Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Wave Wanna Be Cowboys

It would be fair to say that the 1986 hit ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ would be classified by many as a novelty song - a well crafted piece of synth-driven pop - but still a novelty song. In my view the ‘novelty song’ tag would be selling the song short, but more importantly the band behind the song, Boys Don’t Cry. It would also be fair to say that many people would have mistaken Boys Don’t Cry as being American, but in fact they were British. Apparently their name was not in reference to The Cure song, but was inspired by the whispered lyric “be quiet…big boys don’t cry” from the 10CC classic ‘I’m Not In Love’.

The new wave pop-rock group came together during 1983 under the leadership of vocalist Nick Richards (who had worked previously with the band Sad Café). Boys Don’t Cry came to the attention of Paul Oakenfold (DJ & record producer) who was working as a talent scout in London for the U.S. label Profile Records at the time. Between Profile and the British label Legacy Records, Boys Don’t Cry had the go ahead to record a five track EP in late ‘83. ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ featured the trio of Nick Richards (vocals), Richard Tace (guitar) and Steve Creese (drums) as the official members of Boys Don’t Cry (they are the trio pictured on the cover). In addition a number of guest musicians appeared, among them former Flaming Youth keyboardist Brian Chatton (the band Phil Collins was in pre-Genesis). The single ‘Heart’s Bin Broken’ was also released, but neither broke Boys Don’t Cry on the charts.

The band’s line-up was revamped and expanded over the next couple of years, and by 1985 Boys Don’t Cry had become the quintet of Richards, Chatton, Nico Ramsden (guitar), Mark Smith (bass) and Jeff Seopardi (drums-also former Sad Café). In late 1985 the single ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ was unleashed on the world. For all intents and purposes the song was a tongue in cheek attempt to produce a contemporary synth-pop song with a strong spaghetti-western motif, and it was a runaway success. The promotional video complimented the song brilliantly, featuring the band members living their dream as cowboys, along with cameo appearances from several members of British heavy metal band Motorhead.

‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ cracked the U.S. market in early ‘86 and rounded up enough sales to peak at #12. I was in my final year of high school in 1986 and I can still recall the machine gun stuttering of ‘T-T-T-T-T-T-Trigger’ being a popular, though short lived, catchphrase around school grounds, though more likely as some bizarrely adopted gangsta-rapper derivative, than reference to a mythical wild west steed. The song was a massive hit down under, and shot all guns blazing to #4 on the Australian charts mid year. The wild west motif evoked by ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ was captured again a couple of years later by the U.S. duo Martini Ranch in their classic song ‘Reach’ (see earlier post). Incidentally the legendary Clint Eastwood used the song in his campaign to be elected Mayor of Carmel.

Boys Don’t Cry released their eponymous debut album which set up camp just outside the top 50 in both Australia (#54) and the U.S. (#55), but surprisingly their home territory of Britain remained a frontier unconquered. ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ wasn’t indicative of the overall style and sound of Boys Don’t Cry, and in some respects may have proven as much a curse as a blessing in terms of their overall career. The follow up single ‘Cities On Fire’ was a huge departure and captured the sound of a strong synth-rock band rather than a kooky, quirky novelty act. I recall seeing the promotional video for ‘Cities On Fire’ on the music video program ‘Sounds’, and I actually recorded the clip on a long since decayed video cassette. I regret not purchasing the vinyl 45 as I can still recall the tune in my mind today - and it’s a really solid pop-rock song. ‘Cities On Fire’ wasn’t what fans of ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ were expecting and sadly didn’t find the market that it deserved.

Boys Don’t Cry recorded one more album titled ‘Who The Am Dam Do You Think We Am’, which was released in 1987, and featured the single ‘We Got The Magic’. For some strange reason the album was re-titled ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ in the U.S., giving the group two albums with the same title in that market, and no doubt denying them sales because of that fact. What ever the factors involved, Boys Don’t Cry couldn’t produce another hit, novelty or otherwise, and didn’t find a market as a genuine new wave pop-rock outfit. The Boys Don’t Cry posse parted ways during 1988, and vocalist Nick Richards signed on with RCA for a prospective solo career, which didn’t really amount to much. The other members of the band each went on to solid careers as session/touring players with other artists. Most notably keyboardist Brian Chatton has worked with the likes of Phil Collins, ‘N Sync, Sheena Easton and Yes vocalist Jon Anderson.

In 1997 it was reported that the co-writers of ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’, Nick Richards and Brian Chatton, launched legal action against singer Paula Cole and her label Warner Brothers Records, claiming that a remix of Cole’s song ‘Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?’ used the phrase ‘I wanna be a cowboy’ in suspiciously like manner to the Boys Don’t Cry hit. I haven’t been able to dig up any info on who performs the female vocals on ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’, so if anyone out there can help out with a name I’d really appreciate it.

So join Ted and his posse for some fun and thought bubbles on the range with the video for ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’! And in news just to hand and almost three years after posting this, I've just discovered the video clip to 'Cities On Fire' on YouTube - so please enjoy the clip to the hit that should have been but never was.

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