Category Archives: book discussion

Book Club: Mad World (Animotion, Band-Aid and Afterword)

This is our final book club for the book, Mad World.  We will finish by discussing the last three chapters on Animotion, Band-Aid and the Afterword by Moby.  Perhaps, we will also include a little bit of what we learned along the way.  I hope you throughly enjoyed the book and the book club as much as we did!  Jump in and join us!

Animotion:

Amanda:

Truly, this was an unbelievable chapter and story to read.  As I read it,  I almost thought that I should be keeping a chart about who did what, when, why, etc.  There were so many statements and moves made that affected Animotion that it was hard to keep track.  Clearly, VERY clearly, the band members, themselves, did not have control over their band.  Much like the lyrics to the song, there is a desperation underlying all of the agreements and moves made by the individual members.  They seemed to want to succeed so badly and the little taste that they had made them want more.  This desire was so strong that they made some questionable decisions.  Unfortunately, those decisions didn’t seem to put them in a better spot in the long run.

Before I dive into the chaos that was the Animotion story, I have to acknowledge what I knew before hand.  I knew that Michael Des Barres co-wrote this song and that it did very, very well for him.  In fact, before Power Station, this seemed to be his big claim to fame.  I never once thought about the actual band who performed the song.  I was just happy that Michael experienced such success and I guess I assumed that the band must have as well.  How naive am I?!  The band’s story shows or reminds that one should never ever assume when it comes to the music business.

Right away into Animotion’s story, I know that this wasn’t going to go well when the song, “Obsession,” sounded nothing like the rest of the album and didn’t match the sound they were going for.  It seems to me that it never ends well when ONE song or ONE album goes against the rest of an artist’s catalog.  When the band heard the song, one member loved it and thought it was the direction they should be going and the other wasn’t so sure.  Perhaps, part of the problem was that the band wasn’t really on the same page to begin with and weren’t comfortable with each other.  Yet, of course,  reservations were pushed aside as the song moved up the charts.

After that, behind-the-scenes became complete chaos.  There was the producer trying to run the show and get in between band members.  Then, the record label pushed new songs at them and when the next one didn’t do as well, the label backed off support.  A new A&R man comes in filled with hate over everything they had done before.  Likewise, new managers determined that key members needed to go and be replaced by Cynthia Rhodes.   It seems to me that member, Astrid Plane, summed it up best on page 307 about what it was like to be them then, “You were nothing.  You were an item that was going to be on a shelf to be sold, and if they felt like you weren’t sales-worthy, then [they’d] toss you in the trash.”  I am left just shaking my head at how horrible and upsetting their story really was.  I wouldn’t want any other band or artist to experience something like this, but I suspect their story really isn’t all that unique.

Rhonda:

Unlike Amanda, I was pretty naive about who wrote “Obsession”.  Of course I know the song – it’s difficult to claim yourself as New Wave fan without acknowledging the song (purely as an aside, my younger sister continues to sing this song to me at the oddest moments, whenever the timing makes sense…to remind me of my Duran Duran fandom. Thanks, Robin.), but I really never thought about who wrote it.  I guess you could even say that I didn’t care, because I really didn’t.  I just knew the song to be one of those overplayed-to-death songs from the radio.  I don’t know that I ever really think about that kind of thing as a music consumer. (except when it comes to Duran Duran and their various guitar players over the years) I was shocked when I read this chapter though. If there was ever any question about how the industry REALLY works – how incredibly unfair it can really be, or how it will chew you up, spit you out and then come back later for more – this is the chapter to read.  

Animotion was never one of my favorite bands from this era, and I wholly admit that this particular song had everything to do with that. I suppress a bit of a chuckle when I find that this song wasn’t even their typical sound. It sounds nothing like their music at all, actually. That’s a real problem for this band – because if you’ve got an audience wanting to hear more like “Obsession”, and you’re used to writing something much more similar to say, early Police or Fleetwood Mac, that audience is never going to follow you.  Instead, you’ve got a band here who literally floated to the top of the charts on a song that they didn’t write – therefore making nearly NO money on the song (even to this day, it’s the writer of the song – Michael Des Barres – who continues to see handsome royalty checks on this one), and there’s not any way to bring those fans of this song to their back catalog.  It is really THAT different.  I read stories all the time about bands who are/were famous and yet haven’t a penny to their name(s), and mostly I want to scoff and laugh because really – is that possible?  The answer is yes. Yes it is.  If you can’t/didn’t write your own music, I’m not entirely sure that you want to “just” be the performer, and especially not after reading this chapter. 

I’d like to share a quote from Bill Wadhams, followed by a quote from Michael Des Barres.  It’s easy to see that they are two sides of the same coin – two products of the machine.  

Wadhams says, “I go on YouTube and see Michaels Des Barres performing at SXSW, and he prefaces ‘Obsession’ by saying, ‘This is a song that I wrote that made me a bloody fortune.’ The year that ‘Obsession’ [was a hit for Animotion], each member of the band made about $50,000; the next year, just about nothing.  Whether it’s fair or not, it doesn’t matter because I don’t know that Michael Des Barres ever sang a song that was an international hit. I wonder whether he would trade having been the singer of the hit song for the money, if he would’ve been able to walk out on stage, sing ‘Obsession’, and have people go, ‘That’s the voice, that’s the hit that we love.’ (308)

Des Barres says, “It’s put my kid through college, [supported] two wives, and more besides. One song enters the lexicon of American consciousness, and it will take care of you for the rest of your life.”  (308)

Astrid Plane, singer for Animotion, finishes the chapter by adding, “We are still in debt to the record company to this day.” (308) 

Band-Aid:

Amanda:

Lori Majewski’s introduction in this chapter instantly brought me back to my elementary school lunch hour.  Why?  Simple.  I, too, experienced endless debates between Band-Aid and USA for Africa. While her debates might have been about which had bigger stars, mine focused on who was first.  No matter how many times and how many ways I tried to explain that Band-Aid was first, that they had started it, my classmates didn’t believe me.  This was obviously long before the internet so I couldn’t prove it to them but I so wanted to.  In reality, below the surface of the debate, it was more about which was better:  New Wave or Motown?  Duran Duran or Michael Jackson?  You see, unlike so many in 1984, I lived in an area where it wasn’t cool to be a Duran Duran fan.  Michael Jackson was the one and only king there.  Even now, I have to admit to loving the comments Nick Rhodes made in this chapter about the differences between Band-Aid and USA for Africa.  He seemed to be spot on, to me!

While I knew the story behind the song and how quickly it was put together, reading Midge Ure tell about it makes it all the more real.  They truly put the song together so quickly from writing to recording to getting it airplay.  He tells how easily it could have been horrible and that “it wasn’t that bad”.  I don’t know about the rest of you but I can’t imagine a holiday season going by without listening to the song and hearing it played somewhere.  It lives on.

Of course, the real story of Band-Aid isn’t so much the song itself or the bands involved, but what was pointed out in the introduction.  It marked the end of the party.  The first half of the 1980s, the New Wave era, ended with this song  and what followed with Live Aid and other charity events.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I wish the New Wave era, musically, continued forever as I loved it so.  Yet, I know that, sometimes, it is good for something to be shorter lived.  It wasn’t around long enough to get completely run down and sucky.  I still have mixed emotion about the worldly awareness that followed.  While I’m a political person, I have never chosen music that is overtly political.  I like artists to be smart, thinking and feeling people but not preachy.  Did Band-Aid change people and the industry to become preachy?  Maybe.  It is hard to say but things definitely did change after that.

Rhonda:

The holiday season just isn’t so without this song.  Like Amanda, I wish the New Wave age had gone on longer – I didn’t graduate from high school until 1988 and it could have easily continued that long without complaint from me. I will never forget hearing the song for the first time, or the glee I get each and every time I hear it on the radio during the season.  This single song sums up much of my entire music experience during my formative years.  To this day I smile every time I hear Simon sing his lines, and while I know the song is for charity and it’s purpose was to galvanize the community into support for Africa – to me it’s about so much more. It’s a musical era. It’s my history. It’s the capstone of New Wave, and it was a song ever created for a charity (sometimes I wonder just how much of that message gets lost amongst the noise).  

I don’t know if I like what happened following the release of this record so much.  For me, music changed after that. I won’t even mention the US answer to this song, suffice to say that there have been many attempts to copy what this song tried to do. There is something really kind about “Do They Know it’s Christmas”, and I think that feeling was completely lost after that with “other” attempts. It became production and big industry business. Maybe that’s why I’ve always stuck to British bands….

After that record though, music started having some sort of a conscious, and bands tended to forget that the purpose was to entertain, not preach.   And of course, New Wave as I knew it really ended.  But at the time, when this record came out – I had no idea. I listened to it nearly non-stop during that 1984 holiday season. Ignorance was bliss, and trust me – I was indeed full of bliss that holiday. 

Afterword:

Amanda:

Moby does a good job in expressing how New Wave was different–international, gentle, escapist.  I felt all those same things.  I felt that way living in the Chicago suburbs and later even more so when I moved to small town, Illinois.  I longed for anything that wasn’t small town American focused, jean wearing, beer guzzling, hard rock that was all the rage by the time I found myself transported to what seemed like another planet.  I still miss it but there was a desperation then in my youth that led me to reject anything and everything popular for a good number of years.

This book brought me back to my childhood and the music I loved so much.  It reminded me why I fell in love with it and truly what was so good about it.  I loved the imagination and the creativity that everyone seemed to bring.  There was uniqueness in every artist despite having common influences.  As the kid, the music seemed carefree and fun.  Of course, the book also shed light on the stories behind  the music and many of those stories revealed the good, the bad and the ugly.  I learned how quickly some songs were written.  I also learned how easily band members can grow apart even when they were the best of friends.  The music industry might have been kinder then, in general, but still was a thorn in people’s sides too often.  Yet, despite everything that happened to each of these bands, their music remains.  Like Moby, I’m definitely thankful.  I’m also ready for the sequel!

Rhonda:

I don’t think I grew up in a particularly small town, but even so, New Wave was my escape from reality. I was a typical junior high school band nerd. My friends were either band members, or they were also nerds. We didn’t know how to dress, make-up was still a mystery, and awkwardness was probably my FIRST name at the time. The popular girls at my school loved to pick on me, and music was how I escaped the ridicule. I think to some extent, it still is.  Back then I’d come home from school, and the first thing I’d do was turn on the TV in search of music video, or I’d run to my bedroom, flop on my bed and hit my stereo. I didn’t want to hear or see pop – I wanted bands like Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, INXS, Depeche Mode or nearly any other band mentioned in this book. (coincidence? Probably not!) I didn’t have an allowance, and money wasn’t “free-flowing” in my parents house, so I can remember waiting for KROQ to play certain songs so that I could tape them from radio.  The audio quality would be terrible (back then I literally had to take my tape recorder and face it towards one of my radio speakers to make it work, and I nearly cried with joy the day my parents finally bought me a “boom box”…good Lord…) I always loved the boys who were less football, more introspective, and if they played in a band – all the better.  So when I read Moby’s afterword, I find myself nodding in agreement. His story really isn’t much different from my own.  New Wave WAS my adolescence and it did make life bearable. I don’t know what I would have done without it. 

Like Amanda, I’m ready for the sequel. This book was everything I’d hoped, and much, much more.  If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, I urge you to give it a try. I loved this book so much it’s earmarked and red-lined, with notes in the margins and sadly, a few pages have even come out of the binding at this point. I daresay it’s been well-consumed.

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds)

It is Book Club Monday!  There are only 2 weeks left of our latest book and book club.  As we hope you know, we have been reading and discussing the book, Mad World:  An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s.  This week we are focused on the chapters on INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds.  Join us with your thoughts on these chapters!

INXS

Amanda:

Before I started reading this chapter, I wondered if the focus was going to be Michael’s death or how the band has attempted to keep going without him.  I wouldn’t have criticized that, if that had been the focus.  After all, Michael was such a talent, a larger-than-life person.  Yet, I knew that the loss of Michael would be felt, would be acknowledged (as it should) through the music, according to the last couple of lines of author’s, Lori Majewski’s introduction about interviewing remaining members of the band, “…I could tell that they were still dealing with the loss 16 years later.  But they weren’t melancholy conversations, because we were talking about the part of Hutchence that will never die:  his songs.”  Truly, I think this is all any artist can hope for–that one’s art, no matter the medium, lives on.

Like Rhonda mentions in her section, I, too, wasn’t surprised that Original Sin was produced by Nile Rodgers.  Much like Duran, they were clearly fans of his and knew that working with him meant that they had were in the current music scene.  I suspect artists today still feel the exact same way.  Of course, they were such fans that they were nervous about working with him.  I can understand that.  Nile saw that and knew that he was going to have to deal with that.  I love that he did by having the rehearsal of Original Sin be secretly recorded and going with that.  Of course, the song created some controversy with the interracial lyrics.  It saddens me that lyrics about an interracial couple would cause anyone to be upset, but I’m not surprised by this, especially in the States during that time.  This reminds me about how the record label of Duran’s didn’t like Nile’s mix of The Reflex as they felt it sounded “too black”.  Clearly, racism was alive and well then.

One thing I always like about reading these chapters is how I learn something new about the artists behind the music.  I was fascinated with the statement about how Michael felt that he could talk to people through his lyrics.  He didn’t need to talk much and let his lyrics speak for him.  On one hand, I love the idea that one’s writing, one’s art truly does show what someone thinks and feels.  On the other hand, I know how easily one’s lyrics can be interpreted in multiple ways.  Wasn’t he worried that there would be misunderstanding?  That said, I guess all forms of communication can be misinterpreted. No matter how his lyrics are interpreted, I, for one, are thankful they were written and made available for all of us to enjoy.  Truly, his voice and words live on.

Rhonda:

You know what I would love? I would love for the first thought to come to mind when talking about INXS NOT be that Michael Hutchence is no longer with us. But it is, and as much as I try to fight that – I simply can’t. 

Some say that Michael Hutchence was sex, personified. I probably wouldn’t disagree. Lori Majewski mentions that his death was the first time she’d lost one of her idols. Again, I wouldn’t argue one bit and there are times when even now, I sit back and think “Wow, did that really happen?” That’s real grief, and it’s unavoidable. She says that in interviewing Andrew and Tim Farriss for this chapter she could tell that they were still dealing with his death. I have no doubt. Grief changes in feeling, but it’s still grief.  Jonathan says, “I listen to ‘Devil Inside’, ‘What You Need’, and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, and I think ‘Boy, could we use a band like that today.’” AMEN.

It was never a surprise to learn that Nile Rodgers had produced Original Sin. One cannot help but hear his influence…and let’s face it…he also worked with Duran Duran (notably after INXS). It’s no wonder the band wanted to work with him – he is a genius.  Tim Farriss notes, “We were the first young white band to use Nile. I remember seeing John Taylor, and he was saying how much [Duran Duran] would love to work with him. ‘You used Nile Rodgers, eh? How is he?’ I was like, ‘Awesome man, but I don’t think he likes bass players.’ I was trying to turn him off to the idea. Sure enough, they ended up using him. That trick didn’t work.”  I laugh.  

What IS surprising, however, is Original Sin was a one-take record. Nile realized the band was in awe of him, so he had them rehearse it – while he had the sound engineer record the entire thing. That’s the way to get ‘er done, Nile. (I know a band that could use some of that again….*coughs*)

More “surprises”…the song was banned in the US, and I’m sure it’s because as Andrew Farriss described, it was the elephant in the room (and still is).  It’s so silly when you think about it now, but back then?  That was a huge deal. Yes, America is still far behind the rest of the world. To my parents – you just didn’t see that sort of thing in their generation much. Just to let you all in on a piece of my own history: it was a HUGE deal when I dated a Mexican kid in high school. You can’t even imagine. I mean, I’m Italian for crying out loud (my dad was kicked out of places when he was growing up because he was Italian and lived in New Jersey – where that lineage was frowned upon!) – and my boyfriend at the time was half Mexican/half white-as-me, but I practically had to get permission from the Pope before my parents gave me the OK. Ridiculous. My kids don’t even blink when they see people together, which is the way I want it. Things change. We’ve still got a long way to go, but from my point of view, it’s getting better. Slowly.

It seems like the only other thing to touch on is life after Michael. I have a continued difficult time with that – and I’m not even one of their biggest fans. I’m just a fan who loves their music, and I miss them. I’ve had fleeting affairs with some of their lead singers, but none touch the heartstrings of Michael – and I’m not really sure I’d want it any other way. I wish the band would tour again on one hand, and on another I’m not sure it was ever the same…but then, I never expected it to be. I just wish them well.

Thompson Twins

Amanda:

This is going to sound weird but my most vivid memory of this band and this song was when I was stereo buying.  My first CD player happened as a result of my 8th grade graduation.  It didn’t last.  By sophomore year in high school, I was back to buying a stereo.  I couldn’t live without my music!  How did I decide which stereo to buy?  I decided by listening to this song played loudly in the store on various stereos!  While I always liked this song, there was something about hearing it played in such a way that I appreciated it in a much bigger way afterwards.

Two aspects of the Thompson Twins story really caught my attention.  First, there was the couple aspect between Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie.  Second, there was their very clear decision to be “pop stars”.  Both seemed to affect not only the life of the band but also their decision not to reform as Thompson Twins.

Again, like Rhonda below, I had no idea that Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were together, eventually married (and divorced) and had children together.  I’m not ever really surprised when I read about how two people from a  band were romantically linked.  I think that can happen whenever people work very closely together.  What I find more interesting is what it was like for the third member, Joe Leeway.  Was he worried about how their relationship would affect the band?  What if they broke up?  Would they want to become a duo?  Clearly, they managed to navigate this but I still wonder what affect it had.  Now, of course, Tom and Alannah are divorced.  Would they be more interested in reforming, if they were still married?  Who knows.

Lastly, I found it very interesting that they made a clear distinction about being pop stars instead of trying to be pop stars.  They went this way in order to treat it like a serious job and as a means to achieve their goals.  I think things like how you refer to yourself definitely does affect how confident you are, which impacts everything else.  Yet, now that they have different careers, does the title hold them back from reforming?  They can’t reform because they aren’t pop stars anymore?  Again, who knows.

Rhonda: 

My name is Rhonda Rivera and I am a fan of Hold Me Now. Any hope of being “hardcore” (as my 17-year old daughter Heather says) is finished now, I suppose.  Damn. I loved that song the entire way through school, and I still love it today. I miss the band, having bought all of their albums and continuing to treasure them today.

As nieve as I was, I had no idea that Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were a couple. This explains the song so much, and yet I understand why they kept it private. I had a friend who was in a rock band that was becoming well-known and somewhere early into the journey he told me that he was taking a stage name. I didn’t get it at the time, but now I understand. For him, he was trying to keep the stage life separate from the real life. I don’t know how successful he was (we lost touch), but I can understand the need to compartmentalize. 

One thing I truly loved about the Thompson Twins was the audible  influence of world music.  I think of “You Take Me Up” or  “The Gap” and you can’t help but hear the African influence, and it’s done well.  The other thing I loved about the Thompson Twins was something I didn’t even realize until I read this book – and that was Nile Rodgers.  It isn’t lost on me that among the bands I cared about most during the 80s – Nile seems to be a common denominator. (Not bad for someone who never thought she was a disco fan!) 

It’s curious to me that during the writing of the book, Tom Bailey says that he isn’t interested in touring as Thompson Twins, which I really can’t blame him given that he and Alannah Currie are divorced.  But not long after reading, I saw that he is actually touring with Howard Jones, Midge Ure and others.  Good for him. 

Simple Minds

Amanda:

Seriously, this is one of those songs that I have to wonder if there is anyone of my generation who doesn’t love it.  Much like the movie in which it featured in the soundtrack, it represents that time for so many.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone loves it.

When I read this chapter, I realized how lucky we all were that it got made.  Clearly, the band wasn’t super comfortable to do someone else’s song.  (Isn’t that a sign of the times, too?  Nowadays, I assume that any popular, radio-friendly song is written by someone OTHER than the artist/singer/band performing it.  Then, though, I thought everyone wrote their own songs.  I believe that all the songs written in this book, up until this point, were written by the singers/bands themselves, just to prove a point.)  Yet, they decided to “smell the coffee” as they phrased it and went with it.  I like how they worked to make it their own, though.  I suspect is something not done much today as performers just go with what has been given to them for whatever reason.

Throughout this book, there have been a number of themes to emerge.  This chapter brings out two of them:  how bands dealt with their apparent (but not really) one hit and how this time period was filled with such creativity.  I have to say that I truly appreciated how Jim Kerr viewed both.  While he knows that he had many, many other quality songs beyond this one, he knows that this is the one that has lived on.  He understands that the song now belongs to everyone.  It is that HUGE.  He also understands the connection to a movie that also connected for so many.  There is no bitterness or anger there.  I only sensed acceptance.  Likewise, I appreciated his attitude when discussing the creativity of this musical era.  He talked about how bands all hung out together and would acknowledge chart success.  Competition did not seem to be fierce, but part of that seemed to be because each group was so unique.  No one had to worry about the other.  There was “no collective sound” but an “imagination”.  I miss that.

Rhonda:

Another “most favorite”.  I think I might be better off naming the bands that are NOT on that list – it would be far shorter! When I think of this band, I can’t help but think of “Alive and Kicking” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” first…but bringing up the rear is “Someone Somewhere in Summertime”.  I got a massive sunburn while listening to the entire album (New Gold Dream) one year while camping in San Diego, but I still love the song. 

I never realized the song wasn’t theirs, and that’s on me. I just assumed…which I’m finding in this industry is a huge “joke is on you” type of error to make. I will say that Jim totally makes it Simple Minds own with his vocals and his “Hey hey hey HEY” at the beginning, and I’m glad that they consider it a pleasure to play. So many times it ends up being the thorn in the side of what was a great career, but they seem to have embraced the fact that the song really broke through the American Ceiling for them. I think what bothers me about the band is that they’ve still got a lot of great music going for them that never gets heard over here, and as a result they rarely tour here, which really bums me out as a fan – but I get it.  

Once again I find something poignant to end my portion of the discussion, this time from Jim Kerr himself – about the 80s, “There wasn’t a collective sound like there was a sound of the sixties, but there was an amazing imagination. That was a very potent collection of kids – and we were kids at the time – and I still listen to a lot of that music to this day. (299) 

I couldn’t say it better.

It’s nearly the end!!  Next week we end our chapter-by-chapter discussion of Mad World by discussing what is likely the most shocking and shameful chapter in the entire book – “Obsession” by Animotion. Then we turn that emotion on it’s head by talking about the most beloved holiday song for nearly any Duranie/New Wave fan: “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, by Band Aid…and then just maybe we’ll do a wrap up of what we’ve learned along the way.  Please feel free to join in!!

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (Tears For Fears, OMD and Ultravox)

Happy Monday, everyone!  We hope that everyone enjoyed their weekend and had a chance to read the next three chapters in Mad World, in order to join in on our discussion!  This week, we are reading and talking about Tears for Fears, OMD and Ultravox!

Tears for Fears

Amanda:

Whenever I read these chapters, I find myself wanting to comment on about 10-15 things and then having to pick a few.  This chapter, though, was worse than normal.  My list is even longer.  Do I discuss the origin of the name?  How the recording industry was clearly different than it is today?  The fans they appealed to?  Something else?  The two things that really stood out for me over all else are their relationship and some of the decisions that they made in their career.

As someone who is half of a duo (a writing, researching and event planning duo, in our case), I found their relationship to be fascinating.  I thought it was interesting that in the UK, everyone assumed that Curt was the frontman and Roland was the studio guy. Yet, that shifted once “Shout” was released and became popular in the States.  Then, everyone, at least in America, assumed that they were co-frontmen.  I assumed that.  I guess I never looked into the band members to find out what the real story was.  Yet, I found it interesting that they didn’t really say which way it REALLY was.  Were they equals?  Was one more significant in  one setting or another?

Clearly, their relationship was a significant one.  Roland points out that he had to end that relationship before he was able to have kids.  I can get that.  A band like theirs required significant time, energy and commitment in order to be successful so I’m sure that it did take up a lot of their emotional lives.  Yet, Curt also points out that it was the balance between them that formed the sound.  I think balance is significant in any band or committee or duo.

The other aspect of this chapter that really caught my attention was how they questioned decisions they made in their careers.  Some examples include touring as long as they did in between albums and changing their sound so dramatically between albums.  I get this.  I question my decisions at work, all the time, too.  I would do it even more, if I had a career that had very obvious measures of success like being in a band.  I wonder if the real issue isn’t that they made the wrong choices but that they second guess those decisions.

Rhonda:

In the interest of full disclosure, Tears for Fears are easily one of my most favorite bands of all-time, New Wave or not. So I’m biased. Extremely biased. The difference between TFF and DD for me (aside from the fact that I tend to like bands that I can shorten to an abbreviation, apparently) is that with Duran Duran, I loved their music AND wanted to marry Roger Taylor. With TFF, I was all-business. I loved their music. It completely consumed me and I, it.  To this day, when someone asks me what my favorite album of all-time might be, I have a difficult time choosing between The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair. I know, I know – what happened to Duran Duran?  I love every single part of Duran Duran – even those RCM moments, because it’s part of their narrative, which in turn feels like my own after all this time…but when it comes down to just the music and how it touches my heart and mind, I have to give it to TFF.  (The trouble is, for me it really isn’t ever just about the music. I need it all.)

So, even as that sort of fan, I had no idea what their name was really about. I just knew that my father continually messed it up until the day he stopped speaking, calling it Tear of Fear or Fears of Tear…he just couldn’t get it, and I didn’t really know what it meant at all, so to read that it’s about Arthur Janov’s primal therapy made all sorts of sense to me and connected the dots even further.  You’d think I had a really tough early childhood and that’s why this music hits me so strongly – and you’d be right.

I love Mad World and all of the incarnations and evolutions it’s had since it’s release. It’s a song that, upon my very first listen, burnt itself straight to my core, and yes – that line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had” strikes the right chord within. I had no idea that it went right to Janov’s primal scream theory, as Roland Orzabal describes in the chapter. Another tidbit I learned was that Janov’s theories go along with the tabula rasa theory – “that we’re born, then life etches our character through experiences, both good and bad. So that’s what Curt and I believed at the time. We both felt that the child was sacred, especially the child that was suffering, hence the curled-up little child on the front of The Hurting.” (247)  I know that they’ve both changed their opinions on that since having children themselves – but having gone through a very traumatic few years beginning at the age of about 4 myself, I’ve often wondered how I might have turned out without that period in my life…besides,I really can’t fault a theory or two that had to do with their songwriting on The Hurting.  If it wasn’t therapeutic for Smith and Orzabal – it was for me.  

It’s very clear, when you read the references to Everybody Wants to Rule the World, that Curt Smith doesn’t have a lot of use for A&R people. (A career path I’m thankful I did not choose…) I definitely see his point. Arguing over a song’s length by five seconds seems pointless. Oddly, this song was my dad’s favorite – which is why I mention him here.  He insisted that it be played to “see him out” the day of his memorial.  He would play this song every.single.time. we traveled in his beloved motor home. I highly doubt he knew or even cared what the song was about (I am almost positive he didn’t know a single word, only the melody), but it was his jam.  God love him.  🙂  I still can’t really listen to the entire song, but you know he’s probably still nodding his head and rocking to it the way only a dad can somewhere. 

It nearly broke my heart when Curt left Roland and Tears for Fears behind, and I often wondered if I’d see the day that they would perform again. Thankfully, not only did I get to see them, but I called my dad at the appropriate moment in the show and had him listen to his favorite. It’s a fond, fond memory for me. I can certainly understand the reasons why Curt left, though. I think being in a band like this can really be all-consuming and it seems as though you can completely lose yourself within.  Even so, Curt said it best, “…it’s the balance of the two of us that brings out the sound that is Tears for Fears.”  Exactly.  

If you follow Curt Smith on Twitter – you find that he doesn’t pull any punches. He believes what he believes, and he doesn’t put up with any BS from fans. He also doesn’t really give a crap what fans might think of his beliefs – and while I don’t always agree, I have to give him credit. He stands with conviction. This has come up several times, once recently when Lorde did a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Her version is haunting, almost scarily angry compared to the original. I liked it because it was so different. People came at him from all sides, commenting on how horrible it was, how Lorde destroyed it, and so forth. (sound familiar, Duran Duran fans??) His response was very similar to what he says here in the book. “I hear people saying, ‘Music’s not what it used to be,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah it is. Don’t you remember back then?’ The majority of the stuff we listened to sucked. What you take with you is the really good stuff.”

I’m glad I’ve taken Tears for Fears with me for the ride.

 OMD

Amanda:

As I read this chapter on OMD, I’m completely reminded of youth and adolescent arrogance.  Clearly, the members of OMD had definite ideas about their “art project”, including what were acceptable ideas to write about or not to write about.  Even when they describe the shift that took place from writing very unconventional songs to conventional songs, there is this underlining current of judgement against the more commercial, more American songs versus the less commercial, more European ones.  This rigid thinking reminds me of myself as an adolescent along with so many of my teenage students.

Now, all of that said, I don’t know that they were wrong to think this way.  Clearly, they didn’t want to be like everyone else.  They didn’t want to conform to what was common.  Obviously, they felt like outsiders.  Then, they experienced success.  How lucky were they that they were able to meet Tony Wilson who went on to start Factory Records?  Then, to have John Peel play their single, which led to be a long term album deal.  Their beliefs, whether led by adolescent arrogance or not, were reinforced, for sure.  Beyond that, many would say that those more unconventional songs are the better songs.

On a completely different note, one thing that caught my attention in this chapter was the mention of how they were considered “alternative” in the US before “If You Leave” hit and what that term meant.  Alternative meant that a band, an artist would be off the radar.  That same band/artist could be selling a lot of albums.  When I discovered alternative, I thought I had found home.  I didn’t want to be one of the masses at that point.  I wanted to embrace the different, the unusual, the creative.  That said, I still don’t understand why one band ended up mainstream and why another ended up alternative.

Rhonda: 

When I think of OMD, the first songs to come to mind are “Tesla Girl” and “Locomotion”, which means I came in during the Junk Culture album. However, immediately following my “find” of that album…I discovered “Enola Gay” and “Red Frame White Light”, and that was before the movie Pretty in Pink came along for me. I almost never think of “If You Leave” (probably because it was overplayed to the point of ruin).  It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong – but I was one of those kids that (aside from Duran Duran because damn it, I found them first!) hated following the crowd. Everyone loved “If You Leave”, so that’s where I took a sharp U-turn.  

Even so, one simply didn’t grow up in the 80s without hearing the song. 5 million times. I love that they created something so quickly, and obviously so easily. (and now I know why no one is dancing to the right beat at the end of the movie – something that has bothered me FOR YEARS.  No, I wasn’t a romantic back then I guess!)

I always loved their name – it sounded so cool, until my mother gasped and said “Do you know what that name really MEANS, Rhonda Lynn.” (she used this voice a lot back in the 80s. I particularly remember it being used when we viewed Girls on Film one night, together as a family right after I got the videotape after it had been on backorder for three months.  Great night. Good times.”)  I didn’t care what it MEANT. I just knew it sounded really cool and sophisticated. Isn’t that the way it is with kids?!? 

I could go on about their history and what they’re doing now…but there’s one passage in this chapter that I found intriguing that I’ll share here. “…Because some of our contemporaries, their management tell them they need to release a new record because they need a name for their new tour, they can’t just play the hits again. I’ll mention no names, but there are a lot of bands who make records who shouldn’t be allowed to – they don’t have anything left to say, they’re just addicted to the lifestyle and they can’t stop.” (265)

I really don’t know for sure about whom Andy McCluskey is referring. My feeling about this is that who is to say when enough is enough?  Just because one person may not feel a band hasn’t anything left to say doesn’t mean that the band feels that way as well.  I’m sure what he says is true and that it happens a lot. I’m just happy that I’m a fan who doesn’t really know that side of it. The bands I know and love most have plenty left in them with nothing to prove: they’ve already succeeded and they could live off of their earnings without a problem…but they keep going, and that should be applauded and supported, not judged. 

Ultravox

Amanda:

What to hear something sad?  My first memory of this song wasn’t the song at all but the video.  Why?  I had to see it.  After all, it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who, of course, is famous for directing all those Duran videos.  Anyway, I’m thankful that it did push me to seek out the song.

As I read about the idea behind the song with how a boy meets a girl and there a wonderful feeling, but as soon as they leave, the feeling goes away.  This completely reminds me of the movie, “Before Sunrise,” in which the two characters meet, hang out in the city of Vienna (of all places), and fall in love.  Will that love remain after they separate?  We don’t know, at least, until the sequel.

Despite, or in addition to, the movie reminders, I love two other things about the making of this song.  I love that all members contributed equally.  There is always something special when that happens.  I also love that the crowd showed how awesome the song was when they played it live.  It is hard to deny fan feelings, which proved that the record label was wrong about what kind of edit it needed.

Finally, like Rhonda below, I totally concurred with the statements made about how music was everything in the 1980s.  The description of the person saving money to buy an album, showing off that album and then playing it over and over.  I think it is safe to say that I could completely relate.  I am sad that my nieces and other kids of this generation won’t experience the same thing.

Rhonda: 

Vienna is one of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever listened and I still don’t understand why it never quite made it to #1. Yes, this was the year John Lennon was shot…so there’s that. This is why I can’t be in music…I’d lose my mind over things like that. Vienna is stunningly beautiful and romantic in a way that not even Duran Duran could do at the time. (sorry guys) That piano. Those vocals. Besides, Midge Ure. 

This is one time that the label got it right. They could have easily destroyed this song by editing it down to the three-minute single, but after arguing about it for six months, they put it out as is and it worked. Sure, it didn’t hit number one, but as Midge Ure mentions, it sat at #2 for five weeks and outsold both John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” and Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face” (Midge Ure thinks that the song only sold in England, but no…we heard it plenty here too).  Ultravox wins!

Midge Ure says something that sums up my entire childhood in the 80s,”[The eighties] was a very different planet. It was a planet where people cared about music. Music was a be-all and end-all to young people. It was our lifeblood. You waited for the next album you were into, you saved up your pennies and you waved it around proudly when you bought, and you played it to death.”   This is so true. I still miss those times, because music still very much matters to me.  It’s become a bit of a throw-away society now, with each day bringing in the new and throwing out the old with the trash. Nothing matters for very long, which is sad, really.  

Join us next week as we tear apart INXS, Thompson Twins and Simple Minds!

-A & R

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club: Mad World (A-ha, Joy Division and The Smiths)

We are moving along through our latest book club.  This time around, we are reading Mad World:  An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s.  Each week, we are reading three chapters about three bands and their songs.  This week, we are reading and discussing A-ha, Joy Division and The Smiths.  Read those chapters and discuss right along with us!

A-ha:

Amanda:

Confession time.  As a kid, I hated this song and this band.  Why??  Simple.  It seemed to me that all the radio stations, video shows and magazine covers were ready to crown A-ha the next biggest thing.  This wouldn’t have bothered me except it meant that Duran was then pushed from that position.  This was completely unacceptable to me.  Thus, I thought the song, the band, the video were completely overrated.  Now, as an adult, I can view the song, the band, and the video in a much more objective frame of mind.

It fascinates me how band member, Magne “Mags” Furuholmen, describes the song after acknowledging that it shifted and changed from its beginnings in 1977.  He describes it as having a “melancholy streak”.  I never thought about it before but I can see his point, now that I think about it.  Then, to read, about how melancholy doesn’t mean sadness in Norway, but rather “a sense of longing”.  I like that their music was not only influenced by Norwegian culture by also by bands like The Beatles and The Doors.  Truly, the world was a much smaller place in the 1980s then it was in previous decades as influences could come from all over.

One piece of their story that I found very interesting is how the record company had them record the song with a big time producer and how it didn’t sound like them or how they wanted the song to sound.  Yet, they didn’t just accept but asked for a redo and it then became a hit.  I give them credit for fighting for themselves and their music.  Clearly, it paid off.  I wonder, though, how many other artists just accepted what a producer did with their music and suffered for it (*coughredcarpetmassacrecough*).  I suspect it is a high number of artists, unfortunately.

Rhonda:

Unlike Amanda, I loved A-Ha and spent countless hours on my beloved Casio keyboard picking out the notes to “Take On Me”.  I did, and I’m not ashamed!! (I can still do it on piano, too…and it annoys the hell out of my kids, which I kind of enjoy.) I thought the video to “Take On Me” was the most innovative thing I’d seen since I saw Simon topple off of the pier backward in Rio, and that was all the convincing I needed to buy their music. 

To read that Mags had lived with “Take On Me” for nearly ten years before it became a hit was a surprise. I wonder just how true that might be for other artists.  Do they have hits hidden in them that just sit there, waiting for their moment? His partner Pal Waaktaar had told him it was too commercial, too catchy.  Maybe so.  It definitely caught me from the first time I heard it, and that can’t be all badWhat I loved most about the song was that while the tune itself, and especially that beginning “riff” was energetic, maybe even happy (although written in a minor key) – the words were anything but. It’s a sad song.  I really liked that feeling of opposing emotionality between the music and lyrics. 

Although I have this album and consider myself a fan, I didn’t know anything about another version of this song OR another video.  So…I need to find it.

It’s especially sad to me to read that the band members really no longer speak, and that to some, “Take On Me” is a bad memory at this point.  That seems to happen with so many of these bands that had a major US hit in the 80s, and while part of me is sad – I can’t help but understand. Having an entire career or body of music condensed to just one song is really unfair. It’s only one excerpt of the story. 

Mags ends the chapter by saying the following: “There are bands who continue on just to keep making money. Every year they’ll do the summer tour. They don’t talk to each other backstage, they sneak in separate sides of the room.”  I think that’s incredibly sad, and while I suspect that at times I’ve supported a band or two that handled themselves that way, I think that if I knew – it would likely ruin the experience. You like to think that members have some sort of camaraderie or connection to one another that goes beyond the stage. At least, I do.  He makes the comment that Morten (lead singer) continues to tour and plays “Take On Me” without he and Pal (changed his name to Paul). He’s the only one that people will pay to come and see do that because it’s his voice that people recognize. This seems to be a common theme in bands – the lead singer becomes the band for many.  This gets mentioned in every fan community – including Duran Duran. Everyone says that Simon IS the band. He’s the voice, that is true. But, is he the sole provider of the heart of the music? Probably not. I suspect that the same holds true here. 

Joy Division:

Amanda:

I discovered Joy Division at a time in my childhood that I really needed it.  To me, both the music, lyrics and voices were haunting and, yet, memorizing.  At that time in my life, I was ready to learn more.  In my typical fashion, this desire for knowledge wasn’t about musical instrumentation, but about the society and culture surrounding music and musical genres.  I loved being able to place Joy Division into the bigger musical scene of post punk UK bands.  I could see the connection with punk and what would come next, especially for the remaining members of Joy Division.  I’m still fascinated and was quick to purchase the film, the biography, Control, about Ian Curtis.

This particular chapter gave me two aspects of Joy Division to think about that I had never really thought about before.  First, I love how the song was described.  The lyrics were described as “dark”.  This I knew.  I could also see the song called an “anti-love song”.  Yet, the image of listening to this song with a broken heart hit me.  It is the sound of “fighting through” the pain of the end of a relationship.  This probably isn’t the most common focus of a song, which I really appreciate.

The other thing that this chapter made me think about is how the band naturally fit together.  Bernard Sumner talked about how each band member, each instrument was an ingredient in a recipe.  He went on to talk about other bands who have tried to fall into this natural fitting together with limited success.  I couldn’t help but to think of other bands or even different line-ups in bands.  Band chemistry isn’t something you can force.  When it works well, it is obvious.  This chapter reminds me of this.

Rhonda:

I was never a Joy Division fan. That isn’t because I didn’t like the music…it’s because I didn’t really KNOW the music. I know the songs when I hear them, but I don’t think I ever really connected the way I wish I had. I’m a pretty big New Order fan, and I remember my surprise when I first discovered that Joy Division came first. (See what I mean? I had no idea…)  I felt like I’d missed their first novel, which basically – that’s what it was like. It was like picking up one of the last novels in a series that had gone back years…like reading The Deathly Hallows before you’d even read The Sorcerer’s Stone. (or The Philosopher’s Stone if you’re from elsewhere in the world.)

Peter Hook’s assessment of the band – “each member was playing a separate line” was interesting. The sum has more value than all the parts, basically. I think that’s true, regardless of the band. When you’ve got a formula that works – as Amanda said – it’s obvious, and I think it’s integral to the success of a band. You have to have all the right parts. If something doesn’t fit or is missing, you can sense it from the audience, and there’s no “faking” that.  Your fans see it. They feel it. They hear it. 

I absolutely hate the idea that the ending to Joy Division is seen as “rock ‘n’ roll”. It’s so cliché. I don’t see Ian Curtis’ death as a “blaze of glory” at all, but I think the natural, human intention is to glorify the whole thing so that it seems less tragic, less sudden, less scary. I just think it’s sad beyond reason.

The Smiths:

Amanda:

The authors did a brilliant job in describing The Smiths.  The song, “How Soon Is Now?” is described on page 235 as “an epic of adolescent angst:  It takes a handful of hurt feelings and makes them into a masterpiece.”  Lori Majewski writes, “no one ever captured loneliness, insecurity, and fumbling immature awkwardness like he did,” on page 236.  Johnny Marr affirms this idea by saying how they spoke to “vulnerable” people looking for someone on their side.  I’m sure that Morrissey’s lyrics at a lot to do with that.  This song, in particular, seemed to capture what rejection and loneliness feels like as it tells the story of someone who attempts to put himself out there only to continue to be alone.

While I know that there are many people out there who thought Morrissey was “whiny” or annoying with his views on issues like animal rights, I appreciated many of his lyrics.  It seemed to me that someone out there understood how I felt as a teen.  Even as an adult, when I heard this song played in clubs, I was immediately transported back to that time in my life.  It still resonated with me.

Beyond the personal connection to the song, I need to comment one thing in this chapter.  Johnny Marr discusses the difference between acts that he calls “mainstream” and the alternative.  He puts artists like Duran Duran and Culture Club in the  mainstream camp and bands like The Smiths and Depeche Mode in the other camp.  Initially, he states that mainstream acts wanted to be big pop stars.  Obviously, those bands like Duran did become big pop stars.  The implication was that those bands did whatever they needed to do in order to become stars, even if it was that they had big hair and wore shoulder pads.  Marr talks about how they were different in that they wore regular clothes and weren’t into “jock culture” or homophobia.  I found this fascinating.  Did Duran and Culture Club participate in jock culture or homophobia?  I didn’t see that.  I saw guys who wore makeup and challenged gender roles.  Did bands and artists like The Smiths not want to be stars?  Would they have rejected it if they did become stars?  Who knows…

Rhonda:

I do not like The Smiths at all…and Morrissey even less. I’ve always felt they were whiny (whether it’s just Morrissey or The Smiths) and going on about how horrible life was without really trying to do much else other than whine. Not edgy enough for me to consider them dark or brooding, not at all hopeful or uplifting, I just find their music to be endlessly blah and depressing. I may be the only person in America (much less the world) to feel that way – but I comfortable here on my own. To this day I switch the radio when they come on, and I’m still cheering for the fact they’ve never gotten back together. I hope they keep that up. Besides, Morrissey never makes it through an entire tour without canceling far more shows than I think is acceptable anyway. It’s the one chapter in this book that I stand in complete, full 100% agreement with Jonathan Bernstein. Not a fan.

What is really funny, at least to me, is that Johnny Marr says that “You were either on the side of the Cure and Depeche and the Smiths, or you were on the side of the more mainstream acts.”  I have to wonder if he is meaning the bands themselves or the fans, because in my case – I loved Depeche Mode and The Cure and New Order. I loved Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, among many others. I did not love The Smiths. 

Join us next week as we sink our teeth into Tears For Fears, OMD and Ultravox!

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (A Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell)

It is week 9 of our latest book club!  The focus is Mad World and this week, we are reading and discussing the chapters on A Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell.  We would love to have you all read along and join in the discussion!

A Flock of Seagulls:

Amanda:
The introduction to this chapter is right on.  A Flock of Seagulls is a band that seems almost a caricature of the genre and that time period, especially with that hair.  As the introduction pointed out, though, we all remember the look!  Isn’t that what image was all about?  Trying to stick out from the crowd?  Getting attention and then staying in people’s minds long after hearing the song or seeing the video?  If so, this band had that part down, for sure!!
I absolutely had to laugh that they were aiming to follow the path that Duran went down but they weren’t as electronic as they wanted to be.  First, it doesn’t surprise me that Duran was influencing bands even then.  Second, I wonder what specifically made they want to follow Duran.  If they wanted to be more electronic, why didn’t they follow Depeche Mode, for example?  Did they like the fame and attention Duran was getting?  Was that it?
“When things are right, they line up,” said Mike Score, in reference to writing the song, “I Ran.”  He had seen a poster at a record company of people running from a flying saucer.  From there, he said that the song wrote itself.  What caught my attention there wasn’t the story behind the song as much as the line about when things are “right”.  As I read each and every story in this book, I keep thinking about what really made the song or the band successful.  Is it that it is just “right” so it is meant to be?  Is that the artist worked really, really hard?  Is it luck?  Is it meeting the right person?  It seems to me that most of the stories have a combination between all of these.  Is that the same with other professions/careers?
Mike Score emphasizes that they wanted the band, the song to be “sci-fi”.  It seems to me that there were a lot of New Wave artists out there who also had a focus of sorts on space and/or science fiction.  Obviously, Duran did.  While I could point out David Bowie as this chapter does, it seems to me that there has to be more to it than just David Bowie.  Why then?  People landed on the moon in the 1960s.  Science fiction was an established genre then.  So what was the deal?  Could the increased tension of the Cold War do it?  Could it be that people were looking for that positive future?  Could it be that they were looking for an escape from a world that seemed doomed?
Rhonda:
So I liked the hair. It was so completely different from what I was allowed to do with my own (no seriously, I wasn’t even allowed to wear skirts that fell above my knee, and no, I didn’t go to parochial school – that was my dad’s rule!).  As I read Jonathan’s little editorial on how he felt about Flock of Seagulls, I have to say – I’m glad I didn’t live in England (probably the first time I’ve ever said that). I would have been just as out of place there as I was at Sunflower Intermediate in Covina, California. (Go ahead, look it up, but it’s no longer a public intermediate school –  I think my “graduating class” busted the system or something).  I liked their music, and not in a “I secretly listen to One Direction when no one else is around” sort of way.  I danced to “I Ran”, and I liked it.  So, I’m sure it’s not a surprise that I side with Lori on this one.  I loved them, the song, the video AND their hair, and yes – they were cool.
I didn’t think it was such a surprise that they wanted to be like Duran Duran. They were really the first band from the UK that had really made a big splash in America in a very long time – I mean let’s be completely honest, for a while, Duran Duran was the biggest band in the world.  I think a lot of bands wanted to be on the road that Duran Duran had already paved, and probably kick Duran Duran out of their way as they went cruising by. 
I tend to agree with Mike Score – that when things are right, they do seem to just line up naturally. I hear that a lot, and even in my own life – sometimes the things that just happen naturally turn out to be the best.  He makes a similar statement about “I Ran”, that it wrote itself – “as all good songs do.” (200)  Over and over again throughout this book, artists make comparable comments about their biggest songs – that they came easily or wrote themselves.  I don’t really know what that says, because there are moments when we all struggle with our best work, but as I read I have to notice that it seems to be a very common thread.  
Mike’s very last comment in the book is one that I will take with me.  “As the band gets bigger, you tend to lose that camaraderie. I think that led to the downfall.” I think this to be very true. It’s as though the band becomes larger than the people within, and everyone wants a piece to control – until the machine – the industry itself – makes the band uncontrollable, never mind the egos within.  
Modern English:

Amanda:

I love this song and always have.  That said, I never placed it into a soon to be destroyed by nuclear war context.  As I read the lyrics and think about it, I can definitely see that.  As a historian and social scientist, I find it fascinating when I am able to put songs and musical genres into societal and/or historical context.  I understand a society and a time period more and I understand the song more.  I now get to do that with this song, too.  Very cool.

Of course, Robbie Grey of Modern English, expanded on this idea.  I love that the song was also trying to show the good and the bad with people.  Even the lyric about “mesh and lace” was to show this.  Once again, I am reminded that song lyrics can seem straightforward on the surface and be much more when you dig a little deeper.

He also tells a story about how the band went from playing to 200 people in England to playing to 5000 people in Florida.  What struck me wasn’t the idea of a very quick rise in fame that so many from this era experienced, but how Robbie saw the audiences in Europe compared to the audiences in America.  European audiences he described as “thoughtful” whereas American audiences just wanted to have fun.  I wonder if he would say the same now.  Do others agree?

Rhonda:

I Melt with You” is as 80s iconic as anything else I can think of – I know that when the words “New Wave” are uttered amongst friends, this is always one of the first songs they mention. (I know this because I tested my theory at a neighborhood block party last week!) They also mention things like “Madonna”…and that’s when I openly cringe and tell them that it’s time to re-educate themselves on proper New Wave.  I’m not invited to many neighborhood parties…

I never knew what the song was about, to be honest – but of course the line “Never really knowing it was always mesh and lace” sticks in my head as easily as “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”.  I really think I spent most of the 80s dancing to the music and not really listening to the words. That came much later.  

I don’t know a lot of Modern English’s catalog. Like Jonathan, I was always very satisfied with just hearing “I Melt With You” and never felt like I needed more.  So I was genuinely surprised to read that Robbie Grey used to shout rather than sing and that this song was the first he actually sang that way.  I always liked the rawness of his voice – it added texture to the song.  

Like Amanda, I was surprised to read that there was such a difference between American and European audiences. I mean, Duran has said similar things (I will never forget reading a blog from Roger Taylor that called American’s “raucous”.  He didn’t mean it harshly, only that we’re apparently really loud and crazy. That stung, because I don’t see us quite that way. I don’t really understand the difference between the screaming “hard-core loyalty” they talk about from fans in Italy and the roar of the crowd they find here in America, but I have to think there really must be a difference.), but I just don’t really know what it means. I went to the UK for several shows a few years back, and to be completely honest I found the UK audiences to be very subdued to what goes on here at home. I mean yes they cheer, but it’s different. Would I call it thoughtful? I’m not quite sure that’s the right word.

Soft Cell:

Amanda:

Who doesn’t love this song?  I have loved versions by other artists as well as the Soft Cell version, but I have to admit that this is my favorite out of them all.  Is it that I know this one the best?  Is it that I fell in love with this one first?  Is it simply that this version really is the best?  I suppose it doesn’t matter why I love it.  I just do.

I love the fact that, according to the band’s Marc Almond, they went with this song to cover because doing a “soul song” was the most “un-electronic” thing to do.  I suppose that is a little like Duran covering Public Enemy’s 911 Is a Joke.  It just seems so out of character and, for Soft Cell, it truly was as so much of the rest of their material was shocking in many ways.  Yet, Marc goes on to say how they put their sound to the song, which included, “cold, electronic sound with a passionate vocal.”  That description could fit so much of the music I love.  Truly.

Marc Almond continues to say that the success surrounding “Tainted Love” made them uncomfortable because of their new young fans and the controversial nature of the rest of the work.  I would feel the same way, if I were them.  That said, I’m not sure a lot of other artists would have given that two thoughts.  A lot of artists would have just seen dollar signs and dollar signs only.  I never heard Duran, for example, say that they had any concern about the Girls on Film video after attracting a lot of young fans.  Perhaps, it isn’t because they weren’t concerned about their young fans but because they didn’t think the video would be harmful.  Still, it is nice to see that Soft Cell did give some consideration to their young fans.

Rhonda:

Without any disrespect intended, this is one of those songs that I could go without ever hearing again and not feel the least bit slighted. Once upon a time, I loved “Tainted Love” in the same way I loved “Hungry Like the Wolf”, but time (and radio) has ruined both for me. That said, I have always liked Soft Cell. I loved that their videos were meant to shock, and that they did. I like the avant-garde “art school” nature they had, and I think their videos are superbly odd.  I would characterize Soft Cell as the really strange contemporary art that a lot of people rush past in a museum because they don’t get it – and yet you’ll find me standing there staring at a rotting piece of cheese boxed in clear acrylic because I’m trying to understand what the artist is saying. I love that stuff! 

I think the real reason I liked Soft Cell and Marc Almond so much was because of something Marc says so eloquently, “Living in sleazy eighties Britain, repressed people leading secret lives, frustrated living in bedsits – it was the total antithesis of what Duran Duran were doing, which was singing about this glamorous life, and living in Rio, and sailing in ships on beautiful seas.”  I love an escape. Duran Duran were living a life I had absolutely zero chance of ever experiencing myself – so that attracted me as much as John Taylor’s cheekbones or Roger Taylor’s quiet and brooding eyes ever did. On the other hand, I liked the darkness and obscurity that Soft Cell had to offer. It was the opposite of Duran Duran, and I liked that. 

I respect Marc’s feelings for “Tainted Love” in the same way that I completely respect what “Hungry Like the Wolf” is for Duran Duran – you can’t (and shouldn’t) deny what those songs have done, and he’s right, they have to be embraced because people associate you with those songs. I think the problem with a band that has MANY of those songs is that they end up having to play a greatest hits show every night along with a few newbies – and for those of us who don’t need the reward of the hits in order to still support the band, we always end up wishing for the stuff no one else knows anything about.  It’s probably a very good problem for a band to have.  

Don’t forget to check in with us next week as we chat about A-Ha, Joy Division, and The Smiths!

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, and Berlin)

Welcome to the latest post in our most recent book club!  This time around we are discussing the book, Mad World.  We will be reading and discussing the chapters on Kim Wilde, Howard Jones and Berlin.  Hopefully, you, too, will read those chapters and dive into the discussion!

Kim Wilde:

Amanda:

I knew of Kim Wilde as a kid but I didn’t know her really well.  I definitely knew the song, “You Keep Me Hanging On,” and liked it, but I didn’t know enough to say that I was a fan.  I never thought about the songs or about the fact that she was a female singer.  Did this chapter make me see her and her position in the New Wave musical era differently than just a simple singer?  It made me think more about the status of women in the industry, then vs. now, for sure.

Before I get to gender roles, I was struck by her discussion of the lyrics to “Kids in America”.  She mentioned the idea that you don’t have to directly identify with the lyrics to be able to sing them or like them.  She says this, of course, because she isn’t American singing about kids in America.  I have to agree with her.  You don’t have to directly identify a lyric to sing it or like it.  Look at Duran’s lyrics.  I am sure that Simon can’t relate to every single thing he has sung about.  In fact, I might argue that a lot of Simon’s lyrics aren’t exactly autobiographical.

During this chapter, it seems clear to me that Kim just rode the waves of her experience.  She didn’t think about writing the songs herself, but was content to let her father and brother do it, at least at first.  Image wasn’t at the top of her list either.  Was that because she was young?  Was that because of her personality?  A combination thereof?  Possibly.  Yet, I think about how things went for her as a young female singer compared to the young female singers of present day.  Now, image is central to everyone’s career, I think, especially women.  This reminds me of last week’s discussion in the discussion about Yaz and how Alison Moyet pointed out the push for women to just act like sexual toys now.  Clearly, Kim felt sexy, at times, but didn’t feel sexualized, or objectified, in the way that Alison referred to many female performers today.

Rhonda: 

My knowledge of Kim Wilde pretty much starts and ends with “Kids in America”.  It was a song I heard on the radio and recognized, but I wouldn’t say I know her music beyond that one song.  It’s not that I didn’t care for her, it’s that my sights were focused elsewhere. 

I never really gave it much thought that Kim was singing a song about America and yet she wasn’t from here. It was just a song.  Personally I think that a good writer *does* always identify in some way with what they’ve written or sung about, but just as we say that Simon’s lyrics aren’t always as transparent as they may seem – I think the same can be said for nearly everyone.  That said, Kim Wilde didn’t even write the songs. Her father wrote them for her to sing and created an image for her from there. It’s not exactly the deepest story of someone climbing stardom from the rock bottom, gripping by their fingernails to get to the top, you know?  I mean, the song is fine – but let’s be realistic about what it was.  Was she talented? Sure. Talented enough to get by without her father doing the writing? Not immediately. I think even Kim acknowledges that her part was played elsewhere, with more to come later on.  Everyone gets their start somehow.

I agree with Amanda that Kim seemed to just ride the wave of her career. It seemed to me as though she knew her place, played her part but had no ambition for more. She was happy with what she had, and perhaps that was a sign (to her) that her real love was elsewhere. I see that she’s still recording and signed to a label, but I also see that she has had other interests in her life. Some people are not necessarily designed to do only one thing in their life, and maybe Kim Wilde is among them.  

Howard Jones:

Amanda:

I love that Howard Jones thought about what message he wanted to send with his first single.  I love the message about going after your number one dream, too.  Obviously, if he had the chance to write, perform and release a single, then he would be showing the world that dreams do come true.  I like the idea of that.  Of course, if he wasn’t successful, would the message still ring true?  As he points out, this was part of his own struggle to feel like he was in control of his own future.  It also puts him against the grain of the time since he was optimistic about the future when many others were not.

As the authors pointed out in the introduction, there were other elements of Howard Jones that didn’t fit into the usual New Wave scene.  Two things that he mentioned that shows this include the discussion on image and the discussion on his lyrics.  First, while he did have some spiky hair, he didn’t feel it super necessary to dress in a crazy sort of way.  He felt that if people wanted to wear jeans and a t-shirt, that’s cool.  Likewise, if people wanted to be more “flamboyant”, that would be fine, too.  Clearly, he wasn’t as focused on image in comparison to so many other artists of the time.  Second, he mentioned that the importance that the song lyrics be such that people could relate to them.  His lyrics were grounded in reality versus lyrics like David Bowie’s that he called “meaningless”.

In many ways, Howard Jones and Kim Wilde provide an interesting contrast to each other.  On one hand, neither one let image dictate.  On the other hand, Kim was more open to lyrics she didn’t directly relate to.  Perhaps, this has everything to do with Howard being a songwriter and Kim being initially just a singer.  That said, I see both of their points and, as a listener, I appreciate both–lyrics that I can relate to and lyrics that I don’t.  To me, quality lyrics is more important.

Rhonda:

Howard Jones has always been a favorite of mine, and it’s because of those lyrics. He writes songs that make me think, and I like that. I also liked that for Howard, he was more interested in writing quality songs than he was with being cool in order to attract attention.  I think I sensed that immediately – and it drew me in. He didn’t fit in, *I* certainly didn’t fit in much in high school, and I just liked his music. Easy.

I was completely struck by what Howard shared about David Bowie…particularly because it is exactly, without question, what I feel when I hear his music.  I like David Bowie’s music. I cannot stand the lyrics most of the time. I don’t get any meaning from them. I don’t feel lighthearted. I don’t feel anything.  As Howard says “Art for art’s own sake is just not me. I like being able to relate to what people are saying.”  That’s  exactly it. I know that this is practically blasphemy coming from a Duran fan – but it’s the truth for me. I’m really not a Bowie fan because I just never quite got it.  Hey, we all have our faults. 

Howard Jones has to be one of the most grounded musicians I’ve ever really read about. Perhaps for a lot of people that makes his story boring – it certainly isn’t ever going to hit headlines, but I like that about him.  He’s married, he has children, and he writes amazing music.  It’s as though he hasn’t allowed that one portion of his life – his career – to BE his life or to transcend all else.  I applaud that. 

Berlin:

Amanda:

Unlike Kim Wilde or Howard Jones, Terri Nunn of Berlin, right away in this chapter, discussed image and their focus on it.  The image she wanted the band to have was “elegant but sexy”.  She wanted to seem grown up and classy with dresses and martinis.  The band should be able to fit in with bands like Roxy Music.  I can appreciate that aesthetic as Duran portrayed that image, too, at times with their cool suits and fancy drinks.  Like Duran, they also went for a bit of controversy to get attention.  I can understand the motive for doing something like doing a song like “Sex (I’m a…)” even if it didn’t go exactly as planned.

It seems to me that Berlin’s story is like so many others.  Once a hit happened, the ego exploded like it did with Terri Nunn’s demands about how playing “Take My Breath Away” at the Academy Awards should be.  Of course, the fame also means that there is a cycle of life from studio to road to studio to road with little real interactions and few, if any, real relationships.  In the case of Berlin, they fell apart, which seems pretty normal to me.  I would think that kind of lifestyle would be exhausting and would cause tension and irritation for most people, no matter how great the relationship was to begin with.  Thus, the bigger question to me isn’t why Berlin couldn’t survive but how come some bands do survive.  What do those bands have that most bands do not?

Rhonda:

It is funny to see how image really mattered to some bands and not to others – although to be fair I think that most bands cared about image in the 80s, even if it was about making sure that they were completely different from anything else out there. (conversely nowadays I think image is about making sure you’re exactly like everyone else, oddly enough…) 

Being a child of the 80s, I grew up watching “The Metro” on Video One or MV3. (But I had no idea that Richard Blade and Terri Nunn were almost married!) I would look at Terri Nunn and immediately sense that there was no way on this God’s green earth that I’d ever be as cool.  That alone made me respect her and love her music…and that voice?  She was amazing then, and she’s amazing now. I will say this though: just as many people say that Duran Duran would be nothing without Simon LeBon because he is the “voice” (a stance I do not agree with, personally)….I think that is why Terri has been able to continue on as Berlin.  She’s the voice and the image. I didn’t ever even acknowledge that other people might have been in that band, because to me it just didn’t matter. Now whether that is something to applaud or something to fuss over probably depends on whether you’re Terri Nunn or one of those other guys in the band. 

Oddly, I was never a fan of Take My Breath Away. It’s a great song. Terri sings it beautifully. I also heard it about ten million times over the course of a single summer – and while it’s a beautifully sultry piece, I’m still a much bigger fan of “The Metro”.  I think it might be due to what Jonathan Bernstein said – it’s much more European-sounding than American.  

I live in Orange County (CA) and as a result I see ads for Berlin playing all over the place. I’ve seen them several times, and they put on a great show. Terri Nunn does an excellent job, and while sometimes you’ll go see a band that was big in the 80s and they’ll kind of seem like they’re just there to pick up their paycheck….that has never been the case with Terri. She still looks HAPPY to be there, happy to connect with the crowd.  I believe that is why her shows sell so well, because it’s impossible to come away without feeling just a little fired up, and who doesn’t want that?? 

Next week we’ll be discussing Flock of Seagulls, Modern English and Soft Cell, so do some reading at the beach or poolside and join in!!

 

Book Club: Mad World (The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode and Yaz)

It is Monday and you know what that means! It is the next installment of our most recent book club, in which we read and discuss a book, chapter-by-chapter! This time around we are reading, Mad World. This week, we read the chapters on The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode and Yaz. We would love to have you read and discuss right along with us!

The Psychedelic Furs:

Amanda:

This entire chapter made me think about what makes a certain band, a certain rock star cool and popular. Lori Majewski mentions in her introduction that Richard Butler, the lead singer, became “one of the most romantic figures in music.” That quote got my attention as I never once thought about him in that way. I am a fan of both of the songs, Love My Way and Pretty in Pink, discussed in this chapter and yet, I never considered him “romantic”. If I read the lyrics, I can see where she is coming from. I suspect that this has less to do with the lyrics or the mood of the song and more to the age we were when these songs came into our lives. I’m young for the typical New Wave fan. For example, Love My Way came out in 1982 but I don’t remember hearing it or knowing it until much later. If I did hear it then, I was 7. I certainly wasn’t thinking “romantic” then.

Later in the chapter, Richard Butler explains how the band had a “cool popularity” and Love My Way threatened that. He explained how with that song, girls started to show up in the front rows and that they had to use back doors because of the fans. He said that they had to be “careful” with this popularity. As someone who studies fandom and fan/celebrity interaction, I totally understood what he meant. On one hand, having that level of fame and adoration must be amazing and addictive. On the other hand, it can and does change people significantly. Perhaps, the goal isn’t and shouldn’t be to be the most popular. It sounds like the point was that they wanted to have “fans” but not in an all-encompassing, overwhelming fan base kind of way.

Similarly, he didn’t seem all that excited with having Pretty in Pink associated with the John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald. I was a little jarred by that statement as someone who grew up watching those movies and loving them. Yet, for him, it seemed like he was bothered by how the intention of the meaning of the song seemed to change by its connection to that movie, that storyline. On one hand, I can understand that frustration. On the other, I like songs that can be interpreted in different ways. To me, that is a sign of intelligence by both the songwriter and the listener.

Rhonda:

So, to jump on Amanda’s bandwagon – I wasn’t into Richard Butler. I loved Psychedelic Furs, but this is one case where I can easily say I loved the music. Period.  Maybe I’m a late-bloomer, but “Love My Way”, “Pretty In Pink” and “Ghost in You” were some of my favorite songs simply because of the lushness of the sound – I don’t think I really listened to the words for interpretation until I was much older. (I think back to how my mom would ask me “Do you know what this song is about?!?” and how often my answer was “No, Mom. I don’t even listen to the words. I just love the music!!”….and I guess it’s not really surprising that my kids answer similarly when I ask them the same question. Sometimes I’m really shocked by what my kids are hearing until I realize that it was the same for me…and I survived.) So to recap: never thought of Richard Butler in that romantic sense….I didn’t listen to the words…and yet I call myself a fan. Awesome.

I’ve seen Psychedelic Furs live a few times, and so it was not really a surprise to me to read “We’ve always been a band that pulls people in. You won’t see me stomping up and down saying, ‘Can you hear me at the back?!’ and ‘Hello Chattanooga! It’s great to be here!’ The amount of words I will say to an audience during a tour is a page of a notebook and they would most be ‘Thank you.’ I don’t like talking much between songs.” (Page 155) 

I’d agree. Richard Butler doesn’t say much during a show – and from what I’ve witnessed, this is a band that, when they’re on, they’re good. When they’re off (which I’ve seen more than once), they’re not good and no one is being drawn anywhere. There’s not a lot of “connecting” going on between the band and audience – this isn’t a band you go and expect great showmanship in the same vein as you might from others. Whether that is a good or bad thing really depends on the show, in my opinion. 

I found Richard Butler’s comments about the movie, Pretty In Pink to be pretty sad. The movie gave the music more exposure…even if the song wasn’t presented in the light the band had written. I thought it was interesting that Richard didn’t necessarily think about how many possible fans could have been drawn to their music through that movie – for him it was all about the song and it’s use. In that sense, and based on his activity during their shows, I’m not sure that he derives a lot from the audience or his fans. There isn’t really as much of a give and take sort of connection there as I have seen with other bands, such as Duran Duran, but certainly others as well…and I think his statements here are good example of that.  It’s not that I think it’s particularly awful he feels that way, either. What’s fascinating to me though is that he’s also a painter – which is a very sort of introspective sort of art. One doesn’t necessarily connect with their audience when they paint – they connect with the work itself, in much the same way as Butler does or did with his music. Coincidence? Probably not.

Depeche Mode:

Amanda:

I openly admit that Depeche Mode is one of my favorite bands and has been for a long time. It hasn’t been as long as I have been a Duran fan but close. The introduction to this chapter reminded me that Depeche has changed over time, much like any other long lasting bands. In their case, they started out “optimistic” and cheerful unlike many of the other synth pops of that era. Of course, Depeche Mode at this time included Vince Clarke, who later left to form other bands like Erasure. Despite my love for the band, this early period isn’t my favorite Depeche era. I have always preferred the darker Depeche.

Vince described how they were often bored in the town of Basildon as it was a town that had nothing to do for kids. The town is described as just “mud”. It seems to me that music produced from a band in an area like that could either express the frustration, the despair created from the environment or the opposite. Depeche obviously didn’t want their music to match their surroundings. Of course, they also opted for synthesizers over guitars as they were “cheap”.  They didn’t need expensive amps like guitars did. Likewise, they didn’t require any knowledge of chords. This reminds me of how Daniel Miller in a previous chapter declared that electronic music was the most democratic. It was more accessible to everyone.

As Vince shared the story of how Depeche got started, I was amazed that one label offered them a spot on the Ultravox tour if Depeche signed with them whereas Daniel Miller offered only a single and they went with Daniel. It seemed like they did because of who Daniel was connected with. I know that Duran looked into who else EMI had signed into consideration when they were trying to decide which label to sign with.

I always wondered why Vince decided to leave Depeche. While this chapter didn’t really explain that much, I did learn that he was truly the leader of the band at that time. Perhaps, his leaving could have been the best thing for the rest of the band as they had to step up and take on more responsibility. This would be needed if the band was going to continue and be successful. Obviously, it worked out well for Vince, too.

Rhonda: 

Like most teens, I had my happy-go-lucky moment and my depressing moments. Thankfully for me, Depeche covered both rather well.  I’d start off with “Just Can’t Get Enough” and end with “Blasphemous Rumours” (my long-lasting favorite).  Never did I realize that Vince Clarke had everything to do with my happy moments, and nothing to do with my sadder ones. I feel a little embarrassed to admit that, given that I’ve been a DM fan for almost as long as I’ve been a DD fan – but the two bands couldn’t be farther apart from the ways I choose to practice that fandom. For me, DM is the band I simply listen to in the VERY few quiet moments I find. DD, on the other hand…well, I do write a blog, don’t I? I’ve never seen Depeche Mode live, yet I own all of their albums and a lot of their imports – singles, etc. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything having not seen them. In fact, I rather enjoy that for me – this fandom is EASY. I expect nothing but music, and I’m never disappointed.  

Like New Order in some respects, Depeche Mode got me interested in electronic music. I asked for a cheapy Casio keyboard for Christmas one year just because I wanted to be able to learn to play some of their music by ear. It’s funny to me that I never thought to ask for a guitar – I think that generally speaking, the guitar seems a lot more complicated to me. All those strings, chords and fingerings. I can make a lot more happen on a keyboard or synthesizer by fiddling with some knobs and buttons. So, I can understand why Martin Gore went with the synthesizer – and it’s a good thing for us that he did go that route, since everyone in the band followed! 

Vince says something else that really hits home with me, “I’m a fan of Kraftwerk, but I’m more of a fan of people like OMD, because I like emotional records. Music affects me changes my insides – it really does.”  This couldn’t possibly be any more dead-on. I’ve never been able to articulate why I like some electronic and dislike others. I didn’t really have a good answer for why I’m not into some of the electronic I hear today…until now. The emotion matters. Music has to hit me internally, it needs to stay with me. Some songs do that just because of the music – I don’t know why but they do. Others, it’s the lyrics. With Depeche, I find a lot of both, and equally from the one record that Vince Clark did with them through to what people like to call “Depressed Mode”. Truthfully, their songs ARE depressing – but those songs are also what helped this very-awkward young lady get through some difficult moments in high school.  

Yaz:

Amanda:

In this chapter, the song, “Only You,” is described by Alison Moyet, the singer, as a “universal, everyman song.” Vince Clarke agreed that it had a simple arrangement and one he had written after Depeche.  He wanted Alison to demo it because she could sing with emotion.  She agreed simply because she needed the money. She didn’t desire to be a pop star or have a big hit. I always find it interesting when some artist gains some success without really trying 110%. I always hear the opposite. Success happens with that passion combined with lots and lots of hard work, right? Maybe not always.

Alison’s frustration about the lack of acknowledgement about her work in the band comes through loud and clear in this interview.  According to her, people always assume that Vince wrote everything and she was just the singer. She sounds so tired of trying to explain to everyone that she, too, wrote songs for the band. Is this an example of sexism within the music industry? Possibly. I would be interested to know if other female performers who wrote material experienced the same assumption. Yet, she later states how women experienced less sexism then in comparison to present day. Now, she says women have to present themselves as sex toys but then women could express themselves as independent people with a bit of aggression. I have to agree with her that real freedom isn’t always about appearing as characters in male sex fantasies.

I found her definition of being “famous” to be really fascinating. To her, it wasn’t about people all loving her as much as it was about how she was recognized and how people always had something to say about her. Is that the real definition of fame?

Rhonda:

I had no idea that “Only You” was written by Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet.  I knew it as Yaz, and I knew that I loved it’s simplicity. Sometimes it’s nice just to love something without knowing anything about it – it feels innocent and pure. Sure, I might be naive…and I like it here.

I like the way Alison Moyet describes the song as nursery rhyme simplicity – and how Lori Majewski calls it a lullaby. Those words are perfect. The song is simple, clean and beautiful. My only disagreement with Alison Moyet on this is that I feel you DO have to be a great singer to pull off that emotion – and she does. Period. End of story.

While I would be perfectly content to keep this song on a pedestal of its own and never know the backstory – it’s interesting to read that Clarke and Moyet weren’t really “a band” in the same sense of others in this book. They were so detached from one another, it blows my mind that they could be that detached and yet put out two albums – maybe I shouldn’t be surprised (hello naivety!!)  I can absolutely read the frustration from Alison when she talks about how it was assumed that Vince was the creator and she was the voice. I’d like to tell her that for me – it was always her. She was the voice, and I just assumed that for her to sing with that kind of emotionality, she had to have been the one to write the words – if not the music as well.  I just didn’t know any different.  I’d also argue that for me, I usually assume that the vocalist IS the writer.  Maybe that’s just because Duran Duran has trained me to think that way – but I do, and I doubt I’m alone. 

I usually leave the comments on Feminism to my writing partner – but on this one, I have to interject. I agree wholeheartedly with Alison Moyet that today – women can’t just present themselves in a male light without being sexually aggressive. It’s annoying – it’s as though the only way a female can portray real power in the industry is as a sex-toy.  It’s so insulting to me as a female that women in the industry line up, practically begging for the opportunity to be used in that way – it’s as though they’re willing to do whatever they’ve got to do in order to make it through.  It’s gross. I choke on the idea that Beyonce…of all the women on the freaking planet, is considered to be “the most feminist” of female artists.  Are you joking?  Because she tells men that if they liked it they should have put a ring on it?  That’s IT?  We have pretty low standards for what qualifies as power these days.  

Next week, we take a look at Kim Wilde, Howard Jones and Berlin – so be sure to check in!!

Book Club: Mad World (The Normal, Kajagoogoo, and Thomas Dolby)

Week 6 of our latest book club is here!  We are moving along in the book, Mad World:  An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s.  This week, we tackle the following chapters and artists:  The Normal, Kajagoogoo and Thomas Dolby!  Read those chapters and share your thoughts with us!

The Normal:

Amanda’s thoughts:

I have adored this song for quite awhile now.  Maybe it is when it was featured on Only After Dark, a compilation by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor that came out in 2006.  Maybe, it was when I realized the connection between this song and bands like Depeche Mode.  I suspect, though, that the liking of this song became stronger after seeing Duran include it in their electro set on Broadway in November 2007.  I remember how the audience seemed perplexed, at first, then seemed to grasp the coolness.  Here is a clip of that:

Right away, author, Jonathan Bernstein, sums up what made this track so cool, so unusual and so important, the machines and Daniel Miller’s “detached delivery”.  Exactly.  I hear so much of that machinery in music that followed.  Likewise, that detached delivery can be heard in many, many songs to follow.  It along with other songs like it definitely was a trend setter and would work to change music.

Daniel Miller talked a lot about electronic music and synthesizers in this chapter.  One idea that really grabbed my attention is how electronic music was pure punk with the do-it-yourself attitude.  He differentiates this with punk rock, which has a similar philosophy but, obviously, sounds differently.  I can definitely see his point.  Anyone can pick up a synthesizer and play with various sounds without any training needed.  There is no need for expensive lessons.    Then, of course, he worked to spread that electronic music by starting Mute Records and helping others express themselves through that electronic music.

Rhonda:

So the reality is that for a good many years, I danced to this, well perhaps dance is the wrong word…but I was out on that floor and surely I did something akin to bobbing around, for many years before I really knew what the song was or who it was by.  It was an anthem of sorts, and anyone who was anyone in the club I went to (Fashions – Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Beach, CA. If there had been a frequent club-goer card, mine would have been gold. Or black. Probably black.) put their drink down, stubbed out the last of the clove cigarette they had in hand, and got out on that floor. Lori Majewski said it best.  “…it was our new wave rave’s version of Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration’, inviting even those not outfitted in skin-tight PVC to join…the car crash set.” (page 132)  Perfect. 

I particularly liked reading that Daniel Miller didn’t enjoy Anglo-American music, because that’s really how I felt as a teenager. 99% of the music I loved most was from the UK or elsewhere in Europe, and the more obscure the better. Granted, he’d already rejected most of it by 1970 – the year I was born – but hey, I’m finding out that I wasn’t really quite as alone as I may have thought. Thank goodness for New Wave. I’ll go to my grave saying that. It kept me alive through some of the darker periods of my teen years.

I went around for years saying that I really didn’t like electronica. I hated beat-boxes and a lot of the synthetic, heartless feeling that went into a lot of “today’s” music…specifically the crap (including auto-tune) that you find on a top 40 station. That’s totally unfair of me though, because you don’t have to look very long to find music in my collection that fits that label. I think my problem with a lot of the electronic music out there is that for all the creativity allowed through that medium – a lot of it sounds ridiculously familiar.  Not so with New Wave, and certainly not with “Warm Leatherette”. I loved the detached delivery, and a lot of my favorite songs that followed had that same sort of vocals to them. I think I liked the unfeeling, robotic nature – it provided a texture we didn’t have before, and I completely embraced that.

The Normal was the “parent” EDM of my generation (but far, far more creative than what you hear today, in my humble opinion!) I know from reading Mad World that Daniel Miller hates that term – but without The Normal, there wouldn’t have been a Mute Records, and without Mute, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Goldfrapp might not have happened.  For that alone I owe a huge thank you to Daniel Miller. 

Kajagoogoo:

Amanda:

This song and band always makes me laugh.  I can’t help it.  Maybe it is their look or the name.  Perhaps, it is the fact that Nick Rhodes produced it and got him his first number one, even before Duran.  Nonetheless, every time I hear the song or see the video, I laugh.  The introduction reinforces this as the authors mention how their success was sudden and “mocked”.  I suppose my reaction even today shows this.  It isn’t that I don’t own the song or don’t have fond memories of it because I do.  There is just something about this band that creates a certain amount of ridicule.  That said, the introduction pointed out why they are important to know, though.  They were an example of a band without a long past, who did want to shock in some way.  They did affect things, no matter that people did not take them seriously.

Lead singer, Limahl’s, story about how much he loved music and wanted to use it as an escape from the no-future mining life is not a unique one.  Yet, unlike some, he actually went for his dream.  He mentioned how being young helped both him and his band mates.  Being young meant that they weren’t as worried about everything and just went for it.  I admire that.  When I was young, I did everything to become safe and secure when I should have just taken some risks.

I was hoping to learn more about the name.  They named their band to shock people and there was some connection to the  movie, The Mirror Crack’d, according to this chapter, but, as someone who hasn’t seen the movie, I’m at a bit of a loss.  Can someone explain it?

Of course, I loved the story about how Limahl met Nick at the Embassy Club.  How brave of Limahl to just try to get Nick a copy of their demo tape.  Then, Nick loved it and got EMI to sign them!  Amazing!!  If we could all be so lucky!  He is right that Duranies were interested because Nick produced them.  Many of us are like that even today in that if there is a connection to a member of Duran, there is likelihood that some/most/all of us will check it out.

Speaking of fans, I thought it was interesting that as a gay man, he didn’t want to talk about his sexual orientation when they had a lot of teenage females fans despite his belief that teenage fans don’t/didn’t actually want to have sex with the rock star.  I often wonder that.  Would rock stars who are gay get the same level of attention?  Respect?  Intensity of fans?  I would like to believe that things are better now, but, in 1983, I don’t blame Limahl for keeping it quiet.

Rhonda:

It didn’t take Nick Rhodes to get me to love “Too Shy”. In fact, I don’t think that I realized Nick had anything to do with them until later. I just didn’t know. If I remember correctly, I heard them on the radio, made a note of their name – and found them on a cover of a magazine, of course.  Sure, Limahl was pretty, and once I did realize that Nick was involved, I wanted to see what they were all about. So yes, in that sense I suppose Nick did drive me to buy their album.

What I remember most though, was how my friends gave them almost zero time. None of my friends felt they had staying power, and a good many of them thought they were TRYING to be Duran Duran. Fair assessment?  I’m not sure. They didn’t last long enough for me to decide. I think that ultimately, they really weren’t a lot more than a pop band trying to make a splash with what they had. They hit fast and hard, and were gone within a blink of an eye.  Not many gave them much credence beyond (or including) “Too Shy” – if I ever thought the critics were hard on Duran Duran, all I had to do was see what they had to say about Kajagoogoo before realizing DD had it easy in comparison. They’d written this band off before it even got started. 

Limahl  says something in this chapter that really gets my “fan” blood percolating a bit, though. He mentions that the Duran Duran fans were interested in what Nick was doing with Kajagoogoo. True statement. It’s the one immediately following though that I think is incredibly rude and unfair: “You know how fans are in that obsessive way.”(page 141) To begin with: that “obsessive way” probably made you some cash over the years Limahl, so you’re welcome. Secondly, that sort of thing is really called “MARKETING”. When you are a fan of a band, or someone in a band that works on a new project – it doesn’t mean you’re obsessive to check that new project out. It means you’re curious, and that curiosity paid off a bit for Kajagoogoo. So while I would agree with Amanda that yes, that sort of thing still happens even to this day, it’s not necessarily out of some sort of crazy obsession.  If that were the case, what happened with John’s solo material, or even better – The Devils?  Fans don’t know much about either of those things unless they were very interested, and from what I’ve been able to tell – not many were. So that’s where I take issue with Limahl and his ego.

This was a band that reunited for the sole purpose of making money, that much is clear. A lot of bands do it, but some just can’t figure it out to make it work for the long term. This one is on that list. Nick Beggs, who is incredibly talented in his own right, said it best, “It’s not a great song, it’s just a reasonable pop tune”  He’s right, and it’s OK to have an iconic song from that time period under your belt.  A lot of these bands have them, and sure – if you look hard enough, you can certainly see the debris field they left behind. It’s called “my life”….. and just as Nick Beggs says, “…music can transport us across the years to where we once stood.”  Absolutely. 

Thomas Dolby:

Here is a little story for you.  Every time I mention Science at work (I teach in a middle school), I say, “Science as in she blinded me with.”  The kids, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about but it doesn’t stop me.  I can’t help it.

I found his songwriting process fascinating.  First, he had to come up with an image and he adopted the professor look as he had family in education and because he knew he couldn’t be a “pin-up”.  Then, he wrote a storyboard for a video to go along with a song title he had.  He didn’t know what the song would sound like but he had the title.  This, of course, is the exact opposite of how Duran works with music first then lyrics, with the title being towards the end.

I love that he got Dr. Magnus Pyke to be in the video and that the video became his claim to fame rather than his scientific work.  (In case you didn’t know, Dr. Pyke was a British scientist.)

Of course, after Dolby experienced commercial success, the record label wanted him to make more songs with the same formula.  Like the young Limahl in the previous chapter, he decided not to go the safe route and told them no.  He makes an interesting point.  He says that people think that the music is “fake” if an artist changes styles or genres.  Does the music industry really put artists into a box?  Has Duran felt that way or felt like they had to keep to a certain formula?    On the other side of the coin could be artists trying to be or sound like something they are not?  You can’t blame fans for not wanting that, either.

Rhonda:

Amanda, you should really play your students the video at the end of each school year or something so that way they better understand your psychotic ramblings.  (I can say that because we’re friends…and because I’m 2000 miles away from her right now.)

I remember watching Video One (or MV3 as it was called even earlier on)  during the week with Richard Blade, and invariably he’d play “She Blinded Me With Science” or “Hyperactive”…both of which I loved.  I think just from watching the videos and listening to the music, even as a kid, I sensed he was a genius. I liked that he didn’t seem like just an everyday rock star. I mean, sure…Simon LeBon is great and all, but there is something equally intriguing to me about Thomas Dolby because he wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and he’s willing to try something completely new. I stand fascinated by his marketing of “A Map of the Floating City” because rather than just continually blame the demise of the industry, it’s like Thomas Dolby sees it as a challenge, so he comes up with a damn video game for it. Who does that?! Thomas Dolby…because he’s a genius!!

I also found his comments about the music industry pretty true-to-life. I think that once a band or artist found their niche – even to this day to a large extent – it’s tough to break out of that. Part of it, in my opinion, is that record labels are freaking lazy. They don’t want to have to try to sell something different once they’ve figured out how to market a band. While I think it’s pathetic that bands weren’t given the leeway to discover themselves in a lot of ways, I can also see the business-end. Look at how fans have reacted to what Duran Duran have done over the years. It’s not always a bed of roses, even though we all say (and we do all say this) that we admire the band for taking risks. And we do. As long as they adhere to the sound we’re used to.  I’m guilty of this as much as anyone.  So, for a label, where it all comes down to dollars and cents through image and sound – once that’s all been hammered out and proven successful, they don’t want to change that formula.  We’ve read that again and again. The trouble is, I don’t know many bands, particularly from this era – that were willing to keep remaking the same album over and over again. That formula works far better today than it ever did in the 80s. 

What’s up for next week you ask?  Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, and Yaz!  We’d love to see some comments on the discussion, but until then – we’ll just keep talking!!

Book Club: Mad World (Dexys Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow, The Waitresses)

Welcome to week 5 of our latest book club!  This time, we are tackling the book, Mad World, chapter by chapter, band by band.  This week we are discussing the chapters on Dexys Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow and The Waitresses.  We would love for you to read those chapters and jump in to discuss them with us!

Dexys Midnight Runners:

Amanda’s response:

The chapter begins with a reminder that this band is really known for this one hit wonder, “Come On Eileen” despite the driven nature of the leader and the fact that there was a lot more to them than this one song.  I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to have had done a lot of work but only to be recognized for ONE song.  ONE.  Clearly, that frustration hasn’t stopped them for continuing forward and continuing to make music.

One of the thing that their story hit home for me was the strange juxtaposition being a pop or rock star must be.  On one hand, Kevin Rowland, the leader, needed to make music and discussed how it felt it saved him.  Otherwise, he would haven’t made it, he thinks.  Like many artists, he needed to express himself.  He needed to create.  On the other hand, the business and promotion side of it was not something he enjoyed.  He didn’t like the pressure and didn’t like the non-stop workload.  Yet, it seems to me that to truly make it, one has to be both that artist, that creator and that salesman.  That must be super tough.

Rhonda:

Ok, so before I jump in – I’ll admit it, I only know them for “Come on Eileen”. It’s true, I suck for not finding more of their music, and I’m sort of sickened by myself this morning (as I was when I first read this chapter).  Happy?  Good.  

One of the most poignant passages I read in this entire book came from this chapter though – and it was written by none other than Jonathan Bernstein.  “There comes a time when you’re happy not to hear any new music from your idols, no matter how much time, love and money you’ve invested in them over the years. It’s not like tha tfor Dexys fans: We’re in it for life.”   I think this holds true for many of the bands I once admired.  The bands had run their course for me – and either I moved on, or the band moved on, and I was able to make peace with that.  However, this passage certainly describes exactly how I feel about Duran Duran. No matter what kind of music they choose to explore next, no matter how much I may have not cared for one thing or another that they’ve done, I am always going to be ready for more.  I enjoy the constant exploration and evolution of their career, and I completely respect what Jonathan meant.

For me personally, this song IS happiness.  How can you not be joyful when you listen to the song? It’s upbeat – even if it changes timing several times throughout the song, and you can’t help but not sing along.  I especially like the fact that they didn’t start out to write a song like that –  I always hate reading things like that about bands I admire anyway.  That whole “it was completely contrived” type of thing really annoys me, it’s the same thing as sitting down to write a hit song.  So formulaic, and I really don’t want to believe that’s how the industry works – so to read that this song came about from hard work and just organically became what it is, well, I applaud that even IF we Americans never heard anything else from them on our radios. 

I also have to say that reading Kevin Rowland’s account of what fame was like for him as “Come On Eileen” rose up the charts really made me think.  He talks about how he’d get on a bus in Brum and the driver would want him to go back to the depot to meet his coworkers. He wouldn’t want to disappoint people, but it never stopped. I think that is why, as a fan, I think twice before approaching band members like that.  I feel guilty in a lot of ways as a fan, because on one hand, of course I want to meet my idols – who wouldn’t?!? But on the other hand, aren’t they ever allowed to just BE?  I see it happen often enough after shows and things, which perhaps that’s normal enough, but just on regular days? I don’t think I could handle it – I treasure my privacy.  

As I admitted when I started writing, I only know them for “Come On Eileen”…but today that’s going to change. I’m going to check out One Day I’m Going To Soar. You know, it’s never to late to find something new, and there’s something very wrong about being that person who never bothered to even try as I’m sitting here writing a music blog. I find the division between what really interests listeners in the UK and Europe versus what gets attention here in America so striking. I can understand why Rowland might not hold his breath for one of their albums to do well here, but you never know. 

Bow Wow Wow:

Amanda’s thoughts:

Malcolm McLaren is an incredibly fascinating character in music history with his role with the Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow.  Clearly, he made his mark.  My goodness, he kicked Adam Ant out of his own band and got a 13 year old to be lead singer of this band.  A 13 year old!  As someone who teaches kids that age, I can’t even wrap my head around that.  Was this move all about getting outrage from the public?  Was it all about getting attention through controversy?  Nonetheless, I’m not surprised that this band did not last long, especially when it is based on the lead singer, Annabella Lwin’s youthfulness.  You can’t stop aging and you can’t really control people, either.

Clearly, Malcolm had an ability to read that something wasn’t secure within Adam and the Ants.  He was able to play on the worries band member, Leigh Gorman, had about getting fired and about how Adam wasn’t fitting with the music.  It seems like he found a crack and exploited it to get the band to kick Adam out, from reading Leigh’s version of the story.  As Rhonda mentioned last week, clearly, friendship and loyalty were not characteristics at the top of the list for some of these bands and band members.  Like her, I have a hard time relating.

Malcolm’s formula for a successful band was “sex, style and subversion”.  Bow Wow Wow fit that formula with things like album covers with Annabella naked next to her clothed bandmates.  As a kid, when I heard this song, I had no idea her age.  If I did, it wouldn’t have bothered me but as an adult, as a teacher, it definitely does.  Thankfully, the guys in the band were decent guys but the fact that she was told not to talk much just adds to my discomfort.  I’m well aware that art is supposed to make you uncomfortable, at times, and supposed to question what society finds unacceptable.  Still…

Then, history repeated itself when the band went on to kick her out three years after she joined the band like what was done to Adam Ant.  Sometimes, reading more about the band and the history behind the song makes me want to check out more or put them back in steady rotation.  The exact opposite happened here for me.

Rhonda:

There are two stories in this book that absolutely shocked me.  This is one of them.  (The other comes later)  

Like most Americans of nearly ANY age – I’ve got this song in my music library.  I loved it as a kid, I loved it as an adult.  The group itself had music that made me want to dance, and made me think of summer for some reason. Maybe it was the guitar, because it’s very similar to the surf-style guitar that groups like The Beach Boys utilize. (If you know my name, you’ll recognize that yes – I was named after one of their songs. Isn’t that cute? No. No it is not. I pity the kids out there named Rio. I really do…but I digress.) Regardless, Bow Wow Wow occupy a happy, childlike place in my mind…and now I know why! It just never occurred to me that when I first heard this song in 1982 that the lead singer and I were probably only months apart in age. Except she was naked on the cover of a record album and I wasn’t even allowed to wear miniskirts above my knee…

When I read this chapter, the last person I really had any respect for was Malcolm McLaren. As in, I really had none.  Don’t get me wrong, I recognize talent. I know the Sex Pistols and I don’t take that away from him. I also recognize exploitation when I see it.  I know Jonathan called him Nostradamus, and I have difficulty with that. The logical, sensible part of me agrees – exploitation is what this business is all about, of course. But, that pesky human side desperately wants to believe that it’s not all so damn contrived and planned all the time. I hate the fact that he (McLaren) brought this young, young girl into this band clearly to create a stir. I’m shocked as a parent that no one stopped them from putting her on a picnic blanket completely naked next to her bandmates (who were dressed, of course).  I see the implications that she was young and innocent (the nakedness serving as a sort of nod to a savage young woman being tamed into society by the knowing men, which in turn is exactly the idea behind the painting from which the album cover was based upon -“Le déjeneur sur l’herbe” by Manet. ), and while I know it was a different time… the very point WAS to shock.  

It’s just so clear that McLaren really wanted Annabella Lwin there purely for shock value, and once he was finished with her – he did with her as he’d done with Adam (Ant) and fired her.  It’s such a throw-away industry, full of use and abuse. It’s any wonder that so many of these bands are even still looking at one another, much less continuing to create music. How can they all look at themselves in the mirror each day? It makes me wonder as a fan just how many souls are truly left in music, or if they’ve ALL been sold just to make a buck. 

The Waitresses:

Amanda’s thoughts:

The introduction to this chapter discusses the record label, ZE Records, and how it was super fashionable and that many still love their catalog.  Before, I even dive into the story of this song, I feel a bit of sadness by the loss of a bygone era, when record labels could be cool and could represent a sound, a musical meeting of the minds.  We certainly don’t have that anymore.

The story behind the song, “I Know What Boys Like”, reminds me of the first version of Duran’s “Girls on Film”.  Apparently, rejection weighs heavily on young men’s minds in that multiple people would feel it necessary to express something about how girls didn’t seem interested in them.  In this case, Chris Butler used his wonderings about why the women in his local bar were not interested in going home with him.  “Girls on Film” originally discussed how women in pictures were so unattainable.  Of course, here, Chris Butler ended up getting a female, Patty Donahue, to sing the lyrics and express the idea of toying with men only to reject them in the end.   Yet, they weren’t a band yet as Chris had to scramble to get one together after a DJ heard the song and played it for Island Records.

I suspect that part of the reason that the song captured the attention of the public is because men and women are constantly trying to understand each other in order to take part in the dating world.  That theme is a timeless one, for sure.

Rhonda:

I agree with Amanda regarding record companies. I do miss the days when they weren’t so incredibly corporate and you’d have maverick companies like ZE that actually produced things of interest.  Nowadays we have to rely on true indie bands to do that – and they’re tough to find.  

This song, “I Know What Boys Like” was one of my favorites back in the day. I am honestly not even sure I completely understood what it meant when I’d listen and giggle along with my friends…I just knew I liked that the woman had the upper hand for a change. (Listen, I was in junior high at the time. My hair had more frizz than Brillo, I was awkward and played the clarinet of all things. I liked the singer’s attitude, but I can assure you – I had NO idea what boys liked back then, except that it certainly wasn’t me.)  As bitter as Chris Butler might have been towards women – well, I was that way towards the 13 and 14 year old boys at my school that never even noticed me standing against the wall at school dances.  So this song came to mean something to me – it was as though this singer was the girl I wanted to be in my dreams.  Ha!  I’m still not like that!!  It amuses the hell out of me that Butler wanted to know the enemy – because in my head, it’s always been the guy that was the “enemy”, so to speak.  

What is usually very sobering to me, are the “That Was Then, This is Now” sections in the book. I can’t help but be surprised, if not quite flabbergasted, and certainly a bit sad by the fact that even with a song like this – one that has been covered and has lasted over the years, that Chris Butler is NOT driving that Maserati.  It’s the truth of the music business, I suppose.  Most never really become millionaires, most never live the life that Duran Duran portrays in their videos (or even in their real lives).  We (well…*I*) always think that with a single song like this, it’s instant riches, and that’s just not the case much of the time.  The real reward comes from seeing the place the song takes in music or pop culture history, I suppose….but it really bugs the hell out of me that someone like Chris Butler can’t send his kid to Harvard, and yet we’ve got Justin Bieber living like a king. There’s just something wrong with that picture (for me).

Join us next week as we tackle The Normal, Kajagoogoo, and Thomas Dolby!  

-A & R

Book Club: Mad World (Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17)

We are continuing on with our weekly book club, in which we discuss each and every chapter of the book, Mad World, one by one.  This is week 4 and this week we are discussing Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17.  We invite you to read those chapters and then come discuss with us!

Spandau Ballet:

Amanda’s thoughts:

Isn’t one of the rules of being a Duranie that you are supposed to hate Spandau?  I learned early on that they were rivals, that they were fighting to be the top UK band.  Heck, they even fought in battle on the TV show, Pop Quiz.  Thus, I will wholeheartedly admit that I doubt I ever gave Spandau the chance that any band deserves. I looked forward to reading this chapter so it would give me a  different look at this band, from a Duranie, but not only a Duranie perspective.  Then, I read the introduction and learned how the name was a term Nazis used, but they didn’t know it at the time.  I have to look past that and the rivalry.

I adored the story that Gary Kemp told about the club scene in 1978, in which kids would dress up and go to watch each other.  There wasn’t a band that glued the scene together but they felt that there should be.  They would be that band.  As someone who has spent a bit of time in clubs with a similar feel, I related instantly.  Then, I read that others at the club also had creative ambitions and I am once again reminded about how creative this time period was.

Another theme I keep running into over and over again is the idea that these songs, these important songs were not written to be singles as they did not fit hit singles formulas.  We talked about how “Cars” by Gary Numan didn’t fit the single mold and neither did New Order’s “Blue Monday”.  Now, Spandau’s song, “True,” could be added to the list with its Al Green and Motown influence, its length and its placement at the end of the album.  Clearly, the formula for a hit song did not always matter.

One of the things mentioned in this chapter is how Spandau did not do as well in the States as they did in Europe.  Gary Kemp blamed it on the record company there that, according to him, “made a lot of mistakes”.  Tony Hadley, on the other hand, mentioned that the name was problematic with the Jewish community in the States.  He also didn’t think that “True” was representative of their work.  So, let me ask all of you this.  Could they have been bigger in the States with a different record company and name?  Based on the time period and their style, I have to say that I think they could have been.

Rhonda:

One thing you’ll quickly learn about me in this post is that I don’t follow the rules very well.  I loved Spandau Ballet, and have most of their albums. It never occurred to me until AFTER the DD reunion (from reading about the rivalry online) that I wasn’t supposed to like them, and by that time – I just didn’t care. The funny thing is that I never really put Duran Duran and Spandau in the same musical “camp”, so to speak, other than recognizing that both bands were from the UK.  All I really knew was that I liked their sound, and they dressed nicely. (Funny words coming from someone who relishes her jeans and t-shirts!) Admittedly, I didn’t know that Spandau had other albums before True until later on…but I’m thankful that I bothered to look at all, and if you know the band solely from True, it’s really time to expose yourself to some of their other music, because I think you’ll be shocked! 

Gary Kemp mentions their mystique, by saying that no record company had seen them, and that record companies weren’t even allowed into their gigs.  They had a documentary that Janet Street-Porter had filmed, and that was what record companies could view and decide if they were interested in the band. He compares that to YouTube today, and how no band really has that same mystique because anyone can film you and put that video up on YouTube for all to see.  It certainly does remove some of the curiosity factor, and I still say that media of all types today is meant for quick consumption.  Get it, absorb it, and move on to the next greatest thing. It will be interesting to see just how much of today’s music, today’s media, will really have a lasting effect in the same way that our music did for us.

What drew me to Spandau Ballet is that their sound was really quite different from anything else of that period. The band embraces that, as Gary mentions, “Spandau has two things that make us sound like no other band: Tony’s unique and powerful voice and Steve Norman’s amazing saxophone that we always like to include. It’s the sound of our soul, if you like.”   I completely agree with him – just as you can’t find anyone else that can harmonize like Simon; I don’t think you can copy Tony Hadley, or find anyone that plays like Steve.  The uniqueness of the bands during this period are what still keep them alive today.  There was never a real “formula” that any of these bands followed – and I think that is what kept it all feeling fresh and new for me.  It’s also where I cultivated my strong dislike of what I call the “Top 10 Hit Formula” that certain producers seem to really hang their hat on these days.  I’m sure it existed back then as well, I just didn’t pay it (Top 40 radio) much attention. 

Having now read Mad World completely through twice, one of the saddest things to read in nearly every single chapter (for me) is the “That Was Then, This is Now” section.  There seems to always be a tinge of wistfulness, perhaps sadness, and sometimes even a bit of lingering anger depending upon the band in question, and for me – Miss 80s Music Fan – it’s heartbreaking.  Maybe it’s just the idea of looking back on the full experience that sparks emotion for me, I’m not sure. Tony Hadley says something that I still find myself thinking about and considering as I sit to write this book discussion, “But we’re still old friends, which is great. We can all go and have a pint and a meal, and we’d all laugh and joke and tell stories. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.” 

When I think about that, I can’t really argue with Tony Hadley. Life experience changes your perspective, and things must have certainly changed since the 80s. When you reunite, I would imagine you come back to that proverbial table with all of that baggage, along with anything else you’re still dragging along for the ride. It can’t ever be exactly the same, but is it enough to build upon?  That would be my question.

The Human League:

Amanda’s reaction:

Right away, we learn that this chapter is going to be different.  Phil Oakey, the singer, refused to meet with the authors.  I so wonder why.  Perhaps, he will think differently now that the book has been published.

I like how Lori Majewski, one of the authors, points out that nowadays it is obvious what songs are about, but then, songs made the listeners work for it.  I agree and I loved working for it.  I still do.  I love trying to figure out what a song is about, which is probably one of the reasons I love Duran songs so much.  They aren’t obvious, even when they appear to be so.  It seems that Phil Oakey, himself, was like this, too, according to Martyn Ware who described him as “otherworldly” while being the “best chum” and “aloof” at the same time.  Now, I’m even more fascinated by him and his decision not to talk to the authors.

Likewise, I found their approach to lyrics so interesting.  The fact that they banned words like love, which led to topics like philosophy and science fiction.  It sure seemed like a way to push them past the usual.

Rhonda:

I really don’t understand why a musician wouldn’t want their story to be included in this book, unless they just didn’t understand what was being done. Sometimes I think that these musicians…INCLUDING my ever-favorite Duran Duran, just don’t get it, which is at least partially why this blog even exists. They don’t understand, and maybe sometimes they don’t/can’t care, that their music has resonated with fans so much that for many of us – their songs are as much a part of who we’ve become as people as say, our hometown, our high school, and the friendships we’ve made along the way. No matter…I wish Phil Oakey had participated, because his music and his voice made a difference in my youth.

That said, I love that Jonathan and Lori chose to include “Being Boiled”, because it is a great song – it’s dark and obscure, brooding and hypnotic.  The more I hear early New Wave, the more I know that is where my musical soul lives and breathes. Just as Lori said – I adore that unless you really sit down and pay attention, you’re likely to have no idea what the song is about.  I appreciate that the song lyrics weren’t so watered down and obvious back then.  I think that nowadays (not to sound so “Get off my lawn, kids!”, but seriously…) everything is so dumbed down, so EASY, the public gets so bored.  They’re not even given a chance to prove they’ve got brainpower in there somewhere.  

Martyn Ware explains the real gist of Human League, and I find it to be the case for many (if not all) of the bands I adore from this period. “Right from the start, we wanted people who listened to us to regard it as entering into our world, where we could, over a period of time, flesh it out with our artistic content. So it’s not just about music. It’s about lyrical content, it’s about the kind of films you watch, it’s about the kind of novels you read, it’s about the kind of visual art you like. It all fed back into a worldview.”  I don’t think that it’s necessarily a surprise to find that when I’m with fellow fans – Duran fans for instance, there are more than a few of us that like the same sort of books, or the same sort of art.  So many of these bands intertwined their visual presence with their musical presence. I always say the music of this period is three dimensional in a way that you just will not ever find again, and it’s precisely due to the reasons that Martyn Ware states.  

Heaven 17

Amanda’s ideas:

The story about how the manager of Human League worked to kick Martyn Ware out of the band was pretty shocking and sad.  I wonder what the manager, Bob Mast, would say about it.  Did he really think that Phil could be a solo singer?  Did he think he would be better off without Martyn?  This story makes me sad since Martyn and Phil were such close friends.  Yet, obviously, he didn’t let stop him as he got a new singer within just a couple of days.  That’s impressive.  I wonder how many people could bounce back from being kicked out of their band and losing their best friend at the same time.

One thing that Heaven 17’s story highlights for me is the use of sides back in the era of albums.  The one side, Pavement, had songs written still as Human League and were more electronic and the other side, Penthouse, wasn’t.  I miss the album.  I do.  Even if I put a whole album on, unless it is vinyl, it isn’t the same as have an A side and a B side where bands could do exactly what Heaven 17 did here.

One thing about Heaven 17 that I was surprised by was that they didn’t tour and instead focused their money on videos.  I do love that they ended up touring with Human League in 2008.  That seems fitting.

Rhonda:

I definitely prefer vinyl to digital. It’s not even a contest…vinyl has a warmth to it that just cannot be translated to digital, never mind the more obvious fact that I miss having two sides to an album.  Maybe I’m just stuck in the 80s, in which case, that’s fine too. 

I am one of those people in the world that lets friend loyalty dictate certain things. I would never, for instance, even remotely entertain the idea of ditching a friend so that I could move up the business ladder.  That’s probably why I’m going to stay a blogger forevermore, so that I don’t HAVE to deal with office politics, and that’s just fine by me.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be kicked out of a band by a best friend…but yet this sort of backstabbing seemed to happen a lot back then.  It’s all about success and what you’re willing to do to get there. (My question remains whether any of these bands really know when they’ve gotten that success and whether they really ever enjoyed it once they were there – it all seems to be something people only see in hindsight!)

I liked Heaven 17 fine, and “Temptation” is probably their most recognizable song, but they weren’t on my short list.  For me, the big story here is how they were freed from the self-defined shackles of Human League in order to explore other influences.  I liked that they weren’t into the “fame” side of things: they viewed themselves as “valued artists and musicians”. The fact that they had a hard time breaking America because they wouldn’t tour with Coors is interesting. I wonder how many American bands would have sold their souls to be on that tour?  That’s one thing I find fascinating with many of the UK bands of this period: they stuck to their ideals.  

They toured again with Human League in 2008, and Ware says something that I believe is a common thread among nearly every band of this period, “We’re mates now, but I wouldn’t say there’s been closure.”  I swear I’ve read similar tales from every band in Mad World.  Maybe it is partially the British culture – maybe it’s easier just to sweep it all under the rug?  

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