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Episode 11 – Discussion of Dead or Alive’s “Youthquake”

Greetings to the New Wave Beat podcast. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. We’re going to talk about Dead or Alive’s 1985 breakthrough album Youthquake, but 1st let’s see what’s going on currently in the new wave world.

0:00 – New Wave News

5:13 – Discussion of Dead or Alive’s “Youthquake”

New Wave News

Dolores O’Riordan and Duran Duran

Unfortunately Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries, passed away last Monday of causes unknown as of yet. Her loss was felt throughout the music world. For instance, Duran Duran was crushed to hear about this. Simon LeBon wrote a poignant tweet regarding the tragedy, saying they were crushed and their thoughts go out to her family. The Cranberries opened for Duran Duran on some of their shows in 1993, around the time of Ordinary World. In fact, O’Riordan met Duran Duran’s tour manager during this time, and eventually married him. The music world is a small world, indeed. O’Riordan is survived by her 3 children.

Nik Kershaw and Fame

The Portsmouth News recently had an interview with new waver Nik Kershaw. In it, they focused on dealing with his success in the ‘80s and how he handles it now. Kershaw said that for a while he did not want to live in his past glory but eventually accepted it. He said something to the effect of by playing the hits and continuing to release albums, he can have the best of both worlds. This is very good considering that the name of the tour that he co-headlines is called “Icons of the ‘80s”. As it stands he poked fun at the name “icon”, saying it is an overused term that can mean a lot of things.

Adamt Ant Talk

Ed Masley of news outlet Azcentral had an interesting chat with Adam Ant, asking him about the background behind some of the singles that Ant is performing on his Singles tour. For example, on Goody Two Shoes, Adam Ant was trained in short films so he had spent a good amount of time storyboarding the video for it. For more on that song, check out my last episode. Ant finished by responding that his upcoming album, “Bravest of the Brave”, is still a work in progress. I hope to hear more about that soon, then I can bring it up in a future episode!

Stewart Copeland’s New Project

Continuing the theme of interviews, spoke with Stewart Copeland, the former drummer of the Police. He is collaborating on a project called Gizmodrome with guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew, formerly of progressive rock band King Crimson. Copeland went a bit into the creative process while with he was with the Police. He mentioned that, while Sting basically rammed his ideas down the others’ throats, these ideas were very good. Ultimately though this dynamic caused tension, and I would argue caused the demise of the Police. Gizmodrome, on the other hand, has a more collaborative creative process. I recommend you give this interview a read!

Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet

Last year frontman Tony Hadley broke away again from Spandau Ballet. That was a shame because I saw them live at Chicago’s House of Blues a few years back and they put on a good show. Now there’s some drama because Spandau Ballet’s website and promotional material still feature Hadley as the lead vocalist. It is not a stretch to say that Hadley is not pleased, as he is revving up his solo career again. In related news, Spandau Ballet announced their intention to look for a new frontman/vocalist to replace Hadley, saying that while his departure is sad, the band can forge a new chapter in their history. Would you see Spandau Ballet without Hadley?

New Cyndi Lauper Musical

Cyndi Lauper is going to do a musical remake of the 1988 film “Working Girl”. The movie starred Melanie Griffith as a woman trying to make it in the male-dominated world of Wall Street. This will be Lauper’s 2nd musical, having already won a Tony award for “Kinky Boots”, which celebrated its 1000th show last week. She hopes that “Working Girl” will help combat sexism, much like “Kinky Boots” helped out with acceptance of other people. In the era of the “Me Too” movement, the remake is timely indeed. I at New Wave Beat will provide an update as I get more information.

David Byrne “Mother” Playlist

AV Club recently reported about a playlist of 40 David Byrne and Talking Heads songs that describe the plot of the recent thriller “Mother!”. Writer and comedian Demi Adejuyigbe compiled the list, which in my opinion took some serious dedication. The list includes the latest Byrne single “Everybody’s Coming to My House”. Darren Aronofsky, the brainchild of “Mother”, found out about the list and said he owes a lot to Byrne. Byrne himself will soon embark on a US tour; I wonder if he will give the playlist a mention. While it is quite creative, I would say probably not.

Discussion of Dead or Alive’s “Youthquake”

Today I would like to go over Dead or Alive’s album titled Youthquake. Dead or Alive had their debut album in 1984 titled “Sophisticated Boom Boom”. That lineup consisted of Peter Burns as frontman and lead vocalist, Mike Percy on bass guitar, keyboardist Tim Lever and drummer Steve Coy. That album did ok in the UK but not so much across the pond in the US. The following year, for Dead or Alive’s follow-up album Youthquake, producers Stock Aitken Waterman stepped in, giving the band what was referred to as a Hi-NRG sound. Besides their energetic sound, Dead or Alive gained exposure though Burns’ long hair and androgynous look. In terms of sound and look, I would argue Dead or Alive were similar to Culture Club, though the former was more dance-oriented. Interesting note: The Adam Sandler movie wedding singer had a backup singer that was a parody of Boy George, but did look like Peter Burns circa “Youthquake”. And hey, the movie intro featured “You Spin Me Round”.

You Spin Me Round

No Dead or Alive discussion should be without talk of “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”, the lead single off of “Youthquake”. The song, like much of the Youthquake album has a sped-up disco sound to it that is infectious. A high-pitched, glass-like synth layered on a fast rhythm section is one of the hooks of the verses, and the chorus has a couple of synth hooks of its own. Vocalist Pete Burns has a commanding delivery that adds to the song’s energy. The lyrics are streamlined and straight-forward. Basically the “You Spin Me Round” is a metaphor for the flood of feelings that the narrator has when he sees someone he is really crushing on. The narrator just met his crush as evidenced by lyrics like “If I, I get to know your name” and “you look like you’re lots of fun”. The video has Burns singing the lyrics in front of a purple backdrop, wagging his finger “you look like you’re having fun”. With the euphoria of the song, chances are you are having fun, and apparently so is Burns. On a a couple of occasions the other band members are rotating like a record. “You Spin Me Round” hit the top of the charts in the UK, and #11 in the US. It is important not only because it is Dead or Alive’s 1st big hit, but also for the Stock Aitken Waterman team. A year later Bananarama released a cover of the song “Venus”. Largely in part because its Stock Aitken Waterman production, it sounds kind of similar to “You Spin Me Round”. This song has been covered and sampled quite a bit.

Lover Come Back to Me

The next single off of Youthquake was “Lover Come Back to Me”, not to be confused with the unrelated song of the same name popularized by Billie Holiday and Barbra Streisand. The rhythm section in parts sounds like that of disco chestnut “I Feel Love”, which is not surprising as Dead or Alive have strong disco influences. There are a few “Hoa!”s and some urgent vocals in the chorus, especially when Burns says “Kick it Right Down”. The song is about the singer pining over a love interest. It has an air of enthusiastic desperation, as Burns implores the interest to kick down his door and be reunited with him. There are similar themes between this song and “You Spin Me Round”, as Burns is lusting for someone and describes he or she as being lots of fun or full of energy. The video for “Love Come Back to Me” mostly consists of a closeup of Burns singing the song. While this may seem prosaic, the video is somewhat redeemed by Burns’ raw enthusiasm and facial expressions. While it was a UK hit, “Love Come Back to Me” barely charted in the US.

In Too Deep

The 3rd single was “In Too Deep”. While, the Youthquake album in general is quite intense in tempo and vocals, “In Too Deep” dials it back a bit. Indeed, it is the closest thing to a ballad in the album. The verses have 1-note keyboard riffs that work, as do Burns’ relatively restrained vocals. I think the song is about being in too deep into a troubled relationship. Indeed, Burns laments “You put your finger to the trigger and you shot my heart”. He buys his love interest a lot of things but to no avail. The video for In Too Deep features Burns in an all-coral outfit singing in a giant clam shell in the bottom of the sea. There are also 2 women riding on mechanical seahorses. In other words the video has a strong aquatic theme to it. It is actually my favorite video of the Youthquake singles and I can tell more thought was put into it, but for some reason it was removed from Youtube while the others remain. Similar to “Lover Come Back to Me”, the single was a top 40 hit in the UK but failed to chart Stateside.

My Heart Goes Bang

Youthquake had one more single in “My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me to a Doctor)”. A female vocalist goes “ah-ah” at the end of the choruses, which is one of the main hooks of the song. Another is the repeating of words like “you” and “bang” for emphasis. The high-pitched, effervescent keyboard contributes strongly to the chorus. The rhythm section reminds me of “You Spin Me Round”. The bridge sounds almost operatic as Burns and others exclaim “Doctor, doctor give me a cure”. The song, like “You Spin Me Round”, is about a strong crush that the narrator has on someone. The singer jokingly says that he needs to see a doctor because his heart is racing when he sees his love interest. The video has the band in a garden where everything is black, the foliage and some hearts. They dress mostly in black and it is at night, so that is essentially a theme. Motorcycles are also featured. “My Heart Goes Bang” was also a decent hit in the UK but not the US.

I Wanna Be a Toy

Now that we took a dive into Youthquake’s 4 singles, let’s give a look at its 5 album tracks.

Let’s talk a little about “I Wanna Be a Toy”. The intro sounds a little like that for New Order’s “Blue Monday”. There are orchestra hits throughout the song which was a popular technique in the ‘80s. The vocals and drum beats are energetic, with some great histrionics by both. Burns expresses his desire to be a plaything for other people, even if he garners the disapproval of his dad and society. He also asks repeatedly to be pushed and shoved, like a toy.

DJ Hit That Button

“DJ Hit That Button” has a quick, strong horn synth intro which you hear several more times throughout and defines the song’s sound. The synth that decreases in pitch right before the chorus is also memorable. The over-the-top vocals, on par with “You Spin Me Round”, provide a song a strong shot in the arm. Finally, Steve Coy’s drums keeps the energy going, much like the DJ hitting the button to get the party started. I think the song is about being totally mesmerized by dance songs. Burns sings that everyone has feet but they got to learn to use them, presumably for dancing.

Big Daddy of the Rhythm

Big Daddy of the Rhythm continues the Hi-NRG stylings of the Youthquake album. The gang vocals in the chorus are very good, as is the bass guitar.Although the title of the song suggests the song will be similar in theme to “DJ Hit that Button”, it is more about asking a love interest what he can do to win to him or her over. Burns tells his love interest several times to “Turn your head around”. Having good rhythm is a possible avenue to getting noticed, hinted at by the lyric “If I was the greatest dancer, would I get to know you?”

Cake and Eat It

The next song “Cake and Eat It” has a cool extended flute intro which is reprised at other points in the song. Burns kind of does a half-yodel for the verses, which, along with the flute and backup vocals, adds a little variety to the album. I also like the galloping drum track. The chorus consists almost solely of the song title and perhaps could have used a little more elaboration. Lyrics-wise it is similar to “You Spin Me Round” in that the narrator expresses his strong admiration for a love interest. He would buy or do anything for his or her love.

It’s Been a Long Time

It’s Been a Long Time is indeed a long song compared to the rest of Youthquake, having a slower tempo and clocking in at almost 8 minutes. The minute-and-a-half intro sets the mood for the song. Burns sings in a lower register for the verses which sounds interesting. Lyrically there is not too much to the song; Burns sings about not seeing his love for a while and saying he would do the world for him or her. An example of this is the line “I could be a suit of armor, protect you when the furies fly”. It’s a good choice for the closing track of the album.

In Summary

The “Youthquake” album is an interesting, energetic example of late new wave and Hi-NRG music. Indeed, a lot of the songs are an adrenaline rush, making it a great party album. The lyrics may not be Bob Dylan-esque, but that’s not really the point.

Dead or Alive followed up “Youthquake” in 1987 with “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” which unfortunately flopped in the UK and US. A few more albums were released up until the mid-90s. Burns later had a lot of plastic surgery in order to look like a woman. Sadly, frontman Pete Burns passed away in 2016 of a heart attack, but we will always have the slice of new wave that is “Youthquake”.

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