Friday, March 01, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for March 1, 2013

Erase. Graphite on canvas, 31 x 53 in. by David Deutsch

[Not Erased] -- As I've written previously on this blog (and much of which will be repeated in today's entry), Vincent Clarke was a founding member of Depeche Mode, but he left after their debut album. He next recorded two albums with Alison Moyet as the duo Yazoo (or simply Yaz in the US). After that, Clarke dabbled with two other less-than-successful ventures on the way to forming the chart-topping machine known as Erasure. Clarke's time with Erasure is notable for a number of reasons. I will give you four: First, he started the endeavor by placing an ad in Melody Maker for a singer, and one of the applicants (Andy Bell, who ended up with the gig) turned out to be a fan of Clarke's work with Depeche Mode. (For my readers who were born after the days of internet dial-up, Melody Maker was a UK music paper, pretty much a fanzine with a classified section. You can think of those classifieds as a Craigslist for finding other musicians, but the ads are on paper instead of the web. Bold idea, I know). Second, Clarke stayed with this band for more than just an album or two; in fact, they have released a total of 13 studio albums over a span of 21 years. Third, Erasure's singer, Andy Bell, was one of the first openly gay performers in pop music and he has become something of a gay icon. Fourth and finally, 34 of Erasure's 45 singles and EPs have reached the UK Top 40, with 17 of those releases soaring into the Top 10. Clarke and Bell are definitely synthpop superstars. What super tunes will be featured today? Read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"Broke my heart | Now I'm aching for you."

Erasure's first album, Wonderland (1986), did poorly upon release. Critical reception was not favorable and it limped along with weak sales. None of its three singles cracked the Top 40 in the UK, and all failed to enter the US Billboard Hot 100. Despite those shortcomings, I count myself as a fan of the album, and I remember my small group of synthpop aficionados all but devoured Wonderland. And there is something positive to report about the album: Our first Flashback of the day, "Oh L'amour," did manage to peak in the top 10 of both the US Billboard Dance/Club Play Singles Chart (#3) and the US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales Chart (#9). In fact, due to its popularity in dance clubs, "Oh L'amour" has become something of a signature song for Erasure. It's a song about unrequited love that begins as though it will be a heart-wrenching ballad, but within 30 seconds it shifts into a bouncy pop tune with an irresistible click track and bass line underpinning the chirping synths. Simply wonderful to kick off your weekend.

Flashback #2"I can see through | All your sweet talk | And all of your affection untrue."

If you thought the Wonderland's tepid reception would have discouraged Erasure, you would be wrong. The duo quickly recorded "Sometimes" and released it on October 6, 1986. This single was a preview for their upcoming sophomore offering, The Circus (1987). "Sometimes" reached #2 on the UK charts and pushed The Circus to #6 on the UK Albums Chart making it their breakout album -- at least in the UK. The Circus did not generate much success in the US, but it was Erasure's first record on the Billboard 200, and spawned two hits on the US  Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. One of those hits, "Victim of Love" (released May 18, 1987)  peaked at #1 on that dance chart and finds Bell singing lyrics about dreading all the negative aspects of entering a new love relationship. Music buyers, however, were certainly warming to a relationship with the band. And Bell, although he sings about not wanting to look "like some kind of fool," certainly seems to be gaining in confidence -- not that he seemed to be particularly lacking in it on the first record, but wearing short pants and tails in concert and skatting along to punctuate the solo synth line are not hallmarks of a timid performer.

Flashback #3"Don't jump before you look | Get hung upon a hook | Before you make a fool out of love."

Our final Flashback of the day is "Stop!" from Erasure's 1988 EP, Crackers International. There are several different versions of this EP, but the original UK release on Mute Records had four tracks:
  • "Stop!" 
  • "The Hardest Part"
  • "Knocking on Your Door" 
  • "She Won't Be Home" (featured in the 12/10/2010 Flashback post)
Crackers International hit #2 on the UK Singles Chart (EPs used to be eligible as singles in the UK). In the US, Sire released the EP with two additional remixes, but the record was charted on the Billboard 200, where it peaked at #73. "Stop!" saw its own release as a stand-alone single in the US, and it barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at #99. On the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, however, "Stop!" / "Knocking On Your Door" peaked at #4 as a double-sided entry.

"Stop!" holds a very dear place in my heart: It was used as the line dance song for the 1991 PSU Dance Marathon. This was the one and only instance in which I participated in the event as an independent dancer (i.e., not sponsored by any fraternity, sorority, or campus organization). THON, for those who don't know, is the largest student run philanthropy in the world. Dancers stay on their feet for 48 hours (and countless other folks seek sponsorships and "canning" funds) in an effort to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. And each THON since 1976 has had a special line dance choreographed to a specific song. The song is played at random times throughout the 48 hours, and it is meant to pump everyone up (and provide great spectacle to folks who stop by to view the dancers). The first few times that year's song is played, dancers are still learning the steps. By the end of THON, many dancers are likely sick of both the song and the dance. But every time I hear the opening synth squelch and drum lick for this final Flashback of the day, I'm ready to jump into place and do it all over again. Unfortunately, the only move I remember from the absurdly long choreography is "Mow. Mow. Wave to your neighbor." (To this day, it remains the only time I have voluntarily done any line dancing).

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. 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.

Now, I have an additional request this week because, somehow, my blog ended up as a finalist for "Best Weblog About Music" in the 2013 Bloggies! I would love your vote! Please, click HERE to visit The Bloggies & follow these steps:
  1. Select Prophet or Madman for Best Music Blog.
  2. Scroll to bottom of page.
  3. Solve Captcha Code and enter your email.
  4. Click the "Submit" button.
  5. Check your Inbox for The Bloggies Verification email. Open the email and click the  verification link. (Note: Sometimes Verification email ends up in Spam, so check there if it doesn't show up right away).
  6. Bask in the virtual warmth of my ever-loving gratitude. :) 

And, of course, I also appreciate folks on Twitter giving me +K in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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