They are pretty much dropping like flies at this point, aren’t they? I have to admit that each morning as I open my laptop, I’m almost nervous to see what the news might be…which idol, legend, favorite, etc, has left us. January has not been kind to the music lover this year. Yesterday afternoon, it was announced that Glenn Frey, founding member of The Eagles, had passed away. I don’t know how popular The Eagles were in other countries, but for me – they were one of the quintessential California bands of the 1970s. I grew up listening to them on the radio, whether I knew it or not at the time.
At heart, I am a rock and roll girl. While it’s certainly true that Duran Duran has left an indelible mark on my soul and I love 80s New Wave with a passion that continues to burn bright a few decades later, it is also true that I adore a great classic-rock guitar. (is this really a surprise to anyone?)
Some of my friends had parents that listened to The Beatles, whereas my parents were fans of Elvis, in a pretty big way. My mom likes to say that The Beatles came too late for her in the same way that I say New Kids on the Block were too late for me…so I get it. (Although I am a pretty big fan of The Beatles, oddly) Before I came along, my parents were also big fans of The Beach Boys (hence my name). I don’t know how that fits into the whole “rock” scenario – but we all have our departures. For instance, I love Duran Duran, but can also be known to blast Styx (anything but Mr. Roboto) from time to time. It happens. I make no apologies, but I’m getting away from myself. The point being, I was groomed on rock and roll (and a little bit of the blues, I guess…which is both bizarre…and fitting at the same time.)
When the news came out about Glenn Frey yesterday, I started thinking about all of the songs I knew of his. There are too many to list, yet again – just as I noticed with Bowie – I really didn’t take stock in many of them until after he was gone. It’s the case where I recognize his music, I don’t typically change the radio if they happen to come on, but I also didn’t seek him out, and I didn’t ever stop to think of just how many of his songs I really knew. I think in a lot of ways we take these legends for granted. We don’t ever consider that one day they might not be here, until they’re just not…and this month, well, that’s happening on a near daily basis, isn’t it?
I was in the car this morning, considering what I might write about this morning, and Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners came on the radio. This is one of those songs that I almost never turn off. If it comes on – whether it’s the radio or my iPhone – I don’t skip it or change the station. I love the song. It’s ridiculous, but it always reminds me of school dances in junior high. You’d think that memory alone would be enough to force my hand, but no. They’re good memories, albeit awkward ones. Then I started thinking about other songs that I always allow to play through, and decided to create a list when I got home. I’m going to share mine here – trying to go for at least 25, but we’ll see. The caveat: NO Duran Duran, and they have to be songs that whenever they play – you let it play through. I have a ton of songs that I adore (in fact, most of my favorite songs are this way), but I have to be in the right mood to hear them.
These songs, for the most part, aren’t even favorites (with the exception of the few classical ones I’ve mentioned – those are definite life long favorites of mine). My list could be WAY longer than 25, and I didn’t include nearly as many new wave songs as I would have first thought. I just sat down and just started writing the first ones that came to mind, coming up with 25 in an incredibly short amount of time, and they are in no particular order, and like I said – I could have added so many more. I was surprised. Makes me wonder why I haven’t ever done this before.
I encourage you to do the same and post it! I wonder how many out of our lists will be from musicians we consider to be legends?
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!
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.
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 bad. What 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.
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.
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 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…
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!
Welcome to week 2 of our little book club on the book, Mad World! Last week, we discussed the foreword, introduction and the first artist, Adam and the Ants. This week, we move on to the next three, which are Gary Numan, Duran Duran and New Order. Like last week, both of us will give our thoughts and would love to hear yours!
Amanda’s response: This is definitely one of those chapters that really shed light on how this song was made, the story behind the song. I knew that Gary Numan had a history in punk until he discovered the synthesizer in the studio. Yet, even his decision to try it and redo his work to be more electronic seems very punk to me. After all, one of the messages of punk was that you didn’t need to be a musician in order to form/join a band. Anyone could do it! Gary, obviously, took that idea to heart with using synthesizers. I had to laugh that he would make up answers when asked about synthesizers by the press since he really didn’t know much about them! I also appreciated learning that the song was written so quickly and on a bass, no less! How funny is that considering that it is such an electronic song?! In many ways, as was pointed out, he was lucky to have success with this song since it really didn’t fit the typical radio format, especially by being almost an instrumental and being about a road rage episode, of all things. The other part to the Gary Numan story caught my attention was the interaction with the record label when he shifted his songs from punk to more electronic punk. I wasn’t surprised that the label wasn’t happy. I had to laugh that they couldn’t afford to send him back to the studio so they had to go with that. I suspect that things might be very different now with record labels.
Rhonda: I read that Lori Majewski didn’t know much about Bowie in 1980…Ziggy Stardust could have been just about anything back then and it wouldn’t have made a difference to her. I completely agree. I’m actually surprised I stumbled onto Duran Duran, given my own sphere of influence. (My parents were Elvis and The Beach Boys fans. It’s a miracle I heard anything else while growing up) So when I heard “Cars” on the radio – like Lori, it seemed really far-out there, and totally original. However, I can honestly say Gary Numan was never one of my favorites, although I do love this particular song. For me, “Cars” is synonymous with 1980.
Like Amanda, I chuckle at the idea that his label wasn’t necessarily in favor of the new musical direction he chose (like at all!), but because the label had no money – they had to go with what he’d completed. I don’t know for sure what a label would do now, but I suspect the album would end up shelved…and a new producer would be “suggested” for them to work with. *coughs*
One thing Gary says that I find both telling and interesting is that he comments …”suddenly you’re doing TV shows with people you’ve loved and admired for years, and now you’re one oft hem, but you don’t feel like you’re one of them – you feel like an intruder that snuck in the back door.” I really liked that sentence, because I can imagine how weird that must feel to go from being a fan –like any of us — to suddenly being included with those people as a group. I wonder how many other bands and artists out there recognize that feeling?
According to Gary Numan, “Cars” took him 10 minutes to write the instrumentals, and another 20 to write the lyrics. That’s working mighty fast. I know that sometimes, the very best writing I do is what just flows out. It’s not always that way of course, but when it is – it goes really fast.
The other point of interest is that “Cars” was written completely on a bass. I would have never, ever guessed that. Here we are, reading about one of the most recognizable pieces of electronic music out there – and it wasn’t even written that way. I must applaud that.
Lastly, his description of what the song means to him really spoke to me. “I used to think that the car was a tank for the civilian. You could sit inside your car, lock your doors, and it would keep you safe. It puts you in a little protective bubble. You can maneuver through the world, but you don’t really have to engage.” I think he was really visionary with the way he saw such a simple thing. Many might say that the vehicle just takes you from place to place, and perhaps that’s true…but it is very much how he describes it here. I live in Southern California, not terribly far from LA. We LOVE our cars here – many of us spend hours upon hours a day in them. I always found the idea of taking trains and buses to be strange (as I was growing up), because you’d be forced in such a small area with so many people you really didn’t know. I’ve probably evolved a little bit since that early thinking – but my car is still my haven. It’s where I blast my music (when I can), and it’s where I do much of my thinking. I don’t have to engage there, which for me is like a vacation at times!
Amanda’s reaction: Right away, during the introduction to this chapter, I find something that pops out at me. The quote on page 35 that catches my attention, “They saw it as their duty to live out the lifestyle they depicted in their wildly overproduced videos.” Duran is described on the same page as “bathed in decadence and debauchery”. Hmm… Were Duran’s videos overproduced? Sure. Did Duran seem to have a jet set lifestyle filled with “decadence and debauchery”? Absolutely. Did they see it as their “duty” to live like the videos showed them to live? Duty is the word that sticks with me. Duty represents to me an obligation, a requirement. I’m not sure I agree that they thought this was their duty. I’m not saying that they didn’t present a lifestyle, a fantasy. I just don’t know that they thought it was their “duty” to do so. I could see a means of promotion. Of course, as I type this, I start laughing. Here I am…criticizing one word just like people often do with this blog overlooking the entire point. Moving on…
I thoroughly enjoyed Lori’s comments about how Duran chose her. I could completely relate, especially when she said, “I have lived for them, lied for them and questioned my own sanity over them.” Yes. Yes, I most definitely relate.
I knew the history of the song, Girls on Film, and have even heard the demo featuring Andy Wickett, assuming the demo heard here is legitimate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76qS-tEJvZQ
I also knew that Simon wrote the song with exploitation of women and models in mind. I like that he said how he wanted the song to be fun, but filled with substance. Of course, there is some sexuality in there, too. I think that is the thing that drew me to Duran—fun with substance. It isn’t mindless.
I found it really interesting that John Taylor found himself self-conscious about his bass playing as time went on, resulting in what John described as his “playing practically disappearing”. I love that Mark Ronson was the one who could convince John to play like he used to. I am thankful, for sure. On a similar note, I found it interesting that Roger wanted to sound like Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he came back, but that John pointed out that he couldn’t play with Chad Smith. This is fascinating in light of the news that Duran will be playing with the former guitarist of RHCP.
Rhonda:I love reading what the band thinks of their own music. I mean let’s face it: I have a blog and I will openly tell anyone what *I* think of their music on any given day: both good and bad; but the band doesn’t always have that same luxury. That said, I did laugh when I read John’s opening statement (in the book) about the band. While I would agree that the critics didn’t always know what to do with them – I can’t truly say it’s because the band was perfect. I think it was because the band was too damn pretty for critics to actually listen to the music and take the words seriously. Perfect? Probably not.
Simon says that he wanted the band to be edgy, not too soft – and fans know that whenever Simon is asked about lyrics, particularly lyrics from earlier in their career such as those from GOF, they are about sex. Well, Simon doesn’t disappoint here, does he? I’d never given some of the lines from this song much thought. I knew the song was about the modeling industry and much of it being the clichés that Nick describes, but it’s not a song I really mull over much – given the video and all, it seems pretty well cut and dried in that respect. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that someone responded to one of our posts here – the subject of the post was the image of the band and how at times, that has put them in a very odd juxtaposition for their fans (and themselves). The person who responded reminded me that the their branding, at least initially was basically sex. The band were branded as sex objects. (probably another reason why critics have had such an issue) The teen magazines, the videos, even the songs and the explanation of lyrics at times have made them to be unattainable, untouchable, sex objects. I suppose that worked, and probably backfired at times for them as well. My “problem” as a fan is that I see so much more than that in the band. It was and is great hook I suppose, but just as Simon’s lyrics ALWAYS cry out to be understood beneath what you see on the surface, I feel the band themselves are very much the same.
I’d also like to comment that just as Nick sees that the band is in their fourth decade as “absurd”…so do we. Where did that time go…and how is it that only now in my forties am I seriously writing a fan blog?!? We can all be absurd together, Nick.
Amanda’s thoughts: I adore how Jonathan Bernstein described the song, Blue Monday. The idea of it being a “black cloud hanging over the dance floor” is so very fitting to me. In my younger days, I used to spend quite a bit of time dancing the night away in “goth” like clubs and this song would always come on. It didn’t matter if it was retro night or not, it would get played. As soon as the first note would start, I always wondered why the DJ would play something so upbeat sounding. Yet, as soon as those lyrics started, I remembered. It isn’t happy. Not at all. It is like misery decided to dance.
Again, this seems very fitting to me for a band that used to be Joy Division and sang songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with a lead singer who died from suicide. Then, the last piece of the puzzle to understanding this song is added when I read that this song was the band’s response to the negative criticism that they were receiving after Ian Curtis’s death. Truly, it all makes sense now. I thought it was interesting when Peter Hook mentioned how people were either Joy Division fans OR New Order fans. They were not both. I haven’t found that, in my experience. I would say that I’m a fan of both. Granted, I choose to listen to one over the other, depending on my mood. I wouldn’t choose to listen to them both at the same time or mix them up like I could with Duran Duran and Arcadia.
I found the relationship between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook fascinating. Clearly, these two did not see eye-to-eye and had both a personality conflict and a musical one as well. Peter claimed that Bernard wanted to turn down the bass. Yet, the claim that is made is that this conflict is what helped to produce quality music. Hmm…this sounds a little familiar. After all, Duranies know that there was always tension between guitar and keyboards in Duran. Many of us might say that tension is what made those first few albums so great for Duran. This leads me to wonder how many other bands have the same sort of tension.
Rhonda:As Peter Hook mentions – there are Joy Division fans and New Order fans. I am truly a New Order fan. I knew almost nothing about Joy Division except that Ian Curtis was originally in the group and committed suicide, a fact that seems to define the band(s), unfortunately. In my case, I knew about New Order and fell in love with “Bizarre Love Triangle” before I ever even knew who Ian Curtis was. Sure, I was probably just very uninformed, but I also think it allowed me to just enjoy the music. No judgment. No pretenses. Freedom. I never knew of the internal struggles. The grief, or lack thereof. I didn’t know Bernard Sumner OR Peter Hook, and I think that in a lot of ways – the saying “Ignorance is bliss” probably applies, and I embrace that, because I just enjoy the music. Period.
I can’t even THINK about New Wave in the 80s without Blue Monday or Bizarre Love Triangle coming to mind. For me, these songs are part of the framework of ME, so I’m thankful they were included in this book.
As I read through this chapter, admittedly I had difficulty keeping it all straight. Peter Hook calls New Order “New Odor” (which feels so incredibly sophomoric), and yet I get his frustration, so I don’t want to say he’s being immature. I think he describes where it all resides in his head and heart brilliantly. “Because of the group that I loved and put 32 years into, I’m fighting them tooth and nail. This is a divorce.” I think that as a fan, the only real thing I can focus on IS the music here. Hook says it best when he talks about “the largeness of this thing we’ve created” and how it’s being ruined with the petty squabbles. On the outside, I can see that. If I were in the middle of it all though, I’d imagine I’d see it quite differently. The only thing I can really do is love what they created, and think about the fact that nearly every band I’ve ever loved has had this crazy internal struggle—there’s got to be something to that, hasn’t there?
While we have absolutely no problem chatting amongst ourselves, we really hope that some of you will join in – many opinions are way better than just two! -A & R
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!