Posts Tagged ‘New Wave’


“At Home He’s a Tourist”
Gang of Four

“Here Come Cowboys”
The Psychedelic Furs

(With thanks to Loyal Reader Barb for suggesting this post.)

I’m lucky. I’ve usually had someone in my life who could explain music to me. In the early 1980s, that someone was my friend David Clements.

David hosted elaborate theme parties. The one I remember was based on junk food, which is probably why I remember it. He ran name-that-tune competitions featuring hundreds of songs he had culled from the backwaters of pop. At one of them I got off one of my best-timed lines: “Yes fans never know the names of the songs,” I said, immediately before the Yeshead playing the game blanked on the opening snippet of “Roundabout.”

David managed the Northgate movie theater in Seattle and was a dj on the University of Washington’s student-run station, KCMU. His handle was “The King of Pop,” and the poppier the better. Listening to his show one night, I became so outraged by the parade of Stings, Boy Georges, and Bangles that I called and requested something from Saturday Night Fever. David recognized my voice and promised he would play it if I would drive over to the station in my leisure suit. You couldn’t top that guy.

When I first heard Gang of Four, probably at somebody’s party, they intimidated me. The guitars are angular. They’re like getting elbowed under the basket or stick-checked behind the net. The singer isn’t singing so much as opening a vein. On “Love Like Anthrax,” which begins with what sounds like a guitar expiring inside bagpipes, the singer competes with someone who simply speaks. Occasionally they sing/speak the same line. When they do, it’s so harmonious it’s startling.

Gang of Four’s lyrics take apart our politics, our consumer culture, even our love lives. They don’t put anything back together again, either. Even on their friendliest cut, “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” they’re not all that friendly:

The good life was so elusive
Handouts, they got me down
I had to regain my self respect
So I got into camouflage

They’re The Clash without the heroin and with a darker worldview. And The Clash weren’t exactly cheery. It was exhausting just looking at the album covers. I didn’t want anything to do with them.

But the King of Pop saw further than I did, and he suggested I try them. I did and over time I became hooked. In fact I even have a Gang of Four listening ritual.

Run-DMSteve’s Gang of Four Listening Ritual
1) Realize that I haven’t played anything by Gang of Four in a long while.
2) Wave away sudden upwelling of dread.
3) Hear first notes of first song. Wince. Consider switching to Madonna’s “Vogue.”
4) Hooked again.
5) Pound face into desk.

I’ve listed the three songs at the top of this post for a reason. They’re superficially similar in their structure and in the way they gallop along. “Barracuda” was a hit for Heart, who had fantastic hair and who made hard rock for people who were cautiously venturing beyond Hall & Oates. “Here Come Cowboys” was a late-period example of New Wave by The Psychedelic Furs. It would’ve made a passable B-side to one of their better songs.

“At Home He’s a Tourist,” however, is fucking unbelievable. When it starts I always think, Oh no, it’s Heart, no wait, Psychedelic Furs, oh right, Gang of Four. The guitar sounds like it wants to throw up. But by the song’s end I can’t wait to click Replay.

I have David to thank for some great musical memories, but David was killed in 1985, at the age of 28, while making a night deposit after closing the theater. Two lives were lost that night – David’s, and that of the 19-year-old boy who shot him and who will wake every day of his life with that knowledge. I think of you often, David, and of that B-52s concert we went to at the Coliseum. I wish we had taken Gang of Four’s suggestion and gotten drunk on cheap wine.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Simple Minds

Today I want to have a word with you about guilty pleasures, which, for the purpose of this disquisition, we shall define as enjoying things that you might be too embarrassed to enjoy if anyone found out you were enjoying them. I’m thinking here, just to get the ball rolling, of people who go roller skating because they like the way “You Made Me Love You” sounds on the Wurlitzer. Then there are the folks who eat Pop-Tarts without toasting them first. As for me, I listen to Simple Minds.

On page 160 of my copy of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the dysfunctional wolverines who work at Championship Vinyl have compiled a list of the top five bands they want to put in front of a firing squad. Simple Minds leads their list, ahead of even Genesis, which seems harsh to me. Genesis spawned Phil Collins. Can you name even one simpleton in Simple Minds? How about the chap who was married to Chryssie Hynde? Of course you can’t. And if you can you probably work at Championship Vinyl.

Sanctify Yourself
Simple Minds supposedly took their name from David Bowie’s “Jean Genie.” The relevant line in that song, “He’s so simple-minded he can’t drive his capsule,” is meaningless out of context and is uninspiring even if you know what Bowie was talking about, which I don’t. Simple Minds was part of the 1970s-’80s movement loosely known as New Wave, which tried to mesh art and post-punk. In fact Simple Minds started out in life as a punk outfit called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, which immediately leads me to inquire why they thought they needed a new name.

Like many New Wave bands, most of Simple Minds’ songs are hopelessly airy and artsy. This is probably why I like them. I even like the singer, Jim Kerr (Ms. Hynde’s former husband), who is Scottish but who always sounds vaguely German.

Life in a Day
Objectively, I would have to rank Simple Minds far below expert practitioners of the New Wave form, such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs, but way above Spandau Ballet, Human League, and Haircut 100, three bands that together couldn’t make a snake out of Play-Doh. This leaves Simple Minds with the same artistic command of their material as A Flock of Haircuts, who were best known for their haircuts.

But that’s my objectivity speaking. Every time I play one of my favorite Simple Minds cuts, I melt into a puddle. Like The Tubes, I can’t clean up/but I know I should.

Promised You a Miracle
In 1985, when Simple Minds were making a good living in the UK but were still unknown in the US, the band was hired to perform a song for an upcoming film: The Breakfast Club. The boys were handed the words and music to something called “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” did some rearranging, and recorded a 4-minute and a 6-minute version, both on the same afternoon.

I’ll bet Simple Minds didn’t think about this song again until the movie came out and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” went to #1 on the US charts and became an anthem. Suddenly, Simple Minds were famous in the world’s biggest music market for a song they didn’t write. They didn’t even include it on an album until 1992.

I understand why it took them seven years to finally claim this song. Have you ever read the lyrics?

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out and
Love’s strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

That’s quite enough. And if you own the original 45, I suggest you not play the B side, “A Brass Band in Africa.” Simple Minds wrote this one, but listening to it is like eating a Pop-Tart before it’s toasted or even unwrapped.

Up on the Catwalk
Though the words to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” are, well, awful (and the 6-minute version has even more of them), and though the thing is too slow to dance to, the music wields a crowd-pleasing power. Like all immortal songs, it begins with a musical flourish you instantly recognize and lyrics anyone can handle:

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

The song’s helium-filled synthesizer musings are ballasted by a steady beat and a chorus that would break the heart of any teenager or immature adult:

Don’t you, forget about me
Don’t don’t don’t don’t
Don’t you, forget about me

And then comes the moment of genius, when Simple Minds rose above themselves and created matter out of energy with their bare hands. At 3:13 most of the music falls away, leaving only the synth, which is playing somewhere in low Earth orbit, the muted drums, and Jim Kerr muttering on behalf of the lovelorn:

Will you walk away?
Will you walk on by?
Come on – call my name
Will you call my name?

For 30 seconds we’re suspended in time and space, anticipating that delicious moment when the triumphant drum roll crashes in. After that it’s a walk in the park. Anyone can sing along, because from here to the finish line it’s just La. La la la la. La la la la. La la la LA la la la la la etc. Audience participation; that’s the ticket!

I’ve run out of Simple Minds song titles
But I’ll never run out of opinions. I’m declaring “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as the iconic song of the 1980s, the one song that can represent the entire decade. I think the only serious competition comes from Special D’s pick, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and I have to admit this would’ve been an even closer race if Ms. Lauper had been backed by a genre-defining movie.

Will we ever see the likes of Simple Minds again? Unfortunately, yes. They’re still recording. They’ve even inspired a band to carry on their work, and that band is called Coldplay. We’ll talk about them the next time we tackle guilty pleasures.

Wouldn’t you love to hear “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on a Wurlizter?