Steve Strange 1959-2015

Earlier this month saw the premature death of 80s pop singer/promoter/ club host Steve Strange.

The man from South Wales aimed to put the glamour back into the pop industry after the demise of punk rock and the emerging sound of synth pop.

Born as Steven Harrington, he became interested in music after watching a Sex Pistols concert in Wales and quickly formed a band The Moors Murderers who had amongst its personnel Soo Catwoman and Chrissie Hynde. At the same time he started working for Malcolm McLaren and with the demise of his first band he joined the Photons but then he left he met up with some fellow like minded people and his career took off.

Using his stage name of Steve Strange he formed Visage with Rich Kids members Rusty Egan and Midge Ure and Magazine members Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula. The band was started purely a studio project to release material to coincide with there day to day jobs. They signed to Radar Records and released TAR in 1979 but the single was not a massive hit. The success was around the corner  when Steve appeared in David Bowie ‘Ashes to Ashes’ promo video and the whole new romantic scene took off. They released ‘Fade to Grey’ on Polydor records and enjoyed a top 10 hit in the UK.

Further top 20 hits followed on the back of this with ‘mind of a toy’, ‘visage’ and ‘the damned don’t cry’. They also released 3 albums with ‘visage’ a top 20 success and ‘the anvil’ a top 10 and there most successful album. The band split in 1985 following some low sales but there music was the fledgling sound for the new romantic scene.

Also Steve was involved with Rusty Egan as a nightclub host and DJ respectively. They started at Billys club in Soho, London before moving to Blitz Club in Covent Garden. Steve had a strict door policy of admitting the weird and wonderful but it attracted huge success and a result they moved to Club for Heroes On Baker Street, London for 2 nights a week. They eventually settled at Camden Palace for 2 years and became the scene for famous people to attend. When this success all died down he moved to Ibiza and became part of the new party scene hosting for the rich and famous.

Visage did reform in 2012 and released ‘Hearts and Knives’ album which enjoyed some moderate success and gave a blast back to the early 1980s.

RIP Steve Strange

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Stuck at number 2

This week in 1981 saw the classic synth ballad ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox peak at number 2 for an incredible 4 weeks and one of those tunes that was never destined to be number 1.

The single was released of there self titled album and the previous 2 offerings had made an imprint on the charts but these release was to take the charts by storm and bad luck prevented the band enjoying a chart topping hit in the UK.

Released by Chrysalis records in January 1981, the song written by the band and produced by the legendary German electrical pioneer Conny Plank had a mixture of synth fused with orchestral grand piano sound and backed by a thumping bass sound. The song was inspired and based on the 1940s film ‘The Third Man’ which was based around the Austrian capital Vienna.

The song rose steadily but was kept of the top spot by firstly John Lennon ‘Woman’ (Released following the untimely death of John Lennon) and then the novelty hit ‘Shaddap your face’ by Joe Dolce for a further 3 weeks. A small consolation was that the single sold more than the number ones and also won the 1981 BRIT award. The official Charts Company granted the song an honorary number one after a poll in 2012 saw it voted the best song never to get to number one!

The video shot by Russell Mulcahy was based mainly in London’s Covent Garden and a few stills in Vienna. A classic song that sadly didn’t get the top spot it deserved.

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Kings of the Wild Frontier

In 1980 saw the album charts dominated by ABBA but a scally lot from London were about to unleash there post punk Burundi sound and knock the Swedish Popsters of there perch.

This week in 1981 saw Adam and the Ants rise to the top of the album charts with Kings of the Wild Frontier. Released in November 1980 the album knocked off ABBA in January 1981 and cemented there position as the most talked about group in the early 1980s.

The album was released by CBS and wasn’t without it’s early problems. Adam backing suffered a mass exit when music Guru the late Malcolm McLaren persuaded the band to leave and form his own supergroup Bow Wow Wow to complement the thriving New Romantic scene. Undeterred Adam continued with his long term musical partner Marco Pirroni to finish the album.

The album was three single releases in the UK and were all huge hits. The self titled song reached number 2 and this was followed by Dog eat Dog which reached number 2 and the perhaps the true Ant anthem Antmusic peaked at number 2 only kept off the top spot by John Lennon’s Imagine.

The album was a huge international hit and the album received several distinctions including best selling UK album in 1981, the 1982 BRIT award for best album and was featured in the music book ‘1001 albums you must listen to before you die’.

The tracks on the album are:-

Dog eat Dog

Antmusic

Feed me to the lions

Los Ranceros

Ants invasion

Killer in the home

Kings of the Wild Frontier

The magnificent 5

Don’t be square (be there)

Jolly Roger

Making History

The human beings

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Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby ,ay not be a name that springs out of the 1980s but This artist had a major influence on the early 80s scene both individually and working with other big acts of the age.

Born as Thomas Robertson but changed his name to dolby as he was always messing about with Musical instruments and tapes and Dolby was a reference to the audio Noise reduction process that was common on stereos in the 1970s/1980s. When Thomas did get success Dolby Labs did take issue with the name but ultimately Thomas was able to continue with the name.

His first success was the release of the 1982 album ‘the golden Age of Wireless’ which spawned the huge hit ‘She blinded with me with Science’. That particular song featured the well known TV professor Magnus Pyke who also featured on the video promo.

In 1983 he started to work on side projects called Dolby’s cube which was concentrating more on Dance Music which was starting to take off. He worked with Lene Lovich and George Clinton amongst others.

In 1984 he released his second album ‘The flat Earth’ which peaked at number 14 in the UK charts. The album featured his UK top 20 single ‘Hyperactive’

Towards the end of the 1980s he released ‘Aliens ate my buick’ a more heavily dance and funk influence but the album did not peak as high as his previous releases.

During the 1980s he worked with other artistes. Prominent work included Thompson Twins album Set, Foreigner album 4, Def Leppard release Pyromania, Belinda Carlisle and also time to produce some of Prefab Sprout best offerings. He also toured extensively and was for a number of years support act for another new wave/tech band Depeche Mode.

During the 1980s he released 17 singles in various guises with one top 20 hit, he also released 3 albums and a notable top 20 success in the UK.

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Every little thing she does is magic

On this day in 1981 The Police had a huge number one hit in the UK with Every little thing she does is magic. The also reached the top 3 in America.

It was released from the critically acclaimed album Ghosts in the Machine and the song was a blend of rock and reggae. Jean Roussel played the keyboards on the song and his previous credits included Cat Stevens and Bob Marley. Roussel was invited by Sting to perform and the other team members Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland were not too happy but the result was a fine piece of Reggae rock.

The song was recorded in Canada and was written by Sting as early as 1976 but was finally put down on record in 1981. The song was produced as always by the band and Hugh Padgham and was released on A&M records.

 

 

Posted in 80s Music Revisited

A good Heart

In 1985 this week saw Feargal Sharkey hit the top of the UK singles charts with a Good Heart.

The song was released on Virgin Records and was on his self titled solo album. The song was written by American singer Maria McKee and was about her relationship with Benmont Tench who was a member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The song was produced by synth legend David A Stewart of Eurythmics fame and another 80s legend appeared on backing was none other than Boy George. In a twist and to be fair in love and war Feargal next single release was You Little Thief which was written by Tench about his relationship with McKee. That song peaked at number 5 in the UK singles charts.

The song remained for 2 weeks at the top until Wham broke up the party.

 

 

Posted in 80s Music Revisited

I feel for you..30 years on

30 years ago this week saw Chaka Khan reach number one in the UK singles charts with I feel for you.

The song was originally written by Prince and was on his self titled album Prince in 1979. Chaka decided to do her own version and became a huge hit internationally.

The song featured many famous black artistes such as Stevie Wonder on Harmonica and the introduction rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel. The introduction was originally a production mistake but they liked it so much they kept it in.

The song was produced by Arif Mardin who had previous credits with Queen, Bee Gees, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack.

The track was released on Warner Bros Label and was a number one in the UK and America and help launch a successful period for Chaka Khan. The song also won the 1985 Grammy award for the best R&B song.

 

Posted in 80s Music Revisited

Tears for Fears

The band formed in 1981 by Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith and were part of the New Wave electronic scene that dominated the British and American charts in the early 1980s. The boys left an earlier band Called Graduate which was heavily influenced by the MOD scene and they decided to branch out into the electronic sound that had gripped the UK.

They signed to Parlophone records and with most bands of that era, there first few releases were not commercially successful. They released singles ‘suffer the children’ and ‘Pale Shelter’. however, success arrived in November 1982 when they released ‘Mad World’ and the song peaked at number 3 in the UK charts just before Christmas and this gave the band huge exposure for the release of the debut Album ‘The hurting’ which was released in March 1983.

The album was produced by Chris Hughes who was the drummer with Adam and the Ants and the album touched on distress and therapy in pretty much every song. The album was a huge success and stayed in the UK charts for over 12 months and peaked at number one in the UK. the album also spawned single success with ‘Change’ and ‘pale shelter’.

In 1984 they began work on a new album and after a production change they went back to Chris Hughes, they released ‘Mothers Talk’ and this was followed by the huge international hit ‘Shout’ another top 5 hit. This was the prelude to the much anticipated album ‘songs from the big chair’ which debuted at number 2 and again like the first album hung around the album charts for over 12 months in the UK and was number one in the USA.

The album paved the way for a plethora of new singles releases including ‘Everybody wants to rule the world’, ‘Head over heels’ and ‘I believe’. There success was huge on both sides of the pond. They performed at the MTV awards in 1985 and whilst in a hotel bar they discovered a singer/pianist Oleta Adams for whom they were do to later work. The success in the UK continued with a BRIT award in 1986 for the best single plus countless nominations from best group to best producer.

The band were also due to headline Live Aid in America but had to pull out on the morning as a number of backing band had quit due to the expiration of the contracts! the members were replaced but not in time so the band decided to give proceeds from the upcoming world tour to Band Aid. They also got involved with Sport Aid and re wrote there classic to  ‘everybody wants to run the world’.

The band were quiet for a while until 1989 came the release of the new album ‘seeds of love’ which saw a huge production budget of over a million pound. The album saw a more Jazz and Blues touch to the album and saw contributions from Phil Collins and Oleta Adams. The album was a huge success and saw the release of the singles ‘sowing the seeds of love’ and ‘woman in chains’.

After the album the duo split and Curt Smith left due to management issues and the way the band was moving musically. This left Roland to carry on the name for pretty much all of the 1990s until they got back together in 2000.

During the 1980s They released 3 albums with 2 number ones. They released 16 singles including re-releases and enjoyed  7 top 10 hits and although a number one was avoided in the UK they did enjoy 2 number ones in America with Shout and everybody wants to rule the world.

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Top 10 selling singles of the 80s…

10 -Dexy’s midnight runners – Come on Eileen

This classic dancefloor stomper was a huge hit in the early eighties. Written by Kevin Rowland, Billy Adams and Big Jim Patterson, the song was a mix of celtic folk and soul. The song went number one in 1983, it was a song about Kevin Catholic upbringing about the taboo subjects Love and Lust.

9 –  Jennifer Rush – The Power of Love

The most successful female in the 1980s in terms of singles sales. no mean achievement considering the likes of Madonna and Belinda Carlisle. originally when released it flopped but a change in title and a top of the pops performance saw this a end of night dancefloor classic.

8 – George Michael – Careless whisper

Written by the Wham boys but George re-recorded it and became a huge transatlantic hit and also knocking Frankie goes to Hollywood of the number one spot.

 

7 – Culture Club – Karma chameleon

written by the band and produced by Steve Levine. The song went number one in 1983 for 6 weeks and they also performed the song in the 1980s action drama the A Team. What Mr T made of Boy George Who Knows!!

6 – Wham – Last Christmas

This 1984 double A release (everything she wants) was written and produced by /George Michael. Due to it’s release around The Band Aid song it remains the biggest selling single not to reach number one.

5 – Human League – Don’t you want me

Christmas number one in 1981, written by Phil Oakey, Jo Callis and Phil Wright and produced by Martin rushent. The song was loosely based on teen photo story. Despite its huge appeal and success Phil Oakey felt the song was weak and he placed it last on the album Dare. After all that record labels do know what they are doing!

4 – Frankie goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

This song was number one for 9 weeks in the summer of 1984 and also Relax went back up the charts and was number 2 giving FGTH the masters of the pop charts. The song was political reference to the Cold war in the 1980s between USA and The USSR.

3 – Stevie Wonder – I just called to say I love you

Featured in the 80s flick Women in red and stayed at number one for 6 weeks in 1984 and thus Motown record label biggest UK hit. The song was written and produced by the legend himself.

2 – Frankie goes to Hollywood – Relax

Number one in January 1984, was banned by BBC Radio One for it’s lyrics which prompted a surge in sales. As a result the BBC lifted the ban. Was a top 75 hit for nearly a year. Written by the band and produced by the legendary Trevor Horn on ZTT records.

1 – Band Aid – Do they know it’s Christmas time

A huge seller in the day and was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to help raise money for the Famine in Ethiopia. All the big names of the 80s starred on this single and the record sold in excess of 3.5 million copies Only Candle in the Wind Elton Johns tribute to Princess Diana has sold more. This song topped the charts at Christmas in 1984.

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Pet Shop Boys

The 1980s saw the birth of the Pet shop Boys who went on to be a huge electronic pop group who enjoyed great success. The duo consisted of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. The duo have sold over 50 million records and remain one of the most influential groups of there time.

The duo started out at college in London and had a mutual interest in electronic music and started to collate some tunes in the hope of getting a big break.

That big break duly arrived when Neil working as a journalist was sent to America to interview the rock band The Police. He decided at the same time to arrange a meet up with producer of HI-NRG records Bobby O. He was impressed with the material provided and decided to produce the songs such as West end Girls and opportunities.

The band decided to sever links with Bobby but giving him royalties of future sales and the duo teamed up with Tom Watkins and signed to Parlophone records. They released opportunities and despite it’s lowly chart peak, they were encouraged. They repackaged West end Girls and the single slowly crept to number one in the UK and the fame was instant. Neil was able to leave his position of deputy editor of teen mag Smash Hits and the band were able to concentrate full time on music.

A follow up single Love comes quickly and debut album Please were released and the band were quickly becoming one of the most requested acts on tv and radio. Opportunities was re-released again and Suburbia were released as singles to great success again. The end of 1986 saw them release a disco remix album aptly named Disco and the band preformed live on the MTV music awards in LA.

!987 saw the duo earn BRIT awards and Ivor Novello awards for West end Girls and on the back of this they released It’s a sin which topped the charts in the UK. They followed with the catchy song What have I done to deserve this which started a long relationship with 60s legend Dusty Springfield. The band had the song before the first album and were reluctant to use another female lead and eventually they got there woman!

Later that year the duo did a cover of the Elvis Presley classic Always on my mind and the song was a Christmas number one and kept the Pogues off the number one spot. Prior to that the single Rent was a top 10 hit in the UK.

The boys took time out to produce and write Eight Wonder huge 80s hit I’m not scared which help propel Patsy Kensit pop career. The duo also recorded this on there album Introspective.

The 1980s drawing to a close the duo then went on a first world tour sampling the delights of Hong Kong, Japan and the UK. This was the start of the bands global success and the 1990s and beyond saw the band grow there success.

During the 1980s the duo released 3 studio albums all peaking into the top 3. They released 13 singles with the Neil and Chris achieving four number ones (West end Girls, It’s a sin, Always on my Mind and Heart) and a further 6 top 10 hits.

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