Category: synthpop

Eurythmics “Love Is a Stranger” 1982. 12″ single. “Love Is a Stranger” was the third single from the band’s January 1983 album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and it’s one of my all-time favorites from the synthpop/new wave duo. First released as a single in November ‘82, it did relatively poorly (it was their 5th single to date, hitting #54 in the UK. However, after the next single, the title track “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” hit #2 in the UK and #1 in the US (it was their first single released in America), they re-released “Love Is a Stranger” and it, too, became a hit going to #6 in the UK and to #23 in the US (#7 on the US Dance chart). The B-side of the 12″ has two tracks, “Let’s Just Close Our Eyes” which is hypnotic and super-danceable and “Monkey Monkey,” also hypnotic but more mostly just an instrumental track: experimental with lots of techno weirdness.  

Depeche Mode “Shake the Disease” 1985, Mute Records. 12″ single, special edition, UK import. This past weekend the subject of Depeche Mode came up with an old friend who shares a mutual enthusiasm for the band and who is currently re-collecting the band’s catalog on vinyl. I commented how grateful I was that I’ve pretty much hung onto all of my records since I started buying them in the 80′s. This 12″ extended version of “Shake the Disease (Edit the Shake)” is one i’m still very fond of: I purchased this soon after its release in 1985 while on a visit to Los Angeles. While there I heard “Shake the Disease” on KROQ and was thrilled to be hearing the new Depeche Mode single before my friends back in the Midwest – radio stations in small-market Wisconsin cities did not play such dark gothy synthpop in the 80′s. 

Shake the Disease” was Depeche Mode’s 13th single, a stand-alone that DM would include on their 1985 comp album The Singles 81-85 (UK) and Catching Up with Depeche Mode (US). It went to #18 in the UK and into the Hot Dance Club chart top 40 in the US. It’s super-dark, melodically minor: a great bridge from the moving-darker synthpop of Some Great Reward (1984) to the industrial goth Black Celebration (1986). “Alan Wilder felt this song captured the essence of the band, saying that ‘there’s a certain edge to what we do that can make people think twice about things. If we’ve got a choice between calling a song ‘Understand Me’ or ‘Shake the Disease’, we’ll call it ‘Shake the Disease’. There’s a lot of perversity and innuendo in our lyrics, but nothing direct.’" (DM website/Wiki)

Also on the 12″ is a live version of “Master and Servant” (originally on Some Great Reward), recorded at their performance in Switzerland in November 1984, as well as upbeat synthpoppy “Flexible (Pre-deportation Mix)” and “Something to Do (Metalmix)” (Some Great Reward). 

Duran Duran “Arena” released 35 years ago today, November 12th, 1984. My original gatefold copy from ‘84, complete with an 8-page glossy booklet featuring sultry photos of each band member (the one of Nick clutching what looks to be a pole is particularly amusing). 

Arena (which went to #6 in the UK and #4 in the US) was “recorded around the world” when Duran Duran toured in ‘83 and ‘84 promoting Seven and the Ragged Tiger and includes songs from that album performed live like “The Seventh Stranger” and “Union of the Snake” but also many from Rio. Those are the always popular “Hungry Like the Wolf” which Simon introduces by asking the audience “Is anybody hungry??!!” as well as “New Religion” (which fabulously demonstrates the tension between Andy’s desire to be a rock-n-roll (metal???) band, Simon and Nick’s art-rock tendencies and John’s funky disco bass playing), “Save a Prayer” (I love it when Simon sings this live, adding in  “ch-ch-ch” after the word “fire”), and “The Chauffeur.” They also perform the stand-alone “Is There Something I Should Know?” which appears on the US reissue of their debut record Duran Duran, plus “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories” from that LP. The only non-live track on Arena is “The Wild Boys” (produced by Nile Rodgers) which they released as a single just prior to Arena; it went to #2 in both the US and the UK and became infamous for having the most expensive video ever made up to that point. 

Duran Duran “Save a Prayer” 1982. I’m spinning the most perfect 80′s new wave/synthpop ballad today for Simon Le Bon’s 61st birthday (b. Oct. 27th, 1958). Released in the UK as their third single from Rio (it wouldn’t be released in the US until ‘85), “Save a Prayer” was a massive hit, going to #2, their biggest hit to that date. In ‘85 it went to #16 in the US, though American audiences had a ton of exposure to the track before then as it had heavy rotation on MTV. The video is gorgeous, shot in Sri Lanka, and I vaguely remember reading or hearing an interview with one of the other band members – maybe Roger? – lamenting that Simon always got to dance with the pretty girls in Duran Duran videos. Side B of this 12″ has “Hold Back the Rain (remix),” the regular version of which is also on Rio

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Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward” released on this date, September 24th, 1984. Mute Records. I bought this album in either late ‘84 or early ‘85 during the height of my Brit new wave/synth pop obsession and while not my favorite Depeche Mode album, it certainly still gives me all the feels with its dark industrial beats, minor chords and borderline sinister content. 

Some Great Reward was Depeche Mode’s fourth album and it reached #5 in the UK and #54 in the US. The first single, “People are People,” was released about six months prior, in March of ‘84, and became DM’s breakthrough in the US market where it hit #13 (and #4 in UK) with the support of its video on heavy rotation on MTV – where I saw it and was instantly in love. The sado-maschocistic industrial dance track “Master and Servant” was the second single from Some Great Reward and, despite the controversy surrounding its material and ban on many US radio stations (I guess the synthesized whips and chains were a bit too over the top for our tender ears), it made it to #87 on the US charts and #9 in the UK. The last two singles were actually a double A-side of “Blasphemous Rumors” and “Somebody.” “Blasphemous Rumors” is, to me, their most disturbing song and one that I often find unlistenable, not because it’s bad but because it’s ridiculously painful. “Somebody” – notable for being the first DM single sung by Martin Gore (reportedly recorded nude) is also painful, but in a completely different way – it’s the desperate agony and ache of love vs. the devastation of depression, sickness, death and loss of faith.  

Allmusic says about Some Great Reward “The peak of the band’s industrial-gone-mainstream fusion, and still one of the best electronic music albums yet recorded, Some Great Reward still sounds great, with the band’s ever-evolving musical and production skills matching even more ambitious songwriting from Martin Gore. “People Are People” appears here, but finds itself outclassed by some of Depeche Mode’s undisputed classics, most especially the moody, beautiful “Somebody,” a Gore-sung piano ballad that mixes its wit and emotion skillfully; “Master and Servant,” an amped-up, slamming dance track that conflates sexual and economic politics to sharp effect; and the closing “Blasphemous Rumors,” a slow-building anthemic number supporting one of Gore’s most cynical lyrics, addressing a suicidal teen who finds God only to die soon afterward. Even lesser-known tracks like the low-key pulse of “Lie to Me” and the weirdly dreamy “It Doesn’t Matter” showcase an increasingly confident band. Alan Wilder’s arrangements veer from the big to the stripped down, but always with just the right touch, such as the crowd samples bubbling beneath “Somebody” or the call/response a cappella start to “Master and Servant.” With Reward, David Gahan’s singing style found the métier it was going to stick with for the next ten years, and while it’s never gone down well with some ears, it still has a compelling edge to it that suits the material well.”

Re-blogging myself – Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward” released 35 years ago today, September 24th, 1984.

Depeche Mode “Everything Counts and Live Tracks” 1983. Vogue Records/Mute Records, French import mini album. Today, August 22nd, is the release anniversary of Depeche Mode’s third album Construction Time Again (1983) and “Everything Counts” was the lead single, hitting #6 in the UK and #17 on the US Hot Dance chart. Side A, or the Studio Side, has two versions of “Everything Counts” – the 7″ original single mix and the 12″ single mix. The B-side, or the Live Side, has four live tracks (recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in October ‘82) including two Vince Clarke songs, one of my absolute favorites, “New Life,” as well as “Boys Say Go!” – both from their 1981 debut LP Speak and Spell. Also appearing are live versions of the Martin Gore-penned “Nothing to Fear” and “The Meaning of Love,” both from Depeche Mode’s 1982 album A Broken Frame. I left the price tag on the Mini Album because this is an acquisition from my friend Jason who bought it and literally imported it from France in early ‘86.

Modern English “Ricochet Days” 1984. 4 AD Records. Tonight we’re seeing Modern English perform, along with The Alarm and Gene Loves Jezebel: I’m most interested to see Modern English of the three. We saw them a few years ago on an 80′s retro tour (along with artists like Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, English Beat, etc.) and their music held up well, some 35 years later. Ricochet Days is Modern English’s third album (#93 US charts): new wave synth pop at the height of its popularity though Ricochet Days is not nearly as good as their sophomore release After the Snow (1982) with its smash single “Melt With You.” It’s pretty bland with few stand-out tracks. The instrumentation and melody of “Spinning Me Round” is pleasant but not particularly memorable and “Blue Waves” teases the same flavor as “Melt With You” but is either too close to its melody or is missing that certain je ne sais quoi that made “Melt With You” a hit. The single “Hands Across the Sea,” which went to #91 in the US, is definitely one of the better songs on the record but I really only like about half the song –  the chorus – the rest is a bit too Spandau Ballet-smooth for my tastes. The closing track, “Chapter 12,” is also decent and the most danceable on the LP with a pretty good synthpop riff that recalls early Depeche Mode. 

Tears for Fears “The Hurting” 1983. A melancholy new wave/synthpop masterpiece, Tears for Fears’ debut album was an instant smash, going to #1 on the UK album chart within two weeks of its release. A couple of my favorite early 80′s songs are on The Hurting including “Suffer the Children,” (first released in ‘81, re-recorded for The Hurting, then re-released in ‘85 when it charted at #52 in the UK), “Mad World,” (released as a single in ‘82, #3 UK chart), “Change,” (#5 UK and #73 US) and my absolute fave “Pale Shelter” (#5 UK). At the time of The Hurting’s release, some critics found it “terrible, useless sort of art that makes self pity and futility a commercial proposition…just the sort of doom laden dross you’d expect from the lyrics: rehashed and reheated hollow doom with a bit of Ultravox here, diluted Joy Division poured everywhere, and the title track sounding suspiciously like one of the old pompous outfits with a welter of mellotrons" (NME). I think that opinion is terribly wrong: The Hurting has stood the test of time and 35+ years later it’s recognized as complex, groundbreaking and influential on such artists (who, like Tears for Fears, lean towards dark wave) as Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins and Arcade Fire (PopMatters).

Depeche Mode “See You (Extended Version)” 1982. Mute Records. Today, July 8th, is DM original member, one-time bassist (back when they went by the name No Romance in China), keyboardist and sort-of manager Andrew Fletcher’s birthday (b. 1961). “See You” in its non-extended variant was Depeche Mode’s fourth single (which went to #6 on the UK charts) and they released it prior to its album version inclusion on their second LP A Broken Frame. “See You” was the first single DM released written by Martin Gore, post-Vince Clarke’s departure from the band. It mixes Gore’s predilection for a gothy synth sound with the band’s Clarke era bright synthpop sound. This 12″ single is quite literally a British import: we just returned from a 10-day trip to London where we hit pretty much every single used record store still in business. I think we got this at one of the Reckless Records locations but I’m not sure. The b-side is the non-album track “Now, This is Fun (Extended Version)” which is also tinged with darkness while still employing a light synthpop dance beat.  

Duran Duran “Duran Duran” 1981/2010 limited edition double vinyl reissue. Today, June 20th, is DD2 bassist John Taylor’s birthday (b. Nigel John Taylor, 1960) so I’m spinning my 20th copy of their debut album – that might be an exaggeration but I do have several different versions of Duran Duran. And for good reason: it’s an amazing new wave, new romantic synth pop debut that still sounds amazing almost 40 years on. It hit #3 on the UK charts and while reception was initially lackluster in the US, its re-release (with a slightly altered track listing and different cover) in ‘83 sent it to #10 on the Billboard album chart. This 2010 edition has the original UK release with the original single version of “Planet Earth” and the dreamy “To the Shore” track (the original US version on Harvest Records had the “Night Version” remix of “Planet Earth” and dropped “To the Shore;” the ‘83 reissue went back to the original “Planet Earth” and added “Is There Something I Should Know?”). 

The record sleeve insert for Disc Two has this amazing photo of the band – it also makes me laugh because my dear friend Carrie keeps a file on her computer titled “Awkward Photos of Duran Duran” that include several that either highlight or try (in vain) to obscure the massive height difference between Simon and John vs Nick, Roger and Andy. This is one that highlights it, obviously. Plus OMG Nick’s hair!!!

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The second record in this double LP set is a bonus 12″ single with the aforementioned “Planet Earth (Night Version)” plus the Extended Night Version of “Girls on Film” that has previously been unreleased,  another variant of “Planet Earth” – the Night Mix – and “Girls on Film (Night Mix)” – also previously unreleased.” Overkill? Nope, I cannot ever get enough of those songs.