Thursday, September 30, 2010

Collapsing New People (Westbam Mix) by Fad Gadget

I decided to do one more after all; Fad Gadget is a slightly more obscure avant-garde art student type synthpop act that's really just one guy, Frank Tovey. He was very influential in many ways on the growing Industrial music genre as well, and this song, 1984's "Collapsing New People" (from Tovey's fourth studio album in as many years) even was jointly produced by German industrial band Einst├╝rzende Neubauten (which is German for collapsing new buildings, actually.)

I included the Westbam Remix, because I like it better than the original, which feels just a bit sluggish. Unfortunately, the youtube version of it has some stuff occasionally going on in the background and interfering with the soundtrack just a bit. Bear with it. It's a cool song and worth the trouble. Just because it's such a lousy copy, I embedded another version you can play instead. It doesn't come with any video, but the sound quality is much better, plus it's more complete.

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King's Cross by The Pet Shop Boys

Going with one more before the day's over, here's "King's Cross" by The Pet Shop Boys. This wasn't ever a single; it was the final song from the Boys' 1987 CD Actually, which contained hits like "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and "It's a Sin." It's always been one of my favorite tracks from the Boys, with a melancholy New Romantic sound, a soaring background synthline, and unintentional correspondance with current events. The lyrics appear to refer to the Kings Cross fire of 1987, and there's even a bizarre movie that the Boys put together that shows a guy walking around in a flaming asbestos suit. However, the song was released before the fire happened, so it was all just a coincidence.

Anyway, I'm a fan of a lot of PSB's songs. They've kept recording through much of the 90s and 2000s, but their sound has often taken on bizarre disco and lounge lizard qualities that I don't like; most of their best material was the "purer" synthpop from their three (four if you count the remix album Disco) 1980s CDs. 1990's Behaviour was the first one that was a significant departure for the boys, and while it features some great tracks (like "So Hard," which also comes with b-side "It Must Be Obvious" which might possibly be the best PSB song ever recorded) overall it frequently disappoints me. Please and even moreso Actually, on the other hand, are perfectly crafted synthpop goldmines, not a single major mis-step amongst them.

Here Comes the Rain Again by The Eurythmics

Sticking again with a very well-known song with mainstream cred, let's have a look at The Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again", with it's video filmed up on the Orkneys, showing Annie Lennox wandering around in peasant garb with a lantern. This melancholy visual is a perfect counterpoint to the sounds of the song itself, and the lyrics.

While The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" is arguably more iconic, I've always liked this one better. Now, I know that the point of this is synthpop, but one thing that I love about this song (relative to "Sweet Dreams") are the real instruments; the string sounds that add a very lush overlay to David Stewart's synthlines and Lennox's deeply timbred vocals.

One of the reasons that I loved the 80s music so much is that stuff like that was so mainstream. Arguably better synthpop is around these days, and has been since the 90s when the grunge wave pushed out all the old electronic bands, but where do you find it? (Actually, with the internet, that's not so hard these days either, but it used to be!) Having bands like The Eurythmics (and plenty of others) who were big mainstream successes while playing in an artsy "New Wave" style is part and parcel of what made the 80s so much fun musically.

Of course, there's a lot of music in today's mainstream pop world that's pretty overtly synthpop-like too (Lady Gaga, anyone?) but during the 80s it was all much more new and exciting.

At least I thought so. Of course, I was a dumb, somewhat provincial and ignorant teenager through much of the 80s, so what did I know?

The Promise by When In Rome

By 1988, synthpop and other dance-oriented electronica music was starting to achieve significant mainstream success, in both the US, the UK and other markets as well. Manchester's When In Rome was a notable one-hit wonder, who's "The Promise" hit #11 on the Billboard charts, although it barely scratched the top 100 in the UK, scraping up to about #75 or so.

I keep the When In Rome CD as an object lesson; I bought it early on, shortly after converting to CDs, when I still didn't even have very many, and I quickly discovered that other than "The Promise" itself, nothing on the CD was even listenable, much less enjoyable. If I'd been patient, I could have bought it on a compilation later, no doubt, or if I'd been really patient, I could have bought it as a single mp3 file.

Or I could have saved a few bucks picking it up as a CD single. Either way... great song. Too bad it was legitimately a one-hit wonder.

Burning Car by John Foxx

While Ultravox become a household name equivalent to Duran Duran in the early 80s (at least in England; their exposure in the US was much more limited) casual fans probably don't remember that the Midge Ure helmed Ultravox years didn't even start until after the band had released three albums already with a different lead singer/frontman, Dennis Leigh, also known as John Foxx. And although Foxx-led Ultravox was commercially a dicey scenario, they were actually hugely influential in the development of the synthpop movement and the dark, cold, futurist sound that encapsulated much of it's original incarnation. Gary Numan himself was effusive in his praise and acknowledgement of the debt he owed to John Foxx, and Foxx's final album with Ultravox, the evocatively titled Systems of Romance, is considered by many to be the first synthpop album ever recorded, following on the prototype heels of some of their own earlier songs like "Hiroshima Mon Amour". Under Midge Ure, they migrated into similar yet more accessible New Romantic territory, but John Foxx continued on solo, and his first project was even more futurist, cold and impersonal than Systems of Romance, his masterpiece Metamatic (which barely squeeks into scope for this blog chronologically, with a January 1980 release.)

Foxx was unfortunate in that his Metamatic didn't really capture the public's interest, while contemporary (and somewhat protege) Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle did with almost the exact same sound. I remember years ago reading one reviewer contrasting Numan's "android" image with Foxx's "anorexic hairdresser" which may have been part of the reason.

In any case, I always liked Metamatic a lot; moreso than Numan's work, actually. The song I selected for today is from the same era, but doesn't actually belong on that album though (except as a bonus song on CD re-releases.) "Burning Car" was an off-album single that would have fit perfectly on Metamatic (and in fact would have been one of the best songs on the album) but with a little bit punchier beat, and with a really lush, soaring synthline over the top. I've always been a sucker for lush, soaring synthlines, and this is one of the best ones out there.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Just Can't Get Enough by Depeche Mode

After giving you an obscure title or two, I thought I'd switch gears and post one of the most iconic synthpop songs ever recorded, and for that matter, a serious candidate for one of the most iconic 80's songs ever: "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode.

To me, Depeche Mode epitomized the 80's New Wave/Synthpop scene. They not only largely popularized it, but they were also one of the more prolific artists operating within it, and were possibly the most idealized and imitated of all the successful New Wave artists operating through much of the mid to late 80s.

Of course, "Just Can't Get Enough" sounds very different from much of Depeche Mode's later output, and stands in contrast to songs like "Stripped", "Strangelove", "Enjoy the Silence" or even "People Are People." This is easy enough to explain by the fact that the main songwriting duties initially went to Vince Clark, who split with the rest of the band after the first hit album Speak and Spell was released, leaving Martin Gore to take over most of the songwriting task, and Gore simply had a very different style (despite obviously trying to imitate Clark's success on a few early tracks.)

I'll probably have more (much more, actually) to say about Depeche Mode as I post some of their other later songs as time goes on, but for now, enjoy "Just Can't Get Enough"--one of the songs that put New Romanticism, Synthpop, and of course Depeche Mode themselves on the map suddenly in 1981.

Million Headed Monster by I Start Counting

In an effort to put a lot of content out quickly while I'm still really excited about this new blog (so people who find it later when I'm posting more slowly have more content to read still) I'll add another few songs still today.

A late discovery (of mine) is I Start Counting's "Million Headed Monster." I first heard it in the mid 90s, but it's original release appears to be on a compilation CD in 1989. No wonder I didn't hear it for quite some time, as it's pretty obscure, but holy crap, it's a good song. Incorporating that typical late New Wave dark sound, with depressing lyrics and a driving dance beat (which was already a tried and true routine by the late 80s; Depeche Mode and New Order had been doing it for years, and Visage, Ultravox, and even Gary Numan had made it popular before that, even), this song feels like a forgotten hit, rather than the obscure track that it actually is. Ah, well. In a fair world, this song would have been big, but...

Tubular Bells by Book of Love

Book of Love was an interesting slice of mid to late 80s synthpopiana. In a time when the New Order and Depeche Mode influenced darker sound was becoming extremely prevalent, Book of Love popped up into the scene with a wistful, dreamy, ethereal romantic sound. At a time when male vocalists were dominating the synthpop scene, Book of Love put front-woman Susan Ottaviano on duty (although her vocal register is low enough that most male fans can probably sing along without too much trouble.)

I've always been a huge Book of Love fan... well, that is I was a fan of their first two albums. The eponymous 1985 freshman effort is truly one of the shining stars of the 80s synthpop scene; one of the best overall CDs ever released in the genre. The sophomore effort, Lullaby, is not as consistantly good, and has a bit more filler, although to make up for that gap, it has some of Book of Love's best individual songs, the title track "Lullaby" and the "Tubular Bells/Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls" medley (and "Witchcraft" and "With a Little Love" are good songs too. "Champagne Wishes" ain't bad either.)

Sadly, their third effort, Candy Carol was disappointing, with only three or four songs that are even worth mentioning at all (although since it came out in 1991, it's out of scope for this blog) and their fourth and final studio album, Lovebubble was even more disappointing. What started out as a great run kinda whimpered away.

That said, Book of Love did some great work. Never a pop chart topper in the US, they did, however, manage to make an impressive showing on the dance charts, and later mid-90s re-releases of some of their better songs actually performed even better on the charts then they did the first time.

Back in the 80s, I was also a big fan of the 12" single, so named because the vinyl releases came in 12" format, like an actual album (as opposed to the 7" smaller pressing, which played at a higher speed.) Now, I'm not necessarily a big fan of the vinyl format (especially now, since I don't even have a player to play my old 12"s anymore---although I do still have all those actual 12"s in my basement. Just in case.) Sadly, many of those remixes from that era never got digital re-releases, and the song I've chosen to highlight next, the decoupled so-called 7" version of "Tubular Bells" (a remake of Mike Oldfield's song, which was used as the theme for The Exorcist) is one such song. I have it on the "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls" 12" single, but lacking a record player, if it weren't for youtube, I wouldn't even be able to hear this anymore. So, thanks a lot, youtube!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Different Story (World of Lust and Crime) by Peter Schilling

I vacillated for a while on whether to lead off with a well-known anthem, like something by Depeche Mode or Erasure, or something more obscure, like a non-single released track by an artist like John Foxx or something. In the end, I went with an "almost hit" by one-hit wonder, Peter Schilling. "The Different Story (World of Lust and Crime)" got some minor play on the dance charts in the US in 1989. (This isn't the one hit I'm referring to by Schilling; that would be "Major Tom" which I'll probably post sometime down the line.)

This song has a very classic "new wave" i.e., fully defined synthpop sound as it appeared in the height of it's popularity. I discovered this one when it was fairly new still, but my own musical tastes were fully developed, and my trending towards the art/pretentious "new wave" side of electronic music was in full swing.

New blog!

One of my major loves, which I occasionally ramble about on my "main blog", is a certain brand of pop music. Because I wanted to talk more about this topic than I thought traffic on my main blog would tolerate, I've started up yet another blog for a special topic.

The kind of music I'm talking about is synthpop. However, I'm going to restrict this blog to talking about songs that came out in the 80s. My own definition of what I'm talking about is what was known in the US in the late 80s as New Wave, but since that's more of a "know it when you hear it" rather than strict definition, I'm foregoing worrying too much about the definition at all, and just posting any related music that I happen to like. So, while I'll mostly be posting synth-driven "new wave" that can also include plain old pop music that rode the coat tails of synthpop's heightened popularity during that era, more esoteric electronic music like some early industrial/EBM, and even italo-disco or Hi-NRG tracks here and there. After all, in the US, we didn't split our genres nearly so finely, and it was only after the fact that I started worrying about how it might all relate to itself.

I've made a preliminary list of over 200 songs that I'd like to showcase, via an embedded youtube video, with a bit of commentary from me. Some of that commentary will be historical, genre-related, or it might be very personal and relate to how the song meant something to me personally in the 80s (or since.) That list will no doubt grow as I remember other songs, or otherwise have them pointed out to me, but it's not meant to be a list of anything other than "songs I like from the 80s with a major electronica thrust of some kind or other."

Anyway, enjoy!