Monday, June 30, 2008

Get Your Fix Of The Fixx

For some reason I used to think the synth-pop group The Fixx were American, probably because The Fixx actually experienced their biggest chart successes Stateside - not unlike The Outfield (see earlier post). But in fact the quintet formed in London during 1979. Vocalist Cy Cumin was joined by Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Charlie Barrett (bass) and drummer Adam Woods.

Cy Cumin and Adam Woods were college mates and recruited the other members via an add in a local music rag. They initially adopted the moniker the Portraits and recorded the single ‘Hazards In The Home’ before changing their name to The Fixx. Their next single ‘Lost Planes’, though not a chart hit, did lead The Fixx to sign a long term recording deal with MCA.

The Fixx then scored a major coup when established producer/performer Rupert Hine (see earlier post) took on the production controls for their debut album ‘Shuttered Room’ in 1982. Influenced strongly by the likes of Roxy Music and contemporaries Ultravox, The Fixx were an almost designer-fit band for the era. The album sold a moderate number of units in both the U.K. (#54) and Australia (#77), and yielded a couple of minor hits; ‘Red Skies’ (UK#57) and ‘Stand Or Fall’ (UK#54/OZ#33/US#76) which would be the song that would alert American audiences to the band. ‘Shuttered Room’ was a slow burner on the U.S. charts and established a solid fan base for The Fixx’s sophomore album ‘Reach The Beach’.

Though ‘Reach The Beach’ would mark the end of The Fixx’s presence on their home charts, it would signal the start of a consistent run of chart hits in the U.S. It also marked the end of Charlie Barrett’s tenure with the band, replaced by Dan K. Brown (the bass player not the populist author). The album reached #12 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and soon The Fixx were a regular on the MTV playlist with the single ‘Saved By Zero’ (US#20/OZ#98). But it would be the follow up ‘One Thing Leads To Another’ that would lead The Fixx to their biggest triumph on the charts. With Rupert Hine’s production influence still strong, the classic new wave hit soared to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also performed well here in Australia (#38). Another strong single followed with ‘The Sign Of Fire’ (US#32), making 1983 a landmark year for The Fixx.

The test, as it is with any artist, would be to produce a worthy follow up. ‘Phantoms’ was the next fix for fans of The Fixx. The album sold enough units Stateside to go gold (#19) and realised another strong single with ‘Are We Ourselves?’ which climbed as high as #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 late in 1984. Unfortunately the album lacked the depth of quality offered by ‘Reach The Beach’ and only one more minor hit followed with ‘Sunshine In The Shade’ (US#69). By the mid 80s the synth driven new wave pop sound was beginning to wane, but The Fixx stayed true to their roots and their next album ‘Walkabout’ (US#30) featured (IMHO) The Fixx’s best song, the beautifully crafted and atmospheric ‘Secret Separation’ (backed by a fantastic promo vid). It reached #19 in the U.S., but would be the group’s last major hit, and also signal the end of Rupert Hine’s production duties with The Fixx.

The ensuing material from The Fixx featured a shift in style from the Gary Numan-esque sound of earlier work, to a more traditional guitar driven sound. In part that could be attributed to the general shift in pop music that occurred in the late 80s, and also the split with Rupert Hine. ‘Calm Animals’ (#72) was the lowest selling album for The Fixx Stateside since their debut there and yielded only one minor hit with ‘Driven Out’ (#55).

Two years later saw The Fixx’s last appearance on the U.S. charts with ‘How Much Is Enough’ (#35), taken from the album ‘Ink’ which leaned more toward the slick dance-oriented production sound sadly encroaching into a lot of artists work at that time. Whilst the 90s were quiet for The Fixx in terms of output, releasing only two more albums (‘Elemental’ 1998, ‘1011 Woodland’ 1999), an official break-up never occurred though Dan K. Brown left in 1994 to be replaced by Gary Tibbs (formerly of Roxy Musix). They stayed active into the 00‘s and released a 25th anniversary anthology in 2005.

As of 2008 The Fixx are back out on the road and going strong, playing sell out shows across North America on their ‘Rockin The Colonies‘ tour, featuring fellow 80s alumni English Beat and The Alarm in support on several gigs.
Here’s the promo vid for The Fixx’s biggest hit ‘One Thing Leads To Another’:

Former Runners Declare 'Only For Sheep'

Following on from the mammoth success of the single ‘Geno’ (UK#1,OZ#44) and their debut album ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ (UK#6), Dexy’s Midnight Runners experienced a major split in their ranks in early 1981. Acknowledged leader Kevin Rowland decided to drop the Scorsese inspired ‘Mean Streets’ look and brass based soul, and took the band (essentially his band) off in an entirely new direction, both musically and image wise (see future post). The bulk of the other members (which constituted all but Jimmy Patterson) took off on their own and formed The Bureau. It wouldn’t be the last major split in ranks for Dexys Midnight Runners, which was often the result of a clash between the controlling Rowland and other members.

The Bureau line-up consisted former Dexys players Pete Williams (bass), Steve Spooner (alto sax), Jeff Blythe (tenor sax), Mick Talbot (keyboardist) and drummer Andy 'Stoker' Growcott. Added to the mix were three former member of The Upset, who had previously played support for Dexys - Paul Taylor (trombone), Rob Jones (guitar/trumpet) and new vocalist Archie Brown. The Bureau largely retained the brass based ‘northern soul’ sound previously the hallmark of the Dexys sound. Within months The Bureau had released their first single ‘Only For Sheep’. In stark contrast to the revamped Dexys line-up, The Bureau failed to chart at all in Britain. However, when ‘Only For Sheep’ was released in Australia in mid ‘81, the song took off and spent an impressive 19 weeks inside the charts, peaking at #6. It’s a bit of an anomaly given the fact that ‘Geno’, which featured a similar musical style, had been a #1 in Britain and charted relatively poorly in Australia - maybe the two countries were out of synch on their appreciation of ‘northern soul’.

Actually when I think of the early Dexys material, and The Bureau, I can’t help but think of The Commitments - really it’s just the up-front horn sections that evokes that association. Lyrically a social commentary, 'Only For Sheep' also weaves touches of ska, jazz and even reggae into the mix - something for everyone really, so why wasn't it a bigger hit?

The Bureau recorded one album soon after, also titled ‘Only For Sheep’, but the album was only released at the time in Australia (#59) and Canada. A follow up single ‘Let Him Have It’ missed the charted all together, and soon thereafter The Bureau went their own ways.

Of The Bureau alumni, keyboardist Mick Talbot made the biggest mark when he joined former Jam front man, the mercurial Paul Weller, in 1982 to become one half of The Style Council (whose career achievements speak for themselves). Vocalist Archie Brown formed a short lived outfit called Flag, before going on to head Archie Brown & The Young Bucks, who have gone on to record nine albums in total and forged a formidable reputation as live players. Geoff Blythe hooked up with now ex-Dexys member Jim Patterson in The TKO Horns, whilst bassist Pete Williams most recently played in the band Baseheart.

2005 finally saw the release of The Bureau’s original album in Britain, this time as a double CD featuring bonus live material. To celebrate the release the 7 of the 8 original members of The Bureau reunited to play two shows in early 2005. Inspired by the experience The Bureau re-entered the recording studio and laid down tracks for an album of new material titled ‘…And Another Thing’. As they state on their website, “It ain’t over yet”.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beathoven's Innocent Approach To Power Pop

During the 70s and early 80s I was living in Tasmania. Forming in the same State in 1975 were power pop outfit Beathoven (cool name huh). In terms of where Australian pop music was at the time, Beathoven were really cutting edge, taking a mixture of 60s power pop and giving it a contemporary makeover. The mainland of Australia was dominated by the likes of Aus giants Sherbet and Skyhooks, but across the Bass Strait Beathoven were the king pins of the pop scene in their hometown of Hobart (MEO245 were also on the rise). The lineup comprised David Minchin (vocals/guitar), Charles Touber (guitar/vocals), Greg Cracknell (bass/vocals) and Brent Jeffrey (drums). Gathering a loyal fan base by relentless gigging, Beathoven released one single in 1977 titled ‘Do You Remember The Time?’. Sensing that they were suffering the ‘backwater syndrome’ common to artists in Tasmania, the group relocated to Melbourne to try their luck in the big smoke.

The band soon gained a strong following along the East Coast and after signing to EMI they released a second single in 1978 with ‘Shy Girl’. The song failed to break them on the charts but they were regularly mentioned in dispatches in the same breath as the likes of the Sports and Australian Crawl as the next big thing. After recording some further demos with producer Kim Fowley (The Wailers, Mothers Of Invention), Beathoven had to adopt a new name due to a contractual dispute with EMI (who in the interim had unceremoniously dumped them) and so in 1980 they became The Innocents (also the name of a Californian pop trio of the early 60s). Signing with RCA they hooked up with former Ol’55 member Jim Manzie (see earlier post) who applied his considerable production skills to help the band produce the pop classic ‘Sooner Or Later’ in 1980. The song didn’t do amazing things on the charts, officially peaking at #58 during a 15 weeks stay inside the top 100, but it was worthy of a top 10 spot (and is credited as a top 10 hit in some references but sales wise it wasn’t). The song was kind of Bay City Rollers like in its sound but I mean good Bay City Rollers - I’m talking ‘Rock & Roll Love Letter’ quality, and had more than hint of ‘Beatle-esque’ harmonies.

A follow up single ‘Come Tonight’ missed the mark and soon after both Minchin and Cracknell left the band. A new bass player, Bob Smith (ex Affections), was recruited but the revised lineup didn’t last long and The Innocents called it a day in late 1981. The Raven Records label released a compile of some Beathoven/Innocents singles, demos and previously unreleased material on a 1984 album titled ‘Here We Come!’.

After a much extended sabbatical The Innocents (now Minchin, Touber, Cracknell and Smith - who is now an Anglican minister) resumed operation to tour the U.S. in the early 00’s, taking their place alongside the likes of The Knack to play their Aussie brand power-pop to retro-junkies who until then would never have heard them. A limited edition 2CD set ‘The No Hit Wonders From Down Under’ was released in 2002 to satisfy the craving of their new live audience fan-base. The Innocents had broken internationally in a way they never managed to do at their first attempt. Regular shows across Europe and even Japan led to an album of new material being recorded in 2006 with the CD ‘Pop Factory’. Their latest project was a 2007 collaboration with none other than singer Tony Sheridan, recording with him in the same studio in which Sheridan had recorded with The Beatles almost 50 years before.

For years I was desperate to come across a CD copy of ‘Sooner Or Later’ by the Innocents, and on my quest would often come across a song by the same name by 60s/70s outfit Grass Roots. Their song is actually pretty good too and was a big hit in the U.S. (#9) in 1971. Though it’s not a patch on the Innocents classic hit, which I finally snagged on CD via a compilation release in 2007.
Check out the Innocents performing 'Sooner Or Later' on Countdown in 1980. You might recognise Rocky Burnette, who introduces the band. You can read more about Rocky Burnette in a later post on Retro Universe.

Avion Deliver 'Pomp Rock' To Australia

Sydney band Avion (not to be confused with the L.A. act current in the 00’s or the 'Par' variety) came into being during 1981. Randall Waller (vocals/guitar) had already released two solo albums (‘Oasis’ in 1978 and ‘Midnight Fire’ in 1980) before forming the band Lionheart which soon evolved into Avion. Completing the original line-up were Martin Toole (guitar), Evan Murray (keyboards), along with Waller’s brothers Kendall (bass) and John (drums). Avion’s musical style was unabashedly influenced by American Adult Oriented Rock (think Journey/Boston/Night Ranger etc). The band also included a strong Christian message in their music lyrically though it wasn’t overtly evident.

A recording contract with RCA led to the release of their eponymous debut album in 1983 (OZ#48). RCA obviously thought the group’s sound better suited the North American market because the album was release there before it was at home in Australia. The album didn’t receive much promotion and though the first single from it ‘I Need You’ was a minor hit (OZ#61 - reaching as high as #40 in NSW), Avion didn’t break through in a major way. Two more ‘Diamond Eyes’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ were lifted from the album but neither made the charts. A stand alone single ‘Still The Night’ was released in August 1984 but again didn’t sell well.

Paul Gannell came in to replace Toole on guitar for the band’s second album, 1987’s ‘White Noise’. The album included the earlier single releases ‘We’ve Got Secrets’ and ‘Celebration’ but the celebrations were non existent as none made the charts. The band had remained a solid touring outfit throughout this period though, and it was on a late 1987 tour that keyboardist Evan Murray was killed in a car accident. The loss of Murray and the failure to break through commercially finally led Waller to call an end to Avion’s tenure.

Randall Waller continued a strong involvement in the Australian music scene and for a time played in Sharon O’Neill’s band. He then settled in the U.K. for a time, working as a producer and also playing with Bonnie Tyler’s band. During the 90s he was recruited to the legendary Billy Thorpe’s touring band, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was last seen playing with Shania Twain’s touring band.
‘I Need You’ was always a personal favourite of mine from that whole era of big loud ‘n brash music - pomp-rock to some - and a big word of thanks goes to Meggsy at 80s-Tapes (see ultra-cool links) for helping me out with a quality copy of this classic!

I Need You - Avion

My Whole Wide World Went Zoom!

Hailing from one the rich nursery grounds of American popular music, Philadelphia (think Boyz II Men, Instant Funk, Hall & Oates), Fat Larry’s Band came together in 1977 around the central figure of “Fat” Larry James. Though never breaking through for a Top 40 hit in the U.S., over a ten year period Fat Larry’s Band would release half a dozen albums, establish a solid fan base, and score a major hit in both the U.K. and Australia.

Though at their heart a funk music act, Fat Larry’s Band incorporated jazz, R&B, soul, disco and even soft-pop into their music repertoire. Joining drummer “Fat” Larry in the lineup were bassist Larry Labes, percussionist Darryl Grant, trumpeter Art Capehart, guitarist Ted Cohen, trombonist Jimmy Lee, saxophonist Doug Jones and keyboardist Erskine Williams (there’s a bit of Earth, Wind & Fire about that set-up). Previously James had played as a backing musician for both Delfonics and Blue Magic. James also co-wrote the majority of Fat Larry’s Band’s songs with Doris James, and produced their albums.

Fat Larry’s Band (early on referred to as FLB) released their debut album ‘Feel It’ in 1977, which yielded the group their first hit single, albeit in the U.K., with the song ‘Center City’ (#31). A second album ‘Off The Wall’ (not of the Michael Jackson variety) was released in 1978 but failed to capitalise on the initial good reception offered ‘Feel It’. Their 1979 album ‘Fantasy’ revived the group’s fortunes on the U.K. charts with two more minor hit singles ‘Boogie Town’ (#46) and ‘Lookin For Love Tonight (#46) but this was at the height of disco and the competition in the whole funk/dance/soul/disco style market was fierce to say the least, saturated to say the most.

But Fat Larry’s Band’s biggest hit didn’t fit into any of the categories of music mentioned previous. The song ‘Zoom’ was lifted from the group’s 1982 album ‘Breakin Out’ (which also included the fan favourite ‘Act Like You Know‘) and it broke out on the charts in a big way. ‘Zoom’ was just simply a sweet and gentle pop-ballad and zoomed all the way to #2 in the U.K. in mid ‘82 and #10 in Australia in early ‘83. It’s not representative of the band’s music, or of the music that dominated the charts at the time, but nevertheless it won over the hearts of many music fans. Beyond some minor success on the club and R&B charts, Fat Larry’s Band never broke through in commercial terms in the U.S. but they recorded several more albums following the exploits of ‘Zoom’. Sadly though, Larry James died aged 38 in 1987, bringing to a premature end the career of a talented musician and underrated group.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hipsway Serve Up A Hip Song

Following on from the success of new wave band Altered Images (see future post), guitarist John McElhone (AKA Johnny Mac) looked to form a new group. In 1984 he combined with fellow Glaswegians Grahame Skinner (vocals), Pim Jones (guitar) and Harry Travers (drums), with McElhone himself switching to bass duties. Given McElhone’s track record, and the swiftness of the quartet to hone their own appealing sound, Hipsway were soon signed to a recording contract with Mercury Records.

By mid ‘85 Hipsway released their debut single ‘The Broken Years’ which garnered some airplay but only climbed as high as #72 on the U.K. charts. A second single ‘Ask The Lord’ (#72) fared no better, and the group’s eponymous debut album was a bit of a sleeper during its first few months of release. That was until the release of the third single ‘The Honeythief’ in early 1986. The song featured a slick almost funk-rock sound that, along with Grahame Skinner’s ‘Jim Kerr-like’ vocals, proved the winning formula for chart success. ‘The Honeythief’ climbed steadily up the British charts, eventually peaking at #17. It was released here in Australia but sadly didn’t catch on here, stalling at #91. On the back of the song’s popularity on the U.K. charts ‘Hipsway’ the album started selling and rose to #42 during the latter part of 1986, spending 23 weeks all up on the charts. Also on the back of ‘The Honeythief’s sales, Mercury re-issues the band’s second single ‘Ask The Lord’ with some success, this time reaching #50. ‘Long White Car’ was the fourth single lifted from the album and reached #55 on the U.K. charts in the latter part of 1986.

But ‘The Honeythief’ had the potential to break the band in the U.S., and so in late 1986 it was released Stateside. Quickly it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 and within weeks found itself positioned inside the American top 20 (peaking at #19). All up ‘The Honeythief’ spent 15 weeks on the charts and it seemed that Hipsway were poised to follow the same successful path as fellow Glaswegians Simple Minds. But alas like so many before and so many since, Hipsway failed to deliver on the promise that one song offered.

Bass player John McElhone left the lineup during 1986 to become a founding member of Texas (‘I Don’t Want A Lover’/‘Say What You Want’). Drummer Harry Travers also departed to be replaced by Stephen Ferrera, and Hipsway limped on for a time as a trio. They released their swansong album ‘Scratch The Surface’ in 1989, but the album sold poorly and the only single lifted from it to chart was ‘Your Love’ (UK#66). Soon after Hipsway decided to pull up stumps and go their separate ways. Grahame Skinner and Pim Jones continued to work together for a time in a band called Witness, before Skinner split to join another Glasgow band Cowboymouth. McElhone has continued to be a key member of Texas to this day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pitney Meets Medley In A Masquerade?

‘Guardian Angel’ is one of the stand out songs for me from the mid 80s. Credited to the artist Masquerade, it debuted on the Australian charts in October 1984 and spent 27 weeks inside the top 100, peaking at #27 in early ‘85, but for some reason neither the U.K. nor U.S. made it a hit (though I‘ll reveal a small fact at the end of the post about the U.K. version of the song). It came from an album titled ‘The Sound Of Masquerade’. I can recall being captivated by the song as a teenager and wondering who the two male vocalists were that exchanged lyrics throughout this majestic ballad.

I wasn’t that familiar with the careers of either Gene Pitney or Bill Medley at that time, but I knew their voices and I wondered to myself could the two voices on ‘Guardian Angel’ belong to them. Exchanging verses and chorus, one singer had this piercing falsetto which contrasted beautifully to the rich baritone of the other. I mean it wasn’t too far removed from the Righteous Brothers come to think of it. Of course had it been Pitney and Medley singing, surely the Masquerade would have been over swiftly and their true identities revealed to the world. But I never heard anything to the contrary and so for the last twenty plus years every time I listened to the song I kept allowing myself to think "what if"? And then another question posed itself, were there actually two singers on the record or just someone with an extraordinary vocal range? Yeah far fetched I know, but you only have to listen to Billy Joel perform every single voice on ‘The Longest Time’ for an example of how it could be done.

Until the point of researching for this post I really had not a clue about the artist Masquerade, apart from my own baseless hypothesising - which defines my level of expertise on most things. I came across some information on a heavy metal act from the 90s, and a string quartet, both by the same name, but reasoned that neither of these artists were responsible for 'Guardian Angel' (sounding just like a hard-boiled detective aren't I?). On a website called Discogs it gave the real name for (the 80s) Masquerade as being Drafi Deutscher. But who is/was Drafi Deutscher? Another clue came in the form of the co-writer and producer of the record, Chris Evans Ironside. Evans Ironside had a background in classical music, the composing, performing and arranging of. That certainly comes through in the lush production and orchestration of ‘Guardian Angel’. The English born musician found himself working in Germany honing his craft in song writing and arranging. He worked on projects as diverse as film scores to ballet to commercials (about 50 are listed on his website). In between all of this he found time to co-write ‘Guardian Angel’ with Kurt Gebegern (who was actually an alias of Drafi Deutscher - one of several he used throughout his career - many thanks to Jan Stephan webmaster of the official Drafi Deutscher website for that info - check out Jan's insightful comments after the post for more). But you’re still asking yourself who was Drafi Deutscher? Go on, I know you are.

Drafi Deutscher was a German singer, writer and producer who started his music career in earnest in the mid 60’s whilst still a teenager. He broke through in his homeland in 1965 with the song ‘Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht’. He wrote hits for Tina Rainford (‘Silverbird’ - OZ#30 1977), Peggy March (‘Fly Away Pretty Flamingo’) and ‘Belfast’ by Boney M. In between times he worked under various alias and project names such as Mr. Walkie Talkie (‘Be My Boogie Woogie Baby’ - 1978) and in a duo with Oliver Simon calling themselves Mixed Emotions, who scored several European hits during the 80s including ‘You Want Love’.

And now the final piece of the puzzle in revealing this Masquerade. Did Drafi Deutscher perform both vocals on ‘Guardian Angel’? Well no he didn’t, because he sang it as a duet with fellow German singer Nino De Angelo (yes he was German), who at the time of the song’s release was only 20 years old. De Angelo went on to represent Germany in the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest and have a string of European hits. Deutscher handled the falsetto whilst De Angelo the baritone side of the vocals. STOP PRESS! - I've just heard from Jan Stephan, webmaster of the official Drafi Deutscher website He assures me that Drafi Deutscher did in fact provide both voices on "Guardian Angel". As Jan stated "It was not a duet with Nino de Angelo, they both recorded an English version but never together. Drafi wanted the 'masquerade' to be perfect so he sang his vocals as if two singers were performing." My sincere thanks to Jan for this clarification.

Chris Evans Ironside has continued a fine career in music, mostly concentrating these days on film scores (mainly European) and classical compositions, alternating between his own studio in Hamburg and London, but he still involves himself in the pop music genre, producing a 1992 album for ex Smokie singer Chris Norman (who also sang a duet with Nino De Angelo).
Drafi Deutscher continued a stellar career in music that extended to 40 years up until his death in June 2006 at the age of 60.

The song ‘Guardian Angel’ was originally called ‘Jenseits Von Eden’ and spent a massive ten weeks atop the German charts, whilst a version recorded in Italian spent five weeks at #1 in France - bring on the European Union! I kind of had second thoughts about dispelling the whole myth of the Pitney/Medley connection for myself (why spoil the fun) but it’s worth knowing the facts behind such a great song, and I’ll still be as drawn in by its magic as much as ever.

The clip below is a live performance of the song by Nino De Angelo alone, and he does an amazing job covering both vocal roles. So much so that in the U.K. ‘Guardian Angel’ was released in 1984 as a single by Nino De Angelo - it only charted for five weeks and peaked at #57. The song was also in fact released in the U.K. as ‘by Masquerade’ during 1984, but the Masquerade version didn't reveal itself on the charts. One issue behind that may have been confusion with another group active in Britain at that time called Masquerade, who actually scored a couple of minor hits in 1986 with ‘One Nation’ (#54) and ‘(Solution To) The Problem)’ (#65).

Who ever it was credited to and who ever sang it, ‘Guardian Angel’ is simply a brilliant song that has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Muzik Of The Mysterious Mr. 'M'

When the catchy pop song ‘Pop Muzik’ burst onto the airwaves during 1979, nobody knew who or what M, the artist behind it, was. The song was written by and produced by a man called Robin Scott, but was he M? Well, as has become widely known since, yes he was the man behind the M.
Robin Scott had become enamoured with music as a college student during the late 60s, one of his classmates being Malcolm McLaren (and no that’s not where the M comes from). Scott took to performing folk songs in local clubs to hone his craft, and recorded the album ‘Woman From The Warm Grass’ under his own name in 1969. It was a far cry from what he would unleash upon the world a decade later, being very folk oriented, and went largely unnoticed until it was eventually re-released in 2006 on CD.

He continued working away in the music business in various capacities through the first half of the 70s, becoming manager for U.K. pub rock band Roogalator and producing their first single ‘Cincinnati Fatback’ in 1976. Scott also ran his own independent record label during that period, which was responsible for releasing Adam & The Ants first LP ‘Dirty Wears White Sox’. Robin Scott then settled in Paris during 1978, managing the all-girl group the Slits for a while, and it was there that he wrote and first recorded ‘Pop Muzik’. It was also in Paris that the origin of the name M emanated, though it’s not as mysterious as you might think. He had previously recorded under the name Comic Romance but as Scott recalled he was looking out the window one day in Paris, whilst he was trying to think of a more effective pseudonym under which he could release his music, and he spied a sign with the letter “M”, which in Paris represents the Metro. Scott thought that was suitably enigmatic to generate interest, and he was right.

But it was going to take more than just a mystifying moniker to have a hit single. Robin Scott had the song in ‘Pop Muzik’ but he wasn’t sure how the song should sound. As he recalls the idea behind the song was to create a fusion of styles that “somehow would summarise the last 25 years of pop music”. There was also an intended message behind ‘Pop Muzik’ which was Scott’s attempt to say, that regardless of origin or style or image, that “all we’re talking about is pop music”. Scott firstly recorded ‘Pop Muzik’ in a rhythm and blues style, then tried it in a funk style, but finally settled on the electro-pop version that would soon sweep the world. For its time ‘Pop Muzik’ pushed the envelope in terms of the technical innovations employed by Scott in its recording, but the six month timeframe it took to achieve the final incarnation was worth the wait. It’s no coincidence that during the corresponding period Gary Numan was also stretching the boundaries of electro-pop and he too would soon inspire numerous acts into the ‘80s.

So in March 1979 ‘Pop Muzik’ was unveiled and within weeks had entered the British charts. It would peak in the U.K. at #2 during May ‘79, around the same time as the quirky promo clip premiered on Countdown here in Australia. ‘Pop Muzik’ rocketed up the charts and spent 3 weeks at #1 during July. As was often the case with British artists, there was a bit of a delay in the song being released Stateside but after debuting at #61 in August it made steady progress up the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #1 at the beginning of November, edging out the likes of Eagles and Donna Summer in the process. The promo clip had some similarities to the promo clip for David Bowie’s ‘D.J.’ released the same year - both featured the artist sitting at a D.J. console tossing around records, perhaps a thinly veiled comment on the disposability of pop music. Incidentally Bowie himself is credited with providing the handclaps on M’s ‘Pop Muzik’, and Scott’s wife Brigit Novik sang backing vocals.

With mission accomplished on ‘Pop Muzik’, Robin Scott found it difficult, in fact ultimately impossible to replicate the commercial achievements of his breakthrough hit. The LP ‘New York-London-Paris-Munich’ was released late in ‘79 but wasn’t a huge seller. The follow up single ‘Moonlight And Muzak’ reached #33 in the U.K. and #37 in Australia during early 1980 and a third ‘That’s The Way The Money Goes’ reached UK#45 soon after (I recall seeing the music video for that song on a Countdown repeat a few years back and I have to say it paled next to ‘Pop Muzik’). Scott continued to release albums under the ‘M’ project name, with 1980’s ‘The Official Secrets Act’ and 1982’s ‘Famous Last Words’ but both sold poorly, so poorly in fact that Scott’s record label at the time MCA refused to release the latter in the U.K. Among the musicians who contributed to these albums were several members of Level 42 (before they were Level 42) and one Thomas Dolby (see earlier post).

Scott recorded two albums with Japanese pop icon Ryuichi Sakamoto including ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, which starred David Bowie - see how this pop music biz is all swings and roundabouts. He recorded a new album in 1985 under his name titled ‘The Kiss Of Life’, and has contributed to several ‘world music’ projects, and most recently was working on an album in 2004 titled ‘Life Class’ which incorporated tracks from his previous work plus several unreleased songs. In 2007 Scott appeared as ‘M’ for the first time in 25 years when he featured in the line-up for the Countdown Spectacular 2 series of concerts across Australia. Scott is also an accomplished painter and has regularly exhibited his work.

To mark its tenth anniversary, Robin Scott joined Simon Rogers to remix ‘Pop Muzik’ for a 1989 release, which charted well in Britain (#15) and briefly flirted with the Australian charts (#86) but went unnoticed in the U.S. A further remix breathed new life into the song when it was played before each concert on U2’s 1997 ‘PopMart’ world tour, but as with all pop classics ‘Pop Muzik’ has assumed a status of immortality in the hearts and minds of devoted connoisseurs of pop music.

These Korgis Don't Live At Buckingham Palace

In amongst all the hurly burly of power-pop, punk, new wave and the lingering embers of disco during 1980, it was nice to see that a gentle, reflective ballad could still appeal to the masses. ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ by The Korgis was one such song.

At the core of The Korgis were the duo of James Warren (vocals/bass) and
Andy Davis (vocals/drums), both of whom had been members of established British rock outfit Stackridge. Davis was a founding member of Stackridge back in 1969 and Warren joined soon after. The two struck up a fruitful song writing partnership during the run of the eclectic band, which played a range of styles from psychedelic pop-rock to progressive rock. There were obvious comparisons to be drawn to contemporaries Genesis and Jethro Tull, but Stackridge didn’t succeed beyond a loyal cult following in Britain.

Warren left whilst the band were still active but Davis held on throughout a turbulent era of line-up changes during the mid 70s, before eventually Stackridge called it a day after the release of their 1976 album Mr. Mick. The pair decided to try their luck as a duo and thus The Korgis came to be. Though essentially a duo in terms of most of the creative aspects of the group, guitarist/violinist Stuart Gordon and keyboardist Phil Harrison were regular contributors along the way (prompting The Korgis to sometimes be referred to as a trio or even quartet). The Korgis released their first single ‘Young ‘n Russian’ in March 1979 but it went largely unnoticed. However their follow up effort ‘If I Had You’ finally offered Warren and Davis the vehicle to crack the top 20. The song peaked at #13 on the U.K. charts in mid ‘79 and gave The Korgis enough commerical impetus to record and release their debut eponymous album soon after.

The Korgis would reach the peak of their popularity during 1980 with the release of their second album ‘Dumb Waiters’ (UK#40,OZ#72). The first single lifted from it was ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ which became a global smash hit, reaching #5 in the U.K. mid year and soon after peaking at #11 in Australia and #18 in the U.S. The huge success of ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ has to many, consigned The Korgis to the museum of ‘one hit wonders’ but technically speaking they were not so. But their commercial appeal was relatively short lived - the follow up single ‘If It’s Alright With You Baby’ only made the lower reaches of the U.K. charts (#56) whilst a third single ‘Rovers Return’ didn’t return The Korgis to the charts.
The Korgis released one more album in 1981 with ‘Sticky George’, but by this time the group was largely driven by James Warren and the single released ‘That Was My Big Mistake’ was actually credited to James Warren & The Korgis. It was apparent soon after that The Korgis had called it a day, though one more single was issued during 1982, with a Trevor Horn produced remix of the song ‘Don’t Look Back’.

Following the dissolution of The Korgis James Warren released the solo album ‘Burning Questions’ in 1986 whilst Andy Davis released his own solo LP in 1989 titled ‘Clevedon Pier’. The pair reunited in 1990 to re-record ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’, with new recruit John Baker on board, and soon after released an album of new material called ‘This World’s For Everyone’ (1992). But despite being well received in parts of Europe and Japan the reformation would be short lived. During the 90s Davis collaborated with former Korgis associate Stuart Gordon in the Andy Davis Band. The 90s also saw a rekindling of interest in the music of Stackridge, and in light of this James Warren put together a demo EP initially and after much too-ing and fro-ing eventually a revamped Stackridge line-up coalesced to record and tour again in the late 90s.

Most recently Warren and Davis once again resurrected The Korgis, again with early 90s collaborator John Baker, to record a 14 track ‘unplugged’ album of material released in 2006. Soon after a new song ‘Something About The Beatles’ was made available online. It seems these ‘old dogs’ still have a few new tricks left, though ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ will likely remain their best effort.