Saturday, August 11, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback (on a Saturday) for August 10, 2012

The Core Furs: John Ashton, Richard Butler, and Tim Butler (via Hear The Sounds)

[Furs Phreaq] -- One of my favorite bands from the 80s was The Psychedelic Furs. I was so much a fan that a college colleague called me a "Furs Phreaq" (hence today's theme). The Furs were formed in 1977 by singer Richard Butler and his bass-playing brother, Tim. The band would release seven studio albums and 21 singles between 1979 and 1991 before taking a hiatus. That hiatus would last for 10 years (during with the Butler brothers founded the alt-rock band, Love Spit Love), but the Furs would return. And they may not be releasing new material, but they are performing around the world (and dropping the occasional "hits" compilation). During their first go-around, the Furs ran the gamut from art-rock, to new wave, to pop rock. But while they shifted due to personnel changes or new influences, their sound was always unmistakably their own. That was likely due in large part to Richard Burton's vocals. But I'm sure that maintaining the core trio of Richard Butler, John Ashton (guitar), and Tim Butler (bass) for the whole of the band's 80s career helped as well.

As regular 80s-philes know, the rule of three dictates that I can only pick three tunes from the Psychedelic Furs' long career. And I'm sure you all know their mega-hit, "Pretty in Pink" (originally from their 1981 album, Talk, Talk, Talk, but later re-recorded for the Pretty in Pink movie soundtrack released in 1986). So, what has this Furs Phreaq selected for you? Read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"broken on a ship of fools | even dreams must fall to rules | so stupidly."

I had trouble picking a song from the Psychedelic Furs' first album, The Psychedelic Furs (1980). I got it narrowed down to two cuts -- "Mr. Jones" and "Sister Europe" -- and I played them for Dangrdafne. Although she liked the energy of the former, upon hearing the names of both tracks, she picked the latter. And it seems a rather fitting selection. The 2012 Olympics are wrapping up in London this weekend. And this week's flashback is focusing on a UK-based band. So our first Flashback of the day should somehow reflect that. Now, "Sister Europe" has very little to do with Europe in general or London in particular. It is, rather, a moody and atmospheric song about Richard Butler's then-girlfriend moving away. The video posted below is a canned performance of the song for a TV show, and the dreaded lip-syncing is quite obvious, but I still love it. The black & white filming and the band members' apparel serve to remind me of band showcase footage from the 50s and 60s. Even the opening notes might make you believe you are about to hear an old example of psychedelia. But this slowly simmering track is definitely an opening salvo from a band that is destined to be on the front lines of the UK's post-punk scene for some years to come. Although "Sister Europe" failed to chart in either the UK or the US, it is still a fan-favorite. All the hallmark pieces of a Psychedelic Furs song are in place: hammering bass, haunting saxophone, and a vocal performance that both apes and honors David Bowie.

Flashback #2"Angels fall like rain | And love - is all of heaven away."

In 1984, the Psychedelic Furs released their fourth studio album. Three original members had left by this time, so the band was reduced to a trio and a handful of session musicians. The most notable change here was the recent departure of original drummer Vince Ely. This shifted the group to start experimenting with drum machines, and their record producer, Keith Forsey, is credited with drum machine, drums, and percussion for Mirror Moves (1984). In fact, he is credited as a member of the band on the album's liner notes. The second release from this album, "The Ghost in You," is our second flashback of the day, and I think it is a perfect showcase of the band's evolving sound. I mean, you can still tell it sounds like the Furs, but it's more new wave than post punk while still not completely embracing pop sensibilities. The song peaked at #59 and #68 on the US Pop Chart and the UK Singles Chart respectively, and the album itself peaked at #43 on the Billboard 200. Still, even with critical and popular success, the band took a break from recording and touring. 

Flashback #3"There's a perfect kiss somewhere out in the dark, but a kiss ain't enough."

Although the band was on a bit of a break after Mirror Moves, Richard Butler and company came together in 1986 to record a new version of "Pretty in Pink" for a little movie of the same name (see this post's intro for links to both versions). Upon release, it became one of their biggest hits in the US, and their biggest hit ever in the UK. For the record, I love both versions, but I have to go with the original due to its darker, angrier vibe. But the runaway success of the re-release tells me that many folks disagree with me. Anyway, according to Butler, this unexpected bump to their record sales forced the band back into the studio to record a follow-up, but they weren't ready. The resultant record, Midnight to Midnight (1987), was their biggest top 40 success and that would seem to indicate he was wrong about not being ready. However, the sales success did not translate to artistic satisfaction as Butler would call the album "hollow, vapid and weak" (in the liner notes to the 2001 compilation, Greatest Hits). Creative issues aside, I think the album is very strong, and a great listen from start to finish. Maybe I'm biased because I had been waiting for a new record from them since wearing out my copy of Mirror Moves (oh, I still have several Psychedelic Furs album in vinyl format). So, I was overjoyed with Midnight to Midnight. And the first single, "Heartbreak Beat," is a damn fine song for an evening drive. "Heartbreak Beat" hit #26 on the  Billboard Hot 100, and even cracked the top 20 of the the Mainstream Rock and Dance charts in the US. As the video below will indicate, however, Richard Burton didn't get any better at lip-syncing (and for that, I salute him!).  

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. If you want more Furs, you can stream Furs Radio right from the band's official website.

As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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