Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gary Numan - Planes, Fans & Automobiles

Between recording and touring commitments, Gary Numan found time to attain his commercial pilot’s licence, and later went on to fly solo around the world (in less than 80 days).  His skyward adventures didn’t go by without misadventure though, including one incident in January of ‘82 when he had to land his plane on a public highway near Winchester.  Numan’s love of flying (he has his own collection of vintage military aircraft) may have been in part spurred on by a need to escape some savage critical reviews of his work, with an increasingly derisive approach being targeted at his perceived neo-futurist posturing, synthetically chilled vocals, allegedly pretentious lyrics (heavily influenced by the work of sci-fi authors), and his apparent support of Prime Minister Thatcher - he was in the vast minority of artists to do so at that time.  Regardless, Gary Numan rarely used his music as a soapbox vehicle for political and social commentary, and moreover he retained a solid grass roots following of all forgiving, clone-like fans who referred to themselves as ‘Numanoids’.

Having parted with his backing band (who went on to form the group Dramatis), Numan returned to the studio in mid ‘81, this time with some well known ‘session’ players in support, including Mick Karn (guitar - Japan), and Roger Taylor (drums - Queen).  The single ‘She’s Got Claws’ clawed its way to #6 on the British charts, and helped push the source album, ‘Dance’, to #3 (OZ#85).  Temporarily unrestrained by the need to record music he could reproduce on stage, Numan took time to experiment in studio.  The album featured a slant on electronic dance beats around varied percussive styles, but received poor reviews from the critics.

In November of ‘81, Numan rejoined his ‘Telekon’ era backing band, now known as Dramatis, and released the single ‘Love Needs No Disguise’ (UK#33 - credited to Gary Numan and Dramatis).  Numan then returned to studio work by himself, with augmentation from session players.  The resultant 1982 album, ‘I, Assassin’ (UK#8/OZ#95), explored a more fluid funk style, not altogether immediately accessible to the listener.  The album was preceded by three British top twenty singles - ‘Music For Chameleons’ (UK#19); ‘We Take Mystery To Bed’ (UK#9); and ‘White Boys And Heroes’ (UK#20).

Numan’s 1983 album, ‘Warriors’ (UK#12), attracted the charge of being pompous from some critical quarters, but yielded two top forty hits in the form of the title track (UK#20 - the video for which highlighted Numan's penchant for flying), and ‘Sister Surprise’ (UK#32).  However, by this time it was evident that Gary Numan was experiencing increasingly diminishing returns on the British charts, propped up in strong part by his core ‘Numanoids’ fan base.  In 1984, Numan set up his own record label, known as Numa, serving to release his own material, and that of brother John’s group Hohokam.  The labels’ first album release was Numan’s late ‘84 effort ‘Berserker’ (UK#45), which managed to spawn just two minor hits in the guise of the title track (UK#32), and ‘My Dying Machine’ (UK#66) - the latter an appropriately titled song reflecting the waning interest in Numan’s brand of synth-pop.

Following his short lived ‘retirement’ from concert work, during which he became a virtual recluse, in early ’85, Numan released the Live EP ‘Gary Numan - The Live (EP)’ - UK#27 - recorded during December of ’84 at the Hammersmith Odeon, London.  In February of ‘85, Numan teamed up with Shakatak’s Bill Sharpe on the UK#17 single ‘Change Your Mind’.  Soon after a full album of live material surfaced as ‘White Noise’ (UK#29/OZ#64), proving Numan still had some considerable appeal for the public at large.

1985 saw the release of the album ‘The Fury’ (UK#24), a critically lambasted effort, that failed to yield any top forty singles - ‘Your Fascination’ (UK#46); ‘Call Out The Dogs’ (UK#49); and ‘Miracles’ (UK#49).  Some may have thought that Numan needed a miracle to bounce back from such a critical and commercial calamity, and no such miracle was forthcoming on the late ‘86 album ‘Strange Charm’ (UK#59), though it did spawn two top thirty singles with ‘This Is Love’ (UK#28), and ‘I Can’t Stop’ (UK#27).  The album proved to be the final release on Numan’s Numa label which folded soon thereafter.

During 1987, Numan hooked up with the band Radio Heart on their eponymous debut album, yielding the hits ‘Radio Heart’ (UK#35), and ‘London Times’ (UK#48).  In early ‘88 he teamed up with Bill Sharpe once more on the UK#34 single ‘No More Lies’.  Numan then signed with the I.R.S. label, still a fledgling operation at that time, for the release of his 1988 album ‘Metal Rhythm’ (UK#48).  The new label failed to yield a resurgence in Numan’s commercial fortunes, with the associated singles, ‘New Anger’ (UK#46), and ‘America’ (UK#49) falling well short of expectations.

1989 saw an absence of any new studio material from Numan, though he once more joined forces with Bill Sharpe on the album ‘Automatic’ (UK#59), which featured the UK#44 single ‘I’m On Automatic’.  The live set ‘The Skin Mechanic’ (UK#55) was also released late in ‘89.

The 90s kicked off for Numan with a hook up with several of his ‘Pleasure Principle’ backing players on the March ‘91 album release ‘Outland’ (UK#39), featuring the single ‘Heart’ (UK#43).  If there were any lingering doubts, 1992’s ‘Machine +Soul’ album (UK#42), proved that Gary Numan’s commercial profile had all but faded from view.  The 1994 live album release ‘Dream Corrosion’ became the first of Numan’s album releases to miss the British charts completely, whilst the subsequent 1995 live set ‘Dark Light’ followed suit.  In late ‘95, Numan collaborated with Michael R. Smith on the album ‘Human’, and rounded out the decade with the 1997 solo effort ‘Exile’ (UK#48).

You could have been forgiven for thinking that Gary Numan had gone into exile as nearly three years elapsed before the release of 2000’s ‘Pure’ album (UK#58), which did garner some positive reviews from the music press, and peers in the music industry who were starting to take inspiration from Numan’s distinctive brand of electro-pop.  By now, only the staunch ‘Numanoids’ remained committed to the cause in terms of buying Numan’s work, but they were soon augmented by a respectable number of mainstream fans, who purchased Numan’s 2002 single ‘Rip’ (UK#29), his highest charting single in over fifteen years.  2003 built further on the resurgence of Gary Numan via the single ‘Crazier’ (UK#13), credited to Gary Numan Vs. Rico, and lifted from the album ‘Hybrid’, a collection of reworked Numan hits.  Over the ensuing decade Numan released three more studio albums - ‘Jagged’ (2006 - UK#59); ‘Dead Son Rising’ (2011 - UK#87); and 2013’s ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ (UK#20) - his highest charting album in thirty years.

Despite critical derision and dwindling commercial returns over the length of the journey, Gary Numan has been cited as a precursor to, and major player in, the synth/electro-pop scene that burst to prominence in the early 1980s - think Human League, Mi-Sex, Flowers, Visage, Real Life, Soft Cell, the Buggles - see separate posts - and early Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, and Duran Duran.  It’s fair to say that the success of ‘Cars’ Stateside also opened the door for the early 80s British invasion of U.S. charts.  Numan has also been a major influence to many artists including Nine Inch Nails, Midnight Juggernauts, and Iva Davies from Icehouse (see previous posts).  Much of his work has been sampled on other artists’ hit singles, including in 2002 by Basement Jaxx.

Following the release of his latest album, Gary Numan undertook a major world tour from late 2013, and extending well into 2014, in the process taking him closer to a music career spanning forty years, a feat deserving of respect in anyone’s book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle Of Synth-Pop

 I confess, I’m an unabashed devotee of all things ‘New Wave’, one of the dominant music genres that hooked fans the world over from the late 70s through to mid 80s.  ‘New Wave’ comprised several factions, including the ‘new romantic’, ‘post-punk’, and ‘power-pop’ movements.  The particular faction that comes under focus for this post is synth-pop, also a major drawcard during that period, and one of its leading exponents (particularly in Britain), in the guise of Gary Numan.  Numan came to prominence as the focal point and chief musical architect behind the group Tubeway Army.  From heading a punk styled rock band to becoming somewhat of a poster child for the British synth-pop (electro pop) movement, the enigmatic Numan carved out a lasting place in ‘New Wave’ folklore.

Born Gary Webb, Numan grew up during the 60s with little more than a passing interest in the pop music of the times.  It wasn’t until the early 70s that he became enamoured with the likes of Bowie (Ziggy Stardust era), Marc Bolan, and early Roxy Music.  But it was almost less about the music and more about the image and stage personas of these artists that registered with young Gary.  He also read sci-fi novels voraciously, and began writing his own lyrics inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick, and William Burroughs.  Numan joined his first band, the Lasers during 1977, aged 19, going under the name Valerian.  His tenure there was brief, and soon thereafter he hooked up with the post-punk outfit the Mean Street, as their guitarist.  He quickly assumed the new moniker of Gary Numan (inspired by an ad in the Yellow Pages for a plumber called Neumann), and also frontman duties, and the band contributed a track to the punk compilation album, ‘Live At The Vortex’.

Towards the end of ‘77 Numan took a further step towards artistic autonomy when he changed the band’s name to Tubeway Army.  The band had been signed to the Beggars Banquet label (a subsidiary of WEA) in early ’78, in the clamouring by record labels for post-Sex Pistols’ punk edged outfits.  During the early part of ’78. Tubeway Army released two aggressively styled singles in ‘That’s Not It’, and ‘Bombers’ (recorded at Spacewood Studios in Cambridge), neither of which made much of a splash on the charts, though ‘That’s Not It’ went on to sell 7000 copies.

It was during this period that Numan became increasingly enamoured with synthesisers and keyboards, and signalled a major stylistic shift from guitar driven punk rock to synth-laced electro pop (heavily influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk, Eno-era Bowie, and early Ultravox).  When it came time for Tubeway Army to enter the studio to record their debut album (the sessions being financed by Numan’s father), there was somewhat of a revolt in the band with several members walking out in protest at the shift in musical direction (they went on to form a new punk group called Station Bombers).  Numan was left to carry on duties with bassist Paul ‘Scarlett’ Gardiner, and drummer Jess Lidyard (Numan’s uncle) to augment proceedings.

Tubeway Army’s autonomous debut album (recorded in just three days) was released in August of ‘78, but initially failed to garner much attention in commercial terms.  Numan remained firmly committed to synth-based pop-rock and it paid dividends via the June ‘79 album release, ‘Replicas’.  The album, recorded over a period of five days in Gooseberry Studios, London, climbed to #1 on the British charts (OZ#11) on the back of the huge British hit ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’.  Released in May of ‘79, the monotonic styled, futurist/sci-fi themed, song entered the British charts the following week.  It sold well initially on the back of a run of 20,000 picture discs.  But the song received a huge boost in profile via a memorable performance from Numan on ‘Top Of The Pops’.  Before going gold the song went electric over the next month and by the end of June had replaced ‘Ring My Bell’ by Anita Ward (see separate post) at #1.  After a four week reign atop the British charts, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ (OZ#12) was supplanted in top spot by ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by Boomtown Rats (see future post).

‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ was in essence two pieces of art spliced together, a ballad with robotic styled spoken vocals, married to a clipped, relentless synthesiser riff - the resultant whole being exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.  The ‘Replicas’ album was filled with the same bleak, synthetic sound throughout, punctuated by a handful of guitar dominated songs.  It soared to #1 in Britain (replacing E.L.O.’s ‘Discovery’) during July of ‘79, and Tubeway Army’s debut set was re-released soon after, charting at #14 in Britain at the second attempt.

Prior to entering the studio to record a follow up set, Numan found time to play on Robert Palmer’s 1979 ‘Clues’ album (see future posts).  During this brief detour, Numan decided to drop the Tubeway Army band tag (which he claimed had only ever been in place for touring purposes), formerly assuming solo status, and returned to the studio, this time with backing players Paul Gardiner (bass), Cedric Sharpely (drums), Chris Payne (synth, viola), and Ultravox member Billy Currie (keyboards).

In August of ‘79, Numan released his first official solo single, the hypnotic electronica of ‘Cars’.  Written and produced by Numan, the single entered the British charts almost immediately and sped to #1 for 1 week in September of ‘79, replacing Cliff Richards’ ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’, and in turn being replaced by ‘Message In A Bottle’ by the Police.  The single was backed by an arresting promotional video which highlighted Numan’s neo-futurist posturing, and Bowie-esque look.  Numan recorded the original demo for ‘Cars’ on a bass guitar, and later claimed the song took little more time to write than it did to play.  ‘Cars’ peaked at #9 in Australia, and became Numan’s only foray into the U.S. top 40 (#9), early in 1980.  The song has taken on an almost cult status over time, and several remixes and re-releases have returned ‘Cars’ to the British charts - in fact for a time Numan held the honour of having the only #1 hit to return to the British charts twice more in different forms (a live version in ‘85 and a remix in ‘87).

The follow up single, ‘Complex’, took a decidedly simple route to #6 on the British charts.  The source album, ‘The Pleasure Principle’ (UK#1/ UK#16/ OZ#24 - where it spent 38 weeks inside the top 100) hit the top of the British charts the same week as its release.  The album featured a heavily synthesised sound, and unworldly/futurist lyrical themes. Keyboardist Dennis Haines replaced Currie (who had returned to Ultravox), and guitarist Russell Bell was added for the subsequent tour which took in Europe, North America, Japan and Australasia.  In April of 1980, the first full length music video went on sale capturing Gary Numan’s latest tour, and titled ‘The Touring Principle’.

In May of 1980, Numan returned to the charts once more with the synth-laced single ‘We Are Glass’ (UK#5/ OZ#15), followed a few months later by ‘I Die: You Die’ (UK#6/ OZ#86).  Both songs were lifted from Numan’s second solo album release, ‘Telekon’, which like its predecessor bolted to #1 on the British charts immediately upon its release (OZ#24).  Once again the album featured an idiosyncratic selection of Numan penned songs, attired in an increasingly opulent sound of layered synths, strings, and guitars.  ‘Telekon’ also yielded the UK#20 single ‘This Wreckage’ in late 1980.  However, despite maintaining a high profile in Britain, interest in Numan in the States quickly waned following the initial bout of curiosity surrounding ‘Cars’.

A live double album, ‘Living Ornaments 1979-1980 (live)’ was released in April of ‘81 and peaked at #2 on the British charts.  By this time, Numan had become well renowned for his elaborate live shows, which typically featured a pyramid-shaped stage setup built around fluorescent tubes - Numan would on occasion wave a neon tube about the stage accompanying mock android poses.  Soon after came an announcement that he would no longer tour.  Numan staged three elaborate Wembley Arena shows by way of a fond farewell to fans. But it would prove a short lived decision - Numan would be back touring by June of ‘83 - but one that doubtless bolstered sales of the ‘Living Ornaments’ set.

Kelly Marie - A Scottish Disco Diva

 So many artists came and went during the disco era, like a flash in the pan (not to be confused with Flash And The Pan - see future post).  Many didn’t, and haven’t, received sufficient plaudits for their efforts, in stead being lumped in with the whole critically lambasted disco phenomenon.  Of all the voluminous publications on popular music, scarce regard is paid to those artists (save the few pioneering ones such as Chic - see separate post), so seeing as this blog is under my editorial control, and with many of disco’s most famous or notorious artists already featured here, I thought it time to revisit another name from that era, in the guise of female vocalist Kelly Marie.

Kelly Marie was born Jacqueline McKinnon in Paisley, Scotland during 1957.  Music was a big part of her life from early on, with singing lessons beginning at age ten, singing competitions at age twelve, and a television debut at age fifteen.  Under the name Keli Brown, she appeared on the British television talent show ‘Opportunity Knocks’, winning a number of heats with her rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’.  The TV appearance brought her to the attention of Pye Records (as opposed to Pye televisions), who signed the young singer to a recording contract.

Now under the moniker of Kelly Marie, she made a credited appearance on the 1976 Irish #2 ‘Sister Mary’ by Joe Dolan (well known for the hits ‘Make Me An Island’ and ‘Teresa’).  Marie then released her debut solo single with ‘Who’s That Lady With My Man’.  The single failed to chart in Britain, but shot up the French charts to #5 in mid ‘76 (it went on to sell over 300,000 copies achieving Gold Record accreditation).  A further French top twenty hit followed a few months later in the form of ‘Help Me’ (Fr#17).  The next couple of singles tanked, before the release of 1977’s ‘Run To Me’, which ran to #22 on the Dutch national charts.

1978 saw a boost to Kelly Marie’s worldwide profile with the release of the disco-styled love song ‘Make Love To Me’.  The track rocketed to #2 in South Africa, whilst here in Australia it dodged a lot of other disco traffic to park itself at #5 late in ‘78, going on to spend a mammoth 41 weeks inside the Australian Top 100.  In fact, such was the longevity of ‘Make Love To Me’ that it ended up being the 12th highest selling single in Australia for 1979 (album of the same name peaked at #87).  The track failed to chart in the U.S., possibly because singer Helen Reddy had already released a version.  Kelly Marie’s follow up singles, ‘Loving Just For Fun’ and ‘Take Me To Paradise’, fell well short of building on any kind of commercial momentum.

After releasing a cover of Yvonne Elliman’s chart topper ‘If I Can’t Have You’ (see future post), Kelly Marie released a track in August of ‘79 titled ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’.      The track had been penned in the summer of ‘77 by Roy Dorset, lead singer and chief songwriter for British band Mungo Jerry.  Dorset had originally intended the song as an offering for Elvis Presley to record.  Dorset had been a long time fan of Presley, and had recorded his favourite Elvis song ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ with Mungo Jerry.  Sadly, ‘The King’ died in 1977 before the track was recorded.  Dorset then recorded the track with his band Mungo Jerry’, and it eventually saw the light of day as a B-side to the band’s French single release ‘Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’.  Dorset had also sent the song ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ around the major British publishing houses, and several interested parties made offers to record the track, all of which Dorset refused.  It was Elliott Cowen from Red Bus Music who approached Dorset with the idea that Scottish songstress Kelly Marie would be a good candidate to take the song to the top of the charts.

With long time producer Peter Yellowstone calling the shots, Marie recorded ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ in classic disco-dance style in mid ‘79.  Her profile was still sufficiently solid in South Africa , that the song reached #7 there in late ‘79, but British success still eluded her.  ‘Feels Like Making Love’ did become a popular hit in dance clubs across Britain, and the track’s enduring appeal prompted Pye Records to re-release it in mid 1980 on the subsidiary Calibre label.  The track debuted on the mainstream British charts at the beginning of August 1980, and by mid September had ascended to #1, replacing ‘Start’ by The Jam in the process - with two such disparate song styles going back to back atop the charts, it goes to show just how diverse a market Britain was at the time.  ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ held sway at #1 for two weeks, before succumbing to the appeal of ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ by The Police.  By reaching #1 in Britain, ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ also gave songwriter Ray Dorset the rare distinction of having topped the British charts at one time with a composition recorded by their own group (earlier #1s from Mungo Jerry) and to also have one of their songs taken to #1 by another artist.  The song frequented the top tens of charts across Europe, and peaked at #7 here in Australia (where it spent 27 weeks on the charts).

Keen to capitalise on the profile ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ had afforded Kelly Marie, the record label re-released the 1978 single ‘Loving Just For Fun’ (UK#21), followed by the early ‘81 release of ‘Hot Love’ (UK#22).  But by the release of the single ‘Love Trial’ (UK#51) in mid ‘81, it had become apparent that the surge of stardom attained by ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ was not sustainable for Kelly Marie.  A final single ‘Don’t Stop Your Love’, and accompanying album ‘Do You Like It Like That?’ (OZ#93) failed to chart at all in Britain.  In part, it might have been that Marie was compartmentalised as a disco/dance singer, and by 1981 disco was on the nose.  Meanwhile, fellow Scotswoman Sheena Easton was dominating charts across the world (see separate post).

Unperturbed, Kelly Marie continued to release singles regularly over the period from 1982 to 1984, but her only incursion into charts came in mid ‘84 with the single ‘Break Out’ (UK#90).  A 1986 re-release of ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ was the only recording activity from Marie for some time, with the singer devoting her time to starting a family.  In 1988, she returned to European charts with the dance song ‘Stealing My Time’, which stole #2 on the Danish charts.  A decade passed, during which time Kelly Marie focussed on parental duties.  But she returned to the recording studio in 1997, releasing an album of dance versions of hit songs - from ‘Runaway’, through ‘Rescue Me’, to a new version of her 1981 hit ‘Hot Love’.  The voice of Kelly Marie was once more in evidence at dance clubs across Britain and Europe.

In 2002, Marie teamed up with fellow 70s songstress Tina Charles (see future post) on a dance version of ‘To Sir With Love’.  In 2005, Kelly Marie took the decision to subject herself to reality TV, with her appearance on the ITV show ‘Hit Me, Baby, One More Time’.  Though she lost out eventually to singer Chesney Hawkes, Kelly Marie proved she could still deliver dance songs with the best of them, the highlight being her performance of ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’.  Kelly Marie has been more than just another ‘disco diva’, having forged a career spanning over thirty years.

Killing Joke - 'Love Like Blood'

There was a period back in the mid to late 90s when I was furiously buying up just about any 80s CD compilation that contained songs from that era that I was pursuing.  One such title, released on the Disky label, was the double CD compilation ‘More Greatest Hits of the 80s’.  Some of the tracks I tracked down were ‘Some People’ by Belouis Some, ‘Rush Hour’ by Jane Wiedlin (see previous post), ‘They Don’t Know Me’ by Tracey Ullman, and ‘Water On Glass’ by Kim Wilde (see previous post).  As with so many compilations, this double CD also contained one or two nice surprises in the form of great songs I hadn’t previously encountered.  One such track was ‘Love Like Blood’ by London based punk/metal outfit Killing Joke.

The quartet of Jeremy ‘Jaz’ Coleman (vocals/keyboards), Paul Ferguson (ex-Matt Stagger Band - drums), Geordie (Kevin Walker - guitar/synthesizers), and Youth (Martin Glover - ex-Rage - bass/vocals) formed the punk/metal band Killing Joke in the summer of ‘79.  Relocating to Notting Hill Gate, the band borrowed enough money to finance the recording of a 3 track EP, released on their own Malicious Damage label in October of ‘79.  DJ John Peel picked up on the EP and championed the band’s raw, kinetic rock sound. As a result, the Island label signed the band up and released the single ‘Nervous System’ a month later.  The Island association didn’t last much longer, but Killing Joke eventually found another ally in the E.G. label during the summer of 1980, whilst touring regularly in support of the likes of Joy Division and The Ruts.  The band quickly gained a reputation for their loud, energetic shows.  Frontman Jaz Coleman regularly wearing war paint and bouncing around the stage maniacally in union with his strident vocal style.

In September of ‘80, Killing Joke released the single ‘Requiem’, an advance outing from their eponymous debut album, released a month later and rising to #39 in Britain.  The album was considered a pioneering effort, and in his book, ‘The Great Rock Discography’, author Martin C. Strong described the set as containing the “anger of punk with apocalyptic doom-mongering”, and Killing Joke were “akin to a sonically disturbing, industrialised Black Sabbath”.  The ‘Killing Joke’ set has subsequently been cited as a seminal influence over the likes of US hardcore acts Metallica, Ministry, and Soundgarden.  So far as contemporaries were concerned, Killing Joke were not dissimilar to Bauhaus, and Public Image Ltd., in so far as their attempts to link punk rock with a strong dance beat, lashed with rasping guitar, and driven by martial rhythms.

Killing Joke further expanded on their occult, punk metal anthems to brave new horizons of intensity on their sophomore effort, ‘What’s This For…!’ (UK#42), which yielded the UK#55 single ‘Follow The Leaders’ (UK#55 - hard edged danceable fare that was also a hit on the U.S. dance floor scene).  Whilst pushing the envelope stylistically, Killing Joke managed to remain somewhat accessible to the masses.  The band did alienate some though with their savage lyrics and often scathing hits at establishment via album artwork and promotional posters.  One such occasion where they got the establishment off side was during a tour to Scotland, where a promotional poster was deemed to be offensive, and the band was subsequently banned from playing in Glasgow.

Killing Joke released their third album, ‘Revelations’, in April of ‘82, a more commercially appealing set (UK#12), yielding the UK#43 hit ‘Empire Song’.  And this is where the Killing Joke story becomes a little confusing.  Frontman Jaz Coleman had become increasingly obsessed with the notion of imminent world destruction.  At the end of a short tour to Iceland, Coleman reasoned that the icy tundra was as safe a place as any to wait out Armageddon, and chose to remain behind after the band had left.  Bassist Youth eventually went in search of the band’s missing leader, but couldn’t convince Coleman to return home with him.

Youth arrived back in England and hooked up with drummer Ferguson, and an old friend Paul Raven (ex-Neon Hearts) with a view to forming a new band, Brilliant.  Brilliant or not, Ferguson and Raven departed soon after to also explore parts unknown in search of Jaz Coleman.  Convinced that the world wasn’t going to end any time soon, Coleman caught the first flight back to England, with Ferguson and Raven (bass) accompanying him.  Youth had now departed the Killing Joke scene, and somewhere among the cacophony of events, bassist Guy Pratt also had a brief tenure with the band, before going on to join Icehouse (see separate posts).  The single ‘Birds Of A Feather’ (UK#64) and the live EP ‘Ha’ (UK#66) were released to round out a frenetic 1982 for the band.

With the quartet of Coleman, Ferguson, Geordie, and Raven, Killing Joke re-entered the studio to record a new album.  In July of ‘83, the ‘Fire Dances’ (UK#29) hit stores, preceded by the advance single ‘Let’s All Go (To The Fire Dances)’ (UK#51).  The album was missing some of the ominous and powerfully chaotic edge, and sardonic bite of previous efforts, perhaps reflecting Coleman’s calmer state of mind.  With the portents of 1984 to the fore, Killing Joke did keep a lower profile for that year, releasing just two stand alone singles, ‘Eighties’ (UK#60), and ‘A New Day’ (UK#56).

The band started a brand new day of sorts in January of ‘85, with the release of the powerfully anthemic ‘Love Like Blood’.  The single surged to #16 in Britain (OZ#85), helping to push sales of the source album ‘Night Time’ to #11.  The band then entered a creative phase that employed a more keyboard oriented sound, evidenced on the 1986 album ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ (UK#54), and the commercial disappointment of 1988’s ‘Outside The Gate’ (UK#92), the band also finding themselves outside the gate when it came to critical and long term fans appraisal.  Coleman called an end to Killing Joke proceedings for all of 1989, leading in to 1990.

Following that period, Killing Joke underwent a major upheaval personnel wise, with Coleman being joined by drummer Martin Atkins (ex-Public Image Ltd.), bassist Taff (not to be confused with the word Taffy) who had replaced Andy Rourke (ex-Smiths), who had in turn replaced Paul Raven - are you keeping up?  After a brief period of activity, the band then entered a further sabbatical in 1990, during which time Coleman teamed up with ex-Art Of Noise member Anne Dudley, to record the album ‘Songs From The Victorious City’.

Killing Joke re-emerged in November of 1990 with the critically acclaimed set ‘Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions’, which saw a stylistic engagement with raucous, heavy accented, avant-dance rhythms.  The band went into virtual seclusion over the next couple of years, before reappearing as the quartet of Coleman, Geordie, the returning Youth (which is something most of us would wish for), and ex-Art Of Noise drummer Geoff Dugmore.  That line-up signalled a major return to form for Killing Joke with their 1994 album ‘Pandemonium’ (UK#16), a return to their earlier fare, with a more abrasively metallic sound, which yielded the British top 40 singles ‘Millennium’ (UK#34), and the title track (UK#28).  Such was the album’s success, that Killing Joke embarked on their first world tour in almost a decade.  Reduced to the trio of Coleman, Youth, and Geordie, Killing Joke released another critically well receive album in 1996, with ‘Democracy’ (UK#39), the album featuring the continuation of a more metallic/industrial sound.

Frontman Jaz Coleman went on to spend much of his time over the ensuing decade in New Zealand, acting as the composer in residence for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  After a seven year hiatus from Killing Joke duties, he returned to front the band on their 2003 album, a second eponymously titled affair.  Over the ensuing decade Killing Joke have continued to fight the good fight against all things conventional and establishment, attempting to incite/alarm the world on such albums as the live 2005 set ‘XXV Gathering!’, and ‘Absolute Dissent’ from 2010 (recorded by the original line-up of Coleman, Youth, Geordie, and Ferguson).

Having been such a maverick, and seminal influence on so many artists, the fact that widespread commercial success eluded Killing Joke is no great surprise.  Integrity and a determination to adhere to strict stylistic principles in the face of critical and popular opposition, remained the cornerstones to the band’s longevity.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Classix Nouveaux - 'Guilty'

Back in the mid 90s I had occasion to purchase a double CD compilation titled ‘The Absolute Best Of The New Romantics’.  The collection featured a number of tracks that I had been seeking earnestly to acquire in pristine digital format.  Among those were ‘Only You’ by Yazoo, ‘One Night In Bangkok’ by Murray Head, ‘Living On The Ceiling’ by Blancmange, and ‘Temptation’ by Heaven 17 - see previous posts for each artist.  I’m not certain how many of the artists included could strictly be referred to as ‘new romantic’, but in the broader sense they were all part of the ‘new wave’ and ‘post punk’ movements that dominated, in particular, the British and Australian charts during the first half of the 80s.

One of the bonus acquisitions was a song I had previously been unfamiliar with - ‘Guilty’ by London based band Classix Nouveaux.  So in keeping with my innate curiosity with popular music, I thought it merited that I investigate the Classix Nouveaux story in a little more detail.

Following the demise of London punk band X-Ray Spex in 1979, guitarist Jak Airport (Jack Stafford), and drummer Paul ‘B.P.’ Hurding, saw the writing through the wall and placed an add in the industry rag Melody Maker, in pursuit of a vocalist to front a new band.  The add was responded in the affirmative by a young singer/guitarist calling himself Sal Solo (Sam Smith), who had previous songs on the board with ‘new wave’ outfit, The News.  Shortly after, bassist Mik Sweeney rounded out the quartet, and hey presto an instant Classix Nouveaux was born.

The band’s first major outing on stage came in August of ‘79 at London’s Music Machine nightclub.  The music press began taking an interest in the quartet, in part due to their fashion conscious and heavily made-up stage image.  Classix Nouveaux were assigned the ‘new romantic’ tag as a result.  Before year’s end, founding guitarist Jak Airport caught a flight and was replaced by Gary Steadman.

In mid 1980, Classix Nouveaux laid down a four track session for Capital Radio, with one track in particular, ‘Robot’s Dance’ gaining regular airtime courtesy of DJ Nicky Horne.  Always on the look out for new talent, the EMI subsidiary label United Artists set about signing the young band, but as negotiations became protracted, the band opted to release ‘Robot’s Dance’ on their own ESP label during August of 1980.  The track notched up an eleven week stint on the U.K. Indie Chart dancing its way to #22.  The band released a follow up single in November with ‘Nasty Little Green Men’, before work began in earnest on their debut album.

In February of ‘81, Classix Nouveaux released their debut ‘major label’ single in the form of ‘Guilty’ which was sentenced to #43 on the British charts (Top 20 Sweden, OZ#25/#66 U.S. Dance Club Singles), as a lead out for their debut album.  The striking video clip, featuring the new romantic version of Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett in Sal Solo, managed to get some airplay on MTV Network.  The source album, ‘Night People’ (UK#66/ OZ#85) also spawned two more minor hit singles in the guise of ‘Tokyo’ (UK#67), and ‘Inside Outside’ (UK#45).  The majority of the tracks were composed by Solo and Sweeney.  The sound of the band was more guitar heavy than some of their new romantic contemporaries, such as Japan, but their over the top fashion sense and infectious keyboard rhythms kept the band’s feet firmly in the new romantic camp.  During the subsequent European tour, guitarist Gary Steadman was replaced by Finnish guitarist Jimi Sumen.

By late ‘81, work was progressing on Classix Nouveaux’s sophomore effort, to the point where the advance single ‘Never Again (The Days Time Erased)’ (UK#44) hit stores in October.  By April of ‘82, the album ‘La Verite’ (UK#44) hit the ground running as a result of the high interest in the single ‘Is It A Dream’.  The band made a video for the track themselves (for a reported budget of $500), in the hope of getting their label EMI to fork over the readies to make a bigger budget effort.  Sal Solo was front and centre again, falsetto in full swing, and ‘Is It A Dream’ found its reality at #11 on the British charts.  The album boasted a soul-tinged, synth heavy feel to proceedings.  Richie Unterberger of All Music Guide described it as “Music of a hand-wringing, grandiose chic glamour on its more ethereal cuts, and of unabashed, bouncy synth pop on the more dance oriented songs like ‘Never Again’ and ‘1999’”.  The album yielded two more minor hits with ‘Because You’re Young’ (UK#43), and ‘The End…Or The Beginning’ (UK#60).

With producer Alex Sadkin on board, a new collection of Sal Solo compositions underwent the studio treatment in early ‘83.  The album was a more mature effort and possessed a more commercial synth based sound, complimented by Sal Solo’s impressive vocal range.  Highlights included ‘Never Never Comes’, ‘All Around The World’, and ‘Heart From The Start’.  Though the singles ‘Never Never Comes’ and ‘Forever And A Day missed the U.K. charts, and the source album ‘Secret’ remained one in Britain, both album and singles performed well in Poland of all places, prompting Classix Nouveaux to be one of the first rock bands to perform in communist Poland - by now Sal Solo was the only original member left with drummer B.P. Hurding replaced by Paul Turley, and guitarist Jimi Sumen replaced by Rick Driscoll.

Despite successful touring of Europe, the band failed to establish a strong presence on the charts in the U.K., whilst mainstream success in the U.S. eluded them.  By 1985, Classix Nouveaux had parted company, with Sal Solo embarking on a solo career (who’d have thought), scoring a U.K. hit in early ‘85 with ‘San Damiano’ (#15).  Several compilations have been released over the years, and the live album ‘The River Sessions’ (recording originally in 1982), was released in 2005.  An underrated act by all accounts, Classix Nouveaux deserve a place of merit in the ‘new romantic’ movement.

Kiki Dee - 'I've Got The Music In Me'

If you’re going to team up with someone to record a duet, you might as well do so with one of the highest profile pop-stars in the business.  That’s precisely what female vocalist Kiki Dee did when she teamed up with Elton John to record the 1976 worldwide #1 ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.

Kiki Dee arrived in this world (as opposed to an alien world) as Pauline Matthews during 1947 (the same year as Elton John).  At the age of 16, Dee began singing with local bands around her local township of Bradford.  Around the same time she also showed an interest in acting and in 1965 had a cameo in the film ‘Deadline For Diamonds’, a thriller produced by Pinewood Studios, London.

Songwriter Mitch Murray came up with the stage name Kiki Dee, and during 1965 she signed with the Fontana Records label, releasing the single ‘Why Don’t I Run Away From You’, and by 1968 her debut album ‘I’m Kiki Dee’.  During the mid to late 60s, Dee also worked as a session singer, backing the likes of Dusty Springfield, and regularly appeared on BBC Radio singing cover versions.

During August of ‘69, Kiki Dee came to the attention of the famed Motown label, and became the first female British performer to sign with the label.  It was arranged for her to record her first album for the label with producer Frank Wilson in Detroit.  The album ‘Great Expectations’ was realised and released in 1971, and yielded the minor U.S. Hot 100 hit, ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ (#87).  The album featured 12 tracks in all, covering some Motown classics including ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘For Once in My Life’, alongside a cover of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (evoking the vocal style of Springfield in the process).

But great expectations weren’t realised, and Dee was dropped from the Detroit label.  But though label-less, Dee had an ally in former British Motown executive John Reid, who had gone on to manage Elton John.  Reid introduced the two singers, and Dee was signed to John’s Rocket Records label in 1972.  She sang backing vocals on a number of Elton John albums, but by late ‘73 was ready to record and release her first solo album for Rocket Records.

The album ‘Loving & Free’ (OZ#38) hit stores in late ‘73.  It was a mixture of covers and several Elton John/Bernie Taupin penned tracks.  John played keyboards on seven of the tracks and co-produced part of the album, recorded directly following John’s own ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ album.  The stand out track, and hit single, was the beautifully crafted atmospheric ballad ‘Amoureuse’.  Written and originally recorded by French artist Veronique Sanson, ‘Amoureuse’ rose majestically to #13 on the British charts in early ‘74 (OZ#12).

During 1974, Kiki Dee assembled her own backing group, and recorded the album ‘Patterns’ (released in the U.S. as ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ - #28), under the banner of the Kiki Dee Band.  The single, ‘(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am’ (UK#33), originally recorded by Nancy Wilson,  did solid business, but it was the upbeat, and appropriately titled, ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ (originally recorded by Sabrina Lory) that kept the Dee Band (and brand) in the upper reaches of the charts (US#12/ UK#19/ OZ#52).  Within eighteen months Kiki Dee would reach the uppermost of those charts with one of the biggest selling singles of the decade.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin had already written a number of songs for Kiki Dee under the pseudonyms of Ann Orson and Carte Blanche.  During the first half of ‘76, the prolific song writing team penned an effervescent love song titled ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.  Regular Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon had the reigns in the control booth, for the recording of the planned duet.  But John and Dee recorded their vocals separately (due to scheduling issues), with John firstly recording his part at the Eastern Sound studios in Toronto, Canada.  The tape was then sent to London, where Kiki Dee added her vocals.  Credited to Elton John and Kiki Dee, it was John’s first appearance on his own Rocket Records label.  A promotional video was shot for the song in a recording studio, featuring John and Dee playing off one another - with the obvious chemistry of good friends apparent throughout.

‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ burst on to the British charts mid year, and had reached #1 by the end of July ‘76, replacing Demis Roussos at the top.  Astoundingly, it was Elton John’s first involvement in a British chart topper.  The song set up residency at #1 for six weeks, in turn being replaced by ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’.  A similar trajectory occurred for ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ in Australia, with the track replacing ‘S-S-S--Single Bed’ by Fox (see separate post) during August, and a week later being danced off the top spot by ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’.

The song made its initial incursion into the U.S. Hot 100 at #66 during July of ‘76.  Within just five weeks, the Rocket Records single rocketed to #1, in so doing replacing the Manhattans, who had to ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’ to top spot.  The perky pop of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ broke the hearts of its competition for four weeks at #1, before the increasingly omnipresent Bee Gees supplanted it with ‘You Should Be Dancing’.  Elton John would famously go on to perform the song with Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show.  Following the triumph of having the biggest selling single in the world for 1976, John entered a period of voluntary retirement for nearly two years.  For Kiki Dee the challenge arose to build on the momentum of her part in such a popular music behemoth.  The title track from her 1973 album, ‘Loving And Free’, was released and peaked at #13 in Britain, followed by a minor U.S. hit in ‘Once A Fool’ (#82), but it became apparent that ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ was going to be a nigh on impossible act to follow.

Kiki Dee released a self titled album in early ‘77 (UK#24/US#159).  The fourteen track album realised a couple of British top forty hits in the form of ‘First Thing In The Morning’ (#32), and ‘Chicago’ (#28), along with a U.S. re-release of the 1974 track ‘How Glad I Am’ (#74).  However, despite featuring an impressive array of guest players, Dee’s 1979 album, ‘Stay With Me’, her final release on Rocket Records, missed the charts altogether.

The 80s kicked off with a good start for Kiki Dee, with the 1981 single ‘Star’ hitting the celestial heights of #13 in the U.K. (OZ#64).  It was lifted from Dee’s first album for the Ariola label, ‘Perfect Timing’ (UK#47).  Produced by Pip Williams, the album boasted another impressive cast of guest players, including keyboardist Patrick Moraz (Moody Blues - see separate post), and drummer Steve Holly (ex-Wings).  Elton John also joined Kiki on a cover of the Four Tops’ ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’.

All remained quiet on the Kiki Dee front for the remainder of the 80s, save for the 1987 album ‘Angel Eyes’, and regular backing vocals duties for Elton John.  Dee and John returned to the charts as a duet during 1993, with a cover of Cole Porter’s ‘True Love’.  They fell one place short in Britain of equalling the #1 triumph of ‘Don’t Got Breaking My Heart’ (OZ#23).

Kiki Dee returned to the stage in 1993, with the London West End play ‘Blood Brothers’, which spawned a soundtrack album.  A ‘Best Of’ collection followed in ‘94 (UK#62), followed two years later by the live album ‘Almost Naked’.  Kiki Dee then started a fruitful creative partnership with Carmelo Luggeri, the duo releasing three albums to date; ‘Where Rivers Meet’ (1998), ‘The Walk Of Faith’ (2005), and ‘A Place Where I Can Go’ (2013).

Though she will long be associated with the mega-hit ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, it would be remiss to overlook the forty plus year career of Kiki Dee in its entirety.

Yes - Owners Of A Lonely Heart - the Commercialisation of a Prog Rock Band - Pt.2

 Yes then released one of their most commercially successful albums in mid ‘77 with ‘Going For The One’.  The album lived up to its title on the British charts (US#8/OZ#16), and yielded the band’s first significant hit singles, ‘Wonderous Stories’ (UK#7), and ‘Going For The One’ (UK#24).  During this period, Yes was facing the same challenge as other prog-rock acts, staring down the torrent of new wave and post punk acts exploding onto the British music scene (with disco being the corresponding tidal wave in the U.S.).  1978’s album ‘Tormato’ (UK#8/ US#10/ OZ#22) produced the minor hit ‘Don’t Kill The Whale’ (UK#36 - nice to see the lads supporting animal liberation), and boasted a track listing of shorter, tighter songs, aimed at competing for support with more commercially lucrative genres.

Yes then experienced a major shake up in personnel, with the departures of both Wakeman (once again) and vocalist Jon Anderson. Both pursued solo careers, with Jon Anderson collaborating with keyboard maestro Vangelis as Jon and Vangelis on several albums.  They scored their biggest hit together with 1982’s ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ (UK#6/ OZ#22).  Yes then recruited the duo of Trevor Horn (guitars), and Geoff Downes (keyboards) - both ex-Buggles (see separate posts) - for the 1980 album ‘Drama’ (UK#2/ US#18/ OZ#69).  At the conclusion of another world tour (captured on the album ‘Yes shows’ - UK#22/ US#43), Yes released a short press statement announcing the band had folded.  Steve Howe and Downes went on to play alongside Carl Palmer and John Wetton in the super-group Asia (see separate posts).

Chris Squire and Alan White headed off to record some material of their own but they needed a guitarist to round out the sound.  Enter classically trained ex-Rabbit player Trevor Rabin.  Rabin had declined an offer to join Asia, and also declined a solo contract with RCA to form the new band Cinema, alongside Squire and White.  The trio recruited original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, and undertook album sessions with Trevor Horn handling production duties.  Rabin was handling vocal duties at this stage, but the chemistry wasn’t quite right.  Post his Vangelis collaboration, Jon Anderson was approached by the band to step in and re-record some of the vocal tracks.  By this time, the penny had dropped that in essence the collection of five musicians was a re-formed Yes.  So the band dropped the Cinema moniker to revive the Yes brand.  To survive in an 80s world, the reborn Yes had also adopted a revamped sound, choosing to drop some of the ornate classical pomp and intricate thematic, in favour of a more approachable, streamlined pop-rock sound.

The ‘hip’ new Yes style was no better in evidence as with the single release, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, which hit charts in late ‘83.  With crunching guitars, pounding drums, overlaid by seering synthesiser hooks, and Jon Anderson’s falsetto vocals, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ was penned by Rabin, Anderson, Squire and Horn.  It was backed by an impressive cinema scale promotional video, but even with so many things going for it, the question remained - could Yes have a major hit single in the U.S.  The answer came back in the affirmative in early ‘84.  ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ replaced ‘Say, Say, Say’ by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson at #1 (OZ#14/ UK#28), and following a two week reign was replaced in turn by Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.

And the change in Yes from album based prog-rockers to pop-rock hit makers was indeed chameleonic (a theme reflected in the music video).  The follow up, ‘Leave It’ (UK#56), was a minor hit, but the source album ‘90125’ (named after its catalogue number), proved that Yes could still sell albums in big numbers (UK#16/ US#5/ OZ#27).  Like Genesis before them, Yes alienated a percentage of their long standing core fan base with their new ‘commercial’ edge, but ‘selling out’ had more advantages than not.

Yes then took another sabbatical (during which band members explored external creative avenues), but reconvened on 1987’s ‘Big Generator’ (UK#17/ US#15/ OZ#44), which generated the hit singles ‘Love Will Find A Way’ (US#30/ OZ#80 - which I purchased on vinyl 45), and ‘Rhythm Of Love’.  Anderson then left the fray once more and by 1989 had hooked up with old Yes cohorts Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe.  A court battle then ensued for control of the Yes brand.  In 1989, Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, and Howe performed Yes songs live and released an album of new material but under the awkward banner of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.  By 1991, that quartet had resolved its dispute with the other ‘Yes’ camp of Rabin, Squire, White, and Kaye, and they recorded a new ‘official’ Yes album, the appropriately titled ‘Union’ (UK#7/US#15), with the seemingly unwieldy line-up of eight embarking on a hugely successful world tour.

Yet another combination of players (Anderson, Kaye, Rabin, Squire, White) assembled for the 1994 album ‘Talk’ (UK#20/ US#33), a combination which toured through 1996, resulting in the live set ‘Keys To Ascension’ (UK#48).  After a further hiatus, Yes returned in 1999 with the UK#36 set ‘The Ladder’.

Over the ensuing decade, Yes released the studio album ‘Magnification’, followed by two major tours (featuring the return of Wakeman), the 2004 tour marking the 35th anniversary of the band as a recording unit.  Various incarnations of the group worked as both studio and live collectives over the years, leading up to the Trevor Horn produced ‘Fly From Here’ in 2011.