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Episode 7 – Songs From 1981

This is Jason D’Orazio from New Wave Beat.

0:00 – New Wave News
5:16 – Songs from 1981

New Wave News

Cars Make Hall of Fame

Let’s start off the news with congratulations to the Cars for getting the green light to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland next April. Third time’s the charm as they had been nominated twice before. Drummer David Robinson said that the band was very thrilled about getting in. It will be nice to see the Cars perform at the induction ceremony as they have not toured since supporting their last album “Move Like This” in 2010. Unfortunately, Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics did not quite make it, but there have been plenty of bands that needed a few years of being nominated to get it. The Rock Hall has been pretty stingy with letting New Wave acts in, but hopefully with the Cars getting in things will change.

Andrew Ridgeley about George Michael

Andrew Ridgeley, ½ of Wham!, spoke about losing his former band partner George Michael earlier in the year. Andrew said that he “she an ocean of tears” when finding out last Christmas that George passed away. He hopes that Wham!’s “Last Christmas” can top the Christmas charts for the 1st time ever. While it was a big hit upon its release in 1984, it was up against the even bigger “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by one-off supergroup Band Aid. Ridgeley said that writing “Last Christmas” was a moment of wonder. I will talk more about this song in next week’s special Christmas episode of New Wave Beat.

Billy Idol Tour

If you are a Billy Idol fan hailing from Europe, you are in luck! He recently announced a large UK and continental Europe tour, starting in summer 2018. About a dozen dates have been confirmed but it is likely more will be added in the coming weeks. Tickets for the aforementioned shows recently went on sale and are sure to be a hot commodity, He recently wrapped up a successful mini-residency at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, where he would appropriately perform a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas”. Of course, he sang many of his hits as well.

Cyndi Lauper Covers

This past week has been big regarding covers and remakes of Cyndi Lauper songs. As mentioned on the New Wave Beat Facebook page, Dutch band Ink Bomb covered “Time After Time”. It was given the acoustic folk treatment. Also, indie rockers Chvrches did a live cover of the same, giving it a synth-pop treatment. On top of that, Laura Jane Grace and Cyndi Lauper herself teamed up to perform a live, punk-rock rendition of “The Goonies R Good Enough”. This was part of her annual Home For The Holidays benefit show, of which I had touched on in a previous episode.

Human League Travel Woes

Human League singer Joanne Catherall was recently booted from a Qantas Airlines lounge in Australia for wearing Ugg boots, which ironically was created by an Australian. The incident went viral shortly after. Granted, Qantas has had a strict policy regarding the casual footwear, but personally I still find it a little ridiculous on Qantas’ part. As outlined on the Human League’s Facebook page, in the past week they have been having other travel issues, such as poor customer service and weather. On the plus side, the band has overcome these woes and their recent concerts have been getting rave reviews as they are touring Oceania.

Hot David Byrne Tickets

David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads, will be having a solo album drop in March. In support of it, he will be touring for the 1st time in about 8 years. Apparently the pent-up demand for seeing Byrne live has resulted in torrid ticket sales. For instance, the Morning Call, a Northeast Pennsylvania-based newspaper reported that roughly 2000-seat venues in Wilkes-Barre and Hershey had tickets sell out in a matter of hours. Of course, some tickets quickly cropped up on Stubhub for hundreds of dollars each. Good to see that new wave artists can still bring in the crowds!

Cure Documentary

Go See Live Music recently reported that there will be a 40-year anniversary documentary of the Cure by their friend and collaborator Tim Pope. Pope on Twitter promised to show rare performances, behind-the-scenes footage, bootlegs, etc.. So for big fans of the Cure, that sounds like exciting news! In addition, the Cure is selling a 40-year anniversary calendar for 2018, according to their Facebook page. They have not had a new album for a while and only 1 tour date coming up, so hopefully this recent activity is a catalyst for recording new material or planning a new tour.

Songs from 1981

With the news talked about, let’s now take a dive into 5 new wave classics from the year 1981. The year contained a lot of new wave hits, and I would say this is the year where such songs became slicker and more synth-oriented. Nevertheless, there was still room for eclectic sounds within the new wave umbrella. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Soft Cell – Tainted Love

Let’s kick off our 1981 retrospective with “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. Soft Cell debuted in late 1980 with the single dubbed “Memorabilia”, and then followed it up with “Tainted Love”. The band is squarely in the synth-pop vein of new wave. “Tainted Love” was originally an obscure mid-60s B-side for Gloria Jones. Soft Cell updated the sound for the early ‘80, It was given a synth-pop treatment but some of the soul elements of the song were kept, for example the “Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh” backup vocals. Instrumentalist David Ball layers the synths and drum machine to great effect. For instance, a 2-note synth riff provides some of the rhythm and instantly identifies the song to the listener. Soulful and wistful vocals by Marc Almond on “Tainted Love” pay homage to the source material. Almond’s vocal range is pretty good to boot.  The lyrics indicate that the narrator in the death throes of a toxic relationship. Words like “Once I ran to you … Now I’ll run from you” and “I’m gonna pack my things and go” imply that he had a recent epiphany that it is time to end the romance. The video sort of has a Roman theme to it, but there is also croquet equipment and outfits, so it is a bit of a mix. On viewing of it, the video might be about an emperor, and how his wife cheated on him with a Roman slave. Not sure if this video would be well-received today. While it was quickly a #1 hit in the UK, it took a while longer for it to be a top 10 hit in the United States. Soft Cell recorded a few more albums but did not have an American hit as big as “Tainted Love”. Marc Almond still records and performs solo.

Human League – Don’t You Want Me

The 2nd song on our 1981 is is “Don’t You Want Me” from the Human League.  The Human League, with frontman Phil Oakey, put out their debut album in 1979, which was eerily good and deeply influenced by Kraftwerk. They changed up their sound with 1981’s “Dare” album, adding singers Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. The band had 3 successful singles in the UK but failed to chart in the US. They reluctantly agreed to have “Don’t You Want Me” released, and it became a #1 smash in both countries. A fast-paced synth provides a danceable pop rhythm throughout the song, with a keyboard providing color at the appropriate moments. The highlight of Oakey’s vocals are the pitch-climbing lead-up to the chorus and the chorus itself. The oh-oh-oh-oh at the end of the chorus effectively add to the pleading nature of Oakey’s character. Sulley sings the 2nd verse as a response to the 1st. Then there there are 2 more choruses by Oakey with a short bridge in between. The song is about a power-hungry man who states he is the reason for his girlfriend’s fame, and he, quote “can put her back down too”. She rebuts his claim, and states that while she still loves him, it is time for her to move on. The video is more non-linear and vague with its approach. In it, Catherall is acting in a movie, while Oakey and Sulley hang out by the set. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is busy in a video editing room. The cinematography and editing are pretty good. After the smashing success of “Don’t You Want Me”, the Human League had a few more hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s and occasionally put out a new album. Meanwhile, “Don’t You Want Me” has been covered several times over the decades which speaks to the song’s enduring nature.

Squeeze – Tempted

Now let’s talk about “Tempted” by Squeeze. Squeeze, named after the notorious last album credited to Velvet Underground, started out in 1978. The band featured the deft songwriting skills of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. They had many hits in the UK but never had one in the US until their 4th album with the Elvis Costello-produced “Tempted”. The lead singer of “Tempted” was actually Paul Carrack, and on and off band member, with Elvis Costello and the honey-tongued Tilbrook singing one of the verses. “Tempted” is mid-tempo, or perhaps a little slower, and clocks in at exactly 4 minutes. The song has some blue-eyed soul elements to it, thanks to Carrack’s vocal style and church-sounding organ. Backup, doo-wop vocals add to the soul pastiche. As indicated by the song title, “Tempted” might be about a guy’s temptation to cheat on his girlfriend of wife. Though lyrics like “Now that you have gone, there’s no other” suggest that the temptation may have occurred after the 1st relationship ended. Either way, the narrator feels uneasy about this, as judged from the quote “Alarmed by the seduction, I wish that it would stop”. Indeed, the lyrics are quite open to interpretation. Unfortunately the video for “Tempted” is no longer on the interwebs, so I cannot include it on my accompanying playlist. Tilbrook still considers “Tempted” to be one of his favorite songs by Squeeze. Although “Tempted” did not quite make the top 40 charts in the United States, or any other country, it has become a new wave classic. Its inclusion in the popular movie “Reality Bites” gave it a 2nd life in the ‘90s and “Tempted” still gets decent radio play. Squeeze regularly made more albums until the late ‘90s, and recently reunited for a couple of new albums. Give them a listen!

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips are Sealed

Next up on our list is “Our Lips are Sealed” by the Go-Go’s, which is the lead track off their debut album “Beauty and the Beat”. This wild, all-woman band started out with a punk sound but crossed over to new wave by the time of their debut in 1981. Their influences include new wave legends like Blondie, but also early ‘60s female artists like Lesley Gore. “Our Lips Are Sealed” has ‘60s girl group, modified by the current-at-the-time new wave sound. Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin provide effervescent vocals to a fun-sounding song. A highlight of the song is Wiedlin’s high-pitched vocals in the bridge. The guitars and keyboards are catchy and a tambourine adds a little extra to the rhythm. While “Our Lips Are Sealed” sounds 100% positive, the lyrics are a tad darker than the melody might indicate. I think the song is a clarion call by the band to not respond to vicious rumors and gossip that people may speak about you. Indeed, they tell you to “Pay no mind to what they say, doesn’t matter anyway”. Nevertheless, it is said with an air of optimism, as they are presenting a solution to a problem, which is to allow stuff to roll off your back. The theme of the accompanying music video is more positive as it shows the Go-Go’s having fun on a beautiful day in Los Angeles. The video alternates between the Go-Go’s performing, driving around the streets of Los Angeles, and visiting shops. Toward the end they play in a public fountain. “Our Lips are Sealed” hit the top 20 in the United States but did not do as well in the United Kingdom. Interestingly enough, the band Fun Boy Three, which helped write “Our Lips Are Sealed”, covered shortly thereafter and it became a hit in the UK. The band had a couple more hits and albums in the 1980s before going on hiatus for a while.

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself

In conclusion, let’s go over “Dancing With Myself”.  “Dancing With Myself” was originally credited as being by punk/new wave band Generation X, of which Billy Idol was the frontman. Idol then took their last single, tweaked the mixing of the vocals and instruments, and then made it the 1st of his solo career in 1981. Kind of like the circle of life. The song is a good combination of punk energy and new wave danceability thanks to its rocking vocals and guitars and insistent rhythm section. A 6-note repeated guitar riff is the main identifier of the song. Toward the end of the song Idol chants “Sweat” with an infectious punk style. That being said he is judicious in the song in where he provides vocal emphasis, which is good in my book. The song reportedly was inspired by a certain type of dance club in Japan where partygoers would dance by themselves in front of full-length mirrors. The song does reference Tokyo and the aforementioned mirrors. On a deeper level, the song can be seen as a commentary on human isolation despite physically being around people. Lyrics like “the crowded lonely night” hint at this interpretation. The video for “Dancing With Myself” sort of has a post-apocalyptic feel. A bunch of people are clamoring to climb a tower with BIlly Idol at the top. Using electricity bolts, Idol propels them off the tower, I am guessing because he wants to dance with just himself. But eventually Idol comes around and lets them join the dance party. While not a chart success, “Dancing With Myself” is considered a classic and is still played on the radio in 2017. Billy Idol put out several more records in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Among those albums came quite a few more hits. He would also occasionally record more later on.

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