Monday, June 22, 2009

Go West Bang And Crash Their Way Into The Charts

Over the course of half a century, the duo has been very well represented in popular music history. I’ll make the distinction here between ‘duo’ and ‘duet’, the latter being a one off collaboration between two separate pop entities. The more traditional concept of the duo, in the pop music context, represents the ongoing creative collaboration of two people, united under a single moniker. Some of pop’s best known duos were united by common parentage, such as the Everly Brothers, the Proclaimers, Nelson, the Carpenters, and Mel and Kim, others by marriage, such as Ashford and Simpson (see previous post), Peaches & Herb, and Captain & Tennille. But most pop music duos have come about via the union of two likeminded musicians, or at least they started out as likeminded, who decided to pool their creative energies under a united front - think Simon & Garfunkel, the Righteous Brothers (who weren’t actually brothers), Outkast, Savage Garden, Roxette, Sam & Dave, or PM Dawn.

Arguably the proliferation of pop duos reached its peak population during the 1980s. Though the following examples may have experienced a lifespan either side of the decade, they no doubt were most readily associated with the 80s - Pet Shop Boys, Wham!, Hall and Oates, Eurythmics, Yazoo, Naked Eyes, PhD., Hue & Cry, Erasure, Red Box, Freeez, Communards, Soft Cell, Inner City, Godley & Crème, Nu Shooz, Sly Fox, Boy Meets Girl, The Globos, Big Bam Boo, Timbuk 3, and The Quick - to but scratch the surface. Many other bands drifted in and out of ‘duo’ status, such as ABC, The Korgis, Tears For Fears, Wang Chung, O.M.D., Air Supply, America, The Style Council, and the Reels. Among the throng of pop duos jostling for attention during the 80s, was the British act Go West, featuring vocalist Peter Cox and multi-instrumentalist Richard Drummie.

The first spark in the genesis of Go West occurred during 1974 when Peter Cox and Richard Drummie first met. Both were still in their teens at the time, Cox already a keen vocalist with experience in professional choirs, and his own band called Bodie, and Drummie a talented guitarist, singer, and keyboardist (involved with a band called Free Agent). The two kept in touch of the ensuing years, earning a quid in cover bands, and by 1980 had forged a strong collaborative partnership as songwriters. Around that time they had been signed as professional writers with ATV Music, under the name of ‘Cox and Drummie’, but they didn’t possess an outlet by which to record their own music. Without a backing band, or label, Peter Cox and Richard Drummie had only one option by which to make it as recording artists. With the backing of manager John Glover, the duo hired some studio time, actually in the form of a Porta studio (better than a porta-loo), and recorded two songs that formed part of an already considerable cache of material.

The two songs they recorded were ‘We Close Our Eyes’ and ‘Call Me’. Glover presented the tapes to Chrysalis Records, and forty days later Cox and Drummie had themselves a record deal (there’s a reference to the ‘forty days’ in the liner notes to their first album). Of course it didn’t hurt that the pair also possessed pop-star idol looks and a natural stage presence, but above all it was their finely crafted, soul infused pop which sealed the deal. The pair adopted the name Go West, and entered Chipping Norton Studios to lay down tracks for a debut album. Producer Gary Stevenson helmed the sessions, in which Cox and Drummie handled much of the playing, augmented by some impressive session players, such as fretless bass ace Pino Palladino, and guitarist Alan Murphy. In February ‘85, Go West’s debut single ‘We Close Our Eyes’ hit the British and U.S. charts. Chrysalis must have had a lot of faith in the surging synth-pop number, because they hired the acclaimed Godley and Crème to direct the music video. It was actually a pretty straight forward affair in hindsight, but the promo video for ‘We Closed Our Eyes’ garnered a huge amount of airplay, particularly on MTV, and became one of the iconic music videos of the era. It was perhaps because of it’s relative simplicity, that it stood out from the crowd - music videos were becoming very elaborate affairs in the mid 80s. Regardless, the video no doubt played a part in pushing the single ‘We Close Our Eyes’ to a peak of #5 on the British charts, and #8 here in Australia (US#41). It was an auspicious beginning for Go West, and just reward for Cox and Drummie, who had laboured for the most part of a decade to reach the point of being ‘overnight sensations’.

Chrysalis would no doubt have been confident of Go West avoiding the one hit wonder tag, chiefly due to the quality of the follow up single ‘Call Me’, one of the two tracks that had originally caught the label’s interest. ‘Call Me’s sound was a little less forceful than its predecessor, but it was another slice of infectious, new wave inflected synth-pop. The single debuted on the charts during mid ‘85, and was backed by (imho) a very clever and eye catching promo video, which saw Cox and Drummie having to contend with a hundred foot tall woman (probably a reverse take on the whole King Kong concept), and much primitive C.G.I. ‘Call Me’ made a call at #12 on both the British and Australian charts (US#54), around the same time that Go West’s self titled debut album began to make serious inroads into the charts. The album featured just nine tracks, but all up represented a finely crafted serving of classic 80s era pop, melded seamlessly with strands of R&B and soul for good measure. The next single ‘Goodbye Girl’ was a slower tempo, R&B styled track, which showed that the lads had more than one gear by which to express their musical talents. ‘Goodbye Girl’ said hello to the British charts during August of ‘85, and went on to peak at #25 (OZ#55). Around the same time, a remixed version of the album track ‘Eye To Eye’ was released in the U.S. (#73).

Peter Cox and Richard Drummie may have also received a boost in the wardrobe budget during the year, as the jeans and singlets attire of earlier videos had been supplanted by sharp looking suits for the likes of ‘Goodbye Girl’, and the fourth (British) single from the album, ‘Don’t Look Down’. The 60s soul inflected track is my personal favourite of Go West’s early material, and was backed by a promo video that featured the lighter side of Go West (the band) on the road. In late ‘85/early ‘86, ‘Don’t Look Down’ looked up all the way to #13 on the British charts, and #26 in Australia. Over the course of four hit singles, the ‘Go West’ album had notched up impressive sales (UK#8/OZ#19/US#60), and proved to have considerable longevity on the charts, including an 83 week stint inside the British top 100. It’s worth mentioning that the lads also make a point of thanking The Quick (see previous post) for the “vibe”, via the liner notes. The album went on to sell over 1.5 million copies worldwide, and helped earn Go West the 1986 Brit Award for ‘Best British Newcomers’.

As had become a fashion (one partly inspired by Human League - see recent post), Go West then released an album of remixed tracks, arguably by way of a stop-gap measure to keep their name in the charts until an album of new material surfaced. The remix album ‘Bangs & Crashes’ (OZ#45) was released as a double vinyl album (and single CD) in mid 1986 (note: I don’t have a British chart position for ‘Bangs & Crashes’ as its chart performance was lumped in with sales for the original ‘Go West’ set). The album featured mostly remixed tracks from the debut set, including several handled by Julian Mendelsohn, along with a couple of bonus live tracks (recorded on Go West’s first major tour).

Peter Cox and Richard Drummie approached work on Go West’s sophomore album, with a view to dispensing with some of the straight up, radio friendly pop that had been the cornerstone of their debut album. Pin up idols they may have been, by Cox and Drummie were also mature musicians in their 30s, and rightly wanted to make an album more akin to people of their own generation. In short, they also wanted to stretch their wings beyond hook-laden pop. Producer Gary Stevenson returned, along with many of the same session players from the first album (several of whom had supported Go West on tour). The lead out single, ‘True Colours’, actually carried many of the same melodic synth-pop hallmarks of their earlier singles, but despite being a fine song, it languished in the lower reaches of the British charts during late 1986 (#48). The band then experienced somewhat of a setback when the computer system, containing much of the completed work for their next album, decided to crash. Consequently, it was back to the studio drawing board, and several months passed before Go West released their follow up single, and associated album.

‘I Want To Hear It From You’ made itself heard in mid ‘87, though not with as many people as Go West might have liked (UK#43/OZ#80). The track featured some sublime vocal harmonies in the chorus, and a kickass funky bass line (courtesy of Pino Palladino), but failed to gain much airplay. Go West released their ‘Dancing On The Couch’ album shortly after, the album’s title being in reference to the book ‘The Red Couch: A Portrait Of America’. The single ‘I Want To Hear It From You’ featured a pull out poster of Cox and Drummie perched on a giant red couch, whilst the album’s cover showed the pair sitting on a red couch with the British Houses of Parliament in the background. Go West then hit the road on their ‘Runaway Train’ tour, but unfortunately, though the tour was a sell out, the album didn’t prove to be a runaway hit on the charts (UK#19/OZ#95/ US#172). The album spawned just one more hit in Britain, with the jazz inflected number ‘The King Is Dead’ (UK#67), which enlisted some help from Kate Bush. The connection with Bush came via Go West’s touring guitarist Alan Murphy, who had worked in studio with Bush (and later hooked up with Level 42 - see future post). The poor sales for the first three singles prompted Chrysalis to pull the plug on the proposed fourth single, ‘From Baltimore To Paris’, which is a pity, because the laid back R&B styled number is a quality song. Go West did achieve one further success associated with their ‘Dancing On The Couch’ album, though it came via the album’s U.S. release. Stateside, the album featured a remix of the track ‘Don’t Look Down - The Sequel’, which hadn’t been included on the original British album. The song delivered Go West their first, but not last, U.S. top forty hit late in ‘87 (#39).

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