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Episode 18 – Songs from 1986

Welcome to New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio
0:00 – New Wave News
3:48 – Howard Jones Concert Review
5:16 – New Wave Songs from 1986

New Wave News

Joy Division Play and Graphic Novel

There was a play about seminal new wave/post-punk band Joy Division called New Dawn Fades that was created by Brian Gorman that ran about 5 years ago. Well, it is coming back for a 3-day run at the Manchester Dancehouse Theater. It had an interesting genesis, as Gorman first envisioned it being a graphic novel instead. With the play doing well in 2013, Gorman is actually going to release the graphic novel version next month to roughly coincide with the play’s revival. Local newspaper the Salford Star recommends seeing it, explaining that “the play is highly relatable and offers something for everyone”.

Byrne on Colbert

In the run-up to Byrne’s massive American Utopia tour, he appeared with an 11-piece band on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The band walked by Colbert’s desk and the aisles of the theater as they performed the 1st single off American Utopia, “Everybody’s Coming to my House”. They were decked out in gray suits with no footwear. Byrne also did a mock commercial for a fake store called the Giant Suit Emporium. He had fun with Talking Heads-related wordplay. Finally, Byrne spoke with Colbert for a few minutes about the album, current events and other topics. An entertaining watch, and I am looking forward to seeing him live!

Gary Numan’s Finances

Financial website actually wrote an article about Gary Numan, which I found interesting. Naturally, it talked about his finances. Numan made a good amount of money from his new-found stardom in the early ‘80s, but he spent millions on vehicles and homes. His tours wound up losing him money because they were pretty lavish. When Numan’s popularity faded, he had to do a lot of belt-tightening to climb out of over a million US dollars worth of debt. Although he claims that his money management skills are still “rubbish”, I would say he learned a lot. For instance, he finally started profiting from his touring, though granted it took fifteen to  twenty years.

Kim Wilde Interview

Kim Wilde’s album “Here Come the Aliens” comes out in a few short days, along with the video for her 2nd single “Kandy Krush”. In support of them she has been busy on the interview and talk show circuit. For instance, she talked to the news outlet the Scotsman about how her two kids are both very much into playing music. As Kim’s dad topped the charts a couple of times, she said she sympathizes with her kids regarding living in the spotlight of a parent. She also discussed how life is different for her now than in the ‘80s. She now lives in a rustic barn setting, as opposed the more urban lifestyle of days past.

’80s Cruise

If you love new wave and other ‘80s music, you may be interested in a cruise titled… “The ‘80s cruise”. This weeklong voyage next March leaves Fort Lauderdale Florida, and makes stops in Mexico, Belize, and elsewhere in Florida. The 2019 lineup includes new wavers OMD, Berlin, the Fixx, and the English Beat. And there may be more acts confirmed as the months go by. Prices range in the $3000s to $9000s. If you been to cruises past, you are entitled to a discount. If any of you listeners have been to one of these cruises, I would love to hear how your experience was.

Howard Jones Concert Review

On Thursday March 8 I was fortunate enough to see Howard Jones perform at City Winery in Chicago as part of his “The Songs and Stories” tour. It was a solo set of about 12 songs, so no backing band.  The songs were interspersed with entertaining commentary by Jones about his music and career. There was an interesting story about how, at a a party, Princess Diana asked Howard Jones to play a song for him. Jones said he got nervous, especially because he was a few drinks into the evening. Jones also talked about his dealings with George Michael and David Bowie. As a 28-year-old, he was honored that David Bowie knew about him. The music, of course, was also spot-on. Howard’s voice was crisp as ever, and the stripped-down treatment of his songs suited the venue and atmosphere well. While I love his shows with the backing band, it is good to hear just him as a change of pace. For the 1st time I got to hear his upcoming song “We’re in This Together”, which will be featured on the Animal Crackers soundtrack, so that was exciting! Deep album cuts and big hits were both played, giving the show some variety. Although he is wrapping up this tour I highly recommend you catch him at his next one, he does not disappoint!

New Wave Songs from 1986

Let’s now dive into some great new wave songs from 1986. New wave was commercially losing a bit of steam by 1986. I would argue that the last new new wave bands debuted the year prior. Nevertheless, there were still some memorable tracks from 1986 by established new wave acts. For some, 1986 would yield them their biggest hit.

Falco – Rock Me Amadeus

First up is “Rock Me Amadeus by Austrian new waver Falco. Falco debuted in 1982 and had a couple of albums that were Austrian chart toppers. “Der Kommissar was a minor hit in the US but a cover version soon after did quite better. Falco’s international breakthrough came in 1986 with the album Falco 3, which contained “Rock Me Amadeus”. This song hit #1 in the US, UK, and his native Austria. After a flute-synth intro, the verses have Falco rapping in German over a synthesizer-based melody. Although I am not a rap expert I would say Falco delivers his lines pretty well and different enough from the hip-hop I have listened to that it sounds fresh, especially in the ‘80s. The chorus is mostly a gang chant of “Amadeus, Amadeus”, making it better understood internationally. The lyrics of “Rock Me Amadeus” talk about how Mozart was in ways an 18th-century version of a rock star or punk, defying the norms at the time. The song goes into Mozart’s partying and womanizing lifestyle, which actually also described Falco. So it might be a bit autobiographical as well. The monetary debts that Mozart incurred in life is also brought up. The US version of the single has an English voiceover summarizing Mozart’s life. The video is pretty iconic and poignant; Mozart is traversing through 1980s Vienna with a multi-colored wig while Falco is wooing the crowd that looks like they are from Mozart’s era. As Falco is trying to portray Mozart as a 1700s rock star, he fits in well with an Austrian motorcycle gang. Falco himself being a classically trained musician, does well with the 1700s crowd. In the end, the 2 crowds triumphantly mix. Unfortunately Falco was considered a novelty by many in the US and UK, and did not have any more hits aside from arguably “Vienna Calling”. Tragically Falco died in a car crash in 1998.

Bananarama – Venus

Let’s now talk about Bananarama’s cover of “Venus”. Bananarama started out in 1981, influenced a bit by ska and having a tomboyish image. The band consisted of vocalists Keren Woodward, Sarah Dallin, and Siobhan Fahey, and a backing band. They had a hit with “Cruel Summer” in 1983. 1986 saw them team up with the producing trio Stock Aitken Waterman. Their image became more glamorized and they smashed the charts at #1 with “Venus”. Originally an early ‘70s song by the band Shocking Blue, Venus was given a high-NRG makeover by Bananarama (a little bit like Dead or Alive if you are familiar with them). A driving guitar riff launches into the song proper. The rising bassline in the verses contributes to the danceability of “Venus”. The vocals are a little more restrained, at least compared to the intense instrumentation. Nevertheless, there are some good vocal hooks in there courtesy of Woodward, Dallin, and Fahey. For example, near the end of the choruses. The lyrics are not the most profound but they drive home the point well that whoever Venus is, is terrific. She is described as “burning like a silver flame” and the “summit of beauty and love”. There is one theory that the song was originally about a drag queen, but I am not entirely sure. In the video, the trio are singing and dancing on a fire-laden mountaintop with a blood-red sky. This is interspersed with shots of the band members as various femme fatales and greek goddesses. The vivid imagery and quick edits fit well with the song’s energetic melody and tempo.  An entertaining watch! After having another hit in “I Heard a Rumour”, Bananarama’s commercial fortunes quickly declined. Fahey left the band but they soldiered on without her. However, the original trio recently reunited and are currently touring.

OMD – If You Leave

Next up is “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD for short. OMD started out back in 1980, with core members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. They had some hits in the UK but not the United States until 1986 with “If You Leave”. It hit #4 there thanks to it being featured in the classic movie “Pretty in Pink”. Interestingly this song flopped in the UK, where they usually fared better. McCluskey’s sings gently and smoothly for a lot of the song but provides emotion and intensity on the right bits. The rhythm section is pretty dynamic and I do like it. The sax section in the bridge section is interesting as well. I think the song is about a guy who is lamenting that a long-term crush he has is about to enter a relationship with another guy. For example, that line “seven years went under the bridge” represents his pining for her. This follows the narrative of Pretty in Pink somewhat, but I will not go into the movie too much. The narrator says he will run the other way if she goes for the other guy, but based on the other lyrics I don’t believe he can. Some evidence would be the line “I won’t let go at any price”. Most of the video has OMD performing in a largely black backdrop, with accents of pink (because of it being in the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack). Andy McCluskey is dressed in black as well. There are brief overlays of stills and shots from Pretty in Pink as well. OMD had a few more hits in the UK but not another big one in the United States. After some personnel changes OMD disbanded in 1996 but reformed about a decade later. They still put out music and tour, check them out!

Wang Chung – Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Fourth on our list is British band Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”. Wang Chung debuted in 1982, and had a hit with “Dance Hall Days” in 1984. But in 1986 they hit #2 on the US charts with “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”. Interestingly, it barely charted in their native UK. The song has a definite funk element to it, sort of similar to Duran Duran’s Notorious album from the same year. Jack Hue’s vocals have a light-funk inflection to them and are full of enthusiastic vigor. It really makes you want to dance and have fun tonight, which I guess was the point of the song. The drums and guitars are tight and keep the song moving. The horn section probably has the biggest instrumental hook to the song. The bridge is a pretty good counterpoint to the rest of the song as Hue’s vocals are higher-pitched and the bridge sounds like a ballad. The topic of the song seems straightforward: it is a clarion call for everyone to go out and party. Ideally, partying with Wang Chung music. The lyrics are catchy and simple: for instance, “I’ll drive a million miles to be with you tonight”. Though the bridge’s lyrics are interesting, making reference to the edge of oblivion and ship of fools. Could the song be sarcastic? Paging Dr Freud. The video for “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” consists of the band singing and performing in a wood-paneled room. There is a trippy stuttering visual effect going on with the video which is kind of cool at first, but after 4 minutes gets kind of old. The top Youtube comment on their video is “Everybody have seizures tonight”. After “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” Wang Chung had a hit with “Let’s Go” but otherwise disappeared from the music charts.

New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle

Last but not least is “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order. New Order formed with members of Joy Division after that band broke up in 1980 due to singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. Bernard Sumner assumed vocal duties, and the sound became more synth-oriented and danceable than Joy Division. After a few “Bizarre Love Triangle” starts off with a harsh synth but then segues into quite the danceable track. There are several synth styles in “Bizarre Love Triangle”, thanks to keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, and they complement each other nicely. Stephen Morris’ precise drums keep the beat going and add intensity to the song. Sumner’s vocals are full of emotion, and you can sense that he feels conflicted. Which gets me to the lyrics: it sounds like the narrator feels trapped in love triangle between himself and two women. I think he is currently with one of them while the other is his ex that he is trying to get over. The singer states “Well every day my confusion grows” and “Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday”. The pained lyrics contrast nicely with the upbeat and danceable melody. The video is sort of a stream-of-consciousness, with very fast editing and showing seemingly random images. An exception would be a person falling when the lyrics “Everytime I see you falling” are sung. A narrative-based video would have been nice, but it is still an excellent later new wave song. While not a commercial darling at the time, “Bizarre Love Triangle” has held up well in the 30+ years since it has been released. As for New Order, they did not have any large hits afterwards, but nevertheless cemented themselves as essential new wave band to listen to. They made new music as recently as 2015, and toured more recently than that.

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