The mid-’80’s were a haven of experimentation. New technology – sampling and sequencing – had appeared, which threw open the doors of possibility to those with the imagination to use them to their full potential. Oh, and had a spare £10,000 knocking about for a Fairlight. Here’s the first three of a selection of six Electro-ish tunes. Well, sort of Electro.
Art of Noise – Beat Box (Diversion One)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax
Liquid Liquid – Optimo
The Art Of Noise were an electro-pop quartet from London, with Trevor Horn producing and Paul Morley talking bollocks about them. Which meant that, even at the time, they were supremely irritating. After listening to them again, they are still supremely irritating.
Without meaning to turn this into a rant about how Art of Noise were supremely irritating, they really were. I’ve got a low tolerance threshold for pretentious bollocks – or at least, pretentious bollocks that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is – and Art Of Noise’s “Beat Box” seems to me like a bunch of art students mucking about with a Fairlight. Considering Cabaret Voltaire were sampling using tape loops in the mid-‘70’s, I don’t see how this can be seen as being a whole new way of making music, as its fans have done. Still, people sampled it, people like it. Your mileage may vary.
Oh, and their “Best Of” is called “Influence: Hits, Singles, Moments, Treasures”. See? Supremely irritating.
With nearly thirty years distance, it is hard to imagine what a massive storm Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” caused in the UK. As a 12-year old, the fact that there was a record at number 1 in the chart that was blatantly sexual was shocking. Especially as I didn’t really know what the song was going on about. Oh come on, I bet you didn’t either. What was even more hilarious was that the song itself had been pootling around the chart for weeks until Mike Read started reading the lyrics whilst playing it on his radio show. Realising belatedly that the content may not be happily termed “family friendly”, he ripped the record off the turntable, called it “obscene”. As a result, the song was banned by the BBC.
For those younger readers, you have to remember that this was a world in which pretty much all the music you heard broadcast, whether on TV or radio, came from either the BBC or ITV. There were few, if any, independent stations and those that existed were blander than bland. There was no internet, of course. You might share music with your mates, and there were some great music magazines around, but to hear something yourself it generally came from the BBC. So for them to openly ban something – what drama! You just had to hear it!
“Relax” stayed at number one for five weeks, and did end up teaching some people a lesson. If you want to stop people hearing something, don’t tell them about it. What you don’t do is tell people you’re not playing something, because they will go “Ooh, bet it’s something naughty!” and go out and buy it in droves.
That’s not to say that “Relax” is just a naughty record. It’s far more than that. It’s a very, very good record that is also quite naughty. That squelchy sound is still remarkably icky.
Liquid Liquid’s “Optimo” was one of those songs that I used to hear in fabulous late-80’s/early-90’s Newcastle nitespot Rockshots. Perfectly pleasant dance music, and charming to think that it’s now 18 years old. Aaah, they grow up so fast! But not entirely sure what it’s doing here. One of the top 500 tracks in the past 30 years? Nah. Oh, and it’s in GTA IV too. Woo.
Next up, some more Electro-ey goodness with Shannon and Section 25. If you liked this, read the other posts in the series here.