Episode 20 – Songs From 1987
Welcome to the 20th episode of New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio.
0:00 – New Wave News
5:16 – New Wave Songs from 1987
New Wave News
INXS guitarist Kirk Pengilly auctioned off most of his guitar collection, along with other musical equipment, last week. This included including the guitar he played on INXS hit New Sensation, and also a saxophone as he played that for INXS as well. The auction raised about $228,000, just a shade under the $230,000 that was expected. Though Sotheby’s Australia guitar specialist Matthew Liveriadis said it is not yet clear if the value of the instruments will be greater due to the fact they were owned by a prominent Australian musician. Pengilly said he is not hard up for money, but rather that he wanted to de-clutter.
Thomas Dolby the Innovator
Thomas Dolby, besides being an accomplished musician, also played a role in the creation of the first polyphonic ringtones for cell phones. You see, Dolby had a company called Beatnik that developed a website plugin that played audio. According to Dolby “we’d made a software-based audio engine that could be downloaded very quickly and used files like MIDI files, but which had good fidelity because they could include actual samples of recordings.” Beatnik had a contract with Nokia. When Nokia was successful with it, the other major cell phone companies at the time used Beatnik’s software as well. It seems like Thomas Dolby really blinded us with science.
Fans of Devo will be in for a treat this summer as the band is going to release a large memoir. The book will have rare photos throughout the decades of Devo’s existence, as well as music press interviews. It will clock in at over 300 pages, so it should be a comprehensive look at a band that is often misunderstood, Gerald Casale stated that the book compiles Devo’s attempts to create something unique against all odds. The classic version is $65, whereas an autographed edition, which has other visual embellishments, will set you back $330. The ordering website has some preview screenshots that look pretty good!
Depeche Mode Review
The UNC Charlotte news outlet Niner Times did a 25th anniversary review of Depeche Mode’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion”. It explained how that after the wild success of 1990’s “Violator”, the band was straining to come up with a follow-up. Creative tensions, health issues and drug problems were a problem for sure. The review talks briefly about half of the tracks, bringing up the heavy guitar riffs of “I Feel You” and lesser role of the synthesizer compared to earlier works. One minor gripe: the “track picks” for the album consist of 8 songs, while the album was only 10.
The Lancashire Telegraph had an informative piece on Chris Difford from Squeeze. It brought up his upcoming autobiography “Some Fantastic Place”. In it, Difford mentions that a school careers advisor mocked his early dreams of following in the footsteps of Pete Townsend. While not as famous as the Who, Squeeze managed to make some great new wave albums. Tilbrook and Difford formed a songwriting duo that at times drew comparisons to Lennon and McCartney in large part because of the former’s cohesiveness. Difford praises the support of his wife and children, as well as the loyal fans who showed up to the Squeeze concerts last year.
Cyndi Lauper Musicals
Playbill.com discussed the musical “Working Girl”, adapted from the 1988 movie of the same name. Cyndi Lauper is composing the score, and is teaming up with “Time After Time” cowriter Rob Hyman, in order to give it an ‘80s flair. Lauper mentioned that the oscar-winning song from the movie, “Let the River Run”, will not be in the musical as it does not really fit with the narrative. In other Lauper and musical-related news, Will Young will be singing “Time After Time” in an upcoming stage production of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, which begins previews next week.
Sugg’s Long-Lost Sister
In an earlier episode I mentioned that Madness frontman Suggs said that his family keeps him grounded. Well, at 57, Suggs recently found out he has a long-lost sister. Basically, his mother had given birth to a daughter and put her up for adoption before he was born. The daughter tracked down their mom on Facebook, and from there brother and sister united. Suggs told the British tabloid the Mirror: “It was a marvellous surprise to discover my mum had found her, it was a very miraculous thing for sure.” She had even attended some of the Madness’ shows before the revelation.
New Wave Songs from 1987
We are going to go over some new wave hits from 1987. In this year the new wave movement was losing steam. Nevertheless, there are some new wave gems that deserve mention.
Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian
Let’s kick off our retrospective with “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles. The Bangles put out their debut album in 1984, and hit it big with the 1986 album “Different Light”, which contained “Walk Like an Egyptian”. The Bangles took a few cues from Blondie, but was also influenced by late ‘60s artists such as the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas. A tambourine, used and talked about in some late ‘60s hits, forms the rhythm of the song. Vocalists Vicki Peterson, Michael Steele, and Susanna Hoffs sing with a matter-of-fact air, but it sounds very good. Unfortunately a drum machine was used, where they had an accomplished drummer in Debbi Peterson. There is in my opinion a ‘60s-sounding synth near the end of the chorus which recalls the B-52s for me for some reason. According to VH1, the “Walk Like an Egyptian” was not really about a new dance craze, but rather being on a boat. As a boat sways, the logic goes, people put out their arms, sort of like in ancient Egyptian poses. Each paragraph of the lyrics describes a different set of people, like schoolkids, waitresses, and men from a bazaar, and how they walk like an Egyptian. The video took the song more literally and had people in New York City do the aforementioned ancient Egyptian poses. Even the Statue of Liberty and Princess Diana get in on the fun, thanks to special effects. There are a couple moments where there are dancers in ancient Egyptian outfits, as a nod to the literal interpretation of the song. “Walk Like an Egyptian” was the #1 song for the entire 1987 in the United States, and managed a #3 showing in the UK. The Bangles had another smash in 1989 with “Eternal Flame” before going on a long hiatus. They occasionally recorded in the 2000s.
Kim Wilde – You Keep Me Hangin On
Next up on your playlist is Kim Wilde’s rendition of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. British new waver Kim Wilde debuted in 1981 and had a minor hit with the song “Kids in America”. Meanwhile in her native UK she fared somewhat better. Then in early 1987 she scorched the top of the US charts with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. It is a cover of a Diana Ross and the Supremes song from the late ‘50s, which was also a #1. The song runs over a minute longer than the original and is full of orchestral hits, which shows its hi-NRG influence. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” also has layers of fast-paced, infectious synths for new wave goodness. The song is likely about the narrator giving a romantic partner the heave-ho as he is stringing her along. According to the singer, he doesn’t really love her. There is more vitriol with Wilde’s version compared to the original, which sounded more like a plea for the guy to improve. That could be a product of it being more socially acceptable in the ‘80s than the ‘50s for women to be assertive. Indeed, Wilde has the energy and inflection in her vocals to keep up with the driving melody. The video has Kim Wilde in bed, similar to the video for her earlier single “Cambodia”. Unlike Cambodia, Wilde is dressed in black instead of white, much like the bed and room itself. There is a menacing figure by a hole in the wall, who I assuming is her lover or boyfriend. Unfortunately Wilde’s couldn’t keep hanging on to the charts with the kids in America. No, not the song Kids in America. Though in the UK she had several more hits. After a hiatus, Wilde recently put out a new album and is touring to support it.
INXS – Need You Tonight
Third up is INXS’s hit “Need You Tonight”. Australian new wavers INXS started out in 1980, and slowly built chart momentum in Australia and other English-speaking countries. 1985 saw US chart success, and “Need You Tonight” rocketed to #1. Ironically in Australia is stalled at #3. While Hutchence’s voice sounds different than Mick Jagger, his singing style does recall the Rolling Stones frontman. Indeed, there is a blues-rock style to the vocals on “Need You Tonight”. Musically there are some definite funk elements which was popular for new wave bands to employ in the late ‘80s. An example is the baseline and the main guitar riff. A one-note synth riff is pretty catchy to boot. The verses are sung silky smooth and low, with grit and power at just the right moments. An example is Hutchence’s shouting “I’m lonely” at the end of the choruses. There is also a false ending that punctures the song nicely. While “Need You Tonight” won’t win points for lyrical subtlety, the lines exude passion and wanting. The narrator can’t sleep because of his lust for his romantic interest, and he explains that her moves are so raw. Hutchence implores “I’ve got to let you know.” The video for “Need You Tonight” in a combination of black-and-white and color. It consists of the band performing, which I am not always crazy about, but with visual effects the video is actually kind of dynamic and catchy. You get a taste of Hutchence’s stage presence, which recalls Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. INXS managed to have a couple more big hits in the new-wave hostile early ‘90s. Sadly, frontman Hutchence died in 1997 of asphyxiation in what was ruled a suicide, but there’s still speculation it might have been an accident. INXS came back in 2005 with a new lead singer, but let’s not talk about that…
ABC – When Smokey Sings
ABC is next on your list with their hit “When Smokey Sings.” ABC started having hits in their native UK while remaining underground in the States. However in the mid-80s the roles switched, with the US clamoring for their music while the Brits snubbing them. “When Smokey Sings” was ABC’s best-charting song in the US, topping out at #5, while in the UK is still managed to get to #11. The intro to the song sounds a little like that of “Video Killed the Radio Star”, covered in an earlier podcast episode. Vocalist Martin Fry in “Smokey”, and in general, sounds like influencer Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame, crooning with the best of them. The female backup vocals add good flavor to the song. The melody appropriately has an R&B flavor to it, for instance a prominent saxophone section. In fact, the song even borrows a melody from Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown”. However, there is still a good synth section to round out things. “When Smokey Sings”, as you might have surmised, is about American R&B musician Smokey Robinson. The line “everything’s good in the world tonight when smokey sings” is a microcosm of the song. There are detailed descriptions of the emotional impact Smokey’s songs have. The video, being about a minute shorter, mostly consists of ABC performing in front of a blue backdrop. Fry and the gang are clearly having fun with the song. There are some interspersed scenes about a Robinson fan who puts a rose by a picture of the ‘60s crooner. Later on the fan dances with his girlfriend, I am assuming to a Smokey Robinson song. Similar to Kim Wilde’s commercial trajectory, ABC had some minor UK hits in the later ‘80s and ‘90s, while falling under the radar in the US.
The Cure – Just Like Heaven
Wrapping up our look at the year 1987 is “Just Like Heaven” by the Cure. Even though I am covering 1987, the Cure had been around since the late ‘70s. They are known partially for their goth fashion sense, though their music is more eclectic than their wardrobe. The song nicked the US top 40, while faring slightly better in the UK. The intro an extended guitar and synth tag-team, clocking in at almost a minute. The melody also features some effervescent synths paired with post-punk-sounding guitars. It’s a great combo in my book. There is a descending guitar riff that comprises the main hook of the song. Robert Smith’s emotive vocals kind of straddle the line between ecstasy and despair. This duality is a hallmark of the Cure’s music. The chorus is decent, but the vocal inflections during the verses are epic. The drums are tight and keep the melody going well. The interpretations of “Just Like Heaven” are pretty wide. If up against the wall, I would venture the song is about someone who had a great dream about an ex-girlfriend or crush. He says “I kissed her face and kissed her head”. However when daylight whips him intro shape, the narrator wakes up, he realizes he is all alone. The video for the most part has the band performing, of course decked out in black. The moments when the band is almost in silhouette are visually intriguing. There is a brief scene where the Cure wear white to change things up, and Robert Smith and highschool sweetheart Mary Poole start dancing, the latter with a white glow around her. The Cure would have several more hits going into the mid-90s, which is a good accomplishment. Even after the hits dried up, the Cure still recorded new music until about 10 years ago.