Category: synth pop

On this day in music history: November 9, 1985…

On this day in music history: November 9, 1985 – “Miami Vice Theme” by Jan Hammer hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #10 on the R&B singles chart on November 23, 1985. Written and produced by Jan Hammer, it is the biggest hit for the composer and musician from the Czech Republic. Born in Prague, Jan Hammer’s interest in music begins at age four when he begins playing piano, advancing to formal lessons two years later. Initially intending to become a doctor like his father, the desire to play music has a stronger pull. Hammer eventually decides to pursue an education in music, enrolling in the Prague Academy of Musical Arts in 1968. When the Warsaw Pact invades his native country, Hammer leaves for the US to study at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston. Completing his studies, Hammer quickly makes a name for himself as a touring with legendary jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan as well as recording with Elvin Jones and Jeremy Steig. In 1971, he becomes a founding member of the influential jazz fusion band the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, and bassist Rick Laird. Hammer remains with the band until late 1973, then collaborating with Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie and Jeff Beck. In early 1984, Hammer is approached by Michael Mann to compose music for television series he’s developing called “Miami Vice”. The police drama stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as detectives fighting crime against the glamorous and visceral back drop of Miami, FL. The series is unlike anything before it, visually or otherwise. Hammer’s distinctive scoring provides the perfect accompaniment to the on screen action. Utilizing the most advanced musical technology of the day, including the Fairlight CMI, Synclavier II and Yamaha DX7 synthesizers, Jan Hammer’s music becomes like an additional character in the series. He composes an explosive and brash theme for the show which immediately grabs the public’s attention from the first episode. The original “Miami Vice Theme” is only a minute long, but it is expanded to just under two and a half minutes when public demand for its release becomes too great to ignore. The theme is released as a single in August of 1985, and quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #59 on September 7, 1985, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. The single propels the “Miami Vice Soundtrack” to the top of the Billboard Top 200, spending eleven weeks at number one, becoming the most successful TV soundtrack album since Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” in 1959. It holds the record until 2006, when it is overtaken by the soundtrack to “High School Musical”. The “Miami Vice Theme” also wins Jan Hammer two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Composition in 1986. It is the last time an instrumental tops the US singles chart until “Harlem Shake” by Baauer in 2013.

On this day in music history: November 1, 1974…

On this day in music history: November 1, 1974 – “Autobahn”, the fourth album by Kraftwerk is released. Produced by Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Conny Plank, it is recorded at Conny Plank’s Studio in Cologne, Germany and Klingklang Studio in Dusseldorf, Germany in Spring – Summer 1974. Releasing three albums between 1970 and 1973, by the mid 70’s Kraftwerk begin making the transition away from the free-form progressive rock sound of their earlier work, toward a new musical direction. Led by founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, by 1974 the band also includes Klaus Röder (violin, guitar) and Wolfgang Flür (percussion). Another key element to Kraftwerk’s sound is recording engineer Konrad “Conny” Plank, who offers valuable technical assistance and helps the band’s work to evolve in the studio. They use numerous synthesizers on the new album including the Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, EMS Synthi AKS, as well as their own custom built keyboards and drum machines. “Autobahn” is created as a concept album about traveling on the controlled-access highway system on the A 555 from Köln to Bonn in Germany. It is broken up into five separate “movements” including the twenty two minute plus side long title track (#22 Pop) subtitled “Motorway”. The album’s cover artwork is designed by Emil Schult, who also co-writes the lyrics to “Autobahn” and is an erstwhile member of the band. The international and US covers of the album differ, with the international version featuring the blue and white German road sign. The US version features a painting of a drivers side view of driving down the autobahn, with small photo of the four members of Kraftwerk placed on the car dashboard. The back cover features the band’s heads superimposed into a painting of them sitting in the backseat of the car. “Autobahn” proves to be Kraftwerk’s breakthrough album on worldwide basis, and becomes a surprise hit in the US. Released by Mercury/Philips subsidiary Vertigo Records, the title track pared down to a three and a half minute single for radio play, and it takes off. The album becomes a huge seller and brings the band a new audience beyond their original cult following. In time, “Autobahn” is regarded as a pioneering and influential electronic music album, paving the way for the even more groundbreaking and highly innovative work Kraftwerk creates throughout the rest of the 70’s and beyond. Originally released on CD in 1988, the album is remastered and reissued in 2009 as both a stand alone release, and as part of the box set “The Catalogue” (German language version “Der Katalog”). Out of print on vinyl for decades, it is finally remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2014. “Autobahn” peaks at number five on the Billboard Top 200.

On this day in music history: October 20, 1981…

On this day in music history: October 20, 1981 – “Dare”, the third album by The Human League is released. Produced by Martin Rushent and The Human League, it is recorded at Genetic Sound Studios in Reading, UK from March – September 1981. The Sheffield, UK based synth-pop bands’ third release marks the beginning of their transition away from their more experimental avant garde electronic music period, toward more a mainstream pop sound. The band utilizes a number of different synthesizers including the Roland Jupiter-4, MC-8, Korg Delta, 770, Casio M10, VL-1, and the Linn LM-1 drum machine. The end result propels them to superstar status in their native country, and establishes them on a worldwide basis. In the UK, the album spins off four hit singles including “Love Action (I Believe In Love)” (#3 UK), and “Open Your Heart” (#6 UK). The final single released from the album is “Don’t You Want Me” which becomes their biggest hit. It spends five weeks at number one, selling over 1.4 million copies, and paving the way for their US breakthrough (spending three weeks at number one in July 1982). In time, “Dare” is regarded as a pioneering synth pop album, and is one the catalysts in beginning the “second British Invasion” during the 1980’s in the US. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of its original release in 2007, The Human League tour the UK and Europe, playing the album in its entirety live. UK newspaper The Daily Mail also gives out free copies of the CD (packaged in a cardboard slipcase cover) with the September 11, 2008 issue, as part of their promotion to celebrate 80’s classics. It is also reissued as a limited edition picture disc in 2013, and as a standard black vinyl 180 gram LP pressing in 2014, as part of UMe’s “Back To Black” series. “Dare” hits number one on the UK album chart and is certified 3x Platinum, number three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

On this day in music history: October 19, 1985…

On this day in music history: October 19, 1985 – “Take On Me” by a-ha hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Morten Harket, Magne Furuholem and Pål Waaktaar, it is the biggest hit for the Norwegian pop music trio. The version of “Take On Me” that becomes a worldwide hit is actually not the first version of the song recorded. The band first record and release the song as a single in Europe in 1984 which fails to attract any attention or chart. They re-record it with producer Alan Tarney (Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer) and it again fails to make an impact. Only after they make the now iconic video directed by Steve Barron (“Billie Jean”, “Don’t You Want Me”, “Money For Nothing”, “Electric Avenue”, “Africa”) that the record enters the charts and climbs to number one. Taking nearly four months alone to finish the clips distinctive rotoscoped animation, Warner Bros spends over $200,000 on the promotional video. Once MTV puts the clip in heavy rotation, the buzz generated by the innovative visuals of the infectious song spreads to radio. For the promotional release of the single, Warner Bros in the US prints a special gatefold picture sleeve/booklet (using the UK sleeve design for the front and back covers) featuring photos of the band and animated still shots from the music video. In later years, the limited promo “comic book” sleeve becomes a sought after collector’s item. Entering the Hot 100 at #91 on July 13, 1985, it climbs to the top of the chart fourteen weeks later. The success of “Take On Me” propels a-ha’s debut album “Hunting High And Low” to Platinum status in the US and several other countries. “Take On Me” spends twenty seven weeks on the Hot 100, tying with Diana Ross’ “Missing You” for the longest run on the chart that year. The video is nominated for eight MTV Video Music Awards (winning six) including Best New Artist and Best Concept Video in 1986. The band’s iconic music video is brillantly spoofed on an episode of the hit animated series “Family Guy”. The clip features character Chris Griffin (Seth Green), being pulled into the rotoscope animated world of the video, through a grocery store dairy case while getting a carton of milk. Using part of the videos’ chase sequence, the animators meticulously incorporate Chris into the clip with Morten Harkett, in the place where actress Bunty Bailey (Harkett’s then girlfriend) had occupied. The brief clip ends with Chris falling through the other side of the refrigerator, disoriented and bewildered about what has happened to him. To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of “Take On Me” topping the charts, Warner Bros releases a limited edition 7" picture disc for Record Store Day in April of 2015. The first side contains the original 1985 hit version, with the B-side featuring a previously unreleased live version of the song, recorded in 2009.

Born on this day: October 14, 1958 – Singer, s…

Born on this day: October 14, 1958 – Singer, songwriter and musician Thomas Dolby (born Thomas Morgan Robertson in London, UK). Happy 60th Birthday, Thomas!!

On this day in music history: October 11, 1988…

On this day in music history: October 11, 1988 – “Introspective”, the third album by the Pet Shop Boys is released. Produced by the Pet Shop Boys, Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, Lewis A. Martineé, David Jacob and Julian Mendelsohn, it is recorded at Advision Studios, Sarm West Studios in London, International Sound Recording Studios and Criteria Recording Studios in Miami, FL from December 1987 – July 1988. Just a few months after the release of their second studio album “Actually”, the Pet Shop Boys start work on their third full length album. As well as working their regular collaborators Julian Mendelsohn and David Jacob, Tennant and Lowe also work with producers Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), and Expose producer Lewis A. Martineé. PSB also employ the assistance of legendary house music DJ/remixer Frankie Knuckles and former Bee Gees keyboardist Blue Weaver. Along with new collaborators, comes a change in the Pet Shop Boys approach to making an album. Instead of the standard practice of writing and recording material in the radio friendly length of four to five minutes, then making extended remixes for club play after the fact, the duo do just the reverse. And for the first time, rather than using only synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines, live instrumentation in the forum of an orchestra is used on the album. The six songs that appear on “Introspective” run between six and nine and a half minutes, with edited single versions being released after the fact. The track “I’m Not Scared”, originally written for singer and actress Patsy Kensit’s band Eighth Wonder is re-recorded by Tennant and Lowe, as is another version of their recent hit single “Always On My Mind”, in a medley with “In My House”. Though it is another success for the Pet Shop Boys, particularly in Europe, it draws a mixed response from fans not used to extended form format of the material, and the somewhat muted response to the freestyle flavored first single “Domino Dancing” (#7 UK, #18 US Pop), with the homoerotic overtones of its accompanying music video. In all, the album spins off a total of three singles including “Left To My Own Devices” (#4 UK, #48 US Pop) and “It’s Alright” (#5 UK, #70 US Pop). For promotional purposes in the UK and US, the album is pressed as limited edition triple 12" vinyl set. Ten copies of the set are pressed on clear vinyl and given to EMI Records executives. It is remastered and reissued on CD in 2001 as a double CD set, with a second disc titled “Further Listening” that features remixes, edits, B-sides and demo versions of songs associated with the original release. “Introspective” peaks at number two on the UK album chart and is certified 2x Platinum by the BPI, peaking at number thrity four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

On this day in music history: September 28, 19…

On this day in music history: September 28, 1987 – “Music For The Masses”, the sixth album by Depeche Mode is released. Produced by Depeche Mode and David Bascombe. it is recorded at Studio Guilliame Tell in Paris, France and Konk Studios in London from February – July 1987. Coming on the heels of their previous album “Black Celebration”, the title of the new album is conceived as an in joke between band members having been told by their record company that they “should make more commercial music”. Though Depeche Mode feel the material is anything but commercial, ironically it is their most accessible and best selling album in the US to date. The band support the album with their largest world tour to date. On the US leg of the tour, their sold out live dates at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA are captured in the documentary film and album “101”. “Masses” spins off four singles including “Strangelove” (#76 US Pop, #16 UK), “Never Let Me Down Again” (#63 US Pop, #22 UK), and “Behind The Wheel” (#61 US Pop, #21 UK). After the track “Behind The Wheel” is issued as a single, it is remixed various times, including a version that pairs it as a medley with the pop standard “Route 66”. “. The album is remastered and reissued in 2006 as a CD + DVD-A/Video Deluxe Edition. The CD contains the original ten song album, with the DVD disc featuring a 5.1 surround mix. It also includes the documentary short "Depeche Mode: 1987-88 (Sometimes You Do Need Some New Jokes)”, along with audio of nine additional bonus tracks, including non-LP B-sides and remixes.  It is remastered and reissued on vinyl for the first time in 2014 by Rhino Records, and Music On Vinyl. A new pressing (issued with a new catalog number) is released in 2017 by Rhino. “Music For The Masses” peaks at number ten on the UK album chart, number thirty five on the Billboard Top 200, is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

On this day in music history: September 27, 19…

On this day in music history: September 27, 1984 – “Forever Young”, the debut album by Alphaville is released. Produced by Andreas Budde, Wolfgang Loos and Colin Pearson, it is recorded at Studio 54 in Berlin, Germany from July – August 1984. Inspired by British art/glam rockers Roxy Music and German synth pioneers Kraftwerk, Alphaville is formed in West Germany in 1982 by band members Marian Gold (born Hartwig Schierbaum) and Bernhard Lloyd (born Bernhard Gößling). A short time later, they are joined by Frank Mertens, with the trio writing and performing all ten songs on their debut album. The band are signed to WEA International in their native Germany and throughout the rest of the world, and are picked up by Atlantic Records in the US. It spins off four singles including the title track (#65 Pop, #2 Club Play) and “Big In Japan” (#66 Pop, #1 Club Play). Though their singles chart only modestly in the US, “Forever Young” becomes an anthem, through its original version and subsequent uptempo dance remix. The song is released twice, in 1985 and again in 1988. In spite of not cracking the US top 40 on either occasion, it also becomes a favorite at graduation ceremonies and other events. In later years, “Forever Young” is regarded as one of the quintessential synth pop albums of the 80’s. “Forever Young” peaks at number one hundred eighty on the Billboard Top 200.

On this day in music history: September 27, 19…

On this day in music history: September 27, 1982 – “A Broken Frame”, the second album by Depeche Mode​ is released. Produced by Depeche Mode and Daniel Miller, it is recorded at Blackwing Studios in London from December 1981 – July 1982. It is the bands first album to be written entirely by Martin Gore and the first without original member Vince Clarke, who departs to form Yazoo (Yaz) with singer Alison Moyet. Clarke’s replacement Alan Wilder does not actually appear on the album but officially joins the band during their second UK tour that year. The album spins off three singles including “Leave In Silence” and “See You”. The album is remastered in 2006 as a hybrid SACD (high definition Super Audio Compact Disc)/CD with a bonus DVD featuring six songs from a live concert filmed at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in October of 1982. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2007, again by Music On Vinyl in 2014, and is reissued a third time by Mute/Sony Legacy in 2016. “A Broken Frame” peaks at number eight on the UK album chart and number one hundred seventy seven on the Billboard Top 200.

On this day in music history: September 25, 19…

On this day in music history: September 25, 1979 – “The Pleasure Principle”, the third album by Gary Numan is released (UK release is on September 7, 1979). Produced by Gary Numan, it is recorded at Marcus Music AB in London from July – August 1979. Following two successful albums as the front man for the groundbreaking post-punk synth pop band Tubeway Army, musician Gary Numan begins recording solely under his own name in mid 1979. This happens just as the band scores their biggest success in the UK with the single “Are Friends Electric?” (#1 UK) and the album “Replicas” (#1 UK). Continuing to work with Tubeway Army bassist Paul Gardiner, Numan adds musicians Cedric Sharpley (drums and percussion), and Chris Payne (keyboards and viola) to fill out the rhythm section.  Heavily influenced by German synth pioneers Kraftwerk, Numan constructs a more synthesizer dominated sound, alternately layering multiple Minimoog and Polymoog parts treated with various effects. He also uses synthesized percussion, including the Star Instruments Synare electronic drum in tandem with a standard acoustic drum kit. The new album also differs from the two Tubeway Army albums as there are no guitars featured on any of the tracks, giving it an even more otherworldly atmosphere. It is released to a rapturous response in Numan’s home country and establishes him as a star on an international basis. It spins off two singles including “Complex” (#6 UK), and the landmark “Cars” (#1 UK, #9 US Pop). Regarded as a classic of the synth pop genre, “Cars” and the rest of “The Pleasure Principle” album also proves highly influential not only on other synthesizer based musicians, but on Hip Hop culture and the Electro-Funk music genre. In 2009, the album is reissued as a two CD set featuring a remastered version of the original album on the first disc, and a second including previously unreleased demo versions and outtakes. “The Pleasure Principle” spends two weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the UK album chart, peaking at number sixteen on the Billboard Top 200.