Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Catch The Metro To Berlin

When Los Angeles band Berlin hit #1 in the U.S. in 1986 with the love ballad ‘Take My Breath Away’, you would have thought that the band themselves would in future years look back on that as a blessing. But Berlin retrospectively saw the success of ‘Take My Breath Away’ (featured as the love theme in the film ‘Top Gun’) as more of a curse. Although the song lifted the band’s global profile enormously, that profile would in most respects not be representative of what Berlin had accomplished previously nor what they still wanted to achieve. The song that would have best represented what Berlin was about, according to the band themselves, was ‘The Metro’. More than 15 years after Berlin disbanded, its members unanimously agreed that ‘The Metro’ is their signature song, encapsulating what the band were about, musically and stylistically. Sadly, that message didn’t get through to the rest of the world at the time ‘The Metro’ was originally released.

Formed in Los Angeles during 1979, Berlin’s original line-up comprised former teen actress Terri Nunn (vocals), John Crawford (bass), Rod Learned (drums), David Diamond (keyboards), Dan Van Patten (synthesizer) and Chris Ruiz-Velasco (guitar). Incidentally Nunn had once auditioned for the role of Princess Leia in the first ‘Star Wars’ film - you have to wonder if Berlin would even have existed had she gotten the part. As essential to the sound of Berlin was John Crawford. Crawford started the band and during 1979 advertised in the local press for a lead singer. Terri Nunn responded as she had to 24 other band auditions around Los Angeles. She was offered the gig in all of the other 24 bands, but Berlin was the band that gained her remarkable talents. They released a couple of singles which failed to chart and after a year Nunn left, with Berlin folding soon after. Crawford, who was also Berlin’s principle songwriter, resurrected the band in 1981 and persuaded their key ingredient Nunn to return to the mix. As a live performer Terri Nunn’s stage presence was undeniable and her obvious chemistry with Crawford and the band as a whole established Berlin as a major drawcard on the live scene.

Berlin’s first single release was ‘Sex (I’m A)’, lifted from their debut EP ‘Pleasure Victim’ in 1983. The music video for ‘Sex (I’m A
)’ played on Terri Nunn’s obvious good looks and sex appeal and though sales of the single itself weren’t great (US#62/OZ#81), it did serve to promote interest in Berlin and sales of the EP ‘Pleasure Victim’ pushed it to a respectable #30 on the U.S. charts. Both single and album planted Berlin firmly in the niche of the classic new wave synth pop outfit - what set them apart were the sultry, sometimes snarling vocals of Nunn. ‘The Metro’ was single number two but its ride stopped at #58 in the U.S., whilst a third single ‘Masquerade’ only crept to #82. It was during the recording of ‘Pleasure Victim’ that drummer Rod Learned left the band suddenly and was replaced by Rob Brill. Shortly after the release of ‘Pleasure Victim’ Van Patten and Ruiz-Velasco also departed and were replaced by Rick Olsen (guitar) and Matt Reid (synthesizer).

1984 saw Berlin resurface with their sophomore album ‘Love Life’ (US#28/OZ#55), keeping pretty much to the same formula that had worked for them on ‘Pleasure Victim’. ‘No More Words’ was the first single lifted from ‘Love Life’ and it gave Berlin their first U.S. top 30 hit, reaching #23, whilst matching that performance exactly on the Australian charts. One of my favourite Berlin tracks came next with ‘Dancing In Berlin’ dancing its way to #39 in Australia, though it inexplicably missed the U.S. charts.

Berlin underwent a major shake up in their ranks during 1985, with the trio of Nunn. Crawford and Brill emerging from the carnage to carry the Berlin brand forward. Then came the monumental success of the single ‘Take My Breath Away’, co-written and produced by Giorgio Moroder. The song, aided by its inclusion in the blockbuster film ‘Top Gun’, soared to #1 in the U.S. and #2 in Australia. Going on to win the Oscar for ‘Best Song’, it was also Berlin’s first hit single in Britain (don’t mention the war), reaching #1 late in 1986 (reaching #3 in Britain again in 1990 when it was reissued following ‘Top Gun‘ premiering on British TV). The song was featured on Berlin’s third album ‘Count Three & Pray’ (US#61) but was somewhat of an anomaly compared to the rest of the albums’ tracks, in fact compared to anything they had recorded prior. Plenty of guest players were invited to contribute to the album, including Ted Nugent and David Gilmour. But Berlin’s prayers of a follow up chart buster went largely unanswered. ‘Like Flames’ was far more symbolic of the Berlin sound, but it could only manage #18 in Australia & #82 in the U.S. Within a year the tension within the group, most specifically between ex-partners Terri Nunn and John Crawford, reached the point of being untenable. Nunn announced she was leaving in 1987 and Berlin became divided.

John Crawford, who decided to assume the pseudonym of
John Shreve for anonymity, formed the group the Big F (representing Crawford ‘flipping off’ the music industry) in 1989 with drummer Rob Brill, whilst Terri Nunn pursued a solo career during the 90s, releasing the single ‘Let Me Be The One’ in 1991 and recording a the duet ‘Romance’ with Paul Carrack (1989). In 1999 Terri Nunn reclaimed ownership of the band name Berlin and put together a revamped line-up, touring regularly over the ensuing years and releasing an album of new material in 2002 titled ‘Voyeur’. In 2003 the VH-1 program ‘Bands Reunited’ took on the challenge of getting the original line-up of Berlin back together for a reunion and a live show. They tracked down the former core members (aside from Brill) in a variety of locations and in a variety of career pursuits: John Crawford had settled into family life and running a fulltime business called Mad Science; Rick Olsen was a guitar designer/technician; David Diamond had become a commercial pilot; Matt Reid was still playing local gigs; Rod Learned had pursued family and career interests; whilst Terri Nunn was fronting Berlin circa 2003.

Despite some nervous misgivings from former creative and personal partners Crawford and Nunn, the reunion was an outstanding success. As a unit Berlin sounded as sharp as ever, whilst Terri Nunn proved that she was still a vocal tour de force. Following the one off reunion show Nunn returned to fronting the new line-up and the former members returned to their post Berlin lives, though Crawford (inspired by the VH-1 experience) returned to writing and recording and has recently released his second solo album ‘8 Days’.

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