Category Archives: The 80s
For many people, Simple Minds fall into the category of one hit wonders, thanks to the soundtrack of the John Hughes 1985 film The Breakfast Club, which featured the Simple Minds' version of the Keith Forsey penned tune Don't You (Forget About Me). With good reason, I suppose-the tune is the group's only Number One chart topper in the US (and one of the few the band recorded not written by a member of the group), and the song instantly made Simple Minds a household name, launching them onto huge stadium stages and into a role as political activists who stood firm in their support of Amnesty International and spoke out (quite frequently) against the apartheid situation in South Africa.
Which is fine. really, I'm all for bands that mix politics with pleasure. It's a great way for Joe Average to get a little education about the goings-on in the world when their favourite artists give them the heads up about social injustices they might not otherwise be aware of (or take an interest in). However, I always felt Simple Minds took the activism to the point of preaching down to their audience, making it very apparent that they (and by 'they' I probably mean frontman Jim Kerr) always knew more about things than you did. When the group tried to take advantage of the wider audience afforded them by the success of Don't You (Forget About Me) by making every song a statement and every concert an event that could change the world, they gained a reputation as, well, pompous wind bags. Whereas other bands of the time like U2 managed to balance the political viewpoint of the group with great music, for a while Simple Minds seemed to focus entirely on the message and forget about backing it up with songs that were memorable in any way, shape, or form.
Preceeding all this, though, Simple Minds were a great band (both live and in the studio) with a pocket full of amazing albums. Before John Hughes tapped them for The Breakfast Club soundtrack they already had six albums to their credit, including three of my favourites from the era: 1981's Sons and Fascination, 1982's New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84), and 1984's Sparkle in the Rain. By the end of the 80s Simple Minds had become a very different beast than what they had started off as, and by the time the 90s rolled around singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill were the only remaining members of the classic band line up. Once the axe started to fall on various members of the band, success became far less frequent for Simple Minds. Bassist Derek Forbes was fired and/or quit after Don't You (Forget About Me), which was a huge loss for the band since his bass playing was a key element of the group's sound. Keyboardist Mike MacNeil was sacked before the recording of the 1991 album The Real Life (which, like the many albums that followed it, sold poorly). Drummer Mel Gaynor has been in and out of the group three or four times over the years, and as of now still plays with what remains of the band, which continues to tour and has plans for another album in 2012. If it happens, it would be their 16th studio album of original material.
So, now back to the simpler days of Simple Minds. From 1982, here's the title track from New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84).
For a band that gave their drum machine lead billing in their name, Echo & the Bunnymen have done all right for themselves over the years. Coming out of Manchester in the late seventies, the Bunnymen (singer/guitarist Ian McCulloch, bassist Lee Pattinson and guitarist Will Sergeant) were writing and recording home demos backed by a drum machine, which was christened Echo. Echo was replaced but his name remained when the group added flesh and bone drummer Pete de Freitas to the lineup (de Freitas & the Bunnymen just didn't have the same ring to it) for the recording of their 1980 debut album, Crocodiles. The band released the albums Heaven Up Here (1981), Porcupine (1983), and Ocean Rain (1984), all of which made the Bunnymen critical and mainstream favourites.
After the group released their self-titled 1987 album, things started to sour for the Bunnymen. Singer Ian McCulloch left the band for a solo career in 1988, and in 1989 drummer de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident. The remaining two Bunnymen recruited a new singer (Noel Burke), plus drummer Damon Reece and keyboardist Jake Brockman. The new Bunnymen released one album, 1990's Reverberation, but called it a day in 1993 after lack of commercial or critical success of the new material.
1997 saw the three remaining original Bunnymen working together again, and saw the release of a new album, Evergreen. The group has been going strong ever since, although bassist Pattinson has come and gone from the group due to family commitments. Currently McCulloch and Sergeant are still recording and touring as Echo & the Bunnymen, with a rotating cast of backing players. The band is back in the studio now recording the follow up to 2009's The Fountain.
From what many consider to be their 'classic' album Ocean Rain, here's The Killing Moon, performed live in 1984.
Depeche Mode. Four guys, one so skinny he made a bean stalk look fat and the other three buried behind banks of keyboards. A wardrobe best described as bondage chic crossed with Sprockets plus a heaping dash of white denim. The band took its fair share of mocking in the 80s, but the fact remains that while many of their contemporaries fell to the wayside, Depeche Mode steamed on, selling close to 100 million albums worldwide and touring the globe a dozen times over.
Of course, along the way there were the usual fame and fortune traumas to deal with, starting with the departure of founding member and principle songwriter Vince Clarke after the band’s debut album Speak & Spell in 1981. Clarke was the man responsible for almost all of Depeche Mode’s creative output, including the group’s biggest song at that point, Just Can’t Get Enough. Clarke went on to find success with Yazoo and later Erasure, while Depeche Mode carried on with Martin Gore assuming the role of primary songwriter and Clarke’s keyboard slot being filled by Alan Wilder. Drug issues have also nearly derailed the band on several different occasions, with singer Dave Gahan having fought a nasty heroin addiction, including a couple of close calls in the late nineties. However, keyboardist Andy Fletcher has been quite blandly grounded throughout the years. I won’t call him boring, but….ok-he’s boring.
Many felt the band would sink without Clarke to guide them, but the Gore-lead Mode proved detractors wrong, many times over. The band started a cycle of world wide top ten hits that continued throughout the 80s and 90s. They also became a live act that was guaranteed to fill any venue, size be damned. Vocalist Dave Gahan didn’t mind having the entire spotlight to himself during their live shows, since with the exception of the odd bit of guitar noodling by Gore everyone else in the band was stuck behind keyboards. Over the years the group has added a live drummer onstage, and since the departure of Alan Wilder in 1995 additional keyboardists as well. Gore has taken to playing more guitar live, and during recent tours spent more time wielding his axe than he did behind the keys.
Here’s Depeche Mode during their 1988 show from the Pasadena Rose Bowl, as featured in the docu-concert DVD Depeche Mode 101. The track is Never Let Me Down Again from 1987’s Music for the Masses. And that’s 70 000 screaming fans in the background.
At the height of their popularity throughout the 80s, Duran Duran was the equivalent of having five Justin Biebers in one group. Each member of the band (the three non-related Taylors, John, Roger, and Andy, plus Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes) had their own legion of fans, complete with organized clubs with membership numbers in the thousands-the majority of whom were female. Individually impressive, but as a whole Duran Duran ruled the charts with a crafty combination of up-beat pop tunes, carefully constructed image, and a pioneering embrace of the new-at-the-time music video format.
It wasn't long into MTV's reign of music video television that Duran Duran became one of the first mainstream groups to push the boundaries of what was suitable for airing to the masses when they released the single Girls On Film and the accompanying Godley & Creme video in 1981. The band never intended for the original video, which featured both male and female nudity, to air on basic cable. Rather, it was intended for promotional use in nightclubs, dance bars, and pay-per-view channels. MTV did eventually air a much teen friendlier, highly edited, primetime suitable version of the video, but the controversy was put to good use by the band's management, who used to it to add fuel to an already massive Duran Duran bonfire raging in the loins of rabid female fans around the world.
Which brings us to a live performance of Girls On Film by the classic Duran Duran line-up from 1982. The band has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, with various members coming and going, including guitarist Andy Taylor quitting and re-joining about ten times since the late 80s. The Andy-less Duran Duran have hooked up with producer Mark Ronson on their newest release, All You Need Is Now.
@amyzesbaugh, this one's for you!
From 1978 through 1985, Blue Peter were the kings of cool in the Canadian music scene. Drawing obvious comparisons to international acts such as David Bowie and Roxy Music (often attributed to frontman Paul Humphrey’s swagger and style onstage), Blue Peter at their peak managed to combine smooth pop/punk with a visual style that was often ahead of, but still perfect for, the times in which it was created. While many bands from the early 80s were mired down in the burgeoning music video craze and feeding into it with soon-to-be-dated visual snapshots of their songs, Blue Peter allowed their appreciation of cinema and movies (with Blade Runner a particular influence) to help shape the look and feel of their own videos while avoiding the ‘pastel curse’ that many other bands fell victim to. Perhaps no better example of this is today’s featured track ‘Don’t Walk Past’, from the 1983 album Falling. We’ve never included the video for a featured song on The 80’s Come Alive, but today we’re going to make the exception, since, quite frankly, this video rocks and deserves to be seen.
We’re also going to include some concert footage from 1984 of Blue Peter performing ‘Don’t Walk Past’ in Montreal, plus amateur footage from a 2008 show at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. I had the fortune of attending the Lee’s show, which also had Canadian singer/songwriter Emm Gryner supporting the group on backing vocals. At the time I was handling bass duties for Stratford-based group Brittlestar, and Emm had also done some studio work and live shows with the band as well. Emm was kind enough to arrange an introduction to Blue Peter singer Paul Humphrey, who besides being one of the best dressed people I have ever met was also very humble and seemed genuinely surprised at the amount of people in the packed club there to support the band.
Don’t Walk Past
Live in Montreal, 1984
Live in Toronto with Emm Gryner, 2008
If you were buying music in the 80s, chances are you have an album or two by Canadian New Wave groundbreakers The Spoons. With songs like ‘Arias & Symphonies’, ‘Smiling in Winter’, and our feature song, ‘Nova Heart’, The Spoons made a name for themselves as a pop outfit that could craft a clever hook, anchor it in great songwriting, and make it worthy of the dance floor at the same time. No easy feat.
The classic Spoons line up that many fans are familiar (and recorded the band’s better known albums Stick Figure Neighbourhood, Arias & Symphonies, and Talkback from 1981-1984) consisted of Gord Deppe on vocals and guitar, Sandy Horne on bass and vocals, Derrick Ross on drums and Rob Preuss on keyboards. Notable for a couple of reasons, this line up gained attention initially for Preuss’ age (he was only 15 when he joined the band in 1980) and bassist Sandy Horne, who could kick the arse of many of her male counterparts on the instrument but also looked far better doing it. Along the way The Spoons also helped in the formative years of a young Daniel Lanois, who worked as an engineer on early Spoons recordings and later went on to produce artists like U2, Bob Dylan, and Peter Gabriel, just to name a few.
1985 saw the departure of both Ross and Preuss, while Deppe and Horne continued on with new Spoons Steve Kendry on drums and Scott MacDonald on keyboards. In one of the stranger moves in Canadian 80s music history, Rob Preuss joined Honeymoon Suite, quite possibly as polar opposite a band compared to The Spoons as could be found. One can only assume he was in it for the acid wash jeans endorsement deal Suite seems to have landed at the time (at least judging by their wardrobe, anyways). The group released the album Bridges Over Borders in 1986, but with the exception of the 1988 song ‘Waterline’, The Spoons failed to match their earlier successes. With that the band took a large part of the 90s off, but towards the latter part of the decade Deppe and Horne started performing again as The Spoons, and continue to do so today (with Kendry and new keyboardist Steve Sweeney). Along the way the band made a few connections in my hometown of Stratford, having played a few shows there over the years as well as Deppe recording the song ‘Memories Get Closer’ with Brittlestar, who also call Stratford home. You can hear a teaser of the song on iTunes.
The Spoons are starting to push their newest tune, ‘You Light Up’, from the soon-to-be-released album Static in Transmission. Listen to it on YouTube, plus see the promo video. The band website is packed full of goodies, so be sure to check it out here. And from the Spoons Live In Concert DVD let’s get to ‘Nova Heart’, recorded in 1984.
I'll admit that, while I appreciate The Icicle Works, I don't really know that much about them outside of a few select tracks that I heard around the house growing up. Of course, one of those tracks was Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream), which we're featuring today. As I've been digging around the net I've found a few morsels of interesting tidbits of (verifiable) info, including a stint in the group's drum seat by Ringo's kid, Zak Starkey, in the late 80s. As far as info that may or may not be true but seems to be the consensus on fan boards: founding member/guitarist/vocalist Ian McNabb is a bit of a tool. 'Ego driven', 'megalomaniac', and 'washed up', were just some of the words used to describe him, and that's coming from fans of the band. After the two other original members of The Icicle Works left in the mid to late 80s, (bassist Chris Layhe and drummer Chris Sharrock), McNabb took over all songwriting duties as well as playing many of the instruments himself on future albums. It didn't take long for The Icicle Works to sputter out, and by the early 90s McNabb was recording under his own name, but tried again in 2006 to launch The Icicle Works (minus Layhe and Sharrock) with little success.
But let's not dwell on the negatives. Enjoy this performance of Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream), recorded by the original line-up before the band imploded.
Before The Cult starting to tap into their inner Leppard and writing songs more suited to ultra tight trousers and stadiums on albums like 1987’s Electric and 1989’s Sonic Temple they were a band known more for guitar anchored goth rock and a refreshing lack of keyboards in the synth dominated 80’s music world. Since the band’s formation in 1983 there has been rotating personnel within the band, with the only two constants being singer Ian Astbury and too cool for school guitarist Billy Duffy, both of whom shared songwriting duties. The list is far too long to go into here of players who filled bass and drum duties over the years, but lets just say there’s a good chance your printer would run out of ink before you got to see the end of it.
Today’s featured track, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, was released in 1985 on The Cult’s 1985 sophomore effort, Love. The song peaked at a respectable no. 15 on the UK charts, but like many songs from the era continues to find it’s way into the collections of a new generation of music lovers through usage in video games, soundtracks, and commercials. This particular performance is taken form the Rockpalast series, recorded in 1986.
Pete Shelley first left his mark on the UK music scene in the mid-seventies as a founding member and principal songwriter for punk/pop outfit The Buzzcocks. The band initially only lasted a few years (breaking up in 1981), but helped bridge the gap between the punk and new wave genres. As a solo artist Shelley released today’s featured track ‘Homosapien’ in 1981 as a single, and followed it up with the Homosapien LP later that year. I’ve included the lyrics to ‘Homosapien’ since it raised a bit of a sh*t storm amongst the British upper crust, with the BBC eventually banning it for “explicit reference to gay sex”. All of this occurred as Shelley was publicly becoming more open about his bisexuality, a topic hinted at in several Buzzcocks songs. And speaking of which-The Buzzcocks have been touring on and off again since 1989, although there has been a rotating cast of players, with Shelley on guitar and vocals as the one constant.
Homosapien live in 1986, on ‘Cue the Music’.
By Alan Ferguson
What are the ingredients of a classic song? It has to have the elements that make for a GOOD song to start with: any combination of seamless melody, interesting chord progression, compelling lyrics, or perhaps just a catchy little riff. A CLASSIC song (and recording) has to go one step further though: it likely combines all of these elements, but more importantly, captures something universally relevant.
With the 1987 hit ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, Australia-based Crowded House created a classic song, combining a simple but effective guitar hook, a soaring melody, a catchy refrain (hey now, hey now), and most importantly, an inspired message of hope that cut through the cynicism and excess of the era. Reference the movie Wall Street if you want to know what I mean…it was released the same year. The song holds an unabashed candle to the idealism of the Sixties with its nod to The Beatles’ song-craft and Procol Harum-inspired organ solo.
Vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter Neil Finn, a native of New Zealand, had already been exposed to chart success and popular acclaim, penning some of the biggest hits for his older brother Tim’s band, Split Enz, known perhaps as much for their manic theatricality as their recordings.
Moving on, Neil hooked up with bassist Nick Seymour, and ex-Split Enz drummer Paul Hester to form Crowded House, embracing a musical concept that placed emphasis on less-is-more. ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ became one of the biggest hits ever for an Australasian band, and made the top ten in many countries. The band went on to produce a number of albums that can still make even celebrated songwriters cringe with envy.
Crowded House went out with a bang in 1996, playing a farewell concert to an audience estimated at between 150,000 and 250,000 on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.
The band reformed in 2006, and have recently released their sixth album Intriguer.
At the time, the chart success of Don’t Dream It’s Over hinted to me that the Eighties still had a soft spot for both an inspired song rendered simply, and the idealistic Dream of the Sixties. The fact that I still hear it on the radio informs me that we’ve always needed good reminders of why we should remain hopeful. In the accelerated, saturated world we live in now, a sense of hope is vital.