Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for February 25, 2011

[Heirs of Avalon] -- This week's theme has nothing whatsoever to do with the court of King Arthur. No, today I am dealing with bands inspired by the look, style, and sound of the English art-rock band, Roxy Music (1971-1983; 2001-present). The theme is named in honor of their last studio album, Avalon (1982). Well, that, and I suppose you could make a case for "heir" being rather close to "hair" which was something of a trademark for these bands, but I digress.

Now, art rock is closely related to progressive rock. Both are experimental, sometimes drawing on themes from classical music, and both often incorporate avant-garde influences. And art rock is typically more keyboard than guitar-driven. However, as the 80s gave rise to New Wave music, art rock went a bit more in the synth direction and relied less on concept albums (although some bands still dabbled in large-scale story telling on occasion). Roxy Music, to my mind, lies between the extremes of progressive and art rock. So they were the perfect gateway band for their later 80s forebears.

Of course, many bands claim to have been influenced by the Rox (wait, does anyone really call them that? Oh well, I just did), but I am bound by the rule of three, so I had to whittle my options down. I had to find a trio of artists to represent the gamut from New Romantics to New Wave Rock.

Who made the cut, and what songs are featured? Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1
"How many hearts must you break  | How many calls must I make."   I have to be honest here. I had a different opening salvo in mind until I found this video. I had to immediately swap out my first choice which was hugely poplar in 1983. Of course, in terms of popular songs, there were only two options available to me in the entirety of this band's catalog (at least as far as the US charts go). And I love both of them (I still have them on 45!), so I would have been happy to share either in today's set list. However, if you have been following these weekly walks down the musical memory lane, you know full well that I like to throw at least one special case into the mix. Our first flashback of the day certainly qualifies. 

Released as the first single on Parade (1984), the band's fourth studio LP, which also happened to be the first album to be released after they had a taste of international success, this tune also proved to be the first single of the rest of their career, or something like that. Oh, sure, that career included a few more albums. It's just that none of them made a dint in US record sales. And, so, in 1984, we find Spandau Ballet reveling in the success of "True" and "Gold," their first singles to crack the top 20 in the States. And they probably had no idea they were about to take that plunge back into 80s obscurity. Now, "Only When You Leave" isn't a bad song. It's just that the US record buying public is a fickle bunch, and they were no longer interested in a band waving the flag of the New Romantic movement, at least not in the numbers required to make it a big hit. Across the pond, however, it was a big success. And that accounts for it appearing on TOTP (Top of the Pops). And I'm ever so glad someone posted Spandau's performance, but I'm even happier they included the show intro. So, here is the Ballet on Britain's answer to Solid Gold and American Bandstand!

Flashback #2
"I stayed the cold day with a lonely satellite."  Our second flashback comes from a band that practically defined the MTV generation. The song was less popular than other singles at the time, but it still bounces right off Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983), the band's third release (not to mention the final one with the original lineup). The album title had a special significance with "seven" referring to the five band members along with their two managers, and the "ragged tiger" being success. Oh, and they were very successful come 1983. Sales of their previous two records had been staggering, most likely due to that little thing called MTV helping to push their smiling faces and heavily styled hair directly to teenaged girls the world over. These lads worked so hard on cultivating their stylish looks that they earned a rep as "the prettiest boys in rock." And while it is probably true that their popularity was fueled largely by their looks and music videos, those visuals merely opened the door. Their songs had killer hooks and that's what helped propel record sales (while the cosmetic aspects drove sales of posters, magazines, etc.).

Of course, they took their videos very seriously. Take "New Moon On Monday" for example: during the first minute-and-a-half, we are treated to a bizarre intro in French before we even hear the first notes of the song. And then we watch the boys of Duran Duran playact their roles as revolutionaries of some sort. This was high-concept stuff in the 80s, and it seems to have aged well -- that is, until we reach the dance number at the end. But, hey, at least I'm not showing you the 17 minute movie version! 

Flashback #3
"Tell me when the work is done | Tell me when the day is through | And I'll drive safely inside my car | Taking islands in Africa."  Finally we come to the one band that can truly be called a successor to Roxy Music. Although Duran Duran ultimately proved more popular, and sold more albums, this band garnered more critical adoration and drew more praise from fellow artists. After their glam/punk/rock origins, they embraced their lives as well as their music as an art form. And they went on to create intricate pop gems buoyed by fretless bass, intricate percussion, and baritone vocals. Eventually incorporating even more musical influences from the land that inspired their name. Perhaps more important to my argument would be that the founding members of Roxy Music all but dismissed the so-called Fab Five while embracing this band as carrying their torch. (I wish I had a citation for this. I'm pulling it from my memory of a conversation with a DJ I knew at Penn State; he had press clippings with the actual quotes.)  For our final flashback of the day, I have pulled a mid-tempo charmer from their 1980 release, Gentlemen Take Polaroids. It's the weekend, folks. Relax and "Swing" with Japan: 

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. Three shall be the recounting of songs, and the number of songs remembered shall be three! As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post.

I'll see you in seven!

Update 2/26/11: In Flashback #3, I incorrectly indicated that Japan's Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released in 1986. The album was certified Gold in 1986, but its actual release date was 1980. I have corrected the entry.

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