If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that pop culture has evolved
in a barrier-free unification of instrumental & sound production that seems quite
comfortable for listeners no longer segregated by societal expectations to be one or
the other. In the Eighties, high school students, by default, split into two categories:
hard rockers and synth-poppers. Both carried connotations and clichés – mostly
harmless, but definitely made an impact on attitudes and academics. It was a bitter
battle fought with slang words, with membership often silently represented by
concert t-shirts. This adolescent culture war eventually faded when alternative
became main-stream in the 1990s.
As one who personally experienced these oppositions, it seems ridiculous in
hindsight to think that status was helplessly categorized based solely on your music
collection. Thankfully, this monolithic injunction rightfully didn’t apply if you were a
fan of the Fixx.
The Fixx were only one of a few bands from the new wave era that actually stumbled
on a grey area of utopia that brought the rhythmic guitar in perfect harmony with
the electronic synthesizer. And no one perfected this matrimony better than the Fixx.
Thirty years in the making, the Fixx are revived, performing songs about the financial
collapse, global concerns and real ‘hope & change’ for the human race. Next week
sees the release of their tenth studio album ‘Beautiful Friction’ – the first in nearly
ten years, cultivating the Fixx back to their finest, delivering a package of solid
techno-rock that aims with precision and strikes with intensity without purposely
sounding nostalgic. Moreover, steadfast fans will cling to this record undoubtedly
because it welcomes the return of bassist Dan Brown and carries the future back to
where it started in 1982.
Lead singer Cy Curnin, who formed the earliest embodiment of the Fixx in 1979,
shares his insights, his vision for the future, and his reflections of an ‘80s past.
1) JK: Let’s clear the air on something first. Perhaps an embellished folklore, your
biggest US hit single ‘One Thing Leads to Another’ has either been interpreted as an
anti-illegal substance anthem or a rebellious champion for LSD. Can you dispel either
rumor and define for us what the song is really about?
Ha! The only illegal substance this song is about is political rhetoric. It’s loosely
based on fact…a British member of Parliament forgot his lie and his career
subsequently tanked…as should a few others.
2) JK: The Fixx, like the Outfield, is exceptional in comparison to many of your
contemporaries in the fact that it was America, not the UK, who caught on to your
sound and welcomed you with great chart success. How important was it to the band
that you score big in America?
At the time of release America was the largest music market. British bands all tried to
conquer it. Most failed! I felt that being a multi-cultural mutt myself helped us to
pierce the great American pop psyche. We had more than 15 minutes of fame now
I am thrilled that we have sustained interest this long…I believe the birth of the next
spiritual revolution is taking place here…A young country coming good eventually.
Once the chattel distraction has ended, we’ll belong together.
3) JK: Historically, the Fixx have written songs of disparity and that are lyrically
pessimistic. Tracks like ‘Red Skies’ and ‘Less Cities, More Moving People’ were
products of their time. However, the new album “Beautiful Friction’ offers listeners a
glimpse of a better tomorrow in spite of some forecasts predicting an economic
disaster. Do you think the new tracks are more antidotal than those you recorded in
We were angry young men back then…now we’re just angry!! Seriously
though, the layers of opiated dust were beginning to fall on us in those
days…easy credit, backdoor mergers and acquisitions, military might as a
political stance, all that stuff made a 'thinking boy' feel rather alienated, if not
impotent. We rattled our cages out of line and were not heard, always, for
what we spoke about…but that's ok. We were able to enter the sleeping city's
walls and awaken our dormant world in this age with a new adherent called
"Beautiful Friction". Now, we have children as do many of our fans. We can't
just pull down walls without some good feeling for their future,
because, it is exactly that, a feeling about what's coming. We must be positive
now if we want to see a bright future. The media needs stop selling or whoring
itself, on disaster soundbytes. We have all caught social rabies from this and
the result is that panic is rampant down our sorry streets.
4) JK: How important is it for bands like the Fixx, with millions of fans around the
world, to stay apolitical and unbiased when governments inadvertently offer citizens
only extreme left or extreme right positions? From a business perspective, is it wise
to stay politically balanced?
The extremes are like the wings of a great bird, they flap in order to keep the
body in the air. Once the rock throwing has stopped the lake becomes still
again. We then can reflect on the consequences of our actions. The ripples
were joined into a great mandala pattern…our Dharma. Politics can only be of
use when balanced. Either we all breathe together or we all die together.
5) JK: How exciting is it to be working as a collaborative 5-piece band again with
bassist Dan Brown? Did ole’ studio magic ignite early in the first recording sessions of
In a word YES!! Danny has an Aeolian talent to allow bass parts to levitate.
Rhythm with wings, melodious counterparts. excellent colours for Fixx music.
He is an inventive spontaneous musician that thrills me beyond words.
Welcome home Danny.
6) JK: As a veteran of songwriting, do you ever find yourself challenged with words to
express your highs and lows? What songwriting difficulties, if any, can you reveal
about the new record?
The highs and lows are sometimes expressions of doubt and loss of purpose.
Everyone has these from time to time. The good thing about songwriting is it is
exactly those feelings that make a good song. We as a band have learnt how
to argue creatively rather than destructively. Therefore the lows are the mine
which spawns the gold.
7) JK: ‘Beautiful Friction’ was recorded in London which I’ve found to be
complimentary to the English-rock sound that shines on the record. Unlike several
tracks on the intimate 1998 release Elemental, the first single ‘Anyone Else’ is a
polished record that speaks to city dwellers at high volumes. Does the energy
permeating from this single reflect the Fixx’s energies today or is it hypothetical
No such thing as a coincidence. We are in a strong place energy-wise. Jamie
West-Oram revitalised by his work teaching younger students techniques of
the dark arts of music theory. We are all integrated rather than separated from
our environment as we write. London is where we formed and it is still our
centre of creativity . The political debates continue to enrage me…everything is
just as it should be.
8) JK: Many of the Fixx’s singles are played across an array of radio station formats
including classic rock, adult contemporary and satellite retro channels. This puts the
Fixx at a huge advantage over others (Culture Club, for example) that made their
small fortunes pioneering MTV. Fans might conclude that legendary Eighties’
producer Rupert Hine (Howard Jones, Rush) fine tuned the Fixx for multifaceted
radio. How much credit do you cite Hine for your success?
Rupert Hine and Stephen W Tayler are both responsible for capturing the
minimal immensity of our sound. Rupert Hine has incredible clarity when it
comes to arrangements, which really made the difference. You can listen over
and over to these recordings and hear something new each time you spin it.
The mixes avoid the damage of compression that radio tends to over
accentuate. Stephen is a wizard!!!! Magical and mercurial.
9) JK: There have been numerous Fixx collections and label-distributed best-of
releases over the years. Do any of these satisfy your approval as complete reflections
of your best material or will the Fixx eventually release a retrospective to call their
Most have some merit to a greater or lesser extent. That doesn't mean that
there couldn't be more definitive ones out there. We are in fact addressing this
now. But as record companies merge into one great homogenous morass of
mismanagement it's tricky to sort through the legalities. Fortunately, we have
a wonderful small boutique label now in the U.S…Kirtland Records. They
gracefully handle music in today's quagmire. We hope to continue to provide
creative offerings to fans.
10) JK: Casual fans are often awakened when they discover your softer ballads.
Whereas ‘Driven Out‘ and ‘How much is Enough?’ represent the yin, the yang of the
Fixx exist in soothing numbers like ‘No One has to Cry’ and ‘Precious Stone’. Is it a
tough sell to other band members to include ballads on an album armed with talent
born to rock?
The art of seduction is best whispered. Then the bang seems relatively bigger
for the buck!!! When you rock out, it's all about tension and release… You
can cry wolf only so long.
11) JK: Can a band as durable as the Fixx afford to remain under the radar, surviving
on its former glories, or is it crucial that new material surface as the years pass by?
It is crucial and critical for us to produce new music… on this we will survive.
That catharsis is our pay.
12) JK: The Fixx’s recordings have been formatted on vinyl, 8-track, audio cassette,
CD, mini-disc, and .mp3 digital files since your first hit record back in 1982. What is
Cy Curnin’s favorite format and how difficult is it for a classically experienced band to
transition to the latest studio technique as the future unfolds?
Just another day in the studio no matter what era we live in… my favourite
format is memory. If people can whistle the tune, it will last forever.
13) JK: Recently, the Fixx performed at Summerfest in Atlanta. Do you hold any fond
memories of Atlanta? How are southerners, if at all, different from the rest of the
World from a lead singer’s perspective?
Gentility, alive and kicking, civility and genuine hospitality all remind me of
Atlanta. A few too many streets named Peach Tree for me, but there must be
some local logic that evades me here.
Southerners seem to have a different pace than their more phrenetic northern
cousins. The heat plays a huge role there I guess. Jimmy Carter was my
favourite American president and continues to inspires me with his
humanitarian work. Wonderful physical beauty too! Whatever your into it's
blossoming in the south…
14) JK: Finally, if you would be so kind, would you do us the honor of describing
your records in terms that reflect your impression of each? Using one or two
sentences or statements, briefly describe each of your ten full-length US-released
albums. As a father would describe his children, we’d love to know what you think of
your records. (For example, Phil Oakey of the Human League described his 1990
release ‘Romantic?’ as “Panic and despair really; the lowest point of our career. We
were so unhappy, no one cared about us and it looked as if we had no future. We
also had personal problems of our own. I wouldn’t mind if it disappeared.”)
Shuttered Room (1982) –
Our first born. Magical watershed. A collection of emotions that come together
in the fourth dimension. Winter, deep snow, warm fires and 4x4's racing across
the empty fields of Buckinghamshire. Youthful but incisive.
Reach the Beach (1983) –
The Honeymoon of a lifetime.. REWARDS BEYOND OUR DREAMS . the love
affair with America becomes serious. Underwear on stage but very aware of
the social power of music.
Phantoms (1984) –
Careful what you wish for.. everything we know dissolves . Return home
feeling like ghosts in a former life. The classic example of the lows leading a
band to the highs of creation. Darker beauty. another string to our bow.
Live work takes over in importance.
Walkabout (1986) –
Children on the horizon.. Big journey down under… Many personal growths
and developments within the band. The forth dimension states it's case. Lovely
melodies to herald in our babies.
Calm Animals (1988) –
I start writing many more songs on guitar. New Label, new producer, new
sound. Montserrat , Air Studios. Voodoo and scuba. Shooting stars and
fluorescent crabs.. Deeply connected to my bandmates as we all channeled
Robinson Crusoe in our own way.
Ink (1991) –
Struggle. great highs and songs huge lows and imposter tunes. Not our
personal favourite but it does contain some of our best work. A paradox really.
best not look to closely in the mirror on this one. One jungle is my personal
Elemental (1998) –
Back the saddle with panache here. Strong tunes.. inspired. mea culpa, and the
true meaning of forgiveness. All animosity falls to the past. Time to grab the
bull by the horns and move on. We did.
1011 Woodland (1999) -
The test of a good song is to strip away the production and see what's left.
Many gems on this CD. My wife's favourite album of ours. She likes to listen on
the couch. with me massaging her feet. I do this willingly.
Want That Life (2003) –
Searching, intuitive, record. Confused in direction but that maybe because we
needed to reflect while starting too long at the sun. I love playing songs from
this record solo acoustically. Are you satisfied? Never in this business.
Beautiful Friction (2012) -
The story unfolds. We are so proud that we can still father children at this age
that we may spoil it if we dote too long.
Probably the most cohesive work we've ever achieved. Simple yet complex.
Grown up but youthful. viscous yet compassionate, Groovy groovy groovy!
Just in the last five years, we’ve witnessed a station load of Eighties artists on the reunion train, making comeback records that they hope will draw attention in addition to the classic hits that brought them lasting successes. Although their motives vary with each intention, one thing is for certain: high volumes of record sales are no longer considered to be the baseline of one’s measure of success. “We’re either feeding a demand or chasing a very expensive endeavor,” jokes an optimistic Jack Hues, founding vocalist / guitarist of Wang Chung. Wang Chung, who resurrected their big-American synth-rock sound in 2009, have joined the likes of ABC, the Cars, the Fixx, Van Halen, Trans X and dozens of others on the path to achieving an Eighties revival by releasing new material and taking to the road to promote their latest studio efforts. However, the irony in 2012 is that a revival of Eighties music is happening on its own by virtue with a younger generation led by musicians who were barely old enough to safety dance in diapers back in the 1980s.
So to this, we honor four of the most important bands that you’ve never heard of in the new wave genre. Each of these acts celebrates that classic Eighties sound without being constrained to the dynamics of pop radio. Like their Eighties predecessors, it’s a risk, but then again, Eighties music is always best when it’s unconventional.
MIRRORS “Earnest melodies wrapped in blankets of orchestral electronics”
Sounds like OMD, The Wild Swans, Ultravox.
Armed with analog synthesizers, Mirrors replicate some of the greatest elements from the new wave playbook of production. Elevating the vocals of lead singer John New to heavenly heights, Mirrors electrify your soul with a collection of tracks that leave your spine chilled with retro sensations unfelt since the first time we heard New Order’s ‘True Faith’. Unlike many of their contemporaries who invest all of their energies on the dance-floor, Mirrors are destined for the next generation of John Hughes-type films. But like the Breakfast Club, who spent their Saturday contemplating an essay describing who they are within the confinements of detention, Mirrors will be forced to describe their identity to a generation absorbed in American idols and orgasmic pop. Not only will Mirrors' love for lush synthesizers complex the rules of engagement, revealing lyrics such as those from ‘Write Through the Night’ are sure to raise a few brows (“This boy’s a mess; he’s a menace, he’s a pest and he’s got no one else to blame”).
With the first two years behind them, Mirrors aren’t wasting time pondering their next move. Following their acclaimed debut ‘Lights & Offerings’ (2011, Skint Records) which spawned the sensational single ‘Into the Heart’, Mirrors have supported abroad, electronic godfathers Gary Numan and John Foxx, as well as White Lies and alternative radio favorites Phoenix. However, don’t expect a tour of the States anytime soon. According to sources, Mirrors released a collection of demos in a recent fundraising effort earlier this year to help finance the trio’s second full-length record. Let us pray that the formula that made their monumental debut doesn’t change.
THE HOLIDAY CROWD “Sugar sweet poetic justice”
Sounds like The Smiths, The Woodentops, The Colourfield.
As Morrissey continues to make enemies throughout his career for his outspoken comments on politics, multiculturalism, and most recently the presentation of the Olympics in London last month, don’t expect the Smiths to kiss and makeup anytime soon. While the remaining members of Manchester’s most esoteric band of all-time remain distant with their own projects, their musical influence is responsible for one of the year’s most refreshing new bands. The Holiday Crowd, a Toronto four-piece outfit, have majestically recorded what some will inarguably claim is closer to a Smiths’ record than any solo track laid down by the king of sorrow himself.
Even though the band describes the music from their official debut ‘Over the Bluffs’ (2012, Shelflife Records) as “minimal and stripped-down”, make no mistake of simplifying the crafty guitar chords of Colin Bowers. Bowers' handiwork melts in perfect harmony with the sarcastic wit of lead vocalist Imran Haniff. And like Morrissey, sometimes the lyrics are introspectively blatant and uncomfortable. “Of all of the people that I wish were dead. Well it’s no lie, he’d be the first,” sings Haniff, as he calculates the guilt and consequences of murder on the album’s first track ‘Never Speak of it Again’. Regardless of how tongue-in-cheek the lyrics may be, this is independent jangle-pop at its shimmering best. And to compliment the decade of their inspiration, the Holiday Crowd have specifically released ‘Over the Bluffs’ in vinyl-format (CD and mp3 digital formats are also available), the way great Eighties alternative music was meant to be heard.
LEMONADE “A retro rinse of crystal pop”
Sounds like Gavin Christopher, Waterfront, Indecent Obsession
Although this may be the most difficult record to define in terms of Eighties influence, Lemonade’s third album “Diver” finds the trio maturing as they master a variety of musical styles that produced this soul-searching collection of love gems. Whether intentional or not, the San Francisco trio have reclaimed areas abandoned at the end of the Eighties, incorporating the tight freestyle beats of Information Society, spontaneous synthesizer strokes of the Art of Noise, while juxtaposing a soulful vocal performance by lead vocalist Callan Clendenin that recalls the funky-monkey George Michael. The result is a powerfully refreshing album unlike anything you’ve heard in twenty years.
‘Diver’ is a sensual yet bold electronic record that cuts both ways: crank it loudly and watch as the beats abduct your guests at your next house party; or for a personal experience, play it softly and relax as it hypnotizes your conscience while haunting your soul. Not only will fans of retro attract to this record, but electro-clashers will also chew on it once they learn that producer Le Chev (Fischerspooner) had his hand in the mix. Highly recommended, Lemonade is one band that will quench your Eighties thirst.
ICE CHOIR “Cathedral chimes from the milky way”
Sounds like Scritti Politti, Tears for Fears, The Beloved
From the ashes of the Depreciation Guild, the Brooklyn-based dream-pop band that achieved modest success on the college charts for several years before disbanding in early 2011, arises the year’s most underrated DIY talents in music today. After releasing the dreamy whipped single ‘I Want you Now and Always’ as a digital download last year, electronic composer Kurt Feldman uncovered his golden niche: making perfect Eighties pop records in the comfort of his own bedroom. Is it lucky coincidence or premeditated brilliance? “It’s intentional really. It was an act of choice to make the production aesthetics sound like the Eighties because I like that style (of music),” Feldman revealed to MTV’s Jon Norris in a recent interview. Made for those late Sunday night editions of 120 Minutes -albeit 25 years too late, Ice Choir may not be an original idea, but the songwriting emulates some of the strongest records from the Reagan-Thatcher era. However, Feldman’s pride is cast aside in honor of those that he models. “If this record brings people to the foray and they decide to dig into my influences, then I feel that I did a good job.”
Ice Choir’s ‘Afar’ (Underwater Peoples Records, 2012) is more than a debut; it’s a nostalgic journey in the forgotten territories of your past. Critics from around the world are proudly pronouncing the record with five-star reviews while fans are begging Feldman for another. ‘Afar’ is now available at Amazon.com and other major virtual music outlet locations. For more information, please visit www.icechoir.com
After months of Internet rumors and wishful thinking, the last remaining high-volume sellers of music CDs have confirmed brand spanking new releases this month from four consequential artists that left a righteously memorable mark in early video music. Based on each of the first singles circulating on various music and video channels online, the Eighties’ aren’t so distant anymore. Although their hits will forever define the music of the decade, evidence suggests that these new releases could very well outline the electronic pop genre of 2012. Let us indulge in the offerings, shall we?
TRANS-X: Hi-NRG (LOV/RECS)
Last year, the Neon Sign Museum made its debut in downtown Las Vegas, featuring over 70 years worth of Andy Warhol-style modern art that ignited the Vegas strip with bright-light illustrious illumination. Undoubtedly, a museum showcasing the golden age of video arcades will too celebrate its grand opening in the future. When it does, the theme song welcoming guests will unquestionably be ‘Living on Video’ by Trans-X, the infectious floor-burning dance track that bottled the best of Atari and Casio audio samples into one hypnotic groove to be heard around the globe. Selling over one-million units world-wide, the single brought Trans-X, the Montreal duo led by sound-engineer Pascal Languirand, American fame on MTV in 1981 while making them notoriously synonymous with electronic music internationally. However, like Space Invaders, mall arcades withered from popularity as did Trans-X. Now, 30 years later, Trans-X are back to reclaim the sound that crowned them godfathers of electro-dance with a brand new record adjectivally titled ‘Hi-NRG’.
The album’s first track “Into the Light” kicks off this space age journey, spanning an audible galaxy of modern technology while unapologetically confronting the retro past. Although much of this ride is completely virtual and synthetic, full of auto-tune vocals, Hi-NRG manages to bridge the generation gap between members of the breakfast club with fans of Top-40 porn-pop. Whereas many of Languirand’s contemporaneous synth-wizards like Thomas Dolby have archived their electronic triumphs, Languirand has adventurously resurrected many of the original Trans-X tricks that framed them in the 1980s. The generation of Speak & Spell speech synthesizers and digital whistling keyboard strokes will proudly be reminded why life was sensational when living on video. Unmistakably though, Hi-NRG doesn’t arrest listeners to an Eighties’ past. With its Euro-club dance beats and Ga Ga grooves, the record fulfills the desires of today’s music streams with effortless lyrical melodies delivered with lipstick sex appeal albeit with one exception: a respectful cover of Joy Division’s 1979 underground hit ‘Transmission’. In an unusual circumstance, we find Trans-X out of the box, covering this post-punk artifact honorably without tainting that spirit of the late Ian Curtis. A daring move which usually ends in disaster (i.e. Paul Young’s cover of ‘Love will tear us apart’); this could be the defining moment for Trans-X in the 21st Century.
MORTEN HARKET: Out of My Hands (Island Records)
Although he originally started his career as a shadowy blues-singer, Norway’s Morten Harket was destined to be a renowned pop star. Not only did his charming good looks add to his fortune, his remarkable soaring vocals would front one of the most successful European acts of all-time, creating a globally multilingual fan-ship that’s now larger than ever, though his former band a-ha have now permanently disbanded (2010). Unlike other poster pin-ups that we’ve seen come and go since as far back as the Sixties, Morten Harket was a song-writing musician first and foremost, working the studio much harder than working the camera. Harket, who turns 53 this year, has just released one the strongest records of his 30-year career. Not only does he launch a nuclear falsetto performance that rivals ‘Take on Me’ on several tracks, Out of My Hands is an effervescent attempt to pick up where a-ha abandoned the warm synths of their biggest albums (1985’s Hunting High & Low and 1986’s Scoundrel Days). With nothing further to prove, perhaps the album is tinged with regrets. After all, a-ha alienated their fans to transition and adapt their melancholic, acoustic guitar pop shortly after winning six ‘astronauts’ at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. The album’s first single ‘Scared of Heights’ vindicates any grudge one might hold with a-ha since they parted ways with their synth-pop mantra as this could very well be the best release from the Norwegian’s catalog in over 25 years. The rest of the album, including the electronic-orchestral ‘Listening’ featuring the Pet Shop Boys, demonstrates Harket’s innate ability to express his emotions through heavenly vocals content on bringing affectionate serenity to listeners of all ages.
ULTRAVOX: Brilliant (EMI Records)
Since 2009, we’ve seen Ric Ocasek shake hands with his former band-mates and take the wheel to reunite the Cars; we’ve also seen Spandau Ballet fire their attorneys and settle their differences not in court, but on stage touring the world in a reunion that the critics said would never happen. And today, news that the first Ultravox record in 28 years is now complete, with a release date scheduled for June 5th preceding a reunion tour this summer, featuring Midge Ure on vocals. Unfortunately, this reunion won’t carry much anticipation weight in America, but fans of new wave are eagerly waiting. We shall never forget how Ultravox stole the stage at Live Aid with their powerful, electrifying performance of ‘Vienna’ that still gives music historians chills today. The first single off the new album, the title track Brilliant could inarguably be an A-side single from the band’s glory years pre-1985. The song’s deep pianos, acoustic drumming, and atmospheric synthesizers composed beautifully against Ure’s frosty vocals are almost surreal. To add to the excitement, this week the band offered a sneak-peek preview of five tracks from Brilliant exclusively on their official Facebook page for 24-hours only. If the rest of the album is as potent as the first single, Ultravox could be the brightest stars on the comeback trail since David Lee Roth reunited with Van Halen.
MEN WITHOUT HATS: Love in the Age of War (Cobraside/City Hall Records)
Last year, MWH founder / lead singer Ivan Doroschuk pledged a new MWH album in 2012 and by gosh, he has delivered on that promise. However, when leaks appeared that the band were in production with David Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson), there was serious skepticism on whether or not this would be a ‘Hat’s-friendly’ session of retro proportion. According to Doroschuk, “(he) brought a whole new dimension to Men Without Hats.” – gasp. However, the first single ‘Head Above Water’ is filled with saccharine and all of the wholesome ingredients that carried MWH throughout the '80s. In other words, ain't much changed since Pop Goes the World and that's a sigh of relief we all can breathe. Love in the Age of War is now available as a download release-only and according to sources, a CD format is scheduled for release weeks before the band kicks off a US tour this autumn.
The year is 1985. It’s Sunday night and the weekend refuses to terminate thanks to the power of radio. Atlanta’s Z-93 is on the dial and radio-comedic performer Rick Dees, with his bold yet balmy delivery, is counting down forty of the most popular songs collected in the USA. Against the hour of 11:00 PM, the countdown moves toward the number one position as listeners from Conyers to Cumming claim victories or lower their heads in defeat as their favorite songs rise and fall on the strategically calculated chart. Finally, after a 3-hour marathon of parody and music trivia, a number one song is crowned, signaling the checkered flag that the weekend has officially come to a close.
The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown Show made its debut in September 1983 and continues to broadcast worldwide in 27 countries, including the ocean seas across the Armed Forces Network. He’s received a Marconi Award, a Grammy-nomination, and a shiny star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame – three accolades that would certainly enhance one’s ego. Inarguably one of the most influential and distinguished media voices, Rick Dees remains humble, unshaken by his eminent reputation. Last weekend, the veteran of syndicated radio made a rare Atlanta issuance as the Master of Ceremonies for Furkids, a Georgia-based charitable, non-profit organization that provides a cage-free, no-kill shelter for rescued cats and dogs.
While Dees’ career reaches a pinnacle milestone in broadcast history, several Weekly Top 40 countdown broadcasts of Eighties countdown shows have recently been uploaded at his official website, eponymously addressed at www.rick.com. For the first time ever, these rare recordings, in their original broadcast formats, are now available with a point and click. Each collection contains a wealth of 7-inch singles, some of which haven’t been played on FM nor satellite radio since making their exit off the chart. His 'Dees Sleaze' segments weren't always held accountable, but they certainly were some of the show's most entertaining slices of pop star gossip. Add Dees’ chummy Dick Clark-like persona with in-studio guests like Mike & the Mechanics, Wang Chung, and Rick Astley, and it is transparent that the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Show set the bar for radio production unmatched by other weekly countdown shows.
Currently, there are two dozen Weekly Top 40 shows available from the Eighties vault, starting from early 1985 through late 1989. According to the site, an expansion of shows is in the works. These are amazing artifacts for anyone that craves retro nostalgia and are quite revealing of how contemporary music has transitioned from studio originality to television popularity. Another revelation is how discrepant the calculation of chart placement is compared to how chart placements are determined today. Throughout the 1980s, between two and seven songs would typically enter and leave a radio station’s Top 40 songs list. Chart runs might be only a week or two, or several months. In the heyday of Top 40 Songs, only the biggest hits of a given year would remain on the charts for 15 weeks or more. Today, Top 10 singles are lucky if they make a maximum of 6 weeks on the chart. From this notion, one might draw on the hypothesis that as technology changes, so does our lack of patience.
Last Saturday evening, the iconic voice of the Eighties brought his vitality to the stage as he emceed this very special occasion. Furkids cares for approximately 600 cats and dogs at the organization’s shelters and adoption centers –including participating Pet Smart & Petco locations. The closed-ticket event took place at the beautiful ballroom of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre honoring founder Samantha Shelton. Like the former Price is Right’s granddaddy host Bob Barker reminded us, Dees was in town supporting our friendly furlines through the Furkids initiative to help end pet overpopulation in Georgia through sterilization, high-quality adoption and by providing valuable spay/neuter services and pet care education to people in the community. During its ten years, Furkids has rescued and altered more than 7,000 animals.
The Retro Beach caught up with Rick Dees, who can now be heard on one of 99x’s sister stations Journey 97.9 FM. It would be a shame to have missed this opportunity to show our appreciation for his work in radio and thank him for his recent gift to fans of that survived on ‘80s Top 40 radio.
JK: In the Eighties, your weekend countdown show was extremely successful, heard by millions across the US. It’s still considered as the pinnacle of Top 40 countdown shows, offering a humorous edge that complimented the zany collage of artists that became radio stars thanks to MTV. When you made your debut as host of Weekly Top 40, how engaged were you in the music-scene of that year and did the influx of freshly original artists like Culture Club and Men at Work keep it all interesting week after week?
Dees: “I have made it my mission to be very engaged with every artist. After all, the
odds of having a #1 hit are against most artists. Giving fresh music that human element has been the catalyst for Weekly Top 40 Countdown excitement for all these years. I mean, can you imagine how I felt when Madonna asked me if metal made her look fat?”
JK: Although the practice seems antiquated with media so accessible today, back in the Eighties, listening to you countdown the hits was very fulfilling and gratifying. Like fans cheering for their favorite sports team, is it flattering when people tell you today that they listened to your show with great anticipation, hoping that their favorite band’s single would rise up the chart?
Dees: “It's hard to believe, but I have listeners all over the world who actually make wagers on what hit will be number one! It was heartbreak for some when Michael Jackson beat out Sting for the top spot on the countdown.”
JK: What are your favorite Eighties memories from hosting the Weekly Top 40? Who are some of the artists, popular or not, that you interviewed that will forever bond you with a memory and why?
Dees: “There are so many 80's memories, plus the 90's and today. We are lucky enough to have the longest continuously running countdown of the hits in the history of contemporary radio. Probably, the most vivid memories are attached to my friendship with Michael Jackson. I was 20 feet away from him when his hair caught on fire during the filming of that soft drink commercial in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium. I remember Michael trembling in shock as the medical team surrounded him. He was wearing inexpensive white socks.”
JK: How highly produced was the Weekly Top 40? A three-hour weekend radio show must have taken several hours to record and edit. Exactly how does the host fill time when tracks are being played? One would perceive that waiting for each track to conclude would be prosaic week after week. What exactly goes on when the mic is off when music is being played for the audience?
Dees: “The Weekly Top 40 Countdown is the most intricately produced music countdown of all time. Our lead technician, Paul Liebeskind, along with
our head writer Lon Weyland and producing team of Joe Kieley, Michael Steele, Mike Ramos and Kevin Dees have memorized this adage: How you do ONE thing is how you do EVERYTHING. Since I love a variety of music, I listen to every song for the emotions, lyrics, and the ‘feel’. Then I ask the same question the listener asks: Could this song go all the way to number one?”
JK: When the Weekly Top 40 made its debut, the vinyl single was the top-selling format. Did you mourn the death of the vinyl record being that you are a renowned deejay, transitioning through several format changes over the past four decades? What exactly happened to those hundreds of wax singles that made your top 40 countdown back in the Eighties? Does a Rick Dees’ library of Top 40 music exist?
Dees: “Vinyl is so cool! I hope (you) know that the quality of the original direct-to-vinyl discs is still the world standard for the highest audio quality. I still have a collection of the original vinyl master discs of every Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 that was produced in the 80's! We have painstakingly digitized every vinyl disc and the audio quality is perfect. They sound like the first time they aired back in the 80's.”
JK: Undeniably, the Eighties were visionary. Imagery, in many ways, overshadowed the music. Of all the artists in the decade, who was the best-dressed?
Dees: “When I close my eyes, I can still see Prince walking into our studios wearing tight leather chaps with his buttocks is exposed. David Bowie had some really fine Savoy tailored suits.”
JK: Will all of the Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40 vault of Eighties’ countdown shows ever receive a respectful resurrection? Is this something you would support?
Dees: “(Many) of the Countdown shows (have been) digitized in perfect quality and ready to enjoy. The 80's, 90's and today. And it's free! We're 300 stations in the U.S. and 125 countries worldwide, plus Armed Forces Radio.”
JK: Bangles, Bananarama or Neither?
Dees: “Bangles----I still love Walk like an Egyptian!”
For more information on Furkids please visit www.furkids.org
For a list of available Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 1980s Shows online, please visit www.rick.com
As one the ‘80s most unlikely endearments, Thomas Dolby – the synth-wit author & vocalist behind the ponderous radio / video smash ‘She Blinded Me With Science’, is at the forefront of his biggest revival yet. After absorbing the harking sounds from a flourish of trumpets among fans all over the world, Dolby answered with the release of his first vocal-instrumental album in 20 years (‘A Map of the Floating City’, Redeye Music) and is on the verge of returning to the States on a wide 26-date US tour beginning next month, including a stopover at The Loft in Midtown Atlanta on March 20th.
Thomas Dolby has always had an eye for big profit trends. Thompson Twins front-man Tom Bailey once cited him as the culprit influence that urged the Twins to change musical direction from scruffy guitars to synthetic machinery. Using the popular cliché, well, the rest is history. Years later, Dolby exercised his mental telepathy into a new software endeavor called Beatnik, developing polyphonic ringtones for Nokia, the technology rooted in billions of mobile devices today. This time however, Dolby is banking on the future by exploiting the past. Last year, the Dolby marketing team invited participants to engage in a virtual historic world with the debut of ‘A Map of the Floating City Game’, which Dolby cites as an adventure of survival “set against a dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently”. Expanding on this theme, he’s raising the bar of interaction to a new level as Dolby invites audiences the opportunity to communicate with tomorrow’s existence, using a time machine capsule (a customized teardrop trailer featuring an internal video production studio) that will park outside of each venue on his upcoming tour, allowing fans or guest artists to upload a personal video message to the future. According to Dolby, videos will be recorded with minimal supervision with rules posted outside of the vehicle.
Atlanta’s renowned new wave enthusiast Jeremy Kennedy recently caught up with Thomas Dolby, extracting the depths of where Thomas Dolby is today and his personal convictions within the fundamental interior of the new record.
JK: As one of the earliest commercially recording users of electronic pop music, listeners might be interestingly surprised that your newest record isn’t as complicated as some of your previous recordings. Was it your intention to make an organic record featuring real guitars and percussions, rather than record a collection of synthetic tracks? If so, how difficult is it to compose a full length record with acoustics than with computers and synthesizers?
Dolby: “Well, if you actually go back and analyze my music in the past, you may be quite surprised that there are fewer elements of electronics than you think. From my first album, I’ve worked with a band, you know, done backing tracks using a rock band as well as (tracks) that are programmed. So there’s always been a mixture of the two. I like both of working – the autonomy of working on my own but also, as the magic that happens when you get a few guys in a room, which you can’t possibly replicate. And the main thing is that even if you’re able to program lots of different parts, different instruments, they have no knowledge of each other, therefore each instrument is in its own little universe. Whereas when people are playing together in a room, they’re just making minute adjustments, in tune to the adjustments all the time based on the mix, the tuning and the rhythm and the sound and you know, just the vibe that’s in the room. So, if you record real musicians, you get building blocks to work with as opposed to little briquettes.
JK: How multi-instrumentally capable are you? Can you pick up and play a guitar?
Dolby: “Not well enough to be recorded. No, I mean I dabble. I have a good enough understanding of each instrument good enough to work with musicians and be helpful as a guide to them. Then, there are instruments that I don’t understand at all – and I love working with those as well and exploring the capabilities of those instruments. I get a big charge out of working with them and sort of improvising with them, not in terms of improvising the notes as I try to be very deliberate about that, but in terms of textures and sounds and you know, ways to adapt the notes that I’ve composed to the realities of an instrument which often has irregularities of which gives it its personality.”
JK: Thomas Dolby fans will quickly realize that ‘A Map of the Floating City’ is lyrically aligned with some of your most intriguing recordings. As an artist, you’ve uncovered some of your deepest personal thoughts, revealing a more human side with the passing of time as your albums have come to fruition since your glory years on MTV. How autobiographical are you on record? Are you comfortable revealing yourself as the man behind the machine?
Dolby: “I think everything is semi-biographical but I use a lot of artistic license. I imagine my process is quite similar to a novelist in that my real life experiences translate into fiction and I let my imagination fill in the blanks. But like a novelist, I really enjoy picking a different setting and set of characters for my songs and sort of let the characters drive the story themselves. So there are aspects of me in all of these. ‘Evil Twin Brother’, for example, is a dark fantasy about being jetlagged at 3 o’clock in the morning wandering out into the streets of New York, picking up a Russian waitress in a diner and going to a Euro-trash underground dance club, though it’s not clear what happens after that but it’s something evidently that I’m not too proud of.” With a laugh, “I may have gotten as far as the diner, but no further than that in real life. I haven’t been to a club in years.” Continuing, “So there is definitely a sort of film quality to that section of the album. ‘Amerikana’ also has a fictional edge to it because I’m telling stories like a classic American songwriter with lots of verses with a robbery, a murder, an ambush, a jailbreak, etc. But, I tell them from the point of view of an English chap who has no right to be there other than hold a big campfire and we’re all storytellers, sharing our stories. I do think that the ‘Oceana’ section of the new album is directly the most autobiographical. It’s very much in the first-person; although I’d say that ‘Simone’ is again, a bit of fiction, but it touches on a subject that’s very close to my heart obviously.”
JK: After 20 years of working and living in Los Angeles, you packed up your family and equipment and headed back to Britain a few years ago. Some speculated that you were retiring from music altogether but you disproved this notion with your first non-instrumental release since 1992. Did this move inspire your new album or had you already laid down tracks prior to forwarding your postal mail?
Dolby: “No. I hadn’t laid any tracks down. I didn’t really lie any down until I got to the U.K. Some of them had been ideas I had knocking around in the back of my mind. One song for example ‘Love is a Loaded Pistol’, I’d had the piano part for ten or twelve years though it never had lyric. One day I had a very strange dream as I was napping on my lifeboat. I’d dreamt that Billie Holiday came to visit me and I was touched that she’d traveled through time from 1947 to bring me a line of lyrics, but unfortunately the line was a bit cliché; I was left with this dilemma, as I hate to dis Billie Holiday, then I woke up.” Laughing, “I figured out a way to work the line into the song anyway and a lot of the rest of the song I made up using titles from a back-catalog.”
JK: You seemed to have left the Eighties’ on a high-note albeit in 1992, with an engaging collection of anecdotes called ‘Astronauts & Heretics’. With an all-star lineup that included Jerry Garcia, Budgie (Siouxsie & the Banshees), and Eddie Van Halen, the record demonstrated your versatility as a musician while redefining your image as a ‘mad scientist’ in the studio. How important was it for you to lose that image? Do you embrace your past or do you cringe at the thought of resurrecting your white lab coat?
Dolby: “This is an interesting trivia question, but I don’t think I actually wore a white lab coat. Maybe you’re thinking of Spinal Tap. I used to wear a white suit, but never a white lab coat. How important is the image perception? I’ve never consciously felt a need to sort of eradicate a re-write of history. When I was starting out, it was really a way to differentiate myself from my contemporaries, to drill on the academic aspects of my background which is considerable. My father is a professor of classic archaeology at Cambridge University, my mom was a math teacher and all of my siblings are all academics in one form or another. Moving forward, I was a tinkerer with electronics and synthesizers and so on.”
JK: You’ve been quoted as saying that you felt you never ‘fit’ in the Eighties? Why?
Dolby: “I had commercial success in the Eighties and I’m unequivocally unashamed of my accomplishments. Singles are a segway to discovering the rest of my music. I’ve never considered myself as being main-stream, you know. I’ve always thought of myself as being very marginal, sort of eccentric cult-art. So whatever it took to get people to discover the hidden gems is a worthwhile sacrifice. I still enjoy playing ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ and ‘Hyperactive’. They are both very extroverted and simple.”
JK: With today’s superhighway of information, “A Map of the Floating City” is virtually tangible with a few points, clicks and satellites. Whereas before, singles required three basic formats to succeed (radio, retail, and MTV), today the opportunities are unlimited. For example, I recently heard a cut (‘A Jealous Thing Called Love’) off your new album at my local Starbucks. Did you ever imagine that music could be made so readily accessible? In your opinion, has technology made recording music favorable or has it counteracted the industry?
Dolby: “This is good news. That’s two different people now that have told me that they’ve heard ‘A Jealous Thing Called Love’ in a Starbucks.” Proudly continuing, “Maybe Starbucks will be my savior here. That’s great that they’re playing it. I think the quieter stuff on the new album has got its own kind of appropriate outlets.” Pausing, “If you force me to choose between doing sort of up-tempo, extrovert stuff versus the quiet, atmospheric stuff, then I’d choose the latter any day. I think that that’s my natural vent as I’m a pretty introverted person and verging on being a hermit. But, I just have this occasional exhibitionist streak that floats to the surface.”
JK: You’ve demonstrated your ability as vocalist on many beautiful ballads over the years, including ‘Beauty of a Dream’ and the new single ‘Oceana’. Have you ever considered performing any acoustic shows to showcase your softer side?
Dolby: “It’s challenging. I’m not really a song-and-dance guy. But it is intimidating also being someone of my generation because we got away with it. Today, (they) keep breeding these kids that can sing like Aretha Franklin and dance like Fred Astaire and they’re all good looking. There’s an entire line around a block of them.” Laughing, “It’s rather intimidating. I do take the plunge and do some of my quiet songs solo live even though I know I’m not the best singer in the world. I play ‘Screen Kiss’, ‘Love is a Loaded Pistol’, ‘Oceana’ once, so hopefully people can forgive me as the odd impurity for the sake of being in the moment.”
JK: Let’s step back to the late ‘70s if you will. Readers might be surprised to learn that you were once part of a pre-destined super group called The Camera Club featuring Geoff Downes (Buggles, Asia), Bruce Wooley (Grace Jones), and the master producer himself, Trevor Horn (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ABC). The Camera Club’s records are some of the most amorous artifacts in new wave. Do you consider these recordings to be elemental milestones in your illustrious career? How likely would you be to participate in re-releasing all of the Camera Club material in a digitally enhanced format?
Dolby: “I think Bruce would love to do that. He’s very aware that the Camera Club album has a very high-cult value and a lot of people are still conscious of it, you know what I mean? It was ahead of its time, one that slipped under the radar. I only played on one of the two albums; after I went out on my own, Bruce did another album after me. It’s all a bit of a blur now thinking about it.”
JK: Speaking of Trevor Horn, you contributed to the 1992 original motion picture soundtrack ‘Toys’ (produced by Horn) with the track ‘The Mirror Song’ featuring Robin Williams and co-star Joan Cusack on vocals. Were the vocals recorded in a collocation together or were they recorded in separate locations? Are there any memories from working with them or making that record that you would like to share?
Dolby: “Trevor tends to have several studios on the boil at the same time. Then he pulls it all together in one place and sort of sits there and plays God; he’s the editor, the character picking a little of this, a little of that and brings it altogether. Working with Robin was real joy and I got to work with him again on ‘FernGully: the Last Rainforest’ (1992, 20th Century Fox). He actually recommended me for that gig.”
JK: Finally, in one or two sentences or statements, if you would kindly, briefly describe each of your five US-released albums. As a father would describe his children, we’d love to know what you think of your records.
The Golden Age of Wireless (1982):
Dolby: “An exploration of finding my feet.”
The Flat Earth (1984):
Dolby: “Dreamy… atmospheric”
Aliens Ate my Buick (1988):
Dolby: “British ex-pat sends a wild postcard home”
Astronauts & Heretics (1992):
Dolby: “From the inside out, for the first time.”
A Map of the Floating City (2011):
Dolby: “Wisdom & maturity, with a cheeky sense of fun.”
Thomas Dolby: The Time Capsule Tour live at The Loft (March 20th / 9PM). Tickets on sale now at Ticketalternative.com
For more information on Thomas Dolby, please visit www.thomasdolby.com
Before Thunderpuss, turntablism, and techno became part of the dance floor lexicon, club deejays were demanding records labeled “Hi-NRG” to carry their shifts from the late night through the early hours of a new day. These ‘Hi-NRG’ eurobeats were absolutely platinum, poking dancers of all genres to bust a Molly Ringwold move fueled by an octave bass and a string of monotonous synthetic hand-claps that are still prevalent in electronic music today. ‘Hi-NRG’ was by no means a fad term used casually by deejays driving the turntables; to the industry, this label was just as significant as an “Idaho potato” seal is to grocery consumers. The ‘Hi-NRG’ label assured listeners that the finest sound-techniques were right in the mix. These techniques were the result of slavish hours of experimenting with sound programs using the latest in computer-audio equipment, all generated inside the walls of a single sound factory in London called PWL (Peter Waterman Entertainment). Within the PWL labs, the art of mixing became a theology, pioneering a profession that thrives today in dance music cloned as pop music. These techniques, such as programming of bass synth over the Linn kick drum, are still utilized today as pop/dance music continues to dominate the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sound engineer Phil Harding, a former member of the PWL team, takes us inside of the PWL studios, where no-name artists like Rick Astley and Kylie Minogue were advocated to levels of recognition incomprehensible to the artist struggling to pay their dues in hopes of reaching similar fame and success. Selling millions of 12’’ inch records across the world, the PWL partnership is still considered one of the UK’s most inspiring rags-to-riches stories. Revealing some of his most memorable moments in the newly published memoir titled ‘PWL: From the Factory Floor’ (Cheery Red Books), Harding exposes the intricate details of PWL’s then state-of-the art recording technology that made the team internationally famous while sharing personal stories of mixing some of the greatest dance records for some of the most iconic artists of the decade. In conjunction, a double-CD release (both CD & memoir are now available at Amazon.com) collecting some of Harding’s most prominent mixes including Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin me Round (Like a Record) – the Murder Mix’, accompanies the memoir, which is the perfect gift for fans of the Eighties in hopes that their stockings will be filled with retro bliss.
In an exclusive interview with Jeremy Kennedy, Atlanta’s profound Eighties enthusiast, legendary mix-veteran Phil Harding is unmasked as he prefaces his memoir to an American perspective.
Jeremy: How has mixing changed over the last 25 years or so? Is it an easier process today or more difficult in your opinion?
Phil: Technology has changed the mixing process tremendously, allowing us to mix entirely ‘in the box’ on computer systems with no real need for hardware like mixing consoles and outboard effects whatsoever. Having said that, I personally prefer to use a combination of both for my current mixing, software and hardware.
Jeremy: What was it about your production abilities that made your work so attractive to artists in the Eighties?
Phil: I think the combination of creative and musical sensibilities towards artists songs and direction, this was largely due to my production partner Ian Curnow, who is a fantastic musician and programmer. Also the fact that PWL Studios was always one of the best and most up-to-date equipped studios London during the 1980’s. As soon as new technology came onto the market, we would be amongst the first to try it then purchase it, if we liked it…
Jeremy: In the U.S.A., the presumption was that mixes were relatively hidden gems, heard only in clubs & discos which were far less popular in America than in the UK. Did you ever go into any of your mixing projects with a focus on achieving American appeal with a great mix to boot? In hindsight, is there any particular track that you mixed that exceeded your American ambition?
Phil: Thankfully for all of us at PWL in the 1980’s, our mixes were very popular in the in the American clubs and I regularly attended the New Music Seminar in New York each summer and was astonished to find how popular my mixes were. Therefore, I did do a lot of mixes with the USA club scene in mind and the Blue Mercedes song ‘I Want To Be Your Property (Street Latin Wolff Mix)’ was a good example.
Jeremy: As a fan of your work, your mixes were often identifiable because of the organic way you developed instrumentation. Whereas other mixers gravitated to a whirlpool of looping choruses and rhythms, a Phil Harding mix was often built in dub -fashion, unlocking key components of a 7-inch track then integrating each component with the latest club beat. Is my analysis over zealous? How would you describe a Phil Harding mix in comparison to the other profiles (Julian Mendelsohn, Shep Pettibone, Tom Lord-Alge) that had their hands in mixing production like you?
Phil: You hit the nail on the head really. I would spend a long time stripping down chorus sections of a track, look at the interesting musical and rhythmical variations and would often mix 8 – 16 bars at a time, then do an edit back across the same section with a build up of instruments and rhythm. It was always therefore a delight when a tape came in with a large amount of choruses looping at the end…
Jeremy: Can you describe the selection process for us? In other words, from a business perspective, how soon is the mixing engineer brought into the recording project? How long does it take to generate a great mix?
Phil: A mix engineer is often the final element before mastering and manufacturing and it’s a good thing that they come in fresh to the project as therefore there should be no prejudice towards a particular instrument or overdub. Sometimes you could be the second or third to be mixing the project. A great mix will normally take at least 2 days, allowing an overnight ‘rest’ for the ears. Although it can be done in one day if under time pressure, 2-3 days is always great…
Jeremy: Now that 25 years have passed since your mixes were rocketing up Billboard’s Dance & Club-Play Charts, would you take an introspective reflection and give us an idea of which of these (in general, not specific unless you care to share) were the most difficult to work with and why: 1) The artist; 2) The artist’s management; 3) The record label. By the way, who fit the bill for a nourishing Harding mix in the 1980s?
Phil: The toughest artist was Dead or Alive because SAW would often leave me alone with the band to complete a mix – especially on the second album we did with them ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous To Know’. They were lovely guys and Pete Burns is a great laugh but I was on the pink ‘Stress Less’ pills throughout the whole of those mixing sessions! The toughest manager was always Tom Watkins (Pet Shop Boys / Bros / East 17). Everything was always 100% brilliant or 100% shit – nothing in between. Toughest label had to be London Records – Tracy Bennett and Pete Tong were always tough guys to please, especially on projects like Bananarama and East 17. Great fun to mix in the 1980’s were the American projects like Information Society (‘Lay All Your Love On Me’) and Tricia Leigh Fisher (remixes) because they were always well recorded and the labels, managers and artists always trusted us to deliver without any harassment or intervention.
Jeremy: Of the hundreds of tracks you mixed in the Eighties, what was the one track that proved to be the most difficult and why? Did any of your mixes meet with discontent by the author / artist? Which one?
Phil: The most difficult and longest (36 hours straight) was ‘You Spin Me Round’ by Dead Or Alive. The mix started with the whole band and Stock and Aitken in the room and finished with just Pete Waterman and me overnight (after Pete threw everyone out of the studio). Many mixes are unreleased due artist discontent – Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Sweet Little Mystery’ – Harding/Curnow club mix is one example. Roger Daltrey also disliked a mix I did (‘Take Me Home’) but it was still promoted to the clubs…
Jeremy: Is it common for the artist to be directly involved with the mixing process? Did you ever do any mixes for an artist yet never met them personally?
Phil: No, generally most pop artists are too busy to attend a mixing session, although exceptions to the rule in the 1980’s included Matt Bianco, Basia, ABC and the Pet Shop Boys. I’ve done many mixes for Sir Cliff Richard over the years - including mixing 11 tracks on his new album ‘Soulicious’ - but I’ve never met him...
Jeremy: What was like to be a part of the PWL team of Stock-Aitken-Waterman? What is the relationship with Mike, Mark and Peter like today?
Phil: Being part of the PWL team was great fun, and at the same time, a lot of hard work and long hours. Generally, we all worked very well together under the leadership of Pete Waterman, ‘Captain of the ship’. I believe the relationship between the three of them to be good these days, after some disputes were settled some years back. They have done some work together in recent years and Pete Waterman and Mike Stock collaborated on a recent UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Jeremy: What is about Eighties music, in your opinion, that defines the decade? With all of the revivals, reunions and resurgence in new wave, do you feel connected with the Eighties or is it a chapter that you wish would just close forever in the book of pop culture?
Phil: Due to my recent book ‘PWL From The Factory Floor’ and CD compilation ‘Phil Harding Club Mixes Of The 80s’, I feel very connected to the 1980’s still, though I am glad to have moved into more acoustic and rock / pop style projects these days, which I am enjoying tremendously. I think 1980’s music is defined by great artists, great songs and the evolution of integrating modern technology and music for the first time, to the extent that the only ‘live’ recorded thing on a record would be the vocals... I think the pop ‘enthusiasm’ of the 80s will live on forever and I have many fond memories of the era.
Jeremy: What influenced you to write PWL From the Factory Floor? Will the book be released domestically in the States? How involved were you with the selection of mixes for the double-CD release?
Phil: After Pete Waterman released his autobiography, which was followed by Mike Stock’s book about The PWL Hit Factory. I felt that the view ‘from the factory floor’, i.e. a member of the team like me rather than one of the ‘leaders’, would be an interesting viewpoint for a reader. In the first section of the book I write about the rise and fall of PWL from 1984 – 1992 in chronological order, which the other two books didn’t do. So by 2008, I put most of my other projects and work on hold and wrote the book. I was hands-on in the selection of songs for the CD and we only used two of the majors labels to license the tracks from (Universal and Sony), so maybe there will be a volume 2? There is no specific release or publisher for America, but both the book and CD can be ordered from the Amazon USA site.
Jeremy: What is your greatest accolade as a mix-master? By the way, who coined that term ‘mix-master’ and what is your impression of the title today?
Phil: Pete Waterman coined the phrase ‘Mixmaster’, which sounds a bit corny now. It’s hard to pick one accolade, though I was very flattered the first time I came to The New Music Seminar in NYC (1987), and was applauded when my mix credits were read out in the Remixers’ Panel Seminar.
Jeremy: Do you keep in contact with any artists that you worked with in the Eighties? Some like Jermaine Stewart and Simon Climie (Climie Fisher) have sadly passed on. How would you want to be remembered in generations to come?
Phil: I’m not really in regular contact with many of them, Julian Close from Redbox is still a good friend and occasionally I see the guys from Matt Bianco and Basia. It would be nice to be remembered as a ‘nice’ person and one of the first ‘non-DJ’ innovative mixers of the 1980’s and 90’s.
Jeremy: Breaking out in the 1970s, you witnessed several audio format changes over the years. From vinyl to 8-track cassette, compact disc to digital files, which format does Phil Harding fancy and why?
Phil: I still adore vinyl and have a very good vinyl deck and hi-fi system, designed to get the best out of the format. Most of my music these days is played off CD still, in the car or the studio. For me, digital files are for work purposes (WAVs) or easy-listening (MP3s).
Jeremy: In an honest revelation: Have you ever broken into dance listening to your own mixes? How frequently does this happen?
Phil: Pretty much never. One is always self-conscious of something you’ve worked on to just let yourself go spontaneously, especially in public. I’d have to be very drunk!...
Jeremy: As we close, would Phil Harding be so kind to share your outlook on each of these big U.S. dance floor hits that you mixed and how you perceive their quality and durability today?
Phil: Obviously the quality of all of these is still good, must be all of those analogue tape machines back in the day...
Breakaway (Tracey Ullman / 1982): - Not sure what to say on this choice, it’s an early mix for the clubs and she was a great artist but much better was to come from me...
Question of Time (Depeche Mode /1985): - Wow, I really enjoyed mixing for Mute Records and Daniel Miller - still sounds great today.
Digging Your Scene (The Blow Monkeys /1986): - A classic that sounds best with the remastering done for my new compilation CD.
Certain Things are Likely (Kissing the Pink / 1986): - Fond memories of this great track and great band - very artistic and still sounds good now.
Sugarfree (Wa Wa Nee / 1986): I don’t have an accessible copy to comment on unfortunately...
For America (Redbox / 1986): - Classic / classic / classic – enormous production and mix and I still love it…
Always on my Mind (Pet Shop Boys / 1987): - This still stands up and is often the version played on UK Radio.
Boom Boom (Paul Lekakis / 1987): - Oh dear…..
Brand New Lover (Dead or Alive / 1987): - Sounds great but it makes my teeth grind...
I Want to Be Your Property (Blue Mercedes / 1987): - Always brings a smile to my face - they had a great sense of humour.
Love Changes Everything (Climie Fisher / 1987): - Still sounds classy – they always were.
When Smokey Sings (ABC / 1987): - Still very pleased with this from my current CD and it has had quite a few plays during some recent UK radio interviews and sounds great as a radio edit.
I Only Wanna be With You (Samantha Fox / 1988): – Ooer, this doesn’t really stand the test of time for me!
For more information on PWL: From the Factory Floor, please visit www.pwlfromthefactoryfloor.com
Music in the Eighties certainly wasn’t short of proclaimed masculinity when it came to band names. Some ‘men’ embraced a gender role directive (re: Men at Work), while others boasted that they were invincible (re: The Men They Couldn’t Hang). Still, some of these bands kept their innocent gender pride dry and simple without any connotation to ride on their fame (re: The Men). There were lots of men to choose from, but it was the men that refused to wear any hats (a no-brainer with this one) that became the genre fan favorite.
Now on the heels of a long-awaited reunion tour, Men Without Hats are back, performing their biggest hits from a historical catalog that stretches all the way back to 1982, when “Safety Dance” became iconic to the decade of its birth and a cultural phenomenon still relevant today.
Retro Beach’s Jeremy Kennedy, Atlanta’s Eighties’ retro guru, sat down with founder / lead vocalist Ivan Doroschuk, who ironically was wearing a hat on this windy, overcast day in Kansas City at the prestigious Uptown Theater.
Last week, MTV celebrated its 30th birthday honorably by replaying their debut launch broadcast on their sister station VH-1 Classic, followed by a live reunion of original VJs- one of many vocabulary contributions coined by the network, over at SIRIUS radio’s 80s on 8. Historically, the great wave of music videos was more of a ripple than a tsunami when MTV first debuted, as evident by the string of videos MTV streamed in this replay. The 2nd British Invasion was about to arrive, but until then, MTV followed the playbook of favoritism, showcasing videos by Eddie Money, David Bowie and Blondie. It was only a matter of weeks before someone with an executive chair poked programmers to broadcast a string of British short-film music videos that were in wide contrast to the template set by the American videographers. It’s still debatable whether or not video killed the radio star, but it certainly made a load of cultural icons.
Imagine, if you will, a time when music videos actually mattered; a time when music videos were merited on sparkling creativity, detailed production, and savvy editing, when the highly sought “Astronaut Award” was based on attributes, not outrageous popularity and slavish party politics as they are today. Don’t believe me? Here’s a personal list looking back at some of the most memorable music videos at the height of the music video age, which are agreeably flimsy by today’s standards and yet unintentionally award winning to those of us that had to have our MTV. They aren’t glamorous, digitally generated, or even sexy, but their impact is what keeps the retro circuit alive and kicking in 2011. It’s not a complete list, but each video is certain to entertain and undoubtedly charm you.
Love & Pride - King (1984). This video is the Chinese buffet of music videos. Paul King covered his need for attention from head to toe, sporting a cockatoo mullet and pricey Doc Marten boots, all in the name of fashion. Nonetheless, Paul isn’t necessarily the star of this rebellion caught on film. The rest of the band, with their stylish sport-bike and skinhead gear, are illusory attractive as they rock out in a deserted rock quarry with the best of ‘80s instrumentation. This team of societal misfits creates a sense of expressive liberation just as a gang of b-boys (that’s lingo for break dancing) appear from behind rustic chemical drums. Personally, the choreography is more engaging than a Beyonce clip. You know it’s a great video when lads perfectly demonstrate robotic freezes, power moves, and fancy footwork, all while wearing Michael Jackson-inspired jackets and Karate Kid headbands! The 1980s can’t be more decisive than King’s “Love & Pride”.
21st Century Boy – Sigue Sigue Sputnik (1986). Guitarist Tony James formed Sigue Sigue Sputnik following the demise of Generation X in 1982, predicting a future of "Hi-tech sex, designer violence, and the fifth generation of rock 'n' roll”. Can anyone argue with James’ prophecy in 2011? Anyone? It’s easy to say “I told you so” after the fact, but check out this lavish display of vanity and materialistic vulgarity that validates James’ premonition. Although nearly every space-age gadget in this video is archaic by today’s standards (mitt-sized cell phones, portable cd players, remote control robot toys), without a doubt, yesterday’s future is tomorrow’s past.
Stand & Deliver – Adam & the Ants (1981). Shedding their misnomer label by the critics, the Ants transitioned from the dirty reality of punk to the imaginative new romanticism with the release of this single in 1981 accompanied by an eerie video that combines theatrical performances with white-washed cinematography. Ironically, the video successfully twists ole’ 18th Century England with 1981’s settling new wave scene, without being so drastically obvious. Some may be surprised to learn that unlike Babybird’s ‘Unlovable’ video from 2010, music channels continue to show the video in spite of the angry mob hanging Ant by a noose. As a tamed society becomes more sensitive with time, Ant will always be the king of the wild frontier.
Spirit in the Sky – Doctor & the Medics (1986). By the mid-Eighties, just when we thought that strange haircuts had reached their pinnacle state of shameless, the most outlandish image to date appeared, exploiting all tolerances of new wave. Doctor & the Medics formulated their own Western take on Kabuki Theater with post-punk hair dyes in a visual package so extreme, the Thompson Twins’ image seemed conservative. The Medics were cosmetically suited to mock, but yet their presence was magnetic, in ways similar to those used to recruit new members to a religious cult. Although they were pretty harmless and unsurprisingly short-lived, this video will always be marveled by viewers for years to come. It’s an Eighties low-budget gem that hallucinates the mind while grooving your soul, making this video one of the most memorable yet underrated pieces of film ever shown on MTV.
Mind of a Toy – Visage (1980). Warning: if you’ve been clinically diagnosed with coulrophobia, automatonophobia, or pediophobia, this masterminded nightmarish video isn’t for you. In other words, if you have a fear of clowns, ventriloquism, or if you sleep with the lights on to mentally protect yourself in case your child’s dolls come to life in the middle of the night, stay clear of this classic from Visage. Produced by Godley & Crème, the critically acclaimed production duo behind Herbie Hancock’s stunning “Rockit” video from 1983, “Mind of a Toy” proclaims innocence albeit wrapped in an uncomfortable delusion of the beholder. Riding on the unconventional method of stardom, Visage continued to make subjective videos until 1985. However, nothing mirrored unnerving as this new wave nursery rhyme did at the start of the music video revolution.
Proud to Fall – Ian McCulloch (1989). The best Echo & the Bunnymen song you’ve never heard, lead vocalist Ian McCulloch recorded a near-perfect album called “Candleland” (Sire Records) featuring this Billboard Modern Rock radio hit in 1989. It isn’t often that artists have the resources, budget, or creativity to bring their audio lyrics to life. Ian McCulloch, however, has triumphed over this challenge. “Proud to Fall” seeks your attention. Impossible to resist, like a late night TV advert to help abused animals, the viewer is locked tight with a sympathy grip watching McCulloch struggle to carry the world over his shoulder, one earnest step at a time. Like it or not, there is definitely something about watching others suffer with their own melancholic trials that draws us to compassion. Ian becomes ‘the little train that could’ – chains, flames and all. After all, everyone loves a happy ending.
For a front-seat view of each of these classic ‘80s videos, just CLICK HERE