Category: synth pop

On this day in music history: June 11, 1979 – …

On this day in music history: June 11, 1979 – “Duty Now For The Future”, the second album by Devo is released. Produced by Ken Scott and Devo, it is recorded at Chateau Recorders in Hollywood, CA from September 1978 – Early 1979. Less than a month after their debut album “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” is in stores, Devo quickly begin recording the follow up. The band work with Ken Scott, best known for his work with The Beatles, Pink Floyd and David Bowie. Much of the material on “Duty” has been performed live since 1976, penned mostly by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale (with writing contributions from Bob Casale (aka “Bob 1”) ). The lone cover is of Johnny Rivers’ 60’s classic “Secret Agent Man”, featuring a guitar solo that has been distorted through microphone preamps, then fed into headphones and recorded with a mic taped to them. The album features more of an emphasis on guitars, with the band and Scott employing various techniques to alter their texture and sound. The opening track “Devo Corporate Anthem” is inspired in part by the sci-fi film “Rollerball”. The cover for “Duty Now For The Future” is designed graphic artist Janet Perr (Cyndi Lauper, Run DMC), satirizing the use of UPC codes (Universal Product Code), on the back of album covers. At the time of their inception, many musicians feel they distract from carefully conceived artwork, and stand out like a sore thumb. However, Devo respond by having them positioned all over the front and back of the colorful album cover, reacting to the “Orwellian” look of the UPC symbols. The original covers feature an illustration of the band in the center, that is perforated and can be removed. Issued only ten and a half months after their debut, the initial reaction to “Duty” is largely mixed from both fans and critics. Many feel that it is “transitional” and darker, lacking the same type of humor and tongue in cheek attitude of the first album. Though in time, it is re-evaluated and is regarded as a “seminal new wave synthpop album”, and one of Devo’s best. Other tracks like “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize”, “Pink Pussycat” and “Smart Patrol”/“Mr. DNA” all become part of the band’s classic canon, and are performed live frequently in later years. Largely neglected by Warner Bros. due to its meager original sales, the album isn’t reissued on CD until 1991, with subsequent reissues in 1994 (w/ two bonus tracks), and 2010 (w/ five bonus tracks). Out of print on vinyl since its original release, it is also reissued briefly in 2010, and again in 2019 as part of the limited edition Record Store Day release “This Is The Devo Box”. The latter is pressed on purple vinyl, matching the shade of the LP’s inner sleeve. “Duty Now For The Future” peaks at number seventy three on the Billboard Top 200.

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On this day in music history: June 3, 1983 -…

On this day in music history: June 3, 1983 – “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats is released. Written by Ivan Doroschuk, it is the debut single release and the biggest hit for the synth pop/new wave band from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Founded in 1977 as a punk rock band and first known as Wave 21, it features brothers Ivan Doroschuk (lead vocals), Stefan Doroschuk (bass) and Colin Doroschuk (guitar), along with Pete Seabrooke (guitar), Dave Hill (bass) and John Gurrin (drums). They change their name to Men Without Hats after punk gives way to new wave. Their quirky name comes as a result of the brothers’ refusal to wear hats during Canada’s often bitterly cold winters. The band features a rotating line up, with Ivan and Stefan being only constant members. After more changes in personnel, Men Without Hats are then signed to Statik Records (distributed by Sire Records internationally). The band record their debut album “Rhythm Of Youth”, issuing “I Like” as the first single. It fails to chart in Canada or Europe, and is followed up by “The Safety Dance”. The song is a result of an experience during Men Without Hats’ early days. Bouncers in a club they were playing in, were admonishing patrons stop pogo dancing. The dance consists of someone jumping up and down like a pogo stick, while either flailing your arms. Regarded as the predecessor to moshing and slam dancing, some venues ban it, to avoid injuries. Released in Canada and Europe first, “The Safety Dance” peaks at #11 on the Canadian singles chart, and #6 on the UK singles chart in early 1983. Off of the back of that success, it’s licensed to MCA distributed Backstreet Records in the US. “The Safety Dance” is supported by a music video directed by Tim Pope (The Cure, Soft Cell), inspired by 17th and 18th century English folklore and culture. Filmed in the village of West Kington in Wiltshire, UK, actors in period dress are seen dancing in groups and around the maypole. British dwarf actor Mike Edmonds (Flash Gordon, Time Bandits, Return Of The Jedi), as the jester who accompanies Doroschuk. Throughout the video, Ivan makes the distinctive movements of jerking his arms into the shape of an “S”, to signify the “safety dance”. A big hit on American dance floors first, an extended version (included on the “Rhythm Of Youth” album) spends one week at #1 on the Billboard Club Play chart, on July 2, 1983. The original single mix crosses over to radio, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on September 10, 1983. Regarded as an 80’s new wave classic, Men Without Hats will find following up their big hit nearly impossible. They chart in the US only two more times with “I Like” (#84 Pop) and “Pop Goes The World” (#20 Pop). In 1984, “Weird Al” Yankovic spoofs “The Safety Dance” with “The Brady Bunch” on his album “In 3-D”.

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On this day in music history: June 1, 1985 – &…

On this day in music history: June 1, 1985 – “Hunting High And Low”, the debut album by a-ha is released. Produced by John Ratcliff, Tony Mansfield and Alan Tarney, it is recorded Eel Pie Studios in Twickenham, London, UK, and Rendezvous Studios in London from June 1984 – March 1985. Formed in their native Oslo, Norway in 1982, a-ha take their name from song written by Pål Waaktaar early in band’s existence. They choose the name as a word that is easy for English speaking people to remember and pronounce, and has the same meaning in Norwegian and English. Realizing that their chances for success are limited in Norway, a-ha relocate to London in 1983. They begin recording demos, secure management, and within a year begin to attract record label interest. Signed to the US branch of Warner Bros Records in early 1984, the Norwegian pop trio begin work on their first album with a trio of producers, including their manager John Ratcliff, and UK pop/rock veterans Tony Mansfield (Naked Eyes, The B-52’s, Captain Sensible) and Alan Tarney (Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer). It spins off three hits in the US including the chart topping “Take On Me” (on October 19, 1985) and “The Sun Always Shines On TV” (#20 Pop, #6 Club Play). It sells over six million copies worldwide, also earning them a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. In 2010, a two CD remastered version of the album (by Bill Inglot, Dan Hersch and Dave Schultz) is issued including demo versions of several songs, previously unreleased tracks, 12" single remixes and the original 1984 version of “Take On Me”. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued by Rhino Records in 2015. Another limited edition LP, pressed on clear vinyl, is issued as part of Rhino’s “Back To The 80’s” series in July of 2018. “Hunting High And Low” peaks at number fifteen on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: May 20, 1985 – &…

On this day in music history: May 20, 1985 – “Youthquake”, the second album by Dead Or Alive is released. Produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, it is recorded at PWL Studios in London from September 1984 – March 1985. Following the departure of founding member and guitarist Wayne Hussey to join the goth-rock band Sisters Of Mercy in mid-1984, Dead Or Alive continue on as a quartet. The Liverpool, UK based band completely abandon their early goth/post-punk sound which they had begun moving away from on their debut album “Sophisticated Boom Boom”. Dead Or Alive work with the fledgling production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aikten and Pete Waterman (aka Stock, Aitken and Waterman. The first product of the bands fully revamped Eurodisco/Hi-NRG sound is the single “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” (#1 UK Pop, #11 US Pop), which Epic Records has such disdain for it initially, that they refuse to fund its recording. Lead singer Pete Burns believes so deeply in the songs hit potential that he takes out a loan to record it independently of the label. After the song is recorded, Epic releases it, but again refuses to provide a budget to shoot a music video. The self financed clip directed by Vaughan Arnell and Anthea Benton (George Michael’s “Fastlove”, The Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There”) begins to receive play on UK television and in clubs, helping the record move on to the charts in December of 1984. The song moves slowly up the charts until Dead Or Alive appears on Top Of The Pops in February of 1985. That lone television appearance helps propel the single to #1 on the UK singles chart in March, prompting its US release. The album meets with similar success as it spins off three additional singles including “Lover Come Back To Me” (#11 UK Pop, #75 US Pop), “In Too Deep” (#14 UK Pop), and “My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me To The Doctor)” (#23 UK Pop). The albums striking cover artwork is designed by British graphic design firm Satori (Def Leppard, Thompson Twins), and features an enigmatic photograph of the flamboyant Burns on the front, taken by famed fashion photographer Mario Testino. The original European CD and cassette versions of the album include the Performance Mix of “You Spin Me Round” and the extended dance mix of “Lover Come Back”, as well as the remastered release in 1994. The US and Japanese CD’s contain the original vinyl LP track listing. Out of print on vinyl since its original release, it is remastered and reissued by Music On Vinyl in 2018. The LP comes pressed on standard black or limited edition purple vinyl (1,500 numbered copies). “Youthquake” peaks at number nine on the UK album chart, number thirty one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: May 16, 1980 – &…

On this day in music history: May 16, 1980 – “Freedom Of Choice”, the third studio album by Devo is released. Produced by Robert Margouleff and Devo, it is recorded at The Record Plant in Los Angeles, CA from October 1979 – January 1980. The pioneering new wave bands third release sees their sound become more keyboard driven, incorporating them into their trademark guitar/bass and drums configuration. For this release, Devo collaborates with producer and musician Robert Margouleff (Stevie Wonder, Tonto’s Expanding Head Band). The unique hybrid results in their most successful album, and is regarded as a landmark album in the new wave genre. It spins off four singles including “Whip It” (#14 Pop, #22 Club Play) and “Girl U Want”. When the album is released, Warner Bros chooses “Girl U Want” as the first single, over the band’s choice of “Whip It”. Though regarded as a classic today (later being covered by Soundgarden, Superchunk and Zombie Ghost Train), the single fails to chart in the US. It’s only after DJ’s in various parts of the country begin playing it off of the album, that “Whip It” is released as a single in August of 1980. Supported a tongue in cheek video (costing only $15,000), is set on a dude ranch and is inspired by an issue of the men’s life style magazine “The Dude”. Though some misconstrue the song as being about sadomasochism or masturbation, it doesn’t stop it from becoming Devo’s biggest hit, and only million selling single.The original twelve track album is remastered and reissued in November of 2009, pairing it with the bands 1981 live EP “DEV-O Live”. A month later, a further expanded edition titled “DEVO-LUX” that includes demo versions of “Gates Of Steel”, “Snowball” and “Time Bomb”, and the bands debut album “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”. In January of 2016, Rhino Records reissues “Freedom Of Choice” as part of their “Start Your Ear Off Right” series, as a limited edition vinyl LP pressed on red, white and blue multi-colored vinyl, also replicating the original inner sleeve. The vinyl edition is reissued again in April of 2019, for Record Store Day. Pressed on red vinyl, the LP is included in the box set “This Is The Devo Box”. “Freedom Of Choice” peak at number twenty two on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: May 10, 1986 – &…

On this day in music history: May 10, 1986 – “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Club Play chart for 2 weeks on May 3, 1986. Written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, it is the biggest hit for the British synth pop/dance music duo. The worldwide hit version of “West End Girls” is actually the second version of the song recorded by the duo. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe originally record the track with new wave/dance music producer Bobby Orlando (aka “Bobby O”) in 1984. Released on CBS’ short lived Bobcat Records imprint, it becomes a sizable club hit in parts of Europe and the US. Tennant and Lowe have a falling out with Orlando prior to signing with EMI Records and subsequently re-cut the song with producer Stephen Hague (OMD, Erasure, New Order), in 1985. The re-recorded version also features background vocals by Helena Springs (Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Matt Bianco). Released in the UK in October of 1985, the single shoots to number one in the UK in January 1986. Off the back of its chart topping success in the UK, it is released in the US in February of 1986. Entering the Hot 100 at #71 on March 1, 1986, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. “West End Girls” also top the charts in Canada, Norway, and New Zealand as well as reaching the top five in another nine countries. The success of the single propels their debut album “Please” to Platinum status in the US.

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On this day in music history: May 10, 1981 – “…

On this day in music history: May 10, 1981 – “Computer World”, the eighth studio album by Kraftwerk is released. Produced by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, it is recorded at the Kling Klang Studio in Düsseldorf, Germany from Mid 1979 – Early 1981. Following the release of “The Man-Machine in 1978, the enigmatic and pioneering Electronic music bands virtually disappear from public view for an extended period of time. In the interim, Kraftwerk spend the time modifying their recording studio in Düsseldorf, as well as composing new music. They also end their association with Capitol Records in the US, and sign a new deal with Warner Bros, remaining with EMI in Europe and the rest of the world. The band spend nearly three years working on their next album, as well as making plans to launch a major tour, to reproduce the complex sounds they have created in the studio on the concert stage. The new release “Computer World” (aka “Computerwelt”), is a concept album about the rise of computers in modern society. Like their previous two albums, it is also released in an alternate German language version in their native country. The singles “Numbers” (#22 R&B, #13 Club Play, #103 Pop) and “Pocket Calculator” (#103 Pop) become highly influential in various forms electronic music including the Techno and Electro funk genres that emerge in its wake. The album is remastered in 2009, and is reissued on both CD and reissued on vinyl for the first time in nearly a decade. “Computer World” peaks at number fifteen on the UK album chart, number thirty two on the R&B album chart, and number seventy two on the Billboard Top 200.

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On this day in music history: May 8, 1982 – &l…

On this day in music history: May 8, 1982 – “Chariots Of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks on April 3, 1982. Written and produced by Evangelos Papathanassiou (aka Vangelis), it is the biggest hit for the Greek musician and composer. The theme song to the Academy Award winning film about two British athletes training for the 1924 Olympics in Paris, the composer is chosen by film director Hugh Hudson to score the film. Vangelis takes a unique approach when creating the music for the period film. It is contrasted dramatically by a contemporary, modern sounding score performed by the composer alone on an acoustic piano, combined with numerous layers of synthesizers (including the Yamaha CS-80 and ARP 2600), only augmented by a choir on one track. Released as a single in late 1981, and entering the Hot 100 at #94 on December 12, 1981, it begins a long and slow climb up the US pop singles chart, finally reaching the top of the chart twenty weeks later. Vangelis wins an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for the music he composed for the film in March of 1982. The critical and commercial success of the film turns the Greek composer’s majestic and unconventional film score into a surprise pop hit, with the soundtrack album spending four weeks at number one on the Top 200 beginning on April 17, 1982 and being certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA. The title theme and the score become instantly iconic, with the theme being used in numerous other films, television shows and commercials over the years.

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On this day in music history: May 2, 1983 – &l…

On this day in music history: May 2, 1983 – “Fascination!”, the first mini album by The Human League is released. Produced by Martin Rushent and The Human League, it is recorded at Genetic Sound Studios in Reading, Berkshire, UK from March – September 1981, and Late 1982 – February 1983. With the huge worldwide success of “Dare” and the smash “Don’t You Want Me”, The Human League feel intense pressure to follow it up. To fill the gap, the band record a pair of singles. The first of these is the Motown influenced “Mirror Man” (#2 UK, #30 US Pop) released internationally in November of 1982 (US September of ‘83). It is followed by the equally infectious “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” (#2 UK, #8 US Pop) in April of 1983 (US and Canada in May of ’83). It is accompanied by a clever music video directed by Steve Barron (Michael Jackson, a-ha, Toto), shot on location in East London. Beginning with a map of the Newham district marked with a large orange “you are here” dot, the image dissolves to reveal an aerial shot of the same dot painted over a flat and the surrounding street area. The camera pans down to reveal The Human League performing inside the flat, dressed in black in a flat gray room, with all of their instruments also painted the same color. Barron and the band obtain permission from the City of London to the paint the building and the street, since all of the buildings scheduled to be demolished. Still struggling to finish their next full length album, and with no completion date in sight, the band’s US label A&M Records comes up with an idea. The label compiles the two singles along with two non LP B-sides, an early version of “I Love You Too Much” (re-recorded for their next album “Hysteria”), and a dub remix of “Fascination”. They are issued as a six track mini album in the US, Canada, France and Taiwan. The cover artwork is released with the artist name and title on the front, with a single photo of the band (also used on the “Fascination” picture sleeve) and track listing on the back, with either a black or battleship gray background. When it makes its CD debut twenty four years later, it is expanded to ten tracks. Oddly, the reissue does not include the stand alone version of “Hard Times”, first released in the UK on the remix album “Love And Dancing”. Instead, it is paired with an instrumental mix of the track “Love Action (I Believe In Love)”. In the UK, “Fascination!” is packaged with an anniversary reissue of “Dare”, and in Japan as a stand alone release in 2015, though is not reissued in any of its original countries of origin. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” is later featured in the video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”, on the 80’s radio station. “Fascination!” peaks at number twenty two on the Billboard Top 200.

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On this day in music history: May 2, 1983 – &l…

On this day in music history: May 2, 1983 – “Power, Corruption & Lies”, the second studio album by New Order is released. Produced by New Order, it is recorded at Britannia Row Studios in Islington, London, UK in March 1982. Released as the follow up to New Order’s debut “Movement, their sophomore release marks a notable change in the bands instrumental make up, incorporating more synthesizers and drum programming, and moving away from their original guitar based sound. The album title is taken from graffiti spray painted on the outside of a Cologne, Germany art gallery. The cover artwork designed by graphic artist Peter Saville features a reproduction of the painting "A Basket Of Roses” by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour. Saville add a a color based code to the upper right hand corner the album cover, that when decoded spells out the album title and the bands name. This color coding is also used on the singles for “Blue Monday” and “Confusion”. The artwork for “Power” is also issued as a postage stamp by the Royal Mail Service in the UK in 2010. The US release of the album is amended to include the single “Blue Monday” (issued only as 12" in the UK at the time). In time, it is regarded an important and influential album in the post-punk, synth-pop genres. To commemorate its twenty fifth anniversary in 2008, “Power” is remastered and reissued as a two CD deluxe edition. The first disc contains the original eight song UK release. The second disc features eight bonus tracks, including the singles “Blue Monday”, “Thieves Like Us” and “Confusion”, dub mixes and instrumental versions. Long out of print on vinyl, the album is remastered and reissued in 2015. Pressed on 180 gram vinyl, it faithfully reproduces the original Factory Records LP packaging, also coming with an mp3 download card. The LP receives another pressing in 2017, limited to only 1,000 copies. Pressed on silver vinyl, the limited edition release is available exclusively at the Manchester Art Gallery, during a Joy Division/New Order exhibition running from June 30 – September 3, 2017. The limited pressing sells out, and has now become a coveted collector’s item among New Order fans. “Power, Corruption & Lies” peaks at number four on the UK album chart.

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