Category: synthpop

There were lots of songs written about the Cold War, but few were as unabashedly melodramatic as Ultravox’s pop hit, “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” which envisions a couple living out their last few minutes after it is announced nuclear missiles have been launched. Cheery stuff. Of note, this was a big hit everywhere except the US—I guess we didn’t like hearing the views of collateral damage. 


Depeche Mode “The Meaning of Love” 1982. Mute Records. Today, June 1st, is former DM keyboardist  Alan Wilder’s 60th birthday (b. 1959) who stepped in after Vince Clarke left the band in 1982 (Wilder split in ‘95). He wrote a few tracks for DM, though “The Meaning of Love” is not one of them (though it was the second video that Wilder appeared in); it was written by Martin Gore and appears on their second album A Broken Frame. It went to #12 in the UK and is backed by “Oberkorn (it’s a small town),” an instrumental – also by Gore – named for a town in Luxembourg.

Depeche Mode “New Life” b/w “Shout!” 1981, Mute Records. Today, May 9th, is Depeche Mode vocalist Dave Gahan’s birthday (b. David Callcott, 1962). “New Life” is one of my favorite DM songs ever; written by Vince Clarke, it appeared on their debut album Speak & Spell. “New Life” was the second single from the LP and the group’s breakthrough, going to #11 in the UK and was the first song the band played for the TV show Top of the Pops (they are so adorable, so young and so awkwardly lip-syncing). I love the bright, optimism of this classic new wave synthpop track, and the B-side “Shout!” has a similar sound though a bit more exotic; it too was written by Clarke. 

Depeche Mode “Synth-Pop Explosion” 2018. Bootleg release on red vinyl from Yugoslavian label Diskoton (whose releases, including this one, are banned from resale on Discogs). Live concert recordings from 1981 (Liverpool University) and a 1982 Swedish TV show “Måndagbörsen.” 

Side A’s tracks plus the first track on Side B come from the Liverpool University concert on November 6th, 1981. Super-early Depeche Mode – I don’t think many people were in the audience as the applause is polite but it sounds like there are only about 50 people there. The Liverpool recordings include tracks from Depeche Mode’s first album Speak and Spell: “Photographic,” “Puppets,” “No Disco,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and two of my favorite DM songs ever, “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The first track on Side A, “Television Set,” does not appear on any official Depeche Mode release. According to the website DMLive, “Television Set” was written by a friend of Vince Clarke’s, Jason Knott who was in the band The Neatelllls, and for this reason Depeche Mode never recorded it in the studio. However the song appeared frequently in their concert set lists between 1980 and 1982; in 1981 it was their go-to opening number. (The entire Liverpool concert can be found here, it’s pretty shitty audio and visual though)

Side B’s tracks, with the exception of the first song “No Disco” which was part of the Liverpool set, come from a Swedish TV show which was aired live from the Grand Hotel in Stockholm on March 22nd, 1982. It includes renditions of “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” (yay!), plus “See You” from Depeche Mode’s second album, A Broken Frame. There’s also an interview of the band that discusses their evolution into a synth pop band, their youth and hometown of  Basildon, and their confusion over what the lyrics of “New Life” mean – Vince Clarke was no longer in DM at the time of this performance (the host of the show interviews the band in English and then promptly translates their responses into Swedish). You can see the interview and “See You” here.

The album sleeve has a couple of adorable photos of the band, and man do they look SO YOUNG, especially Dave Gahan (whose hair in the first photo is simply shellac-amazing). 

Depeche Mode “Synth-Pop Explosion” 2018. Bootleg release on red vinyl from Yugoslavian label Diskoton (whose releases, including this one, are banned from resale on Discogs). Live concert recordings from 1981 (Liverpool University) and a 1982 Swedish TV show “Måndagbörsen.” 

Side A’s tracks plus the first track on Side B come from the Liverpool University concert on November 6th, 1981. Super-early Depeche Mode – I don’t think many people were in the audience as the applause is polite but it sounds like there are only about 50 people there. The Liverpool recordings include tracks from Depeche Mode’s first album Speak and Spell: “Photographic,” “Puppets,” “No Disco,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and two of my favorite DM songs ever, “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The first track on Side A, “Television Set,” does not appear on any official Depeche Mode release. According to the website DMLive, “Television Set” was written by a friend of Vince Clarke’s, Jason Knott who was in the band The Neatelllls, and for this reason Depeche Mode never recorded it in the studio. However the song appeared frequently in their concert set lists between 1980 and 1982; in 1981 it was their go-to opening number. (The entire Liverpool concert can be found here, it’s pretty shitty audio and visual though)

Side B’s tracks, with the exception of the first song “No Disco” which was part of the Liverpool set, come from a Swedish TV show which was aired live from the Grand Hotel in Stockholm on March 22nd, 1982. It includes renditions of “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” (yay!), plus “See You” from Depeche Mode’s second album, A Broken Frame. There’s also an interview of the band that discusses their evolution into a synth pop band, their youth and hometown of  Basildon, and their confusion over what the lyrics of “New Life” mean – Vince Clarke was no longer in DM at the time of this performance (the host of the show interviews the band in English and then promptly translates their responses into Swedish). You can see the interview and “See You” here.

The album sleeve has a couple of adorable photos of the band, and man do they look SO YOUNG, especially Dave Gahan (whose hair in the first photo is simply shellac-amazing). 

I’ve always liked the smidge of Gary Numan’s music that I know and he always struck me as an interesting guy in articles. Then about 20 years ago, I did a phone interview with him and man, he just irritated the hell out of me with a bunch of answers where he was clearly trying to a provocateur but was too stupid to have any real conception of what he was saying. You couldn’t even be offended because it was the same thing as a two-year-old saying four-letter words; it doesn’t really mean anything because they’re ignorant. But that’s fine, even amusing, in a baby; it’s just annoying in a faded one-hit wonder. “Cars” remains a stone cold classic—the first synth headbanger—but its creator is a moron.

I’ve always liked the smidge of Gary Numan’s music that I know and he always struck me as an interesting guy in articles. Then about 20 years ago, I did a phone interview with him and man, he just irritated the hell out of me with a bunch of answers where he was clearly trying to a provocateur but was too stupid to have any real conception of what he was saying. You couldn’t even be offended because it was the same thing as a two-year-old saying four-letter words; it doesn’t really mean anything because they’re ignorant. But that’s fine, even amusing, in a baby; it’s just annoying in a faded one-hit wonder. “Cars” remains a stone cold classic—the first synth headbanger—but its creator is a moron.

Berlin “Love Life” released 35 years ago today, March 12th, 1984. Love Life was  Berlin’s second album and it hit #28 on the US charts. Fairly straight-forward mid-80′s synthesizer-heavy new wave pop, the best song on the album is also its most popular, the excellent “No More Words” which hit #23 on the US Hot 100 chart. I absolutely loved that song and its video, the Bonnie-and-Clyde influenced bank heist montage with Terri Nunn’s fabulous two-toned black-and-blonde hair. “No More Words” was the first single, released at the end of February ‘84, and was re-released in ‘85 with its inclusion in the film Vision Quest (though it did not appear on the movie soundtrack). The other three singles included “Now It’s My Turn,” “Dancing in Berlin” (a pretty great dance track that charted in Australia and New Zealand but not the US), and “Touch.” I  like “In My Dreams” though I find most of the other tracks (excepting “No More Words” and “Dancing in Berlin”) to be pretty bland – 1984 was a great year in general for new wave and synth pop but with those few song exceptions, Berlin didn’t do much to advance the sound. Allmusic pretty much agrees in their review of Love Life stating, “Outside of these two singles [”No More Words” and “Dancing in Berlin”], the rest of the songs on Love Life fail to harbor any distinction, and even Nunn’s forceful voice can’t raise their value. Efforts like “When We Make Love,” “Touch,” and “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” get lost in lukewarm techno-dance rhythms and cloned synth-driven beats.”

Howard Jones “Human’s Lib” released 35 years ago (in the UK) a couple of days ago, on March 5th, 1984 (the US version came out in June of ‘84 and I probably got this copy right around that time). Human’s Lib was Jones’ debut album and it hit #1 on the UK album charts upon its release on the strength of the previously released hit singles from the LP. (It went to #59 on the US charts). Those included “New Song,” “What Is Love?” (I adore those tracks) and “Hide and Seek.” The final single, “Pearl in the Shell,” came out in the spring of ‘84. “New Song” made it to #3 in the UK and #27 in the US. “What Is Love?” did even better, hitting #2 in the UK and #33 in the US in the summer of ‘84 which is about the time I hit peak Howard Jones (and began to dabble with vegetarianism at the age of 13 after reading in a Smash Hits article – likely purchased mainly for Duran Duran photos – that Jones was a vegetarian). The dark and ambient (in comparison to then mostly upbeat boppy synth pop sound on the rest of the album) single “Hide and Seek” went to #12 in the UK, I’m not sure if it was released in the US. “Pearl in the Shell,” which features Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Davey Payne on saxophone, cracked the top 10 in the UK, going to #7. 

We got a chance to see Howard Jones perform a couple of summers ago as part of a retro tour that included Modern English, Paul Young, Men Without Hats and (part of) English Beat. Jones put on an amazing show, for the few songs he was up there, rocking his key-tar and working the crowd masterfully. 

Thompson Twins “Hold Me Now” 1983. 12″ single (extended version). The album by Thompson Twins on which “Hold Me Now” appears, Into the Gap, was released 35 years ago today, February 17th, 1984. I loved this new wave synth pop single, which went to #4 in the UK. It was released in the US in February 1984 and went to #3 on the Hot 100 chart. It also got heavy rotation on MTV and it was one of my favorites to watch while waiting for Duran Duran videos to play. The extended version of “Hold Me Now” isn’t much different from the regular single, though it’s about 5 minutes longer with a lot more bright and plinky keyboard solos. The b-side, “Let Loving Start” is also an extended version of the original. It’s basically an instrumental version of “Hold Me Now” though there’s a few little sprinklings of lyrics from the chorus.