Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Buggles' Continuing Adventures In Modern Recording

Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes also found a few spare moments to oversee production on a remix of the 1979 UK#17 hit ‘Back Of My Hand (I’ve Got Your Number)’ by English rock outfit The Jags. Credited as ‘Remixed by The Buggles’, the song reached #84 in the U.S. on it’s release in 1980. During mid 1980 a number of events unfolded that were to significantly alter the course The Buggles had been following. Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes had begun pre-production on their second album, and just happened to be working in the same studio complex as prog-rock giants Yes. Yes themselves were attempting to regain equilibrium following the dual departures of keyboard guru Rick Wakeman and vocalist Jon Anderson. Aside from working on the same piece of real estate, Yes and The Buggles were also linked via the mutual management services of Brian Lane. Long time admires of Yes, Downes and Horn, had produced the band’s 1978 album ‘Tormato’, just prior to The Buggles. They’d come up with a demo track titled ‘We Can Fly From Here’, which they felt could help Yes reignite their career. Initially, Downes and Horn were intending to offer their services as producers for the song, and hopefully the next Yes album. As it turned out the remaining Yes members, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe, invited the pair to not only produce the album, but join Yes as fulltime members. Downes and Horn duly accepted the invite to join a prog-rock institution, and as of mid 1980, The Buggles were placed on hold indefinitely.

The resultant Yes album, ‘Drama’, was released in August of 1980, and ironically didn’t include ‘We Can Fly From Here’. Yes embarked on an extensive tour in support of ‘Drama’, which received mixed reviews - well it was a tough act to supplant Wakeman and Anderson - and in amidst the resultant fallout, Yes decided to go on hiatus in April 1981. That once again freed up Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn to return to a life as Buggles. They resumed work on their sophomore album soon after, but only a few weeks into proceedings Geoff Downes left, citing musical differences (the standard reason). In part Downes departure may have been due to the lure of a new ‘supergroup’ project being pieced together by Yes’ guitarist Steve Howe. Asia was unleashed upon the world later in ‘81, featuring Howe, Downes, bassist John Wetton (ex-King Crimson), and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), and went on to stellar success (see Oct. ‘Battle Of The Supergroups’ post). As it turned out Downes only worked on a handful of tracks from The Buggles’ sophomore album ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ (US#161), released in August ‘81. The album was released on an early incarnation of ZTT Records (Island had dumped the Buggles unceremoniously), and ended up being more of a Trevor Horn solo project, with session players John Sinclair and Simon Darlow stepping into help complete the sessions. On the whole ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was categorised by critics as somewhat of a misadventure in recording, though if looked at in the right context, could be viewed as an entrée to Horn’s future brilliance as a producer. The lead out single ‘I Am Camera’ was a reworking of a song that Downes and Horn and contributed to the Yes ‘Drama’ album, titled ‘Into The Lens’ (which had in itself evolved out of an early version of ‘I Am Camera’, so the song had essentially travelled full circle). But neither ‘I Am Camera’, or the follow up single ‘On TV’ could recapture the heady days of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. I haven’t heard the album in full, so can’t comment with any authority as to its quality by comparison with ‘The Age Of Plastic’, but regardless, by year’s end Horn had decided “we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far”, and without fanfare, declared an end to The Buggles.

Whilst Downes had gone on to considerable acclaim as a long term (in fact the longest term) member of Asia, Trevor Horn didn’t rest easy on his Buggles’ laurels, and before long had established himself as one of the most innovative, respected, and much in demand record producers in the world. He soon established his own label ZTT records, and was the production wizard behind the Frankie Goes To Hollywood phenomenon. He has been at the helm for projects by (to name a few) ABC (see April 09 post), Cher, Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys, Propaganda, Tom Jones, Seal, Paul McCartney, and among the highlights in a remarkable list of production credits, Trevor Horn produced Yes’ 1983 comeback album ‘90125’, which spawned their first US#1 ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’. He produced, in my humble view, the best song in popular music history, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ by Grace Jones (see April 08 post), and co-founded the studio based powerhouse Art Of Noise (see future post).

Aside from a one off reunion in 2004 at the Princes Trust concert, captured on the concert film ‘Slaves To The Rhythm’ (and featuring many of the artists Horn had weaved his mercurial production magic with), Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn haven’t revived The Buggles name, though as part of his new supergroup called The Producers (also featuring Steve Lipson, Chris Braide, Ash Soan and Lol Crème), Horn has performed ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ a number of times in concert over recent years. Whether The Buggles ever record or perform again, the iconic ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, has assured the Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes’ project a permanent place of honour in popular music history.

No comments: