“the stars on 45 / keep on turnin’ in your mind / but we can work it out / remember twist and shout!”
Sometimes I wonder why certain songs, even if they hit Number One on the charts, are never heard from again. The Stars on 45 Medley is one of those songs. Is it because it was so overplayed during its peak, that no one ever wanted to hear it again? Or is it because it’s simply sooooo cheese-tastic that it wouldn’t translate to younger ears? I decided to put the second theory to the test last week and sent the original medley to my 25-year old test subject who, for the sake of this experiment, we’ll call “Emile”.
It began with Emile’s shocking admission that not only had he never heard the infamous “Beatles Medley” before, he also had never heard of Stars on 45. Once I recovered from the faint-inducing revelation that Emile was a mere SIX MONTHS OLD when “Medley” topped the charts in 1981, I understood how this musical ignorance could have occurred. I mean, it’s not like “Classic 80s” radio ever plays Stars on 45 – after all, that would interfere with its 123,235th play of “Love Shack”. The “Medley” was dispatched via e-mail post haste for our test subject’s review.
Minutes later, the flurry of IMs began:
EMILE: OMG EMILE: what the hell EMILE: OMG EMILE: beatles? EMILE: disco handclaps? EMILE: this is awesome!!!
Etc., etc. Stars on 45 was officially a hit with the younger set. That is, until…I decided to push it. Encouraged by our test subject’s initial reaction, I sent along the full, unexpurgated “Medley”, all 15:34 of it, or as we called it back in the day, Side One of the “Stars on LP” album. The test subject responded positively:
EMILE: wow, so there’s even more EMILE: I can see a bunch of women in leg warmers doing aerobics to this EMILE: very hot
Our subject’s education continued. It was explained to him that Stars on 45 were actually a collective of studio musicians from Holland led by producer Jaap Eggermont, who expertly mimicked the original recordings one at a time, then spliced them together to that ubiquitous disco handclap to create the medleys. After “Medley” (full, official title: “Stars on 45 Medley: Intro / Venus / Sugar, Sugar / No Reply / I'll Be Back / Drive My Car / Do You Want to Know a Secret / We Can Work It Out / I Should Have Known Better / You're Going to Lose That Girl / Stars on 45”) hit Number One in several countries, including the States, a second medley, creatively titled “Medley II” was released to considerably less fanfare and success.
Undeterred, Stars on 45 soldiered on with a second LP, from which the single ”More Stars” was released, but with a twist. While the rest of the world got an Abba medley, the States, where Abba were not held in the same esteem as the Beatles as the rest of the world saw it, got a Motown medley instead. This medley fared slightly better, but still failed to crack the Top 40.
Proving the third time’s the (relative) charm, Stars on 45 III, also known as “Stars on Stevie (Wonder)”, saw Stars on 45 return to the American Top 40 in 1982. Gone was the distinctive handclap beat, replaced by a more straight-ahead mix of Stevie Wonder oldies.
All were forwarded to our test subject, who proceeded to over-indulge on Stars on 45 cheese for two days solid. Slowly raising his head from the floor, woozy from his Stars overdose, the screeching sounds of females singing “YOU STILL DON’T TELL ME WHY / THERE’S NO REPLY – HI – HI – HI!!” still in ringing in his ears, Test Subject Emile confirmed our secondary hypothesis:
Stars on 45 should be contained to only extremely controlled doses.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, here’s the video for the original “Medley”:
Consume with extreme caution. You have been warned.
”Medley” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. “Medley II” peaked at #67 the same year. “More Stars” peaked at #55 the same year. “Stars on 45 III” peaked at #28 in 1982.
Note: Okay, I’m stretching it a bit on this one. When I conceived “Depeche Clones Week”, I had three bands in particular in mind and set about writing all three articles before posting the first. Once I had finished the third, I discovered to my horror that the CD was actually released in 1990, thereby making it ineligible to be “Lost in the 80s”. I could have sworn it was released in 1989…argh. So, I was faced with a choice – scrap the entire article and post or just throw it up with the assumption that even though the original release came out in 1990 (not the re-release on Zoo, which came out in 1992), the album must have been recorded in – tah dah! – 1989.
Guess which I chose?
Formed in Sacramento, the duo of Robert Rowe and Sean Rowley known as Cause & Effect started off on Nastymix Records, home to Sir Mix-a-Lot of all people (not entirely surprising – Mix’s later collabs with the Presidents of the United States showed his love for alternative rock). Two years after its initial indie release, Cause & Effect’s first album was re-released by major label Zoo, but not without some re-sequencing, remixing and renaming, the formerly self-titled debut now being called “Another Minute”.
Before they got picked up by Zoo, Cause & Effect broke thru the dance charts with “What Do You See” and my favorite, “You Think You Know Her”. Later, with major label muscle behind them, “You Think…” actually became a Top 40 hit and “Another Minute” hit the Hot 100. I’m sort of partial to the original indie versions myself, so that’s what I’ve posted.
Things looked bright for Cause & Effect, until tragedy stuck during a 1992 tour. Just before a show, Rowley died from heart failure brought on by an asthma attack. After some time and retooling, Rowe, along with a couple new band mates carried on, releasing “Trip” in 1994 and scoring another Hot 100 hit with “It’s Over Now.” A couple of releases have trickled out since.
…and so ends Depeche Clones Week. I hope fans of the bands featured take it in the lighthearted nature it was intended. And if anyone doubts the Mode-like similarities of the bands featured, allow me to present this unaltered screen shot from Amazon taken earlier this week:
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin' is all.
”You Think You Know Her” peaked at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #8 on the Dance Club Play Charts. “Another Minute” peaked at #75 on the Hot 100 and at #31 on the Dance Club Play Charts.
I have a special place in my heart for Red Flag – you see, they were the first “real” rock band I ever interviewed, back when I was a Broadcast Journalist in the U.S. Army.
It’s okay, I’ll give you a few minutes to wrap your head around everything in that first sentence.
Brothers Chris and Mark Reynolds were born in Liverpool, England, but formed Red Flag many years later in the late 80s in San Diego. By the time they signed to Synthecide/Enigma and released their debut, “Naïve Art,” I was stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, working as a DJ and reporter for the base cable radio station and newspaper (heady stuff, I know). I was addicted to San Francisco alternative radio station KITS, particularly the Steve Masters show since he played the best shit and seemed very passionate about the music. It was on Masters’ show that I first heard “Russian Radio” and thought, “Didn’t Depeche Mode just release a new single last month?”
Eventually, I found out it was actually by a band called Red Flag. Bought the CD, liked it quite a bit and discovered the duo was touring through San Francisco in a few weeks. In a display of youthful fearlessness combined with enthusiastic naivety, I phoned up their label, Enigma, and requested an interview for my radio show. They agreed and soon I was driving up to a small club in SF to interview the brothers backstage before the show.
The Reynolds Brothers could not have been nicer to a nervous, fumbling, slightly mis-informed music fan/interviewer. They answered each eager question in detail, coloring each response with funny anecdotes, giving me plenty to work with. In fact, they put me at ease so much that I felt the misguided need to give them some advice – in my zeal, I suggested that “Broken Heart” would make a great single. After all, everyone I played it for loved it! It would be a sure-fire hit.
Months later, I found out “Broken Heart” was in fact the album’s FIRST single and had done poorly. Whoops. God bless ‘em for not pointing this out and making me feel like a moron. I've posted the superior U.K. remix by Jon St. James and Stacey Q (yes, "Two of Hearts" Stacey Q) of SSQ, who we'll get to someday soon.
Just as Red Flag were about to break thru (“Russian Radio” had been added to MTV’s “120 Minutes” and nearly hit the top ten of the Billboard Dance Charts), Enigma went under. The boys signed to IRS Records for one single, but were dropped soon after. Still plugging away, Red Flag continued releasing music under their own label (and moving further away from the Mode-isms into their own sound), until Mark Reynolds’ unfortunate passing in 2003.
I consider myself lucky to have met them at the start and will always remember how gracious they were to a glasses-wearing, crewcut-having music geek like myself.
"Russian Radio" peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart in 1988. "Broken Heart" peaked at #24 on the same chart the same year.
That’s right -- all this week, Lost in the 80s will focus on artists who, in leiu of marching to the beat of a different drummer, chose rather to program their drums to imitate highly influential synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode. There’s more of these Depeche Clones than you think, as we’ll see.
But before we begin, let me preface this week by saying I’m not hating on these bands. Honest. In fact, I was inspired enough to shell out for their CDs back in the day, so they must have had some appeal. And they did – while shamelessly aping DM’s sound, each of the bands featured this week brought something to the table, whether it was a catchy riff, a memorable lyric or just plain funny hair.
Camouflage formed in the mid-80s and had a huge hit in their native Germany and a minor hit in the States with “The Great Commandment”, possibly because people thought it was a new Depeche Mode single. If they thought that of their debut single, the follow-up, “That Smiling Face”, must have really thrown them for a loop. If you close your eyes while listening, you can almost see Martin Gore in a leather mini singing the background “Ahhhhs”. Here’s an overly long Justin Strauss remix for good measure.
Camouflage diversified their sound on a couple of follow-up albums to become less Depeche-y (Depeche-ish?), but there weren’t many takers and the band dissolved in the early 90s.
More Depeche Clones later this week!
“That Smiling Face” peaked at #26 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart and at #37 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart in 1989.
Lost in the 80s - TV Alert: The Vault on VH1 Classic
I've had a stormy relationship with VH1 Classic since we first met about five years ago. I'd see him now and then over at a friend's house and became sort of smitten with the way he'd impress me with some arcane video I hadn't seen in years and years and the way ol' VH1C would go for hours and hours without stopping. Pure classic video stamina. Impressive.
Once we became "a thing", that all changed. The minute VH1C moved in, I started noticing bad behavior - sneaking in non-video programming like old "Behind the Music" episodes, playing the same moldy videos over and over and over ("Relax" again, anyone? How about "Take On Me"?), adding new videos from the early to late '90s to the mix (seriously, does anyone anywhere need to see "Smells Like Teen Spirit" again anytime before 2020?). Where I once Tivoed "We Are the 80s", "All Star Jams" and "The Alternative" daily, I got so fed up with being treated like a Brazilian porn star, I finally gave up. (Have you seen Brazilian porn? It's crazy, man.) What happened to the hot guy who would surprise me with the Buggles "I Am a Camera" or even Cheetah? (Have you seen a Cheetah video? It's crazy, man.)
However, VH1C stumbled in late last night a little drunk (maybe coked up, I'm not quite sure), and begged for me not to leave him. "Ah shwear to gawwd," he slurred, "Imma changed man. Jess gimmie a chansse to proof ittooyoo." And right then and there, at 4 am EST/1 am PST, VH1C pulled out a little package called "The Vault".
"The Vault" is a new show that started last night, obstensibly dedicated to playing videos the channel used to show here & there, but have been consigned to the back of the bus while more popular bands/videos ate up the majority of airtime. While the mix isn't incredibly obtuse and obscure, they did play quite a few things I haven't seen on the channel in some time. Here's last night's playlist:
Malcolm McLaren - Buffalo Gals Spys - She Can't Wait Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Coma Girl (wasn't this from 2003??) Baltimora - Tarzan Boy Warren Zevon - Searching for a Heart Howard Devoto - Rainy Season 3rd Bass - Brooklyn-Queens Duran Duran featuring Grandmaster Flash & Mele Mel - White Lines Marc Almond - Tears Run Rings China Crisis - Arizona Sky Sir Mix-a-Lot - Posse on Broadway (whoa!!) The Outfield - All the Love in the World Tara Kemp - Hold You Tight Freuer - Doot Doot Yes - Hold On Noiseworks - Take Me Back Bryan Ferry - Is Your Love Strong Enough? Bonnie Tyler - It's a Heartache Howard Jones - Pearl in the Shell Roger Waters - What God Wants Beach Boys - Dance, Dance, Dance Go-Go's - Yes or No Christmas - Stupid Kids (no way!!) Roxette - Church of Your Heart Grace Jones - Slave to the Rhythm Corey Hart - It Ain't Enough
Is it perfect? No, but it's a start. I'm not sayin' I'm ready to take him back just yet, but let's say his foot is in the door. Check out "The Vault" when you see it on your DVR schedule - I believe the next go 'round is Thursday morning at 4am EST/1am PST. Think of it as Step Two in VH1 Classic's 12 Step Program of Not Sucking Anymore. You know what would help? If "The Vault" had a really knowledgeable, funny, engaging and bald host from the greater Los Angeles area. It would instantly be the greatest show in the history of the channel. Or at least the latest.
* All songs are for sampling purposes only. If the album is currently in print, you'll see an Amazon link to purchase it. Supporting artists is a good thing, since labels are run by soulless whores. I KEED! Sorta. Look, if you like it, and it's in print, support 'em. If you're the artist or copyright holder, a quick e-mail to me will bring the song down ASAP. But compliment my writing first.
* Don't e-mail me asking me to repost dead links or to send you a song you can't find. Believe it or not, I have a life outside my blogging. I KEED! But don't do it.
* One more, and this is a biggie -- do NOT hotlink directly to my audio files and post them on your site, big shot. That's just disrespectful, rude, and a theft of my hard-earned bandwith.
Now, get readin', get downloadiN', and play nice. I loves me some comments. Bring it!