Trapped in the 80s!

I find myself talking more and more these days about things that happened 40 years ago. In an effort to move towards the present, today we look at music that was recorded 30+ years ago. It’s a small step but… hey, get off my lawn!

Group1

Synthesizers became commercially available in the 1960s, and one can hear them pop up on Abbey Road and other late 60s gems. But it wasn’t really until new wave arose that synths became a common tool of the trade. Bands such as the Cars and B-52’s used synthesizers as a lead instrument, filling in for or working in tandem with lead guitar. Eurythmics, not thought of primarily as a synth pop band, permeated their music with keyboards. Recommended cuts: Candy-O, the first song I ever sang in public, from the Cars’ 6-album compilation The Elektra Years; 52 Girls off of B-52’s Time Capsule, a raucous dance tune punctuated by screams of, “Tina Louise!”; and Would I Lie To You?, another confirmation of Annie Lennox’s complete domination of all earthlings, from the Eurythmics’ Ultimate Collection.

Group2

Other groups relied primarily or entirely on synthesizers to create their music. Kraftwerk, formed in 1970, gives us an early example of electronic rock. Their music was often cold and spare (referred to as robot pop by the band), a mechanical dream (or nightmare!) of precision. Recommended cut: Pocket Calculator from Computer World, a machine-driven paean to that earliest of hand-held computers, the pocket calculator.

Human League hit it big in 1981 with the single Don’t You Want Me, which spawned the first video I ever saw on MTV. This song came off the brilliant album Dare, but their previous album, Travelogue, was also a big hit in the UK. With a dazzling array of sounds ranging from synthetic drums to sweet strings to buzzsaw explosions, Human League delivers catchy, infectious grooves to your ear sacs. Recommended cut: Empire State Human from The Very Best of the Human League, a quirky, swirling circus of calliope surrounding the lyrics, “Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall…”

In a similar vein, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark uses synths for all aspects of their music. Their style is a bit more toward the techno sides of things, although many synth pop gems adorn their catalogue. Recommended cut: Enola Gay off of The Best of OMD, a catchy synth pop look at the bombing of Hiroshima.

NewOrder

Rising from the ashes of post-punk poster children Joy Division in 1980, New Order did not immediately bring an unrelenting dance beat to their music. However, by 1983 they had created the best-selling 12-inch single of all-time, Blue Monday, a favorite dance club number. Eventually, the band transitioned into pure pop dance music filled with synthesizers as well as typical rock band instrumentation. Recommended cut: Age of Consent off of The Best of New Order, a toe-tapping, happy little tune filled to the brim with gorgeous electronic sounds.

So, there you have everything that is known about synthesizers. Perhaps print a copy for your own reference or to give to a friend. Oh, and be sure to check out these and other albums to see what someone clever can do with electricity and a keyboard.

Return of the Grateful Undead

We’ve all seen the sad and scary headlines:

NOW PLAYING AT THE EMERALD QUEEN CASINO, *FILL IN A ONE-HIT-WONDER FROM 20 YEARS AGO*!

Then again, perhaps it isn’t a sad situation; after all, the musicians are doing what they love and making a living at it. But all too often, ahem, mature bands don’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank and their performances, well, tank.

Even scarier is the band that you loved oh-so-many-years-ago coming out with a new album. This is seldom a happy experience. Talents wane, song selection weakens and the rivers of time leave former superstars in stagnant, putrid tributaries.

The reason for this tirade is that a surprising number of bands I listened to 20-30 years ago are now touring and/or making new albums. My automatic reaction upon hearing this is a violent shudder. But much to my surprise, I am discovering some excellent albums being made by these old-timers (i.e. my peers).

OMD EnglishOne case in point is English Electric by synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I came to know OMD in 1980 with the release of their second album, Organisation. It contains perhaps their best known song, Enola Gay, a catchy foot tapper about dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I was struck by the song’s beauty, the bittersweet lyrics, and the metamorphosis of a grim topic into a happy dance song. The remainder of the album is highly atmospheric, what some might think of as soundtrack material. As their career progressed, OMD’s music became less ethereal and more dance-oriented and I kind of stopped paying attention.

So now it’s 2014, I discover that OMD released a new album in 2010 called History of Modern, I give it a listen (expecting the worst) and I’m sorta blown away. English Electric continues in the same positive vein. OMD is one band that after a long layoff sounds as good as, or better than, ever.

Adam Ant coversAdam and the Ants (or Adam Ant after he dropped the backing band) had a bunch of catchy hits in the early and mid-80s. His seemingly final album, Wonderful, was released in 1995. But 2013 saw the release of Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter. This new album is not as strong as his best work, but for someone who is nearly 60 and has lead a difficult life (being bi-polar and dealing with the effects of medications), his voice is still strong as ever. In Adam’s case, perhaps it’s just nice to see him still trying in the face of adversity.

Pixies coversThe Pixies came on the scene in 1986 with a vengeance, oft-screamed vocals and wild-fuzz guitar intermixed with lovely pure pop ditties. The group stayed together until 1993 with their final album coming in 1991. Although they regrouped in 2004, the band did not release another album until this month, Indie Cindy. It’s a bit kinder and gentler than the Pixies of old, but this is all relative as they still deliver a bundle of whopping hard-edged fun.

Other artists to look for

The Cars broke up in 1988 and reformed in 2010. They released Move Like This in 2011, which went to #7 on the Billboard charts. If you like early Cars albums, you should like this one as well.

JoaCars coversJoan Jett, although never taking a break from performing, had not released an album in seven years until delivering Unvarnished in 2013. This is hard-rocking music, a return to form for Joan and the Blackhearts.

Kate Jett coversKate Bush has continued to release albums over the years, but her last (and only) tour was in 1979. She is finally returning to touring in 2014.

Bush covers

Other new releases that will be appearing in the EPL collection soon:

Devo somethingSomething for Everybody (2010) by Devo. Their first album since 1990 shows a return to this band’s golden days.

 

 

 

Presidents KudosKudos to You! (2014) by The Presidents of the United States of America, their first album since 2008.

 

 

And yet even more new releases worth pursuing:

Ultravox brilliantBrilliant (2012) by Ultravox, their first release since 1994.

 

 

 

 

Magazine NoNo Thyself (2011) by Magazine. This brilliant release is their first since 1981!