Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Muzik Of The Mysterious Mr. 'M'

When the catchy pop song ‘Pop Muzik’ burst onto the airwaves during 1979, nobody knew who or what M, the artist behind it, was. The song was written by and produced by a man called Robin Scott, but was he M? Well, as has become widely known since, yes he was the man behind the M.
Robin Scott had become enamoured with music as a college student during the late 60s, one of his classmates being Malcolm McLaren (and no that’s not where the M comes from). Scott took to performing folk songs in local clubs to hone his craft, and recorded the album ‘Woman From The Warm Grass’ under his own name in 1969. It was a far cry from what he would unleash upon the world a decade later, being very folk oriented, and went largely unnoticed until it was eventually re-released in 2006 on CD.

He continued working away in the music business in various capacities through the first half of the 70s, becoming manager for U.K. pub rock band Roogalator and producing their first single ‘Cincinnati Fatback’ in 1976. Scott also ran his own independent record label during that period, which was responsible for releasing Adam & The Ants first LP ‘Dirty Wears White Sox’. Robin Scott then settled in Paris during 1978, managing the all-girl group the Slits for a while, and it was there that he wrote and first recorded ‘Pop Muzik’. It was also in Paris that the origin of the name M emanated, though it’s not as mysterious as you might think. He had previously recorded under the name Comic Romance but as Scott recalled he was looking out the window one day in Paris, whilst he was trying to think of a more effective pseudonym under which he could release his music, and he spied a sign with the letter “M”, which in Paris represents the Metro. Scott thought that was suitably enigmatic to generate interest, and he was right.

But it was going to take more than just a mystifying moniker to have a hit single. Robin Scott had the song in ‘Pop Muzik’ but he wasn’t sure how the song should sound. As he recalls the idea behind the song was to create a fusion of styles that “somehow would summarise the last 25 years of pop music”. There was also an intended message behind ‘Pop Muzik’ which was Scott’s attempt to say, that regardless of origin or style or image, that “all we’re talking about is pop music”. Scott firstly recorded ‘Pop Muzik’ in a rhythm and blues style, then tried it in a funk style, but finally settled on the electro-pop version that would soon sweep the world. For its time ‘Pop Muzik’ pushed the envelope in terms of the technical innovations employed by Scott in its recording, but the six month timeframe it took to achieve the final incarnation was worth the wait. It’s no coincidence that during the corresponding period Gary Numan was also stretching the boundaries of electro-pop and he too would soon inspire numerous acts into the ‘80s.

So in March 1979 ‘Pop Muzik’ was unveiled and within weeks had entered the British charts. It would peak in the U.K. at #2 during May ‘79, around the same time as the quirky promo clip premiered on Countdown here in Australia. ‘Pop Muzik’ rocketed up the charts and spent 3 weeks at #1 during July. As was often the case with British artists, there was a bit of a delay in the song being released Stateside but after debuting at #61 in August it made steady progress up the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #1 at the beginning of November, edging out the likes of Eagles and Donna Summer in the process. The promo clip had some similarities to the promo clip for David Bowie’s ‘D.J.’ released the same year - both featured the artist sitting at a D.J. console tossing around records, perhaps a thinly veiled comment on the disposability of pop music. Incidentally Bowie himself is credited with providing the handclaps on M’s ‘Pop Muzik’, and Scott’s wife Brigit Novik sang backing vocals.

With mission accomplished on ‘Pop Muzik’, Robin Scott found it difficult, in fact ultimately impossible to replicate the commercial achievements of his breakthrough hit. The LP ‘New York-London-Paris-Munich’ was released late in ‘79 but wasn’t a huge seller. The follow up single ‘Moonlight And Muzak’ reached #33 in the U.K. and #37 in Australia during early 1980 and a third ‘That’s The Way The Money Goes’ reached UK#45 soon after (I recall seeing the music video for that song on a Countdown repeat a few years back and I have to say it paled next to ‘Pop Muzik’). Scott continued to release albums under the ‘M’ project name, with 1980’s ‘The Official Secrets Act’ and 1982’s ‘Famous Last Words’ but both sold poorly, so poorly in fact that Scott’s record label at the time MCA refused to release the latter in the U.K. Among the musicians who contributed to these albums were several members of Level 42 (before they were Level 42) and one Thomas Dolby (see earlier post).

Scott recorded two albums with Japanese pop icon Ryuichi Sakamoto including ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, which starred David Bowie - see how this pop music biz is all swings and roundabouts. He recorded a new album in 1985 under his name titled ‘The Kiss Of Life’, and has contributed to several ‘world music’ projects, and most recently was working on an album in 2004 titled ‘Life Class’ which incorporated tracks from his previous work plus several unreleased songs. In 2007 Scott appeared as ‘M’ for the first time in 25 years when he featured in the line-up for the Countdown Spectacular 2 series of concerts across Australia. Scott is also an accomplished painter and has regularly exhibited his work.

To mark its tenth anniversary, Robin Scott joined Simon Rogers to remix ‘Pop Muzik’ for a 1989 release, which charted well in Britain (#15) and briefly flirted with the Australian charts (#86) but went unnoticed in the U.S. A further remix breathed new life into the song when it was played before each concert on U2’s 1997 ‘PopMart’ world tour, but as with all pop classics ‘Pop Muzik’ has assumed a status of immortality in the hearts and minds of devoted connoisseurs of pop music.

No comments: