several universities throughout the world, having been awarded a PhD in record production in 2009, while he also performs with his psychedelic space funk combo HOUSE OF THANDOY and the occasional reunion of GONG.

Presented in calendar year order and then alphabetically, with a restriction of one song per album project to conceive an imaginary 18 song compilation CD, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK looks back at the impressive studio career of Mike Howlett…


MARTHA & THE MUFFINS Echo Beach (1980)

MARTHA & MUFFINS Echo BeachMARTHA & THE MUFFINS were six Canadian art students who confusingly had two members named Martha; Gane and Ladly. Combining the spirit of punk and North American styled new wave, ‘Echo Beach’ was a catchy slice of credible pop that featured sax, flute and organ alongside the more conventionally accepted guitars, bass and drums. Reaching No10 in the UK singles chart, it was Howlett’s first big hit and set him off on his successful production path.

Available on the album ‘Metro Music’ via Virgin Records

http://www.marthaandthemuffins.com/


OMD Messages (1980)

OMD MessagesFor its single release, OMD re-recorded ‘Messages’ from their self-titled debut. Utilising a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob, Howlett harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies to produce a No13 UK chart hit. As well including Mal Holmes’ separately recorded drums for a cleaner snap, Howlett added several melodic bass guitar lines onto the coda to enhance the warm sound that was distinct from Messrs Numan and Foxx.

Available on the album ‘Messages: OMD Greatest Hits’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


OMD Stanlow (1980)

OMD OrganisationJust nine months after the release of OMD’s self-titled and self-produced debut, the band entered Ridge Farm and Advision studios with Howlett for the much more cohesive and gothic follow-up ‘Organisation’. The album’s closer was ‘Stanlow’, a brooding 6 minute epic that conveyed the emotion of returning home after a long journey; the sight of that huge, brightly lit oil refinery from the M56 motorway was apt symbolism. The intellectual but cryptic lyrical themes of OMD set them apart from other synth based acts.

Available on the album ‘Organisation’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/omdofficial/


THE TEARDROP EXPLODES When I Dream (1980)

THE TEARDROP EXPLODES When I DreamWhile THE TEARDROP EXPLODES were not a synthesizer group, their use of synths often confused some to dub them New Romantics as they straddled the line between psychedelic pop and Synth Britannia. The Howlett produced ‘When I Dream’ released in Summer 1980 launched Julian Cope and Co’s debut album ‘Kilimanjaro’. Dressed with detuned synths and low-end sweeps, it got them closer to the charts but it took a brass section to net that first hit in ‘Reward’.

Available on the album ‘The Greatest Hit’ via Mercury Records

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


MARTHA LADLY & THE SCENERY CLUB Tasmania (1981)

MARTHA LADLY FinlandiaFollowing designing the cover to MARTHA & THE MUFFINS second album ‘Trance & Dance’, Martha Ladly won a scholarship to study graphic design and left the band. She also began working with Peter Saville. She continued a solo career with her first single ‘Finlandia’ produced by Mike Howlett. While this was akin to Nordic folk, the B-side ‘Tasmania’ was a brooding percussive piece reminiscent of JOY DIVISION with sombre chants from Ladly. Just one more single ‘Light Years From Love’ emerged in 1983.

Originally released as the B-side to the single ‘Finlandia’ via Dindisc Records, currently unavailable

http://womenandtech.com/interview/martha-ladly/


MODERN EON Euthenics (1981)

MODERN EON EuthenicsMike Howlett had effectively become house producer at Dindisc Records and led him to work with most of their artist roster. His production of MODERN EON’s ‘Euthenics’ was a re-recorded version of a single released by indie label Inevitable in 1980. With a sprightly but solemn sound like WAH! HEAT and HAMBI & THE DANCE, the band showed some promise. Led by Alix Plain, this version of ‘Euthenics’ included Tim Lever and Cliff Hewitt who later respectively showed up in DEAD OR ALIVE and APOLLO 440.

Original version available on the boxed set ‘Birth Of A Nation – Inevitable Records: An Independent Liverpool 1979-1986’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.soulsaw.com/modern-eon/


OMD Souvenir (1981)

OMD SouvenirMike Howlett’s work on ‘Souvenir’ cannot be underestimated, with the nightmare scenario of spinning taped choir loops alongside early synthesizer technology. And all this while dealing with a disillusioned Andy McCluskey, who was feeling left out of a song written by his bandmates Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper. Even after its recording, ‘Souvenir’ didn’t sound quite right, until Howlett varispeeded to the point of Humphreys almost sounding like Alvin The Chipmunk. The end result? OMD’s biggest UK hit!

Available on the album ‘Architecture & Morality’ via Virgin Records

http://www.mikehowlett.co.uk


THOMPSON TWINS Perfect Game (1981)

THOMPSON TWINS Perfect GameBefore THOMPSON TWINS settled into being the Alex Sadkin produced electropop trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway, they were a seven strong combo with a more conventionally driven musical outlook. Previous to that, they were a five-piece art squat collective and Mike Howlett produced their guitar driven third single ‘Perfect Game’. The band later signed to Arista Records and released the more synth friendly breakthrough single ‘In The Name Of Love’ in 1982.

Available on the album ‘A Product Of…’ / ‘Set’ via Edsel Records

http://thompsontwinstombailey.co.uk/


BLANCMANGE I Can’t Explain (1982)

With a blistering opening of Linn Drum and elastic synth bass, ‘I Can’t Explain’ opened BLANCMANGE’s ‘Happy Families’ and set the scene for an impressive debut album. With a sub-Ian Curtis vocal from Neil Arthur, this  wasn’t far off an electronic take of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Interzone’, which was based on the Northern Soul fave ‘Keep On Keeping On’ by NF PORTER. This feeling was enhanced further once David Rhodes’ frantic processed guitar kicked in alongside the bizarre, staccato gospel backing vocals.

Available on the album ‘Happy Families’ via Edsel Records

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


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Space Age Love Song (1982)

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Space Age Love SongWith titles ‘like Modern Love Is Automatic’ and ‘Telecommunication’, the futuristic Sci-Fi vibe of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS came to its zenith with ‘Space Age Love Song’. Howlett’s brilliantly punchy production integrated synths with guitars, which undoubtedly helped this often forgotten Liverpool band gain a foothold in the traditionally synthphobic territory of the USA. But the song was popular in Europe too, as exemplified by MARSHEAUX’s blatant interpolation of its main hook for ‘Dream Of A Disco’!

Available on the album ‘A Flock Of Seagulls’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.mikescore.com/


GANG OF FOUR I Love A Man In A Uniform (1982)

GANG OF FOUR I Love A Man In A UniformA popular cult single from the Leeds combo named after the Chinese Communist faction led by Madam Mao, ‘I Love A Man In A Uniform’ was a fine example of the scratchy post-punk funk that was prevalent with alternative acts such as A CERTAIN RATIO, PIGBAG and BAUHAUS. Exploring the public fascination with the military, it was also perhaps a passing dig at ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN who the year previously had perfected a camouflaged look that their fans were copying.

Available on the album ‘A Brief History Of The 20th Century’ via EMI Music

http://gangoffour.co.uk/


TEARS FOR FEARS Pale Shelter (1982)

TEARS FOR FEARS Pale ShelterWith the title inspired by Henry Moore, Roland Orzabal described ‘Pale Shelter’ as “a kind of a love song, though more referring to one’s parents than to a girl” – the original single version was produced by Howlett and subtitled ‘You Don’t Give Me Love’ but failed to chart. It began with an unsettling, reverse spoken vocal from Orzabal. It was much darker and obviously synthetic than the familiar re-recording produced by Ross Cullum and Chris Hughes for the TEARS FOR FEARS debut album ‘The Hurting’.

Available on the deluxe album ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records

http://tearsforfears.com/


TV21 All Join Hands (1982)

TV21 All Join HandsNamed after the Gerry Anderson offshoot comic, TV21 primarily used conventional instrumentation, but their Howlett produced single ‘All Join Hands’ featured an OMD styled bass synth sequence and drum machine. Possibly the best known song in the Edinburgh band’s short career, ‘All Join Hands’ was filled with melodic drama, thanks to some classical augmentation by THE CANNIZARRO STRINGS and a fine lead vocal from singer Norman Rodger.

Available on the album ‘Snakes & Ladders – Almost Complete: 1980-82’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/TV21-63251111019/


CHINA CRISIS Wishful Thinking (1983)

China_Crisis_Wishful_ThinkingWith his OMD success, Mike Howlett was drafted in by Virgin Records to produce what turned out to be the most synth based CHINA CRISIS long player. Utilising Emulator strings and a pizzicato sample derived from plucking an acoustic guitar string close to the bridge, ‘Wishful Thinking’ was a sweetly textured, melodic pop single that deserved its Top 10 chart placing. One fan of the record was STEELY DAN’s Walter Becker who went on to produce the 1985 follow-up ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’.

Available on the album ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/China-Crisis-295592467251068/


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Wishing (1983)

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS WishingWith a percussively clanky backbone and using just black keys for its infectious melody line, ‘Wishing’ was the big home hit that A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has been waiting for, following their acceptance by the MTV audience across the Atlantic. Although much derided in the UK, it was in the US that A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS made a cultural impact, with send-ups of singer Mike Score’s outlandish hairdo appearing in ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Friends’. Score later moved to America and lost his Scouse accent!

Available on the album ‘Listen’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.afosfanclub.com/


JOHN FOXX Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1983)

JOHN FOXX The Golden SectionWhile Zeus B Held provided his rugged arty pop energy for the majority of ‘The Golden Section’, a gentler hand was required for the more serene closer ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’. Bringing in Mike Howlett to fulfil the role, he gave the tune an epic gothic aesthetic that recalled ‘Statues’ from OMD’s ‘Organisation’. The end result had more of a connection to its predecessor ‘The Garden’ thanks to the choir boy vocal of James Risborough and John Foxx’s own forlorn whistling alongside the synthesized dramatics.

Available on the album ‘The Golden Section’ via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com


TIN TIN Hold It (1983)

TIN TIN Hold ItAfter leaving DURAN DURAN prior to the band signing to EMI, Stephen Duffy formed TIN TIN, an electronic oriented project. Their first single ‘Kiss Me’ released in 1982 became a cult dancefloor hit and for its follow-up ‘Hold It’, Mike Howlett was drafted in on production duties. Less immediate than ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Hold It’ nevertheless gained club traction thanks to a remix by Francois Kevorkian. Duffy eventually went solo and it was a Fairlighted remake of ‘Kiss Me’ that got finally got him a hit.

Originally released a single on WEA Records, currently unavailable

http://thelilactime.com/


BERLIN Now It’s My Turn (1984)

Although the two songs produced by Giorgio Moroder grabbed most of the attention on BERLIN’s first album proper, the rest of ‘Love Life’ was produced by Howlett. Having achieved success with A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, Howlett was a natural choice for the LA based band and their Eurocentric aspirations. Combining electronics with a dash of AOR, BERLIN often sounded like ULTRAVOX fronted by HEART. With a defiantly feisty vocal from Terri Nunn, ‘Now It’s My Turn’ was absorbingly anthemic.

Available on the album ‘Love Life’ via Rubellan Remasters

http://www.berlinpage.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th January 2016, updated 3rd May 2020

Lost Albums: SKYRAY Tranquilliser

SKYRAY was the experimental instrumental project of Paul Simpson, a cult figure within the Liverpool music scene based that spawned acts such as OMD, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, DEAD OR ALIVE, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and WAH!

Simpson had been a founder member of THE TEARDROP EXPLODES before moving on to form THE WILD SWANS. When the trio folded after releasing the brilliant single ‘Revolutionary Spirit’, Jeremy Kelly and Gerard Quinn went on to form THE LOTUS EATERS while Simpson joined ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie in a doomed romantic duo named CARE.

Despite the three promising singles ‘My Boyish Days’, ‘Flaming Sword’ and ‘Whatever Possessed You’, CARE dissolved before a debut album was finished. Broudie went on to find fame as THE LIGHTNING SEEDS while Simpson reformed THE WILD SWANS with Jeremy Kelly to finally release an acclaimed debut LP ‘Bringing Home The Ashes’ in 1988 before the band fragmented again.

In 1990, Simpson released another album ‘Space Flower’ under THE WILD SWANS name which was produced by Ian Broudie, but by now, he was becoming disillusioned by the years of music industry politics. As a result, he began to abstain from singing and started composing progressive instrumentals which were inspired by both ambient and kosmische music forms.

Four of these lengthy recordings were given limited runs on 10 inch vinyl singles between 1996-97, but the works were collected together along with new material on an album entitled ‘Tranquilliser’. Released in 1998 on Ochre Records, it combined melodic beauty, minimalist drones and motorik rhythms all on one very long CD.

Held together around a dreamy piano motif and layered by pretty synth strings, album opener ‘Rocket Lake’ took the listener on a futuristic journey to a tropical island with burst of simulated Hawaiian guitar. Reminiscent of OMD’s more pastoral offerings, it was the perfect start to a body of work that had variance in both style and structure.

Released as SKYRAY’s second single, ‘Neptune Variations Part One’ was produced by Henry Priestman of THE CHRISTIANS and his sonic enhancements provided a sheen of accessibility as a repeating piano riff and hypnotic drum loop acted as the backbone. ‘Neptune Variations Part Two’ was a longer, slowed down version of ‘Part One’ and as with its more uptempo sister, repetition was the key, with enough melody to catch the ear despite its less percussive nature.

The first ever release by SKYRAY, ‘Invisible Part One’ featured Will Sergeant from ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. His cacophony of guitar derived effects embellished what was probably the most kosmische derived piece on the collection. With its motorik drum machine and deep bass guitar runs, it was also possibly the most excessive and least essential track on ‘Tranquilliser’. With no obvious hook or melody over its eighteen minutes, chemical enhancements were perhaps needed to appreciate its somewhat enigmatic qualities!

‘Invisible Part Two’ was better though, incorporating the melodic riff heard earlier on ‘Neptune Variations Part One’. The more sprightly rhythm section accented on occasion so dynamically, this was a more realised interpretation. Despite the comparatively muted nature of both versions of ‘Invisible’, the closing ten minute synth dronefest of ‘Magnetic North’ was the perfect ending to ‘Tranquilliser’ with an unsettling yet, cerebral vibe that evoked images of icecaps and chilling long nights.

Simpson actually took ‘Tranquilliser’ on the road, notably opening for ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN with just a bass guitar, slideshow and tape machine for company… the bemused looks of the raincoat brigade, more used to post-punk snarls, were a picture, But for those who were more open minded, the SKYRAY live experience was enlightening.

Two further SKYRAY albums followed before the new millennium, with the third long player ‘Mind Lagoons’ being a more accessible offering that featured shorter, sharper arrangements and a narrative cameo from Bill Drummond on the title track under the pseudonym of Tenzing Scott-Brown!

While the most recent SKYRAY album ‘Liquid Crystal Display’ was in 2005, the last few years have seen Simpson busy with the return of THE WILD SWANS and a 2011 album entitled ‘The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years’. Whether he will return to instrumental work remains to be seen.


‘Tranquilliser’ is available as a download from https://skyray.bandcamp.com/album/tranquilliser or http://store.paul-simpson.co.uk/product/skyray-tranquilliser-download/

http://www.paul-simpson.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/SkyrayOfficial


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th October 2015, updated 6th August 2020

25 SYNTH SINGLES THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN HITS

peterson-ItalianGrandPrix_1971The late Ronnie Peterson has been acknowledged as one of the fastest Grand Prix drivers of all time, yet he was never crowned World Champion.

Statistics can often not be a good indicator of quality and so it is that sometimes, a great single never actually attained the sales recognition it deserved. This could have been due to timing, lack of interest from a fickle music buying public or even a saturated market.

While some of these lost singles do get forgotten, many become live standards and firm fan favourites. So here are 25 singles from predominantly established acts, or collectives featuring figures who are now well known in the music scene, that did not reach the UK Top 40 Singles Chart. Due to the sheer numbers of songs that are eligible, a cut-off point has been made for when CD singles started to become the norm around 1990.

After much deliberation, it was decided to leave out the work of ASSOCIATES as a number of their songs that would have been contenders for this list were featured in ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s own Beginner’s Guide To Billy MacKenzie. There are of course, several other notable omissions, but this list could go on forever…

So with a restriction of one single per artist moniker, the list is presented in chronological order by year, and then alphabetically…


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Empire State Human (1979)

the-human-league-empire-state-human-virginIt seems unbelievable now that this extremely catchy single failed to be a big hit in an era when synthesizers were being accepted by the wider record buying public. After all, both SPARKS and TUBEWAY ARMY had entered the Top 20 with their Moog assisted ditties. In hindsight though, Colin Thurston’s production did sound comparatively thin next to ‘The Number One Song in Heaven’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’. Despite a timely re-release in 1980, ‘Empire State Human’ only reached a high of No62.

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

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


LORI & THE CHAMELEONS Touch (1979)

Lori--The-Chameleons-Touch---2nd-issue-448240THE CHAMELEONS (not to be confused with the cult Manchester band) were actually Zoo Records supremos Bill Drummond of THE KLF fame and country house resident Dave Balfe who played keyboards with THE TEARDROP EXPLODES. On the beautifully sequenced ‘Touch’, art school student Lori Lartey innocently told of her holiday romance in Tokyo. It spent one week at No70 when re-issued on Sire Records. There was to be just one more single entitled ‘The Lonely Spy’.

Available on the compilation album ‘North By North West’ (V/A) via Korova Records / Warner Music

http://www.penkilnburn.com/


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

JAPAN Gentlemen Take PolaroidsAfter three albums with Ariola Hansa, JAPAN decamped to Virgin Records and reached No60 with ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, their first single release on the label. This should have been considered a promising success, but much more was expected as the band were already playing huge venues such as The Bukodan in Tokyo. It would not be until Autumn 1981 following a cash-in release of ‘Quiet Life’ by their former label that David Sylvian and Co. were to become regular singles chart fixtures.

Full length version available on the JAPAN album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ via Virgin Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk


ROBERT PALMER Johnny & Mary (1980)

robert-palmer-johnny-and-mary-islandThe suave Mr Palmer took an interest in synths having become a fan of GARY NUMAN and JAPAN. ‘Johnny & Mary’ was a beautifully world weary number that hit a high of No44. Palmer was to later have massive success with a more rock flavoured sound while his bank balance was enhanced when ‘Johnny & Mary’ was covered for the ‘Papa et Nicole’ Renault adverts. Bryan Ferry’s reinterpretation with Todd Terje exposed a twilight years scrutiny on the lyrics which sadly, Palmer himself was never able to do….

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

http://www.robertpalmer.com/


SIMPLE MINDS I Travel (1980)

SIMPLE MINDS I TravelSIMPLE MINDS were signed to Arista Records between 1979-1980 and like JAPAN, they were met with indifference by their label. ‘I Travel’ was their penultimate single at Arista who threw in a free blue flexidisc featuring ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Film Theme Dub’ as a sweetener to early purchasers. But despite airplay from Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club where its futuristic frenzy was highly welcomed, ‘I Travel’ did not make any chart impact. Arista’s 1982 cash-in reissue of ‘I Travel’ disappeared without trace…

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Celebrate: The Greatest Hits’ via Virgin Records

http://www.simpleminds.com


ULTRAVOX Passing Strangers (1980)

ultravox-passing-strangers-chrysalisThings were heading in the right direction for the Mk2 line-up of ULTRAVOX following ‘Sleepwalk’ getting to No29 in the UK chart. Built around a more synth rock structure, ‘Passing Strangers’ had the makings of a bigger hit with a great chorus and a sympathetic environment in which THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE were also managing to break through. But the single stiffed at No57 and it would take the massive surprise success of ‘Vienna’ in early 1981 to truly establish ULTRAVOX as a chart force.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘The Collection’ via EMI Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk


OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING Lawnchairs (1981)

OUR DAUGHTERS WEDDING LawnchairsNew York trio OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING were one of the new synthpop acts to emerge following Synth Britannia from across the Atlantic and their best known song ‘Lawnchairs’ was a frantic mechanised combination of OMD and GARY NUMAN. Despite gaining regular radio play in the UK, its chart summit was No49. The trio later re-recorded ‘Lawnchairs’ with a more conventional live drum sound, but this template totally took the charm out of the song!

Available on the OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING album ‘Nightlife – The Collection’ via EP Music

http://www.synthpunk.org/odw/


SOFT CELL Memorabilia (1981)

SOFT CELL MemorabiliaProduced by Daniel Miller, ‘Memorabilia’ borrowed heavily from CERRONE’s ‘Supernature’ and the funky overtures of James Brown. Released as a 12 inch single in March 1981 but relegated to B-side status on the edited 7 inch format where ‘A Man Could Get Lost’ was the A-side, Almond recalled a list of trashy souvenirs over a linear dance track that were also metaphors for stalking. Dark yet danceable, despite not being a hit, ‘Memorabilia’ would later become citied as an influential proto-house classic.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Phonogram / Universal Music

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk


BLANCMANGE Feel Me (1982)

BLANCMANGE Feel MeIf Ian Curtis had joined TALKING HEADS, then it might have sounded like this. “On reflection, I always thought it was more David Byrne than Ian Curtis but, there was never any intention” recalled Neil Arthur in 2013, “We hired a Roland Jupiter 8, an ARP sequencer and a Korg MS20 plus a Linn LM-1 which Stephen Luscombe and I programmed up” . Reaching No46, ‘Feel Me’ always had untapped hit potential as FAITHLESS’ reworking using Arthur’s vocals proved.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Happy Families’ via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


THOMAS DOLBY Europa & The Pirate Twins (1982)

THOMAS DOLBY EuropaWith its thundering Simmons drums and glistening synth riff, ‘Europa & The Pirate Twins’ was based on a real life romance of Dolby’s: “I had a girlfriend and we used to fantasise that after the apocalypse, wherever we were, we would meet up on this beach in East Anglia where I grew up… I always thought she’d end up being this big movie star or something”. Alas the single was not a Top40 hit, but the song entered the wider consciousness when its intro was used as the theme to BBC Radio1 show ‘Saturday Live’.

Available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records

http://www.thomasdolby.com


HEAVEN 17 Let Me Go (1982)

HEAVEN 17 Let me goGlenn Gregory and Martyn Ware often cite ‘Let Me Go’ as their favourite HEAVEN 17 song. Propelled by a funky Roland TB303 Bassline in the days before it was hijacked by Acid House, ‘Let Me Go’ had hit written all over it, but stalled at No41. But in a competitive Autumn ‘82 for new releases, even songs that were to become international hits like THOMAS DOLBY’s ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ and EURYTHMICS’ ‘Love Is A Stranger’ (on its initial release) were having difficulties getting into the Top40 as well.

Available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘The Luxury Gap’ via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com


THE TEARDROP EXPLODES Tiny Children (1982)

Teardrop Explodes - Tiny ChildrenTrip-poppers TX may not have been a synthesizer driven group as such, but this marvellously haunting ballad was layered in Prophet5 courtesy of Dave Balfe while Julian Cope sounded like a distressed little boy, lost in his sunshine playroom. Mercury Records probably thought ‘Tiny Children’ would be a hit following the success of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ but released in June 1982, the sonic chill reminiscent of Copey’s hero Scott Walker was not what people were wanted to hear as they prepared for their summer holidays!

Available on THE TEARDROP EXPLODES album ‘The Greatest Hit’ via Mercury / Universal Music

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


TEARS FOR FEARS Suffer The Children (1982)

TEARS FOR FEARS Suffer The ChildrenIt’s now strange to think that when TEARS FOR FEARS first appeared, they were trying to emulate OMD. ‘Suffer The Children’ took inspiration from Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal de la Quintana’s interest in Primal Scream therapy while musically, it recalled McCluskey and Humphreys’ ‘Pretending To See The Future’ but with more guitar. The child-like refrain by Ozabal’s wife within the bridge and coda would have actually sounded like an OMD hookline had it been played on synth.

Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS deluxe album ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury / Universal Music

http://tearsforfears.com/


VISAGE Pleasure Boys (1982)

VISAGE Pleasure BoysIn Autumn 1982, VISAGE were in a state of limbo following the departure of Midge Ure. But with John Luongo who had remixed ‘Night Train’ on board, the remaining quartet of Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, Billy Currie and Dave Formula plus new bassist Steve Barnacle explored New York electro. ‘Pleasure Boys’ was hard and aggressive with lyrics full of hedonism. But the New Romantic audience had moved on and sales were only enough for it to get to No44.

Full length dance mix version available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face – The Best Of’ via Universal Music

http://www.visage.cc/


DEAD OR ALIVE Misty Circles (1983)

DEAD OR ALIVE Misty CirclesHave courted the major labels for some time, DEAD OR ALIVE finally settled on Epic Records and unleashed this vicious slice of electro gothic disco in ‘Misty Circles’ as their first single release for them. Featuring guitars from a soon to be sacked Wayne Hussey, who went on to join THE SISTERS OF MERCY and then form THE MISSION, ‘Misty Circles’ had a highly unusual sound produced by Zeus B Held that was initially far darker than the romping Hi-NRG that DEAD OR ALIVE were later to have hits with.

Full length version available on the DEAD OR ALIVE album ‘Evolution’ via Epic Records / Sony Music

http://www.deadoralive.net/


JOHN FOXX Endlessly (1983)

JOHN FOXX EndlesslyBy 1983, JOHN FOXX had moved away from pure electronic music and was now listening to both SIMPLE MINDS and U2. His third solo album ‘The Golden Section’ took on a more pop oriented slant under the auspices of producer Zeus B Held ‘Endlessly’ was initially released in 1982 as a moody Linn drum heavy psychedelic romp and failed to chart. But for the new version, thundering sequencers, Simmons drums and a danced up euphoria were added… however, it still failed to be a hit.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘The Golden Section’ via Esdel Records

http://www.metamatic.com


OMD Telegraph (1983)

OMD-Telegraph‘Electricity’ would have been a hit had its sales not been spread over three separate releases with three different recorded versions between 1979-80. ‘Telegraph’ was Andy McCluskey’s angry metaphoric attack on religious fundamentalism in the United States, but considered to be the most commercial track on OMD’s brave but critically panned nautical adventure ‘Dazzle Ships’. With an infectious synth melody, what was there not to like? But OMD’s audience had diminished by this time and it only got to No42.

Available on the OMD album ‘Dazzle Ships’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


TALK TALK My Foolish Friend (1983)

TALK TALK My Foolish FriendBrilliantly produced by Rhett Davies who was best known for his slick touches on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Avalon’, ‘My Foolish Friend’ was the last TALK TALK song to feature contributions from their original keyboardist Simon Brenner. Released in the interim between ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘It’s My Life’ albums as a single, Mark Hollis was in wonderfully miserable mode over a dramatic synthesized backdrop. The single became lost when it only reached No57 and was not included on the ‘It’s My Life’ long player.

Available on the TALK TALK album ‘Asides Besides’ via EMI Music

http://www.spiritoftalktalk.com


THE BLUE NILE Tinseltown In The Rain (1984)

blue_nile-tinseltown_in_the_rain-frontA classic song that sounded like THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS fronting OMD, ‘Tinseltown In The Rain’ is regarded as THE BLUE NILE’s signature tune. From the album ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ that was released as part of a deal with hi-fi manufacturer Linn Products to showcase their flagship Sondek LP12 turntable, the gorgeous melancholy of ‘Tinseltown In the Rain’ had an understated quality that ensured the trio’s sporadic releases over the next 20 years were eagerly anticipated by the musical cognoscenti.

Full length version available on THE BLUE NILE album ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thebluenile.net


CHINA CRISIS Arizona Sky (1986)

china-crisis-arizona-sky-virginLiverpudlian combo CHINA CRISIS are probably the most under rated band of their generation. Lyrically inspired by an artificially assisted gondola ride in Venice, ‘Arizona Sky’ was one of their many singles which deserved greater recognition. The nucleus of Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon usually managed at least one hit per album but with the wonderful ‘Arizona Sky’, it was not to be. It settled at No47 despite the song’s brilliant singalong chorus, infectious synthesized textures and catchy “bop-bop-be-doo-dah” refrain.

Full length version available on the CHINA CRISIS album ‘Wishful Thinking: The Very Best Of’ via Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/pages/China-Crisis/295592467251068


ERASURE Oh L’Amour (1986)

Erasure_-_Oh_L'amour“Why are they doing a DOLLAR song?” someone was overheard at their first visit to an ERASURE concert. And this ultimately sums up why ‘Oh L’Amour’ should have been a massive hit. Its now highly collectable ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ cover had to be withdrawn due to copyright infringement and wouldn’t have helped availability. However, it should be noted that the original artwork does not actually feature Thomas The Tank Engine, but two incidental characters from the Reverend W Audrey’s famous books!

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Always – The Very Best Of’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com


NEW ORDER Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)

NEW ORDER Bizarre fac163One of NEW ORDER’s best loved tunes, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ only reached No56 in the UK Chart as a single. However, the version released for 45 RPM consumption was an irritating, dance enhanced remix by Shep Pettibone which took all the subtlety out of the song with its collage of overdriven percussive samples. Far better and much more commercial was an at-the-time unreleased remix by Stephen Hague which later formed the basis of the ’94 version on ‘(the best of)’ compilation.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via Rhino Records

http://www.neworder.com


ACT Snobbery & Decay (1987)

act-snobbery-and-decay-ztt-1It was the height of Thatcherism and the Synclavier driven theatrics of ‘Snobbery & Decay’ were a sharp observation by Claudia Brücken and Thomas Leer on the state of the nation. However, the UK were not yet ready for an Anglophile German to tell them about its political decline… “No sadly they didn’t” remembered Claudia Brücken in Summer of 2010, “perhaps it was just not the right moment for this song… Thomas does think that perhaps we were ahead of our time”.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined – The Best Of’ via Salvo / Union Square Records

http://www.claudiabrucken.co.uk


KRAFTWERK The Telephone Call (1987)

kraftwerk-the-telephone-call-emiThe last single featuring the classic RFWK line-up, ‘The Telephone Call’ was the most immediate track on the disappointing ‘Electric Cafe’ album. Featuring lead vocals from Karl Bartos, despite the abundance of digital synthesis and sampling, ‘The Telephone Call’ still had all the usual Kling Klang hallmarks such as pretty melodies, syncopated rhythms and slightly off-key singing to make this to ‘Electric Cafe’ what ‘Computer Love’ was to 1981’s ‘Computer World’ opus.

Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Techno Pop’ via Mute Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com


CAMOUFLAGE The Great Commandment (1988)

camouflage-the-great-commandment-atlanticIn today’s world, DEPECHE MODE influenced acts are common place but in 1989, this was highly unusual. Taking ‘Some Great Reward’ as their template, CAMOUFLAGE developed on the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘People Are People’ which the Basildon boys had all but abandoned from ‘Black Celebration’ onwards. ‘The Great Commandment’ was probably the best single DM never recorded but while it was a hit in Europe and the US, it made no impression in Britain.

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

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd January 2015, updated 15th April 2018