Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday 80s Flashback for June 27, 2014

[An Idol Post] -- I heard a Billy Idol song on the radio this week. Now, finding Billy Idol on the FM dial is not exactly a rare occurrence. As a solo artist, and not counting compilations, the man released seven studio albums, a live album, one EP, and 34 singles. And he's not exactly a slouch: Over his career, he has been nominated three times for a Grammy and ten times for the MTV Video Music Awards (he even won one of those). So, there's a pretty good chance that at any hour of the day, some pop/rock station, particularly if it's an 80s station, will be spinning one of his tracks (if we can still call what DJs do "spinning). However, it got me to thinking: What about the band he left just before he became a solo star?

Billy Idol first garnered some notoriety as a member of the punk band, Generation X. Generation X got started late in 1976 and, after a few lineup tweaks that saw Billy Idol move from guitar to vocals, they released their debut album in 1978. Ignoring most of the "rules" established by other UK punk bands, Generation X took much of their inspiration from British pop of the 1960s. Consequently, they were one of the first punk bands to appear on the BBC show, Top of the Pops. Musical tensions regarding the band's direction surfaced between their second LP, Valley of the Dolls (January 1979), and what would have been their third studio LP, Sweet Revenge (recorded in 1979 but unreleased until 1998). 1980 saw more personnel changes and the band made another go at a record. They abbreviated their name to Gen X and released Kiss Me Deadly (1981). The album failed to chart, and the band fell apart.

After Kiss Me Deadly, Idol took one of the tracks ("Dancing with Myself") to launch his solo career, while bassist Tony James formed Sigue Sigue Sputnik in 1982. Sigue Sigue spun their creative wheels (and a few synthesizer dials) for a few years before releasing their debut record in 1986. Overall, they released two albums and nine singles between 1986 and 1989. They were also active in the mid to late 90s and the early 00s.

Now, with that windup, you're likely wondering what songs are on tap for this week. Well, you can hear and read more after the break.

Flashback #1"What do you want? What do you want? Whaddyou want?"

The only album Generation X -- excuse me, Gen X -- recorded in the 80s was their last LP, Kiss Me Deadly (1981). Now, the only single released from this album was "Dancing with Myself." But I'm sure you're already familiar with that tune, even if you're only familiar with the one Billy Idol released on his debut solo record. So I scanned through the 10 tracks of this album (or 15 if you have the 2005 CD with bonus tracks) to find a suitable tune to kick off this week's Flashback. And I think I found it in "What Do You Want?" It has a nice, chunky, and full-blooded guitar riff and it cooks right along with a simple but simmering drum track. Idol's vocal is basic but plaintive. With a faster tempo, this might have been a lost gem of a single. As it is, it's a great piece of rock n' roll archeology.

Flashback #2"Hold me shake me, I'm all shook up | Psycho maniac interblend, shoot it up."

Sigue Sigue Sputnik's debut album, Flaunt It (1986), was unique in that it included commercials. The band actually sold ad space on their record, and advertisements from  L'Oréal, i-D magazine, and NeTWork 21 were mixed with fictional adverts for the Sputnik Corporation. If you needed an indicator that Tony James' new project was going in a different direction, these ads were probably it. But you could also see the change in ethos simply with the increase in personnel: while four people were responsible for just about all the instruments recorded on the Generation X albums, the first Sigue Sigue Sputnik disc has at least seven folks involved in the sounds of the record (while another half a dozen folks are listed for photography, liner notes, illustrations and legal copy). Welcome to synth-glam!

Flaunt It' s first single was "Love Missile F1-11." A rapid and repetitious bassline drives the song while sound effects and gimmicks try to create a futuristic atmosphere. It was the band's biggest hit peaking at #3 on the UK Singles Chart, while also reaching #59 on the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and #47 on the US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales charts. The song also made it into the soundtrack for Ferris Bueller's Day Off (it's used in the opening, after Ferris psychs his parents out). 

Flashback #3"I'm your God I've just arrived | A beatbox Jesus dancing jive."

I'm not sure what I can add about this song beyond the lyrics I've already quoted. "Success" was the first single released off Sigue Sigue Sputnik's second studio album, Dress for Excess (1988). And as this TV performance shows, SSS certainly dressed excessively ... something. 

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.

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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