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Monday, June 26, 2006

"and on the platform / I saw your hat form / a sort of halo as the crowd rushed home"

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I come not to bury Wang Chung, but to praise them.

Not the “wacky”, “party” Wang Chung that crapped “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, “Let’s Go” and “Hypnotize Me” upon the world, but rather the real Wang Chung, who made darkly catchy pop with a more serious undercurrent. The Wang Chung that was pretty much Lost in the 80s.

Starting life as Huang Chung, the band recorded one album for Arista Records in 1982. Two years, one new label and a simplified name change later, the trio released one of the most essential albums of the New Wave era, “Points on the Curve”. Am I over-praising “Points”? Not really – it’s excellent, front to back, and gave the band a Top 20 hit with “Dance Hall Days”, a quirky a dance hit as you can get (by the way, it was “we were cool on craze”, not “Christ” as my sister thought). But “Dance Hall Days” was not Wang Chung’s first hit. That honor goes to the far superior “Don’t Let Go”.

Desperate and bouncy all at once (try pulling that one off sometime), “Don’t Let Go” is an atmospheric New Wave classic that doesn’t get enough respect. You never hear it on Eighties Flashback radio shows or see the video on VH1 Classic and that’s too bad. It kicked off “Side Two” of the album back in the day, but should have been the first song on Side One, since it really set the true tone of the album better than “Dance Hall Days”, which actually kicked things off. Luckily, “Don’t Let Go” was completely ignored, since it scraped the bottom of the Top 40, paving the way for “Dance Hall Days’” success (I still haven’t forgiven the band/Geffen for picking “Don’t Be My Enemy” for the [flop] third single instead of “Even If You Dream”, perhaps the best song on the set).

This led to the band (now reduced to the more-familiar duo we all remember from the videos) being asked to provide a track for “The Breakfast Club”. Wang Chung’s contribution, “Fire In The Twilight” would have fit just fine on “Points on the Curve”. While released as the soundtrack’s follow-up to Simple Minds’ massive “Don’t You Forget About Me,” “Fire” failed to spark any chart action. That doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining rock stomper, very 1985 in its sound. I've included the superior single mix with a slightly different chorus that's never been on CD. And fine, since no one else is gonna do it, here's the super-rare video for the single, complete with Molly Ringwald cameo:

The duo’s next full-length project was a soundtrack for the film “To Live and Die In L.A.” The duo’s evocative atmospherics served them well here and the title track very nearly made the Top 40. But as with any other soundtrack, there are some sludgy instrumental parts to tromp thru. If you like the whole “Miami Vice” vibe, here’s where it started.

The lackluster reception of the band’s last few singles must have spooked someone, since their next album, “Mosaic”, was Pop City. You know the hits, you know the bombast, you know how sick you are of them now, so let’s move on. Congrats on your retirement fund, boys!

With their final album, “The Warmer Side of Cool”, it appears the duo got their pop jones out of their systems, since it’s a welcome return to the darker mood of their earlier works. As a result though, it was far less successful. Lead single “Praying To A New God” was a notable attempt to fuse the more commercial production and hooks of the “Mosaic” era with the more aggressive ambience of their past work, and it wasn’t half bad. Alas, the single and album as a whole fared poorly and Wang Chung went their separate ways until recording a new track for a greatest hits effort in 1997, then resurfacing on the NBC “where are they now” summer series, “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, where they performed a surprisingly rousing and entertaining version of Nelly’s “Hot In Herrre”.

The response the duo got on that show has inspired them to reform and record a new album, including a song called “Abducted By The ‘80s” and, in keeping with the times, a MySpace page.

”Don’t Let Go” peaked at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
“Fire In The Twilight” did not chart.
“To Live And Die In L.A.” peaked at #41 on the same chart in 1985.
“Praying To A New God” peaked at #63 on the same chart in 1989.

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Wang Chung
posted by John, 9:42 AM