Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Never Ending Story Delivered In Under Four Minutes

The relentlessly evolving narrative behind Limahl’s 1984 hit ‘Never Ending Story’ began its life in 1979 with an aspiring avant-garde instrumental quartet calling themselves Art Nouveau. The band then consisted of Nick Beggs (bass), Steve Askew (guitar), Stuart Croxford Neale (keyboards) and Jez Strode (drums). After releasing one single ‘The Fear Machine’, which only sold a few hundred copies, they set about finding a vocalist in an effort to break through commercially.

Through a process of auditions they chose Christopher Hamill in 1981. Hamill would prove the key vocal and visual ingredient that the band had been missing. He assumed the anagrammatic pseudonym of Limahl and soon the band were sporting classic multi-coloured spiked hair in very Duran Duran style. They were also sporting a new name, adopting Kajagoogoo as a lighthearted reference to the phonetic ramblings of a baby (gagagoogoo style), and a new sound commercial synth-pop, became their musical mantra.

The band started to pick up some regular gigs, but were not exactly self sufficient. In between gigs at London’s Embassy Club singer Limahl worked part time as a waiter. Kajagoogoo had attempted to catch the interest of several record labels with demos and live appearances but had failed to snag a deal. Limahl approached Duran Duran co-founder and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who was a regular guest at the Embassy Club. Limahl persuaded Rhodes to listen to their demos and convinced him that Kajagoogoo were set to be the next big thing in pop music. Rhodes must have seen a young Duran Duran in the band as he took Kajagoogoo under his wing and sold both them and their music to EMI, who signed them in July 1982.

Rhodes worked with Duran Duran producer Colin Thurston to produce Kajagoogoo’s first single ‘Too Shy’. The song was classic formula pop for the masses, and the masses lapped it up. It debuted on the British charts in late January ‘83 and within a month had assumed top spot, in the process making Kajagoogoo an overnight sensation. ‘Too Shy’ went on to reach #6 in Australia, and more significantly broke Kajagoogoo in America when it reached #5 Stateside a couple of months later. Strangely enough the protégé Kajagoogoo had a British #1 hit before their virtual mentor and inspiration Duran Duran. The song’s title had originally been ‘Shy Shy’, but to avoid any confusion in association with the band’s Talk Talk and Duran Duran, it was decided to retag it ‘Too Shy’.

Kajagoogoo suddenly found themselves the subject of intense media hype, frenzied fans (dubbed ‘googoo-mania’) and a hectic and demanding touring, promotional and recording schedule. Their debut album ‘White Feathers’ (UK#5,OZ#53,US#38) was also co-produced by Rhodes, who must have felt that Duran Duran might have some stiff competition on their hands in the teen driven ‘new romantics’ market. The follow up single ‘Ooh To Be Ah’ reached #7 in the U.K., mainly on the back of the still strong hype surrounding Kajagoogoo, but the song’s lack of substantive quality was shown up outside of Britain where it failed to perform very well (OZ#68). ‘Hang On Now’ reached #13 in the U.K. and was the band’s only other U.S. chart hit (#78) in mid ‘83.

It was around that time that tensions within Kajagoogoo reached breaking point. The high fashion image and teeny bop pop sound that had opened the doors for them in the first place had driven a wedge between singer Limahl and the other band members. In mid 1983 the decision was made by the original quartet to sack Limahl from Kajagoogoo. As Limahl himself stated in a 2004 interview on VH1’s ‘Bands Reunited’, the band thought that by getting rid of him they would also be able to get rid of the teeny bopper group tag and could become a ‘serious’ band. In essence bassist Nick Beggs and the other members of the band confirmed as much, in saying that the original four members of the group wanted to move forward from the lightweight synth-pop of their first album and make their second album reflect the fact that both they and their fans were growing up. Beggs went on to say that he felt that Limahl wanted to “herald back to a very specific teen bop commercial sound”, and it was a case of any compromise being beyond their reach at that time, due also to a great deal of animosity within the band. In that same VH1 program the other members of Kajagoogoo expressed their obvious regret at having summarily dispensed with Limahl at the height of their fame, whilst Limahl himself likened the sacking to having “a stake driven through” his heart.

Kajagoogoo carried on as a four piece, with Beggs taking on the vocal duties for their next single ‘Big Apple’ (UK#8) in late ‘83, which would be their last major hit. They released one more album as Kajagoogoo, 1984’s ‘Islands’ (UK#35) being a mere shadow of their first effort. If the original quartet wanted to alienate their teeny bopper audience they succeeded, but what they failed to do was find a new audience to replace them. ‘The Lion’s Mouth’ (UK#25) was the only single release from the album that made it into the top 30. As for markets beyond Britain, Kajagoogoo were yesterday’s news. Drummer Jez Strode left and 1985 saw the group (now a trio) tweak their name to Kaja for the album ‘Crazy People’s Right To Speak’. The album missed the charts altogether, producing just one minor hit in ‘Shouldn’t Do That’ (UK#63), and the band broke up soon thereafter.

Meanwhile Limahl pursued a solo career in earnest. By late 1983 he had released his debut single ‘Only For Love’ which performed solidly on the U.K. charts (#16). The song reached #50 in Australia and #51 in the U.S. (albeit almost 18 months later on the back of Limahl’s next and biggest solo hit). Limahl then struck gold when he was chosen to perform the theme song for the film ‘The Never Ending Story’. The Giorgio Moroder written/produced song was a perfect vehicle for the singer to showcase his talents, and perhaps send a message to his former band mates that they made the wrong decision in firing him. ‘Never Ending Story’ reached #4 in Britain, #6 in Australia and #17 in the U.S. Unfortunately Limahl couldn’t follow up that success, his debut solo album ‘Don’t Suppose’ languishing in the lower reaches of the British charts (#63) along with the next single ‘Too Much Trouble’ (#64). His next album ‘Colour All My Days’ (1986) may have had the advantage of having Moroder at the production controls, but it sold poorly, whilst 1992’s album ‘Love Is Blind’ was only released in Germany. It seemed Limahl needed Kajagoogoo as much as they needed him.

When VH1 approached the former Kajagoogoo members in 2004 to organise a one off reunion, Nick Beggs was a music producer, Steve Askew a guitar teacher, Stuart Croxford Neale a software salesman, Jez Strode was a businessman and Limahl was still active as a singer. A one off reunion was all that did eventuate at the time, though the band and especially Limahl actually sounded quite sharp. But once again frictions between members and contractual issues stymied the reunion initiative.

In 2007 Beggs, Askew and Neale recorded once again as Kajagoogoo. The tracks are due to be released in 2008 in hard copy album form under the title ‘Gone To The Moon’. Limahl and Strode have also rejoined the fray in 2008 for a series of concerts, and plans are under way for the quintet to play at the annual Retrofest Show in August 2008. Here’s hoping Kajagoogoo ‘take 2’ can last longer than ‘take 1’.

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