Posts Tagged ‘The Psychedelic Furs’

Today I heard “Ghosbusters” (three times on two stations), “Thriller” (twice), and once each for “Spirits in the Material World,” “The Purple People Eater,” “Monster Mash,” “Season of the Witch,” and “Every Day Is Halloween.” From this sample I deduced that Christmas music is always about Christmas but Halloween music is never about Halloween.

Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” is about ghosts, sure, but it’s also about as scary as “Y.M.C.A.”

Michael Jackson sets a scary scene in “Thriller,” but it turns out to be a movie on TV. “I can thrill you more than any ghost,” he claims. Uh-huh. As for Vincent Price’s monologue, remember that the root of it is “And whosoever shall be found/Without the soul for getting down/Must stand and face the hounds of hell/And rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

It’s always a mistake to put Vincent Price on your record.

Sting is scary, music by The Police is not.

Sheb Wooley’s Purple People Eater has one eye, one horn, flies, and devours people, but it came to Earth to form a rock ’n’ roll band. The last word in the song is “Tequila.”

In Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” all they wanna do is dance, dance.

Songs with “witch” in the title are usually about a woman who won’t have sex with the singer. God knows what Donovan was getting at in “Season of the Witch.” He threw me with the line “Beatniks are out to make it rich.”

For the boys in Ministry, every day is Halloween because they dress like goths, not because they come to the door asking for candy.

David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” are actually “super creeps,” Oingo Boingo’s dead men are going to a “Dead Man’s Party” which makes it a descendant of “Monster Mash,” and The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” is a love song, and not to a ghost.

We humans like being scared…in our books and movies. We love haunted houses and Halloween. We love opening the door on another batch of kids dressed as monsters, ninja assassins, witches, Jedis, superheroes, and roller-skating ninja assassin prom queens. But we don’t like being scared in our music. Wagner can be frightening, but that’s because I don’t want to be trapped for weeks in one of his operas.

Unidentified noises in the night, when we’re in bed, scare us. Songs don’t. I don’t know why.

Tonight, my parents opened the same door for trick-or-treaters that they’ve been opening since 1957. There must be adults who got candy from my Mom and Dad back when they were kids and who are now bringing their grandchildren around. And I’m their son. OK, now I’m scared.


Siouxsie & The Banshees

Siouxsie & The Banshees are proof of the power of networking. Susan Dallion was one of a group of early Sex Pistols fans who were inspired to go out and make music too. She changed her name to Siouxsie Sioux, which is impossible to type, and recruited the first Banshees in 1976.

Siouxsie’s drummer, John Ritchie, changed his name to Sid Vicious and joined the Pistols. Her first guitar player, Marco Perroni, kept his name but joined Adam & The Ants. She got a guitarist back from the Pistols, Steve Jones, but it didn’t take and he ended up recording with Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, and Iggy Pop. This is starting to read like a LinkedIn profile. When two other band members quit during a tour in 1979, Siouxsie recruited Robert Smith of The Cure and a drummer named Budgie to fill in. Budgie had already changed his name from Peter Edward Clarke. Still with me? Smith eventually went back to The Cure. Budgie eventually married Siouxsie. None of this ever happens at the monthly lunches of the Oregon Columbia chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.

I’ve written about Siouxsie & The Banshees in my round-up of female acts of the 1980s. I called them (and The Cure) “goth outfits.” That was doing them an injustice. They’re much more than stereotypical black-clad, pale-skinned, bloodless disciples of H.P. Lovecraft who long for death’s ashen caress. They also rock with considerable force…though not on this record.

Tinderbox is not only misnamed (I don’t hear much on it that’s flammable), it’s so smooth that I can’t always tell which song I’m in. The exceptions, however, are more like the Banshees I remember. “Cities in Dust,” an unblinking glimpse of the apocalypse, was the hit. It’s good – it takes The Pretenders’ “My City Was Gone” one step further and almost makes it danceable – but “Cannons” is the real sleeper. I also like “92 Degrees,” which starts slow but builds to a satisfactorily melancholy finish.

Tinderbox is a record for confirmed Banshees. As for the rest of us, keep networking, because a) you never know, and b) you never know.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 1
Pretty in Pink soundtrack
When I posted this in 2013, I made Pretty in Pink a Pick. I’ve changed my mind. Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses” is the only superlative song, and it’s available everywhere. However, this album is notable for a rare appearance by the strangest name of the 1980s, Belouis Some. Some, who was Neville Keighley when he made his first appearance on earth, had two hits that were popular in ’80s dance clubs: “Some People” and “Imagination.” His contribution here, “Round, Round,” is not in that league. Overall, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack is still better than the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club (1985), but not within a light year of the soundtrack to Singles (1992).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 2
The Church, Heyday
Midnight Oil without the grit. So otherworldly it can barely be detected through the Hubble Telescope. They had a hit in 1988 with “Under the Milky Way,” which was easily within Perry Como’s comfort range.


“I am what I am. Thank God.” – Jimi Hendrix, “Message to Love”

A co-worker entered my humble cubicle one day late in 2012 and said, “Flashback!” He was looking at the two shelves above my desk, which held a row of CDs, a display of old postcards, and the Sock Puppet Spokesthing. While he gushed about these ancient cultural artifacts, I saw my possessions through his eyes. I realized that I could’ve decorated my space the same way at the job I had in 2000. In fact, I know I did.

I’m stuck in time!

In an email later that morning to this co-worker, after stating that I didn’t care what he thought of me, I wrote without even thinking “I’m through being cool!” and hit Send. Then I thought, Oh no, it’s Devo! I’m really stuck in time.

Rather than consider what all this says about me, let’s use it as an excuse to go back to the future. Welcome to 1986 Week, commemorating that stellar year when, as Paul Simon sang on Graceland, “I was single/and life was great!”*

Most of the artists I loved in the ’80s released nothing new in 1986. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, U2, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen held off until 1987 (when Prince gave us Sign ’O’ the Times, his equivalent of The White Album, and U2 gave us their masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire**).

The B-52s didn’t record again until 1989, but in 1986 The Rolling Stones dressed up just like them.

Dirty Work

By 1986 Romeo Void had broken up. David Bowie and Michael Jackson had left the bulk of their best work behind. Gary Numan had left all of his best work behind. Robert Cray debuted with Strong Persuader, though I prefer what he did later. Duran Duran released Notorious, which was notorious for being awful. I refuse to listen to Madonna’s True Blue or Boston’s Third Stage. I can’t decide which is funnier, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill or Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’ll get to Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie & The Banshees as 1986 Week progresses.

What was the best song of 1986? Yo, pretty ladies around the world: Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care for Cameo’s “Word Up!”

Don’t expect 1986 Week to last all week. Don’t expect a comprehensive survey. Don’t get all army-foldy on me, either.

As we used to say in the peculiar slang we employed back in 1986: See you tomorrow!

* Special D is fond of quoting that line to me. Hey doll: “I sure do love you/let’s get that straight.”
** A tip of the critic’s pointy hat to my friend and fellow softball player Donald Keller, who put “mantlepiece” in my head whenever I want to say “masterpiece.” 

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
The Chills, Kaleidoscope World
1986 gave us albums from The Chills, The Cramps, and The Creeps. This reminds me of an evening I spent at Fenway Park in 1979 when we had three pitchers on hand named Clear, Frost, and Rainey.

I don’t know a thing about Kaleidoscope World; I just needed a Chills album from 1986 to fit my theme. The album I have heard is Submarine Bells (1990), which has two lovely pop songs, “Singing in My Sleep” and “Heavenly Pop Hit” (nice try, boys).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat
I must honor this man for rhyming “Tijuana” with “barbecued iguana” in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” Sadly, on his solo debut he sounds like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider with really bad hair.


“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.